IPCC double standards on energy barriers

Advocating energy policy to ecologists…

It’s been quite a while since my last BNC update! My excuse is a heavy travel schedule – first to Moscow to help decide the winner of this year’s Global Energy Prize (see here) as part of the International Awards Committee, and then to Raleigh, North Carolina, to visit a long-standing colleague (Scott Mills and the ‘hare lab’) at NCSU and deliver a couple of talks (one on meta-modelling and another on energy policy – see here for a write-up of the latter talk). I also snuck in a visit to the spectacular Hanging Rock.

Anyway, to the main point of this post. The IPCC have released statements regarding their Working Group III report for AR5, on mitigation, with the full report to be released tomorrow (15 April). Summary for Policy Makers is here. See here for some responses from experts in Australia.

Today, a colleague pointed out to me what appears to be double standard in how IPCC depicts problems with nuclear versus renewable energy.

For nuclear, IPCC notes “a variety of barriers and risks exist” and specifies them: “operational risks, and the associated concerns, uranium mining risks, financial and regulatory risks, unresolved waste management issues, nuclear weapon proliferation concerns, and adverse public opinion (robust evidence, high agreement).”

By contrast, the word “barrier” is not mentioned with renewable energy, much less its obvious specific problems e.g., massive land use requirements and intermittency. As such, the clear sense a policymaker would get is that with only a bit more subsidies, renewables are the future. Whereas the other fissionable option is too fraught. The path is apparently clear!

Here are the two pertinent statements:

Since AR4, many RE technologies have demonstrated substantial performance improvements and cost reductions, and a growing number of RE technologies have achieved a level of maturity to enable deployment at significant scale (robust evidence, high agreement). Regarding electricity generation alone, RE accounted for just over half of the new electricity‐generating capacity added globally in 2012, led by growth in wind, hydro and solar power. However, many RE technologies still need direct and/or indirect support, if their market shares are to be significantly increased; RE technology policies have been successful in driving recent growth of RE. Challenges for integrating RE into energy systems and the associated costs vary by RE technology, regional circumstances, and the characteristics of the existing background energy system (medium evidence, medium agreement). [7.5.3, 7.6.1, 7.8.2, 7.12, Table 7.1]

and…

Nuclear energy is a mature low‐GHG emission source of baseload power, but its share of global electricity generation has been declining (since 1993). Nuclear energy could make an increasing contribution to low‐carbon energy supply, but a variety of barriers and risks exist (robust evidence, high agreement). Those include: operational risks, and the associated concerns, uranium mining risks, financial and regulatory risks, unresolved waste management issues, nuclear weapon proliferation concerns, and adverse public opinion (robust evidence, high agreement). New fuel cycles and reactor technologies addressing some of these issues are being investigated and progress in research and development has been made concerning safety and waste disposal. [7.5.4, 7.8, 7.9, 7.12, Figure TS.19]

Anyone bothered by this double standard?

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82 Comments

  1. IPCC AR5 WG3 SPM 4.2.2. ‘Energy Supply’ http://mitigation2014.org/ (excerpts):

    Decarbonising (i.e. reducing the carbon intensity of) electricity generation is a key component of cost-effective mitigation strategies in achieving low-stabilisation levels. … In the majority of low-stabilisation scenarios, the share of low-carbon electricity supply (comprising renewable energy, nuclear and CCS) increases from the current share of approximately 30%to more than 80% by 2050

    If that is correct, the only realistic, pragmatic way the world could get to anywhere near 80% low emissions electricity by 2050 is with most electricity being provided by nuclear power world wide.

    And the only nuclear technologies that will be able to supply the vast majority of that are the light water reactors that are commercially available and proven now and the newer ones, especially the Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) that are in advanced stages of design and development, some of which are already in the licensing process. Gen IV technologies may start to make a contribution late in the period, but it will have little effect on emissions reductions by 2050 (but be increasingly important beyond that).

    The other key point is that little progress will be made while nuclear power is more expensive than fossil fuels for generating electricity.

    So, if those most concerned want to make progress in reducing global GHG emissions, they need to lead the way to remove the impediments that are blocking nuclear power from being a low cost option. They need to persuade Greenpeace, WWF, FoE, and organisations to reverse their hatred of nuclear power. They’ll need to become enthusiastic advocates for nuclear, and pretty quickly.

  2. Good question Barry, I read the report this morning and wondered about that point too. It sounded to me as though they don’t have access to good nuclear tech data.

    How about asking to have a voice in the IPCC nuclear reporting tem (if there is one!)……../Chris

  3. Well, what did you expect? The report on renewable energy was worse than that. The technical challenges of renewables are toned down, but that’s nothing compared to the Greenpeace scenario considered as the most credible path and the one to be promoted.

    The summary is also woefully short on the issue of costs. It is true that for nuclear problem is hostile public opinion. But the next one is cost, and that is true also of renewables. By comparison the other reasons given are jokes. Failure to mention clearly the issues is rather dispiriting.

    The fact that RE is acclaimed only reveals the zeitgeist. More worrying are claims that it is so cheap to promote low carbon energy that IPCC can not imagine how it can not be done. When you turn to public opinion, a doubling of the energy prices results in clamours for such policies to change.

    The truth of the matter for this report is that it’s very close to policy recommandations, even if IPCC may claim otherwise. And policy recommandations depend on who is making them.

  4. More delay!

    Both comments were rated “robust evidence, strong agreement”.

    My observations are that the “evidence” for renewables and against nuclear is not truly strong and the “agreement”, though strong, is thus weakly founded.

    This could set back the cause by years… or may catalyse the reaction which is essential for progress towards a reliable low carbon energy future.

  5. Barry – I am not as pessimistic about the report as you. The barriers listed for nuclear are accurately described as “concerns” and public opinion issues. I realize that most technical types would prefer to address technical issues, but I am in the camp of people who believe it is far easier to change minds than to change the laws of physics or to control the weather.

    It is terrific that the IPCC summary mentions nuclear 11 times in the context of being a zero emission technology that is mature and available. I think that the “barriers” section does a pretty good job of answering an obvious question that would come from those who are new to the issue: “If nuclear energy is a proven, zero emission power source that we can control, why isn’t it growing?”

    All of the barriers are addressable without costly subsidies or long-term, expensive research programs that have uncertain results.

    It may sound harsh, but it may be time for the scientists to get out of the way. Their job is essentially complete; we have discovered the energy source that we need, now it is time for the engineers to keep refining the application of the science and for the marketing teams to do their job in obtaining public acceptance and increasing sales volumes. (Of course, the manufactures, constructors, and project managers also have to do their job in delivering reliable products on schedule and within expected budgets.)

  6. Yes, it concerns me too, and I also note Rod Adam’s comments with interest. Thanks for this post.

    I will need to read it myself and get a better idea. Based on the passages highlighted I am concerned. There is a world of difference between what those broad classes of technology can achieve and in what time, there are decidedly barriers to renewables that are about a great deal more than subsidy and support.

    Concerning is the word. Nonetheless, Rod’s right. What it decidedly is not suggesting is that nuclear is not required. Quite the contrary.

