IFR: An optimized approach to meeting global energy needs (Part I)

A few days ago, an important poster and written paper were presented at the 91st American Meteorological Society (AMS) Annual Meeting, 23-27 Jan 2011, Seattle, WA; Second Conference on Weather, Climate, and the New Energy Economy.

The Integral Fast Reactor (IFR): An Optimized Source for Global Energy Needs

Charles Archambeau (1), Randolph Ware (2,3), Tom Blees (1), Barry Brook (4), Yoon Chang (5), Jerry Peterson (6), Robert Serafin (3), Joseph Shuster (1), Tom Wigley (3)

1: Science Council for Global Initiatives, 2: Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, 3: National Center for Atmospheric Research, 4: University of Adelaide, 5: Argonne National Laboratory, 6: University of Colorado

You can find a description of many of the co-authors (Archambeau, Blees, Brook, Chang and Shuster) on the Science Council for Global Initiatives website. Others include climatologist Tom Wigley, UCAR radiometrician Randolf Ware, Physics Prof Jerry Peterson and Robert Serafin, past director of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and past president of the AMS. All highly credentialed professionals from a variety of fields relevant to climate change, nuclear engineering and physics, technology development, and business.

Here is the executive summary of our paper:

Fossil fuels currently supply about 80% of humankind’s primary energy. Given the imperatives of climate change, pollution, energy security and dwindling supplies, and enormous technical, logistical and economic challenges of scaling up coal or gas power plants with carbon capture and storage to sequester all that carbon, we are faced with the necessity of a nearly complete transformation of the world’s energy systems. Objective analyses of the inherent constraints on wind, solar, and other less-mature renewable energy technologies inevitably demonstrate that they will fall far short of meeting today’s energy demands, let alone the certain increased demands of the future.

Nuclear power, however, is capable of providing all the carbon-free energy that mankind requires, although the prospect of such a massive deployment raises questions of uranium shortages, increased energy and environmental impacts from mining and fuel enrichment, and so on. These potential roadblocks can all be dispensed with, however, through the use of fast neutron reactors and fuel recycling.

The Integral Fast Reactor (IFR), developed at U.S. national laboratories in the latter years of the last century, can economically and cleanly supply all the energy the world needs without any further mining or enrichment of uranium. Instead of utilizing a mere 0.6% of the potential energy in uranium, IFRs capture all of it. Capable of utilizing troublesome waste products already at hand, IFRs can solve the thorny spent fuel problem while powering the planet with carbon-free energy for nearly a millennium before any more uranium mining would even have to be considered. Designed from the outset for unparalleled safety and proliferation resistance, with all major features proven out at the engineering scale, this technology is unrivaled in its ability to solve the most difficult energy problems facing humanity in the 21st century.

Our objectives in the conference paper and poster are to describe how the new Generation IV nuclear power reactor, the IFR, can provide the required power to rapidly replace coal burning power plants and thereby sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while also replacing all fossil fuel sources within 30 years. Our conclusion is that this can be done with a combination of renewable energy sources, IFR nuclear power and ordinary conservation measures.

Here we focus on a discussion of the design and functionality of the primary component of this mix of sources, namely the IFR nuclear system, since its exposure to both the scientific community and the public at large has been so limited. However, we do consider the costs of replacing all fossil fuels while utilizing all renewable and nuclear sources in generating electrical energy, as well as the costs of meeting the increasing national and global requirements for electrical power. The IFR to be described relates to the following basic features of the IFR design:

• IFR systems are closed-cycle nuclear reactors that extract 99% of the available energy from the Uranium fuel, whereas the current reactors only extract about 1% of the available energy.

• The waste produced by an IFR consists of a relatively small mass of fission products, consisting of short half-life isotopes which produce a relatively brief toxicity period for the waste (less than 300 years) while current nuclear systems produce much larger amounts of waste with very long toxicity periods (300,000 years).

• An electrochemical processor (called the “pyroprocessor”) can be integrated with a fast reactor (FR) unit to process Uranium fuel in a closed cycling process in which the “spent” nuclear fuel from the FR unit is separated into “fission product” waste and the new isotope fuel to be cycled back into the FR. This recycling process can be repeated until 99% of the original Uranium isotope energy is converted to electrical power. The pyroprocessing unit can also be used in a stand-alone mode to process large amounts of existing nuclear reactor (LWR) waste to provide fuel for IFR reactors. The amount of IFR fuel available is very large and sufficient to supply all world-wide needs for many hundreds of years without Uranium mining.

• The pyroprocessing operations do not separate the mix of isotopes that are produced during the recycling of IFR fuel. Since this mixture is always highly radioactive it is not possible to separate out Uranium or Plutonium isotopes that can be used in weapons development.

• The IFR reactor uses metal fuel rather than the oxide fuels that are used now. If overheating of the reactor core occurs for any reason, the metal fuel reacts by expanding, so its density drops, which causes fast neutron “leakage”, leading to termination of the chain reaction and automatic shut-down of the reactor. This serves as an important passive safety feature.

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In the next post in this series, I’ll reproduce the accompanying poster (same authors but different order of appearance — led by Tom Blees) — both the full version for download/printing etc. and the broken-down form suitable for the BNC blog.

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105 Comments

  1. I hope a way can be found to get this message across to the ignorami in the Australian leadership and this does not just include politicians.There are many other culprits,from senior public servants,NGO executives,media hounds,economists and sundry financial whiz kids to business and mining barons.

    Btw,cyclone Yasi is poised to deliver a second kick up the backside in 2011 for the deserving and not so deserving naked apes of Queensland.I do so appreciate it when Mother (Nature) puts on one of her hissy fits regardless of who or what gets in the way – the grandeur of it all.

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  2. Did Barry Brook read the article by Elizabeth Farrelly in the Sydney Morning Herald, I was wonering if he agrees with the basic content of that rather stimulating piece. Do our leaders know of the potential use of these IFR reactors, how much do they cost and how quickly could they be manufactured. It has been said that it will take ages to produce just one such reactor. I love these blogs

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  3. I am looking forward with considerable interest to the test of the IFR paper. There has been, for some time, something of an information gap about both the thinking and plans of IFR backers. I will be looking at this paper for insight into IFR competitiveness with the MSR/LFTR approach.

    The summery states, “the IFR, can provide the required power to rapidly replace coal burning power plants and thereby sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while also replacing all fossil fuel sources within 30 years.” Yet we have no hint of the deployment processes that might accomplish this. be done.

    Some statements in the executive summery appear to be inaccurate. For example, this statement is pure hype: “Designed from the outset for unparalleled safety and proliferation resistance, with all major features proven out at the engineering scale, this technology is unrivaled in its ability to solve the most difficult energy problems facing humanity in the 21st century.”

    In fact the IFR was designed to match, to the extent possible, MSBR safety, but in the end the MSR probably has fewer safety issues. Arguably the MSR/LFTR is at least as proliferation resistent. A MSR has been successfully tested, and could serve as the basis of a commercial power generating reactor – the same is the case for a sub-breeding IFR. A hight breeding ration IFR has never received prototype test.

    Finally the IFR is clearly rivled by the LFTR, which appears to offer some significant advantages over the IFR. I hope that the body of the paper’s text will offer a more down to earth account of the IFR and its potential.

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  4. Pingback: Länkat & kommenterat 2011-02-01 — emretsson.net

  5. You may be disappointed then Charles – the target audience is the professional Meteorological and Climate Science communities, and the paper is tailored as such. However, the full technical details on the entire IFR programme will be available in the not-too-distant future in an accessible and comprehensive form – work is currently underway. For now, I refer you once again to the OSTI material.

    I am a supporter of LFTR R&D, but disagree with your guess that the MSR and IFR are at similar stages along the the demonstration and deployment path. But, if that self assurance gives you comfort, so be it. I certainly hope the Chinese give the Thorium MSR a real shot (and the Indians too). Meanwhile, both are also pursuing vigorous programmes in sodium-cooled U-Pu fueled fast reactors. As it should be.

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  6. Garry Lane – do you mean this piece? http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/politics/clean-energy-alternatives-to-allay-big-coals-flood-of-tears-20110119-19wj0.html

    Yes, I agree with much of it, but it lost me near the end when she, like so many before her, wandered through the field of daisies that is the hazy vision of an all renewables alternative. It just ain’t going to be so, and if you want the justification for this statement, click on the “Renewable Limits” tab at the top of this blog (including the TCASE series) and find out why.

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  7. Charles, one of the less attractive features of molten salt reactors is the current tendency for their followers to bash other existing or proposed nuclear power solutions.

    The world needs nuclear power, short-, medium- and long-term. There is plenty of opportunity for a wide variety of solutions, if the public can get past the monsters-under-the-bed view of nuclear power. If that doesn’t happen, nuclear power is going nowhere in many countries (and thorium will go nowhere just as much as uranium). If the proliferation scare is waved too much by MSR people, some anti will notice that a MSR is a transmuter, and can generate Pu-239 just as easily as U-233.

    Molten salt reactors have a great deal of promise, but they have not been demonstrated in the form that avid supporters usually describe when talking about their potential. They have not demonstrated breeding. They have not been demonstrated with full chemical processing. They have not even been demonstrated generating electricity, although that is admittedly trivial. All these things are definitely worthwhile activities that should be pursued – but we’d be fools to put all our hope in that one untested basket.

    I was on a course many years ago for R&D project management. We had to assess and present the estimated value of various fictional projects which might or might not be successful. The course leader asked us at the end which project we’d recommend – my immediate answer was “all of them”, because the scenario was effectively whether the company had a future or not. I feel much the same about nuclear technologies. All of them, please, if we are to have a future.

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  8. Joffan I do not bash the IFR, and in fact I support the ARC-100 and will probably support the the GE-H Prism, since I feel strongly that we should have aback up plan. It bothers me, however when IFR backers make inaccurate statements, for example claiming uniqueness for features which the IFR shares with the LFTR, or claiming that the IFR has reached a state of development that documents I have seen from Argonne National Laboratory and GE do not confirm.

    I will gladly admit I am wrong when I see the documented evidence, but not before. Is this so unreasonable?

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  9. Barry,

    One thing that I am concerned about with nuclear as one of the main options for fighting climate change is the lack of technical capacity in the workforce to build and operate these reactors.

    Would we need to ramp up the training of physicists and engineers in order to build sufficient reactors quickly enough? If so, how soon would this ramp up need to begin?

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  10. David Gould, on 2 February 2011 at 12:08 PM — Using standardized designs one needs civil engineers for the site specific portions; nothing especially nuclear about it. I don’t know enough about reactor construction to actually know what is requireed but one would need some people with bachelor degrees in construction management.

    For operation, in the US there are two year junior college degree programs in NPP operation.

    In any case no actual scientists are required as far as I know.

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  11. The two Davids discuss manpower requirements. These tend to sort temselves out over a period of as little as a decade, through a variety of processes.
    Universities offer more and, perhaps, better focussed courses.
    Other educational paths for technical staff are found.
    Technical and professional staff cross-skill and adapt. Engineering is, at its core, the art of problem solving in a technological environment. These skills are very much transportable.
    Better use is made of the available talent. Engineers’ and other specialists’ time is spent less on mjundane tasks and more on those requiring particular knowledge and skills – ie fewer emgineers/scientists/technicians for a given work output.
    Deferment of retirement.
    Retention within the industry instead of leakage to other careers…
    The list is long.

