Integral Fast Reactors for the masses

There was both interest and confusion over at the ABC Unleashed site when I wrote my first piece there on nuclear power. Going by the comments, most folks who were traditionally anti-nuclear continued to harbour their old beliefs and misconceptions about the technologies involved, even after reading my short piece. I did briefly (in one paragraph) explain the advantages of advanced nuclear power (Gen IV, the exemplar being the Integral Fast Reactor) — that is, it eliminates or at least minimises the major concerns held against Gen II (Gen III also solves some, but not waste/supply) and carries a bunch of advantages (like a huge amount of concentrated, zero-carbon energy). But that first Op Ed was always meant primarily to get people thinking more broadly about energy solutions — pointing out that mitigating climate change is the crucial end game: if you don’t get this right, everything else is ceases to matter.

Anyway, in order to take the basic idea of IFR to the masses, I wrote a second piece which is focused specifically on this tech (and a little more on Gen III+, which are also attractive as a transition/stop-gap). I’ve reproduced the essay at the end of this post. For regular BraveNewClimate readers, there is probably nothing new there. On the other hand, it contains almost too much detail for those unfamiliar with the concepts (at least that is what GR says!).

For another popular audience take on it, Steve Kirsch has written a nice piece for a The Mercury News, a Silicon Valley newspaper. It’s called “How a 24-year-old technology can save the planet“. It’s also well worth a read.

Finally, Jim Green from Friends of the Earth, has posted a critique of IFR. Check it out, and see what you think after reading the details of the IFR technology here on this site and elsewhere (follow those links). As a head’s up, I plan to post a rejoinder to Jim’s critique, here on BNC, once I clear a few other things off the desk.

————————————————————–

Why old nuclear power is not new

Previously in this forum I have expressed the view that nuclear power will likely play a key role in the world’s future energy mix. My bottom line was this: the climate and energy crises need fixing with extreme urgency, and both require solutions which completely solve their underlying causes. Half measures at best merely help to delay the same eventual result as business-as-usual (and at worst encourage complacency) — saddling future generations with a climatically hostile planet with a scarcity of available energy.

The comments in response to my openness about the nuclear option were not unexpected. In short, five principle objections were mounted against the viability or desirability of nuclear power.

First, uranium supplies are small, such that if the world was wholly powered by nuclear reactors, there would be at most a few decades of energy to use before our resource was exhausted and the power plants would have to shut down. Second, nuclear accidents have happened in the past, and therefore this power-generation technology is inherently dangerous. Third, expansion of nuclear power would axiomatically risk the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Fourth, in taking the short-term nuclear energy option, we would be bequeathing future generations with the legacy of long-lived nuclear waste requiring thousands of years of management. Fifth, large amounts of energy (and possibly greenhouse gases) would be required to mine, mill and enrich uranium, and to construct and later decommission the nuclear power stations themselves.

Cost and embedded energy arguments used against nuclear must be left for another day, because to be addressed fairly, this also requires a critical examination of the costs and embedded energy requirements for the alternative sources (renewables and fossil fuels).

Now all five of the above points have some merit, although their relative importance compared to threat of climate change and the societal disruption caused by critical energy shortages is debatable. The chaos and bitter complaints which stemmed from the power shortages experienced during the current heatwave in southern Australia demonstrate how dependent we are on a secure, reliable energy supply. But to be honest, there is little point in even having a debate on how persuasive these five objections are, because none will be applicable to future nuclear energy generation.

Of the more than 440 commercial nuclear power stations operating worldwide today and supplying 16 per cent of the world’s electricity, almost all are thermal spectrum reactors. These use ordinary water to both slow the neutrons which cause uranium atoms to split (fission) and to carry the heat generated in this controlled chain reaction to a steam turbine to generate electricity. Because of the gradual build-up of fission products (nuclear poisons) in fuel rods over time, we end up getting about 1 per cent of the useable energy out of the uranium, and throw the rest out as that problematic long-lived waste.

Modern reactors are incredibly safe, with physics-based ‘passive’ safety systems requiring no user-operated or mechanical control to shut down the reaction. Indeed, a certification assessment for the ‘Generation III+’ Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor (ESBWR) put the risk of a core meltdown as severe as the one which occurred at Three Mile Island (TMI) in 1979 at once every 29 million years. For reference, the TMI incident resulted in no deaths. Similarly, comparing the inherently unsafe Chernobyl reactor design to an ESBWR is a bit like comparing an army revolver to a water gun.

Fast spectrum reactors, also known as ‘Generation IV’, are able to use 99.5 per cent of the energy in uranium. There is enough energy in already-mined uranium and stored plutonium from existing stockpiles to supply all the world’s power needs for over a century before we even need to mine any more uranium. Once we do start mining again, there is enough energy in proven uranium deposits to supply the entire world for at least 50,000 years. Fast reactors can be used to burn all existing reserves of plutonium and the waste stream of the past and present generation of thermal reactors.

The safety features of Gen IV designs, due for instance to the metal alloy fuel used, is superior even to the ESBWR. The nuclear fuel used by fast reactors is fiendishly radioactive and contaminated with various heavy elements (which are all eventually burned up in the power generation process!), making it impossible to divert to a nuclear weapons programme without an expensive, heavily shielded off-site reprocessing facility which would be easily detected by inspectors.

Yet in reality the only nuclear waste material that will ever leave an Integrated Fast Reactor complex (a systems design for power stations which includes on-site reprocessing) are fission products, which decay to background levels of radiation with a few hundred years (not hundreds of millennia), and can be readily stored because they produce so little heat compared to ‘conventional’ nuclear waste.

For further details, I refer you to my review of the book Prescription for the Planet, which discusses the Integral Fast Reactor technology in-depth, as well as ways to transform our vehicle fleet to use zero-emissions metal-powered burners and how to convert our municipal solid waste to plasma.

Business-as-usual projections suggest that at current pace, we may have Gen IV fast spectrum reactors delivering commercial power by 2025 to 2030. Too late, you say! True enough, but these same sort of forward projections resulted in the International Energy Agency recently predicting that non-hydro renewables will go from meeting 1per cent, to 2 per cent, of global energy use. Either option therefore requires radically accelerated research, development and deployment, if it is to make a difference to climate change and energy supply. A project of Manhattan-style proportions (America’s development of the atom bomb, three years after the first controlled chain reaction) or the audacity of the moon-shot vision (12 years from Sputnik to Neil Armstrong’s famous small step), is required.

There is no doubt in my mind that we have the means to ‘fix’ the climate and energy crises, or at least avert the worst consequences, if we have full recognition of the scale and immediacy of the challenges now faced. New generation nuclear power is one possible path to success, and one that all nations should actively support – though certainly not to the exclusion of other zero-carbon energy options such as renewables and efficiencies. So let’s be sure, when rationally considering energy planning, that we are not mired in old-school thinking about exciting new technologies.

Add to FacebookAdd to NewsvineAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to Ma.gnoliaAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Furl

About these ads

145 Comments

  1. Please find another illustration! That looks like a photo from the Bikini tests.

    Glad you’re persisting on the topic.
    Wish there were a mutual fund specific for Gen IV development!
    Longterm investment, but that’s the point of doing it.

  2. Really interesting stuff. I’m not quite sure on the cost side of IFR i.e. whether its going to be decoupled from the costing paradigm of Gen I, II and even perhaps III. As well I don’t quite get the mechanics of utlising existing stocks of fissionable and spent materials because I guess they are in different mechanical configurations so how do you bash them into a shape and composition suitable for IFR fuelling? But that just maybe down to my ignorance.

    I am also put off by the priestly and gnomic utterances of some advocates from the nuclear industry who pat everyone else on the head and say that any objections are based on superstition, but thats perhaps an irrelevant observation on my part.

    Finally the thing that makes me laugh is denialists ‘huff and puff’ in saying that those who accept the science of climate change and want to do something about its causes hate technology and so of course hate nuclear. Their huff and puff generally goes like this, ‘if they really believed their own religion on CC then they would have to morally accept the use of nuclear power’. Meanwhile outside of the play pen and away from the naughty seat greens, climate change scientists and others who accept the science et al are rationally discussing the pros and cons of nuclear power. You do have to laugh.

  3. … the only nuclear waste material that will ever leave an Integrated Fast Reactor complex (a systems design for power stations which includes on-site reprocessing) are fission products, which decay to background levels of radiation with a few hundred years (not hundreds of millennia), and can be readily stored because they produce so little heat compared to ‘conventional’ nuclear waste …

    If actinides and fission fragments are buried together — no reprocessing — the actinides produce the majority of the long-term, 100 years and later, heat production. But this is the majority of very little. Only in early decades does heat production pose any possible difficulty, and in these decades, ashes from an IFR (with most of the actinides removed and put back in the IFR) and ashes from, for instance, a CANDU produce almost the same heat, as a fraction of the heat the fuel produced when in service.

    So the reduced-heat advantage is a very small, very far-future one.

    Still looking for an equation for delayed energy release from actinides that would be as simple as the Untermyer&Weills one for delayed energy release from fission fragments.

    If only the fission fragments are removed from the reactor, if the actinides mostly are made to stay and be fissioned, the formula would necessarily be more complex, and yield smaller numbers, but there ought to be a good upper-limit equation.

    (How fire can be domesticated)

  4. One of the main objections to nuclear energy has not been an objection to the technology per se, but to the diversion of capital which could be better deployed in the advancement of renewable energy sources. This is particularly so for Australia which has so much potential renewable energy available. This issue also relates to the very long time frames for nuclear development and approvals as compared to smaller technologies.

    Whilst I have no doubt that Australia will take full advantage of nuclear energy with regard to exporting its substantial uranium resources, and it is hard to imagine many compact places in the world (like Singapore) being survivable on dilute renewable energy sources, the issues of diversion of capital and development time scales are legitimate issues – and stand aside from any intrinsic objections to new or old nuclear technologies.

    In any event, I am hesitant about championing the cause of nuclear energy because our political culture is all too ready to embrace large centralised, masculine, ‘big bang’ solutions – whilst very reluctant to embrace dispersed solutions that are often more appropriate to need. The world’s thirst for more and more energy will guarantee that we go down the nuclear pathway, and we will do so even using old nuclear technology with its attendant risks, so I see no need to expend my own energy advancing the nuclear cause.

    These issues go beyond science and technology to the need for a turnaround in our cultural values that have brought civilisation its current point. In a nutshell, feeding the never ending thirst for energy inhibits us from de-escalating our malignant growth.

    That said, now that we are at a sort of survival brink we do have to entertain some desperate measures to try to avoid social breakdown, so nuclear energy has to be on the table, like it or not. All the same, one is left with disquiet feeling that this desperation can lead us on to escalate world problems, rather than resolve them.

  5. I’m not quite sure on the cost side of IFR i.e. whether its going to be decoupled from the costing paradigm of Gen I, II and even perhaps III.

    IFRs would be wholly modular, both the reactors and recycling facilities, built in factories and assembled on site. Thus the fabrication of the modules could be distributed among companies around the world (Siemens, GE, Westinghouse, AREVA, Toshiba, etc) and would certainly benefit from economies of scale, as well as improved quality control.

    In my book I assumed a cost of $2,000/kilowatt for the capital cost of the plant. As a comparison, private utility companies in the USA, where we suffer from a system that is broken on a host of levels, claim it will cost from $6-9,000/kilowatt. Yet GE was able to build their ABWR nuclear plants in Japan for about $1,400/kW. Clearly the USA (and GE is a U.S. company, and remember Japan imports virtually all the materials and has high labor costs) could do better if they got sane about their regulatory, political, and corporate mess.

    It’s been alleged that the cost of nuclear power plants are rising stratospherically because of the increasing cost of commodities, but that’s simply not true. Per Peterson, professor of nuclear engineering at the University of California in Berkeley, recently went back and calculated the materials costs for 70s-era nuclear power plants, which used far more materials/kW than the new IFRs would, but he plugged in commodities costs from 2008. The result: The cost per kilowatt comes to about $34! Virtually all of the cost of a nuclear plant comes from fabrication, labor, and profits, not from materials costs. And having a cushion from $34 to $2,000 should be seen as entirely realistic in a situation where something is built in factory-fabricated modules. In fact, should we begin deploying IFRs worldwide, the cost should be able to be considerably less than $2,000/kW.

  6. Barry – is the fact that we’ve already mined enough uranium for 100 years of use, and that reserves are 50,000 years + in fact the problem? Greens will seldom argue for nuclear power… the coal industry will not lobby for nuclear power… and based on those kind of fuel scenarios even the nuclear industry is probably not that keen on IFR! It is a tough sell.

  7. MattB @6,

    I agree, but the fact that big industry has not supported is a strong reason for some (like me) to give it a second look.

    Barry/Tom, regarding Jim Greens critique about proliferation Jim Green says that there are

    “no technical problems whatsoever using IFR to do just that (and the same applies to conventional reactors). So the WMD proliferation potential of IFR reactors (and conventional reactors) must weigh very heavily against them in any comparative assessment of energy options.”

    Is this correct regarding the technical capacity?

    In rebutting David Lochbaums critique of Blees’ book, Tom says that:

    “Yes, there will be more (unseparated) Pu involved in the entire process but once inside the door of the IFR it will never leave. With the sort of security and operational framework I propose in my book, it would be far easier to obtain Pu from another source such as a small research reactor. http://skirsch.com/politics/globalwarming/ifrUCSresponse.pdf

    Is the security framework to Tom refers that which addresses the technical capacity problem referred to by Jim Green?

  8. MattB @6,
    I agree, but the fact that big industry has not supported is a strong reason for some (like me) to give it a second look.
    Barry/Tom, regarding Jim Greens critique about proliferation, Jim Green says that there are

    “no technical problems whatsoever using IFR to do just that (and the same applies to conventional reactors). So the WMD proliferation potential of IFR reactors (and conventional reactors) must weigh very heavily against them in any comparative assessment of energy options.”

    Is this correct regarding the technical capacity?

    In rebutting David Lochbaums critique of Blees’ book, Tom says that:

    “Yes, there will be more (unseparated) Pu involved in the entire process but once inside the door of the IFR it will never leave. With the sort of security and operational framework I propose in my book, it would be far easier to obtain Pu from another source such as a small research reactor. http://skirsch.com/politics/globalwarming/ifrUCSresponse.pdf

    Is the security framework to Tom refers that which addresses the technical capacity problem referred to by Jim Green?

  9. There seem to be some conflicting messages coming out of the P4TP book and Barry’s articles. Some of the compelling arguments for IFR are that we could stop mining uranium and start removing the long lived nuclear waste stockpiles that have built up over the years.
    Yet the proposed plans for the full-scale adoption of this technology include expansion of uranium mining and building non-IFR reactors (to provide start up material for IFRs) that dont have the non-proliferation benefits of the IFRs.
    I dont think you can use those favourable arguments if adoption of the technology requires you to do the opposite. Is there a way to progress to IFRs without resorting to building Gen3 reactors?

  10. This is what I believe is going to happen over the next 100 years and it also encapsulates why I think that renewables are far better for the future than any type of nuclear. It is based on the premise that nothing will be done until a disaster occurs.

    I believe the world will lurch from financial crisis to financial crisis for the next 50 years or so as people manufacture new scams to make the rich richer and the poor poorer.

    In than time nothing other than token efforts will be made to shift to carbon free power sources as money is much more important than the environment. You can see this from every effort we make to de-carbonise MUST not harm the economy in anyway or lose voters jobs. Even a government elected on a climate change agenda could only manage a 5% CO2 target after the greenhouse mafia worked it’s magic. This will be true of all efforts at least for the next 50 years or so. I do not think that the billions needed and the Manhattan Project scale of zero carbon energy rollout will ever happen while money is more important than the atmosphere.

    If no major disaster happens in that time then we will be stuck with 2 or 3 degs of warming which will produce quite dramatic changes in climate. However I am sure that the wealthy nations will be able to adapt to this and go on pretty much business as usual with the real price being payed by the developing nations. Their plight will of course continue to be ignored. I mean when 700 billion can be found in days to bail out bankers when millions in Africa die of AIDS and starvation can you doubt this?

    The problems for the rich nations will come as successive financial crisis, some of them no doubt brought on by climate change, start to affect the rich. Then perhaps we will see an attempt to rollout something and of course this will be nuclear as it is a drop in replacement for coal and suits the people that will be affected as they will not have to change anything.

    However the staggering cost of this will finally bankrupt the system caught between the perfect storm of climate change and shrinking fossil fuels and the society we know will break down.

    What will be important is renewables like wind and solar. The energy solution I would like to see rolled out is a distributed grid of wind, solar, tidal etc that can act in independant island mode. In this way communities that realise the danger now, like Willets started by Jason Bradford, that have relocalised will have a power supply independent of fuel supplies so they can carry on in some fashion even after the wider society suffers a temporary or complete breakdown.

    The IFR may be the best thing since slice bread however do you honestly think that it will be ever rolled out in sufficient numbers while there is not a disaster. Gigawatt solar plants are just as unlikely as is anything else that may affect the economy. While there is not a VISIBLE knife hanging over our heads nothing sufficient will be done IMHO.

    The important thing however is that even a modest rollout of small CSP plants and wind farms coupled with efficiency gains, wired into a distributed smart grid with local storage and electric transport could possibly continue long enough when our type of society breaks down to enable the support industries for the renewable power to start up again in a fashion. A modest rollout could be supported without costing the economy too much.

    This is one of the main reasons I support renewables and distributed smart grids over any other type of power. It is because they have a built in disaster recovery capability that nuclear does not have.

  11. NicM writes: Is there a way to progress to IFRs without resorting to building Gen3 reactors?

    At the rate of building I proposed in Prescription for the Planet we wouldn’t have sufficient startup fuel for an all-IFR deployment even if we converted all our spent LWR fuel to IFR metal fuel assemblies. However, the chances of the governments of the world taking that decisive step are slim. If we simply built as many IFRs as possible as quickly as possible and configured them all for maximum breeding, we would have a lull for a few years, but we would also have been ramping up our production capacity and be able to produce begin the construction of more plants per year from about 2030 on. So we could quite conceivably meet our goal of eliminating fossil fuel use by 2050 with all IFRs. My projections that call for building some more LWRs to make up the shortfall was in order to illustrate a constant rate building program scenario.

    The nature of industry and politics is such that, like it or not, more LWRs will be built and more uranium will be mined before we abandon LWRs. The best thing we can do to minimize that is to build IFRs as fast as fuel supplies allow, and that fuel will be coming from LWR spent fuel and decommissioned weapons.

  12. Mark @ 9: I’m not sure what your question refers to since I can’t find your quote from Jim Green on his piece. The bottom line is that while the IFR will be more proliferation-resistant than other designs, any time fissile material is used there should be some sort of oversight, even at small research reactors such as those found in many universities around the world. It would be far easier to produce isotopically favorable (for weapons) plutonium at one of them than to extract it from the fuel cycle at an IFR.

    I just read Green’s piece, and it is so full of misleading and incorrect information and baseless assertions that I’m afraid I don’t have the time to deal with all of it. But the assertion that such reactors don’t exist with the implication that they’re just fantasies on paper is bunk. BN-350 was operational for years starting in 1972. Phenix went online in 1973 and is still running. BN-600, still running and the most reliable nuclear reactor in Russia’s system. EBR-II ran for 30 years, FFTF at Hanford for many years too (I don’t recall exactly how many at the moment). Can’t make the fuel? They made thousands of fuel slugs at Argonne Labs over the years. And this one’s a doozy: “…probabilistic risk assessment failed to anticipate the world’s worst reactor accident (Chernobyl)… While I seriously doubt that Green has access to such assessments about Chernobyl, our physicists in the USA made a conscious decision years earlier never to build a reactor designed like that because it was way too dangerous. Chernobyl was an accident waiting to happen. It has absolutely nothing to do with IFRs other than as a way to create a false equivalency and scare people.

    And pray tell what is the problem with McFarlane’s statement: “The reactor … could be used for excess plutonium consumption or as a breeder if needed …” The fact that it can be used as a breeder is precisely why it would allow us to stop uranium mining, and the fact that it consumes excess plutonium is exactly what we want to do: get rid of separated plutonium and not separate it anymore.

    As for the MIT study that Green admiringly quotes, please refer to my book for a thorough trashing of same. And Green arguing that these reactors cannot be safe from meltdowns flies in the face of the laws of physics, which assure that very feature.

    That’s enough for now. I’ve gotta go to bed. That’s where I do my dreaming.

  13. Ender#12: No, the wealthy will not easily survive 2 to 3 degrees in the comfort they are used to. Countries like Japan which live on imported food will be in serious trouble. Garnaut predicted a 40% drop in livestock production in Australia with 3 degrees. That pretty well wipes out our capacity to export meat and if the Murray Darling productivity declines further we may need all our grain just to support our local meat addiction. The EU are pretty well all net food importers (except France and Germany) now, so they will be in deep trouble. If South American production drops due to ENSO changes, as has been predicted, then the consequences will be dire for European livestock producers. At a rough guesstimate, of the rich world, only Australia, the US, France and Canada will have a reasonably secure local food supply. That leaves about a billion people in the developed world who will notice a problem with their supermarket shelves.

    I don’t quite know how the 40% figure was estimated. I’ve made 2 requests to Stephen Crimp at CSIRO for a copy of his paper. In response he said:

    “Happy to forward this on to you. Just wondering what you had planned as I might be able to send some additional references?”

    I sent him a link to

    http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/the-missing-link-in-the-garnaut-report-20080709-3cjh.html?page=-1

    and he hasn’t replied to either of my 2 subsequent requests.

  14. Look, I understand this website is probably the domain of scientists who think in terms of technological solutions, and so this discussion is valuable insofar as technology is a key problem. We do need to understand new technological possibilities, and I have enduring friends who are in this mould and they are very decent thinking people.

    It seems to me people with predominant left brain inclinations think of the world sustainability problem in terms of changing technology. Coal is bad so find a technology that can deliver the same quantities of energy and the problem is largely solved.

    Others, with predominant right brained thinking, tend to believe that the key problem relates to deep seated cultural values. Unless there is a seismic shift in our collective world view then we will choose technologies that are destructive and will, in fact, go ahead and do so because our insatiable growth path is intrinsically unsustainable.

    There needs to be a marriage between these thought processes because 2000 years of anthropocentric cultural history cannot be swept aside even in one generation, and we are hurtling towards the proverbial brick wall. Environmentalists need to understand science without prejudice, scientists need to understand the totality of cultural forces that shape society.

