Join 3,426 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Kraftwerk
May 30, 2011 12:51 AM   Subscribe

«The events in Japan have shown us that even things that seem all but impossible scientifically can in fact happen» Merkel said at a Berlin news conference. Germany to be non-nuclear by 2022.
posted by - (247 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
Austria and Italy are already nuclear free, Swiss government on Wednesday decided to drop plans to build new nuclear reactors and to phase out the use of nuclear energy in the country and now Germany.

As an anti-nuclearist i'm just happy.
posted by - at 12:57 AM on May 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


Great. I guess this means more albums about bicycle racing from Kraftwerk.
posted by item at 12:57 AM on May 30, 2011 [12 favorites]


Do they have baseline generating capacity from renewable sources to replace the nuclear power? Or are they going back to coal or other fossil fuels?

Guess not...

To make up for the loss of nuclear energy, the German government will begin to switch to renewable energy and increase investments in energy research, the government website says.

"But we will not be able to do without conventional power plants, above all cutting-edge gas power plants for a long time," said a statement published last week. "New fruits of new research should contribute to making the energy transition more efficient and easier on the ecology."


So yeah this isn't as ecologically friendly as it appears to me.
posted by PenDevil at 12:58 AM on May 30, 2011 [36 favorites]


It's unfortunate that switching to other energy sources in this day and age is still not as ecologically friendly, like you say PenDevil. It's not like we haven't known since the late 70s that we needed to research and come up with proper alternative energy sources that both generated enough energy and didn't pollute.
posted by dabitch at 1:12 AM on May 30, 2011 [7 favorites]


It's not like we haven't known since the late 70s that we needed to research and come up with proper alternative energy sources that both generated enough energy and didn't pollute.

You mean like nuclear power?
posted by PenDevil at 1:14 AM on May 30, 2011 [73 favorites]


The Japan quake killed the idea of small-scale reactors. Now people have a visceral fear of anything nuclear.

This is bad.
posted by flippant at 1:17 AM on May 30, 2011 [23 favorites]


I don't know, which ecological disaster is it going to take more time and money to recover from, the oil-based one in the Gulf of Mexico or the nuclear-based one in Japan?
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:19 AM on May 30, 2011 [9 favorites]


Cute PenDevil. Yeah, no I mean like the Swedish vote in 1979:
...in 1979, there was a referendum in Sweden about the future of nuclear power there. As a result of this, the Swedish parliament decided in 1980 that no further nuclear power plants should be built, and that a nuclear power phase-out should be completed by 2010. wikipedia

The power plants here aren't phased out by a long-shot, and the research that was meant to be done into alternative green power sources is still lacking. All I'm saying is, the debate has raged in much of Europe since the late seventies, and during all that time no clear green alternative emerged.
posted by dabitch at 1:23 AM on May 30, 2011


Come on Germany I already told you, I'm not buying another copy of Power Grid. I don't care if mine is outdated now.
posted by Winnemac at 1:25 AM on May 30, 2011 [10 favorites]


Not good. Nuclear power remains the best chance of safe, clean energy, at least for the next fifty years. That does mean doing it right: parking an outdated reactor on the edge of the sea in an earthquake area with inadequate regulatory oversight is not doing it right.

The big accidents happen not because nuclear energy is bad, m'kay, but because getting it right is expensive and needs much more rigorous independent risk management than we have. Look at civil aviation (which kills far more people outright, and exposes them to far more radiation in general, than nuclear power) , which is also very nasty when it goes wrong. Regulation and safety in general is very good, to the point where it's hard for anyone to make any money. That's probably about right.

Waste disposal? Feh. The earth is a huge great molten ball of radioactive waste, on average. There's no law of physics saying that we can't deal with a bit more.
posted by Devonian at 1:28 AM on May 30, 2011 [23 favorites]


getting it right is expensive and needs much more rigorous independent risk management than we have
"Getting it right" can't happen within the socioeconomic frameworks we have available in this world today.
posted by MillMan at 1:34 AM on May 30, 2011 [15 favorites]


This is bad.

Governments and private companies have demonstrated that we can't do nuclear energy safely. I'm not sure how much more evidence we need, at this point.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:39 AM on May 30, 2011 [14 favorites]


Disappointing. They'll be switching from statistically proven less deadly sources of energy to more deadly ones.
posted by shii at 1:43 AM on May 30, 2011 [7 favorites]


This is terrible electioneering. I think a lot of people are rightly scared by the spectre of nuclear disaster, but there may be greater disasters in store. Perhaps Germany is thinking of buying nuclear energy from it's neighbours via grid interconnectors. "Let the French take the risk, we're all in the EU, no?". What if an accident happens in one of Poland's or France's many reactors and the wind blows the wrong way?

Energy independence is going to be a very big deal in the coming decades. Does Europe want to be held to ransom for it's energy by Russia or OPEC?

I remain highly dubious of windmills and wave power, can anybody point me to a study of the carbon cost (and the death toll) of making and maintaining a wind turbine.

We are all going to have to start paying a lot more for our energy. I would like to see a research tax on energy that funded a huge energy research programme. Paying more now may cost us less in the long run.
posted by Homemade Interossiter at 1:43 AM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm saying that if we can regulate aviation successfully, we can regulate nuclear power successfully.

Aviation regulators fly a lot. Perhaps we should put nuclear regulators' housing in the reactor halls.
posted by Devonian at 1:45 AM on May 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'm saying that if we can regulate aviation successfully, we can regulate nuclear power successfully.

Not as long as the federal NRC is in bed with nuclear power companies.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:51 AM on May 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


"But we will not be able to do without conventional power plants, above all cutting-edge gas power plants for a long time," said a statement published last week.

I hope the Germans like taking orders from the Russians. I guess it shouldn't be a problem considering the long history of love between the two peoples.
posted by atrazine at 1:58 AM on May 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


@Blazecock Pileon - quite so. Didn't say there wouldn't have to be changes...
posted by Devonian at 2:00 AM on May 30, 2011


After zen ve vill be powered by marching!
posted by klangklangston at 2:04 AM on May 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


I hope the Germans like taking orders from the Russians.

Yup. I'm definitely not in love with nuclear energy, but I can't but wonder whether the resurgence of the anti-nuclear movement in Germany and the hysteria with which most German media reports on nuclear issues may have something to do with money-stuffed envelopes "with love from Gazprom".

Mr. Putin must be smiling today, that's certain.
posted by Skeptic at 2:06 AM on May 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


I guess it shouldn't be a problem considering the long history of love between the two peoples.

Don't forget Poland!
posted by Skeptic at 2:07 AM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


"I don't know, which ecological disaster is it going to take more time and money to recover from, the oil-based one in the Gulf of Mexico or the nuclear-based one in Japan?"

The answer is of course obvious, but don't you see? One of these things happens in someone else's backyard
posted by Blasdelb at 2:07 AM on May 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


... anti-nuclearist ...

Never heard that term before, is that anything like a creationist?
posted by iloveit at 2:09 AM on May 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


which ecological disaster is it going to take more time and money to recover from, the oil-based one in the Gulf of Mexico or the nuclear-based one in Japan?

Probably the disaster with the cesium and strontium dust that'll remain for many decades, possibly several hundreds of years.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:23 AM on May 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


Aviation regulators fly a lot. Perhaps we should put nuclear regulators' housing in the reactor halls.

Well, I'd certainly appreciate it if Monbiot would shut the fuck up until he's prepared to live his nuclear boosterism by living in, say, 10 km of Sellafield, and eat only locally grown and fished produce.
posted by rodgerd at 2:42 AM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


So yeah this isn't as ecologically friendly as it appears to me.

Being "ecologically friendly" as a species means we advance far enough in advance in knowledge to be able to do it while still maintaining our consumerist lifestyles.

So what it comes down to is:

1. We can have our ipad...and nuclear power
2. We can have our ipad...and we use fossil fuels.
3. We don't use nuclear power and we don't use fossil fuels...but we don't have our ipads.

Its our choice...and I'm sorry...but we humans are far to fucking stupid and selfish to give up our ipads.

And if that leaves 1&2...I'd rather use fossil fuels...because at least thats a slower death than a nuclear accident.
posted by hal_c_on at 2:44 AM on May 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


In other news: Germany's previous chancellor is still working for Gazprom.
posted by 3mendo at 2:46 AM on May 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


That does mean doing it right: parking an outdated reactor on the edge of the sea in an earthquake area with inadequate regulatory oversight is not doing it right.

You do realize that even though its a "nuclear reactor" and "scientists" are working on it...it has absolutely nothing to do with science, right?

A scientist isn't the one determining what goes where, and how a plant is to be setup. You do understand that nuclear energy is run by BUSINESSMEN, right?

So yeah...I KNOW there is a damn safe way to run a nuclear power plant. But the businessmen who are motivated by low costs and high returns don't really give a shit about that.

In the end...we are pretty stupid as a species...and stupid people should not have nuclear power to fuck around with.
posted by hal_c_on at 2:49 AM on May 30, 2011 [6 favorites]


It's frustrating that the nuclear energy approach is being framed as "70s nuclear technology OR renewables!" The mere idea that people are even considering ABANDONING nuclear power in ALL FORMS is infuriating. The Fukushima plant, like many reactors operating today, were built and are based of off technology from the 1970s. This would be like outlawing computers because a production run of vacuum tubes caused several thousand deaths.

We've been given this wonderful gift. It generates power that is incredibly clean, dramatically safer than fossil fuels, and produces abundant amounts of power at an amazing rate. And we're throwing this away. We, who landed people on the moon. Who built these reactors in the first place. Who developed the internet, satellites, cell phones, particle accelerators, and so much more, are simply throwing up our arms and saying "well, it looks like that's it. not going to try this whole nuclear route anymore."

I'm sorry, but that's just unacceptable to me. The current state of affairs is that any reduction in nuclear utilization from existing levels results in an inexorable and immediate increase in the usage of fossil fuels, nearly without exception. In Germany, this may be primarily natural gas. In the US, it'll be gas and tons more coal. Coal being the most dirty, death-causing energy source we've ever developed. It's a zero-sum game and we're the losers.

Yes, nuclear has a waste issue. Yes, nuclear can go bad in a way that is absolutely terrifying if it's not managed correctly. But simply saying "we can't figure this out, let's quit now" is just absurd. And a world so much further polluted by coal, with our heads buried in the sand, kept from the gift of nuclear power, is just reckless. Yes, renewables are making strides. I hope for a time when all of our power is delivered consistently, in a scalable manner, and nearly free from the sun. But that time is not today. We have nuclear today, and there are new strategies, new approaches, new technologies, and entirely new ways of developing the plants and mitigating the risks that are available today and that can greatly reduce our reliance on horrifically polluting fossil fuels.

I'd like to see a massive program of investment into new, safe nuclear technologies, focused on incredible depth in risk management, great efficiency, and waste management solutions, all with an eye toward keeping down regulatory costs and enabling the cheapest, cleanest power possible for all of us. I can't think of a better strategy for the planet than if we were to convert to 100% safe, waste-managed nuclear. That technology isn't quite here yet either, but not even trying down that road is simply criminal.

Allowing ourselves to get scared over a couple of frustrating accidents (spaced decades apart) ignores the greater calamity we create for ourselves by turning to technologies that slowly kill orders of magnitude more than nuclear has ever killed.
posted by disillusioned at 2:54 AM on May 30, 2011 [130 favorites]


So yeah...I KNOW there is a damn safe way to run a nuclear power plant. But the businessmen who are motivated by low costs and high returns don't really give a shit about that.
Easy solution: Nationalized power companies. Less easy, more palatable solution: Proper oversight.
posted by brokkr at 2:55 AM on May 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


Don't panic comrades.

21/4/2011 - US raises world gas estimates by 40%

02/5/2011 - Poland dreams of becoming shale gas El Dorado

30/5/2011 (Same day) - Massive gas project secures financing
posted by Rei Toei at 3:23 AM on May 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


And if that leaves 1&2...I'd rather use fossil fuels...because at least thats a slower death than a nuclear accident.

Not if it's you that's down the coal mine when it caves in.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:28 AM on May 30, 2011 [7 favorites]


I remain convinced that this "no nuclear power!" stance will last until the lights start going out. Then there'll be a crash nuclear plant build programme. So that's a window of about, what, 8-10 years of expensive or (more likely) unreliable energy supply sometime in the next forty years. We can survive that, though I fear it'll get a bit "1970s" at times.
posted by alasdair at 3:29 AM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


So yeah this isn't as ecologically friendly as it appears to me.

No, but it's politically friendly. Merkel's party (the CDU) has been getting its arse kicked by the Greens recently, and just lost the state of Baden-Wurttemberg to a Green-led alliance - first time they'd lost control for over fifty years.

Even with the recent events in Japan, this is a decision that doesn't make sense in any other way than politically.
posted by daveje at 3:30 AM on May 30, 2011


But the businessmen who are motivated by low costs and high returns don't really give a shit about that.

Problem is, the governments are, too. Energy needs to be regulated and run on the scale of human generations rather than fiscal quarters.
posted by zippy at 3:31 AM on May 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


Now people have a visceral fear of anything nuclear.

This is bad.


No, this is good.

There are companies that stand to make a lot of money from the construction of new nuclear plants. It is natural that the people running those companies will see and advertise the good things about nuclear energy much more than they will see and advertise the bad things.

There are people who are just infatuated with technology, the newer the better, and who think we can always invent our way out of any problem we have invented our way into.

There are people who don't care about the long-term effects of something on the environment as long as it makes their lives better (cheaper) in the short term. If nuclear energy makes it cheaper for them to run a house full of electronics and air conditioners right now, they will ignore the possible long-term effects. Pretty much the "Fuck you, got mine." approach to the environment.

We need doubters as a counterweight to nuclear industry PR, wide-eyed technological utopianism, and FYGMism.
posted by pracowity at 3:32 AM on May 30, 2011 [15 favorites]


You left out people who've come to support nuclear power through a sincere look at the various arguments and who are open to changing their minds if serious evidence comes up against it.
posted by Anything at 3:39 AM on May 30, 2011 [17 favorites]


We need doubters as a counterweight to nuclear industry PR, wide-eyed technological utopianism, and FYGMism.

No one here believes that nukes don't produce waste. But it far easier to manage a ton of nuclear waste than the equivalent X thousands of tons of CO2 being ejected into the atmosphere.
posted by PenDevil at 3:40 AM on May 30, 2011


Those people won't be made afraid by the fact that a reactor in Japan burst a leak.
posted by LogicalDash at 3:41 AM on May 30, 2011


Yes, those won't who live in seismically stable areas.
posted by Anything at 3:47 AM on May 30, 2011


We've been given this wonderful gift. It generates power that is incredibly clean, dramatically safer than fossil fuels, and produces abundant amounts of power at an amazing rate. And we're throwing this away.

You could say the same for the free power provided by the sun (and then indirectly wind). With the bonus that any nuclear waste is stored about 150 million km away.

Nuclear power is only cheap if you don't include the potential cost of an accident, as is currently done. Just last week there has been a study in Germany showing that to properly insure the nuclear power plants, the produced electricity would cost up to 2,40 Euro per kWh instead of the currently common 0,22 Euro/kWh.

I remain highly dubious of windmills and wave power, can anybody point me to a study of the carbon cost (and the death toll) of making and maintaining a wind turbine.

Wikipedia: Environmental impact of wind power. The CO2 of producing and installing a wind turbine (mostly for the cement) is recouped in 9 month.
posted by ltl at 3:50 AM on May 30, 2011 [8 favorites]


Meanwhile, back at Ground Zero:

High radiation found on seabed in 300-km stretch off Fukushima

Tepco can't stabilize reactors by year-end
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:56 AM on May 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


"Getting it right" can't happen within the socioeconomic frameworks we have available in this world today.

I don't believe that. If there is any nation in the world that has the tech, the industrial base, the regulatory framework, and the attention to detail to do it by the book, it is Germany.
posted by Meatbomb at 4:00 AM on May 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


As nuke workers wait, tainted water climbs
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:07 AM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oops. Link:

As nuke workers wait, tainted water climbs
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:08 AM on May 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't believe that. If there is any nation in the world that has the tech, the industrial base, the regulatory framework, and the attention to detail to do it by the book, it is Germany.

Almost anyone in the world would say precisely the same thing about... Japan. But the current disaster has been absolutely rife with bad decisions, misjudgment, human error, obfuscation and lies. Germans would also be capable of all those things.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:10 AM on May 30, 2011 [15 favorites]


The big accidents happen not because nuclear energy is bad, m'kay,

"m'kay" - the hallmark of condescension. Just terrifically persuasive, isn't it?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:19 AM on May 30, 2011 [6 favorites]



So yeah...I KNOW there is a damn safe way to run a nuclear power plant. But the businessmen who are motivated by low costs and high returns don't really give a shit about that.


Nothing beats capitalism
posted by notreally at 4:26 AM on May 30, 2011


I don't believe that. If there is any nation in the world that has the tech, the industrial base, the regulatory framework, and the attention to detail to do it by the book, it is Germany.

No, this is a nice fiction. The management of the experimental nuclear waste site Asse has been a mess. Gorleben, the site intended for long term storage has been chosen for political, not scientific reasons and the proximity to the former East German border, nicely illustrating the challenges posed by making decisions for the next thousands of years looking different a mere 40 years later. The nuclear power plant at Mülheim-Kärlich was build in a zone prone to seismic activity and had to be shut down after 3 years.

Merkel's decision last year to extend the running time of the nuclear power plants beyond the planned for shutdown in 2022 was a huge gift to the four big energy companies, and it was politically risky, as there has been for a long time a majority of voters against nuclear plants. As such, going back to the previous timeline is completely a political move by Merkel to avoid suicide at the polls, but this does not make the decision itself wrong. There has been a lot of contemplation about just this scenario beforehand and I do believe that Germany has the capability of achieving more than 50% renewables until 2030, and I will happily pay my 0.03 Euro per kWh to subsidize photovoltaics and wind to get them the much needed boost to achieve economics of scale faster. You are all more than welcome to profit from that investment as well.
posted by ltl at 4:27 AM on May 30, 2011 [7 favorites]


"Things that seemed all but impossible scientifically can in fact happen"? Does she think that tsunamis were heretofore unknown to science?
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:32 AM on May 30, 2011


Our civilisation is made of cowards and it deserves to fall. All of you, that condemn nuclear, but stop talking before suggesting an alternative that is realistic in both time and scale... All of you, hanging in front of the computers that science has provided you, and running away from science and reality at the first sign of trouble... All of you that are too weak to think clearly and worry more about posturing... All of you are the cancer that will in the end eat us all.

Yeah lets all be anti-nuclear! Someone else will solve the problem for us! Daddy certainly will, won't you daddy?
posted by CautionToTheWind at 4:32 AM on May 30, 2011 [11 favorites]


"The events in Japan have shown us that even things that seem all but impossible scientifically can in fact happen"
Is Merkel somehow suggesting that the events that happened in Japan aren't scientific fact? Or that science isn't interested in what in fact happens?
She does seem to be deluded about what could be said scientifically about risks of certain events and what actually counts as 'scientifically impossible', because big earthquakes and reactor meltdowns are not exactly in the league of pigs flying faster than the speed of light.
posted by edd at 4:33 AM on May 30, 2011


The problem was the Fukushima meltdowns weren't scientifically impossible or improbable at all. What happened was pretty well understood, as far as I can tell. The problem, I think was that people got confused about the conditions required for meltdown: namely I thought and I think most people thought that if the reactors got shut down then there couldn't be a meltdown. Obviously that's not the case, as you can still have a meltdown due to the fission byproducts' normal breakdown.
parking an outdated reactor on the edge of the sea in an earthquake area with inadequate regulatory oversight is not doing it right. -- Devonian
First of all, it would have been a lot worse had it not been next to the sea, don't you think? Their ability to use sea water to cool it down helped, which was part of the plan. You're not going to find large tracts of uninhabited land in Japan. Nor are you going to find land that's not going to get earthquakes. It also wasn't near sea level at all, the Tsunami was enormous.

Also the reactor wasn't outdated when they built it.
Disappointing. They'll be switching from statistically proven less deadly sources of energy to more deadly ones.-- shii
How many other forms of power have the potential to make huge areas uninhabitable?
1. We can have our ipad...and nuclear power
2. We can have our ipad...and we use fossil fuels.
3. We don't use nuclear power and we don't use fossil fuels...but we don't have our ipads.
-- hal_c_on
What is this crap about the iPad that always gets thrown around by people talking about energy? You're talking about something that can (supposedly) run for 10 hours on a charge. Things like computers and the internet use far, far less energy then stuff like air conditioners and cars.
It's frustrating that the nuclear energy approach is being framed as "70s nuclear technology OR renewables!" The mere idea that people are even considering ABANDONING nuclear power in ALL FORMS is infuriating. The Fukushima plant, like many reactors operating today, were built and are based of off technology from the 1970s. -- disillusioned
It was new when they put it in. I mean, 30 years from now there could be another disaster and people could say "I can't believe people want to give up on nuclear power when the plants with the problems are ones that were designed in the 2010s!" Everything old was new once.
But simply saying "we can't figure this out, let's quit now" is just absurd. -- disillusioned
No, it's actually pretty reasonable. People should not be engaging in 'experiments' with an unknown risk of catastrophic, or even locally apocalyptic failure
I don't believe that. If there is any nation in the world that has the tech, the industrial base, the regulatory framework, and the attention to detail to do it by the book, it is Germany. -- Meatbomb
Except maybe Japan. Oh wait.

---

Anyway, I don't personally think that it's impossible to build nuclear power plants that are unsafe. But it's unsafe by default and you have to think of every contingency. I think the best way to do it would be to build it completely underground, and below water level so even if it's totally un-powered it won't ever be in a situation where water can't flow to the core.