    My suggestion is we should worry more about our own contribution and less about the problems facing others, because distant problems are often insignificant when viewed from close up.

    The real problem with nuclear power in this country is not completing the long journey of a million steps. The problem is in not starting the journey with a first step. Australia has not taken even the first step.

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  12. David Gould, on 2 February 2011 at 12:40 PM — You are most welcome.

    Upon reflection, depending upon the regulatory requirements there may need to be specialists in radiological monitoring. I’ll hazard a guess that this would require some people with a master’s degree in either physics or chemistry.

    A more worrisome personell issue is having enough skilled tradesmen in construction work. Having almost only apprentices is quite a poor idea, mostly journeymen and a few masters is likely to be important.

    Much of the skill requirement is likely to be in the supply chain. On-site one just pours concrete and puts the parts together.

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  13. guys: the article says this:

    Instead of utilizing a mere 0.6% of the potential energy in uranium, IFRs capture all of it.

    AND IT SAYS THIS:

    IFR systems are closed-cycle nuclear reactors that extract 99% of the available energy from the Uranium fuel, whereas the current reactors only extract about 1% of the available energy.

    these are not the same thing. when calculating IFR efficiency, the number goes up significantly depending on the detail. The latter efficiency number would look to be about 100x whereas the former looks to be 100/.6=167x.

    big difference, though I’d take either one.

    I always assume I may have misread or interpreted something, but I figure even if I’m wrong, others may have garnered the same impression.

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  14. David G, another way to look at it is this:

    1. Think how many commercial nuclear engineers there were in the US in 1957. Zero. Within 10 years, there were hundreds, operating many plants. And that was starting from scratch.

    2. We don’t need to start from scratch – the textbooks have been written, the teaching facilities are available worldwide in universities and can be transferred quite readily.

    3. Countries like the UAE have no commercial nuclear power. Yet, by 2020, they’ll have 4 operating reactors. How do they solve the personnel issue? They’re getting the Koreans, who they contracted, to help run the plants initially and part of the long-term contract is for training and upskilling of local staff.

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  15. Greg, 100x better or 150 or 180 (depends on assumptions about enrichment and current reprocessing) – either way, it’s such a VAST gain in fuel utilization for Gen IV nuclear that is unrivalled in almost any other technology realm (okay, biotech and computer chips have done pretty well on this efficiency gain front too, but not large-scale engineering like power generation).

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  16. Given how little nuclear fuel is used in a conventional nuclear plant and the extremely low contribution of fuel purchase costs and waste storage costs to the final electricity price (ie as good as zero) why should we bother with IFR type technology. It’s like looking at a Boeing 747 and harping on about how you can make the tyres cheaper and this is somehow a game changer. What am I missing?

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  17. TerjeP,

    My answer to your question is twofold:

    1. Because anti-nukes keep harping on that there is not enough uranium in currently known deposits to power the world for centuries. A silly argument from my perspective, but this is one way of addressing that crititicsm.

    2. More important, from my perspoective, is the opportunity the development of Gen IV presents to totally revamp, or even better replace NRC, IAEA and so remove the regulations that are causing nuclear to be too expensive. If, by accelerating the development of Gen IV we can, at the same time, remove many of the regulatory impedimetns that have raised the cost of nuclear to many times higher than it could and sholuld be, then that is a really good reason to develop Gen IV (and change the regulatory restricitions at the same time).

    If we can develop Gen IV so electricity can be much cheaper than from coal then it has many advantages. We can power the world with electricity and lift the poorest countries out of poverty; and thus reduce the human breeding rate and reduce polution. There is no end to the advantages of low cost elctricity. And if it is clean as well, so much the better :)

    But the emphais must be on low cost to win my vote – hint to others :):

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  18. You guys need to read (or re-read) my Scenarios for 2060 series (I admit it is ongoing, but the first few in the series already partially answer why the IFR is needed and why we ought to start serious demonstration NOW, if we want it to be commercially available and cost-competitive within the next few decades). In the short term, the most pressing need/demand will come from nation states that have ambitious nuclear power programmes, and yet very little domestic uranium. If they want energy independence sooner rather than later, then it makes sense to start on the Gen IV pathway now, whilst of course also vigorously pursuing current technology. Enter China, India, Sth Korea, etc.

    Peter has also provided a good answer that I agree with.

    unclepete, I don’t understand your reinventing the wheel comment.

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  19. Peter – population growth is plummeting everywhere. I don’t think it can plummet much quicker.

    Barry – if the price of uranium increases then it seems to me two things will happen. Firstly new reserves will become economic to mine and as such supply will increase. It will have to rise an awful lot before it gets anywhere near significant in the price of nuclear power. The capital cost od a plant will still tend to swamp fuel price concerns. Obviously at some price it will become important to conserve fuel but there isn’t much incentive to worry much in the interim and a lot of incentive to avoid the risk of an unproven design. It seems to me that a rational investor would seek to go with standard proven nuclear plant designs to risk as little capital as possible. Even if fuel prices went up in price by an order of 100 may still not be worth switching design.

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  20. TerjeP, I didn’t mention price of fuel as a principal driver. I was referring to security of supply, which can be influenced by a range of factors. Waste management is another key driver. Without IFRs, the US for instance would require 10-20 Yucca Mt repository equivalents by the end of this century if thermal reactors take a significant role. So far, they haven’t opened one.

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  21. I’m in favour of the IFR on the grounds outlined above by Barry, but also because it subverts a key (spurious) objection (hazmat = weaponizable materiel) . Politically, it’s very useful to be able to say convincingly that projections about volumes of hazmat and hazard risks are not merely a function of the amount of power produced by nuclear fission.

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  22. Thanks Barry. I suppose I see a logical connection between concepts like “security of supply” and price. And in terms of storage why won’t we see insure storage at nuclear plants persist into the future? If you can afford the land for the reactor surely you can find space onsite to store waste.

    Ultimately I think the IFR or something conceptually similar will happen. However I’m yet to appreciate any technical need for urgency or any major medium term benefit. It’s main benefit for now seems to be intellectual. I personally have to admit that it was stories about IFR technology and how it can eat waste which made me re-evaluate nuclear. However having been through that exercise I’m kind of thinking traditional nuclear will be good enough for a long time to come.

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  23. TerjeP

    If you can afford the land for the reactor surely you can find space onsite to store waste.

    I agree. The land area required is minimal. This photo shows canisters housing all the once used nuclear fuel from 32 years of nuclear power generation in the now decommissioned Yankee nuclear power plant: http://www.nukeworker.com/pictures/displayimage-5205-fullsize.html

    So what is the problem with continuing with this approach for the forseeable future?

    However having been through that exercise I’m kind of thinking traditional nuclear will be good enough for a long time to come.

    For now I tend to agree. I feel our emphasis needs to be on just getting the first foundation stone laid in Australia. That requires, in my mind, influencing the Labor Party, which will dump its anti-nuclear policy this year, to understand that its new policy must support ‘low-cost nuclear’ not high cost nuclear’. That is where I feel BNC should be focusing its brains in 2011. We need to educate the media, public and politicians. I agree the countries that lead in nuclear development need to accelerate their research and development of Gen IV, and I would like to see the demonstration of small NPPs as quickly as possible (for application in smaller economies). But Australia cannot play a usefule role in this. Let’s focus our efforts on what we need to do to get Labor to choose the best replacement policy when it dumps its anti-nuclear policy. We need to start now because the policy Labor intends to adopt will become more and more set in stone as the year progresses. At the moment the Labor Party power brokers who are proposing, discussing and setting up the proposed replacement policy would be pretty ignorant about the difference between low-cost and high-cost nuclear, and the policies and regulatory regime needed to give us low-cost nuclear. They probably have next to no idea about the difference or the importance of establishing a policy that can give us nulcear cheaper than coal in Australia

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  24. I agree the countries that lead in nuclear development need to accelerate their research and development of Gen IV, and I would like to see the demonstration of small NPPs as quickly as possible (for application in smaller economies).

    Even outside Australia I’m failing to see much urgency or incentive. It won’t on the face of it make nuclear electricity cheaper any time soon.

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  25. Great article. I look forward to seeing the poster.

    I wonder how much longer it will be before a demonstration plant is built, and how long this will take. If Australia still hasn’t built any nuclear in the next 10 to 15 years, and if IFRs prove to be commercially viable and as cheap or cheaper than current gen II / III technology by then, maybe we’ll be in a position to go down that path. Tom Blees seemed to reason this.

    This paper has some interesting discussion on fuel costs for breeder reactors.

    Quote:

    with fast reactors that “burn” virtually all of the uranium, even if U3O8 increased in price about 200 times from US$70/kg to the current price of gold at US$14,000/kg, the fuel cost for electricity generated by nuclear fission breeder reactors would be less than US$0.003/kWh.

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  26. A 1 GW power plant at 100% capacity should deliver 24 * 365 * 1,000,000 = 8,760,000,000 kWh per year.

    So if it takes 1000kg to produce this energy (ie conventional plant) then at $14,000 per kg this will cost $14,000,000 in fuel each year. Or by my reckoning only $0.0016 per KWh.

    So with conventional nuclear and uranium at the quoted gold price then the fuel cost is still quite insignificant.

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  27. Thanks TerjeP, a thought experiment like that is useful. But it’s more like 200,000 kg (200 tonnes) per year of mined U required to fuel a thermal reactor (Although only 1,000 kg of U-235 is actually fissioned, that’s not the relevant number!).

    Converting to MWh, we have 8,760,000 MWh. So your calculated figure is $1.6/MWh (compared to an average LCOE of delivered electricity today of ~$50-80/MWh).

    But using the correct 200,000 kg figure instead, that is a fuel cost of $2.8 billion per year, or $320/MWh. That is totally uneconomic. On that basis, I’d say if mined U ever rose above ~$1,000/kg, it would be considered uneconomic (that would add $23/MWh of fuel costs).

    For reference, the current U price is ~$100/kg, which is a fuel cost of $2.3/MWh (excluding conversion, enrichment, fabrication etc.).

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  28. But using the correct 200,000 kg figure instead, that is a fuel cost of $2.8 billion per year, or $320/MWh. That is totally uneconomic.

    Is that assuming the fuel is used in current thermal reactors (i.e. not in an IFR)?

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  29. WNA reckon nuclear fuel cost is about 0.71 cents per kwhe in 2010
    http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf02.html
    That’s $7.10 per Mwh. That appears to be for a Gen III plant.

    Converting to GJ or mmbtu nuclear therefore costs about (1,000 X .0071)/ 3.6 = $1.97 per GJ. Mine mouth black coal at say $20 for 20 GJ is $1 and brown coal $6 for 10 GJ is 60c. Piped gas is $4-$8 per GJ and LNG about $10. Coal is the winner on fuel cost by a fair margin.

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  30. John Newlands,

    I haven’t checked your calculations, but your result does not agree with what I interpret from the ACIL-Tasman report.

    ACIL-Tasman (2009), p75, projects nuclear fuel cost as:

    … 2009-10 prices, yielding a fuel cost of $4.90/MWh sent-out. This equates to approximately $0.46/GJ based upon the sent-out thermal efficiency of 34%.