    Then…. in amongst all these two divisions is a third category, business interests who just want to make money from whatever shows most profit. Talking up new technologies that may be more benign than existing ones has value only to the extent that the commercial sector can be persuaded that this is more profitable way to go. Talking up nuclear power in the political sphere is to talk up nuclear proliferation and interminable wastes because that is where the status quo lies at present.

    Put in another way, for some folk (myself included) nuclear energy has become a necessity because we are in a tight corner, climate wise, and renewables may not be able to avert social breakdown. For others though, it is simply a green light for their gung-ho approach to life which does not recognise limits to growth. If nuclear energy is seen as a way for us to enable doubling of our energy consumption every 25 years (current trend), then it is sheer folly. If it is progressed for survival reasons then it may have merit, albeit recognising that society has to learn, first and foremost, to de-escalate, not keep exacerbating problems by adding higher and higher layers of technology, each one with its subset of problems.

    I have yet to come across any large scale technology that is problem free. So let’s not be too naive.

    I accept this debate in its raw form, scientific possibility.

  15. Appologies Tom, I failed to include relevant parts of the quote that you might address. (I emailed Jim Green to ask about his critique, thus the following points do not appear on the web site.) Jim believes:

    “- it is axiomatic that spent fuel provides a greater proliferation barrier than the proposed IFR mix of plutonium/actinides/fission products(?) since all those materials are in spent fuel along with other nasties.
    – most importantly, none of the above makes a jot of difference if the proliferator has the capacity to further purify the plutonium in a reprocessing plant or a smaller ‘hot cell’ facility (which abound)

    None of the above makes a jot of difference if the proliferator produces high-purity plutonium in the first place and if IFR is used as a plutonium breeder rather than a burner …
    no technical problems whatsoever using IFR to do just that (and the same applies to conventional reactors). So the WMD proliferation potential of IFR reactors (and conventional reactors) must weigh very heavily against them in any comparative assessment of energy options.”

  16. Mark, Green’s axiom is nothing of the sort. Spent LWR fuel can be put through a PUREX process to extract virtually pure plutonium, though its isotopic composition will be far less than ideal for weapons. IFR fuel, on either end of the recycling process, would likewise have to be put through the PUREX process. Neither type of fuel can be handled without special remote handling equipment. So how does that make it axiomatic that spent fuel is a greater proliferation barrier?

    In point of fact, anyone hoping to make a bomb from plutonium will likely try to obtain an isotopically more pure plutonium by creating it from U-238 at a small research reactor. To a great extent the proliferation threat of power reactors is overblown in light of this, but nevertheless proliferation resistance should always be a priority whenever fissile material is in circulation.

    Green’s warning about IFRs being more dangerous in this regard is incorrect, since LWRs produce plutonium as well, and it’s in their spent fuel. Either way you need a PUREX process to extract the (isotopically inferior) plutonium. This whole issue is one of the most common misconceptions about the IFR system, and one of many under which Mr. Green is laboring.

  17. Chris @ 16 writes: If nuclear energy is seen as a way for us to enable doubling of our energy consumption every 25 years (current trend), then it is sheer folly. If it is progressed for survival reasons then it may have merit, albeit recognising that society has to learn, first and foremost, to de-escalate, not keep exacerbating problems by adding higher and higher layers of technology, each one with its subset of problems.

    Chris, advances in technology include very real advances in efficiency of our electrical devices, which is why California has been able to maintain a flat per capita electricity consumption for 30 years, and as someone who lives in California I can assure you that our efficiency is far from draconian, and that we could do a LOT better with little effort. There is no reason to believe that new technologies will cause us to require ever-greater amounts of electricity. On the contrary, in fact. Besides, you’re not going to get away from new technology, it’s an unstoppable evolutionary process (barring utter catastrophe). Watch Star Trek. Maybe it’ll give you a little more optimistic view.

    Developing countries, however, will demand much more energy (electrical and otherwise) per person as they improve their standard of living. With IFR technology it shouldn’t be a problem providing it safely, economically, and cleanly. We needn’t go backwards, nor do we need to discourage every country from working toward a standard of living that those in the developed countries take for granted, just so long as we recycle everything as I describe in Prescription for the Planet. Between effortless recycling using plasma recyclers and power provided by IFRs, we can achieve standard of living fairness without being worried about running out of resources. I realize that breaking free of the zero-sum paradigm is a bit of a mind stretch, but it’s doable. That’s what P4TP is really all about: illuminating the path to a post-scarcity society. The technologies are only the tools to get there.

    There is nothing particularly virtuous about a regression to some mythical “good old days.” And if we manage to utilize technologies that allow us to be even profligate consumers of energy (though that’s really not necessary) without damaging the environment or being unfair to our fellow man, that is not inherently a bad thing. There are a lot of mental constructs that will have to be re-examined in light of the sort of resource revolution I propose in my book. It won’t really matter if you drive around in a boron-powered zero-emission Hummer that’s made of garbage, what my son Shanti calls a “guilt-free car.” I urge you to read it not necessarily for the technological details but to get a picture of what the future could look like, a far brighter future than you might imagine.

  18. Tom, A couple of queries for clarification:
    1)Would it be correct that IFR spiked fuel and LWR spent fuel have the equivalent proliferation risks?
    2)I take your point about the current proliferation risk of research reactors, though is the intention that IFR would be used in nations which do not have such reactors currently?
    3)Green warns that IFR can be run in a manner to breed high quality plutonium, (“no technical problems whatsoever using IFR to do just”) is that correct?

  19. Thanks Tom (#19),

    I am aware of that train of thought and it has legitimacy.

    To clarify, I love smart technology, am technically trained and do not hanker for ‘the good old days’.

    I do have problems with the notion that societal problems can be fixed primarily through technology, without seriously looking at the social side – cultural dysfunction. That latter problem stems from our early history and is deeply imbedded.

    Rather than drive wedges between these two streams I think it prudent to try to understand both. And this is hard to do amongst specialists in either camp who are locked into one of the two mind-sets.

    There is certainly a symbiotic relationship between technology and culture. I wouldn’t deny the relevance of either. Both demand our utmost attention, but neither exclusively.

  20. Mark, I suppose you could say that the answer to #1 is yes, more or less. As for #2, I discuss at length in P4TP how and where IFRs would be deployed in order to minimize proliferation risks. Almost 80% of greenhouse gas emissions come from nuclear-capable countries anyway, so even if we just deployed them there we could make tremendous strides, though it would still be wise to create some sort of international oversight organization as I propose in the book.

    As for breeding high-quality (I assume Green means weapons-grade) plutonium, virtually any reactor (including research reactors) can do that by wrapping a U-238 blanket around the core and letting it get bombarded with neutrons for a while, then removing it and extracting the Pu with the PUREX method. It requires relatively brief exposure, which is NOT what one would have in a reactor core operated for power purposes. Again, as I’ve pointed out here and in my book, fissile material should all be subject to rigorous international oversight. In P4TP I deal with just how to do that in some detail.

  21. All cats should be belled, say the mice. Some — power reactors — are easy enough. Others, such as the gas-graphite deal in NK, not so easy. Remember the worldwide progressive and youth protests when the North Koreans began building it in 1992?

    Maybe another animal analogy is better. Suppose most of our personal transport were by horse, and horses were heavily taxed, and cars began proliferate.

    Soon many persons on public stipends, or their representatives, begin loudly to worry that people with cars will soon begin to weaponize them: modify them to throw projectiles out of their cylinders when a fuel-air mixture is ignited in them, rather than peacefully pushing a captive piston.

    That this is possible does not mean that their attempts to stop the spread of cars are genuinely aimed at preventing the spread of guns. They know guns are going to spread anyway, and restrictions on cars are in no way an impediment.

    However, they energetically continue the charade, and car licensing therefore comes to include a requirement to declare one has no intention of doing such alterations, and submitting the cars to inspections to prove this.

    But guns still proliferate; usually in households that are entirely equestrian, but sometimes in households that also have cars. The latter cases are cited as proof of a link, and the former ones, as still more ominous for the future of the automobile, because they show that the links are, with terrible cunning, hidden.

    (How fire can be domesticated)

  22. #23. What lovely allegories! You could have written ‘Alice in Wonderland’.

    At the end of the day we find out that all the good scientists and social reformers, despite fantastic ideas, the best of intentions and lifelong energy, end up having little say in what actually happens. Because that is dictated by the whims of commerce (perhaps 80 percent) and politics (perhaps 10 percent), and consumer choice (perhaps 10 percent). Most of the last factor is tightly controlled through advertising anyway.

    By way of example it is mass media that has been largely responsible for feeding the climate denialist movement, and thus has retarded sensible responses to climate change – to everybody’s detriment.

    We quickly learn that throwing good ideas into the commercial / political pond can seriously come back to bite us because once in that realm we lose nearly all control, unless the loose ends are thought about and tied up at the same time. Support for nuclear power is grasped by those who have very different intentions and values. Support for population stabilisation is grasped by those who hold racist and other perverse values. There are many examples.

    The measure of any good idea hangs more on the process of delivery than on the intrinsic worth of the idea itself. That is, again, why hard science has to work in concert with social sciences and community to prevent a hijacking of good intentions.

    Scientists are very good at what they do but are rarely keen on political or social advocacy. Likewise, social reformers are often lacking in a thorough understanding of technology and its implications.

  23. Chris, I would love to sit down with you sometime and chat. Your earlier posts regarding cultural dysfunction hit home, me being a denizen of the country that almost elected George Bush Jr. twice. How’s that for cultural dysfunction? Given my current efforts to overturn the dominant paradigm I can definitely hear you when you talk about how decisions are made in our societies. Many of the scientists I know would readily agree with your last statements.

    I was having a discussion about all this with a friend of mine this morning, speaking about the social problem most dominant of all: overpopulation. How to fix it short of some worldwide draconian measures is a pressing question, and one can barely expect even most of the nations of the world to come to any such agreement. Wars and epidemics don’t really seem to make a dent in populations either. Experience in a myriad of cultures seems to indicate that when standards of living and education rise, birth rates fall, often to below replacement level. A stunning example of this is Iran, where birth rates went from about 5 per woman to 2 in the space of less than a generation, simply when the government made free contraceptives available. Thus raising the standard of living and education would seem to be the least problematic way of finally achieving an eventual decline in population, provided that we can raise the standard of living over such a vast number of people without destroying our planet in the process. It’s quite a stretch, but I believe we can.

    The approach in P4TP is one that recognizes the futility of relying on behavioral modification to effect full compliance with guidelines of any kind. Look at recycling: Some people have 3 or 4 trash cans in their kitchen to recycle in a still-not-entirely-effective manner. Most people have one, or two at most. Same with energy conservation. Many people screw in twisty light bulbs and turn lights out when they leave a room. Yet many people don’t do one or the other of these things, or both, even highly educated people who consider themselves environmentally conscious. If we’re trying to save the planet, it behooves us to try to set things up in such a way that even egregiously irresponsible people won’t be harming the environment when they proceed with their daily lives. And that CAN be done. It might not sit well with those who consider frugality or responsible behavior or asceticism as virtues, but that’s really beside the point. Those are value judgements about which our biosphere couldn’t care less. Do you find rampant consumerism foolish? Me too. But I’d rather that people who don’t could pursue their lifestyle in such a way that our planetary health doesn’t suffer because of it. Can that be done? I believe so, and that is the sort of resource revolution that I sketch out in P4TP. We can still achieve a certain level of energy responsibility by metering electricity, even if the fuel for the power plants is free, and we should because that’ll prevent a lot of profligacy in energy use and thus prevent us having to build lots more power plants needlessly. But to a great extent such behavioral modification is difficult in other spheres (like recycling), and that’s where technological solutions are preferable. Likewise with driving: if our cars pollute, we should drive less. If our cars don’t pollute, and if acquiring their fuel doesn’t require any sort of environmental insult, should we care?

    If our cultures are dysfunctional, we can try to improve them, but if we have the means to end the environmental damage caused by cultural dysfunction, let’s work on that and worry about the dysfunction on a different level. Too often the dissatisfaction (or even disgust) that those who consider themselves environmentalists feel about what they perceive as their less mature fellow humans is reflected in a drive toward neo-primitivism, claiming that we MUST diminish our standard of living (however that may be measured) if we are to avoid environmental catastrophe. They often express a determination to force such changes in the sort of lifestyle of which they disapprove, whether through legislation, rationing, or other means.

    It all gets very religion-like, with a disdain for the unvirtuous. Why not create a world where the environmental impact of personal behavior is inconsequential, if possible. Let’s leave virtue out of it. It certainly doesn’t seem like appealing to personal responsibility works too well anyway.

    When you get right down to it, are our societies today more dysfunctional than they ever were? I have my doubts about that. We’re evolving as a species. If we can manage to not despoil our habitat to the point where it becomes unlivable perhaps we can continue the progress. It’s pretty discouraging sometimes, I grant you that. But we’re all stuck on this ball for a short ride, so we might as well make the best of it.

    Chris, please don’t consider any observations in my above rambling as being directed at you personally. I just thought I’d riff on your commentary to explain a bit about the perspective I tried to maintain in P4TP.

  24. Tom @ 25

    What a sensible and pragmatic attitude to our present “problem”.

    The main thing is to save the planet as a habitable home for all species. The “hairshirt” method won’t be successful and, even if it were, would take too long – time we do not have.

    I found your book, and the discussions here, at least gave me some hope that we can overcome our problems. Prior to reading these I was despairing of any possibility of doing so. Now I am left with the worry that we can’t get the message to our politicians, and the general public, and the niggling feeling that they won’t listen anyway. Is there some way we could entice you out here to promote your book and your ideas?

  25. Thanks for the kind words, Perps. Actually Barry has been working on that, and I would love to come to Australia to promote this. As for politicians, I have gotten some very serious interest here and have what could be some very consequential meetings in the works. I’m pretty hopeful that we’ve perhaps reached a political tipping point, and encouraged that so many people seem open to looking at the science and questioning ideology. I know it’s a tall order to overturn the status quo, but it’s sure worth a try. Part of it is simply education. There are many people willing to listen to reason. Up to now there’ve been plenty of people explaining the problems and virtually nobody offering feasible solutions. That’s finally changing, and it’s clear there’s a real hunger for answers. I have high hopes for the next few years as a turning point. Let’s keep the pressure on.

  26. Tom, If you are indeed coming out to Australia some time would be glad to sit down and chat.

    Meanwhile, I am all ears but you will have to forgive my reticence in immediately endorsing any proposed silver bullet.

    There are two reasons for my immediate reticence. Firstly, in public discussions on energy supply and demand spanning three decades I have come across many earnest men of science who believe they have the magic bullet that will save humanity. Most recently it has been the ‘hot rocks’ devotees. Some time before that it was the ‘fuel cell’ devotees. I enjoyed the conversation immensely but came to a conclusion these earnest men of science, though brilliant and genuine and compassionate, are largely constrained by the limitation of their research area.

    In every case, although these technologies do show great promise, at the end of the day the full blown evangelical attachment to them has had to give way to reality. Although useful, they simply can’t deliver the promised magic bullet.

    Therefore any enthusiasm I may have for Gen IV nuclear technology remains tempered until it gets through the evangelical stage of inquiry.

    My second reticence comes from your observation that if the supply / demand dilemma can be ‘fixed’ by delivering an unrestrained supply of low-carbon energy, then we can forget the demand side. Growth is no longer a problem, humanity is saved. I would be very glad to support this notion except that it presumes humanity is faced with just one limitation – energy supply.

    Long before climate change and peak oil rose to the fore, our long term sustainability has been compromised by rapidly declining fish stocks, unsustainable land-use practices, pollution of waterways, species extinction and a host of other chronic global problems. Although profligate energy usage has contributed there are many other threats unrelated to energy usage. At the end of the day we have to recognise that sheer human numbers and their collective impact is the core problem.

    Profligacy is the overbearing issue. Finding technological ways to facilitate or pander to profligacy may have some merit as a desperate measure but this is rather like trying to plug a leak in a bursting dam by pumping the leaking outlfow back into the dam. That is not to say we just let the dam burst, but we do have to focus on the causal factors that threaten human survival.

    Having said all that I admit that we do have to look a desperate solutions because, as you rightly point out, fundamental behavioural change is not forthcoming. To quote George Monbiot: “If the biosphere is wrecked, it will not be done by those who couldn’t give a damn about it, as they now belong to a diminishing minority. It will be destroyed by nice, well-meaning, cosmopolitan people who accept the case for cutting emissions, but who won’t change by the way they live.” George is not attacking naive Greens he is attacking consumer society, so satiated by comfort and convenience that they are prepared to go down with the ship rather than modify their wasteful lifestyles.

  27. Chris writes: Therefore any enthusiasm I may have for Gen IV nuclear technology remains tempered until it gets through the evangelical stage of inquiry.

    It’s already well past that stage. There are over 300 reactor-years of experience with fast reactors, and the EBR-II (of which the PRISM is the commercial incarnation) ran for 30 years. The Phenix in France, 2/3 the size of a PRISM and thus a fairly decent argument that scale is hardly an issue, has run for 36 years and is still running. (There are some differences, all of which are better in the PRISM, especially its metal fuel). Your implied analogy with fuel cells and geothermal doesn’t work. Fuel cells work just fine, by the way, but they cost about 100X more than would make them competitive with today’s IC engines, and of course there’s still the huge cost, safety, and energy problems associated with hydrogen. Geothermal has never been able to surmount the many problems with channeling and other difficulties, though I won’t presume they never will. My position is that we should use technologies that we know from experience work, while continuing to hope for new ones that might work even better without hanging our hats on them. We can’t afford to gamble our future on pie in the sky.

    I don’t know if you actually read my book yet or not, but I don’t propose that energy supply is the be-all and end-all solution to all of our planet’s problems. Chapter III, before I delve into the new technologies, is specifically about population as a root cause. But unlimited clean energy supply along with zero-emission vehicles and complete effortless recycling can make a HUGE difference in our sociopolitical environment as well as our biosphere. Not all, but many serious problems of our time could be solved, making it easier to turn our attention to others.

    I’m afraid you and I differ on a fundamental point: you maintain that “Profligacy is the overbearing issue.” I believe that that’s a mindset that says our problems can’t be solved without depending on universal behavioral modification, which isn’t going to happen. My position is that profligacy won’t matter if we change the way we use and supply resources, and that doing so in such a way as to provide everyone on the planet with an improved standard of living is the only thing, short of draconian forced birth control or human catastrophes on an unprecedented scale, that will bring our population down.

    You can’t have a “wasteful lifestyle” when nothing goes to waste and the things you need are in abundant supply. I grant you it’ll take time to get to that point, but to a very great degree we can get there relatively soon.

  28. Not much further to add to this fascinating exchange, except to support what Tom has said at #30. The key premise underlying P4TP is that everything is contained and recycled, the boron cars and the plasma converters [powered, at least in part, by abundant energy from IFRs] being two of the most important manifestations of this ‘systems approach’ Tom has taken to sustainability.

    As a research scientist with a strong and deep passion for arresting human impacts on the biosphere (please browse my publication list), I would not be supporting this vision if I didn’t think it had merit — nay, if I didn’t think it holds the very realistic possibility of solving many of the most entrenched problems facing humanity and our impact on the Earth System and its ‘organs’ (of which the biosphere is one of the most important).

    Not wanting to be flippant, but as Tom pointed out in the book, P4TP is not proposing a ‘silver bullet’ — the bullet is made from depleted uranium.

  29. I understand that IFR fuels are not well suited to extraction of weapons grade materials using PUREX methods, however other methods are being developed, like SILEX. Being unfamiliar with details, and such details looking to be deliberately kept vague, I can’t judge if the difficulty of diversion into weapons is more about the technology used for separation than the nature of IFR fuels. I can’t help but think that widespread nuclear expertise, widely available technologies for handling nuclear materials and an ongoing situation where most nations are denied the weapons technologies that a few nations making those rules continue to insist are necessary for their own security is a recipe for those rules to be broken.
    If IFR is held up as a panacea the impetus for ongoing development of renewables, including large scale energy storage, can be undermined. This is happening at a time when Concentrating Solar Power is reaching price parity with coal power, new PV production methods are beginning to be commercialised that have enormous potential for costs to be reduced, whilst PV grade silicon prices are dropping rapidly.
    Is large scale energy storage really that much more difficult than new generation nuclear, or just a case of not existing yet because it’s not needed yet?

  30. There’s no way that CSP is anywhere close to coal. When capacity factors are taken into account, both planned and existing CSP arrays (such as the already-operational Nevada Solar One and the planned Ausra) cost about $14,000 (The planned Ausra) to $17,000 (NSO) per kilowatt. A study of over 40 wind farm projects in England came to about the same amount, according to a recent issue of New Scientist. Coal is in the range of $1,300 or so, but of course that doesn’t consider the environmental and social impact of coal use. As far as storage is concerned, the energy penalty that entails would make the aforementioned costs even higher. And clearly if energy storage was as easy as is often claimed, the Danes would have started using it years ago to store the excess wind power they often generate at night rather than having to burn coal during the day, which they do in great amounts.

    IFRs are certainly not a panacea that removes all threat of proliferation, and extracting plutonium from it would require the same sort of techniques as extracting it from spent fuel from light water reactors. The bottom line is that fissile material has to be subject to oversight, a point dealt with in detail in P4TP.

  31. Tom Blees – “There’s no way that CSP is anywhere close to coal. When capacity factors are taken into account, both planned and existing CSP arrays (such as the already-operational Nevada Solar One and the planned Ausra) cost about $14,000 (The planned Ausra) to $17,000 (NSO) per kilowatt.”

    Yes but in calculations such as $ per kw the nameplate capacity is always used. Divide by the cost by the nameplate capacity to get the baseline cost per kW.