But the problem of cost is real. All these safety features aren't free. And on top of that you have the decommissioning cost. (Although with underground reactors, you could just cover the whole thing in cement and call it a day)

So the ultimate question is whether or not safe nuclear power is actually cost competitive or not. Even before the Fukushima disaster, it wasn't even clear that was the case when you took decommissioning into account.
posted by delmoi at 4:36 AM on May 30, 2011 [14 favorites]


Our civilisation is made of cowards and it deserves to fall. All of you, that condemn nuclear, but stop talking before suggesting an alternative that is realistic in both time and scale... All of you, hanging in front of the computers that science has provided you, and running away from science and reality at the first sign of trouble... All of you that are too weak to think clearly and worry more about posturing... All of you are the cancer that will in the end eat us all.
What the hell is this crap? "Science" isn't a single thing with a single desire. There are and have been lots of scientist who were opposed to nuclear power.

Beyond that, running the actual numbers on wind and solar shows it's more then capable of dealing with our power needs. It's only random people who insist on saying it's not possible who never bother to back up their claims.
posted by delmoi at 4:40 AM on May 30, 2011 [14 favorites]


"Our civilisation is made of cowards and it deserves to fall."

Though one never likes to be the cause of Godwin's Law being invoked, certain comments do leave one scratching one's head for some other context in which to consider them: “If one day the German nation is no longer sufficiently strong or sufficiently ready for sacrifice to stake its blood for its existence, then let it perish and be annihilated by some other stronger power… I shall shed no tears for the German nation.”
posted by Prince Lazy I at 4:45 AM on May 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


delmoi, the nukes are not being replaced by solar. They are being replaced by burning fossil fuels. Why don't you run the numbers of the deaths and desease caused by fossil fuels? That's what all you magical thinkers don't like to look at.
posted by CautionToTheWind at 4:45 AM on May 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Actually, the 'we won't give up our iPads' is (probably) a good thing. Once upon a time, there was a 300 watt CRT TV, a 100 watt VCR, a 400 watt PC/monitor combo in the front room.. now there's an about-a-watt iPad. I can't do the sums for production/transport/disposal budgets because I don't have the data, but relative real costs are good.

Anything that creates, transforms or distributes energy will disrupt the ecosystem in some way, because the ecosystem is as much about energy and its movement as it is about lovely baroque fun with matter. Even if we invented the perpetual motion dynamo tomorrow, it wouldn't end well without regulation and care. Reducing energy usage is, long term, the only thing that will keep the rate of change of the environment slow enough for us to maintain the Holocene.

M'kay?
posted by Devonian at 4:45 AM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


How many other forms of power have the potential to make huge areas uninhabitable?

Do you consider the surface of the Earth a huge area?
posted by escabeche at 4:48 AM on May 30, 2011 [7 favorites]


It's frustrating that the nuclear energy approach is being framed as "70s nuclear technology OR renewables!"

You have starry eyed visions of what nuclear could be if we were using a different, more advanced nuclear technology, but the cold hard reality is that nuclear is so expensive to install that the only way to get anyone to consider it is by using those expensive installations for a long long time.
That means that the vast majority of nuclear will always be outdated obsolete nuclear, because there is no world where people will build a multi-billion dollar plant, and then close it down when it's only produced a few million dollars of power.

I think you're also underestimating the amount of R&D needed to get decent nuclear from the current stage to the powr-plant stage. By the time those decades of R&D are done, either we sank or swam without it, and by that time solar tech will be a stronger candidate than nuclear, which it almost is already.

Nuclear can be viewed as a stopgap measure now, using shitty old tech, and/or in a supporting role now and in the future, but it doesn't seem to me to be up to the job of panacea.
posted by -harlequin- at 4:57 AM on May 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


"The events in Japan have shown us that even things that seem all but impossible scientifically can in fact happen"
Is Merkel somehow suggesting that the events that happened in Japan aren't scientific fact? Or that science isn't interested in what in fact happens?


No, this is related to the concept of "Restrisiko" (remaining risk) in the German nuclear discussion. It is not possible to ensure safety in any given scenario, so you try to mitigate all the "reasonable/imaginable" risks (i.e., those that are not to expensive to prevent) and try to estimate the remaining risk, where all the redundancies have failed, human error is taken into account, etc. This remaining risk has to be quite small to ethically (and constitutionally) justify using nuclear power given its huge destructive potential. So the numbers bandied around were in the range of "one catastrophic accident per 25,000 years". Given the experimental data we have now, this seems to have been off by three magnitudes. So stuff the public was assured to be for practical purposes impossible to happen, happened.
posted by ltl at 5:05 AM on May 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


Fossil fuel plants are easy. Very well trodden path. Nuclear plants are fairly well trodden, but still difficult and expensive. Renewable plants are similarly expensive, and a little more difficult again. The disruption to nuclear has naturally resulted in countries scrambling for an unanticipated plan B, and when you have to scramble, you go to what is quick and easy and reliable.
So fossil fuels will probably win this round. But if you were prepared to go to the trouble and expense of a lot of nuclear, then... geological considerations aside, you're probably up to the task of a lot of renewables. I really hope that the resulting uptick for fossil fuels is an emergency stopgap, and doesn't get added to a new normal :-/
posted by -harlequin- at 5:05 AM on May 30, 2011


Merkel has a PhD in quantum chemistry and was formerly minister for the environment, nature conservation and nuclear safety. Just providing some context.
posted by dhoe at 5:16 AM on May 30, 2011 [11 favorites]


delmoi, the nukes are not being replaced by solar. They are being replaced by burning fossil fuels. Why don't you run the numbers of the deaths and desease caused by fossil fuels?
First of all, you say nukes are not being replaced by solar. Why not? People always just assert that wind and solar are untenable, but they never back that up with anything. Global energy use is about 15 terawatts. this website is selling panels for $1.50/watt. Assuming 5 hours of sunlight equivalent per day that's the equivalent of $7.2 full time, or $108 trillion, or about twice global GDP.

That's obviously a lot of money, but keep in mind that prices have been dropping for a long time.

First Solar plans on reaching 0.65%cents; per watt manufacturing costs by 2012, for example. Sans install costs, that's down to $46.8 trillion.

On the other hand, if you go back to 2001 prices were around $5/watt.

Anyway, assuming that prices can drop to 65¢/watt you could replace all power generation in 10 years for 10% of global GDP. (And, the way GDP works you would actually increase GDP by 10%, rather then take production away from other things. With high unemployment in developed countries there is plenty of excess labor)

This isn't to say it's likely but it isn't by any means impossible.
posted by delmoi at 5:23 AM on May 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


I think you're also underestimating the amount of R&D needed to get decent nuclear from the current stage to the powr-plant stage. By the time those decades of R&D are done, either we sank or swam without it, and by that time solar tech will be a stronger candidate than nuclear, which it almost is already.

The R&D is already done. The problem is anti-nuke campainging hasn't let hardly any of them be built in anything other than trial setups. When you can't build new nuclear power plants, you just end up pushing your current ones well beyond their 30 year projected lifespan, to 40, 50, even 60 years. Combine that with lax regulation (corporate lobbying) and you end up with a dismal situation.

While I fullly believe that renewables with further investment and R&D - especially solar - are fully capable of building a distributed power grid that meets our needs without causing significant pollution or adding to our CO2 load anywhere near as badly as current tech, it is not there yet. It just isn't. Germany needs to replace 30% of the generation capability in a decade to meet the no-nuke by 2022. That means putting down the plans, and starting building new plants in the next couple of years, tops.

There are two techs that can generate that kind of power that can be built, today. Modern or old nuke; or fossil fuels, probably either natural gas from russia, or coal. Yes, you can build wind and wave power. Yes, you can build solar. But the cost of building enough of them *right now* is utterly impractical - they're not very efficient at all yet, so you need to build an absolute metric shitton of them at massive cost, and all the power storage capability also (pumped gravity stores etc) because when they generate most power is not when it's most used.

Realistically, by being anti-nuke today, you end up being pro-fossil fuel today. And given the latest warning that we're going to miss the 2deg temp rise target - by quite a lot - building a lot more fossil fuel plants is just shifting the problem from now to 100 years from now. And the devastation caused by global warming is going to make Fukushima look like a fucking teddy bears picnic.

I would LOVE, absolutely LOVE germany to build massive renewable energy projects and show the world how it can be done. No doubt they're going to do some token plants for a few % of germany's needs. But the tech simply isn't there yet for that kind of scale at any kind of sane cost, so we're going to end up with a whole bunch of new fossil plants. That is a fact.

The IPCC report saying we could meet 80% of our energy needs with renewables by 2050? That's so over-optimistic, it's hard to know where to begin. Wind farms, for example are even less capable than expected - and expectations were pretty damn low to start with.
posted by ArkhanJG at 5:25 AM on May 30, 2011 [7 favorites]


CautionToTheWind: Our civilisation is made of cowards and it deserves to fall...

Eponysterical.
posted by nfg at 5:26 AM on May 30, 2011


The trouble with fossil fuel is that you must constantly dig it out of the ground, or pay someone else to do it. Which has the two problems of needing a supply of it, and needing to buy that supply constantly. Both of which are fraught with political issues.

Harvestable energy -- (I think renewable is a dumb term because it's not like a bucket we can keep refilling, it's just there if we bother to pick it up) -- is much better because once you identify a technology with which to harvest it, and a location to harvest it from, you're done. You don't need to keep looking for more of it when your mine empties out. You just need to keep your harvesters in shape. And you don't need to pay for that supply, which removes a whole shitload of political issues.

Nuclear is harvestable energy, just like wind, solar, hydro and wave. Nuclear, however, does have a "when things go wrong they go really, really wrong" problem -- an error term which can be divided and divided but will never approach zero.

With nuclear, the problem isn't the technology. It is the human approach to the technology. Underestimating the risk, underengineering the physical plants, undermanaging the ongoing operations, and the worst thing of all, the profit motive to transfer money to a small group of people in exchange for increasing the risk born by a large group of people.

Nuclear can work, but not if it's done for profit. I suspect the Chinese with their monolithic government may be the best champions of nuclear power because they can just "make it so." They can throw money at the problem of power and in twenty years will probably be laughing at all of us as they have hundreds of reasonably modern reactors with a few more sigmas of failsafes. I guess they'll sell us power, too?

I have the best hope for solar. The technology just sits there; there's no huge pylons. It might get dusty. Efficiency might not be great but in ten years you put new panels in and you get an upgrade.

A thousand watts per square meter in the desert, 12 hours a day. At point of use where I live in Canada, I might get a hundred W/m2 over the course of a year. My roof's big enough, and then some.

I'm still pro-nuclear as a technology, but I don't know many governments in the world that can do it right long-term by managing the risks properly so that when things go wrong hundreds of square miles of land aren't rendered unusable.

I hope we'll have enough power for the next fifty years while we figure out how to do kick-ass solar... just harvesting what's falling on the ground all the time.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:28 AM on May 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


How many other forms of power have the potential to make huge areas uninhabitable?

Coal?
posted by Skeptic at 5:38 AM on May 30, 2011 [6 favorites]


delmoi Assuming 5 hours of sunlight equivalent per day....Sans install costs

Yeah, it's that kind of handwaving that I find unrealistic.
In northern europe you don't even come close to that amount of average equivalent sunlight over the year. And ignoring install costs?? The biggest cost of solar IS install costs, not the panels themselves. Our grids are designed around large scale baseload plants, not small scale local generation for starters - then you have to factor in installation and maintenance on homes and office buildings. Then you have to factor in that the manufacturing capability isn't there for large scale solar panel construction. Then you factor in the other elephant in the room, storage - which generally requires large amounts rare earth metals, even if you go with cheap inefficient panels that don't use them during manufacture. Solar generates in the day and the summer; domestic demand is highest in europe at night and the winter for heating, lighting, cooking etc. And domestic is where solar is strongest, because there consistent power is less important. So you *need* storage unless you just throw away power during peak and take it from fossil when you actually need it.

I ran the numbers for putting in solar on my modest top floor flat. Even account for large subsidies for installation, better insulation, large subsidies for putting excess generation back in the grid in off peak, etc etc, break-even was 25-27 years at best, and it still wouldn't come close to meeting my own fairly moderate power use.
posted by ArkhanJG at 5:46 AM on May 30, 2011 [6 favorites]


The question of stop-gap fossil fuel plants will be interesting to watch, especially with an eye toward compatibility with renewable generation. Cogeneration gas plants are much more efficient and emit way less CO2 than coal plants by providing electricity and heating for homes or industry at the same time and can be regulated quite fast to provide stability in the grid with fluctuating supply by wind and photovoltaics. Nuclear plants are not capable of being regulated this fast, leading to situations in the last year were the electricity spot price became negative as wind power was abundantly available and the big plants could not be turned off.
On a small scale, there is a German company that wants to install 100,000 gas powered water heating boilers in homes. In normal use, they provide heating and warm water. If there is a peak in electricity demand and the spot prices are high, they are additionally capable of generating electricity to help stabilize the network. Such decentralized ideas are really interesting, as they provide additional competition in the energy market, which has been monopolistic for a long time here.

Regarding coal, it seems to be at least possible to filter quite a lot of the nastiness in the exhaust responsible for the health effects until coal plants can be replaced. I've read somewhere that old plants are not retrofitted in the US for economic reasons. Anyone have knowledge in that area?
posted by ltl at 5:46 AM on May 30, 2011


I keep wondering if nuclear opponents just haven't heard about thorium or if they have bad memories. What's a catchy name for "nuclear reactor that can't melt down as long as you remember to turn off the neutron beam on the way out?" Or maybe "old scary nuclear waste burning reactor?"
posted by adipocere at 5:49 AM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


How many other forms of power have the potential to make huge areas uninhabitable?

Coal?


And coal it will be. About a decade ago, Sweden closed the Bärsebeck nuclear plant in Southern Sweden for similarly political reasons:

"The close-down of the Barsebäck Two reactor had a political prerequisite, namely that its electricity output of 4–4.5TWh either be replaced by renewable energy or saved. Savings and grants accounted for somewhat in excess of 1TWh, but actual results, which are not accounted, were around 0.5TWh.

In spite of a relatively high production of electricity during 1999, Sweden imported some 8.4TWh of electricity, mainly produced in fossil fuel plants. During spring, the Department of Industry will commission a non-partisan evaluation of the restructuring programme."

And the result?

"Sweden is replacing the lost 8.5TWh/yr of nuclear output by importing largely coal-fired energy from Denmark and Germany, and nuclear from Finland and Russia."

There is also a report somewhere that shows that Sweden is importing much higher levels of coal-related pollution as a side-effect of importing so much electricity.

Pity to see the Germans - despite their rhetoric - exactly following the Swedish model.
posted by three blind mice at 5:57 AM on May 30, 2011 [8 favorites]


Here's how nuclear plays out, at least in the US.

Dem administration decides we will make a push and "do nuclear right" -- regulated, overseen, as clean as possible. Plants get built.

20 years later a Repub Congress decides we need to "free the genius of the Marketplace" -- regulators are stifling creativity and if the NRC would work with energy producers, instead of against them, amazing new efficiencies can be found, increasing shareholder value.

Nobody pays attention for the next few decades, and then, uh-oh, there's 10 square miles on the Georgia coast that we have to avoid for the next 2500 years.

For evidence, please see the Incredible Disappearing Glass–Steagall Act.
posted by benito.strauss at 5:57 AM on May 30, 2011 [19 favorites]


In purely theoretical terms, I'm pro-nuclear. But in practical terms, the twin realities are that engineers learn from mistakes (and nuclear mistakes are simply too catastrophic), and the political and financial processes that control where and how nuclear plants get built are too corrupt to guarantee safety (as in the Fukoshima location and design).

So in practical terms, I'd have to say that I'm anti-nuclear. And with open eyes -- I know that this means increased pollution from fossil fuels, continued reliance on hydropower with all the isuses for rivers that it brings, increased wind turbine construction and all the problems that go along with that, and eventually vast solar arrays and the problems that will come with those, too. Those are all bad things, but still better than the nuclear industry we have (as compared to the magical, perfect nuclear industry I wish we had) can provide.
posted by Forktine at 5:59 AM on May 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


Replacing a less dirty power source with a dirtier one? Why? The idea that we should switch to fossil fuel production "as a stopgap" because they promise us that clean power is on the way seems even less realistic than believing we are never going to have accidents with nuclear reactors.

Believing in the availability of consequence-free energy is highly unrealistic.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:07 AM on May 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


This discussion reminds me of an essay by Stanislav Lem. He said (speaking hypothetically in a universe full of populated civilizations) there are two types of societies, one that pets themselves to death and one that frets themselves to death.

One builds things. It builds machines to build things, and machines to extract the energy to make things. It will consume all matter and energy in its path, and turn it into toothbrushes and toilet seats, comfy couches, toys and televisions, etc. It will not stop until everything in its path is converted to something to comfort itself with. And when there is nothing left to use, it will die out instantly.

One worries about things. It finds the universe is too full of crap, mostly crap they have made themselves. So it tries to reduce that crap and devotes its full resources to it. It takes junk and turns it into compost heaps and recycling plants. It tries to reduce its footprint in the world. It even tries to limit the reproduction of its own people. And eventually it will succeed and extinct itself, leaving empty, peaceful worlds devoid of any sign of the civilization that inhabited it.
posted by charlie don't surf at 6:18 AM on May 30, 2011 [6 favorites]


Replacing a less dirty power source with a dirtier one?

Germany has more than doubled its renewable electricity production from 2001 till 2010:

2001: ~ 40TWh (6.7% of consumed electricity)
2010: ~ 100TWh (16.8% of consumed elecricity)

The goal is to have 35% renewables in 2020, another doubling, gradually replacing the nuclear power plants until 2022. This will be accompanied by replacing old coal plants with modern efficient gas plants, efficency initiatives, etc.

Wind power seems to be almost cost competitive on its own already, photovoltaics will reach grid parity in Germany in the next two years (i.e., if there were no feed in tariffs, directly consuming solar electricity would be competitive). We have seen in the past years that by subsidizing a big source of demand, the cost of renewables has significantly dropped due to the anticipated economics of scale, and there is no reason why this should not continue to be the case. It then becomes a question of integrating all the different technologies, according to which make sense in any particular country.


Believing in the availability of consequence-free energy is highly unrealistic.

Yes, each energy technology has its positives and negatives and there should be a honest accounting of each. But in these discussions it tends to be the case that the standard applied to renewables is vastly higher than that applied to the conventional technologies. If a single technology by itself does not solve everything, if people suddenly care about birds dying in (early generation) wind farms without caring one bit about skyscrapers and other human structures, arguing about visual pollution due to wind farms when whole villages are displaced for coal mining, ...
posted by ltl at 6:57 AM on May 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


I don't know, which ecological disaster is it going to take more time and money to recover from, the oil-based one in the Gulf of Mexico or the nuclear-based one in Japan?

One disaster involves elemental toxins with scary names that are easily detectable in trace amounts, and whose biological effects are well-known.

The other involves a poorly-understood interaction with a delicate ecosystem whose impact is only being studied by marine biologists, many of whom are now on BP's payroll.

I don't know which is worse in the long term, but I'll tell you which one is sexier.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 6:58 AM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Believing in the availability of consequence-free energy consumption is highly unrealistic.
posted by ennui.bz at 7:02 AM on May 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


Yay coal and imported nuclear!
posted by Artw at 7:09 AM on May 30, 2011


CONSERVATION. Why does it never seriously enter into these discussions? It's the only thing we can do in the short term and probably the most effective thing we can do in the long term. I heard on the radio this morning that the Japanese are doing so well with their conservation efforts that there hasn't been a need for rolling blackouts. Using less energy brings people together, gets neighbors talking to each other, hearing each other's opinions (instead of Chris Matthews) - in short, it builds communities.

I'm quite confident I could cut my energy usage by half and not affect my life in any negative way and I already use about 30% less energy than the average household. It's pretty sad the two words that can help us the most - conservation and socialism - are the two biggest anathemas in American society.
posted by any major dude at 7:29 AM on May 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


CONSERVATION. Why does it never seriously enter into these discussions?

Because it gets Ronald Reagan elected President. Seriously.
posted by benito.strauss at 7:37 AM on May 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


CONSERVATION. Why does it never seriously enter into these discussions?

Because of the Jevons' paradox. The only way you can get people to conserve is to raise the price of electricity (drastically). Raising the price of electricity causes serious damage to a country's manufacturing industry and raises the cost of living of its citizens (most seriously for the poor).
posted by Popular Ethics at 7:37 AM on May 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


Human beings cannot safely use nuclear energy. It's too complex. You can talk all you want about building safer systems or improving safety procedures or taking the running of these plants out of the hands of for-profit businesses, but it ain't gonna happen. Theoretically nuclear power is safe and clean, but the reality we have to live with is that it is not.

While we're fantasizing about nuclear power, and forgetting about reality, we also can imagine safe ways of storing nuclear waste. The reality once again is that there is currently no way to safely dispose of spent fuel. Maybe Finland has a plan for that, but that's about it.

That's a reality that will not change for at least 20 years. At least.

The problem with pro-nuke folks is that they live in fantasyland, where nuclear *ought* to be safer. Facing reality is much scarier for the rest of us.

Want to deal with our energy problems? We need to use a lot less energy.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:37 AM on May 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


CONSERVATION. Why does it never seriously enter into these discussions?
Because building new plants is a lot more doable than changing the habits of an entire nation.
posted by -1 at 7:38 AM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


While we're fantasizing about nuclear power, and forgetting about reality, we also can imagine safe ways of storing nuclear waste. The reality once again is that there is currently no way to safely dispose of spent fuel. Maybe Finland has a plan for that, but that's about it.
Define 'safe'.

Safe as in "able to store it in a way that you could sleep on a pile of spent rods"? No.

Safe as in "able to design and build long-term containment structures that will keep it far from human contact and prevent the spread of radiation for generations to come"? Yes.

Unfortunately, there's just one problem: where? Nobody's state wants to have such a facility -- hell, they didn't even want the transport trains passing through their state -- and so we all suffer with short term, make-do on-site storage.

