I’ve talked recently on BNC about various recent energy plans. which seek to replace fossil fuels with low-carbon alternatives. On the whole, I’ve been left dissatisfied. For instance, there was the Scientific American article ‘A path to sustainable energy by 2030‘ (technology = renewables only, critiqued by me here) and the UK Royal Academy of Engineering study Generating the future: UK energy systems fit for 2050 (technology = renewables + nuclear, critiqued here). Neither pass muster, even when evaluated on general principles.
In this post, I’ll describe a third study. It provides a contrast to the other two, because it doesn’t start with the (preordained) premise that renewables and fossil fuels with carbon capture and storage WILL together do the heavy lifting. Instead, it focuses on nuclear power deployment as the primary ‘decarbonisation silver bullet’ (although other techs do play a role — perhaps an overly generous one at that). This energy map was developed by the World Nuclear Association and is called the ‘Nuclear Century Outlook‘ (NCO).
The NCO projects out 90 years, to the year 2100 — I use the term ‘project’ loosely, as really, any forecast that stretches beyond about two decades will axiomatically fall into the ‘crystal ball gazing’ category. But that’s not meant to dismiss the value in such an exercise (or others that attempt to take the long-term view). I just want to make it clear that any such long-term projection represent a ‘storyline’ (sensu IPCC SRES) rather than a ‘prediction’.
The aim of the NCO is to conceptualize nuclear power’s potential worldwide growth in the 21st Century, based on country-by-country low/high build-out assessments. Nationally aggregated data are given in tabular form here, for 2030, 2060 and 2100. The figures in this table are updated as new information comes to hand (for instance China recently upgraded their 2030 forecast from 150 to 200 GWe, and India’s 2060 goal from 350 to 500 GWe). The low/high projections are considered boundaries of a possible domain, with “low reflecting the minimum nuclear capacity expected and the high assuming a full policy commitment to nuclear power“. The forecast includes nations that currently use nuclear power, those which have expressed intention to entering the market (e.g. UAE, Egypt, Poland, Turkey) and potential future entrants (including Australia and Italy). Here is the overall projection:
As you can see, the domain (in green) is wide (!), with the lower bound approaching 2 TWe by 2100, and the high bound being >11 TWe (that’s the equivalent of 11,000 reactors, worldwide, of the size of an AP1000). To quote:
This order-of-magnitude estimate of future Clean-Energy Need gains credence from an alternative calculation. Today the IEA judges that that nuclear power’s 370 GW represent 6.3% of world primary energy consumption. If so, world energy consumption corresponds to the output from 5,875 Nuclear GW. If total primary energy consumption doubles by 2050, 85% of energy must be supplied by clean technologies in order to attain a 70% GHG cut from 2000 levels. On that basis, Clean-Energy Need in 2050 would be 9,990 Nuclear GW.
Here’s how the projections line up with the NCO’s anticipated demand curve (which factors in population growth and some serious energy efficiency):
Bold stuff, no doubt. Here’s my brief take — we can explore the pros/cons of the forecast further in the comments section.
Important features of the NCO include its explicit recognition of the need to deal urgently with the climate problem (and associated issues of environmental degradation), and the imperatives of a relatively rapid replacement of transportation fuels, whilst meeting the changing needs of the developing world. Some problems include a lack of transparency about how the low/high scenarios were parameterised, and overall, a lack of ambition for some countries — and for the worldwide 2050 target — which stands in juxtaposition to the grand ‘vision’ goals (in short, 3.7 TWe by 2060 just ain’t gonna cut it fellas). At least they admit the problem of this ‘clean-energy gap’ in the period 2000 to 2080 (red area of the above chart) — it’s just a pity they don’t really seek a way to plug it.
One underlying problem with the NCO forecast — a problem that is common to all large-scale energy outlooks I’ve seen — is the lack of explicit detail about technology type/role and their relative contribution to overall system reliability. Like other plans like those cited at the top of this post, the NCO also sets aside the (ultimately crucial) question of cost — which makes it difficult to assess feasibility and likelihood. Now don’t get me wrong — I can understand their reticence to tackle this thorny problem. The ‘nuclear renaissance’ might well be gearing up big time, but hasn’t really produced the goods yet, and this makes ‘settled down costs’ tough to gauge, even for Gen III nuclear power, let alone Gen IV. But leaving economics out does beg the question of how realistic it is assess relative fractions of nuclear vs fossil-CCS and ‘new renewables’. Indeed, it might be that some technologies never even make it to the starting gate, let alone see major commercial deployment, if allowed to compete on a cost-levelised playing field. Still, it’s worth keeping in mind. On that point, I’m co-authoring a technical paper with Martin Nicholson (lead author) on this very topic at present, which we plan to submit to a peer-reviewed journal within a month or so.
What of the technological mix WITHIN the nuclear domain? For instance, what is the likely proportion of Gen II, Gen III and Gen IV technologies, and how will that mix of contributions change over time? Which of the current Gen III designs will see the major deployment in the 2010 to 2030 period? What would such a massive nuclear build-out mean for uranium demand? How might nuclear power growth rates be constrained (or otherwise) by the availability of fissile material? On these seemingly rather important points, the NCO is, alas, silent. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t possible to make an informed guess as to the answers…
In an upcoming post I’ll try to do just that (for a teaser, read this and this), and will propose a plan that’s even bolder than the NCO high scenario. But, before I write more on this technology breakdown, I need to add one more post, on fissile inventories, to the IFR Facts & Discussion series. That’s next.
Okay, for now, I want to hear your view on the NCO storyline. Shoot.
460 replies on “Nuclear century outlook – crystal ball gazing by the WNA”
Nobody cares about the battery range of the Volt, just the total range. A full 600 miles is there whenever the fuel tank is full, whether the battery is charged or not. This eliminates “range anxiety” and moots the “paying more for a vehicle with shorter range” argument.