    To get the cost per kWh you need to project for at least 10 years the power output of the plant and factor in money costs, maintenance and fuel etc and then work out he cost per kWh and in this CSP is coming down to coal. Wind is already on a par with coal and natural gas.

    http://www.wind-energy-the-facts.org/en/part-3-economics-of-wind-power/chapter-1-cost-of-on-land-wind-power/the-cost-of-energy-generated-by-wind-power.html

    “The calculated costs per kWh of wind-generated power, as a function of the wind regime at the chosen sites, are shown in Figure 1.8. As illustrated, the costs range from approximately 7-10 c€/kWh at sites with low average wind speeds, to approximately 5-6.5 c€/kWh at windy coastal sites, with an average of approximately 7c€/kWh at a wind site with average wind speeds.”

    http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/rea/news/article/2008/03/low-cost-solar-thermal-plants-at-heart-of-algerian-german-research-push-51889

    “Electricity from solar thermal plants could cost as little as €0.04/kilowatt hour (kWh) [US $0.06/kWh] by 2015 to 2020, Bernhard Milow from the German Aerospace Center (DLR) said. And using solar thermal power to desalinate seawater could cost the same.

    “The technology and science is all there. It’s just a question of transferring that knowledge to those who have the sunshine and optimizing the technology to make it competitive,” Milow said.

    Electricity from solar thermal plants currently costs €0.20 to 0.30/kWh [US $0.31 to 0.47/kWh], depending on the location of the plant and the amount of sunshine it receives. But with improvements in the performance of plants and better sites, solar thermal electricity could soon be cheaper than coal, and so generate huge amounts of reliable, clean electricity in hot desert regions, Milow said.”

    Again while these a future predictions they are no worse than the yet to be built fully commercial IFR.

    “IFRs are certainly not a panacea that removes all threat of proliferation, and extracting plutonium from it would require the same sort of techniques as extracting it from spent fuel from light water reactors. The bottom line is that fissile material has to be subject to oversight, a point dealt with in detail in P4TP.”

    And that oversight has lead to Israel, Pakistan, India, North Korea and possibly South Africa developing illegal nuclear weapons. Also that same regime is completely unsuccessfully preventing Iran from doing the same.

    So what new oversight regime do you propose for the IFR future? [Ed: I suggest you read the book and find out, or wait for my review of this part of P4TP]

  32. Tom Blees – “My position is that profligacy won’t matter if we change the way we use and supply resources, and that doing so in such a way as to provide everyone on the planet with an improved standard of living is the only thing, short of draconian forced birth control or human catastrophes on an unprecedented scale, that will bring our population down.”

    So your solution is not to even try to change our ways as you deem it impossible. In short the American/Australian way of life is not negotiable?

    So who’s standard of living do you propose lifting the entire world too? The USA currently uses 24% of the world’s energy and has 5% of the population. Assuming that your dream is achieved we would need twenty times our present energy consumption = 500EJ / 4 * 20 = 2500EJ of energy just to provide the present population of the world with the USA’s energy needs. Americans eat 815 billion calories per day – how do we make enough food to feed all the world at Americans dietary intake? How do we provide 2 cars for 6 billion people as they have to have at least 2 to be on a par with the ordinary American?

    I am asking you to consider that perhaps the Earth, even with the IFR, does not have the resources to provide the American way of life to all the people of the Earth. So if it cannot, then somebody will have to cut back a bit at some time. Simply providing ‘unlimited’ energy is not enough.

    What I do have a problem with is that you consider rolling out a yet to be proven technology at an entirely imaginary rate to people whom most of which (80%) do not have any infrastucture or political stability to receive it. This is possible to you. What you deem as impossible is the relatively simple idea, in comparison, of convincing 5% to 20% of the world’s population to use a bit less. I just think you have your ideas the wrong way round.

  33. Enders – I think it is unfair to translate “provide everyone on the planet with an improved standard of living” in to “the American/Australian way of life is not negotiable?” and meaning that everyone on the planet has to have as many cars or use as much energy as an American or Australian… when in fact many residents of European cities would have better standards of living than many US citizens despite the fact that they use less energy per head and have less cars, drive less, and eat fewer calories.

    There is a fair bit of flexibility in “improved standard of living”…

  34. Tom in 25, I know it’s unfair to pick out a snippet of your thoughts but I can’t help challenging the following comment:
    “Likewise with driving: if our cars pollute, we should drive less. If our cars don’t pollute, and if acquiring their fuel doesn’t require any sort of environmental insult, should we care?”

    The proliferation of cars can be blamed for the sprawl that typifies many (western) cities. This, in turn, has other consequences (alienation of productive agricultutral land, impacts on flora/fauna, social isolation, accidents, inefficiencies in providing effective public transport). Cars require extensive infrastructure, which, in turn, has resource and cost implications. In other words, there are a myriad of other issues beyond that of fuel source that need to be considered and accounted for.

  35. Ender, I’ve gone around with you on the whole capacity factor business before. The way you’re presenting it now sounds like you figure capital costs don’t count, that the cost entails essentially maintenance and operating expenses. If you want to figure it that way, then nuclear power in present-day U.S. power plants costs 1.68 cents/kWh. Any way you cut it, the contention that nuclear is more expensive than wind and solar doesn’t fly.

    If you’re interested in the oversight regime I propose, just read the book. I’m not responsible for ineffective oversight up to this point, nor would I suggest for a minute that it’s been sufficient.

    No matter how we handle resources, the core of our difficulties is overpopulation, in my opinion. My contention isn’t that we should all be wasteful, but that we won’t be able to get people to voluntarily have fewer kids until we improve their standard of living. Experience indicates that that is the thing that brings down population growth. So I think we should try to improve people’s standard of living in ways that minimize the impact on the environment to the greatest degree possible. I don’t believe that we can manage that if we depend on people’s behavior. I’m not pretending such a strategy will make the world perfect. Your last paragraph seems to indicate your belief that we should be content to leave the developing world’s standard of living low and decrease our own voluntarily. Good luck with that.

    John Tag, trying to keep people from buying cars is likewise a losing proposition. I’m not saying that cars have no environmental impact, but if people have them and can drive them without environmental damage in terms of fuel and emissions, then we shouldn’t much care how much they drive them. Of course there are environmental ramifications to the use of cars. So what’s the solution to that? Can we just expect all the countries that want more cars to forego them? I think the best we can do, realistically, is to bring the environmental impact down as much as possible. It gets to the point where congestion limits the number of cars in cities, a point that has been reached in many cities around the world.

    Being content with an unequal distribution of resources and wealth as a solution to our problems isn’t just, nor is it reasonable to think it can continue. I’m not saying we can get out of our current dilemma without a scratch, far from it. I’m simply trying to point out a course of damage control that can be fair while encouraging voluntary population limitation. I don’t think we can ever get the majority of nations to initiate and enforce one-child policies or anything like that, though I do hope that the UN gets heavily involved in trying to provide free contraception worldwide. That would be a huge step in the right direction.

  36. The kids thing is interesting. I tend to think if we are relying on people not having kids then we have Buckley’s:)

    Or rather if we are relying on people not having kids, then it will be people starving to death in the streets, including the kids, that will cap the population, rather than people deciding not to have them. I’m not being pessimistic… I personally think that if we don’t all insist on using the resources of your average Aussie/westerner, then the planet can support quite a few more than we have now. More realistically again it is about efficiency, as history shows that not many people are happy lowering their standards for the sake of those who have nothing…

    Of course before people are dying in the street everywhere there will be wars and deaths that way… not my preferred form of pop control either! (and probably not the best environment for stable governance to prevent nuclear proliferation).

    On cities – oh no another MattB life story aside… I decided a number of years ago that my brain was not suited (smarts nor attitude) to be an academic (a bit like when you realise you’l probably never play cricket for Australia)… so I’m doing a Masters in Urban design – create cities where people can’t help but get the most out of their lives by driving less, consuming less land etc etc. Newman and Kenworthy being right up there in that field (now Curtin Uni). See how she goes eh.

    So improving quality of life, and living standards, but using less… they are the win-win solutions that will get us a long way to solving this problem… of course our companies are in the developing world convincing that to modernise they need freeways and cars…. it is like handing out free heroin to 12 year olds!

  37. Good point, Geoff. Agriculture (including meat production) for such vast numbers of people could end up being our Waterloo. One thing that could make an impact allowing us to reduce meat production would be open-ocean aquaculture. The problems with sea-based aquaculture tend to be severe because they’re shore-based, thus concentrating waste products, parasites, etc in areas least able to cope with such effects. But imagine fish farms in the open ocean, vast pens of salmon (or whatever) out in the middle of the Pacific, maintained and harvested by processing ships. The amount of fish far offshore is extremely small in terms of their population density. For now such open-ocean fish farms haven’t yet been developed, partly because it’s easier (and still cheaper) to build them along the shore. But people are working on the concept, with pens that would remain submerged (to avoid the wave problems) until the fish are ready to be harvested. Perhaps we can convert our fleets of oil tankers to fish farming tenders/processors. The carrying capacity of the oceans for such enterprises would be stupendous. We’d have to figure out fish food sources that didn’t rely on catching wild fish to feed them, but we already know how to make such feed from vegetable products, plus the trim from the fish processing could likely be incorporated into the feed stocks.

    This could conceivably reduce the pressure for mammalian meat sources. It should be easier to get people to stop eating meat if they can still consume fish, and many different species of fish can be farmed successfully.

    Then again, there’s always Soylent Green…

  38. Hi Matt,

    Your view: “I personally think that if we don’t all insist on using the resources of your average Aussie/westerner, then the planet can support quite a few more (people) than we have now.”may be a very Christian standpoint but the last thing we should be thinking about. Cramming more people into an overcrowded planet simply pushes us to the same planetary limits but with even less room to move.

    Tom, P4TP is on my reading list. For now I am going to assume that Gen IV nuclear plants can deliver virtually endless amounts of energy without reliance on finite fuel resources and whilst eliminating (or having manageable) proliferation and safety risks. If this magic remedy is truly sitting there just waiting to be developed then the begging question becomes a possible role out timeframe. This is vitally important in the context of climatologist projections that we have to act with urgency in order to avert catastrophic climate change. Urgency meaning delivering results within the next two decades.

    Firming up the technology requires at least one commercial operational plant. It also requires allaying public and political fears about safety and proliferation, which inevitably means protracted debate. Large scale role out then requires the delivery of very large financial contracts and planning approvals – typically 15 years in each instance. Then there is a need to allow for at least 5 years operation in order to deliver net energy – i.e. overcome imbedded fossil fuel energy that has been used to get to this point.

    With my rose-tinted glasses on we are looking at a timescale of at least 30 years before much of a dent can be made in favour of climate change mitigation.

    I am not an economist but there is a frequently used argument that competition for finance and the urgency of acting rapidly on climate mitigation strongly favours deployment of technologies that can deliver early rather than after the horse has bolted. In that respect carbon dioxide sequestration from existing thermal plant would probably have an edge over Gen IV (if we have to resort to large scale technologies).

    Again I am being a devil’s advocate, but if Gen IV is presented as a resolution to climate change then it has to go into pitched battle with technologies that can be progressively rolled out immediately or with at least fairly early propects of delivery. And this strongly favours solar / wind / geothermal developments right now.

    In the final analysis I must agree with you that these latter dilute technologies are not able to cater for an asymptotically growing energy demand in the long term. Therein lies the crux of this debate. Gen IV fits neatly into the current growth ethos. It enables us to go on as we are – or at least it appears to. Interesting that a number of prominent environmentalists, not least James Lovelock and Australia’s Tim Flannery have tipped in favour of nuclear over traditional renewables, recognising that energy growth paths are not flattening out even as urgency stares us in the face.

  39. Tom Blees – “Ender, I’ve gone around with you on the whole capacity factor business before. The way you’re presenting it now sounds like you figure capital costs don’t count, that the cost entails essentially maintenance and operating expenses.”

    Not really as the standard for the calculation of capital cost is the formula that I stated. Capital cost per kW has nothing to do with capacity factor and is a calculation to compare the relative cost of nameplate capacity. Cost per generated kWh does take in the capacity factor as this will affect the amount of power that a plant can generate over a year. I am not saying that capacity factor does not matter just that it is not relevant to the capital cost comparison calculation.

    Its funny as you have gone from this:

    “My position is that profligacy won’t matter if we change the way we use and supply resources, and that doing so in such a way as to provide everyone on the planet with an improved standard of living is the only thing”

    To this now:

    “No matter how we handle resources, the core of our difficulties is overpopulation, in my opinion.”

    If overpopulation is the problem I fail to see how just implementing unlimited energy will solve it. It is true that increased living standards will decrease birth rates however this is not an absolute. The living standards of any country is not solely determined by the energy use or availability and many factors combine to produce the living standard of a country. Africa is littered with grandiose projects that were supposed to be the manna from heaven however only increased the misery of the people as they were forced to pay back the massive loans that were required to build these massive projects. While most of these projects have foundered, microcredit and small scale renewable projects are right now improving the living standards of millions of people in the third world. Why did you change from “profligacy won’t matter” to “the core of our difficulties is overpopulation” when posed with a question of how far do we raise living standards?

    “Your last paragraph seems to indicate your belief that we should be content to leave the developing world’s standard of living low and decrease our own voluntarily. Good luck with that.”

    That is absolutely not the case. The developing world should increase it’s living standard however we should be providing a better model for them to aspire too. Right now a large proportion of the world’s population namely China and India are trying to be Americans, as this is seen as the gold standard to aspire to. We need to provide a more sustainable model so there is less of the have and have nots. We need to change our profligacy so that when the third world raises it living standards, it raises them to a more sustainable model the we also are using. Not one standard for the rich and one for the poor but a range of living standards that all are based on nature’s flows and are sustainable, but are different to reflect the different conditions in each country. We will never all be the same however, in that difference there is still scope to raise the living standards of those in grinding poverty and at the same time changing the rich to a more sustainable model.

    Your initial statement is that the rich’s profligacy does not matter and we do not need to change, just generate more energy. You changed it to population is the problem, however the real problem is only 20% of the world’s population (you and me) that use 80% of the resources of the planet. We need to change to be a better example of what the developing world can aspire to, to decrease poverty and reduce the stunning and growing gap between rich and poor.

  40. If overpopulation is the problem I fail to see how just implementing unlimited energy will solve it

    Tom is not saying this. ‘Unlimited’ energy helps, but you need more, of course (yet it is the sine qua non — without this, everything else is doomed to fail unless we regress to a more brutish, low-tech existence). Zero-emissions vehicles, not reliant on fossil fuels, helps too. Plasma recyclers that waste almost nothing sure help a lot. Ensuring that society can continue to ‘grow’ and prosper (intellectually and technologically) without unsustainably depleting natural capital — the ultimate aim.

    Read the P4TP book, please Ender. Then at least we won’t be talking over each other nor debating the type of grass that went into bundling together all these straw men you’ve built [not said as an attack on you -- merely a reflection of how I see your otherwise well-intentioned but incompletely informed position].

  41. Chris @42… I try to be a good athiest I do, but I just can’t help having been brought up Catholic;)

    But have you seen the resistance in the developing world to “look we’ve put too much carbon up there, would you mind very much not using fossil fuels as you drag yourselves out of poverty.” imiagine the resistance to “would you mind very much not having babies.”

    I tend to think of it as accepting the realities of people, rather than havintg once been Christian.

    Lol Imagine the resistance to “would you mind very much becoming athiests?”

    And Geoff… yes I have a few Beefs with that too… But keep up didn;t you know that beef is good for climate change: you could have some good times at http://www.agmates.com/blog/ another blog lucky enough to enjoy my visits… I’ve been told Cows are actually carbon neutral:) they only emit the methan that was in the plant anyway:)

  42. Chris @ 42 writes: If this magic remedy is truly sitting there just waiting to be developed then the begging question becomes a possible role out timeframe.

    Well, it’s not magic but it is nearly sitting there. GE could start building one right away. It’s a question of political support from Obama and the Dept. of Energy. I’m expecting to have some high-level meetings of the principals very soon. With support from Obama we could have a working version of the PRISM up and running in 2-3 years, a full IFR in five (including a PRISM and the recycling facility). After that point, we could roll them out quickly because of their modularity, with companies from all over the world each getting a piece of the action. They could almost assuredly be built in the time frame of GE’s ABWR (3-4 years). I get into that whole time frame/economics thing in P4TP, and the latest info from all quarters (which I keep up with) gives me no reason to think those estimates are off.

    Your estimates of long time scales assume a rate predicated on a business-as-usual mode of operation. Mine do not. It is entirely feasible to make major inroads far faster than you project if the political will is there. Just as an example from the USA (in regard to your concerns about the money): The spent fuel fund has almost $30 billion dollars in it. If we decide to use IFRs to rid ourselves (productively) of spent fuel, that could build quite a few IFRs. In point of fact, going the IFR route is cheaper than business as usual (again, it’s in the book). As for the carbon deficit caused by building the plants, they are not only small but also there is no carbon penalty from mining and enrichment of uranium, which is unnecessary. So the “payback” time, if you will, is very short. The amount of building materials per megawatt is tiny compared to similar outputs of wind and solar generation. Their carbon deficit will be far greater than that of IFRs, with far less capacity available under any realistic scenario.

    As for quickly making a dent, if we can manage to convert our automobiles to zero emission (as I propose in my book) we could very speedily eliminate 25-30% of our anthropogenic GHG emissions. It’s not just electricity that’s involved here.

  43. Ender @ 43: I am not saying that capacity factor does not matter just that it is not relevant to the capital cost comparison calculation.

    Well, I beg to differ. If you build a power plant that has no possible hope of producing more kWh than the equivalent of a 15MW gas or nuclear plant (because they can run 24/7), how is that irrelevant to the capital cost comparison. What if you had a power source that could produce 1000MW but could only do it for ten minutes a day. Would you call that a 1000MW plant and base your capital cost/MW figures on its 1000MW nameplate? You’re playing games to avoid the facts. I don’t buy it. As for the remainder of your post, Barry handled it just fine (Thanks, B).

  44. MattB#45: Cows take the carbon in plants (that came from the air or the ground) and turn some of it into methane (CH4). The net result is that CO2 becomes CH4. So there is no new carbon being dug up. That much is true. But to pretend that this is carbon neutral is ignorant at best, but since I’ve been explaining this to cowboys for a few years now, I’d be thinking that anybody still saying this is just lying.

    CO2 has an effect on warming, but take off the O2 and substitute H4 and the effect on warming is increased by about 25 times. Cattle don’t put new carbon up in the sky, but they supercharge what is already there. When methane emissions are quoted they are generally quoted in tonnes, but a tonne of methane has a whole lot more supercharged Cs than a tonne of CO2. The net result is that a tonne of CH4 has about 72 times the warming impact of a tonne of CO2 over the following couple of decades.

    But cattle don’t just emit methane. They drive deforestation globally and locally. Of the net 100 million hectares cleared in Australia, about 70 million has been for sheep and cattle (State of Environment 2006).

  45. Matt @ 45,

    Yes, economists have a way of expressing the difference in lifestyle between first and developing worlds. It revolves around the factor 32.

    In short, if the whole world consumed at the rate that the first world does (at a per capita consumption multiplier rate of 32) it would be as if the global population had now reached a staggering 72 billion people. That’s a tenfold increase in present impact.

    Like all statistics, this number can be used two ways in the perennial population-versus-consumption debate. But it warns me in no uncertain terms that we have to deal with wasteful consumption as a priority. As said, it is much easier to halve consumption (by eliminating waste) than it is to halve population (by eliminating people).

    We do know that up to 50 percent of resource consumption in our own society can be eliminated without curtailing comfort levels or general prosperity. The population dilemma is real, as Tom points out, but its resolution is constrained by ethics. Every effort should be made to demand policies that help to reduce future population growth, but we are largely stuck with an an over-crowded world. Our worst folly would be to try to cater for a 32 multiplier.

    At some point we have to look at a shared sustainable per-capita consumption of resources that is reasonably balanced between poverty and gluttony. The new version of Kyoto Protocol is attempting to do just this on the energy / greenhouse gas front.

    (You have probably seen the site The Story of Stuff: http://www.storyofstuff.com/ )

  46. Barry Brook – “Ensuring that society can continue to ‘grow’ and prosper (intellectually and technologically) without unsustainably depleting natural capital — the ultimate aim.”

    And that is exactly what I desire as well however my methodology differs. I will read the book eventually however I always go back to the old adage that all that glitters is not gold. As far as I can see the book is long on promises and glib assurances that ‘my technology will work’ even though long experience with new technology teaches us that most things take at least twice as long as expected and cost twice as much at a minimum even if the shining idea actually translates into practical working products. You must admit the world of technology and energy is littered with grandiose ideas that never flew. I will reserve judgment on the book until I see a working IFR in commercial operation charging a boron car, also in production.

    Until then we must continue to support and rollout energy efficiency and the idea of energy efficiency and conservation coupled with as fast as possible rollout of every renewable technology that has a demonstrated working history such as CSP, solar PV, and wind.

  47. Tom Blees – “Well, I beg to differ. If you build a power plant that has no possible hope of producing more kWh than the equivalent of a 15MW gas or nuclear plant (because they can run 24/7), how is that irrelevant to the capital cost comparison. What if you had a power source that could produce 1000MW but could only do it for ten minutes a day. Would you call that a 1000MW plant and base your capital cost/MW figures on its 1000MW nameplate? You’re playing games to avoid the facts. I don’t buy it. As for the remainder of your post, Barry handled it just fine (Thanks, B).”

    OK so you differ – take it up with the people that came up with the comparison not me. Fossil fuel plants do not run 24X7 as they have capacity factors lower than 100% which is why the capital cost comparison is done on nameplate. The gas turbine you mention could have a operational capacity factor of 20% if it used only twice a day for peaking, so it cost would be 5 times more by your calculations. That is exactly why the capital cost per kw is done with the nameplate capacity to take the capacity factor out of the equation. You can’t have 5 different costs/kw depending on capacity factor as this would make the comparison meaningless.

    Barry did ‘deal’ with the remainder of my post however problems still remain as you cannot possibly anticipate the problems that will occur from the transition from prototype to production line modularity. I find the timescales that have been mentioned in your replies to be impossibly optimistic as the history of nuclear technology up till now has been one of delays and cost overruns. I find it difficult to believe that the IFR, however good, will be any different.

    As I said to Barry I will reserve judgment until I see some more working hardware in the hands of normal punters.

  48. I will read the book eventually… As far as I can see the book is long on promises and glib assurances… I will reserve judgment on the book

    Ultimately, those in favour of IFR are saying this: bottom line is build a single S-PRISM demonstration IFR (which is based on the 30 year experience of the EBR-II and the already designed GE bluprints), and prove it up.