    For black coal: about $1.30/GJ and brown coal about $0.57/GJ (Table 48, p73)

    Therefore, ACIL-Tasman projects that fuel costs for nuclear in Australia would be cheaper than both black coal and brown coal.

    Ref: ACIL-Tasman (2009): http://www.aemo.com.au/planning/419-0035.pdf

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  31. John Newlands,

    It is not the fuel costs we need to focus on. It is the capital cost and interest during construction (IDC). These depend to a large extent on the construction duration which in tern depends on the regulatory environment, the distance from cities where labour and supplier services are readily available, disruption by environmental activists and organised labour, project managemetn and construction experience, planning processes, competence and approach of the regulator, etc.

    It is the capital cost, and how to get it for near the Chinese and Korean price, rather than at the USA, Canada, UK, Europe and Japan price we need to focus on.

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  32. John, thermal coal is currently ~$75/t on the Intl market, or $2.50 to $3.50 per GJ. Australian brown coal is cheaper though, but that’s not the case for most countries. So based on the $2/GJ, thermal reactor fuel is cheaper than the current contract price of coal per unit energy in most places. Moreover, forecasts have coal prices rising to >$125/t soon, making uranium fuel less than half the price of coal.

    For IFRs, the price using these numbers would be <2c/GJ…

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  33. Coal is ~30 GJ/Te thermal, so $2.50 per GJ(thermal) at $75/Te – less at Aus mine mouth, obviously. Assuming 40% efficient plant that is $6.25 / GJ(electric) or $22.50/kwh(e)

    The above quoted figure from WNA is $7.10 per Mwh(electric) – they’ve factored in the plant efficiency already. Roughly 3:1 price advantage for nuclear vs. shipped coal. However, it wouldn’t matter much if the fuel cost were $0. As Peter says, it’s the capital cost that hurts nuclear.

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  34. Pingback: An environmentally sound, energy-rich future (Part II) « BraveNewClimate

  35. If it is so easy and cheap, why isn`t China building them?
    Also some other countries like North Korea or Iran would built them.
    Just sent them the plans. I am sure Iran would not give a s*** about any regulations and would even sell know how and technology afterwards.

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  36. The pyroprocessing operations do not separate the mix of isotopes that are produced during the recycling of IFR fuel. Since this mixture is always highly radioactive it is not possible to separate out Uranium or Plutonium isotopes that can be used in weapons development.

    Barry – does your “not possible” apply to “normal” people only? If one had fanatics willing to die for a cause, who wouldn’t mind handling mixed isotopes with their bare hands, could they separate and refine the isotopes using ordinary chemical means? They would undoubtedly die but that consequence doesn’t stop some people acting…

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  37. If an IFR is opperated in a normal way – for maximum economic electricity production – the plutonium produced has an isotopic composition considerably worse than weapons grade, though a bit better than what is normally made in cnventional reactors. A highly sophisticated weapons design operation, with state level resourcing, MIGHT be able to make a weapon out of it, but not a terrorist group. Historically, no nation has used public / inspected nuclear facilities for a weapons prgramme – they build secret reactors somewhere else..

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  38. stefanie: because uranium is cheap enough and given this, it’s easier to stick with and milk the profits from existing technologies.

    You might also ask: if solar and wind is so cheap, why aren’t they replacing fossil fuels every second?

    One, solar and wind are prohibitive at hi penetration, and two, the oil companies and everything connected to them cannot afford to write off all of their infrastructure.

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  39. Thank you all for the interesting exchange of ideas. I offer 6 points:

    1. Barry’s focus on ‘cheaper than coal’, even ignoring the massive ‘external costs’ of coal, is an essential factor for success. Without this we’ll be perpetually drawn into specious arguments about whether we can afford to save civilization. We don’t need the distraction to deal with that crock.

    2. A key element of cost is the monetary cost and risk of delay between investment and operations. IFR & MSR offer potential for more modular construction with pre-certification and test of major components at the factory rather than on-site. We took this approach on a large chemical processing plant leading to completion in 18 months instead of 40+ months. We saved approximately 50% on cost including interim financing costs on the invested capital prior to operations. We also had rapid commissioning to full capacity with only minor problems – an enormous relief from the normal risks of commissioning. Admittedly we could float 200 to 500 tonne modules up the Mississippi, maximizing module size.

    Modularizing leads to ongoing manufacturing efficiencies and continuous improvement.

    3 I believe there is a strong, persuasive, ‘environment’ argument in favour of efficient use of the uranium already mined. (Mining and refining uranium is rather messy.) It makes it easier to favourably compare IFR which gets rid of waste to coal which generates massive toxic waste. Furthermore, the IFR makes nuclear ‘renewable’ and essentially sustainable.

    4 I strongly support global competition between IFR and MSR. Countries with uranium and existing nuclear waste will take one path. Countries without these will take another path. We all win with either, and we all win with both being successful.

    5 Re population: the rate of growth is slowing, but there is a full generation ahead before the total numbers drop. i.e. billions more people. IFR & MSR offer opportunity for the world to rapidly and sustainably move the billions at the bottom up the socio-economic ladder to the benefit of all.

    6 RE: employment. The new jobs coming from IFR / MSR will be high-skill, high-pay with excellent working conditions due to competitive demand. Contrast this with employment in coal mining (or uranium mining)

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  40. Charles, maybe someone could sell/give the MSR/LFTR to Iran.

    Why is not any country runnning these when they are so cheap?

    Gregory. It would still be easier and cheaper for most countries to use DU.

    I suspect that the real reason ist that there is no such reactor or that it is not possible to built/buy one right now.
    If it would be so cheap somebody would do it.

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  41. Jess,

    Excellent post, (except for exaggeration and over-the-top alarmism in point 1)

    I’d like to add to this comment to your point 5:

    5. Re: population: the rate of growth is slowing, but there is a full generation ahead before the total numbers drop. i.e. billions more people. IFR & MSR offer opportunity for the world to rapidly and sustainably move the billions at the bottom up the socio-economic ladder to the benefit of all.

    I agree with all this. I’d add, there is another really important benefit of low-cost nuclear energy. The peak population will be lower and the peak will be reached sooner with low-cost electricity. The lower the cost of electricity, the lower will be the peak population and the earlier the peak will be reached. [Note 1]

    So, if we want to reduce the world’s peak population, then we need the least cost electricity technologies, especially for implementation in the underdeveloped countries. That means, we need small, factory built, modular generators. If the electricity supply can be clean as well as cheap, so much the better, but cheapest is the most important priority. No matter what the idealists argue, this is the reality that will play out in the underdeveloped and developing countries over the decades ahead.

    Note 1: The lower the cost of electricity the faster it will be rolled out in the underdeveloped and developing countries. The faster electricity is rolled out the faster people will reduce their breeding rate. This is because, when people have electricity, they move to more fulfilling lives and produce less children. With electricity comes education, better more interesting work opportunities. To see the stats for this click on GapMinder (the link is listed under “Climate and Energy Resources” in the left pane near the top of each BNC page). The chart that loads is ‘Life expectancy versus income per person’. However, you can choose what you want to show on the axes from the pull down on each axis. You can also select log or linear scaling. Run play (bottom left) to see how the chart changes over time. Now make these charts (remember to press ‘Play’ for each chart) to see the evidence to support my statements above:

    1. Life expectancy versus Children per woman (total fertility), (lin-lin)

    2. Life expectancy versus Income per person (GDP/capita), (lin-log). The world is getting better. People are living longer.

    3. Children per woman (total fertility) versus Income per person (GDP/capita), (lin-log). As the world gets wealthier, fertility rates decline.

    4. Total energy use per person versus Income per person (GDP/capita), (log-log). Increasing GDP correlates with increasing energy use.

    5. Electricity use per person versus Income per person (GDP/capita), (log-log). Increasing GDP correlates with increasing electricity use.

    6. I can’t find it now, but somewhere else I’ve seen charts with projected peak population versus GDP per capita. They indicate that the faster GDP grows, especially in the underdeveloped countries, the sooner world population will peak an the lower the peak population will be.

    I conclude: Cheap electricity means lower peak population and the population peak will occur earlier.

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  42. Stefanie, Gen IV reactors – at least full Gen IV with fuel recyclings – are not yet commercialised. That is why. So you are right that it is not possible to buy one right now – but it almost is, and the next 10 years will be telling, especially given the developments on this front in China and India (and Russia, to a lesser degree). What I really want is for the Americans to get their act back together.

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  43. Jess,

    @ 5 February 2011 at 5:22 AM
    https://bravenewclimate.com/2011/02/01/ifr-optimized-source-for-global-energy-needs-part-i/#comment-111816

    I reiterate my comment, @ 8:49 AM, that I think your comment is excellent (except for the exaggeration and over-the-top-alarmism in your point 1).

    I think it is worth pointing out an inconsistency.

    You say: “the massive ‘external costs’ of coal” and “we’ll be perpetually drawn into specious arguments about whether we can afford to save civilization.”.

    Then you mention your experience with ”a large chemical processing plant”

    You do not mention “the massive ‘external costs’ of chemical processing, chemical use and disposal” . You seem to be suggesting that we should place higher priority on internalising the external costs of CO2 than chemicals. Why? Surely we should prioritise our efforts in proportion to the estimated ‘external costs’. Have we properly evaluated all external costs of all industries and all human activities so we can make proper decisions and allocate our resources appropriately? Or are we being driven to bad decisions by emotive language, such as “save civilization”?

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  44. Peter.
    Yes, my point one is alarmist. Nevertheless we do need low cost.
    The ‘chemical plant’ I refer to was for cryogenic natural gas liquids extraction from natural gas. (e.g. propane, but also ethane for ethylene and other chemical processes). That was late last century. I left that business some time ago. We all make mistakes.
    This comment was not intended to be pro-chemical processing (nor natural gas), simply to demonstrate the immense time and money savings of modular construction of complex industrial plants such as nuclear.
    We can learn from what’s been done, even if we don’t agree with the purpose of the initial exercise, e.g. chemical plants.
    Another lesson from that plant is the importance of installing controls and electrical on modules. On the example plant, the controls contracts were separate from manufacture, leading to enormous problems at the plant site.

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  45. Hi Jess,

    I did get your main point and I did take the point about how factory built modular units can do to reduce construction times, cost and improve quality control.

    I was using your excellent comment as a foundation to build a few points of my own:

    1. CAGW alarmism plays well to those already inside the CAGW tent but is a real turn off to the doubters, especially the ‘catastrophic consequences’ part. There have been too many similar scare campaigns conducted in the past on an ideological grounds and this one seems just like the others to many people. They have always been justified on the basis of “The Science says so”.

    2. We should not pick on just one externality, e.g. CO2, and ignore others. We need to take a balanced approach. Otherwise we are not being objective.

    3. CAGW Alarmists believe they are being objective in analysing “The Science”. However, they are not being objective in analysisng alternative policy options to cut GHG emissions: see:https://bravenewclimate.com/2010/01/31/alternative-to-cprs/#comment-110262

    4. The population in western democracies demand that nuclear internalise most of its externalities, but this is not helpful to reducing toxic wastes overall because it is impossible to get other industries, like the chemical industry, to do so to the extent needed to be equivalent to nuclear. So, rather than reducing toxic emissions, by jacking up the cost of nuclear we are preventing it being built so we actually cause more pollution by forcing us to stick with lower cost fossil fuels. This is an example of an unintended consequence of “the polluter should pay” principle. I hope you might look at this comment https://bravenewclimate.com/2010/01/31/alternative-to-cprs/#comment-111976 and hopefully get involved in contributing to the “Alternative to Carbon Pricing” thread. The topic is “what are the impediments to implementing ‘nuclear-cheaper than-coal”?