So the Volt is an oil-powered automobile with some low-range battery backup. And your point is?
Engineer-Poet wrote many things, including:
I don’t understand why you would say this in response to a course of action that would obviate at least the entire front end of the petroleum industry. Were you simply being mischievous? Of course you were!
Look, here’s what I suggested:
(1) Displace carbon intensive liquid fossil fuels with carbon neutral synthetic liquid fuels
(2) allowing us to use existing fuel and transport infrastructure but at a reduced carbon intensity, while we
(3) transition to electric vehicles.
Which of these three points do you think is a bad idea? From your response, I think that you would agree with each step.
Yes – and the replacement units will for a long time be petrol/diesel/gas fueled. The fleet will roll over before the production capacity does.
You clearly have no idea how fois-canard it will be to integrate an electric vehicle fleet into your grid. Who do you think is using that baseload power right now, and will they stop whatever it is their doing so you won’t have to build new plant when these cars come online?
Oh, and, yay for gas, I guess.
Perhaps it would have been more to the point of me to have said “add a new distribution infrastructure alongside the old one”. Because, despite your touching belief in the ability to turn the vehicle fleet electric without adding new generation or upgrading the grid’s power handling ability, tain’t gonna happen.
Here I think you are falling into a common trap for people who only interact with engineered products as consumers – you just see the facade at the front of the building, but have no conception about the backend.
Yes the Volt factory has four walls and a roof and a robotic assembly line, like any other car factory. However, sitting behind that is a deep component supply chain for engines, drivetrains and fuel management systems that will either be written off, or keep producing hydrocarbon powered vehicles. At the same time, entirely new production capacity will have to be installed to be producing batteries, motors, high power handling electronics, rare earth magnets, supercapacitors, etc. This won’t appear overnight and will have to be ramped over time. Entire new integrated vehicle platforms and manufacturing infrastructure will have to be designed and new supply chains forged. This is a decades long process.
The notion that people disagree with you because of tribal affiliation rather than an informed and rational process of decision, is disappointing but all too common. Its tiresome to refute, again, but in my case, I’m a member of the Greens and to the extent that I identify with a tribe it would be with the environmental movement. The Greens however do not have a policy that will result in carbon emissions reductions, so consequently my vote is swinging in the wind, and the party that offers the most effective CO2 reduction policy will get it.
In other words, my position is held in spite of political and tribal affiliations, contrary to your supposition. Could you say the same about yourself?
In any event, I actually fail to see where we disagree. Let me read those three points back to you in reverse order, paraphrased:
3) I think we should transition to electric vehicles as fast as we can (or as fast as we can create emissions free electricity, at any rate)
2) But we are stuck with hydrocarbon fueled vehicles for a long time to come, so
1) Production of carbon neutral hydrocarbon fuel is a Good Thing.
I infer from your comments you would agree with all of this. I don’t understand your animus, but I do know that, if this is an example of your engineering, I definitely don’t want to read your poetry.
I don’t know why people go on the attack when I bring up obvious, factual points. Your political opposition isn’t dumb, and they’re going to bring every one of these points up to try to block you (plus a lot of unprincipled nonsense). You have to have your case made before you go to the public, because you only have one chance to make a good first impression. Objecting to a fact is instant failure.
Now, I’m hardly anti-CANDU. I suggested that Olympic Dam should put one in. But you’ve got to anticipate objections and have answers; treating bearers of facts as heretics is a good way to make them look like Galileo and you look like the priesthood (which doesn’t have a very good reputation right now).
DV82XL is looking like a robed pedophile, especially when he brings up unprincipled nonsense of his own:
He thinks that the difference between 7000 MW-D/t and 40,000 MW-D/t is a “smear”.
Depleted uranium isn’t spent fuel and contains no transuranics or fission products. It’s less radioactive than natural uranium; they use it for things like balance weights on airliners and sailing yacht keels. Repeat that in public and you destroy your credibility (because you’re an idiot).
Is Australia going to import spent fuel (radwaste) from other countries? That’s bound to be unpopular, especially when the country has plenty of uranium. I’d suggest that for Canada, but using something like fluorine volatility to extract uranium from spent US PWR fuel so the fission products aren’t an issue in commerce (PWR SNF is about 1% U-235). This also avoids the problem of trying to re-use fuel assemblies which may already be at their limits of cladding life (I’m assuming afterheat isn’t an issue after aging).
Peter Lang is on firmer ground:
A lot of the public is worried about things like plutonium. If someone notes that the Pu in CANDU SNF is much closer to bomb-grade than LWR SNF Pu (and it is), you need an answer to that. You need something like “it would take X many tons of used fuel to even theoretically make a bomb, and nobody could steal that much without dying of radiation poisoning.”
Maybe, but we won’t get a lot out of it absent Gen IV. The buildup of higher isotopes of Pu, plus Am and Cm, puts a limit on how many times even the actinides can be recycled and still achieve a chain reaction with thermal neutrons. Fissioning all the actinides requires fast neutrons, and that probably means liquid-metal cooling. The alternative is to go thorium.
Great. People still treat it as something which lowers property values and requires schools to be located well away. They’re not going to let you dispense with the guard shack as long as it’s there. You need to have a plan for getting rid of it. What do you tell the public?
Quoth Barry Brook:
No, it’s an electric automobile which falls back to liquid fuel for extended range. The battery is the primary. If you can eliminate 80-90% of your fuel use with a 64 km battery, does it make sense to buy a 320 km battery just to get the remaining 10-20%? The Better Place model is probably superior to that, given near-future battery prices and characteristics.
John Morgan gets his next.
Engineer-Poet, you have just demonstrated beyond the shadow of a doubt that you have nothing of substance to contribute to this or any serious discussion.