    In a similar spirit, I say to you Ender: read P4TP before you make any further assumptions about ‘glib assurances’ and time frames. ‘Experience’ (IEA 2008 projections) says non-hydro renewables will go from meeting 1 to 2% of global energy demand by 2030. So forgive me, but whatever the tech, we’re looking at hugely accelerated time-frames to make a difference here. Go back and read the last few paragraphs of my article above to see that I’m saying exactly this.

  49. Ender#51: Consider this quote from the ABC Catalyst website talking about Sliver solar cells:

    “Dr Vernie Everett: Yes it is. And we’re that close we can smell it.

    Professor Andrew Blakers: We can clearly see a path to producing solar electricity for less than the cost of daytime retail electricity it’s going to be cheaper for a householder to install solar panels on their roof rather than buying more electricity from the grid.

    Dr Vernie Everett: The world’s our oyster.”

    The program was aired in March 2007. Two years later and Origin Energy hasn’t notified me about when I can buy one (as they promised me!).

    I’ve had a solar hot water heater for 25 years, and have been hearing about PV solar dreams for about the same length of time. Nuclear doesn’t have a monopoly on excess hype and missed deadlines.

  50. Chris writes: In short, if the whole world consumed at the rate that the first world does (at a per capita consumption multiplier rate of 32) it would be as if the global population had now reached a staggering 72 billion people.

    But there you’re talking about consumption of fossil fuels (which we wouldn’t be doing anymore under the P4TP scenario) and the throwaway culture of today, which we also wouldn’t be doing. It’s a completely different paradigm. I realize you haven’t read the book yet, so I’ll refrain from further comment on this since we’re not talking from the same basic assumptions.

  51. TomBlees#41: Regarding open ocean aquaculture. Seafood provides 1% of global calories and the oceans are already in trouble. Current aquaculture tends to focus on carnivorous fish for some mysterious (to a vegan) reason, so is a net consumer of fish, not a producer. Open ocean aquaculture would need to use vegetarian fish and find a suitable food source. I’ve seen comments indicating that meat producers are worried about aquaculture as a competitor for feed.

    These producers have no trouble out bidding poor people for feed, but outbidding fish eaters is much harder because fish eaters tend to have serious money. I can’t see that shifting grain from pigs and chickens to fish will increase the global food supply by much, if at all, but I don’t know much about fish. I keep waiting for people to wake up, read the research, and realise that fish isn’t a magic heart (or brain) food. But that just shows I’m an incurable optimist.

  52. Geoff, here’s a little piece from an open ocean aquaculture program off Hawaii:

    “Third, it is said that we are just feeding fish to fish because our feed for the fish comes from
    fishmeal. This of course, is true – but only partially so. Our feed is 50 percent protein. Half of that
    protein comes from fishmeal and half from soybeans or other protein-rich plant material. So yes, we
    are using fishmeal to grow fish but that same fishmeal, produced from anchovies, sardines, menhaden,
    krill, and various fish byproduct sources including some by-catch, would otherwise go to producing
    poultry or swine. These two other meats are the two largest industrial consumers of fishmeal. It takes
    1.3 to 1.8 pounds of dry pellets to produce a pound of fish. It takes 3.5 pounds of comparable proteinrich
    feed to produce a pound of chicken and even more to produce a pound of pork. Thus, the feeding
    of fishmeal to fish, particularly when half is plant protein, is a far more efficient use of a wild caught
    fish resource than feeding it to chickens, swine, or cattle. Cattle even get more fishmeal than fish in
    the US and in this case it takes 7 pounds of protein to produce 1 pound of cow!”

    As you can see, the efficiency of such aquaculture in terms of pounds of input to pounds of output is far better than with even chicken, much less mammals. The oceans can definitely handle it. This program in Hawaii is anchored not far offshore. Even better will be pens that float beneath the surface, simply buoyed and drifting, or anchored in very deep water.

    Most fish large enough for people to eat are carnivorous, are they not?

    Again in this as in so many other areas, we can’t afford to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. We can encourage people to not eat meat—or fish, for that matter—but experience has shown that people want to eat animal food, not surprising since we evolved as omnivores. So how do we arrange matters in such a way as to minimize the environmental impact of that? Open ocean aquaculture seems to be perhaps the best option. Then you don’t have to talk everybody into being vegetarian. You just have to provide them with decent seafood. Might we get to the point where we have carbon taxes on meat as a way to move people to fish? That would be one possible mode of behavior modification that might work. I don’t eat mammals myself, and I think it would be great to get away from the whole slaughterhouse thing and the environmental insult of our current system. But I think we have to provide at least a fish option if we expect to approach such a situation.

  53. Tom, Thank you for the fish dissection, very interesting.

    May I sum up my various postings in this thread. You will have interpreted me as being antagonistic to some of your viewpoints, but generally I concur with both you and Barry that we have no choice but to resort to pragmatic solutions if there is any chance of avoiding mass human trauma.

    Where I mainly concur is the futility of affecting widespread behavioural change. Despite many exhortations from NGOs and government programs that include incentives and many other inducements and strategies; despite shocking climate calamities that are happening before our eyes; despite people being converted in the millions to an acceptance that anthropogenic climate change is real and life threatening… despite all of this the upward spiralling graphs remain upward spiralling. We are creatures of habit and comfortable.

    I recently undertook an intensive course in Community Based Social Marketing, conducted by Canadian psychology expert in this field Doug Mckenzie-Morh, currently on Australian tour. Although insightful, the main message I came away with is that changing human behaviour is exceedingly complex and can only be done through an exceedingly complex array of mechanisms that take into account all the multiple drivers that affect human behaviour. (Doug’s integrated website is at http://www.cbsm.com – worth a peek.)

    Whilst it is fantastic that NGOs and government agencies are prepared to work through these multifarious barriers to try to affect behavioural change, what is clearly evident is that dramatic behavioural change is not on the cards, at least not in the short term. This is borne out by many personal observations. So long as resources are available and affordable, they will be acquired. Most citizens seem to have come to a subconscious conclusion that, although climate change is real and threatening, they would prefer to ‘go down with the ship’ than make much of an effort to live more sustainably. Even committed environmentalists, who recycle, eat local foods and ride bikes, will then fly off in jet aircraft to foreign lands knowing full well that this activity overwhelms all their other efforts and seriously jeopardises the planet’s life support system.

    I also (reluctantly) concur that soft renewable technologies are unable to chase down exponential growth. Although they show great promise to deliver large amounts of energy, dilute energy resources are incompatible with economies that have no intention and no evidence of stabilising their growth patterns. It is for this reason that a number of high profile environmentalists like Tim Flannery have (with some reluctance) turned to nuclear energy as a last ditch means to avoid cataclysmic climate change.

    In fact, they turned to dirty traditional nuclear power technology, in the absence of safer technology being available.

    As stated in my first post, the world’s insatiable demand for energy means that Australia will sell all of its vast uranium reserves, whether or not this country itself goes down the nuclear energy route. And that uranium will mostly feed into traditional reactors with all of their attendant safety and proliferation risks. So any examination of safer nuclear technology is to be welcomed.

    Where I remain hugely sceptical is the romantic dream of endless energy supplies pandering to consumer greed. I can identify with the pragmatism but query where it would lead us in the long run. But then…. we are beyond the point where ideal, ethically sound solutions can possibly avert catastrophic climate change. We have gone beyond the tipping point.

    As one posting pointed out, technophiles of all persuasion, from solar to nuclear, tend to overstate their case. Not just as a hard sell, but because they really and truly believe in their cause. I have come across this again and again amongst technology devotees. This syndrome I liken to a person who has fallen deeply in love. Whilst in this besotted state there is nothing any observer can do but allow time to mellow their romance. (David Suzuki has much to say about this state of mind.)

    Back to Gen IV technology I would like to come back to this discussion in, say, ten years time and see where things have gone, in hindsight.

    We may stridently differ philosophically, but I do believe that at this juncture in history anybody who is deeply concerned about the future has to be able to merge their ideology with what is possible. That arrow is pointed at me as much as anybody. I will never give up on championing the cause of a fairer society, but I also know that the future has already overtaken this pipedream.

  54. Frankly, Chris, I don’t see where you stridently differ philosophically. As for IFRs, I wouldn’t expect you to be as persuaded as me, because you haven’t had the luxury of working with the people and companies involved.

    I would hope that neither you nor I ever give up on championing the cause of a fairer society. I look forward to discussing this with you after you have a chance to read the book. I believe you’ll find that approaching such a goal is more possible than you might think.

    A lot of the discussion here in this thread has been on the relative merits and demerits of consumerism and moderation. It’s not either/or but a continuum, of course. Many of us probably feel happiest when we’re not owning a bunch of stuff, yet we still want our computer, car (of whatever kind), TV (probably for most, even if only to watch DVDs), cooking equipment, furniture, etc. For years everything I had fit into a backpack and a steamer trunk and I was fine with that, but life got more complicated, with kids, a job, etc. Of course we can witness people going nuts with buying gadgets, trinkets, and other things that seem foolish and faddy, while others go all ascetic and make even a relatively downsized household look extravagant. People are what they are. The challenge is not to attain some uniformly ideal level of spartan behavior, but to accommodate the continuum with the greatest efficiency and least environmental impact. Short of wiping out our fellow man, that is the best we can do, and I believe we can do it to a degree that makes many of the old resource arguments obsolete. Maybe we can even do it without driving ourselves to extinction (alas, many species haven’t been so lucky).

    Call me a pragmatic idealist. Or is that an oxymoron?

  55. Ronald, it’s a bit of a “he said, she said” game with estimating nuclear costs. You can ‘do the sums’ to come up with any numbers that appeal, including huge costs for nuclear (Joe Romm from Climate Progress recently cited someone who worked out it could cost on the order of 25 to 30 bucks per megawatt hour!).

    But as an alternative to the particular views of Amory Lovins (Rocky Mountains Institute: strong advocate of energy efficiency and renewables), Romm and so on, there is this from the World Nuclear Association (strong advocate of nuclear power):

    http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf02.html

    …showing nuclear is cost competitive with coal and far cheaper than any renewable source (I note that the first 20% of energy efficiency would likely be the cheapest option by far). Their figures are based on what actually has been built recently in countries outside of the US of A. But even their US figures look very competitive.

    So what to believe?? Are both gilding (or blackening, depending on your perspective) the lily in defense of their particular favoured technology? Well, that’s an interesting point –Tom may say more in comments here, but in my Part IV review of P4TP, I’ll take the time to explain it in some detail. Like the magician and his sawn-apart assistant, not all is as it seems…

  56. I certainly agree that there is a lot of “he said, she said,” when it comes to the cost of new nuclear energy and other renewables. That’s why I recently went straight to the horse’s mouth and looked up the costs of some new solar, wind and nuclear projects and worked out the cost per average KW of electrity produced. Note that this is not the cost per kilowatt of capacity. As solar, wind and nuclear are all high capital, low running cost sources of energy it is not unreasonable to compare their prices on this basis.

    The ten megawatt Cloncurry solar power station under development in Queensland has a price tag of $31 million and will operate at an average of about 31% of capacity, producing about 30 million kilowatt hours a year, starting in 2010. It will also store thermal energy in order to provide baseload power. The price per average kilowatt of electrical production is about $10,300.

    The Portland Wind Project in Victoria, which may or may not be in limbo due to the current financial situation, will produce electricity at a cost of about $4,300 a kilowatt.

    A provisional contract cost for an AP1000 reactor at the Virgil C. Summer nuclear plant in the US is $7.7 billion or about $7,300 per kilowatt. The cost of a kilowatt of new nuclear electricity in Vogtle in the US has been contracted at about $10,400 per kilowatt or about $12,600 when transmission upgrades are included.

    As solar and wind power are continuing to drop in price I doubt that nuclear will be able to compete, even if new reactor designs are cheaper to build than current models. I think this is especially true for Australia which has abundant wind and solar resources.

    If you like, I can dig up some links for you on the cost of new energy projects.

  57. Those CSP and wind numbers sound about right — at current small-scale levels of installation. The problem comes when you scale up (ironically) — as more and more of the grid is based on renewable energy, there comes a greater and greater need for energy storage for backup/load smoothing. This obviously costs a lot more compared to the current situation, where your backup already exists in the form of coal, gas or nuclear. Also, for wind, as more comes online, the excellent sites (i.e. those >8 m/s average) are used up and good sites start to fill (around 7 m/s – given the cubic relationship, this cuts power by an average of 1/3). Costing this is a whole ‘nuther ball game. So whilst the nameplate capacity prices are likely to continue to fall, the total costs with renewables will probably rise as expansion proceeds. Ted Trainer has a lot more detail on this point, here:

    http://bravenewclimate.com/2008/12/21/renewable-energy-cannot-sustain-an-energy-intensive-society/

    Re: AP1000 costs and other nuclear estimates in the US, I’ll reserve most comments until the next P4TP thread. But like you, I’ve gone to the sources of plants that have actually been built. For instance, some numbers based on bare plant costs [upfront capital, to be comparable to your renewable figures]:

    “A 2005 OECD comparative study showed that nuclear power had increased its competitiveness over the previous seven years. The principal changes since 1998 were increased nuclear plant capacity factors and rising gas prices. The study did not factor in any costs for carbon emissions from fossil fuel generators, and focused on over one hundred plants able to come on line 2010-15, including 13 nuclear plants. Nuclear overnight construction costs ranged from US$ 1000/kW in Czech Republic to $2500/kW in Japan, and averaged $1500/kW. Coal plants were costed at $1000-1500/kW, gas plants $500-1000/kW and wind capacity $1000-1500/kW.”

    Note that the above prices are in USD and don’t account for delivered capacity (which would be roughly 0.9 times for coal/nuclear/gas and 0.25 for wind). Anyway, I won’t digress further here. More on that in a follow-up post.

  58. Chris – I’m sure you’re not meant to leave Doug’s course thinking that behaviour change is complex and complicated:) It is more a case of if you want to change behaviour you have to do it well… and doing it well takes less time and money per person converted than doing it badly:)

  59. Tom @ 27
    I am really encouraged by your comments regarding getting the message out re IFR. I have high hopes that Obama’s science team (appointing Chu will help) will be willing to really tackle the problem head on and be urgently seeking, pragmatic and workable solutions. If that occurs, I believe other governments, including Australia, India and China, will take on the same programs. Meanwhile, I am promoting your book, and Barry’s blog and the ideas to local climate groups and individuals. Main problem is to get them not to switch off when they hear “nuclear” so I can explain “new-clear”. Once over that hurdle, people seem really interested. I am looking forward to your proposed visit to Australia and, I hope, to seeing and hearing you explain the solution on TV and radio. Best wishes and good luck.

  60. This has been a fascinating discussion.

    Chris#57: I don’t see that changing behaviour is all that hard, but it is expensive. All we need is the advertising budget of Coke, Pepsi, L’Oreal, etc while at the same time reducing the advertising budget of various “black hats” to zero. Pretty straight forward really :).

    Tom#onfish + Barry’s post on species: Most fish large enough for people to eat are carnivorous, are they not? I don’t think so. Tilapia are raised as vegetarians in aquaculture, but omnivorous in the wild. Some people eat them.

    What do you call baleen whales? Some people would like to eat these also. They’re not precisely vegan, but to call them carnivorous is a stretch. Daniel Dennet had a similar notion in “Darwins Dangerous Idea”, when he wrote: “Would [flying horses] need to be carnivorous to store enough energy and carry it aloft? Perhaps — in spite of fruit eating bats — only a carnivorous horse could get off the ground.”

    He clearly didn’t know about Trumpter swans (vegetarians) who easily outweigh Condors (scavengers) and don’t just glide around looking regal, they migrate from Alaska to the Pacific coast of the US.

    But, back to the digression. I’m sure people will build open ocean aquaculture systems, but I still say they can’t produce much food without some major techno-breakthroughs. Consider fish-meal, currently about 35 million tonnes of fish is caught to make 7-8 million tonnes of fish meal. Sorry, but this isn’t a major food source when considered alongside 2000 million tonnes of cereal. And how do you catch fish meal? Put a bucket load of fossil fuels (ok, you would use boron) into an aluminium boat (ok, smelted with IFR electricity) and plough through a viscous liquid. If you really could find a way of catching really large quantities of fish meal fish, then the impacts on the rest of the ocean food chains might see Barry and Corey putting a contract out on whoever thought this scheme up.

  61. Perps, maybe you could get in touch with Barry regarding the upcoming visit, in case you can coordinate something with him. If Barry ends up getting me out there I’d like to get together with as many people as possible, including students especially, since we’re talking about the world they’re inheriting. I’ll be working directly with people in the nuclear programs of various countries with the intention of making the IFR the standard design worldwide, at least in nuclear-capable countries in the beginning (which produce about 80% of the GHGs). Hopefully we’ll be able to create a solid enough international regime to eventually get it into non-club countries, at least the more stable ones, with either nuclear “batteries” in the others or a combination of batteries and juice from IFRs being pumped in from across the borders. Desalination will be one of the first orders of business in many places, and eventually in most places, I suspect.

    Ronald, the USA figures are very skewed due to its ridiculously broken corporate/regulatory/government situation. Look at Japan for actual recent costs of about $1,400/kw. Frankly, I’d be really surprised if you can get even near 31% capacity out of a solar farm, given Nevada Solar One’s actual 23% and Ausra’s anticipated 18-22%. By the way, GE recently updated their projected cost for IFR electricity considering the financial situation. All in, including capital cost, interest, O & M, fuel, decommissioning, etc, they figure 4.6 cents (U.S.) per kWh. If we build scads of them, that’ll likely end up less. But let’s just build one to find out. At the same time more wind and solar projects will come online, so five years from now we could compare price tags and actual power production figures.

  62. Geoff, there are a lot of people working on developing vegetarian feeds for farmed fish, including salmon, and I suspect they’ll get that figured out. And yes, there are certainly some vegetarian fish, but most farmed fish (and most of the fish people eat, wild or farmed) are carnivorous. Certainly we couldn’t expect a massive increase in fish farming to be sustainable if we have to keep feeding the fish fish. Meanwhile, we’d be a lot better off (more efficient) feeding the fish meal we already have to fish instead of pigs.

  63. At about 6 Billion per Nuke, you could build…

    141 (One Meg Plants) for 850 Billion Dollars.

    That would create approx. 705,000 Jobs (200 Jobs per KW) or about 5,000 Jobs during “Peak Construction” per every One Megawatt Plant.

    It takes anywhere from 6 – 10 Years to fully Construct and bring Online a Nuke Plant.

    It would be highly unlikely you could strategically plan out or organize the start of construction of these new 141 Plants all at the same time…realistically, it will take many years of planning to build all 141…

    Which means…our Country falls deeper into dependence of “Foreign Oil” interests every year of delay that we put off the inevitable, of building much needed Power Plants that reduce our dependence on “Foreign Oil”…Nukes DO NOT reduce our dependence on “Foreign Oil” because of that which I’ve already earlier stated above…as well as…

    To produce a Nuclear Fuel Rod requires Twenty (20) Steps in order to make the rod “Hot” or ready to use for “Fuel”…Eighteen (18) of those (20) steps use or consume OIL & COAL in the MINING, PRODUCTION & “ENRICHEMENT” PROCESS to MAKE the “NUCLEAR” Fuel Rod that is supposed to be “CLEAN”.

    Nuclear Power Plants Construction “COST” = $5,500 per KW

    This breaks down to 21 cents per Kwh for Electricity from a Nuke Plant!

    That’s 4 TIMES the cost per Kwh of Natural Gas Turbine and Coal Plants, which have a retail rate of around 5 cents per Kwh.

    There is a MUCH BETTER WAY, that will make our Country “INDEPENDENT” from “FOREIGN OIL”…

    You can see this “PLAN” in a Film I made at http://www.KenHoward.ws that will create 5,900 Jobs per KW vs. the 200 Jobs per KW the Nuke creates.

    The Film, “Invest in America” located at http://www.KenHoward.ws will show you how America can build “This New Plan”

    1. In Ten Years TOTAL
    2. Will Generate 50 TIMES MORE POWER than we currently use!
    3. The “Excess” Electricity will be converted to Hydrogen
    4. This Hydrogen will Fuel our Fleet of Vehicles
    5. Make the U.S. a “Net Exporter” of Energy
    6. Create 30 MILLION Jobs
    7. Decrease our National Debt & Trade Deficit
    8. Restore American confidence
    9. Increase wages and profit margins
    10.Create an Econmic “Boom”

    There is an EASY…REAL…Answer.

    Watch my Film for free at http://www.KenHoward.ws

    Cheers!

    Ken Howard

    “If you THINK you can…or…you THINK you can’t…you are exactly right” Henry Ford

  64. Tom#68:
    Page 41 and 42 of Livestock’s Long Shadow has charts of the components in chicken and pig feed by country and the percentage of feed that is fish meal is tiny. The aquaculture people are already outbidding the chicken and pig producers for most of the fish meal.

    As I understand it the problem with feeding fish grain (even carnivorous fish like tuna) is omega-3s. Unlike us, tuna really do need a fishy source and this limits the grain component in the feed. There is also a sales problem. Grain fed fish, like grain fed cattle, have different omega-3/6 ratios than wild fed fish and the fish industry has spent decades selling the virtues of the wild caught ratios. They’d have a lot of deep fried batter on face to have to admit this is rubbish.

  65. Wow, Ken Howard, what that comment lacked in accuracy was certainly made up for in hype. RE: the 18 oil steps, two points (1) they’re not relevant to IFRs, and (2) you don’t need to use oil, just energy. Oh, and I think you mean “Gig” or “Gigawatt” whenever you say “Meg” or “Megawatt”.

    See above this post for some notes from Tom and a link from me which gives a better approximation of the cost per kWh.

  66. Hi Tom. I think the high costs in the US are due to a combination of bottlenecks in reactor components, combined with a lack of skilled and experienced workers. Normally this would cause plant construction to slow or be delayed, but government subsidies for the first six new US reactors mean that companies are going ahead anyway and bidding up prices.

    The cost of $1,500 US per kilowatt in Japan seems much more reasonable. Now if we could get a Japanese company to sign an iron clad contract stating that they would build us a smoothly functioning reactor for that price I’d say we should jump at it. In fact, we should get several. Unfortunately, no Japanese company is going to make that offer as they are also faced with production bottlenecks and have no feasibly economic way to take on more than their current projects. Even if this weren’t true there are a number of factors that would almost certainly increase the cost of a reactor in Australia, among them transportation, higher cost of capital, currency fluctuations, possible lack of water for cooling, labour difficulties, political meddling, public relations costs, security and so on.