  7. Solar and wind capturing devices are not alternative energy sources. For the renewable devices – wind, photovoltaices, solar hot water, hot air panels – the sun and wind are there, are green, are sustained. The devices used to capture the sun and wind’s energy are an extension of the fossil fuel supply system. There is a massive infrastructure of mining, processing, manufacturing, fabricating, installation, transportation and the associated environmental assaults. There would be no sun or wind capturing devices with out this infrastructure. This infrastructure is not green, sustainable, or renewable.
    I invite you to view these essays.
    This essay has diagrams and pictures of how we get copper, aluminum, glass, black chrome – the chemicals, heavy machinery, and industrial processes that are necessary to make the devices to capture the energy of the sun and wind.

    http://sunweber.blogspot.com/2011/12/machines-making-machines-making.html

    and

    http://sunweber.blogspot.com/2014/03/reality-again.html

  8. We will eventually have an economy where most of the energy is nuclear. I think it’s obvious today that we need to go nuclear and go fast.
    One day in the future, maybe tomorrow, maybe 20 years time, the opposition to nuclear power will collapse. Catastrophic Global Warming is obviously much more likely if we’re forced to wait 20 years. The chance of an anoxic mass extinction event will increase significantly.
    We are stuck between the ANTI-SCIENCE RIGHT – The UN is involved in a conspiracy about Climate Change and ANTI-SCIENCE LEFT – The UN is involved in a conspiracy about Nuclear Power – The ANTI-SCIENCE LEFT is the bigger problem in Australia.
    I am exasperated by people that emphasize the need to address Climate Change and won’t in the next sentence say that nuclear is the ONLY way to do it, even though they know it.
    We need to say it, and every time Tim Flannery & the likes appear on the radio and don’t mention nuclear, we need to ring up and say hey Tim, you’ve said nuclear is necessary, say it now, say it LOUDLY.

  9. Having now skimmed the summary for policy markers, yes I am concerned, heading towards put out. The key word for me is “but”. It’s used twice in the one passage and rather effectively diminishes the, let’s face it, rather significant point of being a “mature, low-GHG emissions source of baseload power”.

    They should be saying “and”, not “but”. “And” acknowledges the simple truth of declining global share; “but” infers a problem with the technology and is suggestive of barriers. Where is the “but” in the RE paragraph like “but, aside from hydro, they are doing sweet FA”. Or make that “and”.

  10. A review of the Energy Supply options under SPM.4.2.2 contains even more questionable prescriptions than those made about nuclear. For example the support for gas which is couched in sales speak such as “modern, highly efficient natural gas”. Contrast this with James Hansen’s comments about a future of gas backing up re-newables being a prescription for climate suicide.

    Note the glowing comments regarding CCS wherein “All the components of integrated CCS systems exist and are in use today”. Really!!

    Nuclear doesn’t get such a poor forecast under para SPM 5.1 where it is linked to a $147 billion expenditure along with renewables and CCS.

    Keep in mind that a nation wide implementation of effective CCS is horrendously difficult because it requires a massive rebuild of most large industrial plants.

    Lets keep our public advocacy for nuclear going and take from this IPCC report the bits we need to strengthen our case.

    I am seeing a lot of growing public interest and note that our future lays in the emerging economies. The growing energy cost imbalance will sort Germany out and thereby the rest of Europe – except the UK which will do its own thing

  11. Excellent point, Barry.

    From my POV, this language (a) is advocacy of energy policy, (b) caters to the innumerate (ignoring the actual carbon success stories like Sweden) and (c) utterly damning in its political tone-deafness. There is no longer any chance of the political right taking the IPCC as anything other than an arm of the totalitarian left; they’ve just confirmed much of what the conspiracy theorists have been saying for years.

    If there are any historians 200 years from now, this report is going to be cited as one of the political disasters keeping everything on track for the climate disaster.

  12. Berry, could you rewrite these two paragraphs for me assuming that factual material is correct but using different descriptive words? I’m not sure whether the two paragraphs differ due to selection of facts or due to descriptive words.

    I am bothered by an industry that had 1/2 of the worlds capacity installed last year but needs a subsidy. Surely, RE is now mature because of the capacity of installation. If 1/2 of the worlds capacity is not enough to declare maturity, what percent is?

  13. It is my belief that the IPCC reports are designed to promote green energy and knock fossil fuels directly and other non-green energy indirectly.

    This example of double standard is a just zit on the big IPCC double standard ass.

  14. Barry Brook is right. The double standard is terrible. However, as I understand it, it was Working Group 3 (WG3) that was to blame. My view has always been (without much evidence) that WG2 and WG3 were created and kept separate from the scientists (WG1) partly so that all sorts of people could feel involved and promote their careers without messing up the real business of the science in WG1. My view now is that unless we can quickly score a significant publicicity hit using what has just been done, we should let it pass (as it quickly will) but make sure that in future we always refer in public to “WG1 of IPCC” or maybe “the scientists in IPCC” as the people we have some trust in.

  15. The IPCC is a bit timid on nuclear, but at least they acknowledge that the solution includes it. What bothers me is how it’s reported in the media. Although many of the news stories I’ve seen at least mention nuclear energy as something the IPCC supports, some outlets have an irresponsible and disingenuous habit of dropping or dismissing the “nuclear” part.

    IPCC: We must triple or quadruple the energy we get from renewables, nuclear, and fossil fuels with CSS to prevent the worst effects of climate change. (I”m paraphrasing here.)

    Some media outlets: The IPCC says the solution is to triple the energy we get from renewables!

  16. Seamus’ comments on media coverage apply here too, in the UK. Radio Four (allegedly the BBC’s “intelligent” national speech station) at first said in news bulletins that IPCC wanted renewable energies like wind and solar, but seems now to be saying just renewable energies. I wonder whether someone has already told them off. Probably it is useful to complain to national state broadcasters when they do such things.

  17. I seem to recall a comment thread over on Mark Lynas’ site which noted that some of the IPCC committees are heavily penetrated by GreenPeace or similiar anti-nuclear activists. Unfortunately, I cannot recall the specifics.

  18. I don’t think we need to veer off towards conspiracy territory. The IPCC and the media are just shy about mentioning nuclear energy. When they talk about climate change, angry right-wingers attack. When they talk about nuclear anything, angry left-wingers go out of their minds.

  19. I believe we’ve been somewhat misled by commentators.  Here is what the executive summary actually says, on page 15:

    a tripling to nearly a quadrupling of the share of zero‐ and low‐carbon energy supply from renewables, nuclear energy and fossil energy with carbon dioxide capture and storage (CCS), or bioenergy with CCS (BECCS) by the year 2050

    So it’s very much listed, just not greatly emphasized as we nucleo-philes think it should be.

  20. I suspect that we will need a few more years of building new RE resources and CCS plants before the penny drops that it is all happening too slowly to achieve the CO2 reduction levels for effective mitigation. Individual countries will chose their own energy mix and if nuclear proves to be more effective and cost competitive then it will be more widely used.

    As this happens, those “variety of barriers and risks” of nuclear power will start to be seen for what they are: constructs to support RE over nuclear. Progressively more and more of the IPCC drafting authors will switch allegiances from RE to nuclear power.

    I believe that the next IPCC WGIII 6th Assessment Report will look very different to the one we have here.

