Nuclear Fission: good or bad

Let’s not judge by today’s knowledge & opinion, about whether nuclear or fossil should’ve prioritised 10 years ago.
Germany’s chosen aim at the time (approx 2011/2012, just after Fukushima) was Atomausstieg by 2022. This was wanted by public opinion at the time. They are on schedule, impressive for such a "project https://www.bmu.de/media/atomkraftwerke-in-deutschland-abschaltung-der-noch-betriebenen-reaktoren-gemaess-atomgesetz-atg/ ).
Climate/CO2 problem was simply not such a trendy topic a decade ago as it is now, even if the Energiewende always included nuclear & fossil transition.
There’s lots of graphs with different ways to show progress, not going to post another one - did you see the graph posted by @Bojack about 10 posts ago? To me it looks like nuclear and coal approx. halved in the past decade.
IMO :de: accomplished a lot, and are in a good position to ramp up fossil replacement, now that nuclear is all “off”.
What can’t really be said about :switzerland: but happy if someone proves me wrong.

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They will still need some base source of power to smooth out the intrinsic variability of renewables , I agree with @Bibi4 on this.
Battery storage works well on a small scale and when combined with solar I think it can and will replace other sources for household consumption.
But I can’t see how solar panels and batteries can be a viable option to power heavy industry like a steel mill for example.

In Switzerland we could make use of all the hydroelectric pump-storage plants, which are still the best large scale energy storage solutions. Germany won’t be able to rely on that.

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I think part of the plan is more gas for some of that baseline. Gas better than the braunkohle by a factor of 3 re CO2 emissions, also gas power plant is more easy to ramp up/down. This is what Nord Stream is probably also for, that pipeline from Russia to :de: directly via Baltic Sea.

And then watch the video about “Super Power” posted here a few days ago, plan could be to simply install 3x the base capacity in renewables (once solar panels & wind turbines are cheap enough), so that even when only 33% of total capacity is “available”, the baseline is covered. It means a lot of surplus capacity offpeak with very cheap energy which can be used to power hydrolysis (Hydrogen manufacture), etc.

Nuclear fission, bye bye and good riddance.

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On a windless night the available capacity will be 0%. But yes that’s probably what the NordStream is for.
The point is that they could have kept some nuclear to cover the baseline with a Co2-free source, instead of using natural gas.
But I admire the fact that they’re acting quickly to implement their energetic plan and they’ll hopefully get away soon from coal.
And yes, I agree Switzerland is painfully slow in comparison…

I think the main topics about energy transition are

  1. About the windless night : it will be damn difficult to have a windless night all over the continent. We have to look at Europe as one market. Of course this will need more infrastructure, but it is already on the way (but slowly).
  2. Another thing would be to reduce our energy consumption as a whole. It is already starting, but needs a while. And especially get away from private transportation. Reducing our housing area per person is also a topic (it has never been as high in history), with all the drawbacks it has on infrastructre (more road per person/trash collection length/sewers etc. This also goes for industries. Actually, a lot of heavy consumption industry is still inderectly subsidized in Germany, as well as coal power plants. Die Anstalt und das EEG Paradoxon - YouTube
  3. Storage is a big topic of course, but actually also here solution exists, not only batteries. There are 3 main solutions : heat (melted salts), potential energy (water pumping), electro chemical (batteries), chemical (methane/dihydrogen). Methane is particularly interisting since a lot of infrastructure is already existing.
  4. I really liked the project desertec where you can just produce most energy in a little space of the desert. Unfortunately it has never seen light. First plant has been put up in Marocco, but that would be a big step forward.

I don’t think “we need” this or that. If the electricity cost at night is very high, it will influence demand. Batteries will also be able to provide some flexibility. I guess the current electricity cost does not include all costs, incl. environmental.