Sorry, lack of preview requires me to run a test:OneTwo(I hate sites without a preview function. That’s so brain-dead.)
Engineer-Poet – I don’t know what happened to you man, you used to have something of value to say in discussions.
Depleted uranium is an issue in those nations with stockpiles of it. While it is rather benign stuff, it dose come with political baggage attached and it cannot be dismissed out of hand in the nuclear waste products debate, and I would hardly typify it as the ideas of an idiot.
And Australia may well have to take back the uranium fuel they sell if some people have their way, and while I think this is a silly idea for any number of reasons, it is something that is not out of the question.
And Canada has almost as much domestic uranium as Australia which is yet another reason they do not need a technology that requires an enrichment plant that would only add to the expense.
The statement” the Pu in CANDU SNF is much closer to bomb-grade than LWR SNF Pu (and it is)” is a simple lie, or the product of ignorance. Nether reactor produces Pu isotope mixes that can be used in nuclear weapons, and even they it could, I am sure the leaders of other nations don’t have nightmares over a nuclear armed Australia.
Finrod does a substance-free drive-by. Way to go, Finrod!
Quoth John Morgan:
I mentioned a fact about the CANDU fuel cycle and was immediately accused of posting a “smear”. That’s neither informed nor rational; it’s ousting anyone who ventures into taboo territory.
If you are truly informed and rational, you ought to recognize when a proposal has inevitable side-effects which defeat the avowed purpose.
Because it only achieves that in the most naïve analysis.
1. Green Freedom is fully compatible with petroleum, so the oil producers are still competitive for the duration.
2. A floor price of USD4.60/gallon production cost (roughly USD155/barrel equivalent before refining margins) keeps the “non-petroleum” fuel out of the market until the oil producers have gotten theirs. This is exactly what happened to all the USA’s synfuels projects in the 1980’s. (Green Freedom is about 5 times as capital-intensive as coal-to-liquids. Even coal will go first, and the economy will contract radically at CTL prices.)
3. It doesn’t matter if you’re currently paying USD4.60 at the pump. USD4.60 is GF’s raw production costs; the taxes you’re paying go for domestic priorities instead of energy producers or overseas. Add whatever taxes you have to the USD4.60/gallon figure to see what you’d have to pay to make GF competitive.
4. The construction rate of nuclear plants is a limiting factor. GF needs about 3.5 times as much nuclear capacity and 10 times as much capital investment as nuclear-electric.
If you want to see how competitive GF is, calculate the raw fuel price to do it with solar-thermal troughs. No economy would be able to afford it.
You’re assuming a fact not in evidence. Israel and Denmark intend to go all-electric in the next 20 years. The USA could easily require that all luxury vehicles be plug-ins by 2016, and all light-duty vehicles by 2020. Even if liquid fuels remain usable in a fleet composed primarily of PHEVs, driving the first 40-50 miles per day on electricity eliminates the vast majority of liquid fuel demand. That’s a market that OPEC cannot get into. They’d do anything to keep this from happening, including giving grants to people to propose unworkable alternatives to petroleum.
Nobody said “baseload”. Other plants can be used more heavily for quite some time. And raising the demand floor makes new baseload plants more competitive than e.g. gas peakers. This favors generators with the least fuel cost… like nuclear (and wind).
The USA has about 1 TW of nameplate generating capacity, but only consumes about 450 GW average. Uprates are only needed if the peak increases. Converting the entire US vehicle fleet (light and heavy) to electric would only add about 180 GW of average demand, ignoring efficiencies of conversion. You’d have 20 years to make any required upgrades to the grid, and they’d be rather modest.
I was rather generous with the efficiency I assumed for ICE vehicles, and changes such as downsizing and streamlining the vehicle fleet (and moving freight to rail) would cut electric requirements further. If you can find any errors in my assumptions or calculations, show me so I can update. I am all about facts.
You make me laugh. My work has penetrated to the intimate internals of multiple Detroit auto companies’ products. I have walked the labs, viewed the test cells, pored over engine mapping data and device performance curves in my job duties. You’re projecting.
Oh, brother! You remind me of the engine plant which is allegedly specific to V-blocks, 8’s and 6’s. Does the foundry care what molds it uses? Does it really require a completely new plant to make a balance shaft for an I-3 sustainer for a PHEV, or can you adapt a camshaft line for a few million bucks? You tell me.
So we agree it’s a process taking a decade, maybe 2. 2 decades isn’t so far away. Had the USA stayed the course set from 1977-1981, it would be there already.
In other words, you have stuck with the goals rather than the positions which fail to reach those goals. You’re with James Lovelock, and me. Kudos. But you completely failed to recognize that I was bucking a much stronger current in pushing electric conversion instead of continued dependence on the ICE, and as an auto-industry insider (engineering, not management) to boot.
I know the influence of “chimney management” in the industry. I once got a detailed account of how the integration of the transmission’s hydraulic circuit and the power-steering system was stymied by the part of the company responsible for the power-steering pump, which would have been eliminated by such a move. The cost and complexity savings were blocked by the political interests. Replacing a V6 and auto transaxle with electric motors, a fat battery, some high-power electronics and a turbocharged 2-cylinder sustainer is far more radical, but I’m 100% for it. When the battery gets cheap enough, eliminate the ICE; that day will come.
Where we differ on the premises:
No, we aren’t. We can start a shift to plug-in hybrid immediately, and begin chewing away at hydrocarbon demand through higher efficiency and outright elimination of the first X amount of fuel requirement per day or per trip. LG Chemical is going to build a plant in Michigan to manufacture Li-ion battery packs for hybrids and PHEVs. That’s the future I’ve been wanting for more than 20 years.