  21. Note that renewables are only viable with substantial subsidies. This means that they are not viable.
    Yet nuclear is viable as it is only slightly more expensive than fossil fuels.
    It is my understanding that breeder reactors create fuel instead of creating depleted rods. Thus much less waste. This reduces the “problems” noted with nuclear. Less mining, less waste.

  22. But the one we have here isn’t here until tomorrow (15 April). According to Nick Miller over at the Morning Herald, the “Summary for Policy Makers” we have before us has been subject to such a political hack-a-thon that its hard to predict what might eventually show up. Three years ago in RCP4.5: a pathway for stabilization of radiative forcing by 2100, one of a series of related articles, Allison Thomson and colleagues published results suggesting at least some IPCC members have an extremely good appreciation for nuclear power. Whether this or similar work will show up in the full WG-III report remains to be seen, but we shall find out Real Soon.

  23. More relevant constrasts.

    IPCC singles out co-benefits to RE, but not to NE:

    There are often co‐benefits from the use of RE, such as a reduction of air pollution, local employment opportunities, few severe accidents compared to some other forms of energy supply, as well as improved energy access and security (medium evidence, medium agreement). At the same time, however, some RE technologies can have technology‐ and location‐specific adverse side‐ effects, though those can be reduced to a degree through appropriate technology selection, operational adjustments, and siting of facilities. [7.9]

    Where RE gets a special paragraph on “co-benefits,” nuclear gets a special paragraph on “barriers”

    Barriers to an increasing use of nuclear energy include concerns about operational safety and (nuclear weapon) proliferation risks, unresolved waste management issues as well as financial and regulatory risks (robust evidence, high agreement). New fuel cycles and reactor technologies addressing some of these issues are under development and progress has been made concerning safety and waste disposal (medium evidence, medium agreement). [7.5.4, 7.8.2, 7.9, 7.11]

  24. Meh. One problem with RE’s “few severe accidents compared to some other forms of energy supply” is it is strictly true only in the marginal sense, and doesn’t consider the deathly fossil/biomass co-generation and backup required to keep the lights on. A back-of-the envelope illustrative may be taken from the U.S. NREL 2012 Renewable Electricity Futures Study Figure 2-2 (or Figure ES-6), where an 80% ghg reduction by 2050 RE scenario resulted in generation mix of 8% nuclear, 9% coal, 3% gas, 15% biomass, 4% geothermal, 11% hydro, 7% CSP, 6% PV, and 37% wind.

    REF’s baseline bau scenario estimated 11% nuclear, 53% coal, 16% gas, 1% biomass, 3% geothermal, 8% hydro, and 6% wind.

    Respective Deaths per TWh:
    Coal (USA) 15
    Gas 4
    Biomass 12
    Hydro (world) 1.4
    Rooftop Solar 0.44
    Nuclear (world) 0.04*
    Geothermal, CSP, and industrial PV aren’t listed, so I don’t include those. The Nuclear death count assumes LNT hypothesis applies to Chernobyl resulting in 4,000 deaths over a fifty year period. UNSCEAR 2012 says this is misuse of LNT. Using these figures one arrives at something over 3.48 deaths/TWh in the NREL 80% renewables scenario, compared with 0.91 deaths/TWh if one merely replaces the 53% coal in their bau baseline with nuclear.

    (One also obtains greater — 85% — ghg reduction at less than 3/4 the capital investment, but Peter Lang and Martin Nicholson could have told us that — and have.)

    Immoral: thinking on the margins is marginal thinking: one needs keep in mind the ultimate goal. For the electricity sector the interim goal might be 80% or 85% or 90% reductions by 2050, but by the end of the century it must ultimately be closer to 100.

  25. The use of the word “barrier” for nuclear and “challenges” for RE captures the spirit of the SPM. I haven’t finished reading the energy chapter (7) of the full report yet, but it is pretty much in the “true but misleading” category but with some important omissions. Gwyneth Cravens covers sub-seabed waste disposal in “Power to Save the World” and I wish I’d finished reading her book before I wrote my waste series … the bottom line is that there was an in-depth study of sub-seabed dumping and it’s easily the second best and simplest option for dealing with high level waste (the best being obviously to “burn” it). It isn’t mentioned in WG3-ch7.

    They resort to “weasel words” … dead sneaky statements that are true but misleading:

    1) Why write(p.25): “There is not a commonly accepted, single worldwide approach to dealing with the long‐term storage
    and permanent disposal of high‐level waste. ” … when you could just as easily say that there are multiple methods of handling high level waste.

    2) Why write(p.25): “There is no final geologic disposal of high‐level waste from commercial nuclear power plants
    currently in operation …” instead of saying that the only operating long term storage facility is currently being used for military waste (WIPP) but could hold all the world’s commercial waste if required.

    The omission of any mention of sub-seabed waste disposal isn’t what I’d expect with such a large number of authors. The great thing about sub-seabed waste that I missed mentioning in my section on ocean dumping is CLAY. Bury the waste in clay and if there’s ever any kind of leak, the clay will bind to the isotopes of concern rendering them immobile. It’s like the reverse of mining and separating the stuff you want from its ore-body.

  26. Hi Geoff,

    the bottom line is that there was an in-depth study of sub-seabed dumping and it’s easily the second best and simplest option for dealing with high level waste (the best being obviously to “burn” it).

    The countries that use nuclear electricity generation have spent 40 years conducting thorough options analysis for managing the waste from nuclear fission reactors. I agree that burning it will reduce the waste quantities and life of the fission products. But geological waste storage/disposal on land is by far the best option for managing and disposing of the waste from nuclear fission. We don’t need to raise any more distractions and run the debate off in other directions.

    The important point to get across is that waste disposal is a near trivial technical issue when compared with the chemical wastes we do next to nothing about. It is a small cost compared with the benefits of the electricity nuclear power produces. It is a small additional cost added to the cost of nuclear generated electricity.

    Nuclear waste management/disposal is not a major technical issue. It is a major public fear issue, just like radiation. But that can be dealt with (over time).

    I’d encouragereaders to read about the Canadian Nuclear Fuel Waste Management Program: http://www.nwmo.ca/home

    Then please explain for those interested as you have an exceptional ability to do.

  27. Russia, China and India continue to work on the closed cycle nuclear energy irrespective of it being watered down by the IPCC. I expect that they will be able to overcome challenges and cross the barriers. They do not oppose or downplay renewable energy either.
    I guess that breakout in nuclear energy will occur only after the cost reduction based on their own rather than the US regulations.

  28. Further to why geological disposal see the following:

    NWMO – science and the environment

    http://www.nwmo.ca/science_and_environment

    NWMO – 4-2 Characterizing the Geosphere in High-Level Radioactive Waste Management

    http://www.nwmo.ca/4.2

    Geoscientific Site Characterization

    <

    blockquote>A four-year multi-phase program of geoscientific investigations to verify the suitability of the geology deep beneath the Bruce nuclear site to safely host the proposed Deep Geologic Repository (DGR) for Ontario Power Generation’s low and intermediate level nuclear waste was completed in July 2010.