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  46. Peter, I fully agree with all your points.
    While I am concerned about AGW, I am not alarmist and truly believe we must not alienate the audience. It appears that in my haste I did overstate the case in my point 1. That was not my intent.
    My concern is reflected in a previous statement by Douglas Wise: “I believe that the effects of population growth, peak oil and climate change will prevent the future resembling the past UNLESS we very rapidly adopt strategies which will replace fossil fuels with alternative energy sources which are both clean and non limited by amount or by high price.”
    A specific concern of mine is the impact on existing infrastructure of (apparently) increasingly frequent extreme weather events. I do not believe we are well served by pursuing that line in this post, which should focus on making progress toward ‘cheaper than coal’ nuclear, an essential step.

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  47. An interesting article about a means to consistently convey an accurate message to millions (such as the need to clear the way for ‘cheaper than coal’ nuclear).
    Warning: this is from a somewhat ‘alarmist’ site!. That is not the point. The point is that the health / disease experts have a powerful tool to get their message into the public’s awareness. It is a stretch, but a similar approach may help us get the message across.
    http://www.grist.org/article/2011-01-27-how-to-get-tv-shows-to-tell-truth-about-climate-change

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  48. Jess,

    The problem is that the CAGW Alarmist stuff is simply a strong turn off for many. Those pushing it don’t seem to recognise what is turning people off.

    Continually repeating that “The Science is in” is not being accepted. “The Science” was said to be settled on DDT so we banned it, “The Science was in” on dangerous nuclear power, so we stopped building and stopped developing it; “The Science was conclusive” that we needed renewable energy to save civilisation from climate change so we developed and built renewable energy at enormous waste of money; “The Science was in on Y2K”, planes would crash, people would be stuck in elevators, electricity and communication systems would stop working, heart pacemakers would stop. The concern for many is that “The Science” has been corrupted by politics and money. So it cannot be trusted. $100 billion has been channeled to find evidence to support the Alarmists case. But there has been almost no funding for sceptics to try to test the hypothesis. So Science has not done its job properly – yet. “The Science” is policy driven science. It cannot be trusted. So all the projections and cost benefit analyses are being done on unsound information. Proper due diligence has not been done. That is what many believe.

    So continually repeating the mantra is of little point. What is needed are policies that can achieve the goal of reducing emissions and are also economically rational. That is, the emissions can be cut and doing so gives other benefits as well. I believe this is achievable. However, BNCers are not interested in discussing it. That is a concern. It reinforces the impression that they are more interested in supporting the policies of their political party than in genuine, substantive ways to cut emissions. I see the imposition of a carbon price as bad policy. I see it as another example of “Symbolic gesture trumps substantive policy”. The lack of willingness of BNCers to brain-storm and identify the impediments to low cost nuclear suggests that CAGW scaremongering has more to do with politics and trying to implement policies based on ideology than on an objective analysis of facts.

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  49. Peter, I can tolerate your ‘sceptical’ rantings on climate change – that’s part and parcel – but frankly, I’m getting pretty sick of you hammering this faux accusation: “However, BNCers are not interested in discussing it” regarding ways to make nuclear cheaper than coal — and then associating it with some inferred political aspersion. It has become quite clear in the course of these discussions, on this thread and others, that YOU have no idea how to achieve this, any more than the rest of us, and in particular cannot say what savings can be made (where, or what the order of priority/sensitivity is), or whether it will be politically acceptable/possible, etc. The best you’ve been able to come up with is that I should commission some pieces from experts to give their opinion. A cop out. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black!

    If a carbon price is bad policy and won’t work, as you claim, then tell us what the alternative really is — in detail, not in hand-waving, motherhood-statement theory. Otherwise it just comes across that you’ve locked onto this meme as a convenient ideological stalking horse. My advice is to put up, or shut up. Otherwise, the same thing will happen as you claim is happening over climate change ‘alarmism’ – the people you are trying to get through to will switch off and dismiss you as just another hollow spleen venter who despises government intervention.

    I’ve always bent over backwards to support you in a fair and often prominent airing your viewpoint on BNC, but I have my limits and you’re pushing up hard against them.

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  50. Peter Lang,

    George Monbiot wrote this when writing to some science denier (god I love that word), but I think this applies to you:

    “The only instrument I’m aware of that regulates DDT at the global level is the 2001 Stockholm Convention. This does not ban its use for disease control. Rather, DDT is banned for agricultural purposes, not least because spraying it indiscriminately encourages resistance in malarial mosquitoes making malaria worse. If there is another instrument, please name it and quote the relevant text. If there isn’t, all you need to do is to admit that you got it wrong. ”

    http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2010/11/10/a-charming-falsehood/

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  51. What Barry said … Peter is like a cracked record on this cheaper than coal nuclear is being denied by “CAGW” “alarmists” meme. It’s so tiresome.

    Also tiresome is his repeated lie that politically driven science demanded and secured a ban on the use of DDT. He has repeatedly been corrected on this but he continues to ignore the corrections and repeat the lie. His reasons for doing so are themselves politically motivated. It is one of the more regular slanders hurled at the Greens, which, in the mouths of the Bolt/Akerman crowd is emblematic of Green misanthropy.

    Peter speaks a lot about his “fears” that the “audience” will be “turned off” by what he sees as climate “alarmism” especially manifest in the demand for an effective carbon price. Yet it seems he’s not at all troubled by the fact that his interventions here of late could persuade the casual visitor here that , like most places where nuclear power is discussed sympathetically this place is aligned with those who think climate change is some sort of green scam and are willing to slander scientists and environmentalists to prevent action.

    I’d never suggest that Peter shouldn’t participate at all, but I do believe that having made his personal opinion on these matters abundantly clear, he ought to cease and desist from introducing it to every topic as if were some kind of frustrated Cassandra.

    I also believe he should apologise for his remarks on DDT, explicitly repudiating them and avow never to repeat them here. For the record, Rachel Carson, writer of Silent Spring was a woman of unusual intellectual perspicacity, integrity and courage whose efforts left the world a better place, however the shareholders of Monsanto and US agribusiness more generally felt. In an odd way, the calumnies and vituperation directed against her from 1962 onwards rather anticipated the campaign we have seen to block remedies to anthropogenic climate change — with its key figures — James Hansen, Rajendra Pachauri, Michael Mann, Phil Jones, Al Gore demonised in the most appalling ways.

    Perhaps Peter simply doesn’t know whose narrative he is repeating, but that scarcely relieves him of responsibility.

    Amusing sidebar: Peter refers to Y2k under his “the science is in rant”. One of the parties to apocalyptic Y2K claims — one “Gary North” — was an associate of the OISM — who was involved in the bogus “Oregon Petition” said to show that scientists opposed the IPCC view.

    Perhaps Peter really doesn’t know his own memes.

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  52. I’ve been enjoying reading the posts on here, and the discussions, and have learned a lot about the potential for nuclear power.
    Irrespective of your views on climate change, it seems like nuclear is just a good option anyway, for reasons of cost & pollution.
    I would like to say this to Peter Lang, though: your “CAGW” rants have made me disinclined to read your posts at all, which is a shame, because you seem to otherwise make some very good points in the ones I’ve read.
    BTW, I have only ever seen the acronym “CAGW” used by readers of the most egregiously unscientific denialist blogs. To me, it’s a red flag, stating “this person is ideologically opposed to climate science and will be unreasonable”, so I suggest you also refrain from using that acronym if you wish to be taken seriously by those who think climate science is reliable.

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  53. Barry,

    My comments railing against excessive alarmism and pointing out the push-back effect it has on doubters are not appreciated by BNCers; they are inappropriate on your web site. It was rude of me as a guest to make them. For that, I apologise. I do, however, feel that you are missing the point.

    Regarding “Put up or shut up” on alternative to carbon pricing, I felt I had been doing that with the lead article on “Alternative to Carbon Pricing” and the many additional comments on that thread, for example the comments listed below, most of which, by the way, have not been contested, let alone refuted. So it seems a bit rich to say “put up or shut up”.

    1. Nuclear cheaper than coal in Australia. How?
    https://bravenewclimate.com/2010/01/31/alternative-to-cprs/#comment-109491

    2. To put this figure ($11 billion – see above link) in perspective, this government has already committed us to $10 billion of spending on renewable energy and energy efficiency; I expect this figure would be roughly doubled if the states’ commitments were included.
    https://bravenewclimate.com/2010/01/31/alternative-to-cprs/#comment-109569

    3. A carbon price in Australia means gas not nuclear
    https://bravenewclimate.com/2010/01/31/alternative-to-cprs/#comment-109405

    4. Which first? Carbon price or remove impediments to low-cost nuclear?
    https://bravenewclimate.com/2010/01/31/alternative-to-cprs/#comment-109572

    5. Some impediments to low-cost nuclear
    https://bravenewclimate.com/2010/01/31/alternative-to-cprs/#comment-86256

    6. Subsidies that encourage fossil fuel use in Australia.
    http://www.isf.uts.edu.au/publications/CR_2003_paper.pdf
    It is an update of a 2003 paper by Mark Diesendorf. My thesis is that removing the impediments to nuclear would mean removing all such subsidies and many other distortions (including for renewable energy) that favour fossil fuels and renewables and therefore act against the entry of nuclear power.

    7. Suggested Terms of Reference for a “Productivity Commission” Investigation into the impediments to low-cost nuclear
    https://bravenewclimate.com/2010/01/31/alternative-to-cprs/#comment-109732

    8. Barry Brooks’ comment (see included link):
    https://bravenewclimate.com/2010/01/31/alternative-to-cprs/#comment-109565

    9. DV82XL’s comment on BC’s carbon tax
    https://bravenewclimate.com/2010/01/31/alternative-to-cprs/#comment-45760

    10. Why electricity cheaper than coal is important
    https://bravenewclimate.com/2010/01/31/alternative-to-cprs/#comment-105862

    11. Great news on Christmas Eve – Labor will dump anti-nuclear policy
    https://bravenewclimate.com/2010/01/31/alternative-to-cprs/#comment-109653

    12. Sovereign Risk – a major impediment to low cost nuclear
    https://bravenewclimate.com/2010/01/31/alternative-to-cprs/#comment-110065
    https://bravenewclimate.com/2010/01/31/alternative-to-cprs/#comment-110072

    13. DV82XL – Canadian regulatory impediments to low cost nuclear
    http://thoriummsr.wordpress.com/q-and-as/q-and-a-with-dv82xl/

    14. Impediments to low-cost nuclear – Industrial Relations
    https://bravenewclimate.com/2010/01/31/alternative-to-cprs/#comment-110185

    15. The opportunity
    https://bravenewclimate.com/2010/01/31/alternative-to-cprs/#comment-110202

    16. Once a carbon price is introduced
    https://bravenewclimate.com/2010/01/31/alternative-to-cprs/#comment-110105

    17. An election-winner policy
    https://bravenewclimate.com/2010/01/31/alternative-to-cprs/#comment-110203

    18. and many more comments since the last comment linked above

    I’d suggest the first step should be to seriously discuss what I’ve already contributed before asking for more. As you know, I had started preparing another article to attempt to pull it all together and explain it better. However, it is part complete and I stopped work on it a while ago because I felt, if there is little commitment from BNC contributors to delve into this issue in detail and brainstorm using the skills, knowledge and experience of BNC contributors and their acquaintances, there is no point me posting another article. As I’ve said before, and you agreed, this subject needs a mix of skills, not just mine. I was hoping for an excellent lead article by someone with the appropriate skills to bring it all together and then BNCers brainstorm and contribute as we did for the “Replacing Hazelwood – critique”

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  54. Peter, you are right, the “put up or shut up” comment was unfair. But I think you are putting too much faith in people reading all of the comments in the ‘Alternative to a Carbon Price’ thread. I suspect 95% of people won’t – they’ll just read the top post, especially for something like this which is over 1 year old now. Therefore I would strongly recommend that you finish putting together the article you started on this topic. Let’s have a fresh, consolidated ‘conversation starter’ to anchor off. After that, I’ll feel more comfortable in inviting other people to write articles for BNC on particular aspects.