It's actually quite a smart tactic: lobby to prevent a long-term storage facility from being constructed and used, then point to the inferior on-site storage as an example of why nuclear waste is an issue.
posted by -1 at 7:41 AM on May 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


The only way you can get people to conserve is to raise the price of electricity (drastically). Raising the price of electricity causes serious damage to a country's manufacturing industry and raises the cost of living of its citizens (most seriously for the poor).

Progressive tariffs prevent the burden of reducing energy use from harming the poorest. Likewise, differential tariffs for domestic, commercial and industrial allow the most energy inefficient sectors to be targeted. Many developed countries already structure their energy market in such ways. There's no reason but politics why the worst wasters of energy - often wealthier families and commercial users - can't be given a strong price signal.
posted by Jehan at 7:47 AM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Nuclear energy doesn't produce more energy than animal dung, wood and agricultural waste together. Go check energy statistics, nuclear hardly gets to provide 3% of the final energy consumed in the world.

Also, it is not cheap, nor clean.

As I am a realist, I reckon that the US, Rusia, France, UK, China and others won't phase out nuclear energy, because of obvious military reasons. Also, once you close a nuclear power plant, it goes from a (marginally) energy producer to an energy sink, because of all the energy required to dismantle, clean and guard waste and other materials. So I don't think we can say goodbye to nuclear energy.

My concern is that peak oil and peak cheap energy is goint to turn those old nuclear power plants in huge liabilities.
posted by samelborp at 7:51 AM on May 30, 2011


Meanwhile, new wind farms can't find buyers for their power. If you dig a little deeper, it comes down to the gas turbine plants that were built twenty years ago for peak loads have long term contracts and new wind plants can only sell on the spot market. So the gas plants aren't being replaced because the long-term contracts means there's not a level playing field.

Another example of the genius of the market messing things up. It's also a good example of textbook economics really just being a handwave.

The real joke is the gas turbine plants were originally built to serve only the spot market and instead became permanent producers. Case in point being our local "co-gen" plant - it never delivered a dime's worth of co-gen heat ever. During the winter, it dumps enough waste heat through heat exchangers to heat the entire downtown. The co-gen angle was just a smokescreen to build a gas turbine plant as a continuous producer - something that everyone involved in selling the project swore on a stack of bibles would never happen.
posted by warbaby at 8:02 AM on May 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm quite confident I could cut my energy usage by half and not affect my life in any negative way

All the reasons you don't actually cut your energy usage by half are pretty much the same reasons why no one else does, either. You've done the easy, no-pain stuff already, I'd guess -- efficient light bulbs, turn the thermostat down one or two degrees, etc -- which leaves you with the serious, painful cuts that will impact your life in real ways. And making and sustaining those kinds of cuts if you have a partner or children is that much harder -- are they going to be happy with the new austerity measures?
posted by Forktine at 8:21 AM on May 30, 2011


which leaves you with the serious, painful cuts that will impact your life in real ways.

I'm curious, what are these? I hear about the lightbults and thermostat pretty much constantly, like, at least everyday in some form. What's the next step? I already don't drive a car, try to use my laptop battery mainly but otherwise, what's the next set of things I can do?
posted by fuq at 8:25 AM on May 30, 2011


Why are the anti-nuclearist (re: Luddites) trotting out tired old the "No Safe Nuclear Energy whatsoever" line again? Oh yeah that's right, to frighten you into submission. ATOMZ are scary folks, Cesium, Strontium, Plutonium, Uranium! Be afraid, be very afraid. Strontium!

Merkel's claim is ludicrous at best and pure fantasy vote-grabbing bullshit at worst. I'd love to know just how she's gonna switch over thirty freaking percent of her first world nation's baseline power. Fairies? Ponies? Magic Pixie Dust?

I'll be the first to say: "Nuclear Power is not %100 safe." The problem lies in the fact that neither is anything else on the planet.

Strontium!
posted by Sphinx at 8:28 AM on May 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


fuq: what's the next set of things I can do? Most of these renos are far too expensive to pay back without subsidy, and everything else is just window dressing as far as I'm concerned. Also these measures will be made moot when we all start charging our electric cars.
posted by Popular Ethics at 8:38 AM on May 30, 2011


The R&D is already done. The problem is anti-nuke campainging hasn't let hardly any of them be built in anything other than trial setups.

The R&D is not done. Not by a long shot. Anti-nuke and US security restricted new plants in the USA, and various other places, but other places have still been building modern nuclear power plants, and... they haven't been building the cool newfangled stuff, because it doesn't exist yet

Some of the promising designs are still theoretical and have never existed off paper. Some of the promising designs have existed once... briefly... as research reactors... not anything commercially viable as a power plant.

You under-estimate the amount of R&D required to bring nuclear up to speed.
posted by -harlequin- at 8:39 AM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yes, you can build solar. But the cost of building enough of them *right now* is utterly impractical

Once you take into account the subsidies and the externalized costs of both, it sounds like nuclear isn't actually cheaper. So an argument from cost that we can afford nuclear but not renewables isn't a strong one. (With so many agendas involved, I'm not sure how to get absolutely trustworthy comparison figures, but renewables don't need to be a clear winner to make the point - that it's not cut and dried that nuclear is any cheaper is quite something in and of itself)
posted by -harlequin- at 8:51 AM on May 30, 2011


ltl writes "Regarding coal, it seems to be at least possible to filter quite a lot of the nastiness in the exhaust responsible for the health effects until coal plants can be replaced."

That still leaves you with disposing of the dangerous coal ash; something that hasn't been figured out. And there is a lot more coal ash per watt than nuclear waste.
posted by Mitheral at 8:53 AM on May 30, 2011


ltl "Regarding coal, it seems to be at least possible to filter quite a lot of the nastiness in the exhaust responsible for the health effects until coal plants can be replaced."

That also leaves you with the huge amount of CO2 (sequestration being impractically expensive right now). Expect Germany's CO2 emissions to rise sharply after 2022.
posted by Popular Ethics at 8:59 AM on May 30, 2011


How many other forms of power have the potential to make huge areas uninhabitable?

Everything that burns carbon. No disaster required. Normal use of carbon fuels is going to make huge areas of inhabited land into seafloor.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:59 AM on May 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


Assuming 5 hours of sunlight equivalent per day....Sans install costs
Yeah, it's that kind of handwaving that I find unrealistic.
In northern europe you don't even come close to that amount of average equivalent sunlight over the year.
First of all, how is that hand-waving? As you can see from this map the average insolation is clearly about 5 hours per day in the U.S (kWh/m2/day simplifies to h/d). Maybe it's a little lower in Europe, but that's why you have a power distribution grid. And rather then just say "that's hand waving" why not come up with your own actual numbers? You don't even bother to say "you only get X hours of insolation" instead you just say "way less". But there are actual numbers you can use, and you can do actual math and get actual answers about how difficult or hard the problem is.

Instead, people just say "it's to hard" without even bothering to think it through. It's very annoying. How can you say something takes too much effort if you can't even come up with an actual number for how much economic effort it takes?

It's only 'impractical' because the world seems to be run by ignorant pessimists.
I keep wondering if nuclear opponents just haven't heard about thorium or if they have bad memories. What's a catchy name for "nuclear reactor that can't melt down as long as you remember to turn off the neutron beam on the way out?" Or maybe "old scary nuclear waste burning reactor?"
The fukushima reactors weren't critical. Once the moderators were removed, the reaction would shut down. The problem was the breakdown of the fission byproducts producing heat. The "Can't melt down" thing was definitely said of the fukushima style reactors.
posted by delmoi at 9:01 AM on May 30, 2011


Do you consider the surface of the Earth a huge area?

Do you consider the inhabitable portion of the surface of the Earth a huge area?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:03 AM on May 30, 2011


sequestration being impractically expensive right now

Not just that, but storing CO2 is starting to prove at least as difficult and controversial a NIMBY issue as storing nuclear waste.
posted by Skeptic at 9:04 AM on May 30, 2011


Yes, nuclear has a waste issue. Yes, nuclear can go bad in a way that is absolutely terrifying if it's not managed correctly. But simply saying "we can't figure this out, let's quit now" is just absurd.

Not at all! We can figure it out. We can build safe, reliable nuclear plants. We can do proper maintenance and avoid cutting corners.

The proverbial, reliable "we" who will do the above things -- and, by definition, exclude those who won't.

The only slight problem I'm still worried about is them. They will falsify maintenance records. They will turn off safety systems when conducting experiments. They will put fuel pools next to the reactors and make overly optimistic assumptions.

This is not so much a technical problem with nuclear as we/they problem. If you have any technology that will be used on wide scale, it will be designed, manufactured, installed, maintained, run, supervised and checked on by "they" as well as super-dependable makes-you-feel-warm-inside "we".

Any technology, to be considered genuinely safe, must be safe when used by "they".

Let us use less energy until better alternatives are invented. Plants can create energy from sunlight so it must be possible to do it safely. Fusion may eventually be harnessed that does not produce radioactive waste.

It won't kill us to use less energy for a little why longer.

Before we find ways to make large amounts of safe energy, even if it takes 10, or 20 years, or longer, there are many ways to cut down on energy use like running a small fan instead of a conditioner, use a Kotatsu instead of heating the whole room, use public transport, bikes and smaller cars, and consume less in general. Let's have higher taxes on manufacturing plants that consume more energy than others. I don't see a big problem with that - it's much better than hoping that the wind blows out to sea when a plant blows up.
posted by rainy at 9:07 AM on May 30, 2011 [6 favorites]


Plants can create energy from sunlight so it must be possible to do it safely.

s/safely/cheaply/
posted by rainy at 9:12 AM on May 30, 2011


"The "Can't melt down" thing was definitely said of the fukushima style reactors."

Are you sure about that delmoi? I had not heard that mentioned before.
posted by puny human at 9:12 AM on May 30, 2011


The Fukushima reactors didn't melt down. They leaked, which from the perspective of the freshly irradiated people outside is almost as bad.
posted by LogicalDash at 9:27 AM on May 30, 2011


"How many other forms of power have the potential to make huge areas uninhabitable?"

You haven't been to Appalachia in the last 150 years have you? The gulf coast recently? South Alaskan coast? Niger River Delta? Anywhere near a coal powered plant? Large swaths of shale rich Canada where kitchen faucets act like torches? West Texas? Coastal "mmm mmm Chinese smog" California? Hell, most of the ecology of the East Coast was turned into firewood.
posted by Blasdelb at 9:28 AM on May 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


Great to see Germany follow China and Japan.

Once you cheerleaders and doom-prognosticators run out of bile, consider spending an hour with this: List of offshore wind farms

Your excess party is over with. The rest of the world has decided it wants to have a future after all. Now, turn off all the lights glowing in all the skyscrapers all night, and do something about those hundreds of thousands of 'security lights'. Finally all you 'great engineers' out there: about your ICE's 20% efficiency...
posted by Twang at 9:32 AM on May 30, 2011


LogicalDash, TEPCO has admitted that at least reactor core nº1 was melting few hours after the quake/tsunami). From IAEA:
TEPCO has reported that information obtained after calibration of the reactor water level gauges of Unit 1 shows that the actual water level in the Unit 1 reactor pressure vessel was lower than was indicated, showing that the fuel was completely uncovered. The results of provisional analysis show that fuel pellets melted and fell to the bottom of reactor pressure vessel at a relatively early stage in the accident.

posted by samelborp at 9:33 AM on May 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Isn't climate change a little bit more serious than a small scale, albeit terrible, nuclear meltdown? This policy is anti-science. I'm so disappointed, Germany.
posted by ryanfou at 9:47 AM on May 30, 2011


Are you sure about that delmoi? I had not heard that mentioned before.
I'd heard all the time that 'modern' reactors couldn't melt down because if there was a failure, the control rods would be removed on their own and without the control rods, there would be no reaction. And that's exactly what happened at Fukushima. The control rods were removed, and the reaction stopped.

The problem was the excess energy from fission byproducts that takes a long time (days, or weeks even) to dissipate. So the question is, why wouldn't thorium reactors have this same problem?

From wikipedia:
Uranium-233 is produced by the neutron irradiation of thorium-232. When thorium-232 absorbs a neutron, it becomes thorium-233, which has a half-life of only 22 minutes. Thorium-233 decays into protactinium-233 through beta decay. Protactinium-233 has a half-life of 27 days and beta decays into uranium-233; some proposed molten salt reactor designs attempt to physically isolate the protactinium from further neutron capture before beta decay can occur.
So from what I can tell, the energy actually comes from fission of U233 which is on the Neptunium Series and has a bunch of byproducts of various half lives. So I would imagine that the rods would still emit radiation, and heat for a while after use, just like rods with Uranium in them.
posted by delmoi at 9:51 AM on May 30, 2011


Why are the anti-nuclearist (re: Luddites) trotting out tired old the "No Safe Nuclear Energy whatsoever" line again? Oh yeah that's right, to frighten you into submission. ATOMZ are scary folks, Cesium, Strontium, Plutonium, Uranium! Be afraid, be very afraid. Strontium!

My ancestor, George Morgan, was a stockinger during the reign of King Ludd. I don't know if he was a Luddite, but I would like to think so, as the term shouldn't have the negative associations people attach to it nowadays. Indeed, the real meaning of the term is enlightening. Let me show you.

George Morgan wasn't afraid of machines. As a stockinger he used a stocking frame, which doesn't appear very complicated today, but was certainly more advanced than the tools used in some other industries of the time. He worked on it six days a week, for many hours a day, and most likely had it in his house. It was first introduced as a labor-saving device, as before then stocking knitting was long tedious work. The stocking frame made work much easier, and was a welcome improvement.

So when Luddites smashed up frames, why were they doing it? Several reasons exist, but two will suffice to illustrate what they opposed, and it wasn't technology. The first is that they were used to customary rates for their work. Stockings had an expected price, yet some manufacturers were dropping their prices to below what stockingers needed to survive. It wasn't strictly machinery that allowed this, as stockingers could have dropped their prices to some extent, but rather a changing moral position (related to the second reason below). Stockingers believed that the market should have other purposes than simple profit, and the good of the whole community was important.

The stockingers also complained that some manufacturers were making poor quality stockings. Their specific complaint was against "cut-ups": a kind of stocking so shoddily made that they would literally fall apart after some use. Although the market in stockings was already declining, the low quality of these stockings didn't help maintain confidence. Some attempts at regulation of stocking production had existed previously, but there was no good way for stockingers to protect their trade.

The frames that the Luddites smashed belonged to those manufacturers whose actions were against the good of the community and the trade in general. The targets were individuals and their capital investments, not the machines themselves. George Morgan and others like him wanted a fair market - not a demechanized one - and understood what needed to be done. Technology was never the problem, but the new centrality of profits over everything else was.

Whether the operators of nuclear power plants care for the interests of the community or are creating the nuclear equivalent of "cut-up" stockings is a question with a now simple answer: Fukushima.
posted by Jehan at 10:16 AM on May 30, 2011 [9 favorites]


That also leaves you with the huge amount of CO2 (sequestration being impractically expensive right now). Expect Germany's CO2 emissions to rise sharply after 2022.

Yes, coal is absolutely not the way forward. But if you have plants that can not be shut down in the short term, at least force them to filter as best as possible.

Regarding the emissions, Germany (and the EU) have a CO2 cap and trade system where total CO2 emissions are capped. So even if there is a temporary surge in coal usage, the CO2 has to be saved at some other location, increasing the price of CO2 certificates and making renewables more competetive.

What will be crucial now is to prod Merkel and the conservatives to actually follow through with the investment in renewables and energy conservation measures. And if there is a general political consensus that this is the way forward, we can hope that the energy companies will stop delaying and invest as well.


Why are the anti-nuclearist (re: Luddites) trotting out tired old the "No Safe Nuclear Energy whatsoever" line again?

I don't get how the pro-nuclear and pro-fossil fuel folks seem to think that only they have a rational, scientific world view. Renewables are high-tech as well. There are a lot of scientists and start-ups here in Germany crunching numbers and pondering the way from here to there, and they think it is possible. The push for renewables has created 300,000 jobs in Germany already. And to describe the German reaction as hysterical and fear-based is not correct. Even before Fukushima there has been a majority against nuclear power for many years, the current climate is more a "see, we had experts telling you this stuff isn't safe and you wouldn't listen, could we please not do that again?"
posted by ltl at 11:06 AM on May 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


Yes, nuclear has a waste issue. Yes, nuclear can go bad in a way that is absolutely terrifying if it's not managed correctly. But simply saying "we can't figure this out, let's quit now" is just absurd.

Yeah, but it's an absurd world. Call me a Luddite, I don't give a shit, but there is no human society at this point and time that can safely manage nuclear power. Sure, dream big dreams, but while you're dreaming a nuclear accident has destroyed the lives of several million people in Ibaraki, Fukushima, Miyagi and Iwate.

Sure, CO2 emissions are more dangerous, but that's a different issue. As a planet we just cannot continue to consume as we have done for the past 200 years.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:11 AM on May 30, 2011 [3 favorites]



Sure, CO2 emissions are more dangerous, but that's a different issue. As a planet we just cannot continue to consume as we have done for the past 200 years.

But you think a species who can't even stop a few chunks of metal from melting can manage this transition without screwing it up badly?
posted by Zalzidrax at 11:30 AM on May 30, 2011


> There's no reason but politics why the worst wasters of energy - often wealthier families
> and commercial users - can't be given a strong price signal.

Considering that politics--stupid, nasty, inefficient, short-sighted, corruptable politics--is the only thing we have to substitute for torchlight parades on the small scale and war on the large, saying "there's no reason but politics..." strikes me as minimizing and dismissing a massive deal-breaker of a gotcha in the plan. There's no reason but gravity why we can't flap our arms and fly.
posted by jfuller at 11:45 AM on May 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


We need nuclear in the short term. It's the only low carbon source we gave capable of carrying the current base load. We have to dramatically reduce the amount of CO2 we emit.

Have to.

Now, if you think Germany can turn off their reactors without building coal, prove it. Renewable arent enough right now. Neither solar nor wind can be a base load plant until we can store vast amounts of energy, the closest we have are pumped storage plants, which are expensive, lose a fair amount of the power pumped in, and fail in dramatic ways on occasion.

To be completely blunt. Yes, I am willing to risk losing a city to keep and expand nuclear power, if it means we can stop burning coal and oil.

I will gladly trade a city - even my city - to make sure the Earth remains habitable.

People who think we can just shut down nukes and not replace them with anything do not understand politics. If Merkel were tondo so, her party would be swept from office in short order.

It will take decades to get our civilization to fully low-to-no carbon power. Once that's done, you can then lose nuclear

Without? It will never happen. People will burn coal until they die, rather than accept that they cannot have electricity cheaply.
posted by eriko at 12:06 PM on May 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


KokuRyu: Yeah, but it's an absurd world. Call me a Luddite, I don't give a shit, but there is no human society at this point and time that can safely manage nuclear power.

I don't think that is quite correct. There probably isn't any way to manage nuclear power safely AND economically. It leaves one with the same answer though....



delmoi: The problem was the excess energy from fission byproducts that takes a long time (days, or weeks even) to dissipate. So the question is, why wouldn't thorium reactors have this same problem?

Not just days or weeks, months or years. Hence the water levels in the spent fuel pools going down, and the potential for sporadic criticality in the melted spent fuel.
posted by Chuckles at 12:16 PM on May 30, 2011


eriko: I respect that you said you accept the risk to lose a city. My biggest problem with nuclear proponents is that they claim near-perfect safety while in the back of their heads they think, even if the worst happens, you can always say newer designs are "even safer" (love that 'even'), or that "that style of accident won't happen again because we're forewarned now" (love that 'style').

However, I'm not as certain as you are that we can't reduce energy use and we can't develop renewables at a faster rate than we do now. What is the percentage of world GDP being spent on renewables research and on developing energy-conservation tech? I think we can at least agree it's a pretty miniscule amount.

People are smart enough to understand that increased safety standards after TMI and Chernobyl made our energy costs a lot higher than they could have been otherwise. It's a cost that everyone paid, and our economies developed slower because of it. And yet it was likely worth the cost because we might have had a couple of accidents at Fukushima scales if many dozens plants were built with loose safety standards.

And most of these plants would not replace coal plants but instead energy prices would be lower and the economies would find ways to use that extra energy.

There are people like you who feel that the risk of losing a major city is an acceptable risk, and there are those who feel that we can develop renewables and conserve energy and pay more for energy we do use; and that losing a major city is not an acceptable risk. The issue is, just because you think it's an acceptable risk, does not mean everyone in that city will agree. Their disagreement and willingness to pay higher price for energy and use less of it will not magically shield them from radiation. They will vote against nuclear.
posted by rainy at 12:41 PM on May 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


If you think that we can get enough energy from renewables to power our civilization, it's still absurd to start shutting down nuke plants. Any replacement of generation capacity should start with coal, gas and oil first. Once you've switched away from those— which do destroy cities, and are likely causing severe damage to the planet as a whole— then we can start in on the nukes. I'd love to live in a solar-and-wind future, but our choice today is either a solar-wind-and-coal world or a solar-wind-and-nuke world. Nukes cause less death and damage than coal and oil.
posted by hattifattener at 12:53 PM on May 30, 2011


We need to close the old, more dangerous nuclear plants and convert to clean coal (and up the investment in even cleaner coal) as a first stage. The next stage is converting to renewables completely and closing down both coal and nuclear. Both stages will need to be accompanied by a serious conservation effort.

Or at least we have to be straightforward with people and say, here's the choice, you may lose a major city, or we can have global warming, or we can have conservation, depressed economies and eventually renewables. Or you can have the risk of nuclear and global climate change at the same time, which is where we're going now. At least we're being honest without the technology fan-boyism of "there are multiple safety systems and then there's the containment that can't be breached by definition, stupid".

If people choose to have a relatively small risk of their tokyo or their nyc metro wiped out, then so be it, at least they'll have nobody to blame.
posted by rainy at 1:28 PM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


I am willing to risk losing a city

Thanks for being honest about this. I don't share your acceptance of this risk, mainly because the people who are already put at risk to this degree are never given the power to make that choice of their own free will. Usually, plants are set up without any regard for input from those who will be most impacted by a catastrophe. But I appreciate the honesty, and wish I would see that more often from nuclear proponents.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:30 PM on May 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


We need to close the old, more dangerous nuclear plants and convert to clean coal (and up the investment in even cleaner coal) as a first stage.