    Since there is no practical way to build nuclear power plant in Australia for quite some time, as has already been suggested, I think we should just sit back and see what happens with regards to cost. Because wind, solar and geothermal have all been dropping rapidly in price I think the cost of using them, plus the cost of demand management, will end up cheaper than nuclear. However, a factor that could reduce the cost of nuclear is the large number of new reactors planned by China and South Korea. This could lower costs and gradually eliminate bottlenecks. Also, if nuclear plants could cheaply use thermal storage methods developed for solar thermal energy, it could increase their profitability by letting them operate as peaking plants as well as base load.

  67. Ronald, that’s a good point you make about nuclear plants using thermal storage methods developed for solar. If such storage methods are proven to be economical (and so far all I’ve seen are projections), there’s no reason nuclear couldn’t use them too. Besides the fact that we haven’t seen such systems in use, I’m doubly skeptical because I’ve been told that France has actually used oil-fired power plants (read $$$) for peaks that their nuclear plants are incapable of meeting. I’m a bit skeptical about this, though, since France’s nuclear capacity has been overbuilt by about 22%. And France sells electricity cheap at night to Switzerland. If storage was as easy, cheap, and efficient as many solar proponents claim, it begs the question of why France doesn’t use it.

    I frankly doubt that your prediction of wind, solar and geothermal getting cheaper than nuclear will pan out as you predict, but we’ll see. Once we begin building lots of them using modular construction I don’t think the others will have a chance, one reason being that their materials costs per kW are so high compared to nuclear. As for bottlenecks, that’s a far smaller problem with IFRs because they have no pressurized reactor vessel, which is the main bottleneck now. There is a shortage of nuclear engineers, which is why AREVA is aggressively recruiting and training new ones all over the world.

    You also mentioned the water issues in Australia in regard to nuclear power. These issues pertain equally to any steam-generation power plant, whether coal, gas, or even solar thermal. Of course if you’re operating a solar farm with 100 or 200MW you’ll have less cooling requirements than a 1GW or bigger nuclear plant. It’s relative. The best way to deal with this is to build nuclear plants along the seashore whenever possible.

    Your observations about the factors contributing to the higher costs of nuclear power in Australia—”… labour difficulties, political meddling, public relations costs…—are identical to the same sort of extraneous bars in the wheels that nuclear power experiences in the USA. That’s why sane nuclear power programs have to get the unequivocal support of the government in order to put limits on the amount of interference that can be expected in the process of licensing and building reactors.

  68. Barry, I’ve found the perfect spot for installing one of these.

    All they’ll need it for is the pure heat output — it’s not even generating electricity, just hot water and steam for heating.

    And it will solve a nasty air pollution problem and remove a bunch of other hazards in the process.

    I suggest opening a tip jar to fund putting the first demonstration fast reactor in place here.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/04/20/AR2007042002128.html

  69. Tom Blees – “Besides the fact that we haven’t seen such systems in use, I’m doubly skeptical because I’ve been told that France has actually used oil-fired power plants (read $$$) for peaks that their nuclear plants are incapable of meeting. I’m a bit skeptical about this, though, since France’s nuclear capacity has been overbuilt by about 22%. And France sells electricity cheap at night to Switzerland. If storage was as easy, cheap, and efficient as many solar proponents claim, it begs the question of why France doesn’t use it.”

    You may want to read this about France’s nuclear power program.

    http://www.thebulletin.org/web-edition/features/the-reality-of-frances-aggressive-nuclear-power-push

    “Last year, France exported 83 billion kilowatt hours of electricity and imported 27.5 billion kilowatt hours–obviously, a large net export. But the ambassador neglects to mention that France cheaply exports base-load power and imports expensive, essentially fossil fuel-based, peak-load power to use in its citizens’ wasteful winter heating systems. Net power imports from Germany, which is phasing out nuclear power, averaged about 8 billion kilowatt hours over the last few years, and the emissions linked to these imports are attributed to the exporting country, not France.”

    France’s nuclear program only works because of it’s place in the wider European electricity grid and the easy access of peaking power from countries like Sweden that has pumped hydro. The fact that this peaking can come from other countries means that is far cheaper to get it from other sources than build storage. This works at the moment. Solar as it only receives energy during the day needs storage to provide power round the clock therefore it makes sense add energy storage to solar to create a system that is more despatchable. If France was isolated it would have to run its nuclear plants in load following mode, a highly inefficient and costly measure, to handle peaking loads. In normal grids the base load plants do not operate in this way because cheap and efficient gas turbine plants do it far far better.

    Statement such as these, and others during our conversations, make me uneasy about your knowledge of electricity distribution and operation.

    Which leads to another of your statements in this thread:

    “With support from Obama we could have a working version of the PRISM up and running in 2-3 years, a full IFR in five (including a PRISM and the recycling facility). After that point, we could roll them out quickly because of their modularity, with companies from all over the world each getting a piece of the action.”

    With or without support from Obama it is highly optimistic to expect a design to go from paper to product in 5 years much less a full production item that can roll off the production lines. I am not sure how much production engineering experience you have however to a even a layperson such as myself I would be very skeptical of anyone that said they could make a paper nuke design in this timeframe.

    For example Boeing is currently releasing a new airliner the 787. Work on this started in 2003

    http://www.boeing.com/commercial/787family/news/index.html

    with the first commercial aircraft expected in 2010. From paper to production for this aircraft was 7 years and this was from a company that has been building planes for 80 years and has a vast knowledgebase of procedures and tools available and yet they struggled recently because of the advanced technology in the 787 that delayed its release for at least a year.

    I mentioning this because you are proposing that a company could start basically from scratch, in a time when there is a shortage of nuclear engineers and components, and produce a reactor that only exists so far on paper and have modular components rolling off a production line in 5 years????

    As an analogy for this is if I calmly announced to the world that I was starting an aircraft company today and in 5 years production aircraft similar in performance and size to the 787 would be rolling off the production line. Do you imagine that this is a realistic scenerio?

    I mentioned the aircraft because large commercial airliners have similar certification and quality constraints as nuclear reactors. And this is not a straw man. I am attempting to get you to challenge your assumptions by presenting an analogy. I believe that from paper to mass production of nuclear reactors in 5 years is impossible. I also question your ability to realistically assess this if you think that it is.

    A more credible timeline from my layperson’s point of view would be 10 years to pre-production prototype. Another 4 years ironing out bugs in the production lines with the initial batch of components coming out correctly in another 2 years with full production in a full size factory in yet another 2 years. Even this timeline would be dependant on no showstoppers presenting themselves.

    So even with Obama’s help it would be at least 18 years or so before modular nuclear reactors would be rolling off production lines. 18 years from paper to production for this sort of thing is actually pretty near the mark from examples such as the CANDU which started well before 1962 and was in full electricity production in 1971. Remember the CANDU was not designed to be modular.

  70. Well, the first ABWR reactor went from paper to fuel loading in 39 months. The second one took about the same amount of time. So it would seem that your admitted lack of training doesn’t qualify you to judge how long the newer designs take to go from paper to power. My estimates come from the leading experts in the field. I’m not pulling them out of the air.

  71. Tom Blees – “Well, the first ABWR reactor went from paper to fuel loading in 39 months.”

    Well that is hardly a surprise as the ABWR is a GEN III:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Generation_III_reactor

    “A generation III reactor is a development of any of the generation II nuclear reactor designs incorporating evolutionary improvements in design which have been developed during the lifetime of the generation II reactor designs.”

    “So it would seem that your admitted lack of training doesn’t qualify you to judge how long the newer designs take to go from paper to power. My estimates come from the leading experts in the field. I’m not pulling them out of the air.”

    I guess not, however which particular expert in nuclear reactor mass production did you consult? Even though the later reactors are more modular than the older designs they can in no way be considered mass produced. You actually only have to look at the Tesla electric car to see the problems associated with converting a prototype to a production car.

    So which expert or research did you consult to estimate that a revolutionary reactor design, that has never been built larger than 60MW, could be in commercial mass production from paper in 5 years?

    http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf08.html

    “In the USA, GE was involved in designing a modular liquid metal-cooled inherently-safe reactor – PRISM. GE with the DOE national laboratories were developing PRISM during the advanced liquid-metal fast breeder reactor (ALMR) program. No US fast neutron reactor has so far been larger than 66 MWe and none has supplied electricity commercially.”

  72. Tom, I would imagine the reason French reactors don’t use thermal storage is because modifying an existing plant to would be a very difficult and expensive engineering problem. With thermal solar a molten salt solution can be heated to over 560 degrees, which is much hotter than the primary coolant of a French reactor. But if a nuclear plant that was designed from the ground up to use thermal storage it might be practical.

  73. I’m afraid I don’t really understand the advantages of Fast Integral Reactors. I appreciate that they use much less fuel and produce much less waste than standard reactors, however the cost of fuel and waste storage is only a small fraction of the total cost of nuclear power. I believe it is about 7%. And while reducing the cost of nuclear power by 7% would be beneficial, Fast Integral Reactors would generally require a secondary cooling loop and an on site reprocessing plant which would add to the total capital cost. This means they may not have a cost advantage and it will be quite some time before we learn if they do. It has been suggested that by using a standard design and modular construction their cost per kilowatt could be low, but the same applies to other reactor designs.

    It has been said that their much more efficient use of fuel is a big advantage, however, this doesn’t appear to be a large advantage to me. Current known reserves of uranium are enough for about 130 years at current consumption rates and unless the rate of reactor construction increases, the total number of reactors in the world may decrease in coming years as old ones reach the ends of their operating life. This means there is no real need to rush to develop more efficient reactors. We lose nothing by waiting because almost all the uranium and plutonium in spent fuel from traditional reactors will still be there in usable form. It won’t go to waste. Well, it is nuclear waste, but you know what I mean. So if in 20 years, or 30 years or a hundred years we decide we need Fast Integral Reactors, we won’t have lost anything by delaying.

  74. Ronald, if we are to eliminate the use of fossil fuels (which I think is the goal of most people who take climate change seriously), and if you don’t happen to be a believer in the ability of non-nuclear renewables to meet world energy demand, then we will indeed have to increase the number of reactors, and very substantially. So if you have a reactor design that can utilize 100% of the energy in the uranium vs. a system that uses less than 1%, it’s not hard to decide which one makes sense to build as you proceed into such a massive building project, especially when uranium supply, such as it is, could be severely curtailed by the shutdown of mines in major producing countries for political reasons.

    There are a number of other advantages to IFRs also, from safety to modular construction to elimination of the pressurized reactor vessel (the biggest production bottleneck at present). It’s all in the book.

  75. > over 560 degrees, which is much hotter than the primary coolant of a French reactor.

    One surprising irony of fission power plants is they are not operated anywhere near as hot as supercritical coal burners — I’d like to see more discussion of the efficiency of using fission as replacement heaters for the old dirty coal plants.

    Are we only assuming it’s worth continuing to operate those relatively low-temperature generators, by replacing the heat source? Or has someone done the numbers? (The difference between heat source and heat sink is what matters.)

    Fission also runs a lot cooler than new concentrating solar collectors.

    It’s good news that the non-nuclear plants are developing high temperature pumps and storage media. Anyone have a clue how those would work with retrofit in a fission plant (neutron flux, etc) environment?

    http://www.nrel.gov/csp/troughnet/

  76. It seems that someone agrees with me:

    “Q. A former Alcoa executive said this about the IFR:

    It is a great idea…..especially since the cost of uranium continues to rise significantly. However, the first costs are very high and the political issues (breeder reactors) are still large, and the technology to convert the fission products to fuel is still not fully proven at commercial scale. I think the reactor technology is well developed (small sodium cooled systems are used on some ships, I think) and the increased efficiency is well documented…..but the full cycle on a commercial scale will require a decade to prove.

    George Stanford provided this response:

    I would say the comments regarding schedule are realistic, unfortunately. The commercial demonstration should be a top national priority. I’ll speculate that a private consortium involving GE might be able to do it.

    I do not agree that nuclear energy would be “a costly option,” especially given a level playing field (external health and environmental costs considered, for instance). Nuclear power is now competitive in many countries, and there is no reason to think that fast reactors, in the long run, will be significantly more expensive. They will require no mining, no milling, no enrichment, and the waste-management expense will be negligible. The raw material for the fuel (used fuel already on hand) is essentially free. Virtually the entire cost will be in infrastructure and operations.”

    Interesting as this is from an advocacy site for the IFR

    http://skirsch.com/politics/globalwarming/ifrQandA.htm

    Perhaps the Alcoa executive is familar with large heavy industry projects like aluminium smelters.

    Look I am not doubting the science behind the IFR as I am sure that it was researched and checked as is said in this reference however the devil is in the details. Production engineering and conversion to mass production is a minefield that many promising project blow up on.

    I would agree with the Generation IV International Forum that sees deployment of GEN IV reactors in 2030 onward.

    http://www.usnuclearenergy.org/GEN%20IV%20Reactors.htm

  77. The former Alcoa exec is hardly qualified to judge this as is evidenced by his erroneous belief that sodium-cooled reactors are used on ships. We’re not talking about large projects like aluminum smelters. The electrorefining that Alcoa does every day, the same basic process as pyroprocessing as used for fuel fabrication for IFRs, is on a scale that makes the IFR look so tiny as to be laughable.

    George Stanford is probably correct if he assumes (as he does here) that there won’t be a concerted effort to accelerate the project. But my contention is that we should proceed with a greater sense of urgency, which could certainly halve that decade estimate. You’re fond of analogies, Ender, so try this one on for size: Hyman Rickover started the project to design nuclear reactors for Navy ships, and five years later we not only had a reactor designed but we launched the Nautilus nuclear submarine. To build an IFR in 5 years we don’t have to design the reactor and we don’t have to build a first-of-a-kind submarine around it. It’s a question of commitment. The technology is plenty mature. GE could build a full-scale prototype PRISM reactor vessel in a year.

  78. Well, this blog debate has certainly been educational.

    It’s heartening to know that at some point in the future nuclear energy may be made available with much less risk than the current generation of reactors. And it appears there is no problem with technical feasibility of building Gen IV reactors.

    Areas of obvious dispute include:

    – Ability to roll the technology out rapidly enough to be of any use in the current climate crisis.
    – Ability to appease public skeptisim regarding nuclear safety.
    – Cost competitiveness with so-called clean coal and soft renewables.
    – Possible diversion of capital from development of soft renewables.
    – Possible diversion of capital focus from development of soft renewables.
    – Operational time required to overtake embodied (fossil-fuelled) energy inputs.
    – Futility of feeding an energy growth path that is inherently non-sustainable (i.e. avoidance of need for culture change).
    – Site limitations owing to large water requirements.

    These are the sorts of legitimate questions that any new technology would have to satisfy.

    The two potential pluses are very big indeed.

    – Potential of the technology to avert calamitous climate change that looks like wreaking untold damage to the planetary biosphere and human habitation.
    – If worldwide nuclear energy is to increase anyway, ability to transcend many of the risks associated with traditional nuclear plant.

    Many, like me, have an intuitive aversion to big bang solutions. If it weren’t for the very grave climate risks congfronting himanity I wouldn’t give it a second look. But given this enormous balance-of-risks dilemma, this is a debate that has to be had.

    I simply can’t imagine how the technology could be progressed rapidly enough to satisfy all stages of technical, financial, social and political processes. Perhaps in China where there are far fewer obstacles by way of planning approvals and public safety. In the face of urgency fast tracking could reduce roll out timetable in the West, but such fast tracking would cause much public consternation. I don’t think that consternation should be described as ‘political meddling’, if the technology is to succeed rapidly as envisaged by Tom then it would have to carry the public with it. That’s probably the biggest ask of all.

    These questions are not put there as a wet blanket, just a set of realities that have to be confronted.

  79. Ender, a couple of things to address in your last few comments. But first, let’s step through the looking glass…

    In this world, my brother, and an author called Mot Seelb, have proposed building a massive concentrating solar thermal power plant in the Australian desert that will deliver an average of 1 GW over the course of a year. It’s the best technology can offer – it will have a capacity factor of 35%, molten salt thermal storage, the works. To do this, we’ll need to install about 5 GW of nameplate generating capacity covering 154 km2 of desert, to provide for a 50% summer/winter differential in generating capacity, to leave enough residual power to keep the storage salts hot during cloudy periods and still keep the average delivered capacity well above what the current models deliver: 15-20%. We’re not concerned at this point about grid integration of large-scale solar – we just want to build this first large demonstration plant to prove up the concept. We say it can be built in 5 years, based on the fact that although the largest CSP in the world currently delivers 64 MW, a 177 MW plant is in the planning stages already. We say it will cost only $A 4,000/kW of nameplate power, based on the very best prices achieved at smaller scales.

    A commenter called Redne says it can’t be done! Why?
    “There is no point to doing this – large scale CSP will only work if it’s placed within a wider national electricity grid, supported by baseload coal-fired power stations, and within easy access of peaking power from gas or pumped hydro.”

    “The fact that this peaking can come from fossil fuels means that is far cheaper to get it from other sources than build storage. If Australia was dependent on renewables it would have to run its backup coal plants in load following mode, a highly inefficient and costly measure, to handle peaking loads.”

    “With or without support from Kevin Rudd, it is highly optimistic to expect a design to go from paper to product in 5 years much less a full production item that can roll off the production lines. I am not sure how much production engineering experience you have however to a even a layperson such as myself I would be very skeptical of anyone that said they could make such a huge jump in the size and storage sophistication of a CSP plant design in this timeframe.”

    “Do you realise that to build this proposed CSP plant, you’d have to be laying down 84,000 square metres of mirror every single day for 5 years?! A more credible timeline from my layperson’s point of view would be 10 years to pre-production prototype (remember that the biggest CSP to date is about 200 times smaller than the one your are proposing, and even that took 3 years to build). Another 4 years ironing out bugs in the production lines and imports involved in getting the initial huge batch of components required onto site each day, coming out correctly in another 2 years with full production in a full size factory close by in Adelaide in yet another 2 years. Even this timeline would be dependant on no showstoppers with thermal storage presenting themselves. Oh, and we also have to train up a bunch of component engineers here in Australia just to get this project off the ground.”

    “At a price of $A 4,000/kW, that’s a price tag of $20 billion. So which expert or research did you consult to estimate that a revolutionary size of this CSP design, that has never been built larger than 64MW, could be in commercial mass production from paper in 5 years? Look I am not doubting the science behind the 35% capacity CSP with thermal storage, as I am sure that it was researched and checked as is said in this reference however the devil is in the details. Production engineering and conversion to mass production is a minefield that many promising project blow up on.”.

    The above are mostly your words Ender, with my additions merely inserted to clarify or contextualise. Bottom line: For renewables, you favour a hugely accelerated deployment effort, well beyond anything that’s been achieved historically. Yet for nuclear, you defer to history to say that acceleration cannot happen. You can’t have it both ways.

    Yet, in contrast, history certainly says it can be done. Manhattan project took 3 years from first controlled fission chain reaction to a deployable atomic bomb. Moon shot took 9 years from a political pipe dream to a boot in the lunar dust.

  80. Regarding a few other points Ender made:

    “For example Boeing is currently releasing a new airliner the 787. Work on this started in 2003 with the first commercial aircraft expected in 2010. From paper to production for this aircraft was 7 years and this was from a company that has been building planes for 80 years and has a vast knowledgebase of procedures and tools available and yet they struggled recently because of the advanced technology in the 787 that delayed its release for at least a year… I mentioning this because you are proposing that a company could start basically from scratch, in a time when there is a shortage of nuclear engineers and components, and produce a reactor that only exists so far on paper and have modular components rolling off a production line in 5 years????”

    But Ender, the General Electric/Hitachi consortium IS just like Boeing. It is a huge multi-billion dollar company that has been making nuclear power plants for many decades (as well as a bunch of other electronics). They do have a vast knowledgebase of procedures, engineers and tools.

    “As an analogy for this is if I calmly announced to the world that I was starting an aircraft company today and in 5 years production aircraft similar in performance and size to the 787 would be rolling off the production line. Do you imagine that this is a realistic scenario?”

    No, because it’s a silly analogy. We are not talking about one person starting a nuclear power manufacturing company. We’re talking about GE/Hitachi!!

    “I mentioned the aircraft because large commercial airliners have similar certification and quality constraints as nuclear reactors. And this is not a straw man. I am attempting to get you to challenge your assumptions by presenting an analogy. I believe that from paper to mass production of nuclear reactors in 5 years is impossible. I also question your ability to realistically assess this if you think that it is.

    I think aircraft design is actually a rather good analogy for a new nuclear power plant, for the valid points you make. But Boeing will produce the 787 in 7 years. That suggests that a 5 year timeframe for GE/Hitachi and the S-PRISM (already gone through the design phase) is eminently doable. Because GE/H is just like Boeing.

    The Gen IV (GIF) document you link to sees the commercial deployment time frame of the 6 selected reactor designs as 2015 to 2030. Guess which design is estimated to be deployable by 2015? The sodium-cooled fast reactor (i.e. PRISM, IFR). And that’s under a business-as-usual (slow-and-steady) schedule, not an accelerated implementation.

  81. Pingback: Response to an Integral Fast Reactor (IFR) critique « BraveNewClimate.com

  82. Barry, your figures for concentrating solar power seem a bit off. Let’s say the plant you mention was built in the Adelaide area which receives a direct beam daily average of 5.8 kilowatt hours of sunlight per square meter. Which means that a 154 square kilometre solar concentrating plant would receive an average of about 893 gigawatt hours a day. If it only produced an average of one gigawatt that means it would be operating at only about 5.4% efficiency while low cost parabolic troughs can have efficiencies of around 20%. Now it is possible that solar collectors might only be taking up a small fraction of the total area, but in that case it wouldn’t be necessary to lay out 84,000 square meters of mirrors everyday for 5 years.

    Also, a fifty percent difference between summer and winter electrical production seems too high for Australia as solar thermal tracks the sun, although the exact figure will vary depending on latitude and seasonal weather patterns.

    A five gigawatt capacity solar thermal plant is crazy big. I’m sure they will be much smaller and manageable and most won’t have storage as they will just provide daytime peak power. Fortunately their maximum power production matches fairly well with our peak power use in Australia.

    One more little thing, in the main article you appear to suggest that that nuclear energy would help with power shortages we had during our recent heat wave, but this is not the case as nuclear provides base load power and our air conditioning is generally powered by peak generators. I’m sure you realize this, but some people will jump upon a little mistake like this.