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  55. Barry,

    OK. I understand what you are saying and I agree with you. My reluctance has been in part because of little response leading me to believe that people really do not want to discuss this topic and also because I am not an economist so anything i put forward on this is a layman’s opinion. I eas a bit concerned therefore that me writing outside my area of expertise would be used to discredit the other articles I’d presented.

    I will reconsider completing the paper I’ve started, but it will take a while. I’ll have to get motivated to do it. In the meantime, I’ve written another comment I’ll post on the “Alternative to Carbon Pricing” thread. I’d urge BNCers to consider it and comment.

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  56. Both IFRs and MSRs are possible with 10 years, provided we are willing to leave out all the bells and whistles and go with existing and proven technology. The resulting reactors will not be breeders, and the number of IFRs (ARC-100) possible is likely to be limited, although the sky is the limit as far as the number of MSRs is concerned.

    Is it possible to build these reactors cheaper than coal? There is not enough evidence for ARC-100 type reactors to even hazard a guess, but there is probable cause to believe that SMR MSRs can be produced in factories at a cost that is at least competitive with coal. How isthat possible? MSRs can be built with very compact cores, and operate at one atmosphere pressure. That means that they require less material in core and building construction. Secondly MSRs do not require explosive or flammable materials in their core, thus they also require fewer safety features. MSRs are simpler than LWRs and IFrs, and require fewer parts. MSRs can be air cooled and located entirely underground. Hence many factors which contribute to reactor expenses, cost significantly less with MSRs.

    MSRs operate at higher thermal efficiency than either LWRs or IFRs, and greater efficiency plus compact core size are factors in lower reactor costs. MSRs are capable of performing multiple missions, and for some electrical generation missions including load following and and electrical back up, lower cost materials can be substituted, for more the more expensive materials required by base load MSR power plants.

    MSRs are simpler and require fewer parts than IFRs and LWRs. MSRs can be rapidly built in large numbers in factories. Labor savings machines can be employed in factory based MSR construction. Factory workers employed in MSR construction require fewer skills that construction workers who build LWRs. Factory employed workers compute to work from their homes, while LWR construction workers live in temporary housing close to their work site. These factors raise LWR labor costs as well as labor cost associated with coal fired power plants.

    In addition, traditional coal fired power have had hidden social and environmental costs, including the environmental consequences of asid rain, and the health consequences of breathing polluted coal smoke. The cost of health care related too coal smoke caused illnesses, and the cost to agriculture caused by acid rain caused crop damage is added to the cost of coal generated electricity, that cost rises significantly, and the cost of pollution control equipment adds significantly to the cost of electrical generation from coal fired plants.

    All of these considerations support the argument that MSRs are potentially cost competitive with coal fired power plants. This evidence, although not yet conclusive, is sufficiently strong to require further investigation.

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  57. Charles Barton,

    Thank you for your thoughts on what Gen IV might cost and when they could be commercially available.

    I have to admit I am very sceptical about what you say.

    Firstly, I have asked before on BNC for links to some cost estimates that have been done properly by properly qualified estimators. It appears they have not been done. They cannot be done without proper detailed, final designs.

    Secondly, It takes decades to progress a technology from R&D to commercially viable. It took five decades to progress nuclear to where it is now. It takes many years to make slight improvements to gas turbine generators and coal power technologies. It takes decades to make bigger ships.

    So my smell test as Barry sometimes calls it, doesn’t accept the times scale or the cost for Gen IV. I can be persuaded to change my mind, but only by properly prepared cost estimates by engineering organisations nd estimators that I would trust to be doing the estimates impartially and competently.

    About 5 years ago Ziggy Switkowski said “dont expect to see Gen IV commercially viable before about 2030”. I suspect he is correct.

    So, I believe we need to focus on getting acceptance for Gen III (or Gen II if is will have lower LCOE). And we need to focus on the politics of how to win acceptance. For many (perhaps most) that means show us that nuclear can be cheaper than coal.

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  58. Peter, if we cannot have nuclear cheaper than coal, then it leads me to continue to advocate for a carbon price (preferably a fee-and-dividend approach). I would rather have nuclear power that was more expensive than coal, and mitigate our carbon emissions in the process. In that case, we’ll have to try to remove the impediments to low-cost nuclear once it’s here, and in the meantime, accept that we must install medium-cost nuclear, such as that being installed right now in the UAE.

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  59. Barry,

    I addressed this in posts on the “Alternative to Carbon Pricing” thread. I don’t agree with this approach for the reasons stated their. But there is not point me writing it all again since there was no response to the previous comments (several). It cannot be properly addressed out of context of the other points about why we need nuclear cheaper than coal, how it could be achieved, and why we need to address that before we implement a carbon price. All this and more was addressed on the “Alternative to a Carbon Price” thread.

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  60. Barry,

    I’d also emphasise that we don’t know what we’d need to do to get nuclear cheaper than coal because we haven’t been prepared to look at it. Nor did Garnaut. Garnaut and the government want a carbon price and they ahve not looked at the alternatives. That is irresponsible. In fact, they have avoided considering the alternatives for decades.

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  61. Peter, There are numerous points upon which I would disagree with you. First, although we cannot say withe certainty what Generation UV costs would be, but we do have some evidence. We have identified factors that lead to building expenses for conventional reactors and can determine if those factors are likely to produce higher or lower costs in Generation IV reactors. In the case of the MSR, those factors all seem to point to lower costs. In addition ORNL researchers pointed out a number of MSR cost lowering options, and further cost lowering options have been identified during the last year. Clearly then while not conclusive, the weight of existing evidence seems to be on the side of cost lowering. Critics of the cost lowering argument offer little evidence against ir, thus given the state of evidence the cost lowering argument cannot be dismissed.

    Your argument that “It takes decades to progress a technology from R&D to commercially viable.” Does it really? First I should note that the Molten Salt Reactor, is mature technology that is past the R&D stage. It is possible to design and build commercial MSRs to day based on technology which ORNL developed, and tested during the successful ORNL MSRE.

    Does the historic record require decades for commercial development to reach fruition? The first experimental gasoline powered auto was built in 1889. Between 1890 and 1903 around 2500 gasoline powered autos were built in the United States. By 1910 auto production in the United States had reached 100,000 cars a year, and by 1915 Ford was building 500,000 cars a year.

    The first aircraft flight took place in 1903, The second decade of flight (1913 to 1923) saw the manufacture of over 200,000 aircraft.

    The first long distance (34 miles) radio broadcast took place in 1897. By 1920 commercial radio broadcasting had begun in the United States, and by 1922 there were over 500 stations in the US making radio broadcasts.

    In the case of conventional nuclear technology, the light water reactor was invented about 1945, and by 1950 Alvin Weinberg had proposed to Hyman Rickover that the Navy adopt light Water Reactor powered submarines. The first LWR sub went to sea in 1954, and by 1960 LWR powered subs were in serial production. The first experimental nuclear power plant emerged by 1960, and by 1970, nuclear power plants were in large scale production.

    Finally let me address the issue of coal related generation costs. Dammages done by the coal fired electrical generation industry should not be ignored, and while you deny the damages due to AGW, there are other costs which you cannot deny. These are damages to human health in the United States alone coal related illnesses lead to billions of dollars of health insurance claims every year. Illnesses attributed to coal smoke include,

    Respiratory Effects: Air pollutants produced by coal combustion act on the respiratory system, contributing to serious health effects including asthma, lung disease and lung cancer, and adversely affect normal lung development in children.

    Cardiovascular Effects: Pollutants produced by coal combustion lead to cardiovascular disease, such as arterial occlusion (artery blockages, leading to heart attacks) and infarct formation (tissue death due to oxygen deprivation, leading to permanent heart damage), as well as cardiac arrhythmias and congestive heart failure. Exposure to chronic air pollution over many years increases cardiovascular mortality.

    Nervous System Effects: Studies show a correlation between coal-related air pollutants and stroke. Coal pollutants also act on the nervous system to cause loss of intellectual capacity, primarily through mercury. Researchers estimate that between 317,000 and 631,000 children are born in the U.S. each year with blood mercury levels high enough to reduce IQ scores and cause lifelong loss of intelligence.

    Coal smoke in China leads to some where between a third and a half million deaths every year. in the UK the number is estimated to be as high as 10,000 annual deaths, while American estimates run from 8000 to 34,000 coal related deaths a year.

    in addition to the human health and mortality damage, coal smoke and coal related air pollution damages crops and forrest. The estimated social cost of coal related pollution in the united States is estimated to run between $64 to $272 billion a year.

    Even excluding the economic benefits of AGW mitigation, the economic benefits of transitioning from coal to conventional nuclear power would probably outweigh the cost of the transition. In addition to the currently unpaid social cost of coal use in electrical generation, the cost of producing and transporting coal for generation use is quite significant, and is rising. Thus the economic case for transitioning from coal to nuclear is strong.

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  62. Charles Barton,

    We do disagree on this, and there are probably many reasons for this. We approach it differently.

    First, although we cannot say withe certainty what Generation UV costs would be, but we do have some evidence.

    That carries no weigh with me. David Mills and others were telling us in 1991 that solar thermal could supply reliable baseload power now and would be economic within 3 years if the government would just provide the subsidies to get it over the line to make it commercial. In 2003 USA consultants were repeating the same sort of highly optimistic statements. Similarly, NEEDS in 2007 with their solar study. They had much more to support their statements than you have.

    Your argument that “It takes decades to progress a technology from R&D to commercially viable.” Does it really? First I should note that the Molten Salt Reactor, is mature technology that is past the R&D stage.

    I’d say we need to define terms. Based on this definition: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technology_lifecycle , I’d say Gen IV is well before “Bleeding Edge”. It is certainly not mature technology. Coal, gas and hydro are mature technologies. Nuclear, Gen II is leading edge. Gen III is leading edge.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technology_lifecycle

    Also look at Figure ES1 here: http://www.ret.gov.au/energy/Documents/AEGTC%202010.pdf Gen IV would not even be on the start of this curve.