There is no such thing as clean coal. "Clean" coal is an invention of the coal lobby's PR dept.
posted by PenDevil at 1:38 PM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Poland is planning to build four reactors, with the first two to be under construction by 2020, built by French or Canadian firms. There is pretty much total political consensus on this, mostly because of the fear of Russian control over Poland's energy supply.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 2:06 PM on May 30, 2011


But I appreciate the honesty, and wish I would see that more often from nuclear proponents

It would be nice if we saw it from coal-and-oil proponents like you, as well. Deepwater Horizon happens, and we collectively shrug and say, "Gee, I guess we just have to risk losing a coastline, a major ecosystem, a city, that's just the price of oil." Stuff like Fukushima Daiichi happens, and we talk about banning an entire technology.
posted by hattifattener at 2:11 PM on May 30, 2011


We need nuclear in the short term. It's the only low carbon source we gave capable of carrying the current base load. We have to dramatically reduce the amount of CO2 we emit.

Have to.
Uh, why? I mean, do you have any kind of numerical analysis to back this up? Because again and again people make the claim without even bothering to try to prove it. I mean, can you even show that Nuclear is even less expensive then wind and solar?

I mean, if you look at the stats Nuclear energy counted for 8.2% of U.S. energy use in 2006, while renewables accounted for 3.2%. Almost 40% as much. How much money would it actually cost to build out nukes compared to building out wind and solar? What's the actual cost differential?

There's this assumption that for some reason solar is super expensive and nukes are super cheap. In reality, is that the case? One of the major reasons people don't want to build nuke plants is the decommissioning costs for expired plants. How much would it cost to build, operate, and decommission enough plants to power the U.S? How does that compare in cost to wind and solar?
posted by delmoi at 2:15 PM on May 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm beginning to wonder if nuke proponents are even capable of doing basic arithmetic. I've never once seen any evidence that they can.
posted by delmoi at 2:16 PM on May 30, 2011


Delmoi, where did you get your numbers? This government site says we're at 73 GWh nuclear, 26 GWh hydro, 9 GWh wind, 14 GWh geothermal, and 0.004 GWh solar out of 363 GWh total.

All the renewables combined are then about 70% as big as nuclear. But expanding hydro and geothermal isn't really an option in the current energy debate, so the other two are just 12% of the size of nuclear.

I''m a huge proponent of wind power. But there's nothing we can do right now, without major technolgoy advances or infrastructure projects, that will cut into fossil fuel consumption as much as building new nuclear plants.
posted by miyabo at 2:39 PM on May 30, 2011


Er, sorry, those numbers are TWh. There goes that arithmetic you were talking about.
posted by miyabo at 2:40 PM on May 30, 2011


the thing is that the nuclear reactors are not just about math or science. There is a nuclear industry, rife with political lobbying, politicking, kickbacks, payoffs, as was the situation in Fukushima.

In a completely innocent world nuclear energy might be a possibility. But the case with Fukushima - and in Chernobyl too- showed how many types of human mistakes, acts of corruption, looking the other way, deceptions and avoidance of looking at the possibilities of unexpected catastrophe, human or natural, which set up a horror story that the planet's population will have to pay for in cancer, in nuclear fallout, in wastelands created by radiation, tens of thousand of domestic animals culled and who knows how many wild creatures killed? There is now vast radiation pollution of the ocean in the case of Fukushima as well as land that will be uninhabitable for ages. And Tepco's use of MOX will have further catastrophic implications for the people around the planet after the meltdowns that took place there, that weren't mathematically supposed to happen.

Life in history these days is not just about numbers, neat little equations that would work in a Pleasantville sort of place. The world is a mess enough already from one end to the other. Really, massive radiation messes like Fukushima really cannot happen again, anywhere.

No, nuclear power is not a viable option in this corrupt world as it is now. No way. And thank God a number of nations, like Germany, are making the wise decision to not opt for nuclear power at this time in history.
posted by nickyskye at 2:49 PM on May 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


Ha yeah, you're probably right delmoi. I see no evidence that nuclear engineers can add numbers either.
posted by WhitenoisE at 3:01 PM on May 30, 2011


Not if it's you that's down the coal mine when it caves in.

Well, not too many people are required to mine coal anymore. Despite the dramatic incidents we hear about in the news about trapped miners every so often, the real danger is from actually using the coal as fuel. Burning coal emits mercury, and the coal industry is reliably opposed to any measures to curb emissions, just like the oil industry. The health problems we incur due to coal are considerably worse and far more widespread than those due to nuclear to date. But we burn a LOT of coal to keep the lights on, because it's relatively cheap, not very labor intensive and less controversial somehow than nuclear. The media sensationalizing nuclear incidents is not surprising, but it skews the debate. You can find many films critical of the coal industry, most of which concentrate on infamous labor issues involving unions, although labor-oriented films are still suppressed by many studios. You can find many films critical of nuclear power's externalized effects, mostly about accidents involving exposure. Where are the films which talk about the external effects of burning coal? Of course you can find them, but they aren't nearly as popular as films like Silkwood or Matewan. But there is a sizzling image of a nuclear meltdown that is much more pervasive in the fears of most people than any thoughts of all the toxins they ingest every day from coal plants. Coal isn't a "popular" form of fuel, but it's where the money goes after nuclear incidents like Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, or Fukushima, as rare as those incidents are. But coal is slow death and mostly doesn't get the splashy coverage that nuclear incidents do, though it is far more damaging overall to many more people.
posted by krinklyfig at 3:09 PM on May 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Life in history these days is not just about numbers, neat little equations that would work in a Pleasantville sort of place.

But we do need to look at evidence.

How many people have experienced negative health effects due to nuclear power versus other forms of power? How much damage has coal and oil done to our ecosystems versus nuclear? I think when you look at the actual numbers, it's easy to see that the fears about nuclear are still overblown, despite recent events. Fukushima was very rare. Oil spills are very common- not so much in our Gulf of Mexico, but elsewhere they happen on a very frequent basis.
posted by krinklyfig at 3:13 PM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Or at least we have to be straightforward with people and say, here's the choice, you may lose a major city, or we can have global warming, or we can have conservation, depressed economies and eventually renewables

If those are the only three options, I choose the third.
posted by Bangaioh at 3:18 PM on May 30, 2011


I''m a huge proponent of wind power. But there's nothing we can do right now, without major technolgoy advances or infrastructure projects, that will cut into fossil fuel consumption as much as building new nuclear plants.
Yeah... I never said it could be done without major infrastructure projects. In fact, that's kind of the whole point. The question is whether or not the infrastructure projects are feasible. Secondly, the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant was one of the most powerful plants out there.

It had 4 gigawats of installed capacity, although they were working on an expansion. So in order to supply the world's power needs, we would need to build the equivalent of 3,750 plants of the same size. How does that not constitute a major infrastructure project?

Are these types of infrastructure projects unlikely? Yes, that's a political problem, not a practical one. So the question is which option is more politically feasible One costs more up front, but perhaps less over the long term. The other has the potential, however slight, to spew radiation everywhere and make nearby land uninhabitable for generations
Ha yeah, you're probably right delmoi. I see no evidence that nuclear engineers can add numbers either.
Maybe nuclear engineers, but specifically I mean people who say wind/solar are somehow 'impossible' while nuclear power somehow isn't. They never back up their opinion with any kind of numerical evidence, they just say it's impossible without any kind of explanation as to why.
posted by delmoi at 3:33 PM on May 30, 2011


How many people have experienced negative health effects due to nuclear power versus other forms of power?

First, I did not compare nuclear to coal.

Secondly, I for one have experienced negative health effects due to nuclear power. Late stage thyroid cancer to be exact, caused by nuclear fallout from 50's atomic testing in the US. Since being diagnosed I've since learned from a number of oncologists how tremendous the radiation fallout damage from Chernobyl has been - and will be in the coming years.

The devastation that happens in a nuclear reactor catastrophe is vast and sudden.

Human beings can and will find alternative energy possibilities that are not such a horrendous threat to either humanity or the planet.
posted by nickyskye at 3:43 PM on May 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


From a certain angle, panic about nuclear may be the most effective line of reasoning to get people to pay up for renewables r&d.

re: nuclear engineers -- I think they are more aware of potential safety issues, lapses in maintenance, problems with designs, etc than anyone else and much more so than idealistic internt nuclear fans. They've raised the red flags, they were the whistle-blowers and all of that information has started to come out only after Fukushima.

And that's part of the problem. The press is only feverish and hysterical after a major accident, but not when there's a near-accident or safety failures are uncovered or some such, because if nothing happened, there's really no story, until there is. And if minor failures are not reported, nothing's fixed until there's a major failure. And you can't predict how big it will be because nuclear plants are not under moral obligation to melt down just a little bit more than the last time so we can all adjust safety standards in time, they just obey laws of physics.
posted by rainy at 3:46 PM on May 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


The world is moving backwards.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 3:49 PM on May 30, 2011


Human beings can and will find alternative energy possibilities that are not such a horrendous threat to either humanity or the planet.

Much easier to say when you've always had access to affordable energy and all the benefits of an energy rich economy. Perhaps less so if you you have no access to electricity (1.5 billion people) and would like a hand up sooner rather than later.
posted by biffa at 4:08 PM on May 30, 2011


Much easier to say when

Much easier to say when handing all one's power over to corrupt corporations to make the decisions and not thinking about the problem until it's smacks one in the face with inconvenience, loss, joblessness, poverty, cancer or death.

Big Oil, Big Coal, Big Nuclear, Big Pharma, Big Food, Big finance, Big Corporations have been taking over the planet in the last half a century. Now these corporations are one by one screwing up, leaving the tax payers to pay for the mess in every way possible, bailouts, disaster clean-ups, entire cities and coastlines being devastated (New Orleans and Fukushima come to mind) wars (Iraq and Afghanistan) that have an agenda secretly in favor of the Big Oil corporations.

It's now a Big Mess. Definitely not going to be easy to clean up. The People - us, you, me- need to get riled enough to seek solutions to this and be active in making the planet better, not worse.
posted by nickyskye at 4:26 PM on May 30, 2011


Human beings can and will find alternative energy possibilities that are not such a horrendous threat to either humanity or the planet.

Much easier to say when you've always had access to affordable energy and all the benefits of an energy rich economy.


Horrendous threats to humanity means horrendous threats to humanity. These are matters that effect everyone, rich and poor. Saying that poor nations need and must have nuclear power (as your comment infers) is condemning them to the same potential horrendous disasters, with a probably greater likelihood of accidents and such due to less money to run the plants effectively, less likelihood of stringent safety measures in place, etc etc.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:32 PM on May 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


rainy writes "I respect that you said you accept the risk to lose a city. My biggest problem with nuclear proponents is that they claim near-perfect safety while in the back of their heads they think, even if the worst happens, you can always say newer designs are 'even safer' (love that "even"), or that 'that style of accident won't happen again because we're forewarned now' (love that "style")."

Well, that's how engineering works.

krinklyfig writes "Despite the dramatic incidents we hear about in the news about trapped miners every so often, the real danger is from actually using the coal as fuel."

And all the devastation from practices like topping.

nickyskye writes "Secondly, I for one have experienced negative health effects due to nuclear power. Late stage thyroid cancer to be exact, caused by nuclear fallout from 50's atomic testing in the US."

Is this kind of cancer only caused by nuclear testing or can it be caused by the massive amounts of radioactive material spewed into the atmosphere by coal burning power plants?
posted by Mitheral at 5:00 PM on May 30, 2011


Secondly, I for one have experienced negative health effects due to nuclear power. Late stage thyroid cancer to be exact, caused by nuclear fallout from 50's atomic testing in the US.

But if your thyroid cancer was caused by above ground weapons tests, then it cannot have been, in any way whatsoever, from nuclear power.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:13 PM on May 30, 2011


Is this kind of cancer only caused by nuclear testing or can it be caused by the massive amounts of radioactive material spewed into the atmosphere by coal burning power plants?

Fact Sheet on Fallout Report and Related Maps "A Feasibility Study of the Health Consequences to the American Population of Nuclear Weapons Test Conducted by the United States and Other Nations"

Cancer from fallout of just Iodine-131.

> "An estimated 27 million Americans have thyroid disease, and about 13 million of them are undiagnosed."

> "In addition to radiation treatment, exposure to radiation as a result of nuclear weapons or nuclear plant accidents, such as the survivors of Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Chernobyl, also increases the risk for developing thyroid cancer. It is important to note that cancer usually develops very slowly, often several years after the initial exposure. If you have been exposed to radiation, inform your doctor and be sure that your thyroid is examined on a yearly basis."
posted by nickyskye at 5:16 PM on May 30, 2011


Secondly, I for one have experienced negative health effects due to nuclear power. Late stage thyroid cancer to be exact, caused by nuclear fallout from 50's atomic testing in the US.

I wasn't aware that atomic testing in the '50s was due to problems with nuclear power plants. I am in no way trying to minimize what you went through, however. But I think it's important to clarify where the blame goes for something like you experienced, which I can't imagine happened due to a nuclear power plant meltdown.

Human beings can and will find alternative energy possibilities that are not such a horrendous threat to either humanity or the planet.

True, but the same motives which concern you about how we handle nuclear are pervasive throughout the energy industry. The real problem is that the profit motive has taken precedence over other concerns. Nuclear power can be run safely. The problem isn't actually nuclear power. The problem is that we allow business concerns to override civic concerns. This is the same problem we face in attempting to change over to renewable sources of energy. As long as the energy industry is allowed to continue in this manner, won't matter what you say about renewables because what will drive policy is what makes the industry the most profit, with the various lobbies (coal, oil, nat gas, etc.) vying for power. Solar and wind, much like well-run and regulated nuclear power, just isn't that profitable, which is why energy policy should never be established according to such considerations. In other words, if we get to a point where solar and wind are pervasive as far as energy policy, we will also be at a point where nuclear power can be run safely by well-regulated public entities.
posted by krinklyfig at 5:22 PM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


But if your thyroid cancer was caused by above ground weapons tests, then it cannot have been, in any way whatsoever, from nuclear power.

The fallout from a nuclear reactor accident, such as Chernobyl causes thyroid cancer.

Because Fukushima was built next to the sea the immense radiation effect will not just impact the three million people living in and around the Fukushima reactor, the quantity of radiation leaking into the Pacific Ocean is huge and expected to impact thousands of miles away.
posted by nickyskye at 5:23 PM on May 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think it's important to clarify where the blame goes for something like you experienced, which I can't imagine happened due to a nuclear power plant meltdown.

Hello. Chernobyl was a meltdown and caused thyroid cancer in many European countries. It still is causing thyroid cancer and will continue to cause thyroid cancer. And that's just one type of cancer connected with the radiation exposure from a meltdown.
posted by nickyskye at 5:28 PM on May 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


In addition to radiation treatment, exposure to radiation as a result of nuclear weapons or nuclear plant accidents, such as the survivors of Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Chernobyl

I don't think mixing in figures with nuclear testing and bombing illuminates a conversation about nuclear energy policy today. My dad had health problems due to radiation treatment he received for teenage acne, which is unthinkable today. This was also in a time when shoe stores had sizing machines which were really just X-Ray machines, exposing untold thousands of people to high doses of radiation for no good reason. Back then we were pretty careless about the whole endeavor. The problems with nuclear today are no less real, but we're not using X-Rays to size shoes anymore nor to treat teenage acne, and we are mostly past the age when we test nuclear weaponry above ground at all.
posted by krinklyfig at 5:29 PM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hello. Chernobyl was a meltdown and caused thyroid cancer in many European countries

I was unaware you were exposed to radiation at Chernobyl. That's what I was referring to.
posted by krinklyfig at 5:30 PM on May 30, 2011


ok delmoi, you want numbers? I didn't have the time before to go digging, and I don't have much now, but here's this from NASA - using kWh/m2/day=h/d, none of the UK reaches 5 hours per day in the summer, let alone the rest of the year. It drops as low as 0.5 in december and january. The mean across the entire year for london in the south is 2.6 kWh/m2/day, Ediburgh, scotland's sunniest city, is 2.26.

Yes, I do consider that to be way less than 5 hours/day.

I think you've also misunderstood the purpose of a national grid. It moves power from one place to another, it doesn't move it through time. So it doesn't matter if it's 4.5 hours/day in June in London if you actually need that power at 8PM in Scotland to turn on your lights when it's 0.44 hours/day.

Yes, Cameron has pledged 1 billion sterling to start on a 'smart' grid, i.e. one that can cope with power coming from multiple sources in unpredictable amounts. That's barely enough to put smart meters in every home. I've seen estimates of 20 billion sterling to refactor the grid for large scale renewable use - excluding the cost of storage, which I notice you also don't address. Pumped storage is relatively efficient, but it's basically hydro run in reverse during in peak generating hours, and as normal in peak load hours. The problem is where do you put it? The UK doesn't exactly have many places to add additional hydro, and we only generate about 1.3% from hydro, mostly in scotland. Battery tech is still pretty crap, in efficiency, cost per Wh, and size. And the best tech uses rare earth metals, which are already in grave shortage for their other many uses in electronics.

As for the costs of nuclear? Well, france has some 80% of their generation through nuclear. I presume they did their sums. They're also already building some of the newer designs, such as the EPR, two of which are being built in france, a third in finland and two more in china. The EPR in finland was due to be 3.7 billion euro, with an overrun of 2.7 b euro, so 6.4 billion euro to build, for 1600 MW generated in normal use (note, that's not peak.)

So taking solar, at 1$ per watt for manufactured panels - a reasonably generous figure for current subsidised small scale production. We'll also say, 4 hours day equivalent over the whole year, which is really fucking generous in northern europe (see above). So for 1600 MW, you need 9600 MW of generation to tide you over the other 20 hours in a day. So at 9600 million dollars in euro, that's 6700 million, or 6.7 billion euro just for the panels at cost, and assuming 100% efficient storage for free.

Yes, you have to factor in disposal/storage costs for nuclear, but you also have to factor in your actual cost of building the solar plant, plus the entire cost of your hydro plant to store that power for off peak i.e. when it's dark, plus you have to actually build the damn panels for that cost, and you have to bear in mind that your solar plant will actually drop to 1/8th of that average 4 hour generation in winter, so unless you have other sources, you actually need 53.6 billion euros of panels to maintain the same output as that nuke plant in winter.

There. Now you can't say that no-one has ever given you numbers. Now it's 1.30am here, so I'm off to bed. But yes, I'm sticking by my original statement, that in the real world, today, even accounting for cost over-runs, modern nuclear is WAY cheaper to build than solar.

posted by ArkhanJG at 5:33 PM on May 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


By the way ...

http://www.google.com/search?q=coal+radiation+cancer
posted by krinklyfig at 5:35 PM on May 30, 2011


The fallout from a nuclear reactor accident, such as Chernobyl causes thyroid cancer.

But didn't cause yours, making your claim that you had been hurt by nuclear power false. You were hurt by nuclear weapons.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:37 PM on May 30, 2011


Nuclear weapons - simultaneously the best and the worst thing to happen to nuclear power.
posted by Artw at 5:40 PM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Nuclear power stations exist nearly entirely because they make weapons materiel. The power they make is almost incidental to their true purpose, at least in the United States.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:49 PM on May 30, 2011


It doesn't have to be that way. The Canadian CANDU for example does not make significant amounts of weapons grade nuclear materials.
posted by Mitheral at 5:53 PM on May 30, 2011


Nuclear power stations exist nearly entirely because they make weapons materiel. The power they make is almost incidental to their true purpose, at least in the United States.

That's true, but that's a matter of very old policies going back to the '50s. No new nuclear plants have been built in the US for a long time, and the weapons industry isn't concentrating on nuclear missiles as a growing business anymore. Mostly we're trying to maintain and/or get rid of the ones we have.
posted by krinklyfig at 5:54 PM on May 30, 2011


But didn't cause yours, making your claim that you had been hurt by nuclear power false

What is to blame is the type of radiation that comes out of a nuclear reactor when there is an accident, such as Chernobyl or Fukushima, is the same type of radiation that comes out of a nuclear bomb? And it causes cancer.

Thyroid Cancer Epidemic Found In Eastern Pennsylvania Radiation From Nuclear Plants Linked With Disease

Pennsylvania has the highest thyroid cancer rate of any U.S. state, and rates are especially high in the eastern part of the state, which has a large concentration of nuclear reactors, according to a new study released today.

Reactors routinely emit low doses of radioactive iodine into local air and water. For decades, health authorities contended low dose exposures to radiation did not harm humans. But a 1999 study by the National Academy of Sciences found that up to 212,000 Americans developed thyroid cancer from radioactive iodine from above-ground atomic bomb tests in Nevada, which added low doses to the U.S. diet in the 1950s and 1960s.

Here's just one thyroid cancer discussion board referencing both three Mile Island and a nuke reactor meltdown in California.

Japan radioactivity could enter food chain, kids at risk
'For some individuals even a small amount of radiation can raise the risk of cancer'

posted by nickyskye at 5:54 PM on May 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


It doesn't have to be that way.

As far as the US goes, that's the reality. If a US resident gets thyroid cancer from fallout, that fallout is almost certainly the direct, downstream product of the American nuclear industry.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:01 PM on May 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Even things that seem all but impossible scientifically can in fact happen.

Finally, someone who understands my proposal for a Zombie Defense Agency.
posted by abcde at 6:11 PM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


As far as the US goes, that's the reality. If a US resident gets thyroid cancer from fallout, that fallout is almost certainly the direct, downstream product of the American nuclear industry.