    <

    blockquote>

    http://www.nwmo.ca/dgrgeoscientificsitecharacterization

    The key bit is in this report:

    http://www.nwmo.ca/uploads/DGR%20PDF/sitecharactechrep/TR-08-10_Hydrogeologic-Data-Consolidation_R1.pdf

    Go to p4 Table 2: Horizontal Hydraulic Conductivity Values of Formations

    Horizontal hydraulic conductivities of the target formation are around 1E-14 m/s. Table 3 shows that the vertical permeability is about 10x less than the horizontal permeability; i.e. about 1E-15 m/s. These permeability values mean that, even if anything leaked from the engineered barriers and could travel in ground water without being absorbed by the rock, it would take many millions of years to reach the surface.

    But there’s even more good news. See Section 7, p16, in this report: http://www.nwmo.ca/uploads/DGR%20PDF/sitecharactechrep/TR-08-31_Pressure_and_Head_Monitoring_DGR-1_to_4_R0.pdf The pore pressures in the rock in the target formations are a massive ‘suck’. Under-pressures of 114 m below sea level (300m below ground surface). Those pressures cannot be explained by even the removals of kilometres thickness of ice sheet since the last glacial maximum. They date back hundreds of millions of years. They are important because they indicates that if water could have got through the rock it would have done so long ago and the pressures would have returned to near hydrostatic. The rock is impervious and water cannot get through it.

    There is much more to it than this of course. I realise there’ll be lots of questions, so those interested should start at the top of the web site and drill down. I drilled down for this information.

  29. Thanks Peter. I’ll look at your Canadian link. I suspect there are at least several similar. I’ve little time at present, but http://world-nuclear.org/info/Nuclear-Fuel-Cycle/Nuclear-Wastes/ is a good place to start. In particular see the table of waste management policy by country in http://world-nuclear.org/info/Nuclear-Fuel-Cycle/Nuclear-Wastes/Radioactive-Waste-Management/.

    Also see the psychology of spent fuel management discussion in (otherwise charmingly anachronistic) http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/reaction/readings/french.html

  30. The former Prime Minister of Norway was here this week and was asked about some of the odd verbiage in the IPCC report,, including the amazing statement on acidification which implied food-chain species are seriously threatened but the species depending on them less so. Really?

    Her response, having been involved with IPCC, etc. for decades, was that it’s “consensus wording”. In other words, the group is controlled in what it’s allowed to say by supplication to a few who don’t want to say it!

  31. Hi Peter, yes, there’s a risk in multiplying solutions “running off in other directions” … but I see it rather as saying there are multiple good solutions. WG3 presented the lack of a single agreed solution as evidence of a barrier. How silly is that?

    Anyway, I was having a discussion with an anti-nuclear friend recently and after about about 10 minutes discussing waste I ran into the ultimate brick wall … “but it’s not nothing!”. His point was that he had this perfect recycling circle in his head that he thought of as renewables but nuclear deviated by having non-zero waste. It may be silly but it’s a serious psychological hurdle … it needs a short sharp solution. Ideas welcome !

  32. A commenter over on the Guardian points out that Annex III (Page 7) has a table of LCOE estimates for various technologies. Nuclear remains among the lowest cost low emission commercially available technologies on an LCOE basis. If the higher system level costs of variable renewables are properly attributed, then nuclear must remain an economically attractive option for the foreseeable future.

    http://report.mitigation2014.org/drafts/final-draft-postplenary/ipcc_wg3_ar5_final-draft_postplenary_annex-iii.pdf

    It seems to me that this is one of the take away messages.

  33. Hi Geoff,

    Hi Peter, yes, there’s a risk in multiplying solutions “running off in other directions” … but I see it rather as saying there are multiple good solutions.

    Yes, there are ‘multiple good solutions’ but sea bed burial is not one of them. Ed Leaver provided a link that shows the policies of fifteen countries. Sea bed disposal is not one of them http://world-nuclear.org/info/Nuclear-Fuel-Cycle/Nuclear-Wastes/Radioactive-Waste-Management/.

    Canada is consider these three options:
    • At reactor storage
    • Centralised storage
    • Deep geological disposal

    Sea bed disposal was dismissed as a viable option decades ago. A review of the site characterisation reports in the NWMO site (see links in previous comment) will make it clear why it would be impracticable to do the detailed site characterisations studies beneath the sea.

    Each time someone advocates for the now dismissed options – such as sea bed disposal – I’d suggest nuclear power advocates should quickly dismiss it and explain why it has been dismissed and why it is no longer considered a realistic option. The reasons have been well documented by the various countries that have been involved in doing the nuclear waste disposal research over the past forty years or so.

  34. Peter, I haven’t read the detailed technical studies on sub-seabed disposal, only Craven’s quite rich summary with liberal quotes from Rip Anderson on the studies done at Sandia. There is a review by R.D. Klett

    http://www.osti.gov/scitech/biblio/491424

    Anderson reckons he had Scripps and other oceanographic people on board and they all came into the project skeptical but left thoroughly convinced. He reckons the project got shafted for political reasons, not scientific ones.

    Anderson has a top grade scientific pedigree and good judgement.

  35. Geoff,

    All I can say is that you really need to read up on the background. Sandia and the other National labs as well as Sweden, Finland, Switzerland. Germany, Belgium, France, UK. Canada, USA, japan and Korea have been at this for 40 years. There has been a massive amount of research, not just bey scientists but by engineers too. The studies are well documented and accessible, as I’ve shown with the links provided.

    I’d draw the parallel of the enthusiastic advocates for: wind, solar, geothermal, bio fuels, wave, tidal, ocean current, ocean thermal, etc. They all make a great case in isolation. But when the scientists, engineers, economists, policy analysts do proper options analysis with clearly defined evaluation criteria – as Canada has defined at the top levels of of their web site, the conclusions have been the same from all countries – its not a realistic option.

    Advocating for discredited options has a parallel with arguing that CO2 is not a greenhouse gas. It diverts focus from what we need to be emphasising. That’s my humble opinion.

  36. Hi Peter, I’ll read the Canadian work … eventually. The WNA doesn’t say sub-seabed has been discredited, just that it isn’t permitted under international agreements … http://bit.ly/P71tmr
    If you can save me time by pointing at anything that discredits the Sandia subseabed work, then I’d appreciate it.

    You don’t actually need to characterise the undersea geology, the waste starts off about 30m buried in sediment … not rock and it would be about 6kms down … about at MH370 level. Their idea was one site as a global waste site … 32N164W.

  37. Geoff,

    If you are interested in this subject I’d suggest you begin your search with the NWMO site. I don’t have links to papers refuting any particular paper. But I can tell you that the various options for waste disposal (such as sea bed disposal and shooting it into the Sun) were studied at enormous length through the years since the 1970′s. All have agreed that geological disposal is the best option for permanent disposal. The SANDIA paper you linked is to a 1997 modelling analysis. It is trivial compared with the pile of work that’s been done. It’s like referring to one modelling paper on climate sensitivity compared with the overall assembled results and conclusions. Furthermore, it contains no cost estimates. So it is meaningless.

    If seabed disposal was viable countries would be investigating it now. They are not.

  38. Geoff,

    The WNA link you referred to says:

    In the 1980s, the feasibility of the disposal of HLW in deep ocean sediments was investigated and reported by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. For this concept, radioactive waste would be packaged in corrosion-resistant containers or glass, which would be placed beneath at least 4000 metres of water in a stable deep seabed geology chosen both for its slow water flow and for its ability to retard the movement of radionuclides.

    The question to ask is: is how could the site characterisation be done to demonstrate: “a stable deep seabed geology [with] slow water flow and [...] ability to retard the movement of radionuclides.