    It is possible to design and build commercial MSRs to day based on technology which ORNL developed, and tested during the successful ORNL MSRE.

    I see no evidence to suggest the development time line for MSRs through to commercial production, would be any shorter than other large scale, complex, long life assets. By ‘commercial’ I mean it has proven it is competitive by winning competitive bids in the market place against other technologies. The Korean APR1400 won a competitive bid for 5400MW of NPP in UAE in December 2009. That is what I mean by commercially viable. Until MSR (or any Gen IV) has reached the stage of being proven commercially viable and with a reasonable length of demonstrated commercial operation (at least 10 but probably 20 years), there is no way that Australia should consider buying them. I suspect we are at least 30 years away from MSR being in that position.

    Going back to 1889 is not very relevant or persuasive,

    Finally let me address the issue of coal related generation costs. Dammages done by the coal fired electrical generation industry should not be ignored, and while you deny the damages due to AGW, there are other costs which you cannot deny.

    You are misrepresenting me here. Firstly, I agree that there are damage costs from fossil fuels (externalities) that are not included. And we have estimates of their quantum, e.g. ExternE, and many others sources), I’ve said that many times. So, saying I deny them is untrue. There are also many externalities from all industries. What I am against is picking on one and treating it differently that others. I also say we’ve been working on including externalities for a long time, but it is a difficult issue. It is not just a matter of saying incorporate that particular externality now because I don’t like it.

    You say “while you deny the damages due to AGW”. That is misrepresentation. I doubt the outlandish, exaggerated claims of imminent catastrophe.

    Enough of this. You’ve deviated from the topic. The topic was about reliable cost estimates for MSR. Plainly, they do not exist. It’s more pie in the sky than solar power or CCS.

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  63. My argument with Peter is first about how you can talk about relative costs if no “estimates that have been done properly by properly qualified estimators.” My suggestion that it is possible to do so, provided the limitations of the evidence is acknowledged. Even qualified estimators are going to offer ranges of estimated costs, and conditi0ons that will effect them. Qualified estimators, referencing detailed designs, are going to talk about ranges of possibilities, not certain costs.

    My argument is that we should move forward with MSR designs so that we can reach the point where qualified estimators can do their work. But beyond that, there is evidence that suggests low MSR costs even if that evidence is not as strong as we would like. In addition the evidence for high MSR costs is far weaker. The state of the evidence should be motivation for MSR development unless and until contrary evidence emerges.

    Peter has not contradicted the hidden cost of coal argument, and has not presented arguments that hidden costs should not be considered in justifying a transition from coal to nuclear.

    Finally Peter’s argument that it would take decades for Generation IV technology to emerge ignores the existence of a considerable body of proven Generation IV technology which offer paths to reactor improvement now. If as resent MiT reports suggest, breeder reactors are not needed immediately, then there are strong motives to develop viable Generation IV non breeding technology, especially if that technology might cost less than current Generation IIi NPPs.

    The parallel development of IFR and MSR based commercial converters (Non breeding reactors) is fully justified, and seems likely to offer at least one lower cost path to future nuclear power before Generation IV breeders emerge.

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  64. I should explain further that I am considering all the technologies for electricity generation. For example:

    pre-Bleeding Edge: solar PV, solar thermal, wind, HFR geothermal, CCS, nuclear Gen IV
    Bleeding Edge – nulcear Gen III
    Leading Edge – nuclear (Gen II, perhaps Gen III)
    State of the Art – gas turbines, hydro
    Dated – Coal, oil
    Obsolete – wood

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  65. Charles Barton,

    You’ve repeated your arguments that I already refuted.

    There is no reliable even order of magnitude cost estimate for a copmmercial MSR plant. By talking about external costs of coal you are simply trying to muddy the waters and distract from the point that there is no cost estimate available for MSR that is evne as good as the estimates for solar thermal in the 1990s.

    I support ongoing development and research into Gen IV. I do not support distracting attention from where our emphasis in Australia should be directed right now. We should be focusing on trying to convince the Labor Party that, when they dump their enai-nuclear policy late this year, they should replace it with a policy that advocates low cost nuclear and has the goal of implementing nuclear with LCOE cheaper than from new coal plants.

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  66. Peter I completed my last comment after I read your your latest comment. Your reference to David Mills does not seem on point. Mills made dubious assumptions that were obvious to me, and i am not an engineer or a scientist, and I predicted that his costs would come in far higher than he projected. in addition Mills assumed that heat could be stored efficiently in hot water, a very mistaken assumption, from the stand point of science. i also caught on to that problem early on.

    Technology developers do not always require definitive costs estimates before they reach the product development stage, and the cost of many products drop dramatically after the product reaches the market.

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  67. Charles Barton,

    As an aside, if we want Gen IV to be low cost, then we need to start emphasisng that as the main requirement rather than all the other stuff, especially about excessive safetry and proliferation resistance. The key aim needs to be LCOE lower than coal and there are versions that can be rolled out in underdeveloped countries cheapr than coal.

    I suspect to achieve this the USA will need to build a new regulatory regime, specifically for Gen IV, from scratch. Also a new international regulatory body for Gen IV from scratch. I can imagine the reaction to this comment. However, many will recognise it is almost impossible to change the culture and embedded systems of a large bureaucracy like NRC and IAEA.

    I’ll leave you and others with that thought to ponder over night – night in the advanced part of the world, that is :)

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  68. Charles Barton,
    @ 12 February 2011 at 11:05 PM

    My reference to David Mills was intended to be just an example. The estimates for all long life complex technologies are ‘order of magnitude’ at the stage of development that the MSR and IFR ar ecurrently at.

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  69. By the way, so we don’t get off topic, this is what the discussion is about:

    Charles Barton said:

    Both IFRs and MSRs are possible with 10 years, provided we are willing to leave out all the bells and whistles and go with existing and proven technology.

    https://bravenewclimate.com/2011/02/01/ifr-optimized-source-for-global-energy-needs-part-i/#comment-112165

    Peter Lang said:

    Thank you for your thoughts on what Gen IV might cost and when they could be commercially available.

    https://bravenewclimate.com/2011/02/01/ifr-optimized-source-for-global-energy-needs-part-i/#comment-112178

    Charles Barton said:

    although we cannot say with certainty what Generation UV costs would be, but we do have some evidence.

    https://bravenewclimate.com/2011/02/01/ifr-optimized-source-for-global-energy-needs-part-i/#comment-112241

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  70. Peter, you appear to be unfamiliar with the literature of MSRs. i have favored MSRs because they offer significant safety advances, coupled with well attested proliferation resistance features, and low costs. MSRs are very safe because of their liquid salt fuel, which does not burn like sodium or explode like water. MSRs operate at one atmosphere pressures, thus they do not require heavy and expensice steel containment vessels. Because MSRs are not at risk for steam explosions, heavy outer containment shells are not needed, protection from air attacks can be accorded by underground placement.

    Th-232 breeding produces significant amounts of U-232 which has a decay chain that creates large problems for would be weapons builders. Another MSR proliferation resistant approach would be to add U-238 to the fuel. The presence of U-238, like the presence of U-232 presents daunting problems to would be bomb builders. The fact that MSRs offer outstanding safety features and high proliferation resistance at a low costs makes them outstanding nuclear technology option..

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  71. Charles Barton,

    You assert but cannot substantiate:

    Peter, you appear to be unfamiliar with the literature of MSRs. i have favored MSRs because they offer … and low costs.

    The rest of the material you mention is off topic (in that it is not related to the claim that MSRs wilkl be able to supply low-cost electricity in the next decade or so).

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  72. To change any ways of supplying energy consumption in the World we have to take into account two conditions: at first the new technology has to be invented and at second there must be willingness to support that inventions financially. We have some inventions but there is no one who can possibly support its wide spreading usage. So we are still standing on the crossroad…

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  73. JayB,

    I totally agree with you. However, I suspect you may have missed most of the discussion on this. We do need to develop Gen IV. But the reality is that it will take time and will cost. I am not saying don’t do it, I’m just saying it doesn’t do anyone any good to exaggerate and understate the time-lines involved in taking complex, long-asset-life technologies through to the stage where they are commercially viable. The renewable advocates have continually exaggerated the time lines to develop their products and underestimated the cost of electricity from them. Much of the advocacy for Gen IV being low cost and viable now, is similar to the overstated claims about renewables.

    If we continually exaggerate and mislead, the sane, rational part of the population dismisses all the claims. So they think it is safer to stick with what we’ve got.

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  74. Peter Lang and others interested in reducing costs of nuclear electricity:

    Can I highly recommend a topic and discussion thereof on the EnergyfromThorium site?:

    http://energyfromthorium.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=2749&st=0&sk=t@sd=a&start=90

    The topic is entitled “Problems with selling the thorium molten salt reactor.” However, much of the discussion is relevant to costs of all nuclear technologies to the extent they are impacted by regulations.

    On a non technical level, a comment by DaveMart struck a chord with me:

    “At one time nuclear opposition in the States was sufficient to hold back build throughout the world, but with the build of substantial capacity elsewhere this is becoming history.
    The only question is whether the US and parts of Europe are determined to make the transition to third world status …..” (by turning their backs on nuclear opportunities).

    Another pro nuclear advocate gave an account of reactions he had received from educated but not technically informed audiences when he had addressed them on the possibilities offered by nuclear power. He had come to the conclusion that their primary concerns tended to lie with the long term waste issue. He said that the concerns were ethical/moral arising over the legacy that would be left for future generations. These tended to trump concerns over costs. However, it should not be impossible to balance such worries by comparing them to the risks posed to future generations by global warming and peak oil (though I’m not sure that you accept either of these).

    It was primarily the technical discussion that I thought might interest you and, essentially, it was a debate about whether the nuclear renaissance could best be accelerated by working with existing regulations or by working to change the regulations. In the former case, progress might be faster and thus cheaper in the short term, but, in the longer, successful attempts to change regulations should produce significantly cheaper and more sustainable power.

    Emissions regulations loomed large in the debate and, of course, these seem to be formulated with LNT theory in mind. Having been involved in the past with veterinary pharmaceutical research, I found myself constantly frustrated by regulators who required one to establish the maximum no effect level of a drug and then to require that tissue levels were several orders of magnitude below those occurring with the maximum no effect dose. This attitude undoubtedly both slows and reduces veterinary drug development and hugely increases costs. However, the LNT theory assumes that there is no such thing as a no effect dose, making matters even more difficult for nuclear power developers, especially when fossil fuel generators are not subjected to equivalent controls.

    I am coming to the conclusion that there is no way that nuclear generation will increase 20 fold without regulatory changes (the increase necessary to replace fossil fuels). Governments and not private developers are the only agents capable of effecting regulatory change and they will only consider this if they perceive the dire consequences of not rolling out nuclear. In order for them to do this, they would find it easier to bring an uninformed public on side by explaining that the LNT theory is nonsense and has both added unnecessary costs to nuclear power, but, more importantly, has led to unnecessary public alarm over waste handling and storage.

    I do hope you read the cite and give us your thoughts on it.

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  75. My feeling is that the UAE are still an underdeveloped country. Got some money to spend but not an awfull lot of brains.
    Thats why they fall for western and Asian “advice”.
    Won`t help them in the long run.