If this is so, is the hope of getting renewable energy sources online less realistic than getting a handle on the nuclear industry? Is there no reason at all to try to make the industry better regulated and more accountable? I don't think it's going away anytime soon. Seems like some people have concluded that it's not possible to do so, but that the energy industry will somehow adopt renewable sources while setting aside their far more profitable and already established supply businesses. Keep in mind also that oil and coal are far more profitable than nuclear ever was, and there is a great deal of anti-nuke propaganda which originates from them.
posted by krinklyfig at 6:16 PM on May 30, 2011


As for the costs of nuclear? Well, france has some 80% of their generation through nuclear. I presume they did their sums. They're also already building some of the newer designs, such as the EPR, two of which are being built in france, a third in finland and two more in china. The EPR in finland was due to be 3.7 billion euro, with an overrun of 2.7 b euro, so 6.4 billion euro to build, for 1600 MW generated in normal use (note, that's not peak.)

So taking solar, at 1$ per watt for manufactured panels - a reasonably generous figure for current subsidised small scale production. We'll also say, 4 hours day equivalent over the whole year, which is really fucking generous in northern europe (see above). So for 1600 MW, you need 9600 MW of generation to tide you over the other 20 hours in a day. So at 9600 million dollars in euro, that's 6700 million, or 6.7 billion euro just for the panels at cost, and assuming 100% efficient storage for free.
So, unless I'm reading something wrong, you're estimating €6.4 billion for 1.6 gigawats of nuclear, and €6.7 billion for 1.6 gigawatts of solar. Right? That's only a 4% difference. It's true that you're not including the installation cost, but you're also not including the decommissioning cost which can be huge and really unpredictable as well.

Secondly, First Solar's manufacturing costs are already down to 75¢/watt, and they expect to be 52-65¢ by 2014.

So let's look at the costs given first solars costs right now:
In 2011: $7.5 billion, €5.0b, or 21% cheaper
In 2014: $5.0 billion, €3.5b, or 45% cheaper
So, by 2014 an a solar project equivalent in cost to that nuke plant would come in at just a bit more then half the cost of the nuke plant. And there's no reason to think prices might not continue to decline. In the 1970s solar panels cost about $20/watt.

(Again, this is ignoring the install costs for solar, but also the decommissioning costs for nukes)

So as I said, if you do the math then the costs for solar and nuclear are similar. Well within the same order of magnitude, and it's entirely possible then solar may be cheaper then nuclear at this point in time.

There are two things to consider as well in terms of practicality:
1) The costs for solar panels are going to be much, much more predictable then the costs for nuke plants. You can have a lot more certainty about how much it's going to cost.

2) Obviously, solar installs are going to be much, much easier to sell politically then nuclear plants.
So the fact of the mater is solar power may be more practical then nuclear power.
posted by delmoi at 6:54 PM on May 30, 2011


With nuclear reactors there is not just the potential for an accident, there is also the issue of the nuclear waste. Then the clean up when there is a catastrophe.

Human error helped worsen a nuclear meltdown just outside Los Angeles, and now human inertia has stymied the radioactive cleanup for half a century.

This press release — issued five weeks after the end of the United States’ worst nuclear reactor meltdown — was the public’s first notification that something unusual had happened up on “The Hill.”

For five weeks it was kept a secret. Tepco's and Chernobyl's deceptions had a precedent in the USA with the Sodium Reactor Experiment (SRE) meltdown.

...the SRE accident spit out up to 459 times the amount of radiation released during the 1979 meltdown at Three Mile Island.

Fifty years later, the contaminated site has yet to be cleaned up, although this month two federal agencies promised to plow ahead without the site’s current owner, Boeing. And in March, the Department of Energy provided $38.3 million in funds to complete the radiologic survey of “Area IV” as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Unlike the then-remote hilltop it once was, now more than a half million people live within 10 miles of The Hill, and downtown Los Angeles is 30 miles away.

Classic. A Big Corporation gets bailed out with taxpayer dollars, the mess is hushed up and regular citizens are put in danger, have to foot the bill in cancers etc. And who knows how many people were impacted when there was the meltdown? I'd never even heard of this meltdown in the USA an hour ago. This is 30 miles from Los Angeles. Incredible.
posted by nickyskye at 7:05 PM on May 30, 2011


Australia is still afraid of nuclear power. I don't know the science, but it seems like it's based on fear.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 7:08 PM on May 30, 2011


So, unless I'm reading something wrong, you're estimating €6.4 billion for 1.6 gigawats of nuclear, and €6.7 billion for 1.6 gigawatts of solar. Right?

Sigh. Read more carefully. You're forgetting about capacity factor (why does everyone forgets capacity factor). For the same amount of installed capacity, Nuclear generates 3-10x more power in a year. So take that 6.7 billion (or take your power bill) and multiply it by 3 to 10.
posted by Popular Ethics at 7:33 PM on May 30, 2011


Australia is still afraid of nuclear power. I don't know the science, but it seems like it's based on fear.

You know, friends, sometimes fear is justified.

Just. Ih. Fied.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:51 PM on May 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


What is to blame is the type of radiation that comes out of a nuclear reactor when there is an accident, such as Chernobyl or Fukushima, is the same type of radiation that comes out of a nuclear bomb? And it causes cancer.

Obviously it's the same mechanism. That doesn't make your claim that you had personally been harmed by nuclear power true.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:15 PM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


So the fact of the mater is solar power may be more practical then nuclear power.

At the moment yes, but remember as we install more solar power, we're going to use up the cheaply exploitable power and the relative cost is going to rise. Obviously that's not going to kick in until we start making a massive investment in solar, and I don't think there's even a debate here that we should be doing this.

But if solar doesn't scale to our entire economy, then what? Nuclear is the only thing we've done before that might be able to solve the problem. Fossil fuels threaten global, not local catastrophe, and nobody has ever, to my knowledge, made an orderly transition from a higher energy use society to a lower one. Maybe it's doable, but I haven't even heard a plausible idea for it. And if we as a species can't even handle making a society that can handle safely something that's pretty well known and everyone's scared shitless about, well, I'm not optimistic on that front.
posted by Zalzidrax at 8:40 PM on May 30, 2011


Obviously it's the same mechanism. That doesn't make your claim that you had personally been harmed by nuclear power true.

Jesus H. Christ, will you give it a fucking REST?

Your comments (and krinklyfig's) concerning nickyskye's cancer are obtuse, insulting and STUPID. Just STOP IT.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:46 PM on May 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


Sigh. Read more carefully. You're forgetting about capacity factor (why does everyone forgets capacity factor). For the same amount of installed capacity, Nuclear generates 3-10x more power in a year. So take that 6.7 billion (or take your power bill) and multiply it by 3 to 10.
Actually, you're the one who needs to read more carefully, because I'm not. The comparison was 1600 Gigawatts of nuclear compared to 9600 gigawatts of solar at peak capacity, and with an estimated 4 hours per day equivalent of sunlight. In other words, the figures for solar were already multiplied by six
posted by delmoi at 8:51 PM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Er, those figures are megawatts, not gigawatts. That doesn't change the ratio though: The assumption is that you get the equivalent of 4 hours/day of peak capacity.
posted by delmoi at 9:01 PM on May 30, 2011


Do they get a lot of magnitude 7.0 earthquakes in Germany?
posted by Eideteker at 9:31 PM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think they should replace their nuclear energy with atomic power.
posted by mazola at 9:33 PM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Do they get a lot of magnitude 7.0 earthquakes in Germany?
--
On 18 February 1756, at about 8 am, one of the strongest earthquakes in Central Europe, the strongest reported in Germany to date, struck Düren.[6][2] The hypocentre is judged to have been at 14–16 km.[7] It followed the 1755 Lisbon earthquake by several months and was the culmination of a series of quakes in Germany that had lasted several years. ... the quake was assessed at VIII on the Mercalli intensity scale,[8] and is today thought to have been approximately 6.1[2] or 6.4[8] on the Richter scale.
The Japan quake was magnitude 9.0, btw.
posted by delmoi at 9:35 PM on May 30, 2011


So we've completely given up on proving points?

Awesome. Did I miss the memo on correlation equaling causation? Shit.
posted by Sphinx at 9:38 PM on May 30, 2011


The Japan quake was magnitude 9.0, btw.

It's also worth remembering that the Japan quake happened a long way away from the buildings. As I noted in a previous thread, the maximum forces felt by the buildings were a tenth of the maximum forces felt by buildings in the Christchurch quake a few weeks earlier, and that quake was "only" a magnitude of 6.3. (Technically, it might even have been "just" an aftershock of the 7+ quake nearby in November)
It was really the tsunami that was the problem.

Pundits in the USA pointed out that most US powerplants are designed to withstand twice the earthquake forces as Fukushima, (with overtones of It Can Never Happen Here), but that still means a 6.3 quake - or 6.3 aftershock - can hit the best power plants with five times more force than they were designed to withstand, if one occurs sufficiently closeby.

I would think that considerably greater earthquake resistance can be achieved without too much fuss, but it would likely be costly, and nuclear is already very expensive because of safety measures. At some point, you either have to decide to live with nuclear accidents, or decide that nuclear is too expensive to play more than niche roles and special circumstances.
posted by -harlequin- at 10:54 PM on May 30, 2011


I'm running on memory of figures, but I vaguely recall that the forces on the Fukushima plant were pretty close to the maximum it was designed to withstand
posted by -harlequin- at 10:57 PM on May 30, 2011


It was really the tsunami that was the problem.

Earthquake, not tsunami, may have damaged cooling system at No. 3 reactor
posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:59 PM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Your comments (and krinklyfig's) concerning nickyskye's cancer are obtuse, insulting and STUPID. Just STOP IT.

Insulting? Excuse me, first of all don't presume for others, but how can that be? Her cancer was from nuclear testing, which is not the same as nuclear power. Although nuclear poisoning and cancer from radiation can be caused by the same material, when we're talking about nuclear power. How is my saying that insulting? You can't bring up your personal disease as a matter of discussion and be insulted when people discuss it. I've had cancer too, maybe even caused by similar issues, although to prove it would be difficult. I'm more than willing to discuss the possibility that my ideas are wrong or that my cancer might not be germane to a discussion about nuclear power and energy policy (not nuke testing policy, which we don't do anymore). You seem to be taking this far too personally.
posted by krinklyfig at 11:25 PM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Do they get a lot of magnitude 7.0 earthquakes in Germany?

Certainly less often than in other parts of the world. But the German nuclear power plants are not as as hardened against earthquakes as well. And we will not have a tsunami in Bavaria. But I believe this way of thinking about the accident at Fukushima is quite short-sighted. What has been made clear now for everyone is that if 1) the grid power is lost and 2) the emergency power systems fail you get a large scale nuclear accident in a short amount of time and thereafter are forced to improvise the response. The specific reason why the cooling system fails will be different each time. This may be a plane crash, a terrorist attack, severe flooding and weather or other events, possibly coupled with human error.
posted by ltl at 11:27 PM on May 30, 2011


I don't know the science, but it seems like it's based on fear.

If you don't know the science (or the economics, or the politics), then how would you know if it's fear, a practical attitude, a can't-be-arsed attitude, or what? You don't have any basis for your opinion, it might as well have been pulled out of a Weeties packet.

Personally, I'm in favour of renewables, but I can't see the world's existing nuclear plants going away any time soon. I'd love to see a global assessment of the condition of the existing plants, with the purpose of working out which ones need fixing or better safety or whatever to make sure they're as safe as possible.

Even if we decided that cost was not an issue and we'd be prepared to make renewables and nuclear as safe as possible - which one do you think would be cheaper to make safe? The one harvesting free energy with no waste byproducts? Or the one that needs to a non-renewable and hazardous substance dug out of the ground and creates waste products that stay dangerous for thousands of years even if there's no accidents?
posted by harriet vane at 11:51 PM on May 30, 2011


What has been made clear now for everyone is that if 1) the grid power is lost and 2) the emergency power systems fail you get a large scale nuclear accident in a short amount of time and thereafter are forced to improvise the response. The specific reason why the cooling system fails will be different each time.

Heh, an anecdote from someone who has been mentioned on the blue and worked in a nuclear power plant - it had triple safety redundancy - three entirely separate systems, any one of which was sufficient to do the job alone.
This was great, until they all three failed simultaneously, without warning.

Fortunately this did not happen during an emergency, it was just routine maintenance. A guy working on a conduit accidentally sheared the conduit, and until then, no-one had noticed that among the cables there, there were three unrelated cables, each one vital to one of the three separate systems, all passing through the same conduit. When that one conduit failed, it took out the main system, the backup system, and the backup-backup system.

Designing good redundancy in a structure which must inherently shares resources, is quite tricky. I love this example because I built things, and it's such a simple and obvious thing in hindsight, yet also exactly the kind of oversight I can see myself making :)

I guess that these days there is software designed to help produce more separation between "separate" systems, necessitated by the complexity of the systems.
posted by -harlequin- at 12:25 AM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


People complaining about Big Nuclear and Big Coal. Who do you think is going to be building all those wind turbines and solar cells? A bunch of hippies in a commune in Berkley?

Do you think there won't be a Big Wind or Big Solar? Do you think they won't be cutting corners where possible and trying to make a profit?

Or will you be totally shocked when it comes to light that solar cell manufacturers have been bankrolling civil wars in Africa to make sure their access to rare earth metals remains available and cheap?
posted by PenDevil at 12:31 AM on May 31, 2011


Or will you be totally shocked when it comes to light that solar cell manufacturers have been bankrolling civil wars in Africa to make sure their access to rare earth metals remains available and cheap?
Traditional solar panels don't require any exotic chemicals. Just Silicon with traces of Boron and phosphorus. The ones first solar makes do use more exotic materials (cadmium telluride)
posted by delmoi at 1:38 AM on May 31, 2011


Who do you think is going to be building all those wind turbines and solar cells? A bunch of hippies in a commune in Berkley?

A Mighty Wind. heh.
posted by nickyskye at 1:59 AM on May 31, 2011


delmoi: So, unless I'm reading something wrong, you're estimating €6.4 billion for 1.6 gigawats of nuclear, and €6.7 billion for 1.6 gigawatts of solar.

Yes, you're missing the entire last part of my comment. I estimated 9600 MW of solar needed because with an average of 4 hours per day, you actually need to generate 6 times as much power in thouse 4 hours to supply the same power for the remaining 20 hours of the day; 24/4 = 6. So that does not take account of capacity factor. The 1600MW nuke plant can actually generate quite a bit more than that - as I said that's average, not peak.

You also ignored, again, where I said that was the cost of the panels alone, not the rest of the plant construction costs, ignoring entirely transmission and conversion losses, and ignoring where you store the 8000 MW of power for the rest of the day. So even ignoring all of that, solar is more expensive than nuclear just for the panels - alone.

I'll say that again. You're not accounting for storage.

So lets play it your way. In order to supply 1600MW of actual power to london all year round from solar, how much does it cost?

Well, solar coverage is 0.5 hours per day in winter, so we need to plan for that. We'll start with 1$ per watt, then work out based upon cheaper solar panels.

So for 0.5 hours coverage a day, that's 24/0.5*1600 is the power we need to generate in that 0.5 to supply power in the remaining 23.5 hours. So that's 76800 MW generating capacity needed under worst case, which is only in use for that half hour on average, so 76.8 billion dollars of panels, or 53.4 billion euros.

Now we add the fixed costs; plant construction. Coal plants cost $1300 a kwatt to build; we'll reduce that, as solar need a lot less concrete for the a turbine hall - though copper is getting ever more expensive, so all that wiring is going to go up in cost, not down. That has to include cabling, step up transformers, buying the land (which won't be cheap, considering we need 512 million square meters of it, or 512 square kilometers at 150 W per square meter panel, and land is £0.5 billion a square kilometer near london, so that's £82 billion alone), transformer farm etc. We'll say they rent the land from the government dirt cheap, construction costs are low even with copper at 4$ a pound. Let's say a nice round cheap figure of 1 billion euro for labour, wire, transformers, concrete buildings, land, everything. Rather than the 98 billion $ it would cost to build a coal plant of that capacity.

So we're at 54.4 billion euro. Now we factor in storage - to put that power somewhere useful during the day so we can get it back later when we're not generating. Transmission losses in the plant itself and to the pumped storage facility; let's say 80% efficiency, which is very generous. We'll also say 75% efficiency for pumped storage, which is average.
So for 1600MW put in, we only get 960 MW back; 960/1600 is 1.66. So we'll need more generating capacity, so 53.4 X 1.66 is 88.6 billion euro of panels so we'll get 1600MW back from the pumped storage.

Now the cost of the pumped storage. That's $2000-4000 per KW, so we'll take $2000 per kilowatt. We need to store 76800 MW minus the 1600W that's given straight to the grid when it's sunny, and accounting for 75% efficiency, that's just over 100 000 MW, so I make that at 2 million dollars a MW for storage, $200 billon, or 140 billion euro. But wait. That only handles a single day's load. Let's say we want to store 3 days worth of power to cover a bad week, that's 420 billion euro.

So let's tot up.
1 billion plant.
54.4 billion for the panels.
420 billion for the pumped storage for 3 days.

So that's 475.4 billion euro for your 1600MW delivery of solar power in the winter.
But rare earth solar panels are cheaper than that, so let's do
54.4 * 0.5 dollars a watt instead of the 1$/watt I started with. That means it's now

1 billion plant
27.2 billion for panels
420 billion for pumped storage for 3 days.

So that's a mere 448 billion euro! For the same power as a 6.2 billion nuke plant. Or 72x more expensive.

But I cheated, you say! solar power in summer will generate more than that! OK, let's treat that as capacity factor. In summer, the solar plant will generate 8 times as much available power, as it's generating for 4 hours a day, not 0.5 hours.

So it has a capacity factor of 8, in june, and 0 in december.
Nuke has 3-10 capacity factor all year round depending upon how hard you push it. Either way, they're comparable. Except your pumped storage hasn't grown, so to use all that power outside your generating hours, you need 8 times the storage, or 3360 billion euros of pumped storage.

As I said, you're ignoring storage for when you're not generating. Storage is expensive, because you actually want that power all day, especially at night.

So if you're going to quote a figure from me as how much it costs to build a solar plant in northern europe thats the equivalent of a 1600MW average output nuclear plant that costs 6.2 billion including over-run, you need 448 billion euro for the whole plant, or 27 billion euro just for your ultra cheap panels and ignoring all the rest. Excluding over-run. Which would probably double that.

Solar is much more expensive to build than nuclear. Full bloody stop.
posted by ArkhanJG at 2:14 AM on May 31, 2011


Actually, I screwed up there. I forgot that'd I'd multipled up for transmission and conversion losses to the storage plant, and the step up transformer losses themselves.

So you actually need 88 billion euro of panels at $1 a watt, so assuming they get it down to $0.5 a watt by 2015, that's
1 billion for plant
44 billion for ultra cheap panels
420 billion for pumped storage

Or 465 billion euro for a solar plant with a capacity factor of 8 at summer peak, with storage of 3 days of power to deliver 1600MW 24/7 to the grid, same as the nuke plant that cost 6.2 billion, with panels alone that cost 44 billion even at 0.5 dollars a watt.

I wish it weren't true, and solar could beat nuclear. It just can't, not yet.
posted by ArkhanJG at 2:27 AM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also:

Traditional solar panels don't require any exotic chemicals. Just Silicon with traces of Boron and phosphorus. The ones first solar makes do use more exotic materials (cadmium telluride)

Traditional solar is more like 2 or 3 dollars a watt. If you're going to be using first solar thin film panels that are much more efficient, and thus getting you to your 0.75 or 0.6 dollars per watt, you need to accept that they use rare earth metals to get there. Tellurium is going up in price, and is used in a whole bunch of other stuff, not least rewritable DVDs, memory and fibre optics. It's not that bad compared to some other rare earths, but it's not exactly common either - it's about the same abundance as platinum, and we know what that costs. Mostly we get it as calaverite (gold alloy) from 'waste' impurities in copper and lead mines. You can't just go digging up tellurite deposits if demand outstrips supply.
posted by ArkhanJG at 2:37 AM on May 31, 2011


Secondly, I for one have experienced negative health effects due to nuclear power

This is the sentence that has several commenters' knickers in a twist. In the 1950's there were also nuclear reactors in the USA that may have caused the thyroid cancer I'm surviving.

> The final outcome of the MAUD Committee was two summary reports in July 1941. One was on 'Use of Uranium for a Bomb' and the other was on 'Use of Uranium as a Source of Power'.

Would it be reasonable to say that atomic testing for fission was part of the history of nuclear reactors?
posted by nickyskye at 3:22 AM on May 31, 2011


In Japan, a Culture That Promotes Nuclear Dependency

In a process that critics have likened to drug addiction...Towns become enmeshed in the same circle — which includes politicians, bureaucrats, judges and nuclear industry executives — that has relentlessly promoted the expansion of nuclear power over safety concerns.

He said many fishermen were angry then because chlorine from the pumps of the plant’s No. 1 reactor, which began operating in 1974, was killing seaweed and fish in local fishing grounds.

“They call it a nuclear power plant, but it should actually be called a political power plant,” Mr. Nakamura joked.
posted by nickyskye at 4:24 AM on May 31, 2011


ArkhanJG - your grid design (and figures) are silly. Wasting hundreds of billions on pumped storage so you can sell the power exactly when the market doesn't need it or want it and it's at its lowest value, is just crazy talk. In a realistic affordability comparison, there are things nuclear can do that solar can't, and there are things solar can do that nuclear can't, and you don't inflate the figures of one by ridiculous amounts by making it do everything the other can, needed or not, let alone without applying the same standard to the other.

Right now, the difference between peak and off-peak generation is larger than the entire amount of power generated by all nuclear plants in the UK. Therefore, even if all existing nuclear plants somehow disappeared overnight and instantly replaced with pure solar - and only photovoltaic solar at that - you still wouldn't be interested in pumped storage.

(But it would be much better to keep the nuclear, and have some of the fossil plants vanish and be replaced instead.)
posted by -harlequin- at 4:56 AM on May 31, 2011


Found this image of a First Solar install just down the road from me in Sarnia (southwestern Ontario). 80MW in 1150 acres, at time of completion 10/2010 the largest solar generation facility by capacity. Looks kind of like a farm. I guess to match a nuke plant's power output they'd need 11K acres or what's that.... 18 square miles. Which, well, is rather less than the amount of terrain left uninhabitable by the Fukushima disaster. And it doesn't have to be one big building, it can be kind of spread out. And lots of other "not a nuke or coal plant" things.