  83. Ronald – is that 5.8 kWh for Adelaide a summer, or yearly averaged figure? My array size was based on the experience of CSP in Spain, with similar insolation.

    To quote:
    “Solar parabolic trough plants have been built with efficiencies of about 20%. Fresnel reflectors have an efficiency that is slightly lower (but this is compensated by the denser packing).
    The gross conversion efficiencies (taking into account that the solar dishes or troughs occupy only a fraction of the total area of the power plant) are determined by net generating capacity over the solar energy that falls on the total area of the solar plant. The 500-megawatt (MW) SCE/SES plant would extract about 2.75% of the radiation (1 kW/m²; see Solar power for a discussion) that falls on its 4,500 acres (18.2 km²).[64] For the 50 MW AndaSol Power Plant that is being built in Spain (total area of 1,300×1,500 m = 1.95 km²) gross conversion efficiency comes out at 2.6%. Furthermore, efficiency does not directly relate to cost: on calculating total cost, both efficiency and the cost of construction and maintenance should be taken into account.

    In terms of capacity factor, current fresnel type mirrors deliver around 15%. As you increase the capacity factor (reliability of delivery) via thermal storage, you increase the installed capacity required. The Ausra SM3 design aims to build 3 times the mirror area to get capacity up from 15 to 40%.

    Regarding CSP that tracks the sun – these would be the the Stirling solar thermal dishes, which cost considerably more than the simpler fixed mirrors (like fresnel reflectors). They have a higher efficiency and so a better capacity factor, but I’d have to revise the cost estimates upwards considerably. The 50% summer to winter differential is based on an optimistic interpretation of Odeh et al 2003, Performance evaluation of solar thermal electric generation systems. Their modelling says the figure can be as low as 12%.

    But you could be right that 5 GW installed will turn out to be too much to deliver reliably 1 GW of power. Perhaps, optimistically, it’s 3 GW. That changes the figure from 84,000 square metres of mirrors to 50,000 square metres, every day for 5 years. As you see, the same fundamental problem applies.

    I agree a 5 GW capacity CSP is crazy big. But 80 x 250 MW CSP plants (the size proposed recently by Worley Parsons) are just as big in total area. To meet the 20% of renewable energy delivered by 2020 to the Australian grid, as per the MRET, we need to install about 20 GW of extra capacity. If that was to come from CSP (not saying it will), that would be four of those crazy big plants, or 80 x 250 MW Worley Parsons plants. It’s nothing short of herculean in ambition.

    I’ve mentioned in another thread about nuclear and peaking, see comments in this thread:

    http://bravenewclimate.com/2009/01/25/prescription-for-the-planet-part-iii-renewable-atoms-and-plasma-charged-waste/

    To summarise, you’d overbuild your number of IFRs to the amount required to meet peaking rather than average demand so that they can supply sufficient power to the grid during those heatwave events. But you wouldn’t try to idle down the ’spare’ IFR capacity during off-peak/low demand periods. You’d keep them going full pelt, and use them to desalinate water, reduce (de-oxidise) boron, fire plasma converters, etc. The overbuilt plants are primarily there for other purposes, but can be called on when needed to divert to peaking demand. They’re always running 24/7.

  84. I’ve checked the figure for insolation and according to NASA, in Adelaide itself direct beam sunlight averages 5.5 kilowatt hours per square meter over a yearly average. If you go north or north west of Adelaide you can get 5.8 kilowatt hours, but I can’t tell just how far you’d have to go with the information I have. This figure is for direct beam sunlight which applies for a system that tracks the sun and so is higher than for a fixed flat panel. Virtually all concentrating solar thermal systems that generate electricity track the sun.

    Now I’m a little confused on how much area would be required for your one gigawatt Concentrating Solar Thermal plant. When you wrote about laying down 84,000 square meters of mirror a day I assumed that meant you thought 154 square kilometres of solar collectors would be required, which means the total area would be even larger. CSP generally has a lot of space between collectors. Just how much depends on latitude, type of system and the cost of land. In places where land is cheap collectors can be spread out for easy access and so they’ll only shade each other for a few minutes a day. If they are built on grazing land the land can still be used for livestock. In dry areas they can even improve grazing productivity by acting as dew traps and increasing water availability. But if land is at a premium, collectors can be built closer together although this will generally reduce their efficiency early in the morning and late in the afternoon. But prime sites for CSP such as Mt Isa, Alice Springs and Port Hedland all have plenty of cheap land around them.

    So if 20% of the land consists of solar collectors with an efficiency of 20% and there is an average of 5.5 kilowatt-hours of direct beam sunlight per square meter, then to produce an average of one gigawatt would take about 109 square kilometres of land, which would be a square about ten and a half kilometres across. About 22 square kilometres of this would be solar collectors.

    As I said before, this is crazy big. That ten and a half kilometre square would supply roughly half of South Australia’s electricity. But I don’t think it’s necessarily crazy big in terms of land it takes up. South Australia is almost a million square kilometres in area. The gigawatt CSP plant would only be about 6% the size of the Adelaide metropolitan area and if built on grazing land most of it could still be used for that purpose.

    I mentioned that the 50% difference between summer and winter seemed too large to me. Looking at the power production of fixed flat solar panels I see that it there is a 64% difference between summer and winter in Adelaide. This difference will be less for CSP as it tracks the sun, but I’m not sure just how much less. Fortunately peak electricity use is in summer. In Mount Isa, a more suitable location for CSP, the fixed flat panel difference between summer and winter is only about 18%.

    Yesterday I said that I thought that many CSP plants would be used without energy storage as their production matches our electricity consumption quite well. But after giving it some thought I think it’s likely that CSP plants with molten salt storage will be operated as peaking plants. One of the things that makes me think this is wind power’s rapid build out. Last year the US installed 8,358 megawatts of new wind capacity. This was 42% of their total new generating capacity and produces electricity approximately equal to two and a half large nuclear reactors. Wind farms don’t appear to be having difficulty selling the electricity they produce and their rapid expansion appears likely to continue. Although some of wind power’s problems have been mentioned, grids in Europe have demonstrated they can handle well over 20% wind power without great expense and there are still many good wind power sites left. Improvements in floating wind turbines may open up continental shelves to wind farms and improvements in technology mean that sites currently in use can be exploited further. For example, if Penistone has 200k wind turbines, there is nothing to stop a power company from going back and installing some 5 megawatt turbines to capture a larger cross section of wind.

    I assume that, as in Australia, most wind turbines have a wind availability of 80%+ and that geographical dispersion helps with intermittency, but there will still be times when there will be more wind than at other times. In addition there also tends to be more wind at night. This results in wind power putting downward pressure on base load electricity prices, which is bad for the viability of nuclear, while making peak load electricity relatively more expensive, resulting in CSP being used for peak power.

    Personally I don’t think the overbuilding of Integral Fast Reactors is a good solution for providing peak power. I’ve heard similar proposals from proponents of wind power and it always seemed a very expensive proposition. If a company tried to overbuild reactors it would cause the cost of base load electricity to drop towards zero which would reduce its revenue and leave it unable to pay for its increased capital costs. It wouldn’t be able to charge more for peak power as competitors with peak generating capacity and lower capital costs would prevent the price from rising. This would result in the company suffering massive losses. France is an example on a national scale of what can happen in a situation like this. We could have done this with coal power in Australia years ago, long before global warming became a political issue, but we didn’t because it wasn’t cost effective. Once a certain level of coal fired capacity was built it was cheaper to pay for a gas turbine to produce peak power than to pay the extra capital cost of building another coal fired plant. Another problem with over building reactors is that if something like a desalination plant is only run half the time, the capital cost of each litre of potable water it produces is effectively doubled. The electrification of transport would provide an opportunity to increase the amount of base load electricity. However, this change would only take place gradually and one of its effects would be to make wind power more profitable as it would help reduce the cost of its intermittency.

    I don’t think that it’s impossible that nuclear power will be used in Australia in the future. If costs come down then it could be a cheap source of base load power. However, it will be a long time before the world nuclear industry will be in a position to build a reactor in Australia, due to current bottlenecks, and the fact that we will require definite proof that new reactors will be cheap to build and run. But by the time that happens I think that other low emission energy sources will have dropped in price. Wind power has decreased in cost by over 3% a year for the last quarter century and appears likely to experience further cost decreases before the technology matures. I think it is likely to continue its rapid expansion and its tendency to lower base load electricity prices damages the viability of nuclear power. Solar power is currently dropping in price considerably faster than wind. CSP has no bottlenecks and is something we have the engineering skill to develop and build in Australia. Pilot geothermal plants are being constructed in Australia and may prove themselves profitable. As a base load source of electricity, geothermal will compete directly with nuclear power. So while nuclear power may be part of our energy mix in the future, it seems unlikely to me that Australia will build a nuclear power plant within the next 30 years.

  85. Tom Blees – “We’re not talking about large projects like aluminum smelters. The electrorefining that Alcoa does every day, the same basic process as pyroprocessing as used for fuel fabrication for IFRs, is on a scale that makes the IFR look so tiny as to be laughable.”

    Not really as to make any sort of difference you will be rolling 3 or 4 out every week of the year for 30 years. I think this makes it a bit bigger than an aluminium refinery.

    Also I never said that you could not build an single IFR reactor in the timescale that you suggested. My contention is that even with a crash program a fully ready pre-production prototype would not be ready for 10 years. Then you can start producing the required production lines which would take at least another 2 years. I do not doubt that any company could turn out a working IFR in a couple of years however that would be only a tenth of the problem. A fully certified pre-production prototype would be at least a 10 year project.

    Also I asked you which expert you consulted agreed that a 3 to 4 year timescale was possible. I assume that is was someone in GE that worked on the PRISM design.

    “Hyman Rickover started the project to design nuclear reactors for Navy ships, and five years later we not only had a reactor designed but we launched the Nautilus nuclear submarine. To build an IFR in 5 years we don’t have to design the reactor and we don’t have to build a first-of-a-kind submarine around it.”

    Yes he did however he also was the autocratic head of a disciplined group of Navy people with no thought or question of making the reactor commercially. He launched the pre-production prototype Nautilus in 1955 however 3 or 4 years later the other hand built submarines went to sea. Nuclear submarines are not mass produced at the rate of 3 per week.

  86. Not really as to make any sort of difference you will be rolling 3 or 4 out every week of the year for 30 years. I think this makes it a bit bigger than an aluminium refinery.

    Actually, it was about 1 IFR plant per week to TOTALLY replace our energy supply — this a lot, granted, but a complete replacement hardly qualifies as “any sort of a difference”. More like “the complete difference” — and it’s still 4 times fewer than what you cite. Regarding the aluminium smelter, Tom wasn’t referring to the whole IFR plant (ALMR, cooling towers, turbine, control room etc.) — he was talking about the small size of the on-site pyroprocessing facility.

    See my comment above as to why the 10 year time-frame is overly pessimistic.

  87. Thanks Ronald, I agree with a lot of what you say. A few points:

    1. Regarding CSP, yes, I was talking about total land covered — you are correct that there will be gaps in between the reflectors. The area is based on recent experience (the Andasol-1 plant in Spain) and the area proposed to be used by the 177 MW Ausra plant in CA.

    2. Wind power is great (cheap to install, easy enough to manage) when its grid contribution is at low levels. Even 15-20% may be okay if there is sufficient non-intermittent backup power from coal or nuclear [the state of South Australia is working towards those sort of levels within a few years, and Denmark is already there]. The problems come when it (or other intermittent sources such as CSP) attempt to take a larger share of a national (Australian or European) — the costs rise, rather than drop. We’ve discussed CSP a lot already, so I use the wind example here.

    For wind you have to use lower quality sites (current sites deliver average capacities of 35-50%, but the large scale experience is closer to 20-25% [world average in 2005 was 23% -- so the good sites are offset by the ordinary ones]). As it becomes a greater part of the mix, energy storage goes from being not needed, to desirable, to necessary, to fundamental to avoid ‘dumping’ power. For instance, let’s say you had 50% of the national energy supplied from wind, with an average capacity of 25%. On calm days over southern Australia, it might be delivering 10% of our power, requiring 90% backup or a LOT of expensive storage. On really widespread windy days, it would be giving us 2 times our total demand, meaning we have to dump a huge amount of excess energy (thereby reducing average capacity, significantly), or forcing us to store it inefficiently (e.g. as hydrogen, for which the conversion factor is around 0.4 and a large infrastructure to store and then burn the hydrogen to create power would be required).

    On the above basis, and for other reasons outlined in earlier blog posts and comments, I therefore respectfully disagree that nuclear will not be a part (a big part) of our energy mix within the next 30 years.

    3. Overbuilding coal-fired power plants doesn’t make sense, I agree, because we have little else to do with the excess energy. But if, in the future, it was used to reduce boron or charge electric batteries, desalinate large volumes of water, etc. then overbuild starts to make real sense. They’d be doing their standard non-electricity supply function for 90+% of the time, and supplying peaking power for the remainder, so the capital cost problem you point out is not such a large issue as you might suspect.

  88. Barry Brook – “Ender, a couple of things to address in your last few comments. But first, let’s step through the looking glass…”

    The problem is with your looking glass is no-one is suggesting that CSP plants are the only answer. I just read Ronald Brak’s (thank you) comments and they basically cover what I was going to launch into especially about your notion that overbuilt baseload will do peaking. I wrote about this and said practically the same as Ronald.

    Just a couple of comments however that Ronald missed.

    As I said before the supply side of the equation is only half the problems. Renewable solutions depend firstly on reducing demand drastically with efficiency gains and reductions in electricity use. Nobody that sees renewables as most of the solution imagines that we can supply our technological society with all the energy they require to waste. We need to cut our use and our energy growth.

    Second I am not proposing nor is anyone else that a 5GW CSP plant is either desirable or necessary. You seem wedded to the idea of huge central power plants as the only method of efficiently generating electricity. As I said in my opening post in this thread I believe that central power plants are completely the wrong approach.

    I would like to see a massive as possible community based energy push. I would like to see as many cities and towns in Australia with their own wind farms and CSP plants and anything else that is appropriate like wave power for coastal communities etc. With smart grids and local storage these local grids will be able to act in island mode as well as receiving distant power via HVDC links. In this way it might be possible by engaging the local community to rollout energy efficiency programs that actually work.

    I have never maintained that there is a silver bullet as you seem to think there is. Gigawatt CSP plants are not the answer and neither is the IFR. Whether we even need the IFR is up for debate as we are doing now. There are no studies or peer reviewed work that I know of that state that renewables cannot supply our current energy needs. However there are many articles and peer reviewed papers from people working in their fields that indicate that renewables, geographically seperated and also of complimentary types can do the job.

    These are some of the publications by only one author:

    http://www.sustainabilitycentre.com.au/publics.html

    Perhaps you can provide a similar list.

    Finally perhaps we can put the 84 000 m^2 per day into perspective:

    http://mams.rmit.edu.au/mlf1mqhzaxs81.pdf

    “Australian housing industry builds about 140,000 new homes every year adding to its housing stock of 7.8 million dwellings”

    My house has a roof area of about 160 m^2 so we manage to build today about 22 400 000 m^2 per year of roofing not counting commercial property of course. This is approx 61 000 m^2 per day. As solar reflectors closely resemble roofing in construction and use similar materials as the newer steel roofing there is already a precedent for the amount of construction that is required if a 5GW CSP plant was ever required.

    We also manage to maintain approx 455.5 million hectares of solar collectors. These contain nanomachines that collect solar energy at <3% efficiency to power the all biological creatures that cannot convert solar energy or to power the creatures that are eaten. Nobody seems to bat an eyelid at the effort required or the land area devoted to these solar collectors.

  89. Thanks Ender. A few more points:

    1. I’m glad we all agree that CSP cannot be the only answer. But what seemed like an apparently absurd example I gave, a 5 GW CSP plant, was what is required to generate a reliable 1 GW average electricity over the year — the same amount as a 1.2 GW nuclear power plant would deliver. And it’s not me ‘wedded to the idea'; the Mandatory Renewable Energy Target requires 45,000 GWh/year to be delivered to the grid by non-hydro renewables by 2020. That’s roughly 5 GWe delivered, or about 20 GW of installed capacity of CSP/Wind. Energy efficiency and conservation does not count towards this target. We must reach 45,000 GWh — but I wonder how? The 2020 challenge, to get to <20% of Australia’s delivered power in 12 years, is 4 times bigger than the absurd model I proposed.

    2. The distributed, community-based idea you have is fine, and will work fine on a small scale, although due to economies of scale it may (not sure) be more expensive than a large, centralised CSP approach. One obvious problem is that the best insolation for CSP is in central Australia where noone lives — around the eastern and southern coasts, the capacity factors of a CSP plant would be reduced significantly (50% or more), making the total installed capacity required to meet even a fraction of our energy needs that much harder. If we tried to do it via rooftop photovoltaics rather than CSP, the cost would be 5-10 times more (and that’s after factoring in that it is replacing retail priced power rather than wholesale, which is an obvious plus for PV). The cost for PV will surely continue to go down in the next 12 years and beyond, but even the most optimistic industry experts in PV don’t see it falling by enough to make it cost-competitive with CSP in deserts, or wind.

    3. I have read Disendorf 2007 (one of the books cited in the site you link to) — it is a good book in parts, in the facts and figures it presents on energy types and current installation. But there is never any work done in that volume to show the sort of problems that are encountered when you scale renewables up to provide a medium to large fraction of the grid. You said: ” There are no studies or peer reviewed work that I know of that state that renewables cannot supply our current energy needs”

    There are, try these, for starters:
    Hayden, 2005, The Solar Fraud: Why Solar Energy Won’t Run the World, Second Edition
    Trainer 2007, Renewable Energy Cannot Sustain a Consumer Society
    MacKay, 2009, Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air

  90. I would submit that the concept of overbuilding generating capacity in a country with a crying need for water such as Australia is possible, so long as the desalination plants have the capacity to provide electricity at peak demand times. With IFRs that’s easy enough to do. Wind power does nothing to help this: they can’t desalinate and they can’t be relied on for peak power. Solar can provide power that follows peak demand fairly well, but of course the rest of the day & night it won’t be available so again its desalination use is about nil. What other non-fossil fuel sources are there for massive desalination projects, which not only Australia but many countries around the world could benefit from? Could Australia ever have too much water from desalination? I don’t see how that could be possible, for with an excess there is abundant land not considered arable now that could be brought under cultivation if the water were available (see Israel).

  91. Barry Brook – “There are, try these, for starters:
    Hayden, 2005, The Solar Fraud: Why Solar Energy Won’t Run the World, Second Edition
    Trainer 2007, Renewable Energy Cannot Sustain a Consumer Society
    MacKay, 2009, Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air”

    Ted Trainers book outline:

    “The discussion is then extended beyond energy to deal with the ways in which our consumer society is grossly unsustainable and unjust. Its fundamental twin commitments to affluent living standards and economic growth have inevitably generated a range of alarming and accelerating global problems. These can only be solved by a transition to The Simpler Way, a society based more on simpler, self-sufficient and cooperative ways, within a zero-growth economy. The role renewable energy might play in enabling such a society is outlined.”

    His ideas pretty much mirror my own – did you read chapter 9?

    “MacKay, 2009, Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air”

    Makes a fundamental mistake calculating the wind energy potential of a site from the average wind speed.

    http://europe.theoildrum.com/node/4670

    “Thanks for pointing out the underestimate of wind in MacKay’s work – he presents this as early calculations, and in detail there are indeed some errors.
    Perhaps this FOE estimate is more accurate:
    http://www.foe.co.uk/resource/factsheets/wind_power.pdf

    “We must reach 45,000 GWh — but I wonder how? The 2020 challenge, to get to <20% of Australia’s delivered power in 12 years, is 4 times bigger than the absurd model I proposed.”

    By promoting energy efficiency and energy cutbacks and deploying all the renewables that we possibly can.

    “But what seemed like an apparently absurd example I gave, a 5 GW CSP plant, was what is required to generate a reliable 1 GW average electricity over the year — the same amount as a 1.2 GW nuclear power plant would deliver.”

    That is because you are thinking in terms of a central power plant. Any isolated renewable power plant is going to have a lower capacity factor than widespread plants. A newer concept is the virtual power plant trials of which have started in Germany:

    http://www.solarserver.de/solarmagazin/anlagejanuar2008_e.html

    “With this pilot project the participating parties impressively showed that renewable energy can cover 100 % of electricity demand. “The Combined Power Plant shows that renewable energy sources can supply sufficient electricity, can be controlled at any time, function in combination and can be balanced out across the grid”, says Ulrich Schmack, Board Spokesman of Schmack Biogas AG. The joint project of Schmack Biogas, SolarWorld and Enercon links and controls 36 decentralised wind, hydropower, solar power and biogas installations so that they can cover the electricity demand in any weather conditions by tapping into the unequally distributed energy potential across Germany. ”

    and research at the CSIRO

    http://wotnews.com.au/like/the_virtual_power_station_podcast_19_sep_08/2482012/

    We need to move beyond the fixed idea of massive central power plants as renewables are far better in smaller more flexible units. Linked power stations widely seperated can create much larger or smaller power stations as required.

  92. Tom Blees – “I would submit that the concept of overbuilding generating capacity in a country with a crying need for water such as Australia is possible, so long as the desalination plants have the capacity to provide electricity at peak demand times”

    So how is this going to work? If you overbuild base-load then at least half the plants would be operating in load following mode and idle most of the time. How do you propose to be able to sell this power when you have the capital costs of an IFR to pay off? Peak power generators with gas turbines will undersell you at every stage. Are you going to give away the power? If you have committed to selling power cheaply to desalination then how can you suddenly turn them away to satisfy peak demand? Operators that expect to be cut off, trade much lower tariffs for this so your already very low tariff, because of the overbuilding, is even lower because the loads agree to be cut off at short notice. If they are running off peak only you may as well pay them to take your surplus. Anyway you look at it its wrong unless of course this is going to be a completely nationalised system like in France. I didn’t think a France style energy system would work too well in the USA or Australia. We have just privatised and created the NEMMCO.

    “Wind power does nothing to help this: they can’t desalinate and they can’t be relied on for peak power. Solar can provide power that follows peak demand fairly well, but of course the rest of the day & night it won’t be available so again its desalination use is about nil.”