What you fail to see is how the difference between a 30 MPG vehicle and a 50 MPG vehicle which covers 75% of its mileage on electricity changes the equation. You don’t need synthetic hydrocarbons; the USA’s production of ethanol alone could replace the remaining gasoline demand (much more affordably than Green Freedom, even enough corn ethanol is a huge boondoggle). Stop treating your premises as holy writ.
Finrod does a substance-free drive-by. Way to go, Finrod!
You’re the one going around comparing people to pedophiles. Do you do that often in online debates?
And DV82XL again:
I didn’t say “bomb-grade” (93% Pu-239 or more), I said “much closer”. The fraction of Pu-238, Pu-240 and Pu-241 goes way up as fuel irradiation increases. Remember, we’re dealing with fears rather than practicalities. Material which would ignite its explosive triggers from the heat produced before the bombers could move it out of their plant, like the fatal attempt of the Weathermen (1960’s radical group in the USA) to boil nitroglycerine out of dynamite, has PR advantages.
This is PR. You need answers that are (a) truthful and (b) sound good to the public. The competition is coal, which has lots of negatives which aren’t mentioned very often or very loudly. Buckle down and get to work!
This is PR. You need answers that are (a) truthful and (b) sound good to the public. The competition is coal, which has lots of negatives which aren’t mentioned very often or very loudly. Buckle down and get to work!
So you’re just trying to be helpful? Sure.
Leave the little troll alone Finrod, the guy has lost it for some reason, and has gone off the deep end, and is now babbling nonsense to smokescreen his prior inane remarks.
Too bad, the guy used to have something of value to contribute, I have seen his work in the past, and it wasn’t like this.
@Finrod and Sage of Montreal:
not having come across Engineer-Poet before and assuming him to be an automotive engineer as he talks the talk, I would have thought that the pair of you would welcome anybody in that line. Especially as he mentions the often unmentioned negatives of Big Fossil.
As I see it, he is trying to point out where nukie arguments have PR weaknesses and you don’t like to be told. Please explain.
BNCers who might be happy abolish the NPT so that all countries can threaten each other in eternal MAD deterrent peace, coincidentally reviving well-paid nuclear engineering big-time, are sub-optimally placed to play down proliferation concerns.
I wonder what will happen if Shai Agassi calls in on BNC: will he be called a babbling troll too?
Peter Lalor, – Engineer-Poet has been around for awhile, and I have run into him elsewhere. His contributions are usually very good, and what he has posted here is somewhat out of character.
While he might want to be pointing out PR weaknesses in the pronuclear argument, the general inaccuracies of what he is writing, cannot go unchallenged on points of fact.
Frankly though, I cannot see where you manage to find a link to the NPT in the exchange I have had with him.
Engineer-Poet, reading your response, and some of your website, I think there’s a lot more we agree on than otherwise:
– ditching petroleum is imperative
– moving transport to electric is imperative
– based on your comments on Israel, Denmark, grid upgrades, and production ramp times, you have a twenty year timeframe in mind to see significant displacement by EVs. So do I.
– I do see, and appreciate, the efficiency gains in a short range battery
– You appear to take a rational rather than ideological approach to decarbonization
– Its all about the numbers
The reason for your animus seems to come from your idea that alternative liquid fuels will delay development of electric vehicles. I haven’t considered that and will give it some thought. I think wind advocates are ensuring continued gas burning, but I don’t accuse them of acting with that motivation (on my good days). Likewise, I’m neither recycling oil industry talking points nor shaping my ideas to conform to a tribal identity.
With regard to Green Freedom, you write
38c/l excise +10% makes it $6.49 USD/gallon. I filled up last week at USD 4.50 equivalent. This is a stretch. The GF paper suggests their price could drop to USD 3.40 (add oz taxes to bring it up to USD 5.32 equivalent), before considering reductions in the NP price due to expected standardized, pre licensed designs. If oil prices rise much, or a carbon price is in our future, this looks economic.
But nuclear electric will be cheaper per joule than nuclear hydrocarbon, and I think EVs are already on par emissions wise even with coal power, so maybe there is no advantage for transport. Maybe GF fits into a post carbon chemical feedstock base instead.
Mr. Morgan, I’m glad you decided to look at what I said instead of reacting to any deviation from the party line. I’d rephrase a few things (ditching petroleum and electrifying transport is inevitable, and fighting it is counterproductive; converting the heaviest users to electric may take much less than 20 years, and the rest isn’t so important). Otherwise, we are on the same page. Australia is home to Team Trev, and I have to say WANT!
My problem with schemes like Green Freedom is that they will create a very expensive infrastructure with a 50-year lifespan to solve a problem that will be gone in 20 years. This is the ultimate definition of “stranded asset”. Alternative liquid fuels (e.g. ethanol from biomass) are one thing, a huge nuclear-chemical system to make very expensive synthetic hydrocarbons is quite another. When it takes about $200 to make a gasoline (petrol) vehicle run on alcohol, spending $2000 per vehicle to convert nuclear heat to naptha-equivalent is nuts. And every vehicle which remains compatible with petroleum is a continued market for OPEC so long as their production price is lower than the alternative price.
Possibly, but I suspect that crops tailored to produce bio-plastics or precursors may win that battle. The one part of GF that looks good to me is the potassium carbonate capture system; using potash to capture CO2 (converts K2CO3 to KHCO3) appears to be fairly easy. Unfortunately, one of the vaguest descriptions in the GF overview is the potassium bicarbonate electrolysis system (2 KHCO3 + e -> K2CO3 + H2 + CO2 + ½O2). If it’s not cheap enough to run one day a week on that day’s excess power, it’s probably not going to fly.
As long as I’m thinking about arguments for CANDU that don’t work for a PWR in the region of Olympic Dam, size of the local grid is a big one. If the area would have to multiply its spinning reserve to be able to put e.g. an AP-1000 on-line, that’s a really good argument for a CANDU instead.