    To get an idea of what is involved to do site characterisation on land read these reports:

    http://www.nwmo.ca/uploads_managed/MediaFiles/595_4-2CharacterizingtheGeosphereinHigh-LevelRadioactiveWasteManagement.pdf

    Next, click on the link at the bottom of this page to go to “Site Characterization Technical Reports” http://www.nwmo.ca/dgrgeoscientificsitecharacterization . Here is one example of about 60 such re[ports. It is one of the two I quoted in my second comment. http://www.nwmo.ca/uploads/DGR%20PDF/sitecharactechrep/TR-08-10_Hydrogeologic-Data-Consolidation_R1.pdf

    These reports will give you some idea of what is involved. I hope you’ll have a look, even a quick scan, of the reports to get an idea of what is involved.

    It is impractical to do this detailed site characterisation undersea and the cost would be prohibitive. The 1997 modelling study you referred to shows no indication that they’ve understood this. It is purely a very early stage conceptual study.

    And that’s just the site selection. The costs of developing and operating it would be far higher than on land, as the options studies have shown.

  39. See http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2014/04/mitigation-of-climate-change-part-3-of-the-new-ipcc-report/

    Email to the German responsible for the double standard:

    “To: “Dr. Brigitte Knopf”
    Subject: mitigation-of-climate-change-part-3-of-the-new-ipcc-report

    Some people would like to have some words with you at:

    http://bravenewclimate.com/2014/04/14/ipcc-double-standards-on-energy-barriers/

    “IPCC double standards on energy barriers”

    RealClimate.org has a double standard on energy as well, which is why I am sending this by email. Please read the comments at BraveNewClimate.com.”

  40. We do not put so-called nuclear “waste” in the ocean because it is valuable recyclable fuel and medicine and we want to be able to get it back. We will need it as fuel for the GE Hitachi Prism reactor.

  41. An analogue to the anti-nuclear hysteria is the “Silent Spring” book which triggered so many environmental attitudes and put an end to the use of DDT.

    What I’ve heard is that the real problem with DDT was over use. I heard a comparison that said the crop dusting aircraft would lay enough DDT on one farm to have treated the entire continent of Africa if used discretely. That may be a slight exaggeration.

    The point is that DDT could eliminate malaria harmlessly if applied with a brush instead of a crop duster since DDT is relatively harmless to humans.

    The same societal fear factor is embedded in the culture for all the obvious (Godzilla, Hiroshima, Cold War) reasons.

    If we could spend some of the money spent on stupid political campaigns on sophisticated pro-nuclear advertising instead, that might make a difference.

  42. The resistance to nuclear is what suggests to me that people actually still don’t “get” the seriousness of climate change. I can (and did) believe that ordinary people in the developed world would prefer the world to be progressively (at best, progressively, anyway) destroyed rather than do without the comforts of modern life. But it seems less credible that rapidly destroying the world can be popularly seen as preferable to nuclear power, no matter how terrible nuclear might be thought to be. After all, even the people who hate nuclear most surely agree that it provides loads of power, and it does actually work, and so on. Once the issue is popularly seen as whether or not to destroy the world (or, strictly speaking, how fast to destroy the world) the alleged health risks of nuclear will presumably cease to be much of an issue. So maybe we need to first make clear how serious climate is, then nuclear may suddenly become popular without our help.

  43. Perhaps a multi-track effort would speed up the process. Less fear/more nukes.

    Although my physicist dad was pro nuclear, I stumbled through years of listening to my left leaning environmentalist friends who for awhile were promoting wood stoves among other well intentioned projects!

    Years of thinking the world was collapsing; and knowing intuitively that wind and solar would never work because of an impossibly difficult matter of distribution and reliability. It seemed doable for a while because one square yard could net a kilowatt (yeah in a perfect situation in Death Valley).

    The problem is that a lot of people are going to be very confused when they find out they’ve been lied to. (What is it with Mishio Kaku?). We need to start with some positive messages. Nuclear power is better whether the world is in danger or not.

  44. Tim Rickman: See the following BNC articles:

    http://bravenewclimate.com/2013/07/29/nuclear-waste-series-p1/

    http://bravenewclimate.com/2013/07/30/nuclear-waste-series-p2/

    http://bravenewclimate.com/2013/07/31/nuclear-waste-series-p3/

    http://bravenewclimate.com/2013/08/01/nuclear-waste-series-p4/

    http://bravenewclimate.com/2013/11/01/stayin-alive-gene-pool-p1/

    http://bravenewclimate.com/2013/11/08/stayin-alive-gene-pool-p2/

    http://bravenewclimate.com/2013/11/15/stayin-alive-gene-pool-p3/

    A choice quote: “In Part I, we found that radioactive decay in the earth’s crust is continuously releasing as much energy as 44 million large nuclear reactors. Is that troubling? Presumably not. I’ve not heard calls from anti-nuclear activists like Helen Caldicott or Jim Green to seal the surface of the planet with a layer of lead to save future generations from horrible deformed babies.”

  45. Pingback: Another Week of Climate Disruption News, April 20, 2014 – A Few Things Ill Considered

  46. “… 44 million large nuclear reactors …” — as I recall, that number included a factor-of-3 error and a factor-of-1000 one. Either those two errors or an unmentioned presumption that a “large” nuclear reactor is one rated at one megawatt, thermal.

    The more usual rating is 3000 MW, thermal, and on that basis, 14000 makes more sense.

  47. Pingback: Another Week of Climate Disruption News, April 20, 2014 [A Few Things Ill Considered] | Gaia Gazette

  48. “I don’t think we need to veer off towards conspiracy territory. The IPCC and the media are just shy about mentioning nuclear energy.”

    Hardly conspiracy theory when it is established fact that blatantly anti-nuclear proponents from Greenpeace are on the committee.
    MODERATOR
    Your comment was edited to remove a pejorative.

  49. grlcowan: That’s useful. I’m thinking of using the material in Geoff Russell’s BNC posts for a flier, so any other comments or corrections (or more info) on any of them would be a great help.

  50. Tim, Graham is of course correct about my mistake and 14,000 is a better number and Peter Lang has pointed out that sub-seabed disposal was dropped from consideration because land based disposal was easier and better. Some of the people who worked on sub-seabed disposal would disagree, and you might like to look at Gwyneth Craven’s book “Power to save the world” for another point of view. Peter did eventually convince me via private discussion that he was right … land based is better, but I think its still reasonable to say that multiple disposal technologies could work precisely because it really isn’t that tough a problem (apologies to those who spent years working through the complex detail needed to prove this!). We have salt bed (WIPP … which I didn’t cover), igneous rock (Finnish model), and sub-seabed.

    And once you move to fast reactors, the waste problem become much, much easier.

  51. Geoff,

    I have to disagree with you on sea bed disposal. There will always be some people waving the flag for options that have been discarded despite exhaustive options analyses by authoritative bodies. The same thing happens with climate change – there are some scientists who argue equilibrium climate sensitivity is around 1C (for 2xCO2). You and others get really frustrated that such arguments are put forward after the mass of analyses that have been done supporting much higher ECS. You find it frustrating because it diverts attention and, therefore, delays progress on achieving good policy.