    Why can’t wind desalinate? Desalinators, at least here in WA, run on electricity which can come from wind. If a solar electricity plant was dedicated to desalination then the water storage it feeds will be storage enough to cope with nights. I don’t see the problem.

    “Could Australia ever have too much water from desalination? I don’t see how that could be possible, for with an excess there is abundant land not considered arable now that could be brought under cultivation if the water were available (see Israel).”

    Yes it can. Have a look at the problems that excess water can bring:

    http://www.environment.gov.au/land/pressures/salinity/index.html

    What needs to happen, like with electricity, is to use the water we have more wisely, storing rainwater and conserving water not turning to unlimited supplies. Also desalination creates problems at the sites that it is running. You need a strong current to sweep away the salty discharge of the desal plant otherwise you can get significant environmental problems.

  93. Ender, I almost started to respond but I’m done wasting my time with you since you just like to argue and seem to have way more time to do that than I do. Go live in your fantasy world with seas of solar panels and spinning windmills and bunnies hopping around, and just pretend I never said a word. I’ve got Ender fatigue.

  94. Tom Blees – “Ender, I almost started to respond but I’m done wasting my time with you since you just like to argue and seem to have way more time to do that than I do. Go live in your fantasy world with seas of solar panels and spinning windmills and bunnies hopping around, and just pretend I never said a word. I’ve got Ender fatigue.”

    Fine as I have Tom fatigue. BTW I did ask you for references for your production rollout claims and all I got was abuse. I never ever spoke to you in a similar manner. If you write something like you have you must expect people to disagree. I have noted your lack of patience with pretty fundamental questions regarding the viability of your concept.

    BTW do you have Barry Brook fatigue – I think not.

  95. Read the book Ender, simple as that (how many times have I said this?). If you query something specific in the P4TP book, then I’m sure Tom will be happy to clarify. But you seem to want him to repeat everything he’s written already, here, for your convenience, without you having the courtesy to at least read what he’s already written — in great detail, and with strong justification. So I sympathise fully with Tom’s fatigue. Indeed, I express my own.

    But in the spirit of ongoing masochism, you quote me as saying: “We must reach 45,000 GWh — but I wonder how? The 2020 challenge, to get to <20% of Australia’s delivered power in 12 years, is 4 times bigger than the absurd model I proposed.” …

    And then retort: “By promoting energy efficiency and energy cutbacks and deploying all the renewables that we possibly can.”

    Yet, you failed to quote this: “Energy efficiency and conservation does not count towards this (MRET) target.”

    How else can I say this? EE&C isn’t permitted to get us there. So why leave this crucial sentence out of your quote? And 5 GWe delivered is 5 GWe delivered, whether it’s via large-scale CSP, Wind or micro-generation. It’s just the latter is far more costly, perhaps an order of magnitude more so, than the former. Distributing the grid does’t make the huge numbers magically disappear — in fact, it enlarges them.

    And this:
    “So how is this going to work? If you overbuild base-load then at least half the plants would be operating in load following mode and idle most of the time.”

    No, no, no, no, no. If you take the time to actually read what I’ve written about overbuilding, multiple times, you’ll see that I’ve answered this. Can’t you see the caricature you are creating here? It’s the “la la la I can’t hear you” modus operandi of the climate change denialists, reinvented anew here. That’s fatigue, and the point in the match where I also pull up stumps, beaten into CBFAL submission (I’ll leave you all to work out the acronym) by Ender’s form of Gish Gallop.

  96. Barry, I certainly agree that trying to get 50% of electrical production from wind would be very difficult. However, a third of that amount is much easier to achieve and at it’s current rate of expansion seems quite possible that wind will meet most of our 20% renewable target.

    Coal and nuclear are difficult to turn on and off and have high capital costs, so they are generally not used to back up wind power. In Australia it is typically gas that does that job, which is a low capital, high operating cost source of energy. As South Australia adds more wind power it is also adding more gas turbine capacity to cope with lulls in the wind. I see the expansion of wind as a good thing as it reduces the amount of coal and natural gas used, while encouraging the expansion of gas capacity over coal capacity, which is an advantage due to its lower CO2 emissions per kilowatt-hour.

    I think that nuclear power will be a part of Australia’s energy mix in the future if it’s cheap enough. But if spending a dollar on other options can reduce CO2 emissions by more than a dollar spent on nuclear power, then we should use the dollar on those options rather than on nuclear. We can find out if nuclear is cost effective at cutting CO2 emissions by inviting companies to tender proposals to build reactors in Australia. Turkey recently went through this process and was offered a price of 32 cents per kilowatt-hour for electricity from nuclear energy. If Australia is offered a similar price then obviously it would be more efficient to invest in wind to reduce emissions, but if the price is lower than other options then we should develop nuclear power. I think this is a fair and reasonable process to follow.

  97. Tom, can Australia have too much water from desalination? Well yes, it can if the cost is too high. We didn’t desalinate using coal in the past because it wasn’t worth the cost. Now that water is becoming more expensive due to population growth and global warming and the cost of desalinisation has come down, it appears to be becoming worth the expense. However, there is only so much water you can desalinate before you push the price of water low enough so that is it no longer economical to desalinate any more. Desalinating huge amounts of water is only cost effective if the cost of desalination is very low. Perhaps a reactor designed to desalinate water can do it very cheaply with low capital costs, but since it hasn’t been done yet we currently don’t know and we don’t know how it will compare to other methods of desalination.

    You wrote that the desalination use of solar was about nil, but thermal solar can be used for desalination and a small solar desalinisation plant is planned for Port Augusta near Adelaide. You also wrote that wind can’t desalinate, but this isn’t correct. Reverse osmosis desalination plants operate using electricity, which can be sourced from wind power.

    I will mention one small environmental problem with overbuilding reactors, which due to being quite minor may have been overlooked. Although the effect is very minor compared to using fossil fuels, overbuilding reactors will warm the earth.

  98. Hmm… well it is run from power from the grid, and the emu downs farm is on the grid… but really does anyone buy the political spin that the windfarm powers the desal plant?

    The griffin website states “Electricity from Emu Downs Wind Farm is purchased by Synergy Energy and is being onsold to Synergy Energy customers including the state’s largest sea water desalination facility, owned and operated by the Water Corporation.”… so unless Emu Downs capacity to the desal plant does not count towards MRET then it is just spin. Does it do this?

  99. Barry Brook – “Can’t you see the caricature you are creating here? It’s the “la la la I can’t hear you” modus operandi of the climate change denialists, reinvented anew here.”

    At the risk of sounding even more argumentative than I already appear isn’t that exactly what you are doing? Several people, including myself, have pointed out that overbuilding baseload is impractical and will not work and yet you insist that it can be done. Fair enough not listening to me however have you consulted someone in the electricity business like the NEMMCO? They will give you the definitive answer.

    I am not arguing points from the book now, simply asking Tom for his references for his rollout schedule that he posted online here in this discussion. Since you brought up climate change deniers when they are asked for references for their unsound science they normally get testy and go silent. This is exactly what Tom has done.

    If overbuilding baseload was practical and workable, with our very cheap baseload coal, don’t you think that this is exactly what we would be doing in Australia now? But no we have a mix of different generators that has grown up as the most cost effective and efficient solution to the problem of varying demand.

    As a final note I do not mean to be argumentative for the sake of it. If the IFR is to be the silver bullet, and who knows it may well be, the proponents of it are going to face questioning from people far more qualified than me. If they can’t answer my layman’s questions how are they going to appear to really qualified people?

    BTW I am trying to read the book however I have not been able to find it. I am trying to buy less online lately and support local bookshops that seem to be disappearing at a rate of knots. However I guess I will have to order it online or ask the library to get a copy.

    “That’s fatigue, and the point in the match where I also pull up stumps, beaten into CBFAL submission (I’ll leave you all to work out the acronym) by Ender’s form of Gish Gallop.”

    I am sorry to hear you say that Barry. I would not think to question you on climate change or atmospheric science however in my mind you are accepting the idea of the IFR and the easy answer in the book a little uncritically.

    I promise I will forthwith not say another word about the IFR until I have read the book and done that critique of Ted Traynor that I promised.

  100. Barry Brook – “How else can I say this? EE&C isn’t permitted to get us there. So why leave this crucial sentence out of your quote? ”

    Sorry Barry I just read this and I did not leave it out on purpose I just omitted it by accident because I did not read your comment properly.

    You are perfectly correct that EE&C is not able to get us there. However perhaps we need to change the MRET scheme to include this as demand side is as important as supply side. There is a paragraph in the new MRET discussion paper:

    http://www.climatechange.gov.au/renewabletarget/consultation/pubs/ret-designoptions.pdf

    “Some schemes also allow RECs to be created for renewable energy produced by technologies that do not generate electricity, but rather displace energy from fossil fuels (for example, solar water heaters). Specifically, under the MRET scheme—but not under the Victorian or New South Wales schemes—a REC can also be created at the time of installation for each MWh of energy (either electricity or heat) deemed to be displaced by an eligible solar water heater over a period of 10 years of operation.”

    I do agree that the target is very difficult however as we are at the fatigue point now I guess I will disengage and not make any further points.

    (alternatively someone could have mentioned the Nazi Party and stopped this thread ages ago :-))

  101. Ron, I realize that desalination can be done with electricity, but if I’m not mistaken (and this is not my area of expertise) I think it’s more efficient to do it with straight thermal output, as the fast reactor BN350 did in the USSR back in the 70s, using half its heat for desal and half for generating electricity. As for too much desal driving down the price of water, I suppose that’s possible, but realize that the capital cost of a nuclear plant is almost everything. Nuclear power plants in the USA that are all paid for produce electricity for 1.68 cents/kWh. If you were using their heat directly for desal it should be very cheap, and building a dual-use plant is pretty straightforward.

    One thing that wind and solar advocates keep talking about here and elsewhere is using gas generators as backups as if that’s just hunky dory in terms of global warming. That is far from true. Not only do they still put out lots of carbon dioxide when they burn the gas, but their pipelines often leak, and methane (the main component in natural gas) is 20X worse as a GHG than CO2, then after a couple decades it degrades into CO2 in the atmosphere and then lasts for hundreds of years more. When we talk about having to get away from fossil fuels, we’re talking about natural gas too. Just because it’s better than coal, doesn’t mean we should be using it, and even building more such plants, which renewables advocates often talk about as if it’s just fine. It’s not! It’s like asking if you want to die with a shot to the head or on the rack. Can we please get away from this notion once and for all?

  102. Tom, generally reverse osmosis is cheaper than multistage desalination when there isn’t a convenient heat source. Many desalination plants use a combination of both. The cost of reverse osmosis has dropped considerably over the past 30 years and which is cheaper depends on the location and situation. Currently there are desalination plants that use seawater from reactors after its been used for cooling, and looking up the BN-350 I see it provided steam directly to a desalination plant during off peak periods. Desalination is definitely something that overbuilt reactors could be used for, however it is unlikely to pay for the capital costs and it may not pay for the marginal costs. Also, under your plan to overbuild reactors, it may not make economic sense for desalination plants to use steam from nuclear reactors. This is because overbuilding reactors will push the cost of off peak electricity towards zero, so desalination plants will be faced with a choice between using reactor steam that costs almost nothing or electricity that costs almost nothing. If a desalination plant chooses to use reactor steam, then it can only operate when the reactor does and the capacity of a nuclear reactor is about 90%. A desalination plant that uses grid electricity won’t have this problem so their capital costs per litre of potable water will be lower. So while it may be more efficient in terms of energy to use reactor steam, in terms of dollars and cents it might not be economical for desalination plants to use it.

    You mention the low cost of electricity produced by nuclear plants that have paid off their capital costs. It is certainly true that the marginal cost of nuclear power is low. However this does not make it more economical for desalination purposes, otherwise solar cells would be even better for desalination as their marginal costs are virtually zero.

    Using thermal storage for off peak energy produced by reactors should be a much more practical and much cheaper option than overbuilding them. If primary coolant at 315 degrees is used to heat molten salts, then to store 4 hours of output from a one gigawatt reactor would require a tank roughly 100,000 cubic metres in volume. This is about 35 Olympic swimming pools or a cubic building about 16 stories tall. A tank like this would be very expensive to build, but it would be much cheaper than building an additional reactor to meet peak demand. The volume of the tank is almost twice as large as what would be required for the same amount of storage from solar thermal due to the lower operating temperature of reactors. Substances other than molten salt can of course be used.

    Good point that leaks will offset some of the advantage of gas in relation to coal. The use of natural gas is merely an improvement over using coal and is definitely not a good thing. However, with Australia’s carbon trading scheme only setting the low price of $40 per ton of CO2 equivalent, gas seems likely to supply peak power in this country for a considerable amount of time.

  103. Ron, the output temp for a sodium-cooled reactor is about 510-550C, considerably higher than the 315 you mention here. What would it be for a CSP plant? If it’s hotter than that I suspect you’d be having to deal with some materials stress problems that might be quite problematic.

    I think the whole question of overbuilding would be seen in a whole other light if the true cost of an IFR were known. What if they only cost about $1500 USD/kW? That would change the entire picture, would it not? It would be quite feasible to pay them off even at quite low rates for electricity. I think most people who are pooh-poohing the idea of overbuilding IFRs are doing so with the assumption that they’ll be stratospherically expensive. Why should they be more expensive than the recently-built ABWRs in Japan, since they’d be simpler and modular, and will likely (especially if those prices are nearly correct) be built in great numbers, thus benefitting from economies of scale?

    We have to build one of the darn things. Then we can make plans. I strongly suspect (and believe me, I’ve done my homework on this!) that the data will indicate that overbuilding and using the heat for dual purpose, as did the BN-350, would be a smashing success. It sounds odd to hear you warning about how they wouldn’t be economically viable because their power production would make electricity and/or freshwater too cheap. That’s a problem I think we’d all like to have. As long as we didn’t break the bank building them, that would be a wonderful dilemma. Or as the Bard would have it, “…a comsummation devoutly to be wished…”

  104. Tom, 510-550 degrees for a sodium-cooled reactor is much better and is almost on par with thermal solar storage. The figure I have for solar is 550-566 degrees. Higher than this would start to greatly increase capital costs. But solar thermal that operates at over 1,000 degrees is being investigated as it would reduce the size of storage tanks required and increase the efficiency of turbines.

    If reactors could be reliably built for $1,500 USD/kW then that would be great. It would put nuclear power roughly on the same level as coal with regards to cost. However, it still won’t make the overbuilding of nuclear reactors economically practical. It would still be cheaper to use low capital energy sources for peak power. After all, we didn’t overbuild coal plants to provide peak power in Australia but used gas and hydroelectricity whenever possible. And even in Japan they don’t appear confident of being able to build reactors cheaply as they have cancelled five nuclear plants since 1994. These were cancelled despite the government contributing $6.7 billion AUD a year in support of nuclear research and industry.

    Overbuilding reactors will push base load power prices towards zero, and practically free base load power sounds like a good thing, but only base load power would be cheap. The capital costs of all those reactors would still have to be paid for somehow and that money can really only come from two places. Either the cost of peak electricity will need to be extremely high, or the money will have to come from tax revenue. If the money comes from taxation, then it would be possible to overbuild reactors, but private companies will not be willing to overbuild reactors to supply peak power in a free market. This is because competitors will be able to out compete reactors on cost by using low capital peak generating capacity. This more competitive peak generation capacity could include nuclear thermal storage, as no matter how much the cost of building a reactor drops it will never be less than the cost of building a large tank of molten salt.

  105. Ron, thanks for that info. If you get a chance to read my book, you’ll see that I make the case for nuclear power to be controlled by an international nonprofit. You’d have to read it for all the arguments as to why this would be superior to having private industry involved with nuclear power (except as contractors when building plants). If that were to be done, and if all fossil fuels had carbon taxes attached to them (including gas, which it should), then we’d be in a condition where we had hydro, solar, wind, and nuclear, with nuclear’s costs being controlled by the state. This is hardly a bad thing if it’s all set up as a nonprofit. Solar and wind really could only compete on the same footing as nuclear: through stored power. And at $1,500/kW, nuclear capital costs would be far cheaper than either solar or wind. Don’t forget, you have to take capacity factors into account, despite the machinations and spin of their proponents. You have to figure in the number of kWh/yr that can be produced, less the losses incurred if you use storage systems (and the cost of the storage systems has to be figured in too). I’ve heard all the arguments about how to squirm around those inconvenient truths, but I’ve run the numbers (as has Barry, many times) and they don’t lie.

    I would encourage you to read my book and consider all the good reasons to go nonprofit with nuclear power, worldwide. The main objections you have to overbuilding, in that case, would go out the window if we had a system like that.

  106. Ron said: “After all, we didn’t overbuild coal plants to provide peak power in Australia but used gas and hydroelectricity whenever possible.”

    and

    Ender said: “If overbuilding baseload was practical and workable, with our very cheap baseload coal, don’t you think that this is exactly what we would be doing in Australia now? But no we have a mix of different generators that has grown up as the most cost effective and efficient solution to the problem of varying demand.”

    On the face of it, these both seem like reasonable arguments against overbuilding being a practicality. But you must judge history in context. We are not overbuilding right now for a fairly simple reason — cheap oil (and gas) and little concern for their emissions. Electricity is devilishly difficult to store, unless you do it inefficiently by conversion to hydrogen or via pumped water storage (in some suitable places). The peaking power plants run on gas (because gas is readily available and gas-fired power plants are suitable for this quick-fire-up purpose, and because no one has cared much about gas CO2 emissions either [it's even touted by many as a clean source of energy, go figure]). We haven’t used peaking coal power plants for desalination to date because (a) until recently, the water crisis hasn’t really bitten hard, and (2) it would be insane, because the desal water would be resulting in so much more CO2.

    So at present, if we overbuilt using coal, it would be an uneconomical and anti-climate proposition. But is this true for the future? Not likely. No access to cheap oil, gas is off the table because of its CO2 emissions, and society suddenly has a whole new way to either store ‘extra’ electricity via boron reduction, helping run plasma burners for conversion of MSW and desal for thirsty cities in a drying world with poor water allocation (I agree that at present, Australia has more of a water management problem than a water supply problem, but this drought is deep, long and shows no sign of going away). In an electrical-centred society (electric-metal-fuelled vehicles, electrical desal, electrical furnaces) rather than a fossil-fuel centred society, overbuilding your electrical supply capacity makes a whole lot of sense, because you can keep the ‘peaking’ nuclear power plants running 24 x 7.

  107. Barry Brook – Sorry I cannot hold back any longer. I will try to demonstrate with real world examples why overbuilding baseload is impractical and it is mainly operational reasons not economic.

    Consider a system that has a peak summer demand of 20GW. It may only reach that peak 1 day in the year however you have to overbuild to the peak so you install 20GW of baseload. Also in the scenerio you need about 15GW of load (desal plasma torches etc) to balance the off-peak demand which could be as low as 5GW.

    So on a typical day you have this situation. Grid demand is 10GW and you have 10GW of make up load running to keep the baseload generators running flat out. Suddenly another 200MW of load hits the grid. Your system can do nothing at all as all generators are running flat out and cannot give any more. You have no peak generators to start up so the voltage and/or frequency sags. If it sags enough other loads will trip off. This will cause the grid demand to drop from 10.2GW to 8GW as loads trip off due to low voltage. This now causes a excess in supply which your baseload generators still cannot do anything about because they are still running flat out. This will now cause a massive voltage spike as supply exceeds demand. As the voltage increases the devices that tripped off may or may not switch back on causing demand fluctuations and before you know it the entire grid crashes. The only way to cope with this with generators in base load mode is to modulate the discretionary loads somehow. The problem with this is that desal plants do not like being turned off and on quickly. Plasma torches have feed hoppers etc and also cannot be switched on and off in the small increments required to balance the grid. You would have to have huge dummy loads that can be precisely controlled to accurately match supply with demand over the course of the day.

    The solution to this is to change say 5GW of your generators to load following mode. This way you have grid demand at 10GW, discretionary load of 5GW and 5GW of load following headroom to cope with demand fluctuations. In this case if 200MW of demand hit the grid the load following generators can increase to meet the rising demand. This means however that 25% of your generating capacity is idle. Also you have another problem. Lets say 50MW of load trips on. Large turbo generators are large and heavy and take time, even in load following mode, to speed up or slow down. So at the best 5 mins after the demand rise your generators start to produce the extra 50MW required. However in this time the voltage has sagged and 150MW of load has tripped off. Now your generators are ramping up to supply the extra 50MW of load but the grid demand has slumped 200MW lower than the supply leading to a voltage spike that can damage loads. Also the fluctuations in loads is very damaging to turbogenerators and nuclear power plants which are much happier running flat out. So your load following nukes will have much shorter lifetimes and higher maintenance costs.

    Finally you have the problem of spinning reserve. In the NEMMCO it is legislated that there is 800MW of spinning reserve. Spinning reserve is there to cope with the quite frequent dropout of whole generators. Now you have 20GW of baseload consisting of possibly 250MW or larger turbo generators and power plants of 1GW or larger. Now you have to keep at least enough spinning reserve to cope with the loss of one or possibly two of your largest generators. This means that of your 10GW of baseload power has to have at least 2GW of spinning reserve as you do not have any peaking generators to assist.

    Your final generating system would consist of 12GW of baseload with 5GW of load following plants and only 3GW of discretionary loads which is hardly worth the trouble really. 7GW or more of this would be doing nothing at all. Really you would have to have 5GW of baseload, 2GW of spinning reserve, and 15GW of load following to really cope with modern fast moving grids especially in Australia as we have very long transmission lines out to rural areas.

    You would still need ancillary service to stabilise the grid so there is no getting away from small generators fuelled from some sort of hydrocarbon fuel that can start and stop in seconds and modulate their output to precisely balance the grid.

    I am not just being argumentative. You have argued that the only reason we do not overbuild baseload is economic. I hope that I have demonstrated that there are operational reasons not to overbuild baseload as well. A balanced properly working grid has about 60% baseload and 35% peaking power with the remaining 5% the panic, lets get any generator we can scrape up and throw it on the grid, days when it is 45deg and every has their aircon on flat out. It also has the absolutely vital ancillary services that keep the grid at a precise voltage, a precise frequency and a precise phase. Changes in any of these can cause damage. This balance has evolved because it works after a fashion.

    An overbuilt baseload grid is simply not workable.

  108. Ender, re: overbuild, that’s generally a good illustration though I still disagree about the need for much load following.