I agree. Furthermore, a power station will not consist of one unit. It will probably consist of four or more units. The NSW grid is mostly 660MW units. The largest units in Victoria and Queensland are around 500MW. South Australia’s units a re smaller still (from memory). So a 650MW EC6 will be easier to fit into the SA grid than a 1000MW AP1000. The fact that the power station will likely end up being around 2500MW or more is another reason why I believe the first SA NPP should be near the main demand area not nearly 1000 km away at Ceduna
Peter Lang I can almost hear the NIMBYs spluttering on their herbal tea at the thought of 2500 MW NP near Adelaide.
Any desal for Olympic Dam would be around 300 km away. This can be checked using the Google Earth ruler tool. I think it is good karma, feng shui or whatever to co-locate NP and desal even if it uses purely electrical reverse osmosis. OD say they need under 200 ML/d but locals suggest beefing it up to replace the pipeline from the river 400km away. A 300 ML/d desal might need 75 MW based on Wonthaggi Vic drawing 100 MW.
Other non-cost reasons to like Ceduna are the historic fact of the A-bomb tests and the acceptance of radioactive zircon shipments. If I recall Martin Nicholson said a major east-west transmission line was inevitable to create a national grid. That would pass close to Ceduna. That and fewer NIMBYs.
I’ve been arguing all along for what we should do. If you want to argue that NIMBY prevents a location, then you may as well argue that Australia does not allow nuclear so what’s the point of discussing the matter.
I’ve said all along we should be looking for ways to reduce the cost of nuclear, otherwise you may as well stick with coal and gas. So my approach is to argue, now, for what regime we want. Not use arguments like “NIMBYism” will prevent us doing locating there. Surely that is what we’ve go to address. And I’ve argued previously why we need to address this issue from the very start otherwise we’ll take three decades to get the cost of NPP’s down to where they could and should be. Which means the transfer from FF will be slower.
On the NIMBY issue, my sympathies are with Peter Lang. When we (N92) launch our publicity campaign, the advantages of having a nuclear reactor in one’s neighbourhood will be heavily emphasised. By the time we’re finished with them, people will be demanding their local councils outbid each other as NPP locations, and anyone playing the NIMBY card will be shocked at their sudden unpopularity. Well, that’s the plan, anyway…
Finrod. That’s the way to go. Great stuff!!
If you want to decrease the cost of nuclear, you want a unit which is relatively small, is built of factory-built parts essentially bolted together at the site, and requires little support infrastructure like cooling towers.
CANDU or any water-cooled reactor isn’t going to be able to go very far down that road. OTOH, something like LFTR can run at very high temperatures, allowing an air-cycle gas turbine as the heat engine (an intermediate “clean” salt loop would be required to keep things like tritium from escaping to the atmosphere). The gas turbine would not be very efficient, but it’s small, cheap and requires no cooling water. This makes it ideally suited for dry areas. If you can get relatively cool water and lots of it (seaside), LFTR with a supercritical CO2 turbine looks pretty good. The closed CO2 cycle does not need the intermediate salt loop.
Also air cooling towers work rather well, although water cooling is better.
Well as far as that goes CANDUs are made essentially of factory-built parts bolted together at the site. AECL has been building them overseas with Canadian made parts for the last thirty years.
GenIV is the way of the future no question, and some type of liquid core reactor is the best design, but that future is many decades away, and the need for nuclear power is now.
BTW any thermal power plant has to dump waste heat somewhere – even LFTRs
I’m still wading through the back discussion on this thread (currently up to here and I have to add a comment on carbon taxes and the nuclear industry.
Nuclear fuel is dirt cheap. The biggest problem in getting the cost of nuclear power down is reducing the cost of plants, both the overnight cost and the interest and uncertainty risks associated with long construction schedules. That should be obvious.
The way to cut costs is to have lots of experience so that economies of scale can be brought to bear. But how do you get that experience if your current costs are high? The sales simply aren’t going to be there in the near term. The existing, fully-amortized coal plants are a very steep barrier to replacement by anything that can’t undercut their costs now, and the mere fact that they’re fully amortized (no bonds to pay off) puts all but the least capital-intensive options off the table. This is why natural-gas plants are popular despite their costly fuel; they cost little, so the risk of owning a stranded capital asset is low.
I’m sure I speak for everyone here when I say I’d like to see the nuclear industry go on a building spree to replace essentially all coal-fired power. There should be many hundreds of GW of sales in the offing, which would justify the engineering to make plants which can be produced and installed cheaply. But how? Who’s going to buy all those plants, given the barriers we all know about?
The only options I see are regulations. Either we regulate (restrict or tax) the emissions from coal-fired power, or we force retirements outright. If there’s any other way to get past the chicken/egg problem, nobody has been able to describe it to me convincingly.
Engineer-Poet, on 17 May 2010 at 3.56 Said:
“The only options I see are regulations. Either we regulate (restrict or tax) the emissions from coal-fired power, or we force retirements outright. If there’s any other way to get past the chicken/egg problem, nobody has been able to describe it to me convincingly.”
Bang on, my friend. It would be best if this was done by legislative fiat. However the possibility of this happening is on a par with that of the Second Coming.
You make the choices very clear.
From my perspective, I am very concerned about the idea of raising the cost of electricity (by imposing a cost on carbon) while we leave in place the massive imposts that are making nuclear energy much more expensive than it could and should be.
I am convinced that the benefits of low cost electricity are overwhelmingly good for humanity. I am also persuaded that if we can have low-cost, clean electricity, it will replace burning of dirty fuels, especially in the developing countries, much faster than if we make electricity expensive. If we make clean electricity expensive in the developed world, then it will inevitably be more expensive in the developing world. And this will be set in place for decades. If we want to make electricity clean and low cost, the developed world must lead on achieving this.