    Seabed disposal, geological disposal on land and other methods of disposal were studied extensively through the 1980s and before and discarded. It was not close to being the best option. All countries and the vast majority of authoritative bodies that studied the matter concluded that geological disposal on land was the best option. The key factors are (from memory from 30 years ago): 1) the cost, 2) the long term integrity of the repository and the ability to monitor it and then fix problems should they occur.

    The option has been discarded for serious analysis. No authoritative bodies are seriously looking at it (as far as I am aware). It is a pity you don’t actually take the time to read the references on this before keeping raising it. I provided a number of references which, if you were to look at them, should make you realise what is involved in analysing disposal sites for their suitability. You can’t do any of that on the sea bed. There is an enormous amount to know about this isssues and many and varied disciplines are needed – especially a wide variety of geologists, geotechnical engineers and hydogeologists. The teams who did the studies had all those needed skills for highly experienced practitioners from USA, Canada, UK, Sweden, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium, Japan, Korea and Australia. The research group you are quoting has virtually none of that. They are academics.

    O/T but to give some idea of how many wild ideas are out there that we could spend our time discussing instead of focusing on options and policies that have the highest prospect for making genuine progress, here is another example of a “new” idea, dreamed up by academics with little of the required skills: http://www.solarserver.com/solar-magazine/solar-energy-system-of-the-month/hydraulic-hydro-storage.html . Ask me to fill you in on that.

    And here’s another one: http://judithcurry.com/2012/08/24/a-modest-proposal-for-sequestration-of-co2-in-the-antarctic
    See my comments, especially this one: http://judithcurry.com/2012/08/24/a-modest-proposal-for-sequestration-of-co2-in-the-antarctic/#comment-241423
    And here is my cost estimate and cost comparison with other mitigation options:

    http://judithcurry.com/2012/08/24/a-modest-proposal-for-sequestration-of-co2-in-the-antarctic/#comment-233330

    And here is a summary of my main points of comparison between this option and other mitigation options:

    http://judithcurry.com/2012/08/24/a-modest-proposal-for-sequestration-of-co2-in-the-antarctic/#comment-234611

    and (shorter summary):

    http://judithcurry.com/2012/08/24/a-modest-proposal-for-sequestration-of-co2-in-the-antarctic/#comment-235399

    Another way-out ideas are stratosolar: http://www.dynasolarepcm.com/

    Should we continually encourage diversions of focus to options that have been long discarded – unless of course there is clear evidence that the options analyses and life cycle cost analyses show they may have a significant advantage over the options the world has done so much work on already over the past 40 years or so? (In 1978, Ted Ringwood’s ANU team invented synroc, a possible means of safely storing and disposing of radioactive waste. http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v278/n5701/abs/278219a0.html)

  52. Moderator,

    Would you mind correcting “Greenwood’s” and changing it it to “Ringwood’s” in the last paragraph.

    Greenwood” was as slip. My petrology (geology) lecturer and final year project supervisor at ANU often referred to Green and Ringwood and sometimes combined them in one name in gest. Green and Ringwood were the two ANU researchers who first explained the now accepted origin of Planet Earth. As a result of the high regard NASA held for them they received samples of moon rocks from the first moon landing to study.

  53. Peter Lang: The problem with seabed disposal is that it is spent fuel, not nuclear waste. We want to get it back so that we can recycle it to use as fuel for the GE hitachi prism reactor, then recycle by the PYRO process and put into an IFR again. See http://gehitachiprism.com/
    Please read this Book: “Plentiful Energy, The Story of the Integral Fast Reactor” by Charles E. Till and Yoon Il Chang, 2011
    Get a free book from: http://www.thesciencecouncil.com/prescription-for-the-planet.html

    In the old days, we recycled spent fuel using the PUREX process.

  54. Asteroid Miner,

    The discussion is about the final disposal of nuclear waste. If you go back to an earlier comment you’ll see that the NWMO site breaks the policy analyses into these three options:
    • At reactor storage
    • Centralised storage
    • Deep geological disposal

    This discussion is about final disposal.
    I’d refer you to the links I’ve posted in previous comments.

  55. Geoff,

    If you are still following this thread, you might be interested in this comment on geologic disposal of nuclear waste:

    What about waste? Does your design generate any of that?

    Yes, it’s still a once-through fuel cycle. No matter what, we’ll have to develop the capability to place nuclear waste into geologic disposal. Even integral fast reactors (IFRs), which recycle most of their waste, leave behind materials that have been contaminated by transuranic elements and so cannot avoid the need to develop deep geologic disposal. We’re already doing deep geologic disposal at a repository in New Mexico, 2000 feet below ground. Another option would be to store waste in very deep boreholes. There are many other options, so geologic disposal is a solvable problem.

    http://theenergycollective.com/breakthroughinstitut/376966/cheap-nuclear

  56. Peter, certainly IFR waste needs to be handled properly, but I call it “cathedral scale” management. People have been building cathedrals that can stand for hundreds of years … for hundreds of years. Isolating waste for hundreds of years is a far simpler problem than having stuff stand for hundreds of years. Is anybody suggesting IFR waste is harder to store than was, for example, building Notre Dame some 600 years ago?

    The thing I find frustrating about the Peterson article is that I can well imagine nuclear engineers waxing lyrical about an ever growing catalog of fancy designs for decades but nobody wants to actually build anything because next-years-design will be so much better. The perfect is the enemy of the good … as the saying goes.

  57. Geoff,

    I whole heartedly agree with both points I think you are making:

    1. Nuclear waste is a relatively minor technical issue. It is insignificant compared with the waste problem for both fossil fuels and renewables, IMO.
    2. You said: “The thing I find frustrating about the Peterson article is that I can well imagine nuclear engineers waxing lyrical about an ever growing catalog of fancy designs for decades but nobody wants to actually build anything because next-years-design will be so much better.”

    I agree. But don’t blame the engineers. Give the engineers a brief and they’ll do it. That’s not where the problem lies, IMO.

    I’d add that I think your comment really supports what I’ve been saying all along – i.e that we should be pushing for Gen III, not Gen Iv. Other countries will develop Gen IV and when they are the cheapest option for Australia, and demonstrated to be so, then it is time to start calling tenders with them allowed as an option. I’d urge people to argue for what is pragmatic and let’s get started, instead of dividing focus and confusing the public by arguing for all the possible different options – it’s like trying to herd cats.

  58. Agree. We (globally) should be building Gen III, but also, in parallel, be working on fast reactors, SMRs and more, just not waiting for them.

    New designs can do more than just fix perceived and real deficiencies in previous technologies. E.g., IFR was the hook that persuaded me to revisit the whole idea of nuclear. Once I did that, I realised how wrong I’d been about everything and now I’m perfectly comfortable with Gen IIIs. Some people, on the other hand seem to get very tribal about it, arguing for LFTR [insert favourite here] or nothing! I see such attitudes as counter productive.

  59. Geoff,

    Agree. We (globally) should be building Gen III, but also, in parallel, be working on fast reactors, SMRs and more, just not waiting for them.

    Agree.

    Following is what I regard as a pragmatic route to an optimistic scenario for global GHG emissions reductions. But it is not something Australia can have much influence on at this early stage, other than at the IAEA.

    1. Countries such as USA (especially), plus Canada, UK, France, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Finland, Russia, China, Korea and Japan agree to remove the impediments to low cost nuclear power. [USA on its own could make it happen by leading the way.] As a result costs of electricity from nuclear plants trend down at the rate of say 10% per doubling of global capacity. By 2050, SMR’s are generating electricity at about half the cost of fossil fuel plants. Once nuclear is cheaper than fossil fuels nuclear replaces them at an ever increasing rate for electricity generation. As electricity becomes progressively cheaper it gains an ever increasing price advantage over fossil fuels for other uses. As a result electricity replaces some gas for heating (industrial, commercial and residential) and some transport fuels (both directly as electric vehicles and by producing liquid transport fuels from sea water).
    2. We know the build rate is achievable because France demonstrated it through the 1970s and 1980s when it commissioned most of its nuclear capacity. Since France was able to get to 75% of its electricity being generated by nuclear power in 20 years – 40 to 20 years ago – of course the world could do it now if there is an economic advantage to doing so.

    That last point is the key. There must be an economic advantage to doing so. Therefore, to achieve global GHG emissions reductions on the scale being advocated by those most concerned about CAGW, what is needed is to remove the impediments to low cost nuclear power. A good place to start might be to adjust the allowable radiation limits to what is justified based on the evidence. That could be done by the stroke of a pen if the IAEA member countries want to do it; see: http://home.comcast.net/~robert.hargraves/public_html/RadiationSafety26SixPage.pdf

  60. Geoff Russell, I so glad you were able to change your opinion. It gives me hope. Maybe the public can be converted.

    Nuclear “waste”: We don’t dump it in deep ocean trenches in case we want to get it back. Questions: How many times can the PYRO process recycle fuel and what is left?
    What are the chances of a better recycling process that can get more back?
    Are the medical and industrial uses for fission fragments saturated with excess material?

  61. Asteroid Miner: My understanding is that pyroprocessing continues for as long as you want fission energy. Think of it as quantal (large quanta) “batch” processing of what MSRs are designed to do continuously: remove daughter decay products from the fuel for long-term (200-500 year) deposition, add more actinide fuel (U, Pu, Th, “spent” LWR fuel, etc) as needed, recast into new fuel rods, and reload. The important thing is to remove enough daughter products to allow the freshly cast fuel to efficiently burn. There will always be small amounts, but no matter.

    In principle this could go on indefinitely: sure plant eventually wears out, but such can be rebuilt anew and continue where the old left off.

    At the end of the day, one or more centuries hence when fusion takes over or population decreases to the point renewables+hydro can do the job (if that’s what folks then want), there will still remain a small amount of unburnt actinide. With planning, by that time thorium will have been the fresh actinide source for several tens of fuel cycles, and the amount of highly radio-toxic trans-uranics will be quite small. What to do with that remnant will be a political decision for that time: either bury it long-term (10 or more millenia as we do now with defense waste at WIPP and may do with LWR “spent” fuel), or totally toast the stuff in super-fast accelerator-driven systems (ADS) of which Carlo Rubia has proposed several designs. Point is, there are solutions limiting radio-toxicity of fission energy to less than a few or five centuries. Wish as much could be said for the thermal-toxicity of CO2

    Reference: http://www.humboldt-foundation.de/pls/web/docs/F5782/geist.pdf
    A brief overview (with more references) is at http://www.edleaver.com/Archives/2013/06/PandorasBackPages/PandorasBackPages.php#x1-100006

  62. Asteroid miner: I’ll leave others to answer your technical question, but regarding opinion change. I think it would be very easy to change hearts and minds if we had bipartisan commitment and the same kind of public information campaigns with solid media support of the science that we got in response to AIDS back in the early days and are starting to see on vaccination. Instead we saw with Fukushima what has always been bubbling below the surface, a media that is solidly (with rare exceptions) hostile and couldn’t believe their luck … not just a good “imminent disaster” story that could run for weeks, but a nuclear one to boot! Both sides of politics hate tackling an issue like this when they know where the media stand … even if, as the polls show, support for nuclear is actually larger than the opposition.

    http://decarbonisesa.com/2014/04/03/polls-and-perceptions/

  63. Peter, your basic framework 1&2 sounds good too me. I’d like to know far more about how the costs are partitioned in a nuclear build to see where the money flows. I think we need to roll out nuclear regardless of the costs, but realise that reducing costs is politically critical and always desirable. But I just hate reading costing papers … e.g., estimates for SMR vary between $4k and $16k per kWe for a 45MW SMR (http://bit.ly/1mNWLWn … I can’t remember who recommended this to me, possibly you!). I don’t understand variations that big. Where the hell are they coming from? I understand that the difference between a $200 dollar phone and an $800 phone is mostly down to marketing budgets and bulls**t. Is it the same with these SMR estimates? I don’t know but that’s what I’m guessing. So as long as we don’t let Apple start selling iNukes, we’ll be fine. Go Huawei!

  64. Peter Lang: I agree with you except that:
    1. The high price of nuclear is caused by coal industry propaganda:

    http://ourfuture.org/20140221/meet-the-billionaires-using-their-immense-wealth-to-make-life-miserable

    “Institutionalizing delay: foundation funding and the creation of U.S. climate change counter-movement organizations”

    http://drexel.edu/%7E/media/Files/now/pdfs/Institutionalizing%20Delay%20-%20Climatic%20Change.ashx

    The fossil fuel industry is hiding the billion dollars it spends each year now, to cover up Global Warming and demonize all things nuclear. Nuclear power plants in the US are so excessively safe that not even one death has been caused by a commercial power plant.

    Reference: “Climate Cover-Up” by James Hoggan
    “Merchants of Doubt”  by Oreskes and Conway
    “Denying Science” by John Grant
    “The sociopath next door : the ruthless versus the rest of us” by Martha Stout.

    The amount of money they spend increases every year. They use it to get people to believe there is no Global Warming and to get people to believe that nuclear power is dangerous.

    1. Gen4 Energy, formerly Hyperion, claims that they are going to be able to install a nuclear power plant in 2 weeks, once they are certified and in factory production. A production run is 4000 reactors. [private communication]
      We [US] have 4 factory buildable nuclear power plants already certified for production, meaning that individual certifications are not needed. 6 More are being certified.
      http://www.nrc.gov/reactors/new-reactors/design-cert.html
    2. Your pdf reference at book length: “Radiation and Reason, The impact of Science on a culture of fear” by Wade Allison. [The Wade Allison in England, not the other Wade Allison at Harvard.]

      http://www.radiationandreason.com/

      Professor Allison says we can take up to 10 rems per month, a little more than 1000 times the present “legal” limit. Most people have never heard of natural background radiation.

    So the whole thing depends on exposing the scoundrels. If we had a few billion dollars per year to spend on advertising, I think we could do it. That would include getting all high schools to teach physics to every student and to teach the truth. It would be great if we could give every student a geiger counter to take home. They would get over their panic soon. Nuclear with reasonable rules is already the cheapest source of electricity. “Power to Save the World; The Truth About Nuclear Energy” by Gwyneth Cravens, 2007
    Page 211: “In 2005, the production cost of electricity from: nuclear power on average cost 1.72 cents per kilowatt-hour; from coal-fired plants 2.21;
    from natural gas 7.5,
    and from oil 8.09.
    American nuclear power reactors operated that year around the clock at about 90 percent capacity, whereas coal-fired plants operated at about 73 percent, hydroelectric plants at 29 percent, natural gas from 16 to 38 percent, wind at 27 percent, solar at 19 percent, and geothermal at 75 percent.” The costs per kilowatt hour for solar and wind are 600 or more times the cost for coal, and that is in sunny and windy places, respectively.

  65. Geoff,

    Yes, we discussed the PNAS report previously. It is excellent, IMO.

    You asked:

    estimates for SMR vary between $4k and $16k per kWe for a 45MW SMR (http://bit.ly/1mNWLWn [...]. I don’t understand variations that big. Where the hell are they coming from?

    For the benefit of other readers, the Abstract says:

    Analysts and decision makers frequently want estimates of the cost of technologies that have yet to be developed or deployed. Small modular reactors (SMRs), which could become part of a portfolio of carbon-free energy sources, are one such technology. Existing estimates of likely SMR costs rely on problematic top-down approaches or bottom-up assessments that are proprietary. When done properly, expert elicitations can complement these approaches. We developed detailed technical descriptions of two SMR designs and then conduced elicitation interviews in which we obtained probabilistic judgments from 16 experts who are involved in, or have access to, engineering-economic assessments of SMR projects. Here, we report estimates of the overnight cost and construction duration for five reactor-deployment scenarios that involve a large reactor and two light water SMRs. Consistent with the uncertainty introduced by past cost overruns and construction delays, median estimates of the cost of new large plants vary by more than a factor of 2.5. Expert judgments about likely SMR costs display an even wider range. Median estimates for a 45 megawatts-electric (MWe) SMR range from $4,000 to $16,300/kWe and from $3,200 to $7,100/kWe for a 225-MWe SMR. Sources of disagreement are highlighted, exposing the thought processes of experts involved with SMR design. There was consensus that SMRs could be built and brought online about 2 y faster than large reactors. Experts identify more affordable unit cost, factory fabrication, and shorter construction schedules as factors that may make light water SMRs economically viable.

    There are many factors causing the large range in the estimates. I’d have to read the paper again to refresh my memory on the reasons. I may do that, and summarise, but no promises. If I recall correctly, this paper was discussed on BNC soon after it was published.

    In case I don’t get back to this, I’ll just make a few quick comments that may be of some use.

    1. I am stronly persuaded that all countries will adopt the cheapest source of energy. No matter how enthusiastic some people are for a particular solution, all that enthusiasm will come to naught when the final decisions are made. The decisions will be made on the least cost option that meets the requirements. We really need to accept this as a given and then work on what needs to be done to allow nuclear to be cheaper. It is awrong strategy, IMO, to argue for policies to rasie the cost of energy. They will not succeed in the real world. See Submission #2 to the Senate inquiry into repeal of the carbon tax legislation: http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Environment_and_Communications/Clean_Energy_Legislation/Submissions
    2. The fastest way to reduce costs is to remove the fear and loathing of nuclear so the industries can compete on a level playing fiedl with all other industries. That would allow costs to come down. The fastest way to reduce the fear and loathing and, therefore, reduce the investor risk and insurance costs, would be to adjust the allowable radiation limits to what is justified based on the evidence. As mentioned in my previous comment that could be done by the stroke of a pen if the IAEA member countries want to do it; see: http://home.comcast.net/~robert.hargraves/public_html/RadiationSafety26SixPage.pdf

    3. In Australia we need to get construction costs down. That is largely an Industrial Relations issue. The BREE AETA report says construction costs in Australia are about twice what they are in the USA for similar plant http://www.bree.gov.au/sites/default/files/files//publications/aeta/AETA-Update-Dec-13.pdf , p16:

    The multiplier from Thermoflow for labour costs is 2.05 and the factor for equipment costs is 1.3, both US to Australia.

    I have to go out to dinner, so that’s a start. Perhaps more tomorrow.

  66. Asteroid Miner: Just a point of clarification r.e.capacity factors. Nuclear in the U.S. is used entirely for baseload generation. In a good year we can hit 93% capacity factor, which is about the limit for PWRs that must be taken offline to refuel every eighteen to twenty-four months and if all maintenance can be scheduled at those times. Nuclear fuel costs are extremely low and capital costs high, it makes sense to operate them this way whenever there is baseload to satisfy. Next is coal. Coal is cheaper ‘n dirt and capex is nearly as high as nukes, but PC and IGCC also make them good load-followers so their overall capacity factor is lower. Its historically high price has traditionally relegated gas to low-capacity-factor peaking, although last year the cost of U.S. fracked gas/BTU nearly dipped to that of coal. What with the Obama administrations war on coal power plants (not a War on Coal, mind. War on coal power. Here.) there’s now movement toward baseload gas as well. (Hey! SONGS was good for 2.3GW continuous. Cal Edison gotta make that up from somewhere!). Cost of an OCGT is less than a dollar/watt. What’s not to love?

    Hydro is excellent for load following and peaking, we try to drive its capacity factor as low as possible. The Grand Coulee complex on the Columbia river runs about 38%, can deliver 6.8 GW peak, and includes pumped storage. Hoover dam on the Colorado runs 24% and 2 GW peak. I include these figures to remind renewables-only proponents the extraordinary cost of providing load-following backup for wind+solar: as large as it is, Hoover dam provides less peak capacity than San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station provided continuous. Glen canyon dam that forms Lake Powell on the Colorado above Hoover dam’s Lake Mead has but 1.3 GW nameplate at 30% capacity factor. It was the bete noir of the environmental movement of the 60′s — see Edward Abbey’s “The Monkey Wrench Gang” — but is now seen as the wave of the future, providing an impressive third the energy of a single nuke.

  67. Peter Lang: I have read that a factory built reactor should cost 1/3 the price of a custom-built reactor. Gen4 Energy [Hyperion] requires only a hole in the ground rather than a containment building, but I think that that is a general property of Liquid Metal cooled Fast neutron Breeder Reactors.

  68. Not entirely. For all power generators load-following is a capability that must be designed in. Nuclear has one or two operational considerations not shared by fossil generation that impact load following, and therefor load-following operation must also be part of the plant’s operating license. For such reasons some early commercial NPPs were not intended to operate in other than base load, do not have the control equipment to do so readily, and are not so licensed. However, all Gen III and IV designs have load-following capability that meets or exceeds the standards for fossil plants, possibly excepting OCGT, and are heavily marketed as such. Visit Westinghouse-Toshiba’s AP1000 homepage, or GEH ABWR/ESBWR, or Areva EPR. Since all reactors operate with negative temperature coefficient of reactivity, they all have some “natural” load-following ability. But for LWR’s the coefficient is small enough to be meaningless in practical load-following applications. PWR’s rely on control-rods and boron chemistry, whereas BWR’s can also utilize their substantial negative void coefficients. In contrast, MSR’s and FNR’s have large enough negative temperature coefficients that some designs (e.g. PRISM, LFTR) are completely automatic passive load followers.

    A suitable reference might be http://www.cessa.eu.com/sd_papers/wp/wp2/0203_Pouret_Nuttall.pdf. Figure 5 starkly illustrates the effect of discount rate on power generation costs of capital intensive plant, be it fossil or nuclear.

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