    Gen4 is the only way out for nuclear as it is facing stronger competition from PV and wind.

    I have just read again about AWE solutions, the most advanced beeing the kitegen.
    This post by Massimo Ippolito just shows what callenge nuclear is facing.
    http://europe.theoildrum.com/node/7014#comment-729639
    Who would bother building a Gen III+ plant in 15-20 years when you can have a 10GW kitecarousel with unbeatable economics?
    I bet PV developent wont be sleeping in the meantime.

    Gen4 is the only way to go. It will still be considered “dirty” in comparison with lager wind systems though and still won`t be that interesting for private use when thinfilm solar can be applied to almost any building material.
    It might find its niche in industrial infrastructure if it can compete in price…which I again doubt.

    I would never consider Gen III bleeding edge…

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  76. Douglas Wise,

    Thank you for your post. I agree with much of what you say.

    I have several comments, starting with this paragraph:

    Another pro nuclear advocate gave an account of reactions he had received from educated but not technically informed audiences when he had addressed them on the possibilities offered by nuclear power. He had come to the conclusion that their primary concerns tended to lie with the long term waste issue. He said that the concerns were ethical/moral arising over the legacy that would be left for future generations. These tended to trump concerns over costs. However, it should not be impossible to balance such worries by comparing them to the risks posed to future generations by global warming and peak oil (though I’m not sure that you accept either of these).

    Taking this in pieces:

    …reactions he had received from educated but not technically informed audiences when he had addressed them …

    The audience is “educated, not technically informed”. That is similar to the demographic that makes up the Greens vote, about 10% to 15% of the population. They are very vocal, especially on blog sites and tend to dominate those who are interested in being audience participants in TV shows, but they make up a small proportion of the population. The majority of the population who vote are working productively and are much more aware of and concerned about the economics and how it will affect them, their families’ futures and their businesses. They are also concerned about the long term future of everything and just as concerned as the “educated” about the future of their children and future generations. But they have a different perspective.

    …their primary concerns tended to lie with the long term waste issue. He said that the concerns were ethical/moral arising over the legacy that would be left for future generations. These tended to trump concerns over costs.

    I accept that is true for this group. While it may be initially true for the majority of people, I believe the majority change their mind more quickly when they realise that nuclear will be cheaper and plenty safe enough – much safer than what we use now and we accept as adequate. Furthermore, when they realise that nuclear spent fuel is miniscule in quantity, readily manageable, and much more manageable than the toxic waste from the alternatives, then the majority of voters will change their mind. That is just beginning now in Australia. I expect a significant swing in support for nuclear in Australia in 2011 if the recent trend continues throughout this year.

    However, it should not be impossible to balance such worries by comparing them to the risks posed to future generations by global warming and peak oil …

    A comparison that is more likely to be accepted by doubters of CAGW and ‘peak everything’ is to “balance such worries by comparing them to the risks to future generations by” pollution from fossil fuel power stations, the far higher rate of fatalities, the area and volume of material disturbed, the use of fresh water, and the toxic releases which never decay. The toxic chemicals last forever, not just 300 years or 10,000 years or whichever way it is being presented.

    (though I’m not sure that you accept either of these).

    It doesn’t matter what I think. I am one voter. What matters is that there is a large proportion of the voting population, perhaps a majority, that has doubts about the scaremongering and are not totally on board. The scaremongering turns them right off. They’ve heard the scaremongering too many times before, from the same groups with the same agendas. That is the point I am trying to get across in the comments I presume you are referring to.

    successful attempts to change regulations should produce significantly cheaper and more sustainable power.

    Yes. I strongly agree with this. If I could have my way, I’d build a new IAEA and new NRC for Gen IV from scratch. They would be new organisations, not spin offs from the old organisations. Of course they would take what is valuable from the old. But the point is to build new organisations with a new culture appropriate to the times. It is impossible to change the culture of long established large, bureaucratic organisation like IAEA and NRC. It would be a waste of time even trying.

    …especially when fossil fuel generators are not subjected to equivalent controls.

    Important point. How do we get around this? Only in a new organisation with newly defined terms of reference, I believe. The terms of reference should state “the priority is least-cost, clean electricity for everyone; safety and environmental benefits shall be superior to our existing electricity generation systems and have demonstrably better prospects for improvement over the long term.”

    I’ve been wondering why we require the nuclear industry to internalise the cost of waste management but we don’t do the same for other technologies. Most here would argue that we should internalise all the externalities for all technologies. Theoretically that is true, but it has proved impracticable. So should we internalise costs where we can (e.g. nuclear) but not do so for other competing technologies, thereby disadvantaging the cleanest technology (nuclear)?

    I am coming to the conclusion that there is no way that nuclear generation will increase 20 fold without regulatory changes (the increase necessary to replace fossil fuels). Governments and not private developers are the only agents capable of effecting regulatory change and they will only consider this if they perceive the dire consequences of not rolling out nuclear. In order for them to do this, they would find it easier to bring an uninformed public on side by explaining that the LNT theory is nonsense and has both added unnecessary costs to nuclear power, but, more importantly, has led to unnecessary public alarm over waste handling and storage.

    Yes. I agree. I’d suggest getting rid of the old and building new nuclear regulations and regulatory systems for the world will take a long time. I’d say it should be applied to Gen IV. In the mean time, we should get on with rolling out Gen II and/or Gen III, whichever is cheaper in any given situation (on a whole of life basis).

    I haven’t read the cited article. Your link went to the comments, not the article and I couldn’t find how to access the article from there.

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  77. Peter Lang:

    Thank you for your response. Sorry about the incorrect cite. It should be: http://energyfromthorium.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=2749

    The article was claimed to have been written by a very experienced nuclear engineer and I have no reason to doubt this. I think you would find it interesting. The author was tending to throw cold water on what he described as the over-optimistic plans of (in this case) MSR proponents and their apparently cavalier approach to safety and waste disposal. The interesting thing that emerged was that he didn’t necessarily criticise them on technical (real) issues, but, rather, on their naivety in expecting regulators to behave reasonably in the spirit rather than the letter of the law.

    I agree that there is much merit in suggesting that there should be a totally new regulatory agency for 4th generation nuclear. I also agree that we should get on with rolling out Gen 2 and 3 under current arrangements. However, I think that current arrangements are likely to be synonymous with nuclear electricity that is not price competitive with that from coal – certainly in Australia – without some sort of carbon levy. In the discussion I cited and in other documents I have read, it has been suggested that regulatory ratcheting has increased the cost of nuclear reactor construction by fourfold. It would thus appear that, in theory, scope exists to make unsubsidised nuclear cheaper than coal. That said, the ratchet cannot be reversed in a democracy without the general perception of an emergency scenario which currently doesn’t exist. In other words, it seems implausible to suppose that regulations for existing designs will become less onerous. Scope for cost reductions will thus be limited to tweaking interest charges, improving speed of build and, possibly, guaranteeing markets for the power produced (eg shutting down coal as nuclear comes on line).

    There are plausible grounds for suggesting a new regulatory approach for Gen 4 reactor construction would have potential to reduce costs without being perceived to reduce safety. Against this, one can see that this advantage may be outweighed by extra regulations associated with reprocessing. It has largely been the antagonism to reprocessing on proliferation grounds that has blocked Gen 4 development for getting on for half a century. However, Gen 4 designs could, in theory, earn income by taking the “waste” from Gen 2 and 3 plants and reducing it in amount, thus offsetting the extra regulatory costs involved in reprocessing. Most discussion of Gen 4 has tended to focus on reactor design. Perhaps, more attention should be given to reprocessing. Barry recently touched on this and it would be instructive to learn more.

    Much has been written about when Gen 4 reactors will be commercially ready with estimates ranging from 10-30 years. This discussion has usually not been related to funding requirements. However, a lot of funding would undoubtedly accelerate readiness while a dribble would stretch it towards infinity. I cannot see that it is the interests of private companies to throw a lot of money in this direction. It thus seems to me incumbent upon a national government or a consortium of such to fund the necessary R&D if it is accepted that current nuclear technology, multiplied by 20, is not sustainable and that it will generate unmanageable waste problems with current regulations.

    It is for the above reasons that I favour a government owned, run and regulated Gen 4 industry, despite my general misgivings over state controlled operations. It may be deemed sensible, once things have settled down, to privatise, but not now or it won’t happen in the free world until, from my perspective, it’s too late.

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  78. Douglas Wise,

    However, I think that current arrangements are likely to be synonymous with nuclear electricity that is not price competitive with that from coal – certainly in Australia – without some sort of carbon levy.

    If we are not prepared to do the options analyses properly, we just don know. This is avoidance. It is politics. We’ll discuss all sorts of tangential issues down to the most detail level of physics and chemistry, but avoid this critical issue. There is much evidence for this – I’ve posted some in previous comments.

    To avoid doing options analysis properly is negligent and irresponsible. It is clear from the few comments received on the “Alternative to Carbon Pricing” thread that people just don’t want to consider the alternatives to pricing carbon. They repeat the arguments for a carbon price, and state their belief that it is the right policy – as you have don here – but are not willing to look into the alternative.

    That said, the ratchet cannot be reversed in a democracy without the general perception of an emergency scenario which currently doesn’t exist. In other words, it seems implausible to suppose that regulations for existing designs will become less onerous. Scope for cost reductions will thus be limited to tweaking interest charges, improving speed of build and, possibly, guaranteeing markets for the power produced (e.g. shutting down coal as nuclear comes on line).

    I agree we cannot change the existing designs. That would take decades to do. And the regulatriosn could not be changed quickly even if there was a will to do so, which there isnot. That is the practical situation. But there is a lot of cost increase due to interpretation of regulations – such as siting close or far from cities. There is a lot that shortens or extends the construction time. There is a lot that adds capital cost – such as IR regulations and OH&S. There is a lot that is adding to the investor risk premium.

    You say:

    the ratchet cannot be reversed in a democracy without the general perception of an emergency scenario which currently doesn’t exist.

    But you seem to be arguing it is not OK to removce the impediments to low cost nuclear but it is OK to raise the cost of energy through carbon pricing. The first approach would be good reform, the latter is bad reform (as discussed in comments on the “Alternative to Carbon Pricing” thread.

    There are plausible grounds for suggesting a new regulatory approach for Gen 4 reactor construction would have potential to reduce costs without being perceived to reduce safety.

    Douglas, we can’t have it all ways. We cant have:

    1. Onerous regulations driven by requirements for excessive safety (10 to 100 times safer than what we accept from our current electricity generation system), AND

    2. reduce emissions fast (as people want), AND

    3. competitive energy cost.

    Something has to give. I’d give up on the excessive regulations. I’d back right off, as fas as is possible the interpretation and application of the existing regulations for implementation of new Gen II and Gen III in Australia. For example, I’d buid them wherever they need to be built for least whole of life cost.

    It thus seems to me incumbent upon a national government or a consortium of such to fund the necessary R&D [to develop Gen IV].

    I agree. But that is irrelevant to Australia’s curent situation and is simply a distraction we don’t need in Australia right now.

