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Energy in the 21st Century: Tuf Voyaging Ahead

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Posted (edited)

I couldn't help but invoke one of my favorite works of Martin, Tuf Voyaging for the title. There's a running story in that collection of a race of aliens who engage in unrestrained breeding and regularly run into barriers of a Malthusian nature, which seemed very appropriate here.

Anyway, I don't think I have to make the case of the gravity of anthropogenic global warming on this forum. It's something that needs to be dealt with. A lot of you are probably familiar with the numbers. 51 billion tons of greenhouse gasses are emitted every year, and that number appears very likely to continue to climb, as the world population rapidly grows and people of underdeveloped nations achieve an improved quality of life.

There are a lot of contributors to greenhouse gas emissions (manufacture of goods, agriculture, etc.), but I would like to focus on the matter of transportation and electricity generation from power plants - or the roughly 50% of the 51 billion tons of annually emitted greenhouse gases.

I'll show my hand right away. I honestly believe that there is no pathway forward without a combination of nuclear and renewables, and electric vehicles. I can get into my reasoning if anyone is interested, but I would rather read what everyone here thinks. I'm particularly interested in those who disagree with me: I may be wrong in many of my ideas, and it would be wonderful if someone could provide insight that had not previously occurred to me.

There seem to be plenty of intelligent, well educated people here, so I'm very interested in your views. I hope this will be an educational discussion!

Edited by IFR

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The problem with nuclear is that it's too late.

We could have gone with a nuclear option if, say, Al Gore was POTUS and made that a big deal. But 20 years have gone by. It takes roughly 15 years for a nuke plant to go from planning to actually operational, and we simply do not have that time. We need cleaner energy right now, we need to reduce things massively right now, and nuclear is simply too slow. In addition to that, wind and solar are really, really fast to implement. That wasn't the case 20 years ago, but it is now, and we can put massive wind and solar power into effect in 3-5 years depending on the size and location of the project.

The real problem is that it doesn't matter because governments don't have the political will and humans suck at dealing with long term risk. I've talked previously about this requiring not a scientific consensus or good planning - what it requires is the kind of will that you get from massive authoritarian rule or religions. We're not going to get that. We saw what the world does in the face of a virus that kills people; what makes you think that they'll change their habits for a nebulous threat 20 years down the road?

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I ran a back of the envelope calculation on oil reserves back in the 1980's.  Couldn't quite believe what I was looking at: basically the numbers said we were going to be screwed big time circa 2025 - 2030.  Ran them a second time, allowing for some really big oil discoveries, conservation, and whatnot.  Still couldn't push the time of reckoning much past 2040-2050.  Kept tabs on this issue on and off since those days.  Realized I'd screwed up in a few places.  Didn't allow for the likes of the oil-tar sands in Canada, or for the whole energy efficiency thing taking off to the extent it did.  On the other hand, I way underestimated the industrial growth in China and India.  On balance, though, the time frame in the revised version of my original calculation is probably pretty close: come 2040-2050 we got serious problems.

There is no full replacement for fossil fuels that will keep civilization going 'as is.'

Alternatives - including 'biofuels' - can keep things going, but at a reduced energy allotment from what we now have.  Large scale nuclear power - not happening.  

I see the middle and outer reaches of suburbia going away because of energy and transport issues, becoming a realm of retirees, richer folks, and criminals.  (already happening hereabouts)

I see a huge number of solar powered appliances taking off big time.

Airline travel will go into decline.

Fresh fruits and veggies from far away lands will become scarcer or more expensive at the grocery stores.

The entire mainline railway system in the US needs to be expanded, double tracked, and electrified.  

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@Karlbear

I agree with much of what you say. I'll go further, and suggest that you are understating the obstacles of transitioning from fossil fuels to nuclear fission.

In addition to the time frame problems, there is also the tendency of nuclear plants to run wildly over budget. The capital costs of a major nuclear facility that runs >1 gigawatt electric is significant. Part of this is due to frequent policy changes and changes in regulations that protracts construction time. But unlike what many advocates of nuclear energy will admit, a significant cause of cost overrun is the drop in on site labor productivity, which cause frequent on site procedural changes during construction.

Additionally, proliferation issues will always accompany nuclear energy. The dirty bomb or broken arrow scenario are extremely unlikely. And as far as a terrorist group constructing their own nuclear bomb, while one should always be careful in calling a hypothetical impossible, that hypothetical very nearly is. However, proliferation on a state level is a very real concern. Nuclear non-proliferation safeguards and International Atomic Energy Agency inspections are only as effective as letting the world know a nation's intentions regarding proliferation, and even then it's not foolproof. Centrifuge technology has made circumventing NPT safeguards considerably easier, and the possible development of laser isotope separation technology would make it even easier.

Furthermore, on the front of reprocessing, while there are developments to ensure safeguards from plutonium acquisition (such as electrochemical pyroprocessing, which delivers fuel that can be utilized in reactors, but would be useless for weapons purposes), and advanced reactor developments that ensure the spent nuclear fuel is very difficult to convert to weapons, these are all measures that are still vulnerable to circumvention by countries interested in doing so. IAEA inspections serve as a significant barrier, but there is a real possibility that if non-weapons countries decide they want nukes even at the risk of world pressure and international sanctions, they'll be able to acquire them.

And, of course, public perception is a serious problem. Republicans have served as a constant obstacle to transitioning to non-carbon emitting energy sources, often engaging in denials of climate change, etc. And they are the party more amenable to nuclear energy. Democrats are the greatest barrier, which is ironic since Democrats profess an interest in environmentalism, yet shun their greatest hope to achieve that end. The public is equipped with a very poor understanding of radiation and its effects, and along with other matters of nuclear energy. This creates real problems to the extent that the Democratic party cannot recognize its biggest ally.

Which leads me to your final paragraph, which I fully agree with. Globally, there is far too much inertia to expect radical changes in the near future. Anyone who thinks that the world will avoid the scenario of an average global temperature 2 C above pre-industrial levels is wildly optimistic. We'll go above that; probably way above that - in the coming decades, civilization is going to encounter some of the most significant changes humans have experience in a very long time. The real question is whether the world can avoid going above 4 to 5 C over pre-industrial levels by 2100.

This is where nuclear and solar and wind energy will come in to play, because the question isn't whether severe climate effects and the consequent cascade of events will occur. They will. The question is to what extent will humans be able to mitigate them, and this is a more long term proposal.

Every year the world consumes 4 billion barrels of crude oil (a barrel contains 42 gallons) to generate around 600 quadrillion BTUs of energy. Wind and solar are not technologically capable of generating this kind of energy alone. There are several reasons. Power density is a factor. Solar supplies 5-20 watts/square meter. Wind supplies just 1-2 watts/square meter. Nuclear supplies 500-1000 watts/square meter. Wind and solar will require a very amount of space. You and I both agree that inertia with respect to policy means that the societies of the world will be experiencing many of the predicted detrimental effects of climate change before any real action is taken. A lot of places will become inhabitable. This won't be apocalyptic, but it will mean that land area will become a more valuable resource, and having thousands of square miles worth of wind and solar farms will be problematic.

Another problem is the intermittency of the energy source. Wind and solar depend on whether there is wind and sun. This is fine for some places all year long, but other places will have a far greater difficulty adapting this. Batteries exist for storage, but unfortunately for all of us, improvement in the number of cycles and storage capacity of batteries has proven to be a major technical difficulty. Improvements have been achingly increment over the last few decades, even with batteries such as the lithium ion battery. One can develop a battery that is fairly good at short term storage, but what about storage for several months, for energy to be saved until the batteries undergo extensive and exclusive use during winter times. A mid-sized city requires 1 gigawatt of steady power. Are we going to manage batteries that can supply 13 trillion kilowatt hours for a single city? And also consider the areas that do not generate significant wind or solar for most of the year. A massive unified power grid must be erected to transmit energy from one region of the country to another. This will necessarily be an incredible undertaking, that will endure political resistance for many years, perhaps decades.

Additionally, the extent of developing such a large infrastructure of wind and solar will be hugely damaging to the environment. Solar energy requires about 16 thousand tons of concrete, steel, glass, and other materials (the creation of which is a significant contributor to greenhouse gasses) per terawatt hour. Wind requires about 10 thousand tons. Nuclear requires about 1 thousand tons. In terms of both area, material conservation, and energy density nuclear is highly advantageous.

Also, finally, regarding cost and time scale: even those are not as bad as they look. It's not necessary to build one large reactor that produces energy on the scale of gigawatts. Small modular reactors and microreactors capable of a few dozen megawatts have proven designs, and their construction would have much reduced time and costs. They also would have some very nice passive safety features. Scram a 3 gigawatt large reactor, and you still have to deal with about 210 megawatts of thermal energy (or 5.25 million incandescent light bulbs of heat per second). Diffusing this heat is a serious technical problem. However, there are small modular reactors, like NuScale for instance, that are submerged in a pool and can easily diffuse the heat through natural convection.

Anyway, this post has gone on way longer than I intended.

@ThinkerX

Very interesting post! Can you provide your method of calculations?

 

Edited by IFR
I list of lot of facts and figures. I primarily draw from Bill Gates' latest book How to Avoid a Climate Disaster. I alos draw from the EIA, the IPCC, the IAEA, and the NRC.

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In a time of absolute global warming, water shortages, the vast changes in all sort of water condition, including the slowing down of the Gulf Current -- nuclear plants that depend on water coooling shouldn't even be thought about and should be shut down asap.

Nuclear is the opposite of smart thinking for the future and power.

 

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7 minutes ago, Zorral said:

In a time of absolute global warming, water shortages, the vast changes in all sort of water condition, including the slowing down of the Gulf Current -- nuclear plants that depend on water coooling shouldn't even be thought about and should be shut down asap.

Nuclear is the opposite of smart thinking for the future and power.

 

It might be the bridge we need though of we can't realistically get solar and wind to put a big enough dent in fossil fuel consumption.  Yes, it would have been better if we'd dumped money into nuclear since the 80s, but we didn't.  If wind and solar alone aren't going to be enough to massively reduce carbon emissions in 25 or 30 years, I think it would be a mistake not to pursue nuclear power.  I'm sure there's someway to use grey water or runoff for cooling - we don't need to be using well water or municipal supplies.

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22 minutes ago, larrytheimp said:

It might be the bridge we need though of we can't realistically get solar and wind to put a big enough dent in fossil fuel consumption.  Yes, it would have been better if we'd dumped money into nuclear since the 80s, but we didn't.  If wind and solar alone aren't going to be enough to massively reduce carbon emissions in 25 or 30 years, I think it would be a mistake not to pursue nuclear power.  I'm sure there's someway to use grey water or runoff for cooling - we don't need to be using well water or municipal supplies.

I agree, I don’t think it’s a good idea to say nuclear will take too long to stand up so forget it. We cannot predict the exact nature of the future and it could be that nuclear plants coming online in 10-15 years prove decisive in some way. And of course we should also vigorously pursue solar and wind in the meantime.

Edited by S John

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1 hour ago, IFR said:

Another problem is the intermittency of the energy source. Wind and solar depend on whether there is wind and sun. This is fine for some places all year long, but other places will have a far greater difficulty adapting this. Batteries exist for storage, but unfortunately for all of us, improvement in the number of cycles and storage capacity of batteries has proven to be a major technical difficulty. Improvements have been achingly increment over the last few decades, even with batteries such as the lithium ion battery. One can develop a battery that is fairly good at short term storage, but what about storage for several months, for energy to be saved until the batteries undergo extensive and exclusive use during winter times. A mid-sized city requires 1 gigawatt of steady power. Are we going to manage batteries that can supply 13 trillion kilowatt hours for a single city? And also consider the areas that do not generate significant wind or solar for most of the year. A massive unified power grid must be erected to transmit energy from one region of the country to another. This will necessarily be an incredible undertaking, that will endure political resistance for many years, perhaps decades.

Pumped-storage hydro is an excellent (and underrated) method of storing energy on a large scale, and a far superior alternative to batteries in pretty much every way (cost, effectiveness, life duration, environmental concerns). We should be building way more of those in other to support wind and solar power.

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13 hours ago, Karlbear said:

The problem with nuclear is that it's too late.

We could have gone with a nuclear option if, say, Al Gore was POTUS and made that a big deal. But 20 years have gone by. It takes roughly 15 years for a nuke plant to go from planning to actually operational, and we simply do not have that time.

To be clear, this is not true of the world as a whole. There are places (e.g. China) where nuclear plants go from start of construction to fully operational in less than half that time. The issue is not that we can't physically build them quickly and safely, it's that in much of the Western world, an unholy alliance of fossil fuel companies and environmentalists have created a regulatory environment where the construction process is lengthy and the plants themselves are unprofitable. There are people who are trying to overcome this with intrinsically safer reactors (e.g. the molten salt variety), but it's tough sledding in the US.

48 minutes ago, IFR said:

Another problem is the intermittency of the energy source. Wind and solar depend on whether there is wind and sun. This is fine for some places all year long, but other places will have a far greater difficulty adapting this. Batteries exist for storage, but unfortunately for all of us, improvement in the number of cycles and storage capacity of batteries has proven to be a major technical difficulty.

The batteries used in this context are typically not only electrical (although those are used too), but also pumped hydro (where water is pumped up when power is available and flows down producing energy when it is not), various mechanical methods which store energy in solid matter either gravitationally or rotationally, various chemical tricks and many other methods. However, you are right in that the storage requirements for wind and solar are truly astounding so even with all of these storage methods, it's still extremely difficult to see a transition to mainly intermittent sources.

It's a difficult problem with a few solutions. The most popular one is to simply have some nuclear (or if you can't, then natural gas) around for a baseline as even a small constant capacity dramatically reduces the storage needs. Another way to do it is to spread the energy generation and distribution over very large scales (think all of Europe, Asia and Africa) which averages out the intermittency... but of course the political problems here are orders of magnitude worse than those with nuclear.

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1 hour ago, Altherion said:

To be clear, this is not true of the world as a whole. There are places (e.g. China) where nuclear plants go from start of construction to fully operational in less than half that time.

Those places are also significantly faster to do wind/solar, and wind/solar is a lot cheaper there too. So there's no real value in that argument there, either. 

1 hour ago, Altherion said:

The issue is not that we can't physically build them quickly and safely, it's that in much of the Western world, an unholy alliance of fossil fuel companies and environmentalists have created a regulatory environment where the construction process is lengthy and the plants themselves are unprofitable. There are people who are trying to overcome this with intrinsically safer reactors (e.g. the molten salt variety), but it's tough sledding in the US.

Really, no, unless you think 'nuclear disaster' is somehow something that we should just kinda live with as a risk. Fukushima should be a prime warning on this, ESPECIALLY when you're thinking about designing a power plant that  can deal with the expected heavy weather actions that are going to happen in the next 20-30 years and beyond. 

Really, the idea of having a plant which can cause a massive ecological catastrophe when a major hurricane or tornado or fire sweeps the area should make nuclear power an immediate nonstarter, and we don't even have good designs for dealing with the disasters we currently have. 

 

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3 hours ago, IFR said:

Which leads me to your final paragraph, which I fully agree with. Globally, there is far too much inertia to expect radical changes in the near future. Anyone who thinks that the world will avoid the scenario of an average global temperature 2 C above pre-industrial levels is wildly optimistic. We'll go above that; probably way above that - in the coming decades, civilization is going to encounter some of the most significant changes humans have experience in a very long time. The real question is whether the world can avoid going above 4 to 5 C over pre-industrial levels by 2100.

This is where nuclear and solar and wind energy will come in to play, because the question isn't whether severe climate effects and the consequent cascade of events will occur. They will. The question is to what extent will humans be able to mitigate them, and this is a more long term proposal. 

Every year the world consumes 4 billion barrels of crude oil (a barrel contains 42 gallons) to generate around 600 quadrillion BTUs of energy. Wind and solar are not technologically capable of generating this kind of energy alone. There are several reasons. Power density is a factor. Solar supplies 5-20 watts/square meter. Wind supplies just 1-2 watts/square meter. Nuclear supplies 500-1000 watts/square meter. Wind and solar will require a very amount of space. You and I both agree that inertia with respect to policy means that the societies of the world will be experiencing many of the predicted detrimental effects of climate change before any real action is taken. A lot of places will become inhabitable. This won't be apocalyptic, but it will mean that land area will become a more valuable resource, and having thousands of square miles worth of wind and solar farms will be problematic.

Eh. I  think you're underestimating how big the planet is and how much space we have. There's also a lot of waste in terms of that energy usage that we can avoid. But really, no - there are huge swaths of the US where thousands of square miles of solar and wind farms will not be even noticed by anyone. And that's not talking about even sparser places like Canada or Russia or other places. 

3 hours ago, IFR said:

Another problem is the intermittency of the energy source. Wind and solar depend on whether there is wind and sun. This is fine for some places all year long, but other places will have a far greater difficulty adapting this. Batteries exist for storage, but unfortunately for all of us, improvement in the number of cycles and storage capacity of batteries has proven to be a major technical difficulty. Improvements have been achingly increment over the last few decades, even with batteries such as the lithium ion battery. One can develop a battery that is fairly good at short term storage, but what about storage for several months, for energy to be saved until the batteries undergo extensive and exclusive use during winter times. A mid-sized city requires 1 gigawatt of steady power. Are we going to manage batteries that can supply 13 trillion kilowatt hours for a single city? And also consider the areas that do not generate significant wind or solar for most of the year. A massive unified power grid must be erected to transmit energy from one region of the country to another. This will necessarily be an incredible undertaking, that will endure political resistance for many years, perhaps decades. 

As the grid fails for varieties of reason having self-sufficient houses and the like are going to necessitate these sorts of technological changes anyway. There are other non-battery storage systems that work well too. 

3 hours ago, IFR said:

Additionally, the extent of developing such a large infrastructure of wind and solar will be hugely damaging to the environment. Solar energy requires about 16 thousand tons of concrete, steel, glass, and other materials (the creation of which is a significant contributor to greenhouse gasses) per terawatt hour. Wind requires about 10 thousand tons. Nuclear requires about 1 thousand tons. In terms of both area, material conservation, and energy density nuclear is highly advantageous.

Tons per what? Gigawatt? Anyway, this is going down more and more every day and it largely doesn't matter because nuclear power for a variety of reasons ain't gonna work. 

3 hours ago, IFR said:

Also, finally, regarding cost and time scale: even those are not as bad as they look. It's not necessary to build one large reactor that produces energy on the scale of gigawatts. Small modular reactors and microreactors capable of a few dozen megawatts have proven designs, and their construction would have much reduced time and costs. They also would have some very nice passive safety features. Scram a 3 gigawatt large reactor, and you still have to deal with about 210 megawatts of thermal energy (or 5.25 million incandescent light bulbs of heat per second). Diffusing this heat is a serious technical problem. However, there are small modular reactors, like NuScale for instance, that are submerged in a pool and can easily diffuse the heat through natural convection.

Having a whole lot of smaller reactors that are even more prone to domestic terrorism and natural disasters is not, IMO, a good way to sell it. 

 

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@Zorral

It may interest you to know that nuclear power doesn't necessarily require the contamination of water for use. Light water reactors are indeed the dominant form of nuclear energy (historically this is because it was a good, safe way to power submarines and an excellent method of producing plutonium for weapons). However, there are reactors that operate from gas cooling (such as air or helium), and reactors that operate using salt as a coolant (Altherion mentioned the molten salt reactor). The first reactor to successfully generate electricity was a salt cooled reactor: the Experimental Breeder Reactor. Thorium is a proposed substitute fuel in place of enriched uranium, and it is a fuel that works very well in salt cooled reactors. Thorium, by the way, has many benefits otherwise: it hardly generates any of the longer lived isotopes that poses such difficulties in the disposal of nuclear waste; it doesn't require enrichment, which is very helpful in reducing large mining operations (to achieve around 3.67% enrichment, which can be used in many reactors today, you need roughly 8-10 times as much natural uranium in the form of uranium hexaflouride). They also operate in atmospheric pressures, so pressurized accidents that will vent the radioactive inventory can be avoided. Right now, in fact, India is investing heavily in thorium reactors, since they have the largest supply of thorium in the world. But up to this point there has never been successful commercialization of thorium reactors.

There are also fast neutron reactors, which are reactors whose neutrons are capable of fissioning some of the long lived isotopes, so your spent nuclear fuel goes to background levels of radiation in a couple hundred years (rather than thousands). These reactors avoid water as coolants, because water slows down neutrons. Usually they are cooled with gas or salt.

Why haven't these projects seen commercialization? Well, policy. In the early 1990s, for instance, John Kerry spearheaded a committee under the Clinton Administration to defund nuclear energy projects. He succeeded, and many of these projects lost funding and were halted. John Kerry has since changed his position on nuclear, and was one of the key players in assembling the Iran Nuclear Deal, as it's often called.

Of course these reactors still use water to produce steam to spin turbines. But the water is safely isolated from the radioactive content, and can later be purifying and put to other uses.

You do make a good point though. Most reactors do use water heavily in some form, due to current policies and standards. As for the water footprint of nuclear versus fossil, that's something I don't know much about. I'll have to look into it.

@Gorn and @Altherion

You both raise a good point about hydropumps. Bill Gates' book does address this technology (which I don't know much about). He points that it is indeed a very promising form of storage, as you both note. It has its limitations though. You need an elevation and a great large aquifer, in order utilize this storage. This causes problems for many areas, that would not be able to accommodate these restrictions. Gates did say that underground aquifers that could be designed to pump out water, rather than use gravity, were currently being explore, but it is by no means straightforward technology.

@Karlbear

You make a lot of good observations. I don't have time to address everything in full, but I do have a few questions that I would like your opinion on:

1) What do you believe is the likelihood of an ecological disaster occurring with respect to nuclear reactors, and to what extent do you think the damage is likely to be?

2) How vulnerable do you think nuclear power plants are to natural disasters like Fukushima?

3) How much of a threat do you think domestic terrorism poses to nuclear energy, and what is your reasoning?

Thanks!

Edited by IFR

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19 hours ago, IFR said:

I honestly believe that there is no pathway forward without a combination of nuclear and renewables, and electric vehicles.

I completely agree with this assessment. Considering how dramatic the situation is getting, and considering the fact that solar panels aren't as "green" as one might think, there's no way to transition to a carbon-neutral energy without nuclear production. I think it just can't be done.

The two problems you'll have on this thread is
- You won't convince anyone who isn't already convinced. There's just too many people who hate nuclear energy - and unfortunately, they're not wrong.
- Most of our governments don't have serious plans to transition ; best case scenario, they're throwing money at the problem hoping it'll do some good. But most of the time, governments are busy pandering to interest groups more than working for the long-term common good. They're reluctant to openly attack the most polluting activities and industries, even though that should have been done yesterday.
My very personal conclusion is that paradoxically one random well-informed dude on the internet can easily come up with a better plan that anything that's actually being implemented, because random dude will not have to listen to the wrong people.
Also the reason why I think that at some point, true democracy will be the only reasonable path.

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Elon projects that in 10 years time the majority of new cars produced will be electric. Then, at that rate, it will take about 10-20 years for the replacement of the world’s old fleet of internal combustion vehicles. That takes care of a big chunk of CO2 emissions.

In conjunction with this, a massive expansion of solar power generation and battery storage can reduce another big chunk of emissions. And yes, it should be coupled with nuclear. 

Sure, there are other negative externalities produced by these technologies, but they are far better than the alternative.

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6 hours ago, IFR said:

Very interesting post! Can you provide your method of calculations?

This was well over thirty years ago, and I didn't keep the original calculation - it was, quite literally, done on scratch paper. 

That said, I added up known oil reserves at the time - had to use everything from magazine articles to newspaper clippings to textbooks (this was before Al Gore invented the Internet).  I came up with a grand yearly total for consumption the same way, then figured that consumption increased at something like 2% per year.  Then I multiplied it out, year over year, subtracting the amount consumed from the amount in reserve.  For the second  version - where I assumed some effort at conservation - I reduced the rate of increase in consumption.  But even dropping that rate to zero AND adding ten major new oil fields (each double the size of Prudhoe Bay) didn't add more than a couple of decades before reaching the 'everything goes to hell' point.  Very simple, very straightforward calculation.  These days, there are multiple, much more sophisticated versions all over the internet.   

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3 hours ago, Karlbear said:

Those places are also significantly faster to do wind/solar, and wind/solar is a lot cheaper there too. So there's no real value in that argument there, either. 

Ah, but there is. Wind and solar are intermittent whereas nuclear can be used as a baseline. Or to put it differently, if you truly intend to transition away from fossil fuels rather than just use wind and solar as a tiny fraction of production, you will require a great deal of storage. Nuclear reduces the size of this storage (as do hydro and geothermal, but those are limited by terrain). This is why China has not stopped constructing new reactors even though wind and solar prices are at an all-time low.

3 hours ago, Karlbear said:

Really, no, unless you think 'nuclear disaster' is somehow something that we should just kinda live with as a risk. Fukushima should be a prime warning on this, ESPECIALLY when you're thinking about designing a power plant that  can deal with the expected heavy weather actions that are going to happen in the next 20-30 years and beyond. 

Really, the idea of having a plant which can cause a massive ecological catastrophe when a major hurricane or tornado or fire sweeps the area should make nuclear power an immediate nonstarter, and we don't even have good designs for dealing with the disasters we currently have.

All power has a price. Nuclear has a terrifying reputation, but it's not actually significantly more deadly to people or the environment than the alternatives. How many people have all nuclear disasters combined killed? Even the wildest estimate will not come to, say, this single dam failure. Maybe one day we will figure out how to produce and store energy in a distributed and ecologically friendly way, but with technology that is available in the next decade or so, we must live with certain risks no matter which way you go. The newer nuclear reactors try to minimize these risks.

3 hours ago, IFR said:

You both raise a good point about hydropumps. Bill Gates' book does address this technology (which I don't know much about). He points that it is indeed a very promising form of storage, as you both note. It has its limitations though. You need an elevation and a great large aquifer, in order utilize this storage. This causes problems for many areas, that would not be able to accommodate these restrictions. Gates did say that underground aquifers that could be designed to pump out water, rather than use gravity, were currently being explore, but it is by no means straightforward technology.

Right, pumped hydro is terrain dependent and also requires both considerable physical area and a lot of water (so it's not all that eco-friendly). Furthermore, you run the same risks with it as you do with dams: if there's an earthquake or other natural disaster or the infrastructure is damaged by incompetence or sabotage, there is potential for catastrophic flooding. There isn't an obvious way to store energy without clear shortcomings.

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1 hour ago, IFR said:


@Karlbear

You make a lot of good observations. I don't have time to address everything in full, but I do have a few questions that I would like your opinion on:

1) What do you believe is the likelihood of an ecological disaster occurring with respect to nuclear reactors, and to what extent do you think the damage is likely to be?

I've not surveyed all nuke plants that currently exist, but my suspicion is that any plants that exist right now are almost certainly not prepared for any major weather events. Some are probably not earthquake proof, but most are likely vulnerable to flooding events, wind damage, and may be vulnerable to extreme temperature  events - not just heat, either. As we saw in Texas earlier this year lots of places are probably unprepared for high degrees of coldness, too. 

And we've really not thought about designing anything - but especially nuke plants - for this kind of thing. What works for Houston won't work for Iowa, and what works for Iowa won't work for Florida, and neither will work for Canada. 

1 hour ago, IFR said:

2) How vulnerable do you think nuclear power plants are to natural disasters like Fukushima?

Depends a lot on the age, but I suspect a lot of plants - especially ones in France and other places where they proliferated - are simply not ready at all for the kind of heavy cascading failures that extreme weather can cause. Fukushima should have been brilliantly designed, but it failed because of stupid things - flooding AND battery backups being damaged by that flooding. And this was in a country which is one of the most well-prepared and forward thinking towards disasters in the world. 

1 hour ago, IFR said:

3) How much of a threat do you think domestic terrorism poses to nuclear energy, and what is your reasoning?
 

Probably not a ton, but it's worth mentioning. As external and internal pressures rise, we're going to see bigger, more dangerous events on the terrorism front, and domestic terrorism will be the primary cause. Add to this that right-wing terrorists tend to see climate issues as nonissues or things to mock, and you can easily see some proud boy asshats proudly exclaiming that they wanted to melt down a place 'to own the libs'. 

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2 hours ago, Free Northman Reborn said:

Elon projects that in 10 years time the majority of new cars produced will be electric.

Ooh, are you on a first name basis with Elon? 

Elon also is a fan of bitcoin which is causing more actual emissions than most small nations. His idea of this being true in 10 years is, shall we say, VERY optimistic.

30 minutes ago, Altherion said:

Ah, but there is. Wind and solar are intermittent whereas nuclear can be used as a baseline. Or to put it differently, if you truly intend to transition away from fossil fuels rather than just use wind and solar as a tiny fraction of production, you will require a great deal of storage. Nuclear reduces the size of this storage (as do hydro and geothermal, but those are limited by terrain). This is why China has not stopped constructing new reactors even though wind and solar prices are at an all-time low. 

They've slowed down quite a bit though, and they're willing to risk things. By all means, if you have a terrifyingly efficient police state which can monitor all dissent AND can shut down any talk of things like nuclear reaction failure, I'd highly recommend nuclear plants. 

You may need a great deal of storage. But you don't necessarily require a great deal of baseline generation. 

30 minutes ago, Altherion said:

All power has a price. Nuclear has a terrifying reputation, but it's not actually significantly more deadly to people or the environment than the alternatives. How many people have all nuclear disasters combined killed? Even the wildest estimate will not come to, say, this single dam failure. Maybe one day we will figure out how to produce and store energy in a distributed and ecologically friendly way, but with technology that is available in the next decade or so, we must live with certain risks no matter which way you go. The newer nuclear reactors try to minimize these risks. 

Again, the problem is not the current risks but the ones in 10-15 years. And again, it doesn't really matter because 10-15 years  is way too slow. 

Chernobyl didn't kill a crazy amount, you're right. That said, that 'dam failure' was the failure of 62 dams, and probably did not kill more than Chernobyl ended up doing. It's still worth considering, but I don't think anyone is talking about a dam network of 62 dams built by one of the least competent countries on earth (at the time). If that is your concern, you should be REALLY concerned about nuclear power too. 

 

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2 hours ago, Free Northman Reborn said:

Elon projects that in 10 years time the majority of new cars produced will be electric.

But what does the Great and Powerful Oz say?

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Nuclear is dead because it would totally destroy the global green movement or whatever you wanna call it. It was literally considered the energy of evil and the reason why the green movement got started in the 80s. Of course it’s a little bit ironic seeing that for some regional Greens Nuclear nowadays is a valid option again. 

Objectively speaking nuclear power has its advantages and disadvantages. LCOE is really great as long as one doesn’t include decommissioning and waste management (which indeed didn’t happen at least until the 1990s). For most countries investing now in nuclear (Turkey, Pakistan, Middle East) its more of a political statement and prestige than anything else anyway. Those new plants will never amortize over their lifetime. CAPEX alone for a turnkey plant is like 4000-5000 Euro/kW. 

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