I am actually a professional nuclear engineer, studied it, have a PhD in it, worked in the field,…

if you are curious, just ask me whatever stuff you want to know about nuclear :slight_smile: my focus lied on the technical side.

my personal opinion, based on what i saw in literature, during studies and during hands-on work is that nuclear (i refer to fission only) is bashed beyond sanity in the public opinion. It would offer arbitrarily scalable electrical energy at almost zero ecological footprint. All the back-then remaining problems (final repository, safety, proliferation) are solved from the engineering perspective. And all this for competitive prices including decommissioning.

I don’t think nuclear will save the world, but it would be much better off if it substituted any fossil energy by nuclear.

I do acknowledge that unfortunately many people & player from within the nuclear industry try to present nuclear as the miraculous solution for everything, which it is certainly not.

But a significant contribution to solving the currently dominant problem of humanity, it could and should be. In conjuction with renewables it shows the fastest path to decarbonize economies around the globe.

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Do you have some insights as to why the EPRs are such a failure so far (5x cost blowup, a decade late and still not ready)?

some, yes:

  • The magnitude of a project “let’s make a 1700 MWe NPP” is larger than what you find in most other industries. If you have a company behind it (Areva) that “forgot” how to handle such projects because they had none for some decades (brain drain, retirement, methodological progress missed out,…), then there are quite some parallels to failures in other large projects like the Berlin BER airport facepalm. Interestingly, when the same NPP is given to chinese, who were quite active in NPP construction in recent decades, and therefore have recent experience in it, delays etc shrink to much more typical levels. I once heard a talk on exactly this topic, and it was astounding by how professionality of project management makes a difference here. Completely disregarding technical challenges.
  • EPR is technically rather complex, and some say even over-engineered. One example is it’s 4x100% redundancy for core cooling safety systems. The industry and regulatory standard afaik is 3x100% or 4x50%, and these systems are quite expensive. When it was designed in the 90s, Nuclear was already heavily under pressure form public opinion. So they just kept adding safety features that reduce risks but had inappropriate consequences for financials and complexity.
  • there are some more factors such as first-of-its-kind, which is even built abroad (Finland), and probably plenty that I don’t know of, but the two above should account for the majority of the delays and cost overruns

This is my limited, summarized takeaway from that topic^^

Since they did not manage to get this under control in Finland and Flamville, and Hinkerly Point is on a similar path, It might be dark for the EPR’s future. Maybe, if the design proves well with the Chinese built, it might still have a future. Time will tell :slight_smile: There are many competitors who would like to see Areva/EDF drop out of the market, just to fill their spot.

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There is no way of producing enough clean energy without nuclear plants. Demand just keeps increasing and will probably explode in the future once electric vehicles become the new standard.

Did you watch that video I posted? Once costs go down, we should have plenty of supply. On the side of demand, I think it’s a fallacy to think that EVs will cause an increased demand for energy. EVs consume far less energy than ICE cars. It’s just that ICE cars have their distributed dirty power generators onboard. With all that saved oil you could build a big oil power plant and convert oil into electricity much more efficiently than a fleet of IC-Engines. The problem that persists is power delivery when there is no sun or wind.

Cool :slight_smile: . What you describe is actually closer to what I heard a few smart people say on YouTube. For example, Tom Scott. What is your take on thorium reactors? Do you think they can realistically become a safe alternative to uranium/plutonium, or is the research still in such early stages that we will sooner cover the planet in windmills or build a functioning fusion reactor?

when I left university, Thorium was part of various Generation 4 concepts and as such “much closer” towards industrial deployment than fusion stuff. One specific Throium reactor, the Molten Salt reactor was tested already in 1965 but not really followed up with. Today, it is again in development. On a fundamental level, Thorium reactors are just breeder reactors, of which industry-grade plants exist and proved the concept. The thorium fuel cyclel has some great advantages over the classic U/Pu cycle, for which a thorium-based nuclear fleet is an attractive perspective:

  • it produces virtually no trans-uranium elements, which are the main pain for final storage & radiotoxcity.
  • One of them is Plutonium, of which the absence is nice with regards to proliferation issues. Used Thorium always comes with hard gamma emitters, which make secret transportation very difficult an thus less attractive for (secret) use in atomic weapon programs
  • Thorium is assumed to be 3-4x more abundant than uranium in earth’s crust.
  • no need to enrich thorium (other than uranium), however instead nuclear fuel must be bred from thorium first, which is no less complex and requires existing U-based reactors
  • like uranium, there is hardly any other use for the material

I personally think the the prospect of thorium reactors is sufficiently attractive that it will come into being at some point.