    It is for the above reasons that I favour a government owned, run and regulated Gen 4 industry,

    We’ve been over this many times. I know it is your opinion. As I’ve said before, I support public funding of RD&D, but I simply can’t see us turnging the clock back 20 years on priviatising the electricity industry. We are still privatising electricity assets in Australia. However, this is a a distraction right now for Australia. If we get into discussing whther we shlould nationalise the electricity industry, progress will be delayed for a long time. We do not need that distraction in Australia now. We are making very good and very fast progress on gaining acceptance for nuclear in Australia. The last thing we need to do is to say “but it will involve re-nationalising the elctricity industry”. I do not agree with you on the urgency for Australia to start developing Gen IV. Once we have got acceptance for roll out of ncuear in Australia (and avoided the threat of an economy sapping carbon pricing scheme), then it will be time to turn to Gen IV. Australia has no shortage of nuclear fuel and no one has a real problem with waste management for a very long time.

    I haven’t read the link yet. I will later. My main point is that it is negligent and irresponsible to push for a carnbon price without doing the proper options analysis. We should know what we would have to do to allow nuclear to be cheaper than coal in Australia. We should have that knowledge before we commit to a carbon price. We should also be sure that applying a carbon price will have the desired effect on the world’s climate, the effect will be worth the cost, and will not damage the economy (relative to others). None of this has been determined by a competent impartial body. Everything done so far was for partisan politcal advantage.

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  79. Douglas Wise,

    I said in my previous post:

    If we are not prepared to do the options analyses properly, we just don know [wheter or not nuclear can be cheaper than coal in Australia if we remove the impediments to low cost nuclear].

    However, there is more to it than that. If we impose a price on carbon before we remove the impediments to low cost nuclear (to the exten practicable), then electricity will always be significantly higher cost than if we tackle removing the impediments to low cost nuclear first. I’ve explained this in much more detail on the “Alternative to Carbon Pricing” thread. This comment links to the some relevant comments:
    https://bravenewclimate.com/2010/01/31/alternative-to-cprs/#comment-110262

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  80. Douglas Wise,

    I’ve now read the comment your cited.

    I am afraid I cannot get very interested in this yet. I am focused on trying to convince as many as I can to persuade Labor Party that when it dumps its anti-nuclear policy it replaces it with a policy that will facilitate low cost nuclear being implemented in Australia.

    I am also far from persuaded that carbon pricing is good policy. In fact, I am of the view that it is bad policy. I suspect it is another of the really bad polices like so many before it. Only this is really bad – it is a tax on energy. It is a high tax on electricity which is the energy we need to be low cost so it can replace fossil fuels for heat and transport as fast as possible. And it drives up the cost of electricity in developed countries which will result in the uptake of clean electricity being slower where it needs to be fastest, i.e in the underdeveloped countries.

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  81. No matter how much electricity from a nuclear plant costs during the period of amortisation, the post-amortisation experience is pretty universal. Just about the only electricity that can compete with that generated by a fully amortised nuclear plant is hydro. I agree that we are going to need cheap electricity to be competative with the rest of the world. Large parts of the rest of the world are now increasingly investing in nuclear infrastructure. If we do not soon follow suite, we will likely be left at a permanent disadvantage. In my view, we must make the investment in nuclear infrastructure as soon as possible, even if that investment temporarily increases the cost of electricity to a marginally greater level than if we stick with coal.

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  82. Peter Lang:

    I am not arguing for a carbon levy as such. Like you, I would prefer nuclear to be able to compete with coal on a level playing field. In the UK, with relatively high coal costs, this may be possible merely by reducing build times, removing investor risk premiums etc while not meddling with exising regulations. However, ready access to cheap coal is likely to make this much more difficult in Australia. This is what has made me wonder whether it might not be politically sensible for Australia to fund Gen 4 R&D, jointly with others, get ready with new regulations and only move to nuclear when Gen 4 is commercially ready. This might cause no more than a 5 year delay. As you say you’d prefer to stick with coal until nuclear becomes cheaper, I’m somewhat surprised by your hostility to this approach. As one who is much more convinced by the imminence and severity of the AGW threat, I would not necessarily share this view although I could accept its logic.

    I believe that really major cost reductions in nuclear power will have to await the arrival of commercial Gen 4 combined with a fresh set of sensible regulations. It could be both to the UK’s and Australia’s advantage to get to this position in the vanguard of the nations attempting it. Presently, we haven’t left the starting blocks.

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  83. I think Australia should build several Gen 3 plans to gain experience of more facets of the nuclear fuel cycle, except perhaps enrichment. I’m wary of chipping in to IFR development as we do that with military aircraft with the latest machine being a dud apparently. I think things would have to get pretty bad for that to happen. As Finrod alludes we may not have the spare cash by then in any case.

    The arguments for imposed carbon pricing have been aired countless times. Basically I agree with them if only it can be implemented properly. We don’t use asbestos, sell alcohol to minors or make cigarettes cheap. Now it’s time to make coal pay for dumping into the atmosphere. If that makes electricity more expensive so be it; we’ll have to adapt.

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  84. Douglas Wise,

    You are missing a really large chunk of what I am saying.

    1. We have no idea by how much nuclear LCOE can be reducing the impediments until we know what the impediments are. Until we do that, we are simply nattering.

    2. We cannot look at the situation in UK or anywhere else in the western world and say the situation in that country gives us any idea as to what the cost could be if we removed the impediments to low-cost nuclear (OH&S, IR, dumb regulations on business, and much more). We know that the impediments to business in Australia are enormous. I’d see us removing much of this as part and parcel of removing all the impediments to a level playing field for electricity generators. We may even be able to internalise some externalities – but for all industries on a properly comparable basis. The benefits of doing this would be enormous for our economy and I suspect would far outweigh the cost of the change and the subsidies that I see being needed to get nuclear from FOAK to NOAK. I have justified this subsidy in posts on the ‘Alternative to Carbon Pricing’ thread. I am not convinced that we cannot have nuclear cheaper than coal. I am suspect the reason no one want to consider this is for reasons of political alignment – not being seen to disagree with their political party’s policies. It is incompetent and negligent to not consider the options to an economy-sapping tax on electricity.

    This is what has made me wonder whether it might not be politically sensible for Australia to fund Gen 4 R&D, jointly with others, get ready with new regulations and only move to nuclear when Gen 4 is commercially ready. This might cause no more than a 5 year delay.

    Sorry, I think that idea is nuts. And the time scale of 5 years is nuts too. What you are proposing would cause a delay of decades, not 5 years. Australia has no nuclear expertise. We need to get it. We cannot afford to contribute much to nuclear research compared with the countries that are decades ahead of us in expertise and have mush larger economies. I couldn’t see many voters at all supporting Australia sending large funds of money overseas to a joint Gen IV nuclear RD&D program. It’s a crazy suggestion. Please stop trying to distract us on crazy schemes. If it is important to you, call up your PM and get UK to do it. This is so silly, I just can’t believe it. All this and many other diversions, it seems to me, to avoid confronting the obvious – remove the impediments to low cost nuclear. Sorry for being so blunt, but sometime it needs to be said. We’ve been dodging the issue for a year.

    I think it is time you answered the following questions (without diverting from answering them):

    1. Why do you wish to avoid trying to find out what are the impediments to low cost nuclear in Australia?

    2. Why do you wish to avoid trying to find out what would we have to do to get nuclear cheaper than coal in Australia?

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  85. John Newlands:

    I always read your comments with interest. I haven’t previously responded because I generally consider that what you say makes a great deal of sense. I respond now only because of one sentence in your last comment: “I think things would have to get pretty bad for that to happen.” I take the view that that things are “pretty bad” now and that , if we don’t start getting serious about commercialising Gen 4 technology in the very near future, we may be leaving things too late. However, I do accept the point you made with respect to the failure of the jointly funded military aircraft. Perhaps, therefore, it would be best for a jointly funded consortium to explore several Gen 4 designs rather than trying to pick a winner ab initio.

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  86. DW I think we both have an animal husbandry background. However I now think the future must belong to cost effective machines with less sentiment for the old ways. Nuclear opponents make a telling point about depletion of natural low cost uranium. My gut feeling is that modular Gen 4 has to be well demonstrated before about 2020. After that I don’t see Gen 3 plant being built with very high cost uranium.

    If all energy then looks to be exorbitantly priced we could be looking at Mad Max style disintegration of society. Somehow I don’t see many of us becoming happy yurt dwellers living on berries. Therefore modular Gen 4 really has to arrive within the lifetimes of most of us or polite society will collapse.

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  87. Peter Lang:

    OK, so I’m nuts, crazy and silly. Your comments don’t offend me, but your lack of comprehension does. I attempt to learn by flying kites or playing devil’s advocate and expect a certain amount of flak in consequence. I also admit that, as a keen angler, I somewhat perversely gain satisfaction from “Peter baiting” when I’ve got nothing better to do. One can always evoke a rise whereas fish tend to learn.

    You ask why I wish to avoid trying to find out what are the impediments to low cost nuclear in Australia and why I wish to avoid trying to find what it would take to get nuclear cheaper than coal.

    My answers to both are that I don’t. In fact, I have been drawing your attention to cites that I thought could be instructive in your search for answers. In a previous response to me, you said that you had read one such cite, but weren’t ready to address it yet. Instead, you were focussing on getting your message across. Peter, you see yourself as a preacher, not a student. If you want to preach the same sermon all the time without in any way refining it and to preach it to the same congregation, you will either bore or irritate. Are you impervious to the evidence that this has already happened? As one who was initially sympathetic to your mission, I have been trying to look for the impediments to lowering costs and think that most have already been identified on BNC and elsewhere. If you think this is not the case, perhaps it is incumbent upon you to identify others. This will require you to study rather than preach.

    You suggest that I am missing large chunk of what you are saying. I apologise should this be so, but I find it surprising, given that you have been repeating the same message on every thread to the point of tedium for the last 18 months.

    Can you explain why the following are not impediments to low cost nuclear power, all of which have been debated here on many occasions?
    1) An Australian government ban on nuclear.
    2) Regulatory ratcheting (which you agree is not amenable to change with current designs)
    3) Excessive investor risk premiums attributable to build time delays, no guaranteed market for the power, huge up front capital costs with long payback times.
    4) Use of high pressure designs requiring expensive, highly engineered safety systems.

    You say that waiting for Gen 4 is a silly idea because it would delay Australian nuclear rollout for decades. A fair comment in the case of nations with no current ban on the use of civil nuclear power, but not necessarily the case for Australia. You can probably not expect your first operating nuclear plant in Australia of any type within the next decade and a half. It may well be that you could have a Gen 4 plant within two decades. As mentioned above, I am not a supporter of such an approach, but I find it surprising that it doesn’t appeal to a global warming sceptic such as yourself.

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  88. Douglas Wise,

    Too much preaching of the same boring message, as always. And too much lecturing. You lost me at that point. If you have some serious suggestions about how we should approach identifying the impediments to low-cost nuclear, that would be interesting. Please post your suggestions on the “Alternative to a Carbon Pricing” thread.

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  89. Peter Lang:

    Are the points 1 to 4 in my previous post impediments to low cost nuclear or are they not? You may like to add others, but I think I’ve covered the most important. It seems that, given existing designs, only points 1 and 3 can be influenced by debate. Attempts to do anything about 2 and 4 are likely to be politically counterproductive.

    I am reluctant to post on the “Alternative to carbon Pricing” thread because it takes my computer several minutes to get there – same for the last Open Thread.

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