    In the situation you describe, you could have IFRs running the 60% baseload and the 35% peaking power (being used for desal, plasma, boron-reduction etc. when not required). The other 5% (perhaps 10%) you keep as ‘spinning reserve’ (e.g., syngas plants — with the gas derived from the plasma burners, standard + pumped hydro storage, thermal molten salt storage). You can still overbuild IFRs above baseload, right through peak load, but just not to the point to cope with the extreme 5-10% ‘ultra-peak’ demands.

  109. Ender @ 115 (sorry, I couldn’t help myself): The problem with this is that desal plants do not like being turned off and on quickly.…and…nuclear power plants which are much happier running flat out.

    Aside from the rather odd anthropomorphic quality about what makes machines happy, a desal plant run off the heat at a nuclear plant wouldn’t have any trouble being shut off quickly, it’s basically a boiler. PRISM reactors are very good at load following, and a hybrid plant could quickly shift its desal and electricity ratios.

    You would still need ancillary service to stabilise the grid so there is no getting away from small generators fueled from some sort of hydrocarbon fuel that can start and stop in seconds and modulate their output to precisely balance the grid.

    Fine, then make your hydrocarbon fuels out of syngas from garbage and/or agricultural waste and built that sort of system. Just don’t talk about using natural gas from wells. Or do as Barry says and use stored heat or any other of the power storage system championed by solar and wind advocates.

    Ultimately, if the power plants are reasonably economical to build and there are these other uses for them when they’re not peaking, and if nuclear is all a state-operated enterprise, there should be no problem with sufficient overbuilding to supply whatever is needed at all times.

  110. Barry – “Ender, re: overbuild, that’s generally a good illustration though I still disagree about the need for much load following. ”

    Thank you for considering what I said and perhaps we do not need so much load following as my example may not be completely realistic as I am still a layperson in this and do not work in the electricity industry so I am winging it only from what I have read.

    Tom Blees – “Fine, then make your hydrocarbon fuels out of syngas from garbage and/or agricultural waste and built that sort of system.”

    As I have not read your book yet as I promised to do, I will not comment on the IFR however this is exactly how I envision the renewable grid working. Clean Break has an interesting article on gas engines. One of these in every town where there is biomass waste would supply the required peaking power that renewables need for a balanced grid. Peaking is much cheaper than storage so perhaps this is the way we can both supply the required peaking power for our respective solutions. As my preferred solution has a wind farm and an solar thermal plant in as many communities as is possible, adding a biomass generator of this nature makes the island scenerio that much more plausible. Also these generators will also be connected to the virtual power stations that will be possible soon.

    “http://www.cleanbreak.ca/2009/02/24/nexterra-ge-energy-partner-up-on-commercial-scale-biomass-power-systems/”

    The gas engines here are perfect for using the syngas from plasma torches as well.

  111. We should bear in mind here that irrespective of opinions on the relative contribution of IFR vs renewables to the electricity supply, I think no one here is disagreeing that boron-powered cars and plasma burners for syngas are a great idea, and they or similar concepts, must be pursued vigorously.

  112. Barry Brook – “I think no one here is disagreeing that boron-powered cars and plasma burners for syngas are a great idea, and they or similar concepts, must be pursued vigorously.”

    I think the plasma torch is a great idea however for biomass I would like to see some BioChar – http://www.biocharengineering.com/ – to give some much needed improvement to our soils. BioChar can also release syngas for energy though not as much.

    The boron car? Do you really want me to start or shall I give it a miss considering the Ender fatigue experienced by yourself and Tom.

    [Ed: Wait until you've read the P4TP chapter on boron cars, then go for it]

  113. Tom, I’d like to buy your book, but I’m afraid I’m unemployed at the moment. (If anyone has any work available I can wash dishes, clean floors, do research, perform economic analysis and so on.)

    While it would be possible for an international non-profit to overbuild reactors, I don’t see why they would. Why would they build 38 reactors to meet Australia’s peak electricity use when 25 reactors with thermal storage could do so at less cost?

    I have expressed doubts that nuclear energy will be cheap enough for Australia to use compared to other low emission sources of electricity. To demonstrate why I have these doubts I will compare the cost of current new nuclear power and current new solar thermal. The Cloncurry solar thermal plant will produce electricity at a cost of about $10,300 per average kilowatt and includes thermal storage. New nuclear in the US costs about $7,300 per average kilowatt and up. I’ll use the lower figure of $7,300. Tom has kindly supplied us with the marginal cost of nuclear power in the US which is 2.6 cents Australian per kilowatt-hour. The marginal cost of solar power is extremely low so I will set it at 0.1 cents per kilowatt-hour. I will set the cost of the money to build the plants at ten percent. This is approximately the average real return people or companies can expect if they invest in things other than generating capacity such as shopping centres, pharmaceuticals or mines. As this represents a permanent income stream that could have been generated with other investments we don’t need to concern ourselves with when the generating capacity pays for itself. I will ignore depreciation in the calculations and simply assume they depreciate at equal rates. This gives the following results:

    Average cost of a kilowatt-hour of electricity from nuclear = 10.98 cents

    Average cost of a kilowatt-hour of electricity from solar = 11.85 cents

    So currently nuclear power appears to have an advantage over solar thermal, but this is not the complete story. In Australia electricity provided in the eight hour period of peak use sells for about twice as much as electricity provided during the eight hours of lowest consumption. Since nuclear is base load and solar produces almost all its output in the peak use period, electricity produced by solar power is about 25% more valuable than nuclear power, so to compare it with nuclear we should cut its cost by that amount giving a figure of 8.89 cents per kilowatt-hour, which is cheaper than nuclear.

    Now Cloncurry is a very sunny place and building solar thermal plants in other parts of Australia may increase the cost of electricity. However, it is mainly greater cloud cover that will reduce the amount of electricity produced. As solar thermal tracks the sun, changes of latitude within Australia have little effect. Also, as our figure for solar thermal includes the cost of storage, which won’t be necessary for grid connected systems, it seems likely that solar thermal can currently produce electricity cheaper than nuclear in most of Australia.

    Some people may be concerned about the amount of land solar thermal uses, so I will mention that this isn’t really an issue in Australia. I may be unemployed, but even I can afford to buy over 160 square kilometres of grazing land.

    Tom suggests that nuclear reactors could be built for $1,400 US a kilowatt, which is less than the cost of modern coal plants. This seems unlikely to me, but if correct then nuclear energy would cost about 2.71 cents a kilowatt-hour. To compete with this the cost of solar would have to drop to below $2,800 per average kilowatt of output.

    The cost of nuclear power may become much cheaper than it is currently. However, in order to become competitive with solar in Australia, the cost of nuclear would have to drop faster than the cost of solar. Nuclear energy is a mature technology and has had difficulty in reducing its costs for several decades. While improvements in design and construction may dramatically reduce its cost in the future, solar has been rapidly decreasing in cost and appears likely to continue to do so. While I of course have no way of knowing for certain, my guess is that solar will maintain its lead.

    Before I go, I would like to investigate a scenario where an international non-profit group or the government gives financial aid to low emission generating capacity. In this scenario the cost of money is only 5%. The current cost of new nuclear power would be 6.83 cents per kilowatt-hour and solar would be 5.97 cents per kilowatt-hour or 4.48 cents after being adjusted for its greater market value. Under this scenario solar performs even better in relation to new nuclear than before. If the cost of nuclear dropped to $1,400 US a kilowatt then nuclear would cost 2.71 cents a kilowatt-hour and the capital cost of solar would need to drop to below $4,600 per average kilowatt of output to be competitive.

  114. Barry, if electrified transportation and or other energy storage developments result in electrical demand becoming flat, then using base load generating capacity to supply demand would not be overbuilding, it would simply be meeting demand. It would also decrease the cost using intermittent sources of energy such as wind and solar.

  115. Ron @ 122: Average cost of a kilowatt-hour of electricity from nuclear = 10.98 cents

    Where do you get these numbers? Paid-off nuclear plants in the USA produce electricity for 1.68 cent/kWh. GE says they can produce it for 4.6 cents from complete ground-up IFRs, all costs in including interest. That’s a far cry from your number.

    Chris, I’ve tried to get through to Monbiot but he’s not answering me. Don’t know why.

  116. Tom, I provided all the numbers I used. If you disagree with them please use your own figures and see what results you get. Note that the Australian government borrows money at about 6% so even if an energy project is government funded you your capital costs will be at least that high. But actually, I think I made a mistake with the marginal cost of solar thermal. I’ve been reading about how it would create rural jobs and obviously the more jobs it creates the higher the operating costs. So if I raise the marginal costs by a factor of ten to one cent per kilowatt-hour then the cost in my simple calculation rises to 9.89 cents per kilowatt-hour, which is still cheaper than nuclear.

    If GE can produce nuclear power at 4.6 US cents per kilowatt-hour all costs included, then that might be just profitable in South Australia where the average wholesale price of electricity was 4.84 US cents a kilowatt-hour in 2007. Since reactors are generally large, bringing one online in Australia will tend to push baseload market prices down, so I don’t know if a reactor would be profitable at that price. I also expect that GE would face increased risks and costs building in Australia, but if they want to take the risk and build a reactor here, we should let them.

  117. Ron #127: You cited the Cloncurry CSP plant:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cloncurry_solar_power_station

    If these figures prove correct once it’s operated, this would be a $31M venture resulting in a plant with a 10MW nameplate and an average capacity of 35% with thermal storage, based on the estimate of 30 GWh/year. Which is, as you say, power at about 11c/KWh. I’ll be interested to see how the project develops — let’s check back when it’s been running for a year. These sort of demo projects are certainly exactly what is required to get a better handle on these numbers — whether for new renewable or new nuclear projects. Same deal.

    A point not explored much on this blog so far is how costs change when CSP and wind become a large fraction of the grid — molten salt or block graphite heat storage really helps with this, but still leaves problematic gaps (e.g., during cloudy winter days, especially strings of them).

  118. I imagine that CSP would handle a string of cloudy winter days through geographic dispersal of solar plants, through wind power tending to pick up when it’s cloudy and through the use of peak generating capacity such as gas turbines. (These turbines could potentially use biogas which last year in Europe supplied energy equal to over 20% of Australia’s natural gas consumption.) Currently we have large amounts of gas turbine capacity that sits idle in winter. The effect of a nuclear plant shutting down for what is generally a month long refuelling and maintenance cycle would be a greater problem as the economics of reactors works against building many small ones, and when shutdown the reactor will produce no electricity at all while clouds will only reduce the amount of electricity produced by solar.

  119. For starters, PRISM reactors can be refueled in a few hours. As for shutting down for maintenance, they’re small reactors (~360MW) designed to be built in twin power blocks, then clustered as needed to match demand. So on the rare occasions when they do need to be shut down for extended maintenance, you could shut down one or two at a time and still have the rest of the power plant running.

    Since you mentioned overbuilt capacity, I’d just like to make a couple comments. Any way you cut it, electrical capacity will be overbuilt to some extent, and until storage systems are up and running and efficient and economical, it will be to a fairly large extent, for electricity use is extremely variable. Which begs the question of why utility companies haven’t yet built energy storage systems like those being proposed for wind and solar, rather than building more power plants. But as long as we can put the overcapacity to good use (desalination, electrolysis, etc) I don’t see the issue if the power plants are reasonably economical to build and don’t contribute any GHGs to the atmosphere.

    After weeks of lengthy exchanges on Barry’s board here (which I really appreciate as a forum for discussions like this), I find myself wishing that wind and solar proponents would lighten up on the competition attitude. I don’t see Barry or I or anybody else who believes we should build some safe nuclear power plants saying that we shouldn’t build wind and solar projects. But from the other direction there’s this frequent air of desperation and antagonism, often accompanied by, frankly, some pretty lame arguments against nuclear power. Why is that? In general I don’t see people arguing much (at least on this board) on a safety or proliferation basis, but almost always on an economic basis. Yet the data that’s available on the most recent actual built and operating projects for both nuclear and solar certainly seems to favor nuclear by a wide margin. Is that what all the sturm und drang is about? I’m perfectly willing to just build a single IFR to see if it turns out to be as economically unfeasible as its critics claim. Where would be the harm in that approach? What’s all the fuss about? One would almost think that someone’s afraid of actual data.

    Having long been researching all this, here’s my prediction: IFRs will in fact be very economical to build, and will use far less construction materials per megawatt compared to wind or solar. They will also be able to provide power 24/7 and thus have a tremendous advantage in that regard. In terms of life cycle GHG emissions as well as economics and reliability, IFRs will be the superior choice, complete with free fuel for hundreds of years. Will I be proven wrong? Let’s find out. Let’s build one and compare it to the upcoming wind and solar projects, and let the chips fall where they may. I’m fine with that.

  120. Tom#130: Read “Safe food” by Marion Nestle. She talks about “dread and outrage” issues related to food — GM food, irradiated food, terminator genes. The nuclear industry provokes the same response and probably for similar reasons. People comfortable with nuclear are just like people comfortable with GM, they just don’t understand what the fuss is about and that attitude infuriates people who feel dread, outrage and distrust. Nestle understands better than most scientists that failure to deal with the dread and outrage factors can bring many a project undone. Every time some company tries to coverup an accident, however “trivial” (Monju springs to mind), the dread and outrage index rises. I don’t feel comfortable with nuclear, but I feel less comfortable with climate change, so its a bit like chemotherapy — horrid stuff, but it can save your life.

  121. That’s very well put Geoff.

    The problem as I see it is that human kind has lost control over its own destiny, because we have gone over the tipping point. It could be that the only remedies available to us now can also lead to our demise, but we have to consider them all the same because not to do spells a fatal prognosis. Some potent drugs are in that category. They can kill the patient, but the patient will die without it.

    I think many people think we still have time to pull away from the brink. Maybe naively, but I admire their optimism. I would like to share it.

    But if they are correct, then now is not the time to suffer a failure of nerve. And that’s where the caution lies.

    All sorts of madcap, desperate ventures will be put forward as the planetary condition worsens. And many of them will make matters worse, simply because they try to resolve a problem through escalation. As potable water supplies dry up we build power-hungry desalination plants to keep up with growing water demand… and so forth.

    Escalatory strategies run counter to de-escalatory strategies.

    Yet, like scurrying ants on a burning log, we feel like we have no choice but to take desperate measures as the log gets intolerably hot under our feet.

  122. But the power that the power-hungry desalination plants would require is readily available. I would guess that we’ll see a lot more talk of draconian population limitation ideas in the near future too, and believe me I’d love to see the population start heading in the other direction. The desal goes hand in hand with population, though, so no matter how much we might deplore the population bomb we at least know that we can deal with it, rather than look forward to decades of water wars.

    I agree that we’re in dire straits. That’s why I, like so many others, am trying to come up with workable solutions.

  123. Tom, it’s good to know that the GE-Hitachi PRISM can be refuelled in few hours. However, we don’t know its actual capacity as it doesn’t currently exist. Modern reactors generally have capacity factors of around 90%. This could be improved upon in the future, but we’ll have to wait and see.

    Power companies in general haven’t used the power storage methods suggested for wind and thermal solar because they have mostly used fossil fuels and their energy comes pre-stored in the form of coal, oil and gas. As for putting over capacity to good use, if you can’t sell electricity at a price that covers your costs it means that there are other goods that people prefer over electricity. Overbuilding reactors will cause whoever does it, whether private companies or government, to lose billions of dollars. That’s billions of dollars that could have been spent on healthcare, feeding the hungry, scientific research, low emission cars or Playstations.

    As for basing discussions on economics, there is no point in building reactors in Australia if other low emission alternatives, such as wind, are cheaper. Why bother having long discussions on safety or proliferation if reactors aren’t going to be built on economic grounds?

    I’m interested to know if you think there is anything wrong with my calculation that shows new solar that hasn’t been completed yet will be cheaper in Australia than new nuclear in the US that hasn’t been completed yet.

    You predict that new reactors will be cheaper than alternatives in the future, but I’m afraid I don’t understand why. Currently reactors under construction are very expensive. While some of their current cost is probably due to temporary factors, nuclear was not economical in Australia prior to this. We had two rounds of tenders for a nuclear plant at Jervis Bay but none of the proposals were considered worthwhile, and as far as I’m aware no one has offered to compete in the Australian electricity market with nuclear since then. While I think nuclear costs can come down, I don’t think costs will drop low enough to become competitive. Large amounts of money are spent on nuclear research every year, Japan alone spends about $6.7 billion a year on nuclear research, but this has not succeeded in significant cost reductions. Commercial nuclear energy is a mature technology that has been around for over fifty years. Mature technologies generally don’t reduce in cost by more that 1% a year. Wind power has declined in cost on average by over 3% a year for the last quarter century and appears likely to continue to decrease in cost. The cost of solar power is dropping by roughly 5% a year. It seems unlikely to me that nuclear will be able to compete. Even if GE could build a nuclear plant that produces electricity at 4.6 US cents per kilowatt-hour in Australia, at current average cost decreases it would only take about two years for wind to become cheaper.

    What is the harm in building an Integral Fast Reactor? The cost, mainly. Current nuclear power is not competitive in Australia and designing and building a new kind of commercial reactor will cost a lot of money. This is money that could be spent reducing greenhouse gas emission by other means. If an IFR cost as much as the new Finnish reactor, then for the same price Australia could afford to install wind turbines with an average output of over two gigawatts. And I don’t understand why there are any significant advantages to building IFRs. Steel and concrete is less than 1% the cost of a nuclear plant so reducing the amount required is not of large benefit, and fuel and waste storage are not a large part of the cost of nuclear power so even they were eliminated it would only reduce the cost of nuclear power by about 7%. Wind and solar currently drop in price by about that much or more every two years. And while I certainly don’t expect wind and solar to continue to rapidly drop in price indefinitely, I do expect it to continue for some time.

    Of course, if a private company wants to go ahead and spend their own money to build and Integral Fast Reactor and compete with other low emission alternatives, then good luck to them. But I would not invest in such a company as I doubt they will be able to compete.

  124. I’m interested to know if you think there is anything wrong with my calculation that shows new solar that hasn’t been completed yet will be cheaper in Australia than new nuclear in the US that hasn’t been completed yet.

    I’ve often described how broken the US system is when it comes to nuclear power, and how that has to be fixed so as not to throw away billions of dollars when we start building nuclear again. What I have pointed out is that the most recent (and thus most germane to our discussion) experience of plants already built, both solar and nuclear, indicate that nuclear is far cheaper per kWh of electricity produced. If you take the best-case scenario of solar as yet unbuilt and the worst-case scenario of nuclear plants as yet unbuilt and compare them to make your point that solar is better, while ignoring solar and nuclear plants that are actually built and producing that prove the opposite with hard data, then you may convince some people who really want to believe, but I’m sorry, you won’t convince me.

  125. Tom, there is no need to for anyone to really believe in order to look at the figures for the projected cost of the Cloncurry solar thermal station and decide if it will produce electricity at a lower cost than the contracted for cost of the Virgil C Summer Nuclear Plant in South Carolina. You say I won’t convince you that solar is better than nuclear, but that’s not what I’m interested in. I’m asking if you see anything wrong with my estimate. Note that if the projected cost of the Cloncurry solar plant is cheaper than the contracted for cost of the new Virgil C. Summer reactors it does not logically follow that solar is better than nuclear. Also note that new reactors in South Carolina are not the worst case example of new nuclear power in the US with regard to cost. That would presumably be the new reactors at Vogtle which have a contracted cost of $10,400 per average kilowatt of output or $12,600 when transmission upgrades are included.

  126. I’m asking if you see anything wrong with my estimate.

    Yes, what I see wrong with your estimate is that you insist on using what I’ve gladly admitted is a broken regulatory/corporate/government system and implying that it represents the necessary future of nuclear power. I point to nuclear plants built within the last decade that cost about an eighth of what Cloncurry is projected to cost if Cloncurry operates at a 25% capacity factor, which is better than any solar plant of any kind has yet managed, even without storage. To pretend that it can achieve 31%—with the energy penalties of storage, no less—is a far stretch of optimism. Remember, capacity factor isn’t how many hours it can produce power. It’s how many kWh it can produce over time.

  127. Thank you. The 31% capacity figure is high but given that the PS10 solar thermal station in Spain, which also uses 2 axis tracking, has a capacity of over 25%, and given that Cloncurry receives about 30% more insolation than the PS10, a capacity of about 31% does not seem unobtainable. I don’t know what the efficiency of the graphite heat storage the Cloncurry station will use is, but molten salt thermal storage systems have heat losses of about 1%.

    I do think that the costs of new nuclear power in the United States have been increased by government subsidies. So I looked up the price of electricity from the new French reactor in Flamanville, which has been under construction for 15 months. Originally electricity from the plant was costed at 8.44 Australian cents per kilowatt-hour. However, now it is estimated to cost 10.8 Australian cents per kilowatt-hour, so it is not just the US which is having difficulty producing new low cost nuclear power at the moment.

  128. Flamanville is a different animal than the PRISM. As for the PS-10, I read it was expecting to get a 22% capacity factor without storage. 31% definitely seems unattainable if you look at a graph of solar intensity. Think about it: you’d have to be putting out maximum capacity from about 10 AM to 5 PM to get that sort of capacity factor. Ain’t gonna happen on this planet.

  129. The figures I have for the PS10 say that it is an 11 megawatt station and produces 24.3 gigawatt-hours a year.

    With 2-axis tracking almost maximum capacity is obtained from about 10 am to 5 pm. Between those times it should operate at about 85-100% of capacity. The only factor attenuating light falling on the receiver is the greater amount of atmosphere it needs to pass through when the sun is closer to the horizon. A graph for direct beam sunlight should be considered, not sunlight falling on a fixed panel.

  130. We often speak about consumerism as if it is inherent in our culture. I think it come from a combination of circumstances most of which are being drastically altered by the GFC. Rapidly growing economies, easy credit and cheap imports were a culture changing combination – we are moving into a new context which will result in a different culture where we may see some austerity-chic and modesty about possessions again.

    But that aside, I completely agree we will need more energy not less in the future, and am being steadily persuaded as I go through Tom’s book.

  131. Pingback: Discussion Thread: Should Gen III nuclear power precede Gen IV in Australia? « BraveNewClimate.com

  132. Pingback: The Nuclear Economy « BraveNewClimate

  133. Pingback: IFR FAD 1 – Context « BraveNewClimate

Leave a Reply (Markdown is enabled)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s