Beyond Chernobyl - Nuclear Discussion

How many of you are like me and watched Chernobyl and fell hard down the YouTube nuclear rabbit hole? I thought this thread might be fun to discuss the future of nuclear power.

There has been many scientists that say that to combat climate change greenhouse gas free power has to include nuclear power. It is just impossible to reach the power consumed today and fill compounding demand in the future with just solar wind and other methods.

One of the first things I wanted to know is how did the Fukushima Daiichi disaster happen and this explains it well:



Here is PBS's NOVA  about nuclear power from 2017 that is very thought provoking:



Finally here is an engineering channel I regularly watch that explains the struggle California is having going to completely clean energy:


JaimieTRebels555Marci

Comments

  • I did the same. Having grown up in the shadow of a nuclear plant, nuclear power has always fascinated me. I recently read how power companies have little interest in new nuclear plants due to extremely high costs of building and maintaining them. Which becomes concerning since they keep renewing the licenses on existing plants well past their expected lifespan.
  • I've always thought nuclear power made sense, and was worth the risks. However, the more I learn about it the more I begin to have doubts. There are so many scenarios that could lead to catastrophe that I think my initial opinion was just naive. While it's a discussion worth having I don't think it's black or white either way. 

    Appreciate you starting this discussion and providing some great links. Looking forward to watching everything you posted! 
  • Yes!!! My wife laughs at my obsession. But she gets it, she’s a Reylo
    JaimieT
  • edited June 5
    I used to think it was what’s next. That was based on the sci fi ethos of pushing boundaries. After 9/11 I am off that train. Way too easy for a lone crazy person to do the unthinkable. 

    Edit: yes, 9/11 wasn’t a lone wolf effort. But since then, it’s bc obvious how determined individuals with different value systems can punch holes in our security concepts.
  • MrXMrX CO
    Rebels555 said:
    I did the same. Having grown up in the shadow of a nuclear plant, nuclear power has always fascinated me. I recently read how power companies have little interest in new nuclear plants due to extremely high costs of building and maintaining them. Which becomes concerning since they keep renewing the licenses on existing plants well past their expected lifespan.

    This is a big issue in France, where nuclear accounts for a majority of their generation capacity. They're going to have to spend a ton to update their aging plants and are also going to have to decide if they will build new ones - I think the plan is to reduce dependency on nuclear. Plus there are a bunch of plants out of commission due to possible defects in some parts (which has been somewhat of a cover up scandal).
    Rebels555
  • LordByLordBy Utah
    edited June 5
    There are several newer designs that are much more safe than those currently operating (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Generation_IV_reactor), but I’ve come to believe that the amount of capital investment involved in getting these designs into production versions, building the plants, maintaining the plants, and dealing with the waste would be better spent elsewhere.

    The thing is that no matter how safe the design there is always a non-zero probability of failure, and that the nature of the fuel involves concentrating a lot of a really dangerous substance in one location which will always become a target for those who want to do catastrophic harm. So the safety and security measures necessary to make these reactors “safe” will always be hugely-expensive, and will never result in something that’s truly safe.

    Meanwhile the cost of renewables keeps dropping and we know that is where we want to end up anyway, so why spend a trillion dollars on a bridge technology rather than ramping of the transition to renewables while maintaining investment in fusion technology.

    With the dollars involved in deploying nuclear in a relatively-safe way, I just don’t accept the arguement that renewables are unable to provide the “baseline” power the grid needs. This is a storage issue, and we have solutions for that. Batteries sure, but they have a ways to go for large scale affordable use; I really mean large scale storage like pumped-hydro, flywheel, gravitational potential energy, thermal, compressed air, etc.

    If you spent the capital you would spend on nuclear to deploy storage solutions, that begins to solve the problem of baseline energy long term.

    Fusion will be great, but it could be 50 years or more before we have that technology ready for commercial use. We should continue the research, but it’s not a solution for today’s problem.
  • I feel like I've never really seen a full analysis of the environmental impact of a nuclear plant. The pro-camp points to the fact that it has essentially 0 emissions during operation, while the anti-camp just points to the disasters. What I'd like to see is the actual impact of mining, transporting, and disposing of the fuel, the impact of building a new nuclear plant vs building more wind turbines and solar plants, and the impact of eventually shutting down the plants and disposing of the reactors. I'd also like to see the cost estimates of this as a bridge power source while we spin up to 100% renewables, because I think everyone can agree that being 100% wind, water, and solar would be better than being on any nuclear. I'd also like to know how disaster-proof the new plants are - or if it's viable to build them in places that never have quakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, wildfires, etc. 