Sarnia. I was taken aback. Kind of shitty weather there, and: Canada. But apparently good enough to build a huge ass solar farm. I guess if they think they can make money with it, and put up a couple square miles of them in Canada, then solar panels don't actually suck. So maybe there's a lot of FUD in this thread? Huh.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:30 AM on May 31, 2011


Yes, you're missing the entire last part of my comment. I estimated 9600 MW of solar needed because with an average of 4 hours per day, you actually need to generate 6 times as much power in thouse 4 hours to supply the same power for the remaining 20 hours of the day; 24/4 = 6. So that does not take account of capacity factor.
Okay, what on earth are you talking about here? Are you claiming that to produce 1600 megawatts of power, you would need to buy 38,400 megawatts of solar panels? Because that's clearly incorrect.

The capacity factor is how much of peak power you can produce. With solar power the capacity factor is based on how much sunlight the panels get during the day. If you have the equivalent of 4 hours of full sunlight per day, then you need six times as much panels. And that's the number you came up with, 9,600 MW of solar panels should be able to produce 1600 watts year round. And the price would be about the same.

So yes, the numbers absolutely do take into account capacity factor. Capacity factor is just the amount of energy you get compared to the peak capability.
But I cheated, you say! solar power in summer will generate more than that! OK, let's treat that as capacity factor. In summer, the solar plant will generate 8 times as much available power, as it's generating for 4 hours a day, not 0.5 hours.

So it has a capacity factor of 8, in june, and 0 in december.
Nuke has 3-10 capacity factor all year round depending upon how hard you push it.
Dude, what on earth are you talking about? The capacity factor is a number between 0 and 1 (or 0% and 100%). Assuming 4 hours/day of sunlight on average that's 0.16, which is on the low end. Nukes have a capacity factor of 0.91 according to wikipedia. So this math is wrong. and you seem to have no idea what a capacity factor is.

Second problem: Where on earth are you getting this 0.5 hours/day insolation? you can look up the insolation by month for the U.S here. this site has a couple of examples for December/January with various mounts and you're still looking at perhaps 2-3 hours for Massachusetts, depending on how it's mounted, not 0.5. Finally according to this page you get about 50 hours of sunlight equivalent a month in the winter in the UK, or 1.6 hours per day. More then three times your estimate, which I assume you just pulled out of your ass.

so the 0.5 hours/day insolation figure is totally bogus

Furthermore, the panels don't need to be in the U.K itself, you can put them in the south of France, Spain, wherever.

Using the price of land "near London" is also absurd. U.K farmland costs about £5400 per acre (a record price), or about £1,333,800 per square Kilometer. At the actual insolation figure of 1.6 hours per day in the U.K in January, you would need 24,000 MW of solar panels. That's a lot. But in terms of area it's only 160 square kilometers. So the price of the land would be £213,408,000. In other words your math here is off by an absolutely insane amount. Even if it really took 512 square KM the price would only be about £682m, so you're off by more then 100 fold.

In other words: your estimate for the cost of the land is off by almost 400 fold. Seriously, I have no idea how you managed to screw that up. It's totally bizarre.

(And, keep in mind that a solar plant that can produce 1600 megawats in the U.K in winter can produce nearly twice as much year round. Or even more if it was in southern europe)
That's $2000-4000 per KW, so we'll take $2000 per kilowatt. We need to store 76800 MW minus the 1600W that's given straight to the grid when it's sunny, and accounting for 75% efficiency, that's just over 100 000 MW, so I make that at 2 million dollars a MW for storage, $200 billon, or 140 billion euro. But wait. That only handles a single day's load. Let's say we want to store 3 days worth of power to cover a bad week, that's 420 billion euro.
This is totally insane. If this cost is $2000 per KW, then the cost is $2,000,000 per MW and $2 billion per GW. So the cost of a pumped storage for 1.6 gigawatts would be 3.2 billion dollars. again, your sum is off by a factor of over 100 Seriously, how can you screw up the math this badly? It's just bizarre.

---
Instead of comparing the year-round production capability of a nuke plant to solar plant, you're demanding that a solar plant be able to provide power in the middle of the night, in January, situated in the U.K. And then for some reason, you totally, completely screw up the math by a couple of orders of magnitude anyway

The real figures, on a solar plant in the U.K that can provide 1600MW of power in the middle of the night in January are as follows:

Cost of panels given 1.6 hours/day insolation: £11 billion
Cost of land, in the UK : £682 million
Cost of pumped storage : £2 billion

So the total cost would be £13.7 billion or $22.6 b. Only about 3 times more expensive. And keep in mind, if you put that same plant in the south of France or somewhere reasonable, and pumped the power to the U.K, you would probably be able to get about 4.8 gigawatts out of it averaged over the whole year, day and night

Anyway, despite the absurd requirements, solar is only 3 times more expensive then nuclear. With a reasonable location, it's cheaper.

---

and beyond that, you totally, completely screwed up the math. You came up with totally bizarre, wacked out numbers when you tried to actually add things together, your estimate was off by over 20,000%

This is what I'm talking about when I say people who oppose solar can't do math.
18 square miles. Which, well, is rather less than the amount of terrain left uninhabitable by the Fukushima disaster.
1,092 square miles.
posted by delmoi at 6:18 AM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


OK, let's start with the isolation, because that's where we're arguing the most. You're the one saying we can replace nuclear or fossil plants with solar, not me. If you want to argue that solar is only going to be used 6 months in the year, with a nuke plant handling the other 6 months, then fine, but that's a different argument altogether.

Okay, what on earth are you talking about here? Are you claiming that to produce 1600 megawatts of power, you would need to buy 38,400 megawatts of solar panels? Because that's clearly incorrect. Well, if you allow for future panels at 50 cents a watt, and ignore transmission losses, yes.

I did not pull the 0.5 isolation figure out of my arse - it's from this data from NASA, that I linked and referred to earlier. December in london is 0.52 of kWh/m2/day which you yourself equated to hours per day. July is 4.7 hours/day.

So either you accept that a plant situated near london gets 0.52 isolation in december, or say NASA is wrong and draw another comparison with what sunlight massachussets get, so london MUST get more. Or accept that solar cannot generate much power outside of the peak sunlight, i.e. the summer months.

i.e. so the 0.5 hours/day insolation figure is totally accurate

So follow with me again. 0.5 isolation means half an hour of generation a day. To generate an average of 1600 watts output - averaged over the entire course of the day - you need to generate 1600 watts or the equivalent all the time, yes? If you only generate 1600W for half the day, and 0W the rest of the day, your AVERAGE generation is only 800MW. If you only generate 1600W for 1/48th of a day, you're only generating 1/48th of the daily total energy of a nuke plant operating continuously at 1600W, or 33.33 Watts average . 48*1600 = 76800 Watts, at half a dollar a watt gives you - tada - 38,400 W of DC power total at peak.

Now, since you don't actually WANT 38,400 W of power for half an hour and 0 for the rest of the time, you need to put the rest into a storage system, and trickle it out for the rest of the time, so you average 1600MW for the entire 24 hours. Obviously, you wouldn't actually have 1600MW at all times; you'd pump out more at peak use times in the evening, and less early in the morning. But since you can't just start generating power at the flick of a switch, but are constrained by when the sun is out, you have no other choice. Generate more than you need in your operating hours, and store it for use when you're not.

Then you factor in conversion losses (I've gone with 20% loss here), and storage losses, which is 25% loss, and that's how I calculated the storage requirement of 88MW. If you think you can site low voltage DC panels in FRANCE, and get the power onto the grid in London for only 20% loss, I want what you're smoking.

That is the worst case scenario, and what you need if you want to swap a nuke plant - which runs quite merrily in december - with an equivalent solar plant. If you don't want to claim that, then stop claiming it!

If you have the equivalent of 4 hours of full sunlight per day, then you need six times as much panels. Which you don't. You have 4.6 in london in summer, and 0.5 in winter. Yes, that averages out to 2.6 over the year (same NASA source), but the yearly figure is UTTERLY USELESS because power you generate and don't need in summer doesn't help you IN WINTER.
Or are you saying now that this hypothetical power plant doesn't actually need to run in winter?

I only did the price of land in london as an aside; but since you decide to slag me off for it, I got it from here. That's £5.5 million per hectare. 100 hectare = 1 square kilometer. 150 square kilometers * 5.5 million * 100 = £82.5 billion. But since I let you build your plant for 1 billion including land, that's kinda of beside the point, yes?

This is totally insane. If this cost is $2000 per KW, then the cost is $2,000,000 per MW and $2 billion per GW. So the cost of a pumped storage for 1.6 gigawatts would be 3.2 billion dollars. again, your sum is off by a factor of over 100 Seriously, how can you screw up the math this badly? It's just bizarre.

I'm not the one screwing up the figures. You don't need to store 1.6GW. You need to store 88GW (-1.6GW for half an hour) - remember all that power we're generating from those 76GW of panels that goes away once the sun goes away? You have to put it somewhere, if you want to use it the rest of the day when you're no longer generating. And since pumped storage is only 75% efficient, to get 88GW back for the rest of day when your plant is no longer generating in the winter, you need to have 114 GW of actual storage of which you'll only get 88 GW back. And you need that 88GW, spread through the rest of the day, to provide that 1.6GW average for 24 hours a day. And 100GW of storage*2 million a MW, well, that's $200 billion. And that's the storage for one day.

Or are you actually arguing that a solar plant that generates 1.6GW for 4 hours a day in summer, and 0.5 hours in winter is the functional equivalent of a nuke plant that generates 1.6GW 24/7/365? Because that's what *I* consider shoddy maths.

Instead of comparing the year-round production capability of a nuke plant to solar plant, you're demanding that a solar plant be able to provide power in the middle of the night, in January, situated in the U.K.

Yes, I am in fact arguing that a solar plant needs to produce the equivalent power, year round, of a nuke plant, year round.

That nuke plant can generate significantly more than 1.6GW at peak, that's it's average not peak. So the peak capacity is not 1.6GW, it can be much more than that - anything up to 10 times that. So yes, 3-10 times generation over average is not power factor, it's power ratio. Fair point.

For that london sited power plant, peak is in summer, at 4.6 hours; that's just over 9 times more, not 8 to be fair. Since we're fixed by what hours of isolation we have, that means we're generating 1.6GW in winter, and 14.7 GW in peak summer for our 88 GW worth of panels. Except you're not actually able to store all of that - you're generating 662 GW in those 4.6 hours, and you've only got storage for 100. So you're actually generating 14.7 GW for 4.6 hours, and 5GW for the rest of the time.

Unless you really do think not needing to generate power in the rest of the year when generation drops below 4 hours per day (which is most of it) is unimportant. And yes, yes, panels in france or spain. Now add on the translatlantic losses for your power coming from the med up to london, and it doesn't look so good. Hint - try 50% losses, not 20%. We lose 20% extra just getting it from scotland to england.

harlequin: Therefore, even if all existing nuclear plants somehow disappeared overnight and instantly replaced with pure solar - and only photovoltaic solar at that - you still wouldn't be interested in pumped storage.

Excellent. So when we turn off all the coal and gas plants too, we still won't need pumped storage? And peak demand will now fall in the middle of the day, not the early evening? Delmoi is the one arguing you can knock down a nuke plant and build a solar plant for nearly the same cost, not me. If you take that at face value, then you need a few hundred billion of pumped storage. Or you only run your solar plant for part of the day during low demand, and let your fossil and nuke plants do all the work in peak demand, in the evenings, and in the winter? Fair enough, but that's not what's being claimed.
posted by ArkhanJG at 7:33 AM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


So follow with me again. 0.5 isolation means half an hour of generation a day. To generate an average of 1600 Mwatts output - averaged over the entire course of the day - you need to generate 1600 Mwatts or the equivalent all the time, yes? If you only generate 1600 MW for half the day, and 0MW the rest of the day, your AVERAGE generation is only 800MW. If you only generate 1600MW for 1/48th of a day, you're only generating 1/48th of the daily total energy of a nuke plant operating continuously at 1600MW, or 33.33 Watts average . 48*1600 = 76800 MWatts, at half a dollar a watt gives you - tada - 38,400 MW of DC power total at peak.

OK, I meant MW, not W. But you get the idea, I hope.
posted by ArkhanJG at 7:38 AM on May 31, 2011


The real figures, on a solar plant in the U.K that can provide 1600MW of power in the middle of the night in January are as follows:


Cost of panels given 1.6 hours/day insolation: £11 billion

Assuming we triple the amount of sunlight. Where did this 11 billion come from? You don't show where it came from, you just plucked it out of the air. I presume you've ignored conversion and transmission loss.

Cost of land, in the UK : £682 million
Assuming we site it in farmland somewhere in the midlands, hundreds of miles from london (note, land near london is a SHITON more expensive than the average from your link). Also transformers, plant, and all the cabling from your DC panels to the grid is FREE!

Cost of pumped storage : £2 billion

Because we only need to store 1600MW of power! Because we don't need power the rest of the time the solar plant isn't generating? If a nuclear power plant is generating 1600MW of power all day, and a solar plant is generating 9600MW of power for 4 hours or 1/6th of the time, you need to store 8000W, not 1600W. And *that's* peak generation during the summer, not the low generation in january you claim this would cost. in January, using YOUR figure of 1.6 hours per day you need to store 22.5 times the power, or 36 GW during those 1.6 hours, not 1.6. That's a nice £22 billion, even assuming solar isolation in january is 3 times what it actually is.

I also note you've assumed pumped storage is 100% efficient, and the transmission lines are 100% efficient. Note - they're not.

If you're going to claim I can't do maths, perhaps you should get your own bloody figures right first.
posted by ArkhanJG at 8:14 AM on May 31, 2011


And haha, I can't do your figures right either. 36GW at $2 a gigawatt storage is $72 billion, or 44 billion quid for 1 day of storage in junuary, give or take. Whoops! Bit more than £2 billion though.
posted by ArkhanJG at 8:32 AM on May 31, 2011


point of fact: Sarnia has 80 MW of nameplate capacity, but only produces 120 GWh/yr of power = 14 MW (for a capacity factor of 0.175).
posted by miyabo at 9:05 AM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


I guess if they think they can make money with it, and put up a couple square miles of them in Canada, then solar panels don't actually suck. So maybe there's a lot of FUD in this thread? Huh.

Lets take the Sarnia installation shall we? In 2009 they increased the nameplate capacity of the plant from 20 MW to 80 MW for $300 million. That's $5/W. Wikipedia claims the capacity factor is 17%. So averaged out over the year, the plant only produces 13.6 MW. That means the capital cost is more like $30/W.

For reference, the Darlington Nuclear Plant (which ran crazy overbudget) cost $14 billion for 3500 MW, at an average capacity factor of at least 80% gives $5/W.

In terms of land use, to replace the average power output of Darlington (ignoring the other two Nuclear sites in Ontario for now) you would need 200 Sarnia Solar plants which would take up 930 sq km, or a full third of Lambton County, where Sarnia Solar is located.

I'm just comparing capital costs here. Operating costs are another matter, but they won't be so different because the labour is spread over a HUGE amount of power at Darlington, but only a TINY amount of power at Sarnia Solar. I also haven't included the capital cost of backup power which the grid absolutely NEEDS to cover for the plant when the sun doesn't shine. There's a raging debate upthread about how much that costs.

In fact, the only reason First Solar will be profitable at all is that the Government of Ontario has promised to pay them TEN TIMES the amount they pay for power from Darlington. That money shows up as a "Global Adjustment" on Ontarian's electricity bills, and it's the reason why our bills are soaring. To listen to the opposition, this may also be the issue that takes down the provincial government this fall. Imagine how much our bills would rise if we had 200 Sarnia Solars!

All this to say that the numbers aren't FUD, just a realistic total of the problem instead of hopeful dreams (or worse, subsidy conspiracy theories).
posted by Popular Ethics at 9:10 AM on May 31, 2011


In terms of land use, to replace the average power output of Darlington (ignoring the other two Nuclear sites in Ontario for now) you would need 200 Sarnia Solar plants which would take up 930 sq km, or a full third of Lambton County, where Sarnia Solar is located.

The land use argument against solar has always struck me as silly in the medium to longer term. A serious effort to use solar would mean putting them on flat and south-facing roofs, which would add up to many a square kilometer, before plating the countryside with panels.

Which wouldn't help much in Sarnia, as its rooftops will be under several cm of snow almost half the year, but I don't think anyone is expecting Canada to be the solar mecca of 2050.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:38 AM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Those are helpful expansions of the facts re Sarnia Solar.

Yes, solar takes up a lot of space. Canada, I think, has a lot of space, so the space issue isn't so troubling to me. One could put solar panels over water. I wonder how land area taken up by solar panels compares to land area flooded for hydroelectric dams. (Hydro has the advantage of running near capacity, to be sure, and also for flood control purposes.)

I don't know much about Darlington. Is it safer than the Fukushima design? Canada's not real big on earthquakes or tsunamis. If something goes really wrong, what do we lose within a 30km radius? Can we make more of these Darlingtons in better locations if it is in a risky one? Where's the waste going? I can check Wiki out, but these are key issues. A solar farm isn't going to melt down, isn't a national security risk, and doesn't produce toxic waste. Sure doesn't make much power, compared to a nuke plant, though.

Locally we have politicians who are refusing to take a leadership role regarding a rapid transit initiative. Their craven attitudes disgust me. I kind of like this Sarnia Solar thing because it's risky. It may not work out but we tried it. I think that's important. Leadership isn't politically safe, or necessarily cheap.
posted by seanmpuckett at 9:38 AM on May 31, 2011


seanmpuckett: Yes, solar takes up a lot of space. Canada, I think, has a lot of space, so the space issue isn't so troubling to me.

The space issue doesn't trouble me either, except insofar as it adds to the cost. There are plenty of very profitable farms in Lambton County which would have to be paid handsomely to give up their land. Over-water is a non starter because of the ecosystem damage. I would be surprised if there were 930 sq km of roof space in all of southern Ontario.

I don't know much about Darlington. Is it safer than the Fukushima design?

Yes and no. It is a safer design against the kind of Station Blackout and containment failure that Fukushima had. It has other risks though. Some Toronto suburbs are within 30 km. The waste is eventually going underground in Bruce County. Your point about the comparative risks is well taken.

Leadership isn't politically safe, or necessarily cheap.

Two reasons why I am skeptical that we can make a significant move to renewable electricity. When the bill comes due, voters will rebel.
posted by Popular Ethics at 9:52 AM on May 31, 2011


seanmpuckett writes "Yes, solar takes up a lot of space. Canada, I think, has a lot of space, so the space issue isn't so troubling to me. One could put solar panels over water. I wonder how land area taken up by solar panels compares to land area flooded for hydroelectric dams. (Hydro has the advantage of running near capacity, to be sure, and also for flood control purposes.)"

I wonder how many sq kilometres of highway we have. Designed right it could keep the snow off the highway.
posted by Mitheral at 10:08 AM on May 31, 2011


In Japan, a Culture That Promotes Nuclear Dependency
posted by KokuRyu at 10:22 AM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


In Japan, a Culture That Promotes Nuclear Dependency

Summary: Communities that have benefited from millions of dollars and thousands of high-paying jobs support nuclear power. Shocking.
posted by Popular Ethics at 10:37 AM on May 31, 2011


Because we only need to store 1600MW of power!

You don't store power, you store energy. You write a bunch of gobbledygook and I'm not going to bother trying to figure out what you're saying if you don't even understand the difference.

---
I'm not the one screwing up the figures. You don't need to store 1.6GW. You need to store 88GW (-1.6GW for half an hour) - remember all that power we're generating from those 76GW of panels that goes away once the sun goes away? You have to put it somewhere, if you want to use it the rest of the day when you're no longer generating. And since pumped storage is only 75% efficient, to get 88GW back for the rest of day when your plant is no longer generating in the winter, you need to have 114 GW of actual storage of which you'll only get 88 GW back. And you need that 88GW, spread through the rest of the day, to provide that 1.6GW average for 24 hours a day. And 100GW of storage*2 million a MW, well, that's $200 billion. And that's the storage for one day.
This math is so bizzare I don't even know where to begin. You're just spewing out totally random hours and you're not multiplying them in a way that makes sense at all. One huge problem is that you are talking about storing watts, which makes no sense at all. You store energy not power The $2000 per KW is a measure of how much power the pumped solar system can output, not how much it can store.
Or are you actually arguing that a solar plant that generates 1.6GW for 4 hours a day in summer, and 0.5 hours in winter is the functional equivalent of a nuke plant that generates 1.6GW 24/7/365? Because that's what *I* consider shoddy maths.
See, this is totally wrong. You put 76 gigawatts of power solar panels on this thing. So it would generate the equivalent 76 gigawatts of power for 4 hours during the day in the summer and (assuming your insolation figures) 76 gigawatts for 0.5 hours during the winter time that means, over the course of a day would be able to generate 19 gigawatts during the sumer, and 1.6 gigawatts during the winter

In terms of the energy created that comes out to 304 Gigawatt hours of energy per day in the summer (150 million dollars worth in a single day) and 38 GWh per day in the winter.

If you store that in a pumped storage system, and then pump it out during the day in the winter at a rate of 1.6GW, then you have a continuous, full time power of at least 1.6GW. Rember, the pumped storage system is measured power, not energy. 1.6 gigawatts OF POWER would cost $3.2 billion not whatever insane figure you're comming up with.

Your math is so wonky I have no idea what you're actually going on about but it seems like you are arguing you have to store energy based on the peak capacity (so if you have 88 GW of panels then you need 88 GW storage) This makes no sense at all, it would mean you were trying to store the energy you were not actually getting

To be honest, it seems like you don't even understand the difference between energy and power. If pumped hydro cost $2000 per kWh instead of $2000 per kW, it would obviously be very expensive. Still not as expensive as you're talking about, though. So honestly I'm not even sure I understand what mistake you are making there.