But that is exactly the reverse of what is happening. Clean electricity is most expensive in US and EU, and least expensive in the developing countries. The reason for this is the irrational requirements that society has placed on nuclear power over the past 40+ years.
My opposition to an ETS or carbon taxes is because I am firmly persuaded that the imposts on nuclear will remain in place. Not only that, they will be ramped up, over time, to favour renewables and make it ever more difficult for nuclear to compete. The most obvious examples are: Mandatory Renewable Energy Targets, feed in tariffs, subsidies for capital cost of renewables, subsidies on transmission for renewables, state takes the risk of leakage for CCS and many others. While these market distorting policies are firmly entrenched in our public psyche and in political parties’ policies, I am strongly opposed to any more market distorting policies that will raise the cost of electricity. From my perspective we must remove these imposts BEFORE we embark on ETS or Carbon Tax.
I fear that if we proceed with a carbon price on emissions from electricity, the carbon price will have to be very high and the cost of electricity will double before we really send a sufficient pricing signal for nuclear to be competitive in Australia. I refer you to Tables 5, 52 and 53 here: http://www.aemo.com.au/planning/419-0035.pdf
According to Table 53, nuclear remains more expensive than coal in Australia even with a carbon price of $55 (from Table 5). The LRMC of electricity in 2028-29 is projected as (in A$/MWh):
Nuclear = $88
Coal (Ultra Super Critical) = $84 (without carbon tax = $48)
Clearly, the problem with the high cost of nuclear in Australia is that the cost is dependent on the input assumptions, and these assume that most of the imposts on nuclear remain in place.
By the way, does anyone have any comments on the costs for nuclear presented in Table 4 here: http://www.needs-project.org/docs/results/RS1a/RS1a%20D14.2%20Final%20report%20on%20nuclear.pdf ?
As a first step, I want to see us remove the cost imposts on nuclear.
Until the cost impost on nuclear have been removed, I’d support regulation on emissions from electricity generators.
I said more on this approach here: https://bravenewclimate.com/2010/01/31/alternative-to-cprs/ and here: https://bravenewclimate.com/2010/05/06/open-thread-4/#comment-63239 and here:
Peter Lang, on 17 May 2010 at 10.17 — I’m not following what costs can be reduced for nuclear other than the risk insurance costs by banning lawsuits or additonal regulations once the construction contract is let.
By all means everybody interested ought to duke it out, somehow, over siting, water consumption, … But once started there should be nor more risk to investors than any other large construction project.
I have yet to be persuaded than just doing that will lower the price below that of coal with its free externalities.
David B. Benson,
I have posted many times on this in the past, so I don’t want to go back over those now. (If you feel like going through the previous posts and pulling them together, I’d be most greatful :) )
However, one important point I am trying to make, is that we need to remove the cost imposts on nuclear BEFORE, we start adding costs by imposing an ETS or carbon price. Otherwise we’ll never deal with the cost imposts on nuclear.
I don’t know what all the imposts are. I’ve been trying for some time to encourage knowledgeable people to focus on this issue, rather than just discussing the easy answer “Ah, we’ll just paper over the problem by imposing a cost on carbon”. Doing so will not solve the underlying problem. The underlying problem is: why is nuclear more expensive than coal, when it shouldn’t be?
Mr. Lang: I see your point, I just don’t see how it gets us from where we are to where we want to be. Cutting the imposed costs on nuclear isn’t going to overcome the FOAK costs or the uncertainty in the recovery of the non-recurring expenses. If the USA had e.g. a two-pronged program to make a thorium-burning reactor in 100 MWe and 300 MWe sizes (perhaps with a proliferation-proof U238-denatured version for export), and a revival of the IFR with lead-bismuth coolant to dispose of existing stocks of both weapons materials and spent LWR fuel, that would probably guarantee that at least one of them could go commercial. But what company can afford to foot the R&D on its own? The ROI is subject to so many political risks I don’t see how it could get investment.
Renewables are a problem, not because they can’t work but because they can. The product cycle for wind and solar systems is just a few years. Entire technology shifts can occur while a nuke plant goes from permit to first criticality. That’s a technology risk for nuclear as well.
I am of the opinion that we’re going to have both, like it or not. The biggest gains are going to come from making them play well together; using nuclear heat in a CAES system allows RE production to be added quickly as required, while the nukes provide the base load and, though CAES, the peaking as well. I suspect that both liquid-metal and molten-salt reactors can handle that role (water-cooled reactors probably can’t). If true, this means the future depends on development of Gen IV.
Engineer-Poet, on 17 May 2010 at 11.53 Said:
“Renewables are a problem, not because they can’t work but because they can. The product cycle for wind and solar systems is just a few years. Entire technology shifts can occur while a nuke plant goes from permit to first criticality. That’s a technology risk for nuclear as well.”
The idea that there are huge hidden gains to be found in renewable energy technologies is a recurrent theme among their supporters. However the general history of technology doesn’t support that hope very well. In general the very large, order of magnitude type gains are made early on in the development cycle, while only marginal gains come from the latter.
Wind and solar thermal are relativity mature technologies, even if they haven’t been deployed widely, and while there may be gains to be made in solar electric cells, the physics at this point doesn’t look promising for a huge breakthrough that would even double current output and be inexpensive enough for widespread use.
Storage too has issues, even if there is more room for improvement than in generation, but still shear volumes and cost are not likely to shrink as rapidly as they would need to to be a threat to nuclear. Even if it did, nuclear power plants could use them as well. wiping out any advantage they might provide renewables.
And I would put much faith in CASE. The thermal management issues are not that simple to deal with and are a significant impediment to making this type of storage work except under very narrow conditions.
I see your point too.
At the moment, I am convinced that if we spend our time talking about carbon taxes and ETS, as we are doing, there will be no focus on removing the imposts on nuclear (as is the case). We’ll continually be ratcheting up the carbon price and the imposts on nuclear because people don’t like nuclear and they want renewables. While this situation remains, I don’t want a bar of putting a price on carbon used in electricity generation.