[edit]
found a nice public source on the thorium fuel cycle

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I have a hard time understanding how this could be a positive. So we replace one finite resource by another finite resource “but much more abundant and that we don’t how to use it for anything else”…? Leaving apart other benefits of course (like less unusable radioactive waste).
Is it not trying to flee a problem by jumping into another one? Even if the current resources at our current consumption is enough to give us electricity for 1.000 years, the issue will ultimately come back, no?
It’s remind me of this episode of Futurama where they have to deal with a giant ball of thrash going to hit hearth… :smiley:

I’m not talking about the implication of the extraction as well and the impact on already “third world country”… from this source :

However, the most important reserves of thorium occur in placer deposits, which contain monazite. Monazite is in placer deposits mined together with other heavy minerals, such as rutile, zircon, ilmenite, and cassiterite. The principal monazite-producing countries are India, Brazil, Malaysia, and Thailand.

you have some good points there.

on the one hand, yes.
@finity of uranium: technically there is a virtually inexhaustible amounts of uranium dissolved in the sea water which one could extract link. this is more expensive than mining of course, but since an NPP’s cost of fuel is a tiny fraction of the turnover, this would not be such a problem. imaging humanity would start the breeding cycle, then the extract-able energy from Uranium can be 100-folded

@finite resources: check out this exhaustive table of finite stuff that the civilization is exploiting:image

sure ther might be some exceptions, like the last 4-5 elements where i would not know a use other than scientific of, and the top 10 abundant element (H, O, Si, C,…)
so I think this is not a valid argument.

If you look 100, 200 or 300 years ahead, If this helps preventing turning earth in an uninhabitable sauna, then I think it is a fair shot. On the “short term”, it could substitute all coal power which is still expanding world wide.

1000 years seems like a pretty long term solution. There is no truly infinite source of energy. It buys us time. But as I’ve already said, I’m excited for the wind+solar+battery solution. It shouldn’t take long for us to see if it’s able to replace fossil fuels.

This is a good example of a nirvana fallacy: just because something is not perfect now and not available forever doesn’t mean it is not worth pursuing.

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I saw very little discussion regarding the ecological footprint, that many assume to be 0. In reality Nuclear needs water, and are best positioned near a river. They pump warm water back in, which has led to a severe impact on the brown trout (truta fario) in our rivers. Additionally there may be a negative feedback loop: when the river is already too warm at the source, they need to reduce the power in order to avoid river overheating.This is happening more and more in our summers with some AKW reducing up to 33% of their production, and our summers are not getting any cooler. Some links:

True, that’s only Beznau though.
The other Swiss plants already have cooling towers which basically solve the issue.

(if you go visit the Leibstadt plant they let you enter the cooling tower, which is quite an impressive view, at least they did few years ago)

This is indeed a true aspect. However, in a holistic view on the ecological footprint of energy sources, this is quite a small one. replace river cooling by a cooling tower, and the ecological impact is reduced to about 1m3 of water extracted from the river er second.

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I didn’t see the famous chart from Auke Hoekstra, a renowned professor in Eindhoven, which compares real PV installation growth vs the IEA (international Energy Agency) forecast done at that particular point in time:
solar

I ask myself how can you in 2018, after seeing the incredible growth, publish a report with such a decrease in solar as forecast. If you look in the past, all they forecast have been incredibly wrong. Look at WEO 2006, what they were forecasting for 2025…insane.

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