The other problem is that you are starting out saying you need a system that can produce 1600 GW in the middle of winter, and then you seem to be saying that if you built a system it would only produce 1.6 GW for a half hour per day. In fact, if you built a system that could generate 1.6GW on average in the middle of winter (and assuming the 0.5 insolation rate) then such a system would generate 76 Gigawatts for that half hour. But anyway, figuring out what mistakes your making is kind of difficult because it's so crazy and all over the place.

It seems like you're just dividing by as many large numbers you can think of, rather then doing actual math.

Also you're talking about transmission costs for solar, but not for nuclear.
posted by delmoi at 12:52 PM on May 31, 2011


Also, no I'm not in favor of closing existing nuclear plants, so yeah I would build solar in the south of France and then have energy generated by existing nukes go to the UK. I'm talking about for building new capacity.

But lets look at the actual costs of line loss, according to Wikipedia: The advantage of HVDC is the ability to transmit large amounts of power over long distances with lower capital costs and with lower losses than AC. Depending on voltage level and construction details, losses are quoted as about 3% per 1,000 km. That's about the distance between the south of France and London.

But yeah your math is really, really bad.
posted by delmoi at 1:00 PM on May 31, 2011


Here's a little tutorial for those who might have a little trouble following some of the basics.

Consider an ordinary 100 Watt light bulb in a standard light fixture. When it's on, it consumes 100 Watts of power. (The Watt is the SI unit of power.) Power is defined as energy per unit time. A Watt is equivalent to one Joule of energy per second. So the bulb consumes 100 Joules of energy every second. Another way to look at it is that if you leave the light on for an hour, the bulb has consumed 100 Watt-hours of energy. Or,

100 Watt-hour = (100 Joule / s) * (1 hour) * (3600 s / hour) = 360000 Joules

Ten such light bulbs will collectively consume 1000 Watts; leave them all on for an hour and they'll consume 1000 Watt-hours = 1 kiloWatt-hour (kWh). The total energy consumption shown on your electric bill is usually expressed in kWh.

(A Joule is one Newton of force applied over a distance of one meter. A Newton of force is the amount of force required to accelerate a mass of one kilogram at a rate of 1 meter per second per second.)
posted by Crabby Appleton at 1:32 PM on May 31, 2011


The rate of consumption of energy is expressed in Watts. The amount of energy consumed is expressed in Watt-hours (or Joules, if you prefer).
posted by Crabby Appleton at 1:34 PM on May 31, 2011


In electrical circuits, power in Watts is computed using the formula P = IE, where I is the current in amps and E is the voltage (electromotive force). So the 100 Watt light bulb plugged into your 120 VAC (volts alternating current) outlet is using about 0.8 Amperes (amps) of current.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 1:39 PM on May 31, 2011


I think this says 70% of the electricity generated for residential usage is classified as Electricity System Energy Losses.

Maybe encouraging the use of solar panels on peoples roofs for supplemental residential electricity can reduce demand from the grid, and your savings in system losses increase the efficiency of the home generated electricity by a factor of 3 (compared to grid power).

Seems like we might have some efficiencies to be gained from any system that has 70% waste.

Maybe then less coal, and less nuclear, and less waste.
posted by dglynn at 1:58 PM on May 31, 2011


Summary: Communities that have benefited from millions of dollars and thousands of high-paying jobs support nuclear power.

That's not what the NY Times article said, at all.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:32 PM on May 31, 2011


I'm fully aware that watts are joules per second. Given we're talking about storing energy in order to deliver x amount of power over a 24 hour period for both plants, I thought that could be skipped. Would you rather we work in joules, or maybe gigawatt hours? It'll make the numbers much bigger, but ok.

So over a 24 hour period, a 1.6GW nuke plant will deliver 1.6GJ per second for the whole period. So 3600x24x1.6GJ makes 138240 GJ delivered in that day.

A 1.6GW solar plant, operating at full capacity for 0.5 hours a day, gives you 3600x0.5x1.6GJ which is 2880 GJ. With me so far? Now, if we want the two to be equivalent in energy delivered in a day, that means you now need to increase your solar plant capacity by 138240/2880, i.e. 48 times the peak power capacity delivered for that period, i.e 48*1.6GW which makes, tada, 76.8 GW of solar generating power required for that half hour to deliver the same total energy over the same 24 hour period. Same result as if you multiply 24/0.5 *1.6, it just takes longer. So yes, you do need 76 GW of power for half hour, to deliver the same quantity of energy as a 1.6GW plant operating continuously. This is not rocket science.

Also you're talking about transmission costs for solar, but not for nuclear.
Yes, because that 1.6GW is delivered to the grid. Your plant generates 76GW of DC power that needs to be stepped up to HVAC, and then transferred to the storage site before it hits the grid. I thought that was bleeding obvious.


From wikipedia;
For example new generating capacity on the south coast has about 12% greater effectiveness due to reduced transmission system power losses compared to new generating capacity in north England, and about 20% greater effectiveness than northern Scotland.

So to go from northern scotland to south of england, some 650KM, you lose 20%. Now get across the channel. 3% my arse.

You know what, this is utterly pointless. I give up wasting time on you. I'll leave you to find out what the cost of storing energy per J in a 75% efficient storage plant is (bearing in cost of mind land taken up and size of dam), and then we'll argue over that in Joules. Except I'm giving up. There's nothing wrong with my maths. You just don't want to accept it.

You challenged someone to run the numbers of how much a solar plant would cost to build over a nuke plant. At 76 GW needed in winter in london, it's 38 billion dollars of panels that don't even exist yet, with a plant that needs no construction, concrete, steel, land or copper wire for it's 150 sq kilometer size. It needs no storage, it's 100% efficient to convert low voltage DC to HVAC for the grid, free to build, and it still costs 10 times that of a nuke plant that doesn't have cost over-run. You've criticised my maths, you've criticised me when I said northern europe gets way less than 5 hours average over the year - it gets 2.6. You've criticised the 76GW capacity needed because it's in GW, not J, and I've done it in J and show it's the exact same figure. Yet you still ignore everything I've *proven* right.

I'm done being trolled.
posted by ArkhanJG at 2:42 PM on May 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


You fail to appreciate the power of magic rainbow wishes!
posted by Artw at 2:54 PM on May 31, 2011


Since I'm the first one to mention Joules in this thread, I should say that what I wrote wasn't intended for ArkhanJG or delmoi, but for people whose Physics 101 might be rusty yet who still might want to try to follow the conversation.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 3:16 PM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


To put ArkhanJG's numbers in perspective: for a solar PV power plant in the UK being capable of generating on average the same amount of energy in the winter as a single 1.6 GW nuclear power plant, its installed capacity would need to be larger than the top 5 power stations in the world combined.

For comparison, the largest PV solar plant in the world has an installed capacity of 80 MW (compared to 76,000 MW), three orders of magnitude less; the largest solar thermal plant is roughly twice that.
posted by Bangaioh at 3:36 PM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Summary: Communities that have benefited from millions of dollars and thousands of high-paying jobs support nuclear power.

The point is that nuclear power plants distort the economies of the ruralities where they are located; speaking from experience, this is totally true.

While the local economies do very well because of higher employment, not only at the plant itself, but also at construction companies contracted to maintain the plant, and in the service sector.

At the same time, as a regional economic development cluster, the plants (in Japan) don't produce any kind of spin-off industries based on nuclear power, locally at least (although Toshiba and Hitachi etc do develop tremendous know-how into actually building the plants).

The knowledge remains within the confines of the nuclear power plants, so little sustainable capacity is introduced into the communities.

The host communities must depend on the plants; without them these rural towns and small cities are dead. It's not good economic development policy.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:55 PM on May 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


Probably the disaster with the cesium and strontium dust that'll remain for many decades, possibly several hundreds of years.

Dust? Heard of a broom, buddy? I'd like to see you try and sweep up an oil slick!
posted by tumid dahlia at 5:39 PM on May 31, 2011


I'm gettin' up soon in the mornin'
I believe I'll dust my broom...
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:52 PM on May 31, 2011


Dust? Heard of a broom, buddy? I'd like to see you try and sweep up an oil slick!

A radioactive oil slick?
posted by KokuRyu at 5:55 PM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


A radioactive oil slick?

Let me just give the appropriate sigh here:

sigh...

Shit just keeps getting worse.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:02 PM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


First of all let me preface this by pointing out that the math is way more confusing then it needs to be because ArkhanJG keeps changing the requirements. He started out with a plant somewhere with an average of 4h/day of insolation. Then he changed it to be in London, then, apparently he decided we had to compare it to nuclear only on the winter solstice, not over the whole year.

In order to determine if solar is more practical in the real world you would compare a solar plant in a reasonable location, and you would compare it based on annual power, power capacity at 11:30PM on December 21st. We use more energy during the day and during the summer.

He also completely screwed up the pumped storage figures in a way that resulted in being off by orders of magnitude.

Anyway, in more detail:
So over a 24 hour period, a 1.6GW nuke plant will deliver 1.6GJ per second for the whole period. So 3600x24x1.6GJ makes 138240 GJ delivered in that day.

A 1.6GW solar plant, operating at full capacity for 0.5 hours a day, gives you 3600x0.5x1.6GJ which is 2880 GJ.

That's correct and frankly I fell like you're pretty close to understanding your mistake! Because you didn't specify a 1.6GW solar plant. You specified a plant with 76 gigawatts of solar panels so that we could produce the same number of joules in the winter as the nuke plant. That's what your figures are based on.

Using your own insolation figures, in the middle of winter, in London a 76 gigawatt solar plant would 3600s/h*0.5h/d*76GJ/s = 138,240 s*h*GJ/(h*d) = 138240 GJ just like your nuke plant!

Now, it is true that I used 1.6 hours of insolation in my first calculation, that was based on this site which is the only one I was able to find while I was composing the post (and I clearly linked to it in my post) and they listed 50 hours per month, but I guess they were talking about daylight and not direct insolation for a panel flat on the ground.

However, you can actually boost the insolation per M2 of solar panel by spacing them out and aiming them directly at the sun. You still need whatever amount of land, ultimately but you don't necessarily need that many panels. If you can arrange the panels the right way you should probably be able to get close to 1.6h/day effective panels)


And just to be clear: no one has ever said that a solar plant with 1.6GW of panels can output as much energy as a nuclear plant with 1.6GW of capacity, no one has said that anywhere.

Now, let's get to the much larger, and much weirder mistake you made:
Now the cost of the pumped storage. That's $2000-4000 per KW, so we'll take $2000 per kilowatt. We need to store 76800 MW minus the 1600W that's given straight to the grid when it's sunny, and accounting for 75% efficiency, that's just over 100 000 MW, so I make that at 2 million dollars a MW for storage, $200 billon, or 140 billion euro. But wait. That only handles a single day's load. Let's say we want to store 3 days worth of power to cover a bad week, that's 420 billion euro
Then you made another version of the same mistake in another comment:
You need to store 88GW (-1.6GW for half an hour) - remember all that power we're generating from those 76GW of panels that goes away once the sun goes away? You have to put it somewhere, if you want to use it the rest of the day when you're no longer generating. And since pumped storage is only 75% efficient, to get 88GW back for the rest of day when your plant is no longer generating in the winter, you need to have 114 GW of actual storage of which you'll only get 88 GW back. And you need that 88GW, spread through the rest of the day, to provide that 1.6GW average for 24 hours a day. And 100GW of storage*2 million a MW, well, that's $200 billion. And that's the storage for one day.
So first of all it was 420 billion euros, and then it was $200 billion dollars. these pumped storage costs make up the bulk of your cost estimate, and they are totally nonsensical

They seem to be based on a misunderstanding of the difference between energy and power. 1.6 GW of pumped storage should cost $3.2 billion based on a cost of $2/watt. That's it. that's the big mistake your making here, and confusing energy and power. You also seem to be demanding that the pumped plant be able to output as much power as the solar plant at peak capacity, which is just downright strange. But it's hard to tell because the math doesn't make much sense either way.


---
The other problem is that you're basing this off power demand and production capability in the middle of winter. It makes more sense to look at the year round efficiency, because we actually use more power during the summer and during the day. It's OK to supplement some of the power with other sources during the winter, since the overall goal is to reduce carbon emissions by a huge amount, not totally eliminate them.

Asside from demanding that s solar plant be put in an impractical location. Why not just demand that the math work out for a solar plant on the south poll as well?
You challenged someone to run the numbers of how much a solar plant would cost to build over a nuke plant. At 76 GW needed in winter in london, it's 38 billion dollars of panels that don't even exist yet, with a plant that needs no construction, concrete, steel, land or copper wire for it's 150 sq kilometer size. It needs no storage, it's 100% efficient to convert low voltage DC to HVAC for the grid, free to build, and it still costs 10 times that of a nuke plant that doesn't have cost over-run.
Holy fuck dude. First of all, you initially specified building a solar panel with a 4 hours per day insolation, requiring 9600 GW of panels. The math for that works just fine on an annual basis if you put it somewhere sensible instead of the U.K. That was way back early in the thread. Then later you came up with other figures and locations and were spouting all kinds of stuff.

Here's the thing the goal should be a plant that can produce as much power as a 1.6GW nuclear plant in a year, not in a day during the middle of winter.

Your preposterous 76 Gigawatt power peak plant in london would produce 73 TWh over a year (given a 2.7 h/day insolation rate). At a price of 10 pence per kWh, that comes out to 7.3 billion pounds or $13 billion dollars in energy. So the plant pay for itself if just 5 or 6 years, even though the outlay would be insanely expensive

Secondly, the 3% loss is for a power plant in France, with electricity pumped back to the UK over a high efficiency line (or by substitution)

---

So basically there are two problems with your post.

1) you demand a comparison between a solar plant and a nuclear plant be based on the energy produced winter solstice only, rather then the whole year This is kind of nonsensical, and if you do build a plant that can do that, you end up with a ton of extra energy for the rest of the year.

2) Here's the bigger problem though you are using totally incoherent math to calculate the cost of pumped storage. There seems to be no understanding of the difference between energy and power in these numbers, and they make no sense at all. The cost for 1.6GW of pumped storage is $3.2 billion. You may even be able to fill up the lake in the summer in preparation for the winter if you want too, the cost is measured in power capacity, not storage cost.

3) All this talk about transmission costs is irrelevant, because they apply to nuclear power plants as well as solar plants. Building a nuke plant won't make power lines more efficient.

4) You completely discount the ability to move power from somewhere with a more favorable solar climate, like France or Spain for no reason. Whether it's a high capacity line or through the grid, it should be fine.

the bottom line is that solar plants in reasonable locations are cost competitive with nuclear power. Yes, it would be impractical to have a solar plant at the south poll, or Pluto, but that's not what's important here. The insane numbers you're coming up with are mostly based on the cost of pumped hydro which make no sense at all.


---
To put ArkhanJG's numbers in perspective: for a solar PV power plant in the UK being capable of generating on average the same amount of energy in the winter as a single 1.6 GW nuclear power plant, its installed capacity would need to be larger than the top 5 power stations in the world combined.
First of all that's a power plant capable of generating the same amount of power as a nuclear power plant at night on winter solstice in London. Not over the full year. If such a plant were built it would certainly be enormous 73TWh of energy, or nearly $12 billion worth (given an energy cost of 0.1 pounds /kWh). So even if it did cost $100 to build, it would still be able to pay for itself in less then 10 years.

It would be more expensive then an equivalent nuclear plant if you placed it in the UK but if you put it somewhere else, like the south of France or Spain it would be cheaper. Realistically, you wouldn't need pumped storage at all. Realistically you're looking at an average of 4 hours or more of insolation per day, not 0.5.
posted by delmoi at 6:10 PM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


A little more on pumped storage, the largest pumped storage station is the Bath County Pumped Storage Station in Virginia. has an output capacity of 2.7GW. The cost was only 1.6 billion so it actually only cost 59¢/Watt, not $2. There are some in other countries, but they don't have cost figures. this one cost $315 billion to build from 1969 to 1973 and adjusting for inflation that's 1.5-1.8 billion (depending on the year). Still less then $1/watt.

And anyway, Pumped hydro plants are measured by their output capacity, not their input capacity.
posted by delmoi at 6:19 PM on May 31, 2011


High levels of strontium detected at Fukushima
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:26 PM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Solar does not have to be equivalent to nuclear to be useful. Our energy usage patterns are built around coal and nuclear. If we switch to renewables, patterns will changes. Some industries are heavy users of energy, steelmaking, aluminum, shipbuilding, car factories, heavy industry, defense industry, airspace. Some of them may relocate to places with most abundant renewables. If energy prices rise in winter and go down in summer, energy use at homes will change correspondingly. More efficient transmission lines will be developed.

Yes, expensive, but... NHK reports:

A private think tank says the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant could cost Japan up to 250 billion dollars over the next 10 years.

That's not total cost to Japanese economy - that's just an estimate of cleanup costs.
posted by rainy at 7:04 PM on May 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


What is this crap about the iPad that always gets thrown around by people talking about energy? You're talking about something that can (supposedly) run for 10 hours on a charge. Things like computers and the internet use far, far less energy then stuff like air conditioners and cars.

I'm late to the thread, but I'm pretty sure the point about iPads isn't how energy efficient they are compared to cars and air conditioners, but how much the global economy depends on this constant turnover of products and how wasteful that is, not only in terms of creating garbage but also in terms of the materials and energy that go into manufacturing and distributing all this stuff. No matter how energy efficient these new technologies are, we always seem capable of using just as much, if not more, energy than we were using before. The internet itself requires huge amounts of energy to power, and that's only going to keep increasing for the foreseeable future.

We can talk about the pros and cons of nuclear vs. coal vs. solar and so on, but without serious conservation efforts we're just going to keep ending up in the same boat, whether we're destroying the environment slowly and methodically with coal and oil or in sudden, catastrophic bursts with nuclear, or with whatever goes into getting significant amounts of solar or wind power. The more the true cost of using all this energy is hidden, the less people are going to care about conserving it.
posted by wondermouse at 7:14 PM on May 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


High levels of strontium detected at Fukushima

It's an acceptable risk, flapjax. In other words, it's okay as long it's not happening in one's own backyard.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:35 PM on May 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


Delmoi, I think you're deliberately muddying the debate.
you demand a comparison between a solar plant and a nuclear plant be based on the energy produced winter solstice only, rather then the whole year
This was your premise:
Beyond that, running the actual numbers on wind and solar shows it's more then capable of dealing with our power needs. It's only random people who insist on saying it's not possible who never bother to back up their claims.
"Dealing with our power needs" means providing power where it's needed, all year round. That's why ArkhanJG used England in January as a measure. If you can't cover that case with Solar, what would you use instead? (hint: most grids use natural gas backup plants, the cost of which we're ignoring.)
2) Here's the bigger problem though you are using totally incoherent math to calculate the cost of pumped storage. There seems to be no understanding of the difference between energy and power in these numbers, and they make no sense at all. The cost for 1.6GW of pumped storage is $3.2 billion. You may even be able to fill up the lake in the summer in preparation for the winter if you want too, the cost is measured in power capacity, not storage cost.
The cost listed on Wikipedia is certainly listed by power capacity, but that doesn't mean there isn't a cost for more energy capacity. Lets run some new numbers: Obviously a pumped storage plant (or series of plants) of that size would be many times more expensive than Bath County, probably more than the solar plant itself, and that's assuming there is suitable geology close to the demand. I'm too tired to calculate the size of reservoir you'd need, but it would be a massive new lake (which would have its own environmental consequences). All this to replace only one nuclear plant. That's why ArkhanJG used the winter insolation numbers - it's more realistic to talk about storing power over the course of a day than it is storing it over the course of a season.
3) All this talk about transmission costs is irrelevant, because they apply to nuclear power plants as well as solar plants. Building a nuke plant won't make power lines more efficient.

4) You completely discount the ability to move power from somewhere with a more favorable solar climate, like France or Spain for no reason. Whether it's a high capacity line or through the grid, it should be fine.
This is handwaving. Nuclear and coal plants are built as close to the load as possible, so the transmission losses are minimized. You are proposing moving power across thousands of kilometers. To do that without losing most of the power to transmission losses we would have to build HVDC links from the PV installations to the Pumped storage installations and to each load center. That's a massive capital outlay.

Lets recap. To replace one nuclear plant with solar, we need to replicate a sizeable fraction of the entire US installed solar generating capacity, attach it to a pumped storage station 260x larger than the world's largest, and connect them together with the cities that will use it by HVDC lines potentially thousands of kilometers long. Capable? Maybe, but such a system would cost you much more than you can afford.
posted by Popular Ethics at 9:43 PM on May 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


Note that the argument is easier with Wind power, which has a larger capacity factor closer to load centers around the world, but it's still no good. The costs of dealing with the fluctuating capacity are tremendous, triply so if you don't want to use fossil-fired backup power.

I harp on this because I can't stand people who say *the man* is keeping us attached to nuclear and fossil power. There's no *man*, there's just dollars.
posted by Popular Ethics at 9:52 PM on May 31, 2011


"Dealing with our power needs" means providing power where it's needed, all year round. That's why ArkhanJG used England in January as a measure. If you can't cover that case with Solar, what would you use instead? (hint: most grids use natural gas backup plants, the cost of which we're ignoring.)
Which is why you use powerlines to get it where it needs to go. You don't HAVE to put a solar plant in London in order to get electricity to London, it's completely ridiculous to make that a requirement the UK and France are both members of the EU.
Nuclear and coal plants are built as close to the load as possible
That may be true for older nuclear plants, but I will bet you anything that new ones will be built waaaaay out in the middle of nowhere. They are not going to be built near population centers, at all.
but the minimum monthly average (in December / January) is 2-3 hours/day (in the South. It's less than 2 in the North). So lets say the average daily insolation is a straight line from 2.5 hours a day (a capacity factor of 0.1) at the winter solstice to 7.5 hours a day at the summer solstice (a capacity factor of 0.3) and back again.
This is kind of true but not really. It's based on a flat panel sitting on the ground. Ultimately that's how much sun you would get per unit of land not necessarily per meter of solar panel. What's cool about that site is that it lets you calculate insolation for various configurations. so if you go to the page and select January for the month and "horizontal flat plate" you get 0-2 h/day for most of the country and 2-3 for most of the rest.