FOAK cost should be carried by the community. They should be carried by direct government funding. The reason is that the community caused the higher cost of nuclear, through supporting, allowing and demanding these high cost imposts on nuclear. We have caused massive distortions in the market. So, is it justifiable that we must pay to remove them. There is also ample precedent for doing so. The whole renewable energy industry runs on ongoing massive government funding. Wind is subsidised by more than 100% and solar PV by about a factor of ten.
The uncertainty in the recovery of the non-recurring expenses could be addressed as I suggested here (especially point 2): https://bravenewclimate.com/2010/05/06/open-thread-4/#comment-63239
I agree that governments should fund RD&D. The distribution of funding between technologies should be based on an evaluation of their likely return on investment.
I agree. But in the west we are not making decisions rationally any more. The developing countries are. We are making decisions on strongly held beliefs and emotions. I am trying to separate the politics from the rational analysis, and focus on the rational part. I accept that politics is going to play an important role in the decisions. But if that is the dominant input to decision making, then … we may as well just continue as we’ve been going for the past 40 years or so.
I agree this is what is going to happen – because of our political system. But it is not what should happen, except of course if renewables can compete without government funding, subsidies or regulations that distort a proper market.
I didn’t follow your point about CAES. CAES needs a suitable geologic environment to be economic and also relies on burning gas.
Just a quick note, because I have to run:
Suitable geologies include porous formations, limestones which can be tunnelled, and soluble minerals (such as halite and potash) which can be solution-mined. This isn’t big a limitation.
No, it doesn’t. It relies on some source of heat, either stored (from compression) or replacement. Nuclear fission can supply that heat.
The advantage is that the heat-to-electric efficiency of CAES can be 80%, and that’s before heat storage is considered. The thermal efficiency of high-temperature nuclear plants is projected to be in the region of 40%, so this means a reactor could supply at least twice as much peak power via a CAES expander than it could through the standard heat engine.
I accept what you say about only needing a heat source and nuclear could provide that. However, at the moment, given there are no such nuclear heated CAES in operation, and in fact very few CAES facilities of any type anywhere, I’d see this as more like a possibility than as a likely, widely employed technology.
When we start dealing in rock, nothing is anywhere near as simple as it seems from the surface. It will take a lot more than your statement to persuade me that CAES is going to be a widely used energy storage technology any time soon, despite what the enthusiastic advocates would like us to believe.
If you have detailed engineering information on recent. large CAES projects I’d be very interested.
Anyone got time to write to SCIAM, or at least leave a comment, on their fusion article? It sounds like the goons trying to justify their $3.5 billion dollar grant for building the NIF “Death Star” are aware that they’re not going to generate 1 watt of actual commercial energy, and so are wondering what other purposes might keep their ‘toy’ alive and their incomes coming in?
Like… BURNING UP ALL AMERICA’S NUCLEAR WASTE?! (Or should I say FUEL for IFR’s?)
The main NIF mission is updating supercomputer simulations of the US’s aging nuclear stockpile, which cannot be tested due to a 1992 moratorium. Everything else is window dressing, and everyone knows it.
A facility that can explosively collapse a pea-sized solid object down to the size of a poppy seed is an interesting basic science facility. If the pea-sized object is some composition of D, T, and lithium-6, then as ‘DV82XL’ says, fusion bomb processes can be examined at small scale.
But there will be plenty of other things to collapse. The people being called goons are in fact scientists who have legitimately found a funding sweet spot.
If a NIF successor is ever put to work blasting SNF with fusion neutrons, the same fissionables will burn, and the same hundreds of terawatt-years will be yielded, as in IFRs.
(How fire can be domesticated)
The NIF is a good tool for basic science, of that there is no question, but it has been created primarily for weapons research, and that is where the money came from.
What is wrong, is trying to pretend that it was created to be a type of fusion reactor to generate power.
In no small part, this is because there have been no molten-salt reactors in operation in the USA for about 40 years.
On the other hand, the original concept for the MSR was a nuclear-powered aircraft, with reactor heat providing the heat to run gas turbines (replacing combustion as the heat source). The Aircraft Reactor Experiment ran at 850°C, glowing yellow-hot (it was called the “fireball reactor”); just replace the compressor with air storage, and there you are. This concept is more than a half-century old, and only the killing of the MSR in the 1970’s by ex-Navy LWR promoters kept it from being the obvious substitute for fossil-fired peaking plants.
Isn’t it strange how many different nuclear technologies could have been here to replace fossil-fired power of all kinds, but were smothered in their cribs by politics?
I know I’ve said it before, but I wish we could view alternate time-lines and histories where the Earth didn’t have fossil fuels, and how civilisation might have had to develop along other means, and how quickly we would have rolled out nuclear power when discovering the power of the atom.
Another thought experiment — strictly in a ‘back to the farm’ Steampunk sort of sense — might be a world without either fossil OR fissile fuels. That would be a renewables only world, and while I’m glad of the nuclear power option, remain fascinated by what we might have had to come up with, and the overall funky shape of society if we’d only ever had renewables. EG: Earthship office buildings? Solar powered factories that only run 6 hours a day, and the workers know they get a day off if it is overcast? A slower, almost Amish existence but with some hi-tech sprinkled through it in a very different shape to today’s world? Who knows what value we’d place on energy efficiency in that kind of world. Be interesting to glimpse… but again, I’m glad of the Gen3 / Gen4 nuclear options we have today and will have in the short term future.
Energy on demand is a cornerstone of a modern industrial society. I recall at the time of the Varanus Island gas explosion in WA a couple of years back. The manager of an industrial laundry said he couldn’t have employees turn up not knowing if there was enough gas for a full day’s work.
Of course back in the days of tall ships if the winds weren’t favourable to set sail the crew would be in the nearest tavern. That’s a bit different to a long commute to the night shift at an aluminium smelter.
Absolutely true. And it’s happening all over again with the “Renewable Revolution”. The populations belief in Renewables as illustrated by BilB (see discussion on other threads), scares the hell out of me. I can easily see us loosing another two to four decades because of their ability to win over the population to their belief by scaring the hell out of them.
I agree, but I’d just distinguish that “Energy on demand is a cornerstone of OUR modern industrial society.” The point of my thought experiment was to wonder about the overall shape of an industrial society that evolved without fossil fuels or nuclear, and so of course had to adopt a renewable regime. So CETO, wind + the ‘gravel heat battery’, etc might be able to form baseload power, but at what cost?
My guess is that the Industrial Revolution would not have been impossible, but would have taken a lot longer and the shape of our cities and lifestyles would be vastly different.
You say that the hell is scared out of you. So review your own position. The fact is, you and not a few other nukies equate the truth status of your view of the power engineering/physics facts with your own neoliberal-neocon politics. This has been evident in your repeated clashes on this blog on NPP costing with Ewen Laver, who is as nukie as you are.
You are a person who seems from the occasional comment, for example, to attribute the worsening global financial crisis to government as such, because corporations are in your view benevolent by definition. So can you apply from AU for honorary membership of the US Tea Party?
I referred recently on BNC to the halo effect. This means that if many disadvantaged and struggling or merely non-neoliberal voters in a given population are talked at by nukies using your style, they will justifiably suspect that they are being got at and “set up”. Got at by the same sort of functionary/businessman that (in AU) cancelled the pre-1980 Australian Settlement under PMs Hawke and Keating et seq. in the last 30 years.
if you want a number, look at the Gini coefficient of income inequality in the the Anglo countries since Reagan/Thatcher. Or intra-US income distribution. The statistics which Oliver Stone wrote into the “Wall Street” screenplay in 1987 are now even more skewed, as shown by US govt. figures.
Hence in order for you to achieve your aims, it will be necessary for nukies stuck in the Harvard Business School jargon which has infected the Anglosphere since 1980 to take a backroom,. i.e. advisory seat to persons who are more trustworthy.
It was very noticeable in the March Melbourne IQ2 debate video, currently stored at ABC Fora, that 2 of the 3 pro-NPP side were identifiably in the managerial class, linguistically speaking. They evinced the language of company reports and mission statements. In AU, Don Watson has written about such people.
I suspect that the heavy anti-NPP audience vote after that debate may be due in part to what I have outlined above.
Yes, thats right Peter. We’re all evil neocon managers here. Whatever gets you through the day, man. Can we talk about energy now?
Now excuse while I go and grind the faces of the working poor into the ashes of their broken dreams.
@Morgan: Your Rhetoric 1 results:
for para. 1: you use hyperbole in sentence 1 and impute mental illness/weakness to me in sentence 2 , i.e. ad hominem tactic
for para 2: you mix two metaphors (ashes, broken dreams) For “ashes” read “shards” or “splinters”, as ashes are the end product of combustion and not of breakage.
The candidate shows promise but must work hard on subjects outside his chosen number-based specialisms. Bedtime perusal of other than technical DIY manuals and P&L statements is recommended.
Pleased to know I’m not a write-off. Perhaps you might consider settling in with a good physics text? I’d recommend The Feynman Lectures.
Or, just listen to Feynman on social science.
That .. and the dream of a world powered solely by sunbeams and an accompanying stiff breeze.
so Peter Lalor: do you view nuclear power more favorably than you used to, its associations with corporations, technocracy and professional managerial classes aside?
You are right about “progressives” associating nuclear power with concentrated power: talk about metaphors!! concentrated wealth and power become associated with hi energy density. Radiation (decay) from nukes is associated with corporate decay. very powerful, unfortunately.
so folks like us should prize apart these associations.
btw, peter Lalor, the u.s. tea party is what we leftists in the u.s. call “right wing populism.”
they de facto support the rich and powerful but understand themselves to be opposed to the rich and powerful–who, in their view, are government liberal elites and leftist professors.
their view of business is small business, ala “joe the plumber,” if you followed any of the u.s. political pop culture. They see themselves as anti-corporatist, which is why they like to paint hitler moustaches on Obama: he represents to them the nexus of Wall Street and big government (with a good bit of 1890s, Jim Crow “Negro Domination” thrown in–thus right wing populist Glenn Beck’s comment that Obama hates white people).
I think it occasionally happened that the winds, and subsequently the crews, died.
I have outlined how tall, wide heaps of iron oxide — but much less wide than the associated mirror arrays — could deliver solar power on all the coldest midnights of the year. When the sun is high and focusable, reduce magnetite (Fe3O4) to wüstite (FeO); when power is wanted, reoxidize the wüstite.
One cannot know for sure, but I think if we had grown up on a planet where nothing at all would burn, we still would have got around to experimenting with mirrors made from silver plate, or electrum, and would have got solar fire into our hands that way. (Ow.)
(How fire can be domesticated)
This is getting a long way from energy, or any topic I really care to spend my time reading. Hope you don’t mind if I drop out here, as I’ve got a major blog post to revisit and (finally) put up.
You’d think that other civilisations would need to discover a built up store of energy to propel them quickly in terms of population and technical development. Thus industrial humans have had 300 years or so to exploit fossil fuel that had accumulated over 0.5 bn years. I’d liken it to some fleas discovering a fresh dog. After breeding like crazy the fleas realise the dog isn’t as healthy as it once was. There may not be another dog to jump over to.
The thing about long stored carbon fuels coupled with an oxygen rich atmosphere is that the net energy after late fuel harvesting is very high. It may be hard to replicate that with other chemical systems.
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