    I feel like this debate is too often between a side that has a vested interest in downplaying the environmental cost of nuclear power (the industry) and people who aren't really well-informed at all, but are rightly scared by things like Chernobyl and Fukushima. I can honestly admit I have 0 idea how nuclear actually compares to natural gas as a power source re rely on until we can get to 100% renewables. I do know that we already have the natural gas infrastructure in place, though. So I guess it's really just a question of how long it will take us to get on 90%+ renewable energy. 
  • MrXMrX CO
    asmallcat said:
    I feel like I've never really seen a full analysis of the environmental impact of a nuclear plant. The pro-camp points to the fact that it has essentially 0 emissions during operation, while the anti-camp just points to the disasters. What I'd like to see is the actual impact of mining, transporting, and disposing of the fuel, the impact of building a new nuclear plant vs building more wind turbines and solar plants, and the impact of eventually shutting down the plants and disposing of the reactors. I'd also like to see the cost estimates of this as a bridge power source while we spin up to 100% renewables, because I think everyone can agree that being 100% wind, water, and solar would be better than being on any nuclear. I'd also like to know how disaster-proof the new plants are - or if it's viable to build them in places that never have quakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, wildfires, etc. 

    I feel like this debate is too often between a side that has a vested interest in downplaying the environmental cost of nuclear power (the industry) and people who aren't really well-informed at all, but are rightly scared by things like Chernobyl and Fukushima. I can honestly admit I have 0 idea how nuclear actually compares to natural gas as a power source re rely on until we can get to 100% renewables. I do know that we already have the natural gas infrastructure in place, though. So I guess it's really just a question of how long it will take us to get on 90%+ renewable energy. 

    France's energy and environmental agency conducted a study that found they could switch to 100% renewable by 2050 at a similar cost to maintaining nuclear for 50% of it's electricity. But the study was largely shelved because they are so politically invested in nuclear:

    https://www.reuters.com/article/climatechange-summit-nuclear-france/nuclear-exit-unthinkable-for-climate-conference-host-france-idUSL8N1375AM20151125

    Some more helpful reading about the economics of maintaining existing and building new nuclear capacity:

    https://www.ft.com/content/c7421fbe-f326-11e8-9623-d7f9881e729f

    https://www.cnbc.com/2018/12/10/reuters-america-building-new-nuclear-plants-in-france-uneconomical-environment-agency.html

  • LordByLordBy Utah
    An analysis with or without an accident or other disaster ever happening?

    That’s the problem with comparing them. Uranium mining and processing isn’t clean, but like 6 grams of uranium fuel yields the energy of a metric ton of coal so it just doesn’t take that much on a relative basis to make the plants run.

    Now throw in an accident that could cost $100billion or more to clean up, not accounting for loss of life or uninhabitable real estate, and the calculus is different.

    The low-probability high-consequence nature of nuclear accidents is unique.
    asmallcat
  • @LordBy ; I agree about fusion, it is ideal but had been 10 years away for the last 50 years and I agree that it will probably be another 50. There had to be a bridge tech between the two and we already have a working prototype .The NOVA episode has the guy who ran the test sodium reactor for 10 years until Clinton killed the program. No matter what his team did they could not get it to get into anything other than running perfectly or shutdown state. The idea had been revived by Bill Gates but the US won't let him do it so he is building it in China.

    @MrX ; I've always wondered how France's safety record is being so nuclear.

    I think there really had to be a serious attempt at the sodium reactors. Clean energy can't fill the energy need currently or in the future as it grows. That leaves us with continue burning of fossil fuels which is a non starter if anyone is at all serious about climate change.

    I have been such a fan of Elon Musk's Powerwall and solar tiles. They cut down or entirely eliminate home electrical use and the Powerwall allows even people with limited solar to download electricity to off peak times ate a cheaper rate. I would favor a huge government project, carbon tax paid for, to require solar tiles (if viable depending on sun access) and Powerwalls on all new homes and huge discounts for adding them to existing houses. There would have to be other companies that started making them because the government creating a monopoly would be a non-starter.

    Something like that might take enough off the grid where we could survive off of clean energy only. Most likely not from what I've read but would cut down on the nuclear plants needed.

    All this is just fantasy or fan fiction I know. The political will is not there. Maybe that once in a lifetime person comes around that can get everyone onboard.
  • MrXMrX CO
    Last year I signed up for a renewable program through my utility. Basically bought in (no up-front cost) to large-scale solar and wind projects in the state); it costs me about 4 cents per kWh, but I get renewable credits back, so it nets out to like maybe a dollar or two extra on my bill, and technically 100% of my electricity is coming from renewables since I'm using those credits. Hoping this type of thing becomes more common in the near future - luckily Colorado has a lot of capacity for solar and wind power and that will vary by where you live, but I think large scale renewables are something that need continuing heavy investment.

    I would like to take the next step and install rooftop solar to take pressure off the grid like @CapeGabe said.
    CapeGabe
  • MrX said:

    I would like to take the next step and install rooftop solar to take pressure off the grid like @CapeGabe said.

    Currently the problem is the economics of it. Right now it is usually 20 years to make your money back although I recently watched a review by someone who got the Tesla solar roof tiles and Powerwall and they estimate they will pay for themselves in 8-12 years but I believe they were in CA and because of their attempt to go totally clean energy the power prices have gone up considerably. So that timeframe might still be 20 years in other parts of the country.

    When you are looking for a payback that far away you are committed to stay in that house for 20 more years.

    But hopefully the prices and those numbers come down quickly.
  • podcartfanpodcartfan Cincinnati
    Most folks don't realize it, but there are two new reactors being built in Georgia right now at the existing Vogtle site.  They are Westinghouse AP1000 designs that are Generation III+ reactors.  They have passive safety systems so they are not reliant on electricity for the first 72 hours of an event.  A large tank on top of the reactor lets water drain via gravity to cool the top of the reactor.  The water evaporates and collects at the top of the tank and the cycle starts again.

    Four AP1000's have been built and are operational in China and part of Westinghouse's agreement with China was that China could take the IP and build as many as they want.

    The new Vogtle reactors started construction in 2009 and were originally supposed to be operational in 2016/2017.  That date is still slipping and projected to be 2021/2022.  I worked on the design/construction of the Turbine building between 2009 and 2013.  It was a cool project to be part of, but I didn't want to spend that much time on a single project.  The shear size of the buildings and structures is hard to visualize.  The derrick crane set up for the heavy lifts was the largest in the world at the time with a boom over 500 ft. tall.  The cooling water lines from the cooling towers to the Turbine building are 10 feet in diameter and have a flow rate around 500,000 gallons per minute.
    CapeGabeGiovanni
  • MrX said:
    Last year I signed up for a renewable program through my utility. Basically bought in (no up-front cost) to large-scale solar and wind projects in the state); it costs me about 4 cents per kWh, but I get renewable credits back, so it nets out to like maybe a dollar or two extra on my bill, and technically 100% of my electricity is coming from renewables since I'm using those credits. Hoping this type of thing becomes more common in the near future - luckily Colorado has a lot of capacity for solar and wind power and that will vary by where you live, but I think large scale renewables are something that need continuing heavy investment.

    I would like to take the next step and install rooftop solar to take pressure off the grid like @CapeGabe said.
    I signed up for the same program for us. 100% of our energy comes from renewables. It costs a few dollars more per month, but the price is locked in for 10 years. If traditional energy costs go up it might even result in a savings. The only real downside is a one year termination fee if you move out of coverage area. 
  • CretanBullCretanBull Toronto
    As much as I'd like to watch Chernobyl, I haven't been able to bring myself to watch it.  I grew up in a town that had (and still has) a nuclear power station in it and it was a huge source of anxiety for me as a kid.  My Bald Move avatar is a nod to that - it's "Blinky" the 3 eyed fish from a Simpson's episode about the safety issues related to nuclear power.

    That plant was built in the 70's and was supposed to be shut down in 2016.  They applied for an extension of their operating licence and permission was given to them to stay open until 2020.  Now that it's 2019, they've applied for another extension to keep it open until 2024.

    Living in the town, and with some many people employed by the plant we constantly heard stories of close-calls, accidents etc.

    Growing up it felt like we lived with a ticking time bomb, that definitely had an impact on me as a kid.  And the fact that I'm getting anxious as I write this shows that it's still effecting me.
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