However, if you select "North-South Axis Tracking Flat Plate Tilted at Latitude + 15 Degrees" you get almost almost all of the country showing 4 or more hours, with the north east getting

So the bottom line is that if you use a tracking panels, you can get a good 4 hours of equivalent peak insolation or more in the U.S. Not a half hour (and in fact I would be that a tracking panel could get at least 1.6h in the UK as well). Unfortunately the site is only for the U.S. and doesn't give you figures for the UK.

Anyway, you gave some figures but you didn't reach any conclusion about how much a solar plant would actually cost compared to a nuclear plant. So how can you say nuclear costs less then solar?

Finally, we use more power during the day then we do at night. That's just a fact.(here's an actual time/energy chart for ontario on 5/10/2009. here's a real time graph for great Britain, they need almost twice as much power in the middle of the day as at night.

So if you were going to use a nuke plant alone, it would need to have peak capacity close to it's average capacity (or you would need pumped water storage at night). On the other hand with solar you have your peak output when you have your peak consumption. and then NO capacity at night. But, if you only need night time capacity from coal and oil, that's still a huge improvement over the current situation. We don't need CO2 to go zero right away, just be reduced by a lot.
I harp on this because I can't stand people who say *the man* is keeping us attached to nuclear and fossil power. There's no *man*, there's just dollars.
Which is why I think the solution is a cap and trade system, and people will price energy based on how much it actually costs, rather then how much it costs if you allow people to just dump byproducts into the atmosphere. If it's the case that energy in the middle of the night is expensive due to carbon caps, people will invest CFL bulbs and other power saving devices at night. People will invest in pumped storage systems or flywheels or whatever in order to make money selling power at night, based on whether or not the economics works out.

I remember people back in the day talking about charging electric cars at night and then using the batteries during the day at peak time, maybe we'd see the reverse for power at night.
posted by delmoi at 11:11 PM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


A pumped storage plants output does not last the whole of summer. It lasts a couple of hours to deal with peak usage.

At night when base load plants (coal/nuclear/gas/etc) output (which is constant 24/7) is not in demand they use the night time surplus capacity output to pump water to a storage.

Then in the day time when they hit peak demand they can add the output of the pumped storage generators to the load and then repeat the cycle.

A solar plant will have difficulty with this because it does not have a constant output. There is no surplus output at night to pump into dams for peak usage during the day.
posted by PenDevil at 12:45 AM on June 1, 2011


whole of summer => whole of winter
posted by PenDevil at 12:49 AM on June 1, 2011


It would be more expensive then an equivalent nuclear plant if you placed it in the UK but if you put it somewhere else, like the south of France or Spain it would be cheaper.

Precisely. I'm not anti-solar, but solar PV in higher latitudes is a waste of effort. You use air-conditioning mainly for heating, and you need it most when solar power is at its less useful.
posted by Bangaioh at 12:49 AM on June 1, 2011


They seem to be based on a misunderstanding of the difference between energy and power. 1.6 GW of pumped storage should cost $3.2 billion based on a cost of $2/watt. That's it. that's the big mistake your making here, and confusing energy and power. You also seem to be demanding that the pumped plant be able to output as much power as the solar plant at peak capacity, which is just downright strange. But it's hard to tell because the math doesn't make much sense either way.

You know, this was bugging me all last night, trying to work out where I'd screwed up. I really wanted to be done with this, but what the hell, one last try.

Let's assume for the sake of argument that scaling up a pumped storage system costs nothing for a minute. That you can pump energy into it, the pumps put it in the gravity store, and then you pump it back out. You charge it at 1GW, you get 0.75GW back. Since storage capacity is infinite, you charge it for 10 hours at 1GW, you get 10 hours of 0.75GW back. That's the whole basis of your argument, yes? Well, except you're ignoring the 25% loss when you get it back.

Except we're not charging it at 1.6GW for 24 hours, and then getting 1.6GW back for the following 24. You're charging it at 76GW for half an hour. You are aware that pumped storage just runs in reverse when you're charging it? That you can't buy a plant capable of DELIVERING 1.6GW (with its infinite storage) and CHARGE it for half an hour at 76GW, and then expect it to deliver that 1.6GW indefinitely, because you can only charge it at 1.6GW for half an hour. THAT is my point, and the basis of the calculations. I also assumed charge ratio of 0.75, which is standard.

I'll say that again. If you're charging it for half an hour at 76GW from your solar plant (with infinite storage), then you need a system capable of delivering 76GW+the 25% loss also so you can charge it in that timeframe, because you're not charging it very much or for very long otherwise.

Let's do it all in J, if that will help. You need a system that can store 138240 GJ, to be the equivalent.

76 gigawatt solar plant would 3600s/h*0.5h/d*76GJ/s = 138,240 s*h*GJ/(h*d) = 138240 GJ just like your nuke plant!

I'm glad you agree with the 76.8GW of solar DC needed to be equivalent over 24 hours, if the plant and conversion to HVAC is 100% efficient. Now we're getting somewhere! Given that's the figure I came up with for 0.5 hours isolation originally, I'm glad you accept that part of my maths isn't actually completely fucked up, but is in fact, entirely correct.

So you claim we just need to buy a 1.6GW pumped storage system. So we charge it for 1.6GW for half hour. That's 1.6 x 3600 x 0.5. That's 2880GJ stored. We now run it reverse, and get 75% back. That's 2160 GJ of total stored energy. 2160GJ/s = 2160GW if we dumped it all in one second; but we can only generate at 1.6GW, so it takes us 1350 seconds to drain the entirety of the stored energy. 22 minutes. So we've managed to charge the system for half an hour, and get back 22 minutes worth of power. Where are you planning to get power for the rest of the day? Your stored energy system has run out of stored energy, and your solar plant isn't generating any more.

You need to CHARGE it at 76.8GW*1.25 for half an hour to get back the power at 1.6GW the whole rest of the time. Otherwise you don't put enough energy into the system to get it back all day. To charge it, you need a plant capable of being charged at 96GW for half an hour, to deliver 1.6GW all day. You can't just build a 1.6GW plant and say that's enough because that's the average power it needs to deliver for 24 hours. So you need a 96GW plant. Not a 1.6GW plant. But I've assumed stepping up from DC at the panels, running it through the wires in the plant itself to the HVAC transformer, and transferring it to storage potentially hundreds of miles (not many good pumped storage spots in southern england) for only 20% loss.

Now, the assumption of infinite storage is incorrect. Pumped storage can normally store enough water to deliver its rated ability for 6-10 hours, not 24. I'm assuming we're not using an existing hydro plant, because there aren't many in the UK, and they're pretty much all in scotland, and already in full use. But since we need a 96GW plant to be able to store all the energy we generate at peak, and only run it at 1.6GW on average that shouldn't be a problem.

However, storing energy for 6 months, by pumping it in in summer and drawing it out in winter... Well, you'd need smaller pumps, yes, because you can charge it for 4 hours a day. But you're going to need a really big fucking lake to store enough energy to delivery 1.6GW for 6 months. 138240 GJ per day, for 182 days... that's over 25 million GJ. That's quite a lot of water.

In fact, let's work it out. To lift 1L water against gravity 1M uses 9.6J, and we'll assume we get all of that back. Let's have a pool 200m deep, so 1 litre lifted to the surface stores 1.9 KJ. 1000L = 1 cubic metre, so 1 cubic meter of water at 200M up stores 1.9MJ. But since water at the bottom of the pool stores nothing, we'll take the average and calculate the energy stored in the middle as the average for the whole pool, so each cubic meter stores 0.95 MJ per cubic meter. we need 25x10^6 GJ stored for 6 months by the end of the summer for the next 6 months to generate 1.6GW, so 25 x 10^9 / 0.95 (note the switch from GJ to MJ for storage) makes roughly 26300 x 10^6 cubic m of water. Solving 200 x a^2 = 26300 x 10^6 for a, that means a lake 11.4 x 10^6 meters wide and long, and 200M deep, or 11,400 kilometers wide and long.

Yeah, that's quite a big lake to store the energy in pumped storage for 6 months.

If it still doesn't make any sense after that... Well, that's your problem, not mine.
posted by ArkhanJG at 4:51 AM on June 1, 2011


Isn't the 0.5 hours per day figure itself an average? That is, in winter the photovoltaic panels produce as much energy during the day as if there were full sunshine for half an hour. So storing the energy for the night would not occur only for half an hour, but spread out over the day as well.

But this whole exercise is silly, why would you consider photovoltaics as the sole source of energy? If you have wind power as well, the seasonal effects cancel out to a certain extent, as there is more wind in winter. But yeah, storage issues will be crucial. There are currently experimental plants in Germany to convert excess power into hydrogen and methane. Hydrogen can be directly mixed with natural gas up to 5%, while methane can power regular gas turbines.
Burning the methane would be CO2 neutral, as it captures the same amount of CO2 during production from hydrogen. Even if you assume only electricity -> gas -> electricity efficiency of 30%, it would make sense to do something like this before investing hundreds of billions of dollars into water based storage.
posted by ltl at 5:54 AM on June 1, 2011


Except we're not charging it at 1.6GW for 24 hours, and then getting 1.6GW back for the following 24. You're charging it at 76GW for half an hour.
Uh, no this is completely wrong. The plant generates 38GWh over the entire time the sun is up. That's the equivalent of running at 76GW for a half hour, in terms of the energy produced, but not in terms of the actual amount of power at any given moment (and btw, even in the middle of winter some days it will generate more, other days less, depending on the weather. 38GWh is just the average). Even on January 1st, you the day is 8 hours long. It's just that the sun is low on the horizon, so that you don't get much actual sunlight on the ground (this can actually be fixed by changing the angle of the panels, by the way - you just have to space them far enough apart so they don't cast shadows on eachother, but that's beside the point at this point)
I'm glad you agree with the 76.8GW of solar DC needed to be equivalent over 24 hours, if the plant and conversion to HVAC is 100% efficient. Now we're getting somewhere! Given that's the figure I came up with for 0.5 hours isolation originally, I'm glad you accept that part of my maths isn't actually completely fucked up, but is in fact, entirely correct.
The screwed up math was dealing with the pumped storage cost, which you were claiming was going to be $420 billion dollars or something. The 76GW of solar panels is right, but only if you are trying to build a solar plant that is capable of producing as much energy in London, in the middle of winter as the nuke plant.

Now, lets think about this hypothetical 76GW solar plant.

However, if you did built that plant, which again would be insane, you would actually end up producing far, far more energy then the nuke plant over the course of the year. Average insolation is 2.6 h/day if I'm remembering right so on the average day it would produce 205.2GWh, or about 8.55GW and it would actually produce 74TWh over the course of the year. So, at current energy prices the plant would actually generate £7.5 billion worth of energy per year. In 10 years it would £150 billion worth. So, even with the insane requirements.

In other words, you are comparing the cost of a nuclear power plant that can produce, on average 1.6GW to a solar plant that produce 8.55GW on average over the whole year. In a year the solar the plant generates £7.5 billion worth of energy. On the other hand the nuke plant gets you just about £1.4 billion. Because the plant makes so much more money, it can pay for itself within a decade or two, even given some of the more absurd cost estimates you came up with.

So although the solar plant might cost more then the nuclear plant it would generate more then 5 times as much money's worth of energy.

But beyond that, the 76GW plant is a completely ridiculous comparison to begin with. The first example, based on an average of 4 hours of insolation per day actually cost about the same. The argument you were making was "Solar can't replace nuclear" but the example is only about a nuclear plant at a very high latitude.

It's much more reasonable to build the solar plant somewhere else, and use cables to transport the energy.

So really comparison is only useful if you need exactly 1.6GW 24/7/365 and you have no use for any more so any excess generated electricity in the summer just gets wasted. It doesn't take into account usage patterns, and it doesn't take into account the ability to move electricity around.

(Another problem is that you're ignoring tracking solar panels, which can have a pretty big effect on insolation, so actually I do believe you could get more then 0.5 hours equivalent power, even in winter in London. But, unlike the U.S. you can't get insolation figures for different configurations, so we'll ignore that for now)

So two sum it up, there are three main problems with your math
1) you assume a 76GW plant is needed to compete with nuclear. This ignores the fact that power use is actually less at night. It ignores the possibility of simply putting it up and using transmission.

I did go through some of the math about a hypothetical 76GW, but I should probably have just pointed out that it was a silly comparison for comparing solar and nukes world wide.

2)You screwed up the math on pumped storage by a huge amount in earlier comments mainly by confusing power and energy. Throwing out a bunch of nonsense math in the middle of an argument makes it difficult to keep going.

3) And special in your last comment: you assumed that the equivalent of peak capacity for a half an hour actually meant running for only a half an hour, rather then a half an hours worth of sunlight spread out over the entire day.
Now,
However, storing energy for 6 months, by pumping it in in summer and drawing it out in winter... Well, you'd need smaller pumps, yes, because you can charge it for 4 hours a day. But you're going to need a really big fucking lake to store enough energy to delivery 1.6GW for 6 months. 138240 GJ per day, for 182 days... that's over 25 million GJ. That's quite a lot of water.
So what? Why would anyone ever do that? What does that have to do with anything? All you would have to do is build the plant in a sensible location like France or Spain, where you still get plenty of sunlight in the winter. Whether or not you can have a pumped storage lake that stores 6 months of power is completely irrelevant as far as the practicality of replacing solar power with nuclear power.
posted by delmoi at 6:02 AM on June 1, 2011


(erp, actually I used 2.7 h/day as isolation for London)

Oh, and you keep bringing up transmission losses for the 76GW plant, which is right near London apparently. I can guarantee you that there won't be a nuclear power plant within 100km of London after the Fukushima disaster? You think they'd risk having Westminster in an exclusion zone? With having the Thames contaminated with cesium 137? Seriously? No fucking way.

Transmission losses for a local solar plant (the whole reason it's 76GW is because it's local and has to put out 1.6GW minimum in winter) won't be any higher then for a nearby nuke plant.
posted by delmoi at 6:07 AM on June 1, 2011


OK, I'm stepping away after this. You can't have a reasonable debate if you can't agree on the facts.
Which is why you use powerlines to get it where it needs to go. You don't HAVE to put a solar plant in London in order to get electricity to London
Absolutely right. But the infrastructure needed to carry such a huge amount of power over such long distances with little loss adds to the capital cost of the solar plant.
So the bottom line is that if you use a tracking panels, you can get a good 4 hours of equivalent peak insolation or more in the U.S. Not a half hour (and in fact I would be that a tracking panel could get at least 1.6h in the UK as well).
Also true. But that tracking panel will cost you more than the stationary one again.
So if you were going to use a nuke plant alone, it would need to have peak capacity close to it's average capacity (or you would need pumped water storage at night). On the other hand with solar you have your peak output when you have your peak consumption. and then NO capacity at night. But, if you only need night time capacity from coal and oil, that's still a huge improvement over the current situation. We don't need CO2 to go zero right away, just be reduced by a lot.
Our exercise was to see whether it was possible to replace a nuclear plant with solar. If you need coal and oil for night time capacity you would be increasing CO2 emissions relative to a nuclear plant. Earlier, someone mentioned that supporting Solar Power is akin to supporting coal. This is what they mean right here.

Your point about electricity use being diminished at night is valid, but lacks any appreciation of scale. Sure the power use diminishes (by half some places), but you still need to supply that half. This is usually called "base load", and it's what nuclear and coal plants are built for. I'm not against solar (and wind) being used to offset peaking power, but I'm saying its unreasonable to expect renewables to make up more than a fraction (lets say 40% to pull a number from my arse) of the grid.
Anyway, you gave some figures but you didn't reach any conclusion about how much a solar plant would actually cost compared to a nuclear plant. So how can you say nuclear costs less then solar?
Trying to show the cost calculations here seems to be a bit of a lost cause. Instead, I will cite some recent cost experience:
Sarnia Solar: $5/W, 0.2 Capacity factor = $25 W generated average
Darlington Nuclear: $5/W, 0.8 Capacity factor = $6.25 W generated average.
If you want to account for decommissioning and operating costs, you need to calculate the levelized unit electricity cost. Most studies I've read put the LUEC for Solar PV at least double or triple that for Nuclear.
posted by Popular Ethics at 6:55 AM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you need coal and oil for night time capacity you would be increasing CO2 emissions relative to a nuclear plant. Earlier, someone mentioned that supporting Solar Power is akin to supporting coal. This is what they mean right here.

Except that renewables will replace not just nuclear but also coal. The problem with nuclear is that you can't just run it for a few hours a day at peak use and reduce the probability of accident. With coal or gas, you can run them only a few hours a day and reduce CO2 emissions very significantly. We can agree that replacing a nuclear plant with equivalent capacity of coal plants is not a bright idea but that's not what we're talking about.

This will be a gradual process and transmission technology and usage patterns will adapt to quirks of each particular renewables tech in the area.
posted by rainy at 7:24 AM on June 1, 2011


With coal or gas, you can run them only a few hours a day and reduce CO2 emissions very significantly.

You can not shut down a coal fired plant for a few hours every night.
posted by PenDevil at 7:30 AM on June 1, 2011


Absolutely right. But the infrastructure needed to carry such a huge amount of power over such long distances with little loss adds to the capital cost of the solar plant.
So does the decommissioning costs of nuclear, as well as the costs of actually running the thing which nuke proponents are ignoring. At a certain point, you just have to use numbers.

Secondly, we're talking about two separate things here: power losses on a hypothetical 76GW plant vs. a nuclear plant or hypothetical losses on a 9.6GW plant situated somewhere reasonable.
Also true. But that tracking panel will cost you more than the stationary one again.
Maybe. But the conversation kind of derailed by talking about this 76GW plant. I agree putting a plant in London is not going to be as practical as putting a nuclear plant there, but I guarantee you that politically, putting a Nuke plant there won't happen politically. Keep in mind Fukushima was built to supply power to Tokyo and it was hundreds of km away
Earlier, someone mentioned that supporting Solar Power is akin to supporting coal. This is what they mean right here.


And no I'm not opposed to coal (or natural gas) for now if a cap and trade system is put in place and energy is priced accordingly. A small amount of CO2 isn't as big of a problem in terms of global warming to compared to what we're putting out now. I'm not saying that the overall baseline load will have to go down. And I'm not trying to argue that it's practical to replace a nuke plant with a solar plant and expect that the nighttime cost of energy to stay the same. But keep in mind that factories and stuff often use power at night because it's cheaper.
You can not shut down a coal fired plant for a few hours every night.
If electricity at night is more expensive then electricity during the day, and coal plants are expensive to run due to a requirement to buy carbon credits, then people will definitely figure it out. Natural gas is also a possibility.

So let me be clear about what I'm trying to argue here: I think global warming can be stopped if we concentrate on wind, solar and other renewables for now. It may be possible that we'll have more energy during the day, which is when you need it anyway then at night compared to nuclear. That's a small problem compared to the political problems (and potential safety problems) with nuclear energy.

The other part of my argument is to push back against people who say it's IMPOSSIBLE that nuclear power plants can be replaced by solar. In most places in the world, the costs should be about the same. For places with a really high latitude, like the U.K a nuke plant might be cheaper, but not significantly cheaper then building a solar plant somewhere else and pumping the electricity in.

We're not talking about anything that's infeasible here. It's entirely practical and potentially cheaper for most of the world. Even kind of ridiculous ideas like the 76Gw plant in London are not infeasible on their own, but rather just not cost effective compared to other options.

posted by delmoi at 4:42 PM on June 1, 2011


Ugh, crap, missed my </i>.
posted by delmoi at 4:43 PM on June 1, 2011


But the infrastructure needed to carry such a huge amount of power over such long distances with little loss adds to the capital cost of the solar plant.

Question: I've heard (or read) a similar argument to this before regarding alternative sources of energy (vs nuclear), and am not as well read on the topic here as others, so please just humor me if this is a stupid question but here goes nothing:

Does alternative sources of energy require an entirely new electrical grid? I mean, they can use some of the miles of infrastructure that is already in place, right?
posted by dabitch at 11:55 AM on June 2, 2011


Some reading suggests that for long distance transmission (e.g. from a remote/isolated nuke plant to the points of use), high-voltage DC is becoming quite popular as its losses are much less than a comparable AC line. We're talking 1000 kilometres, 500KV, power handling of 3GW. China's a big fan of these it seems, and they have another advantage: they can bridge power between 60hz and 50hz systems so countries with different base frequencies and voltages can still be on the same grid, which is great for redundancy.

I can kind of imagine a bunch of nukes in the middle of the Canadian Shield, or the Nevada deserts, or in the middle of some crater lake where fuckall has happened for the last million years and a spiderweb of HVDC lines ranging outwards tapping off 20 or 30GW of power. But that's crazy talk.
posted by seanmpuckett at 1:04 PM on June 2, 2011


Mixed News on Fukushima
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:59 PM on June 2, 2011


Radioactivity of materials released in Fukushima nuclear crisis revised upward
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:54 AM on June 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Here's a good one:

Incineration of rubble OK'd amid radiation risk

Basically, radioactive debris is being shipped around Japan, notably to Osaka and Kyoto, for incineration. My wife cynically observes that the government wants to make everything "equal" so that all parts of Japan have a chance to be ruined.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:31 PM on June 6, 2011


Another good one:

Plutonium found in soil at Okuma
posted by KokuRyu at 5:32 PM on June 6, 2011


BBC: Japan doubles Fukushima radiation leak estimate

This article also includes a 10-part graphic demonstrating in very simple terms what's happened since March 11.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:50 AM on June 7, 2011


Guardian: Fukushima nuclear plant may have suffered 'melt-through', Japan admits
posted by flapjax at midnite at 1:21 AM on June 8, 2011


« Older The Doctor will buss a cap directly into yo' ass...  |  Jonathan Franzen's essay, exce... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments