The Shocking Reasons Why We Should Go Nuclear

I once wrote about how we aren’t really doomed, per se. Things could get bad, even really bad, owing to climate change and irrational energy and environmental policies, even economic crashes, even war, even worldwide NBC war. But it won’t be an apocalypse. It won’t wipe out the human race. It won’t even likely send us to Road Warrior for a century or two; although even if it did, that would just be a brief dip in the upward march of progress of human civilization in its four thousand year history—since we’d just recover eventually and start marching even further on; like happened in the Middle Ages: an advanced civilization collapsed, but eventually was restored, and then even its scientific and technological advances were far exceeded.

That’s still true. But one thing I said in the course of making that point is this:

[The] innovation of solar-thermal power is actually a better alternative to nuclear (and won’t be blocked by superstitious fear), and such plants are now starting to appear in the U.S. and will inevitably replace all coal and natural gas plants within fifty to a hundred years.

Well, turns out, that’s not quite true. Sure, we may expand and benefit from solar-thermal. But it actually isn’t better than nuclear. And actually, any sane energy policy would devote considerable resources into expanding our nuclear power infrastructure instead. The people’s fear of it just has to go. This is, after all, the same ignorant populace that is so scientifically illiterate they think “irradiated food” will be radioactive or poisonous; when in fact it would be neither, and actually save the lives of thousands of people every year by nearly ending food-born illnesses and extending the shelf-life of perishables. By the same reasoning, we need to replace the bulk of our power generation with nuclear plants. And we need that badly. Because all the other options, “(like solar, wind, seismic, and thermal) and alt fuels (like algal biofuels, hydrogens, and other artificial fuels),” even smarter uses of old-school petrofuels (from coal to oil to gas), are actually super shitty. Yes, even solar and wind. Super, super shitty.

Let me explain. Because the explanation might shock you. For you might not have thought of it. Yet it’s almost face-slappingly obvious.

The Problem in a Nutshell

This all came about when discussing energy policy with a savvy Canadian engineer one day as I was staying at his place. He was a lovely host. And also knew his shit. He had the research to back up his claims. And I followed up even to double check. And it checks.

Of course, no surprise Canadians know more about this stuff than Americans. Americans are idiots. Almost half of us still want to elect Donald Trump to be our President. We’re not, let’s be honest, smart.

But back to the point. We’ll start with the example of solar power. That’s awesome, right? Zero pollution, doesn’t hack the heads off of birds, just sits there and generates totally free energy from the sun. Wellll… About that zero pollution thing. Uh, actually, making solar panels pollutes the shit out of the planet; recycling them is not an option at this stage (since we need vastly more of them than there are to recycle), nor is that pollution free, either; and maintaining them consumes energy and resources, and that also generates pollution down the line. It’s also expensive. The amount of energy that goes into both making and maintaining solar panels is so enormous, that the net gain we get back from those panels before they expire is paltry. Shockingly paltry.

The same plays out for wind power or any other energy source: when you step back and count the resources and energy consumed, and pollution generated, making and maintaining every other source of alternative power, from wind to solar, even solar thermal, the same shocking result comes out of the math: they all suck. Well, actually, hydro doesn’t suck so much, but alas, its capacity potential is woefully insufficient to solve our energy needs (there just aren’t that many rivers to damn; even if damning rivers wasn’t environmentally destructive, a serious downside to hydro people often forget). Ditto geothermal, where though capacity potential may be theoretically adequate, the costs of making and sustaining such plants on the required scale is on the order of ridiculous—which is not to slight its tremendous advantage where it’s most easily tapped—just like hydro, use it when you can; but it’s not going to supply the world.

People often forget, building and replacing solar panels or wind turbines requires mining (which entails toxic waste, pollution, energy costs, and environmental damage), manufacturing (which entails toxic waste, pollution, energy costs, and environmental damage), transportation and emplacement (which entails toxic waste, pollution, energy costs, and environmental damage), maintenance (parts and labor and cleaning, which collectively entail toxic waste, pollution, energy costs, and environmental damage), and disposal or recycling at end-of-life (which entails toxic waste, pollution, energy costs, and environmental damage).

It also entails hidden costs in power storage. Solar panels generate only during the day (and wind likewise only blows some of the time), but you need some of that power at night (likewise when the wind isn’t blowing), so you have to store it; but batteries or any other storage system costs again in mining, manufacturing, transportation and emplacement, and disposal or recycling; and they also lose a lot of what they hold (no battery system is 100% efficient; especially when you count the energy cost to make them, and their variable efficiency at temperature), so they waste energy, too (and hence, they also are consuming energy).

(The delivery system, e.g. the U.S. power grid, also wastes energy, as all those miles of wires lose electricity as waste heat etc., but as that’s the same loss for all generation types, it doesn’t count against any one power source over another, so we can ignore it for the purpose of comparing the sources of power generation.)

We forget to add all that up. And when we do, solar panels start to look like a really shitty idea. They have their uses (e.g. it can’t hurt to roof your house with some, since it’s not like you’d realistically line your roof with natural gas combustion generators instead), but they really truly suck for large scale energy solutions. On such scales they are bad for the environment. And they waste almost as much as they produce. Wind turbines are only marginally better. So, what then?

Oh Right, We Have to Subtract the Energy Put in from Energy Produced

This is all analyzed in such research reports as “Energy Intensities, EROIs (Energy Returned on Invested), and Energy Payback Times of Electricity Generating Power Plants” by Dr. Weißbach et al. There, for example, they find that on just energy return alone, “nuclear, hydro, coal, and natural gas power systems (in this order) are one order of magnitude more effective than photovoltaics and wind power.” They find that we get 28 times more energy out of a natural gas system than we put in (counting all energy costs to create and sustain it). Solar panels, even in the best cases, get us only 4 times more energy than we put in; and most systems don’t even get twice as much out as we put in! Solar panels, in other words, royally suck as an energy source. They waste far too much energy just to exist. They have their own unique advantages (e.g. they are quiet, they don’t locally pollute, etc.). But they cannot, on scale, solve the world’s energy needs. That would be the dumbest policy ever. There is a reason gas and oil still kick solar’s ass: they are just vastly more efficient in practice.

Solar thermal gets us a return of between 8 and 21 times the energy we put in (or 9 to 19, depending on which data you look at). Which is way better than solar panels, but still not as good as natural gas. Solar thermal also consumes considerable quantities of water—though much of what it consumes is reusable, and it’s comparable to nuclear in this regard if we measure it against the well-known and still widely used light water reactor model; new nuclear reactors consume less water (I’ll get to that).

So apart from the water consumption, I was right that solar thermal was the shit. Sort of. Compared to solar panels anyway. But you can see why it doesn’t quite compete with gas, which on average doubles the output. Wind power gets us 4 to 16 times the energy out that we put in, so not exactly good competition either. But notably, better than solar panels; although wind doesn’t blow enough everywhere. But contrast hydroelectric: 35 to 50 times the energy out as in! Even when this requires building and maintaining giant damns (it doesn’t always), hydro kicks even gas’s ass. But alas, as noted, there just isn’t that much hydro energy to capture. For comparison, coal is about an even 30. So it’s already comparable, and far more plentiful, even still after all the extraction we’ve done so far.

So, what about nuclear? Guess what. It gets us 75 times more energy than we put in. And yes, that even includes all the energy costs of mining (on the front end) and waste storage (on the back end). And with known advances in the pipe, that figure will exceed a factor of 100 in a few decades. This kicks the ass of every energy source we have. And it’s almost endlessly scalable. Nuclear power thus returns over three times more energy than even the most efficiently emplaced solar thermal. Five times wind. Twice hydro. And forty times more than any realistic solar panel solution. The following table (from the Weißbach paper, p. 29) illustrates the significance of this:

Table of Energy Returned on Invested, showing EROI unbuffered and EROI buffered, buffered meaning using storage tech to account for when power is generated vs. when it is needed. The economical threshold is at around seven. The bars for unbuffered show solar panels at 3.9, biomass (corn) at 3.5, wind at 16, solar thermal at 19, gas at 28, coal at 30, hydro at 49, nuclear at 75, and buffered it's the same except for solar panels, which drop to 1.6, wind, which drops to 3.9, and hydro, which drops to 35.Note that “economical threshold” bar. What does that mean? It means that if that energy source is relied on in the aggregate for our nation’s electrical power needs, and yet its energy return is below that amount (which is a factor of about 7 times, energy produced to energy put in) we will actually be wasting so much money generating the energy we use to run our economy that our economy will tank. Notice this nixes solar panels. They are far too wasteful to even be useful as an energy policy solution. If we tried it, we’d crash our economy.

Likewise biofuels. And also wind; though unbuffered wind power can beat the mark, most wind power has to be buffered—because the wind doesn’t blow all the time, so you have to store the energy you need, for when the wind isn’t blowing, and that adds economic costs that plummet wind power’s utility. Solar thermal is just barely useful. Gas and coal are great (hence why we are using them). Hydro is better, but again, not a practical solution, owing to limited emplacement. But nuclear rocks over everything, twice as good as even hydro, more so coal and gas, and far better than solar thermal, and vastly better than wind (even if we could get wind to always work at its max, and we can’t).

Pollution & Environment

And that’s just by energy cost. If we factor in pollution and other environmental costs—e.g. coal and gas both increase global warming; and to an extent so do the others, due to the carbon emissions they entail at the stages of manufacturing, maintenance, transport, disposal, etc.—alternative energy sources don’t look so great as you may have imagined.

This is particularly important when considering nuclear. Everyone freaks out at the prospect of storing all that radioactive waste. But like people who freak out about terrorist attacks but not about driving (despite vastly higher odds of dying from the latter), this is an irrational focus on the sensational at the expense of reality. In reality, the pollution caused by the manufacturing and deployment of solar power is worse than nuclear waste. It’s greater in quantity (per terawatt hour); it’s greater in lethality (per terawatt hour); and it’s greater in personal odds of exposure (just like you are very unlikely to be present at a terrorist attack, you are very unlikely to be affected by nuclear waste; whereas you are far more likely to be affected by all the air and water pollution caused by solar panel manufacturing).

And that’s not all. See, for example, this analysis of Lifetime Deaths per TWH from Energy Sources. Here is one table produced there (the data is crude but the proportions realistic):

Table showing deaths per terawatt hour of energy produced. Coal worldwide is 161 deaths. Coal in China is deadlier due to lack of pollution and safety controls, at 278 deaths. Coal in the US is far safer for converse reasons, at just 15 deaths. Oil is 36. Natural gas is 4. Biofuel is 12 (agriculture is actually a dangerous activity). Peat the same. Solar panels is 0.44. Wind is 0.15. Hydroelectric is 0.10 when safely conducted; 1.4 when not. Nuclear is 0.04.

You’ll notice coal-sourced energy, even in a safety and environmentally concerned state like the U.S., will kill 375 times more people than nuclear would, if we replaced all our coal capacity with nuclear. So if you had to choose, the nuclear waste is really an awesome deal. It’s far less deadly. Likewise natural gas would kill 100 times more people than nuclear power. Solar panels kill 10 times more people than nuclear (and that’s just deaths from workplace accidents etc.; that number isn’t counting pollution deaths from manufacturing, transport, etc.). Wind power kills 4 times more people than nuclear (ditto). Even hydroelectric kills over 2 times more people than nuclear. Nothing in fact is safer than nuclear power.

Even if we count shitty nuclear, e.g. Chernobyl—which we shouldn’t, because as an applied energy policy in a major developed nation today, we would not build shitty plants like that, so we would not face Chernobyl-level risk factors (more on that point below)—nuclear still is safer than everything else. That’s right. Everyone freaks out about “the next Chernobyl,” but in fact, Chernobyl didn’t really do all that much harm. And it was the worst in history.

After Fukushima, whose effects were substantially less significant than Chernobyl, and Three Mile Island, which caused no statistically measurable deaths from its far smaller leak of radioactive material, the worst ever incident in any Western democracy in the last half century was a tornado strike at Brown’s Ferry, Alabama, which caused zero deaths, and no radiation leak, and led to significant improvements in nuclear plant safety design—as did the incident at Three Mile Island, which, BTW, occurred half a century ago.

Meanwhile the still over-cited incidents at Windscale, England, and Fast-Chalk River, Canada, occurred seventy to eighty years ago. Ancient history, by technology standards. And yet just try comparing that with the death rate in and because of the coal industry eighty years ago, and the comparison is still night and day. Similarly, there have been a few worker deaths in the nuclear industry over the last thirty years; but the number of workplace deaths from implementing the solar industry have been much greater (likewise every other alternative).

There actually hasn’t been a seriously deadly nuclear accident, ever, in human history (not counting deliberately, which has happened only once: when the U.S. nuked Japan in 1945). That is, compared to, for example, even just net mining deaths in the coal industry, total deaths from nuclear meltdowns and waste disposal has always been trivial; vastly more so when we include deaths from the pollution using coal generates. And environmentally, from Exxon Valdez to Deepwater Horizon, oil has done far more damage; and with the vast scale of aging oil caps and rigs, the damage inevitably to come will exceed even that. Moreover, nuclear deaths have always been the product of correctable bad design, and thus not actually a scalable risk. To the contrary, the risk plummets vastly when you take safe design and disposal seriously; this is as true of nuclear as of coal, as one can see comparing the death rate caused by American coal-use with Chinese.

And so the same analysis found, that even adding in the total lifetime deaths creditable to Chernobyl, nuclear power is still safer than even hydro; twice as safe as wind; six times safer than solar; and over 200 times safer than even the safest and least pollutive of coal industries. And that’s just as things are; and even not counting a lot of deaths in industries like solar caused by associated pollution in manufacturing and transport etc. Again, solar power, not that clean. Neither is wind power. Of course, what matters is the differential, i.e. the amount of pollution entailed along the entire production train for competing sources, nuclear vs. wind for instance. But that differential does not come out so well for any source over nuclear, because so many more solar panels and wind turbines have to be made to add up to a single nuclear plant, and that’s even after factoring in the peculiar potency of nuclear waste—simply because the amount of nuclear waste generated is also so vastly small.

Then There Is As Things Could Be

So even as things are, nuclear outperforms every other source of electrical power, in efficiency, pollution, and public risk. That’s right. It pollutes far less, it kills far fewer people, and it generates far more energy in proportion to input. But we actually can do better at nuclear than that. Most nuclear plants today are old. Because of irrational public fear, new plants get nixed at the proposal stage and old plants are left to be kept running with shoestrings and glue. And yet that’s doubly irrational. Because the old plants are the most dangerous. New plants implement safety and security and efficiency advances that vastly reduce the dangers and risks of nuclear power; and which also greatly reduce the amount and potency of nuclear waste as well.

Thus, the very thing that causes people to fear nuclear power so much as to stop its development, is precisely what its development would have solved. People who protest nuclear power are therefore increasing public risk. If they would instead promote a new plant replacing an old one, they would be greatly reducing public risk. Indeed, they would be doing so even if they support the building of several new plants in place of an old one, the improvements in design are that significant. There are literally no alternatives to replace old nuclear plants with that won’t kill far more people.

This reality played out recently in Japan, where the Fukushima plant disaster was entirely due to its aged design (built in 1971). Newer plants were immune, and thus survived the earthquake and tsunami essentially undamaged, posing no risk to the public. Even Fukushima’s sister plant, still quite aged (though still newer, built a decade and a half later), only required staff management to handle a minor coolant emergency. Others built around the same time were fine and could have resumed operation immediately, but public fear kept them off line until fairly recently (after reports showed they were not in danger from earthquake or tsunami; and they were upgraded anyway to be even less so). And these plants were built thirty years ago. Newer plants are even more superior. Similarly, Chernobyl was so badly designed it would never have been erected in the U.S., in any decade. It therefore cannot be used as representative of the dangers of nuclear power. Nor can Fukushima. As no new plant built will be at all as badly build as that antiquated plant was.

What we have today is a much safer plant design, much harder to damage with natural disasters or terrorist attacks, and producing much less waste material with a much lower radioactivity or lifespan. In fact, the newest designs actually consume nuclear waste and convert it into energy! And further investment will only lead to more improvements in these respects. The readiest version is the molten salt reactor, which has been around a long time, but has recently been upgraded into the most advanced nuclear reactor in tested use. It has numerous safety advantages (e.g. it is meltdown proof; it consumes no water; etc.); and by actually consuming nuclear waste as a fuel it reduces the environmental impact of even old reactors, and produces less environmental impact itself. Moreover, these models allow numerous smaller plants to operate efficiently and safely, reducing the danger of concentrating a large region’s power supply in a single plant vulnerable to a disabling attack. Other new designs, especially with more R&D, have the same or similar merits (integral fast reactors, including lead-cooled and gas-cooled; and currently in development, wave reactors).

The new tech has convinced even stalwart anti-nuke environmentalists to change their mind about the viability and indeed urgency of going nuclear, as the only plausible alternative renewable and clean energy source there is for the world’s power needs. See, for example, How Humans Save Nature, a TEDx talk by Michael Shellenberger. All of it is good, but pertinent here is his reversal on nuclear power, which he explains starting at timestamp 13:52.

On balance, being against nuclear power is just like being an anti-vaxxer: it is based on a false assessment of risk. Both exaggerate immensely the actual dangers of these technologies. And both fail to assess risk differentially. Even if a vaccine can cause death, the probability it will is vastly less than the probability of dying from the disease it inoculates against. The net risk is therefore a no brainer in Game Theory: only a fool wouldn’t vaccinate. You are trading an enormous risk for a trivial one. In other words, you might not be eliminating risk, but you are vastly reducing your risk by making use of the technology rather than opposing it.

(Oh, and BTW, the logic is identical for whether you vote this month; if you don’t go out and cast a vote for Clinton, unless you are already in a totally Trump-safe state, you may as well go join the anti-vaxxers; even just on the single factor of appointing judges to the Supreme Court, upon which all human and civil rights depend—never mind the dangers to our economy, security, and effectiveness and efficiency of government. This is true both individually—your own interests will be far more damaged by Trump winning than Clinton—and in terms of herd immunity: if you let Trump win, you are fucking over the rest of us, just like sending your unvaccinated kids to a public school. And let’s be honest: that kind of makes you an asshole.)

Similarly, opposing nuclear only furthers dependence on mass-scale use of other technologies that are and have been causing far more deaths than the technology you are opposing would. This is true hundreds of times over for fossil fuels, still our primary energy source, and the only practical and efficient energy source available (because wind and solar don’t even approach their return on investment; and hydro and geo can’t be scaled up enough to replace fossil fuels). But even these alternative energy sources cause more deaths than nuclear. So if protecting human life is your goal, you should be pro-nuclear. The more so if you want to save the environment, end global warming, and yes, even reduce poverty (because cheaper access to energy has a direct correlation with reduction in poverty).

Conclusion

Ironically, almost all energy is ultimately a form of solar power. Photovoltaic and solar-thermal power are obviously so, directly converting sunlight into electricity. But even wind power only taps the motion of air that is ultimately the result of the heating of that air by the sun. Hydroelectric taps the falling of water that is continually raised to higher ground by being evaporated by the heat of the sun (and then falling as rain or snow). Fossil fuels (and all their organic substitutes), including oil, coal, and natural gas, are only “fuels” at all because of biological processes that stored solar energy in plants (and thence the animals that ate them, or ate the animals that ate the animals that ate them), which ultimately came from the photosynthesis of solar rays. In other words, even oil is just a liquid battery for solar energy.

That’s right. No sun, no fossil fuels. Nor wind. Nor hydroelectric. There would have been some fossil fuel without the sun; there are a scattered few geothermal ecosystems on earth, but you need space-age technology just to visit them, and the petrochemical sedimentation they’ve deposited throughout the earth’s history probably wouldn’t have lasted beyond the 18th century—even if we could have gotten to it. Hence, realistically, nearly all our sources of electrical and mechanical energy (both actual and potential) are just different kinds of solar power. Geothermal and nuclear are the only significant exceptions, not deriving from our sun’s energy. Although they also got their energy from stars, probably stars previous to our sun, which generated the requisite elements in their own nuclear furnaces, and supplied the heat and rock (whose stress and pressure produces even more heat) that has become concentrated in the core of our planet. But geothermal is not commonly accessible. And nuclear is what everyone is afraid of.

And though all the other sources drawing energy from the sun are, in fact, far less efficient than direct solar power (when measured solely by how much electricity they generate per hectare of sunlight), they are ironically still vastly cheaper and thus more efficient for us to access. Yes, photovoltaic energy (solar panels), though less efficient than the heated-salt solar-thermal steam turbine (generators that convert reflected solar heat into kinetic and then electrical energy), converts more sunlight to electricity. It’s just that it does so at such great expense to us that it falls far below all other sources in utility. A solar panel can’t compete with an entire planet generating millions of years and millions of hectares of fossil fuel. Nor can it compete with an entire region’s climatic redistribution of rainwater to power hydroelectric plants. That process may be inefficient. But it operates automatically (costing us nothing), and concentrates the resultant stored energy from such a vast area, that it costs us little to tap it. Wind power similarly beats solar by tapping an automatic collection of solar energy over a vast area (all the sunlight hitting all the air of an entire region, thereby pushing it on as wind).

This is why solar power is simply not a viable model for world energy policy. Some limited use of solar is practical. But the scale of power output we need is too vast. If you want to get away from the deadly and destructive use of fossil fuels, hydro and geothermal are not scalable enough (they work cost-effectively only in a few places, so if we invested more in them, we’d quickly reach practical capacity; worth doing, but it’s not the end solution), wind and solar thermal are too weak to compete with fossil alternatives (they have a place, but it’s limited), and solar panels are not even economically viable at all (it’s at best a localized solution). Nuclear is the only power source that generates huge returns, far exceeding even fossil fuels, and more cleanly than any alternative that exists, with far less threat to human life and the environment. There isn’t any reason not to invest in it as our primary energy solution. Particularly with the new and advanced technologies available.

You probably didn’t know solar and wind generated so much less energy after subtracting the energy we put into them. You might not have thought how limited hydro and geo are, because we are already close to capacity with them. And you probably didn’t think about the deaths, dangers, and pollution that a solar and wind power industry entail. They are still better than fossil fuels in terms of environment and safety, but come not even close in terms of net energy return. Nuclear is considerably safer than solar and wind, less toxic to the environment, and far exceeds fossil fuels in energy generated even after subtracting the energy we have to use to build, supply, and maintain the plants. And this will become even more the case as we continue to tap out easily accessed fossil fuel deposits and have to burn more and more energy accessing them in harder to reach places. Whereas the opposite is happening with nuclear: new plants burn nuclear waste, so nuclear fuel will actually become far more accessible.

It’s time to give up our irrational fear of nuclear power. It’s time to invest in the new advanced reactor technologies and begin eliminating our dependence on fossil fuels for our electricity nationwide, and worldwide. For our health. For our economy. For our environment.

42 comments

  1. Richard Johnson November 1, 2016, 3:49 pm

    Everyone needs to know about Thorium reactors and how they are safer, produce less radioactive waste, and both the fuel and byproducts are not usable for bombs. The US halted research on them in 1973, mostly because they wanted the plutonium from uranium reactors for use in making bombs. Look up the Wikipedia article about it.

    Reply
    1. Thorium is promising if the (massive) problem of finding a material that will hold the hot mess in place can be solved. India has been researching it for decades and China now have a super-ambitious project, but the problem is very hard and even in the best case it will be decades until it becomes an alternative. On paper, it is very promising though.

      Reply
  2. Your use of a single study to draw such a far-reaching conclusion is not serious. Other studies have come to very different conclusions. It should be noted that this paper is written by researchers of nuclear energy, so we can hardly expect them to have an unbiased attitude to different energy sources.

    The most obviously controversial point in this study is that wind and solar have been (massively) penalised by assuming that they will be the only form of power generation, which would require some sort of (very expensive) system for storing energy to be used when it is dark or the wind is not blowing. In my opinion, this is so completely unrealistic as to render the methodogical approach unserious. We don’t choose one energy source to produce all energy, we choose the source that is most suitable for producing the next marginal unit that we need. For instance, if we have a very good place to build a hydropower plant we may build that first, and if we have a windy location we may next build some wind mills, etcetera.

    I only briefly checked a draft of the paper, but the results for wind power are unchanged. Even removing the ridiculous penalty for storage, all other studies I can find have significantly better EROI than this paper.

    I also strongly doubt the numbers reached for nuclear. The authors assume a mean lifetime of 60 years for nuclear power plants before decomissioning, even though existing or planned plants almost never have such long life spans even on paper.

    In short, they are comparing theoretical future-tech nuclear power plants with tried and tested, measured results from wind power generated with existing and to a large extent outdated technology. They also assume that when a wind turbine is ‘decomissioned’ the entire investment is lost. For purposes of long-term EROI we should probably assume that the greatest part of the *energy* investment, the superstructure of the wind mill, will be reused, while the blades and turbine may be replaced.

    Reply
    1. Other studies have come to very different conclusions.

      Those are actually surveyed in the paper I cite. They show why those results aren’t adequate, and what they did to correct for what they excluded.

      It should be noted that this paper is written by researchers of nuclear energy, so we can hardly expect them to have an unbiased attitude to different energy sources.

      The data is still the data. You don’t get to pick what’s true based on which bias you prefer. You have to settle on what the facts are. So if you can’t challenge the facts, you don’t have an argument.

      The most obviously controversial point in this study is that wind and solar have been (massively) penalised by assuming that they will be the only form of power generation, which would require some sort of (very expensive) system for storing energy to be used when it is dark or the wind is not blowing.

      That is accounted for in the paper. They give results both for buffered and unbuffered power gen. So there has been no unfair penalization. The buffering still exists as a problem anyway. So you have to count that in any comparison of options. It doesn’t go away because you use less of it. It’s proportional. It remains at all scales.

      In my opinion, this is so completely unrealistic as to render the methodogical approach unserious.

      That a single solar panel only generates energy half the day is unrealistic? That wind doesn’t blow 24/7 is unrealistic?

      If you want to see an example of bias generating results contrary to reality, you just gave us an exhibit.

      We don’t choose one energy source to produce all energy, we choose the source that is most suitable for producing the next marginal unit that we need.

      That doesn’t matter to these results. The ROI remains the same no matter what percentage of generation comes from a given source. The fact is, the amount of energy we need is vastly greater than any practical wind-solar solution can address. It is beyond economic viability in its sheer scale. It’s fine to have some. But it won’t get us anywhere near where we need to be, without costing vastly more (or even tanking our economy) and polluting the environment more and killing far more people. The reality exists at all scales. Nuclear is vastly (vastly) safer, cheaper, and cleaner per TWH, regardless of how many TWH you decide to generate with solar or wind. For example, if you decide to generate only 1TWH with wind-solar, you could replace that 1TWH with a small nuclear plant and you would still kill fewer people, spend less money, and pollute the environment less. The effect remains at all scales. So you are always choosing how many people to kill, how much pollution to generate, and how much money to lose.

      For instance, if we have a very good place to build a hydropower plant we may build that first, and if we have a windy location we may next build some wind mills, etcetera.

      I already addressed this in the article. This is simply not scalable. We will reach capacity rapidly on sources like hydro. And as I said, sure, tap where we can. But our energy needs are simply too vastly greater than these solutions can accommodate. I don’t think you understand this. Or the scalability of the costs, deaths, and pollution. Which remains. Per above. You can’t avoid the consequences of choosing a TWH generation source that kills, pollutes, and costs. Your choices are simply how much killing, pollution, and costs. And the difference remains. At all scales. Per above.

      I only briefly checked a draft of the paper, but the results for wind power are unchanged. Even removing the ridiculous penalty for storage, all other studies I can find have significantly better EROI than this paper.

      Then you didn’t read the paper. They give values for both buffered and unbuffered. I even mention this in my article. It’s even shown on the chart I have in my article. This is starting to look like you are so biased and careless you can’t even “see” evidence and literally just “hallucinated away” what was actually in my article and that paper in agreement with the results you want to be true, rather than what actually is true. You need to stop and ask yourself why you just did that. This indicates your judgment in this issue is seriously unreliable and needs a major recalibration.

      I also strongly doubt the numbers reached for nuclear. The authors assume a mean lifetime of 60 years for nuclear power plants before decomissioning, even though existing or planned plants almost never have such long life spans even on paper.

      Check their sources. They are right. Current plant designs have sixty year lifespans, owing to new technologies. This ignoring of technological progress and assuming plants built today are just like plants built thirty years ago is simply more evidence of irrational bias against nuclear. Update your knowledge. This is not 1970 anymore. This is not even the same century!

      In short, they are comparing theoretical future-tech nuclear power plants with tried and tested, measured results from wind power generated with existing and to a large extent outdated technology.

      Nope. Their reference plant is an actual plant in service. Not hypothetical. The ones being tested now and actually operational are also not hypothetical but nearly ready to go online as soon as there is investment. And I treated them separately. They are even vastly better than the reference plant used in the study.

      They also assume that when a wind turbine is ‘decomissioned’ the entire investment is lost. For purposes of long-term EROI we should probably assume that the greatest part of the *energy* investment, the superstructure of the wind mill, will be reused, while the blades and turbine may be replaced.

      There is no evidence that’s true. The superstructure ages same as any tower or bridge; and is the least expensive component of the machine. The lifespan is about the same and comes to a total time replacement average. The replacement of blades and turbines and associated parts over the lifetime of the machine is already in the measured annual maintenance costs, for example. Some parts may last longer, others less. The average lifetime of the whole, remains as reported. The data is the data. You can’t invent data. Just because you “want” wind turbines to last longer, doesn’t miraculously cause them to.

      Reply
  3. Your other source, about fatalities/twh is also known for making the rounds in nuke-fundie circles. It is not serious.

    Actually a serious calculation would still look *very* good for nuclear, but the ways in which the nuke-fundies ignore science in order to get an ultra-super-awesome number rather than just a really impressive number speaks volumes. The reason they get almost no deaths from nuclear is that they are only counting ‘proven’ deaths, from acute radioactive poisoning and such. This is not how we treat calculations for other power sources such as coal. Typically, we have no way to prove that someone who dies from lung problems did so because of particles emitted by coal. It could have other reasons. Instead, we get the numbers through statistics, we know that a certain level of particle emission leads to a certain number of deaths.

    But this is really the same for radioactivity. If we do the calculations seriously, we would expect a few thousands (maybe 2000-5000) deaths from the Fukushima disaster due to exposure to low doses of radioactivity. This may sound like a lot, but we should note that there were about 16000 recorded immediate deaths from the earthquake that caused that accident, and it is the only other accident than Chernobyl that has caused mass health effects. It should be noted that claims by anti-nuke-fundies that the Fukushima radiation has caused health risks on other continents are completely unfounded by science. Also, most of those who will statistically die from the exposure will live for many years in good health, although that can also be true for eg coal emissions. If you discuss this with a nuke-fundie they will often completely deny mainstream science which says that the risk is of exposure is fairly linear to dosage with no lower cutoff level. This conclusion is strongly supported by statistics for medium dosages, and for low dosages where statistical studies become impractical, but theoretical findings which indicate that radiation cancer is, for at least some types of radiation, caused by a single energy quantum.

    Reply
    1. The reason they get almost no deaths from nuclear is that they are only counting ‘proven’ deaths, from acute radioactive poisoning and such.

      Again, you don’t get to invent data. And the study included statistically expected costs to life expectancy. You aren’t being honest about how these results were generated. Your bias seems so extreme you don’t even check to see what numbers they are using or even look to see if there is any evidence-based reason to increase them.

      Reply
  4. And, sorry for posting so much, but now for the reasons why nuclear sucks, the reasons omitted by your no doubt nice but still clearly irrationally nuke-loving friend.

    First let me say that nuclear power has a very important place, for the near and medium future and, depending on technology advancement, maybe in the long run as well. I’m very sad to see how Germany dismantled their nuclear plants and used more coal instead. There is no sensible and realistic option to get France off nuclear power either.

    But there are a number of very serious problems with nuclear that show why it is not the awesome universal energy solution nuke-fundies want people to believe.

    The first is simply cost: it is not a cost-effective solution compared to alternatives such as wind power. Nuclear power plants are pretty much always (I know of no exception) built as government investments. As a business investment they just don’t cut it and never have. Nuke-fundies have always projected that this will change now because of the latest technological breakthrough, but these predictions have so far been wrong every time. Meanwhile, technologies such as wind that were also introduced with government subsidies have seen technological breakthroughs that make them competitive on their own merits.

    The second major reason, which is related but hard to quantify, is that nuclear power plants are behemoths. A single modern plant generates so much energy that it can power a small nation. This gives rise to massive problems of corruption both during the building phase and the production phase. What, for example, if an operator is so unlucky as to experience a shutdown of a reactor during a period of peak energy usage, causing a massive spike in electricity price? Suddenly the plant gets massively profitable, what a shame really!

    This puts nuclear in contrast with most other forms of generation, with the possible exception of hydroelectric. Wind and solar benefit from being an excellent fit for market based innovation and competition, both for production of the units and for operation and maintenance.

    Reply
    1. The first is simply cost: it is not a cost-effective solution compared to alternatives such as wind power.

      100% false. And proven false with evidence. You have no evidence to the contrary. The one who asserts facts contrary to reality with no evidence after just being presented with extensive peer reviewed evidence? That’s the fundamentalist in the room. Please give that some thought.

      As a business investment they just don’t cut it and never have.

      Also false. You can’t just assert things without evidence. A wind farm the size sufficient to replace a single nuclear plant is going to cost vastly more and generate vastly less. That’s what ROI is. So if wind farms are practical business investments, so are nuclear plants. And as one would thus expect, there are numerous successful, profitable private nuclear plant companies in just the U.S. alone. There are also successful, revenue-neutral state-owned nuclear power companies, all over the world. And the same state incentives given to wind can be given to nuclear. And so on. This is therefore no argument.

      The second major reason, which is related but hard to quantify, is that nuclear power plants are behemoths.

      The new plants ready to go online will not be, or needn’t be. As I explicitly said in the article above that you evidently didn’t actually read.

      This gives rise to massive problems of corruption both during the building phase and the production phase.

      If that were true, it would show in the data. In other words, the ROI calculated, already inherently includes any such effect, whether it exists or not. So this is not an argument either.

      What, for example, if an operator is so unlucky as to experience a shutdown of a reactor during a period of peak energy usage, causing a massive spike in electricity price? Suddenly the plant gets massively profitable, what a shame really!

      Gee. I wonder if maybe we have fifty years of worldwide operational evidence with which to answer that question?

      Do you think?

      Maybe?

      Like, maybe you could check the evidence to see what the answer to your question is?

      You know, evidence? Of which we have tons and tons, for numerous nations and decades, and hundreds and hundreds of plants?

      This puts nuclear in contrast with most other forms of generation, with the possible exception of hydroelectric. Wind and solar benefit from being an excellent fit for market based innovation and competition, both for production of the units and for operation and maintenance.

      The evidence does not back this up. The ROI remains what it is.

      You don’t get to make up data. There is no evidence of any tech in the pipe that will substantially alter the ROI for wind or solar. There is actual substantial evidence of tech in the pipe that will substantially improve nuclear ROI, safety, security, and cleanness.

      I base my beliefs on evidence. You might want to decide some day to do that as well.

      Reply
  5. Forgive me if I’m not going to spend hours of research for writing a blog comment pointing out some errors in an area where I actually have the required expertise (I have an MSc in mechanical engineering) and I can see that you don’t have the required understanding of the subjects to draw the conclusions you do. Obviously I can document every single claim I have with peer-reviewed research, if you ask. But you did not even bother to ask.

    There is no sensible system on this board for quoting, so I’ll limit myself to two points:

    First, the supposed costs for storage are *not* proportional as you claim. Only a person completely ignorant of how energy systems work would claim something so completely ridiculous.

    This is how it works: let’s say we have a simple system with only two sources of power: hydroelectric and wind. In this system, we will use the hydroelectric plant as what is known as *regulating power*. This means that we will activate more turbines when the wind is not blowing so much. When it is very windy, we may deactivate the hydropower completely. This is typically not a loss, because the limiting factor of hydropower capacity is simply the available amount of water. How much wind power we can have given available regulating power is a very complicated subject, but there is no doubt that wind power can give a significant contribution without any use of buffering whatsoever. Going beyond that, the added cost is *still* not proportional, because it is possible to export electricity from windy areas to less windy areas, which for a larger area cancel each other out for the most part. This results in transfer losses, which is why we will see a sub-linear reduction in overall efficiency in this area. Only if we build a wind-only solution (say, on a small island), buffering becomes the problem you believe exists everywhere.
    Second, no, we do not replace towers and bridges every 20 years! You really have no clue what you are talking about here. The reason a period such as 20 years is typically used for the projected lifespan is that such projects are determined by *costs*, not by EREI. Even though the superstructure is the most *energy intensive* part, it is cheap, owing in no small part to the low energy prices we have today. Because very long running investments are complicated to manage, a relatively short life span is used since it makes little difference economically. If we care about EREI, we should take this into consideration.

    Third, again, they are comparing nuclear future-tech nuclear plants with outdated wind plants. There are tried and tested wind power parks that have been measured, over a period of decades, to have an EREI of 50x+. You have nothing such for nuclear, where you are using projections (very optimistic ones) based on shorter runs of model plants, or even theoretical predictions of dream projects that would surely be super efficient if it was not for the global conspiracy that somehow prevents these awesome new plants from actually being built (if you had followed this debate for a bit longer, you would know that these claims of new generations being vastly more economical are not new, they are as old as nuclear power itself. Newer generations have indeed shown great improvements, but they have not become more economically feasible).

    Fourth, about economics: you make the mistake of thinking that because a private company is *operating* a power plant, they paid for the construction of that plant. I just checked the first plants in your links, constructed back in the 60’s with massive government subsidies. I’m not saying that government investment in nuclear is necessarily a bad idea, in fact I would say it is frequently a great idea, but you can’t just ignore this. This is the reason why almost no nukes are built in the US anymore and most plants are from the Cold War era: there is simply much less government funding available nowadays, probably largely due to the reduced need for production of plutonium for nuclear weapons.

    Reply
  6. I have now read the Weißbach et al paper more closely. There are, in fact, additional flaws in this paper that make the results completely useless. When assessing research papers, it is a good idea to also check if there have been other papers published that comment on them. Such is indeed the case for this article, where a peer-reviewed comment claims, in summary, that “Serious methodological errors in a paper by Weißbach et al. invalidate their results.”

    “Comments on “Energy intensities, EROIs (energy returned on invested), and energy payback times of electricity generating power plants”—Making clear of quite some confusion” by Marco Raugei, with a number of other experts joining him on followups.

    Apart from the ‘buffering’ already discussed, it is clear that Weißbach are also using completely unorthodox methods, seemingly of their own invention, to ‘correct’ the numbers they are using as their sources. These ‘corrections’ appear to stem from a fundamental lack of understanding of what the numbers represent, how they are arrived at, and even their purpose.

    There is also a remarkable degree of arrogance on part of Weißbach, perhaps best illustrated in the following quote:

    “In opposite to that, the IEA advises to consider the backup outside the system borders without any scientific justification [6].”

    Here, the authors summarily dismiss the advise and expertise of the International Energy Agency, believing they have found some fundamental flaw in how everyone else does these calculations. And this, even though none of the authors are experts in energy systems! This type of behaviour is what we would expect from hobbyist climate revisionists.

    Reply
    1. Quoting Johan Rönnblom

      > This type of behaviour is what we would expect from hobbyist climate revisionists.

      I am incredibly concerned about global warming, and especially concerned about ocean acidification. Many pro-nuclear people are like me. I want to enact a large simple and flat CO2 emission tax (and other greenhouse gas emission tax), and I want to use that money to fix the problem by building a lot of nuclear power plants.

      You are painting a strawman of my position, and many people like me. Your dogmatism is getting to you, and preventing you from hearing the other side. Many people are strongly pro-nuclear, including myself, precisely because we consider global warming and ocean acidification to be such a severe and immediate threat. I have not yet seen an actual, serious proposal for getting the world’s electricity to be practically CO2 emissions free (that does not use substantial amounts of nuclear), and that is exactly what we need to do, /now/. I think that you and your particular group of cult-like thinkers are not taking the problem seriously enough. You seem content to wait for another decade or two on the hope(!) that sufficient technological advances will happen for your green solutions to work. I think that’s grossly irresponsible in light of the information that have on the severity and immediacy of global warming and ocean acidification. The only responsible solution is to go with what we have /right now/! We don’t have the time to wait another decade or two, on the (IMHO unreasonable and unsubstantiated) hope that enough technological advancements will happen to allow a “green” solution. I scare-quote “green”, because by any reasonable measure, nuclear is very, very green, and yet green environmentalists assert nuclear is not “green” seemingly by dogmatic fiat – by definition.

      Reply
    2. I finally had time to read the Raugei article, Weissbach’s reply, and Raugei’s closing statement. Nothing they debated had anything to do with arguing against their conclusions regarding nuclear power. It was solely about which energy costs to reckon, which is a totally irrelevant debate in regards my article above. They are debating in those articles risked investment vs. total lost; Raugei wants the latter, but for obvious reasons, Weissbach is talking policy, and policymakers only care about the former, since that’s the only actual cost to us, e.g. we don’t pay to heat the sun or manufacture coal, so the energy consumed by the sun or in creating coal is irrelevant to our energy policy calculations.

      At no time did Raugei et al. present any conclusions on any power source being any better relative to nuclear than already argued in Weisbach et al. (even his argument about combining systems to eliminate buffering was already mentioned in the original article, and fully covered there, requiring no further discussion). So why did you cite it as doing so?

      Frankly, I am kind of annoyed you had me waste my time reading all that. It wasn’t pertinent. And you didn’t even mention Weissbach’s rebuttal. Which says all that needs being said even on the irrelevant point they are debating: “Reply on “Comments on ‘Energy intensities, EROIs (energy returned on invested), and energy payback times of electricity generating power plants’ e Making clear of quite some confusion,” D. Weißbach et al., Energy 68 (2014): 1004-1006. Raugei’s response (in Energy 82 (2015) 1088-1091) doesn’t answer any of Weissbach’s actual points (indeed it pretty much just concedes them). And again says nothing relevant to my article.

      Reply
      1. I referred the article because I assumed that you were interested in keeping the information on your blog scientifically sound. I will say that if your article had just been citing wildly optimistic estimates for nuclear, I would not even have bothered to respond; such estimates are abundant but fairly inconsequential, since investors have learned (the very hard way) to be skeptical of such claims.

        The problem is that you are making claims specifically about solar and wind power that are not merely cherry-picked or debatable, but simply pants-on-fire wrong. And you are doing this based by an article written by some (retired?) physicists who have no prior publication history in energy economics, LCA analysis or similar, in fact no relevant qualifications at all really, but who nevertheless take it upon themselves to “correct” all their source data using a newly invented, never before used methodology. They are claiming that all the other scientists who devoted their entire careers to these fields have no idea what they are doing, without any trace of modesty. Some of these experts respond, and really, there is nothing left. The article should never have been published without a complete overhaul. If you have indeed read the exchange and you do not understand this, I’m sorry but that means you do not understand the subject.

        Just, finally, let me correct a fundamental misunderstanding: EROI calculations do *not at all* deal with “the only actual cost to us” as you state. Specifically, they completely ignore non-energy costs (note that Weißbach acknowledge this). In typical comparisons of energy production technology, we would not even use EROI but rather an economic measurement (USD/kWh) and an environmental measurement (CO2-equivalents/kWh). If indeed we use EROI, it is about the environmental, rather than the economical impact (to confuse matters, environmental calculations are a form of economics). It’s defensible to argue the merits of EROI over typical LCA calculations (if done right) although I’m unconvinced it brings much of value for policymaking.

        Standard LCA analyses show good results for nuclear, and while there is a great uncertainty owing to the fact that the most modern technology is too new to have real-world data and therefore relies on theoretical estimates, the macro view is that nuclear, wind and solar are all vastly better than fossil fuels and should all be explored, and that the choice must ultimately be determined on a case-by-case basis depending on the marginal cost of delivering the base and regulating power needed in the particular market. The problem for nuclear in recent decades has instead been that they have not been economical, many (most?) projects outside of China have been scrapped, and those that have proceeded have typically had massive delays with drastically increased costs. Unless and until these problems can be overcome, I do not foresee a boom for nuclear.

        Reply
        1. AnonymousSpaceCowboy May 10, 2017, 10:00 pm

          To Johan Rönnblom

          > The problem is that you are making claims specifically about solar and wind power that are not merely cherry-picked or debatable, but simply pants-on-fire wrong.

          Which? It looks mostly correct to me.

          > In typical comparisons of energy production technology, we would not even use EROI but rather an economic measurement (USD/kWh) and an environmental measurement (CO2-equivalents/kWh). If indeed we use EROI, it is about the environmental, rather than the economical impact (to confuse matters, environmental calculations are a form of economics). It’s defensible to argue the merits of EROI over typical LCA calculations (if done right) although I’m unconvinced it brings much of value for policymaking.

          Let me render the argument in a way that you can understand: The money costs of solar and wind are very cheap right now because they are being subsidized by cheap fossil fuels. If anyone ever tried to build a factory to produce solar cells or windmills that relied only on solar and wind, plus batteries, then the money cost at market would be extremely high. In other words, solar cells and windmills are cheap today, because they are manufactured with money-cheap fossil fuels. EROEI is a measure that approximately captures this fact.

          I’d prefer other measures, but EROEI is good enough for now. Specifically, the number that really matters is “the fraction of our working population that must work in energy supply in order to maintain our industrial standard of living”. Currently, with fossil fuels, that number is about 1%. What the EROEI number for solar and wind is telling us is that the required fraction is substantially higher, and perhaps even higher than 100%, aka impossible. Even fractions like 50% would mean massive social changes and drastic reductions in standards of living. It’s comparable to using farm animals to get our energy: Yes, you can use farm animals to do useful work, but because of the small energy density and because of the relatively large amount of human labor required, you cannot support an industrial civilization with mere farm animals in place of fossil fuels.

          > the macro view is that nuclear, wind and solar are all vastly better than fossil fuels […]

          The macro view is in error. It’s practically a religious dogma of the environmentalists that 1- solar and wind can work and 2- nuclear is so evil that it must never be considered. We see that the movement is led by people like Mark Jacobson, a known liar and fraud concerning his analysis of renewable energy and nuclear power. The modern green anti-nuclear environmentalist movement cannot even police its own to remove people like Mark Jacobson, and worse they even elevate him to the position of practically their most respected expert. The modern green anti-nuclear environment movement is a sham, no better than a religious cult, paid for in some substantial part by fossil fuel interests.

          > […] and should all be explored

          The proper answer is that research should continue into all promising, and even unpromising areas of research. We are not talking about research. Please, let us have the government continue research into solar, wind, and batteries. I’m all for that.

          However, this climate change thing and ocean acidification thing is a serious and immediate issue that we really should solve right now, and that means we need to go with the tech that we have now. No one has presented a serious plan with available tech to stop human use of fossil fuel, except plans that rely primarily on nuclear. It is the height of irresponsibility to recognize the scale of the disaster that is facing us, but to put off enacting the solution for another day, based on the hope that sometime soon green technology will become available to solve the problem. It’s asinine. It’s irrational. It’s madness.

          > The problem for nuclear in recent decades has instead been that they have not been economical, […] Unless and until these problems can be overcome, I do not foresee a boom for nuclear.

          Conventional light water reactors are not economical because society has chosen to make them not economical. See:
          euanmearns.com/nuclear-capital-costs-three-mile-island-and-chernobyl/ (I am not endorsing the entire site and all of the opinions of the various authors.)

          The short description is that after Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, most of the west passed regulations on nuclear that were often needless, based on pseudoscience (i.e. the linear no-threshold model), and which drastically raised the money costs of nuclear power. Some countries did not follow this trend, including more than China. South Korea stands out as a prominent example where nuclear costs continued to decline year over year after Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.

          The problem is entirely a political problem, and the problem is largely the environmentalists. The so-called environmentalists are actually the biggest impediment to fixing climate change and ocean acidification.

          Hell, their continued resistance to nuclear power is killing millions of people every year just from airborne particulate pollution alone. It’s completely reprehensible. This is what happens when we base our public policy on faith and ignorance instead of science.

        2. I referred the article because I assumed that you were interested in keeping the information on your blog scientifically sound.

          It is. Nothing I said is scientifically incorrect. Even after reading that article. That’s why I’m annoyed you made me read it.

          The article you cited made no statements that were both correct and pertinent to what my article was about. It was a waste of my time to read it. All the more so after I read the rebuttal, which you didn’t tell me about, which completely exposes the bogus claims being made in that article to begin with.

          The fact that you seem to think it said anything supporting your point suggests you either didn’t read it, or are not acting rationally in this conversation. Either one isn’t good.

          The problem is that you are making claims specifically about solar and wind power that are not merely cherry-picked or debatable, but simply pants-on-fire wrong.

          That’s not true. Nor did the article you cited even say this, or establish anything like it.

          They are claiming that all the other scientists who devoted their entire careers to these fields have no idea what they are doing…

          What other scientists?

          Just, finally, let me correct a fundamental misunderstanding: EROI calculations do *not at all* deal with “the only actual cost to us” as you state. Specifically, they completely ignore non-energy costs (note that Weißbach acknowledge this).

          That’s not true. And you either didn’t read the article you are leaning on, or you don’t understand what it said. There are no costs to us that were not included in the original analysis. The critic you are leaning on wants us to count energy we never paid for, as a cost (e.g. the cost of burning the sun; the cost of creating fossil fuels). That’s totally ridiculous, and completely irrelevant to human policy decisions.

          All that matters is money. What do we spend in money. And next after that is, what damage are we doing to the environment (and hence the future of humanity and its economies; both by extraction and consumption). On neither measure is anything my article said incorrect. And the article you cited says not one thing against either point.

          In typical comparisons of energy production technology, we would not even use EROI but rather an economic measurement (USD/kWh) and an environmental measurement (CO2-equivalents/kWh).

          This is already in my article. I talk about the greenhouse gas emissions per kwh and that’s even a major point I make. You have said not one factual thing against it. And USD/kwh is precisely the wrong measure to use. That’s exactly what the articles I cite prove. The article you cite does not say anything the contrary (it at no point argues replacing EROI with mere USD/kWh, because they well know that conceals costs on the production end; to the contrary, your weird critic wants us to add even more than EROI does, to count costs that we don’t even spend a single cent on!).

          This was explained to you by AnonymousSpaceCowboy already, but let me reiterate it because it is exactly what the Weissbach article is about, and what your critic never says one thing against:

          The cost (USD/Khw) of wind, for example, is including a vast consumption of fossil fuels.

          Let me say that again so you start to understand:

          The cost (USD/Khw) of wind, for example, is including a vast consumption of fossil fuels.

          If we were to take those fossil fuels away (which power the factories that build wind turbines, the machines that mine the materials we use to build wind turbines, the trucks and trains and ships that bring the mined materials to the factories, the trucks and cars that bring the the wind turbines and their maintenance mechanics and replacement parts to their emplacement), and replace it with wind, the cost of wind power would become so enormous we literally would bankrupt the country even attempting it. It can’t be done.

          This is why wind can only ever be a very small percentage of any power solution we have. The more we replace fossil with wind, the more expensive electricity becomes, on a runaway scale such that we increasingly lose GDP and eventually go bankrupt. Wind has its place. But only as a tiny fraction of any overall solution. There is simply no getting rid of a vast reliance on fossil fuels. Unless we go nuclear. Period.

          And let me say this again: the article you cited, does not say a single thing against that conclusion.

          Standard LCA analyses show good results for nuclear, and while there is a great uncertainty owing to the fact that the most modern technology is too new to have real-world data and therefore relies on theoretical estimates…

          No. We have numerous countries with decades of real data.

          The advantages are not theoretical. They are factually established.

          And that’s even with existing tech; the new tech we are already developing is necessarily superior on every single measure (both in waste production and cost of development and operation and ability to operate power grids on a dynamic scale). It therefore must necessarily do even better. Exactly as I explain in my article. And which your cited article says not one single thing against.

          The problem for nuclear in recent decades has instead been that they have not been economical, many (most?) projects outside of China have been scrapped

          This is false.

          Many countries are highly reliant on nuclear. They have not been “scrapped.” And the only thing preventing them from developing more, is alarmist irrational fears, the very ones I dispelled in my article, and which, again, the article you cited said not one thing about. Fears that block developments directly, and that, as AnonymousSpaceCowboy pointed out, unnecessarily raise costs. Yet even with those unnecessarily high costs, nuclear is still far better. Because Weissbach’s analysis is based on those irrationally high costs. He has already factored them in. Which means if we’d stop acting like anti-vaxxers and GMO-phobes, we could make even currently used nuclear tech even more efficient than Weissbach’s analysis says. And again even more so, the new tech in the pipe.

          You are not saying true things. Nor are you reasoning logically. It does not seem like you are correctly informed about any of this.

  7. Steven C Watson November 3, 2016, 9:13 pm

    Ὀψὲ λόγῶν ἀλέουσι μύλοι, ἀλέουσι δὲ λεπτά. With apologies to Sextus Empiricus.

    We all do well to change our minds when the facts change. Dr Carrier does it often. I ask, after John Maynard Keynes, what do the rest of you do?
    Very informative and I enjoyed it immensely, Tah very muchly.

    Reply
  8. Steven C Watson November 3, 2016, 10:30 pm

    Johan Rönnblom, did you miss where Richard writes:

    “This is all analyzed in such research reports as…”? I take that to mean at least several such reports have been examined. On previous form I am probably well under-estimating. You can only use the word thorough about Dr Carrier in a sense of English understatement. Very little of what he has argued here is unfamiliar to me. The data and sources may be different but the arguments and conclusions are the same as I have been seeing and hearing since at least the eighties.

    I’ll check your citations, as I always do where I can, but this is another of those arguments that has been rehearsed that many times to the same conclusion – a win for nuclear – that you really should get over it already.

    Reply
    1. To begin with, the whole framing of the discussion is ridiculous. The ‘my tech is better than your tech’ argumentation style is for fanboys (I have never seen a woman engaging in such fights).

      Whether the fight is between PC or Mac, vinyl vs cd, car brands, or nuclear vs wind vs solar vs whatever: it’s silly, and anyone taking it seriously is a clueless fanboy.

      The reason there are different technologies in use out there is not that everyone else is stupid or that there is some grand conspiracy, but that different tech has different advantages and disadvantages. The only correct answer is ‘it depends’.

      It’s very unlikely that Carrier has done any serious survey of other relevant studies, because serious studies give very different results. Now, this is not to say that nuclear does not do reasonably well in some circumstances. But no, apart from very confused or biased studies, or outright fabricated propaganda, you will not see the claim that solar or wind power does not carry its own costs in terms of energy usage, carbon footprint, or any other environmental metric you might imagine. Certainly, for some segments of energy production, there are other technologies performing better.

      To finish, let’s just consider one more factor of real world energy production: the daily electricity usage pattern. In the evening, a lot of industries are shut down, and in the night the use of household appliances is also much reduced. The result is that the demand is highest during the day, and lowest in the middle of the night. Now, typical energy systems do not have any dedicated ‘buffering’, but rather the production is adjusted so that every hour, minute and second, the production is matched with the supply. This is a problem not only for wind power, but actually for most forms of power, and more so for nuclear. Because it takes a lot of time to stop and start a nuclear power plant, and for technical and economical reasons you want to run it 24/7 with as few interruptions as possible. So nuclear is only ever suitable for the ‘base’ rate of lowest electricity consumption during the daily and even yearly cycles. To some extent this can be evened out by exporting during the night to neighbouring regions, but only if these regions are not themselves running on nuclear power.

      Conversely, while solar power is not necessarily the most efficient technology per kWh generated, it has the property of generating the most electricity on sunny days, and if peak electricity usage is caused by air conditioning systems, as is the case in many places, this makes it a very good fit to help even out these peaks. In economic terms, they will generate power at those hours where the electricity price is highest, and in ecological terms, they will reduce the need for the type of dirty energy production typically employed during peaks, such as cheap and relatively inefficient gas turbines.

      Reply
    2. Quoting Johan Rönnblom

      > Because it takes a lot of time to stop and start a nuclear power plant,

      I felt the impulsive need to correct one incredibly common falsehood regarding nuclear power. You say that nuclear cannot load-follow? I’d like to introduce you to France, where their nuclear reactors produce about 75% of the country’s electricity, and they are designed to load-follow, and they do load-follow, and they load-follow quite fine.

      In America, nuclear plants do not load-follow because of the particular economics of American electricity, and the economics of nuclear. Nuclear has a relatively low penetration, about 20% IIRC. In this market, the plant that will do load-follow is the one with cheap capital costs and high fuel costs (relatively speaking), and that is often natural gas. Nuclear is the exact opposite: high capital costs, and very low fuel costs. Further, like any plant, ramping power up and down does increase wear and tear, which slightly increases cost for using nuclear for load-follow. Finally, designing a nuclear plant to load-follow does require some sacrifices in efficiency.

      However, the nuclear reactors in France are designed to load-follow, and they are quite capable of doing so. This claim is incredibly obnoxious to me, because it’s incredibly common, and because of how extremely easy it is to show that it is false. For more information, please see:
      http://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/country-profiles/countries-a-f/france.aspx

      I encourage you to do a little more research, and you will find that many of the anti-nuclear claims of the so-called environmentalists are hogwash, and the so-called experts of the anti-nuclear environmentalist community are anti-science dogmatists, de-industrialization proponents, pants-on-fire liars, and they are often a form of anarcho-capitalists, where decentralizing power generation to “stick it to the man” is more important than actually saving the environment! Many times in debates I’ve been told that it doesn’t matter if nuclear can do it, because it would be under control by “the man” – the environment be damned!

      I find it hard to summon the time and interest necessary to debate with someone like you, who says such outrageously false claims that are easily checked in mere minutes with the internet. Depending on your answer, I might engage further.

      Reply
      1. “You say that nuclear cannot load-follow? I’d like to introduce you to France, where their nuclear reactors produce about 75% of the country’s electricity, and they are designed to load-follow, and they do load-follow, and they load-follow quite fine.”

        That depends on what you mean by “fine”. Load-following nuclear plants essentially just throw excess energy potential away, eg the plant does not become significantly cheaper to run at low energy output than at maximum. So it is possible, but not economical. Indeed, the economy of nuclear power is based on running as close at maximum output as constantly and as long as possible, to pay off the high cost of investment.

        Obviously, the choice of technology for power regulation depends on what is available. Hydropower is close to ideal, with very fast (sub-second) regulating ability and practically no losses. But if enough hydropower is not available, other options must be used. Another factor is the connectedness of the grid, that is, to what degree it is possible to export (regionally or across borders) and import electricity to offset stochastic fluctuations. The basic day/night demand cycle cannot however be countered this way (exporting to a significantly different timezone would incur too heavy transport losses with available technology).

        “I encourage you to do a little more research, and you will find that many of the anti-nuclear claims of the so-called environmentalists are hogwash”

        This is true, but likewise many pro-nuclear claims are quite absurd also. It is not wise to form your opinion by picking the opposite position to the worst arguments you can find. Only the best arguments are relevant.

        Reply
        1. AnonymousSpaceCowboy May 10, 2017, 10:17 pm

          > So it is possible, […]

          So, I’m glad that you admitted your error. Would you please stop repeating this well known myth in the future? Can I get that promise from you please?

          > So it is possible, but not economical.

          I’m sorry, your argument is not valid / sound. Determining whether something is economical or not is based on many factors, including the demand for the product, how elastic the demand is relative to the price, whether alternatives exist, etc. Econ 101. So, load following nuclear has a higher money cost compared to the use of nuclear that does constant base-load production. So what? How did you arrive at the conclusion that it’s not economical? Because the money cost is higher? Sorry, you have a lot more work to do before you can arrive at the “it is uneconomical” conclusion.

          Also, again, France would like a word with you: France has low electricity prices compared to most other countries in Europe (and France has low CO2 emissions per capita compared to most other countries in Europe), and that is largely because it uses nuclear power, about 75% of the total electricity supply. I’ve seen arguments and citations against this number, but they belong to more pseudoscience fearmongering regarding fictional dangers of radiation and storage of nuclear waste.

          Also, it may be possible to ameleriate that cost to load follow through a simple heat reservoir to handle the daily cycles of demand. Maybe. This must be contrasted with solar and wind which need to handle weekly cycles of weather, and yearly cycles of changing solar radiation (i.e. seasons). Energy storage for a few hours is economical. Energy storage for weeks is not.

          To put it bluntly, we could overbuild nuclear by a factor of 2 to account for the differences between low and high daily demand, and it would still be miles cheaper than solar and wind.

          > Hydropower is close to ideal, with very fast (sub-second) regulating ability and practically no losses. But if enough hydropower is not available, other options must be used.

          Protip: There’s not enough hydro. Even imagining potential future hydro, there’s not enough by several orders of magnitude!
          http://physics.ucsd.edu/do-the-math/2011/11/pump-up-the-storage/

          > Another factor is the connectedness of the grid, that is, to what degree it is possible to export (regionally or across borders) and import electricity to offset stochastic fluctuations.

          This is another green myth. It’s contrary to all data.

          Hypothetically speaking, assume that the wind levels in every country was an independent variable. Even under this naive model, you should expect periods where all of the random variables will align, and you will get practically zero wind over an entire continent. For this approach to actualy work, you would need anti-correlation of wind levels between countries. Whereas, back in reality, there’s this thing called “weather patterns” which means that the wind levels across an entire continent do have some positive correlation. Look at the data – google it. It’s available for all to see, and it’s shows that this is a clear and simple lie.

          > This is true, but likewise many pro-nuclear claims are quite absurd also. It is not wise to form your opinion by picking the opposite position to the worst arguments you can find. Only the best arguments are relevant.

          It is said that when there are two people of opposite and extreme positions, the truth lies in the middle. Sometimes. However, such as for creationists vs “evolutionists”, sometimes one side is just right. This is one of those times.

        2. Johan, everything you just said to AnonymousSpaceCowboy, is already addressed and refuted in my article. The article above. Here on my blog. That you are posting comments to.

        3. AnonymousSpaceCowboy wrote:
          “So, I’m glad that you admitted your error.”

          There was no error. Nuclear power is unsuitable and uneconomical for load following. That is a scientifically uncontroversial statement. See for instance [1]. Of course it is always possible to throw energy away, which is basically what you do if you have to run a nuclear power plant at reduced power, the fuel savings are insignificant. But it’s actually worse: in addition to wasting fuel and falling behind on repaying the massive investment in the plant, you also cause additional wear of the power plant and produce excess radioactive waste that needs to be processed.

          “France has low electricity prices compared to most other countries in Europe”

          Yes. This is because the French taxpayers invest massive amounts in nuclear power plants. All of which are taxpayer-funded. Note that I’m not saying that this has been a bad idea: in fact I think it was at least for a time a great idea. My country (Sweden) did the same and we have similarly low prices. But obviously this cannot be used to draw any conclusion about whether nuclear power is economical.

          “I’ve seen arguments and citations against this number”

          What number? The only number you gave is for the percentage of nuclear power in France, which is obviously not in dispute, but which is also not relevant.

          “we could overbuild nuclear by a factor of 2 to account for the differences between low and high daily demand, and it would still be miles cheaper than solar and wind”

          If that were true, how come there is almost no commercial interest in building nuclear power even without this supposed factor of 2? You think there is some massive global conspiracy? Investors don’t want to make money? You need to explain this. In reality, you are engaging in a bizarre fantasy.

          “Also, it may be possible to ameleriate that cost to load follow through a simple heat reservoir to handle the daily cycles of demand. Maybe.”

          No, definitely not. The fact that you you speculate about such a ridiculous idea shows that a) you have absolutely no sense for the realities of energy systems engineering and b) you are so anchored to your fix idea that nuclear must always be great that you are clinging to hypothetical solutions that you have not even spent five minutes researching.

          “Energy storage for a few hours is economical.”

          No, it really is not. The best (least bad) option if you *have* to do it is probably to employ some inverse load-following industrial process for *consumption*, again see [1] below for some such considerations.

          “There’s not enough hydro.”

          Tell that to Norway, where hydro power produces 95% of the nation’s electricity. This is why it is such a flawed idea to include assumptions about the local and regional grid mix into a metric for comparing different modes of production. Rather, this must be left to the specific analysis done to determine what is the most suitable solution in any given market. Only a completely reality-impaired fanboy would think the same production method is superior regardless of whether the market is France, Norway, China or Cape Verde and regardless of what the current production and consumption mix looks like.

          “Hypothetically speaking, assume that the wind levels in every country was an independent variable. Even under this naive model, you should expect periods where all of the random variables will align, and you will get practically zero wind over an entire continent.”

          Yes, what is your point? This will happen sometimes over a small region (say, Denmark), less often over a larger region (say, Germany) and extremely rarely over a large area such as northern Europe (to take an example of an area that is actually fairly well interconnected already). Because the variability becomes much lower in the larger area, the corresponding cost is sharply reduced, is more easily met with eg available hydropower, and so on. There is this absurd belief among anti-wind fanatics that wind (and only wind) needs to be available exactly 100% of the time or it will be ‘useless’. That is just a fringe lunacy, disconnected from the reality of energy systems engineering. You have the same problem with nuclear – sometimes, many or most reactors in a region will happen to be powered down at the same time. Energy systems are built to deal with such eventualities. The variability of wind is certainly a major drawback of wind power, but it is a manageable problem even in systems with a very significant contribution from wind. The higher the percentage of wind you have in the system, the greater the related costs will be. Wind, like everything – including nuclear as we have already discussed – suffers from diminishing returns. There is nowadays more electricity generated from wind than from nuclear power. That does not mean wind power is “better” in some absolute sense, only that the marginal cost of wind, given where we are today, has been lower than eg nuclear. As more wind power is added, the marginal cost increases, and when this ceases to be offset by technological improvements the increase will stop.

          [1] “Load following is the potential for a power plant to adjust its power output as demand and price for electricity fluctuates throughout the day. In nuclear power plants, this is done by inserting control rods into the reactor pressure vessel. This operation is very inefficient as nuclear power generation is composed almost entirely of fixed and sunk costs; therefore, lowering the power output doesn’t significantly reduce generating costs and the plant is thermo-mechanical stressed.” http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S036054421401295X

        4. AnonymousSpaceCowboy May 19, 2017, 8:40 pm

          > There was no error. Nuclear power is unsuitable and uneconomical for load following.

          Moving the goalposts. Look at what you said earlier:

          > Because it takes a lot of time to stop and start a nuclear power plant, and for technical and economical reasons you want to run it 24/7 with as few interruptions as possible.

          Let’s break that down.

          > [premise 1] Because it takes a lot of time to stop and start a nuclear power plant, and
          > [premise 2] for technical and economical reasons
          > [conclusion] you want to run it 24/7 with as few interruptions as possible.

          Your premise 1 is a statement about the physical impossibility of a conventional light water reactor to load follow. That premise is wrong, and clearly so. You even admitted that it was wrong when you said this:

          > Load-following nuclear plants essentially just throw excess energy potential away, eg the plant does not become significantly cheaper to run at low energy output than at maximum. So it is possible, but not economical.

          Now you’re moving the goalposts. Knock that off please. Admit your error, and then we can move on.

          > how come there is almost no commercial interest in building nuclear power even without this supposed factor of 2? You think there is some massive global conspiracy? Investors don’t want to make money? You need to explain this. In reality, you are engaging in a bizarre fantasy.

          I explained this already. You are not paying attention. Part of being an honest participant in a debate is to read what the opponent is writing, with honest attempts at understanding. You’re not doing that. If you did, then I wouldn’t have to give this citation and explanation again:
          http://euanmearns.com/nuclear-capital-costs-three-mile-island-and-chernobyl/

          Nuclear power plants are expensive because certain nations choose to make them expensive through needless governmental regulations and legal environments. In these regulatory and legal environments, it is not profitable to build nuclear power. Investors are not going to invest. However, none of this relates to physical, technological details. This is all political, and it could easily be changed.

          > [periods of no wind will happen] extremely rarely over a large area such as northern Europe (to take an example of an area that is actually fairly well interconnected already). Because the variability becomes much lower in the larger area, […]

          How about “which together cover a land area of 2.3 million square kilometers and extend over distances of 2,000 kilometers east-west and 4,000 kilometers north-south […]” ? Citation:
          http://euanmearns.com/wind-blowing-nowhere/

          It also includes a picture. Back in reality, there is a high level of correlation of wind across entire continents. I have no idea where this idea came from that geographically disperse wind locations will smooth out variations, but it’s just false. Again, there is this thing called “weather systems”, which means a high degree of correlation across all of Europe.

          > There is this absurd belief among anti-wind fanatics that wind (and only wind) needs to be available exactly 100% of the time or it will be ‘useless’. That is just a fringe lunacy,

          To paraphrase Tom Murphy of “Do The Math” blog, it is true that a dozen inadequate solutions might be able to come together and create an adequate solution. However, a dozen woefully inadequate solutions cannot come together and form an adequate solution, and all of these are of the “woefully inadequate” kind.

          I don’t demand that one technology do 100%. That’s a strawman, and you know it. I do demand that you present, right now, a solution that is 100%, with current technology or technology that can be scaled up to commercial scale prototypes right now. There is no such serious plan, except one that relies primarily on conventional fission nuclear reactors.

          > You have the same problem with nuclear – sometimes, many or most reactors in a region will happen to be powered down at the same time.

          This is asinine. You’re a goddamned ignorant fool, or a liar. You pretend that you know basic engineering principles and you pretend that I do not. It’s clear that you’re a poster child for Dunning–Kruger.
          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning%E2%80%93Kruger_effect

          The term that you are looking for is “common mode failure”.
          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_mode_failure#Common_mode_failure_in_engineering

          In most industrialized countries, the grids have 99.95% approx uptime. This is possible because there is no significant common mode failure: the failure of any particular plant is uncorrelated with the failure of any other plant. With that, plus a little extra overbuild for redundancy, then these extremely high uptimes become quite easy to do.

          Practically speaking, the failure of any nuclear power plant is uncorrelated with the failure of any other plant. There is no common mode failure. Therefore, a fleet of nuclear reactors could easily achieve that 99.95% approx uptime – precisely because of the lack of a common mode failure. Trying to turn this argument about the intermittency of solar and wind back onto nuclear makes no fucking sense at all. There is no way that what you wrote could make any sense in reality. You have no idea what you’re talking about, or you’re a bald-faced liar.

          Contrary to your ridiculous assertions, solar and wind installations across a contintent do share significant common mode failures: weather systems, yearly differences in ground solar radiation, and day-night cycles in ground solar radiation. Because of these common mode failures, without storage, it’s practically impossible to even achieve 90% uptime. If one tries to solve this problem with energy storage, then the entire system becomes too expensive because of the huge energy costs of energy storage usage (including manufacture, operations, recycling).

          Because you are an intellectually-dishonest asshole, again allow me to preemptively cut you off: I am not demanding that the solution be 100% wind and solar. I will accept whatever solution with lots of national and geographical variation, as long as it works. My point here is that wind and solar cannot provide reliable power generation without storage, and they cannot provide reliable power generation with storage. Therefore solar and wind are suitable only for lowering fuel utilization of other energy sources. Therefore, in order to achieve the 99.95% uptime that we’re used to and that we demand, we would need to build out some other solution to meet 100% of the problem as if we didn’t have wind and solar. In that solution, we would scale back generation from other sources whenever we have power from wind and solar. Finally, I assert that there is no 100% solution without solar and wind (and without nuclear) (and without fossil fuels). Thus, we need nuclear, and lots of it.

  9. Johan Rönnblom wrote:
    “There is nowadays more electricity generated from wind than from nuclear power.”

    I just read my post and this sentence obviously came out wrong, what I’m referring to is *added capacity*, eg new plants being built.

    Reply
  10. Richard Carrier wrote:
    “Johan, everything you just said to AnonymousSpaceCowboy, is already addressed and refuted in my article. The article above. Here on my blog. That you are posting comments to.”

    There are a few things that are gainsaid, usually without any data, and often with a technically ignorant motivation, or (such as in the Weißbach case) by referring to cherry-picked, fatally flawed, utterly refuted fringe amateur research that you clearly do not understand even the most basic concepts of.

    If there is any specific claim you want me to document, I’m happy to do so. But my offer is only valid for one specific point, you have shown little interest in learning anything so far and my time is limited. So take your best shot.

    Reply
    1. AnonymousSpaceCowboy May 19, 2017, 8:54 pm

      > If there is any specific claim you want me to document, I’m happy to do so. But my offer is only valid for one specific point, you have shown little interest in learning anything so far and my time is limited. So take your best shot.

      No. You can hide in the details, and weasel your way out. I want what matters: I want right now a 100% description of a 100% plan that will reduce the world’s CO2 emissions for electricity to practically 0 within 30 years. I can do that with nuclear. I assert that you cannot do it without nuclear.

      I am serious about global warming and ocean acidification. This is the scale that we need to be addressing if we’re serious about doing something about it, in order to avoid or lessen some of the more serious consequences of CO2 emissions.

      The Paris agreement and like agreements aim for 20% of XX levels (i.e. 2005 levels) by 2050. This is a joke. This is not taking the problem seriously enough. If we are to trust climate scientists, and I do, and if we are take seriously the chances of severe catastrophic consequences of climate change and ocean acidification, then it should be clear that 20% is not enough. The only acceptable number is practically 0. The rest of the world is industrializing, and populations are growing. According to projections, populations will stop growing within the century, at around 10 billion people.

      Today, worldwide electricity consumption is about 2.5 TW. We will need about 1 KW per person to reach European standards of living, and to solve the non-electricity CO2 emissions, we’re going to need a lot more electricity, which will reach like 3 KW per person, and maybe even 7 KW per person. Even if we reach 20% of today’s emissions for the US, and we export that technology everywhere else, then total emissions are still going to go up! We are talking at least 30 TW, maybe as high as 70 Tw, of electricity worldwide before 2100. 20% of current emissions per Watt is not good enough. It’s not taking the problem seriously. If one takes this problem seriously, then the only acceptable answer is “practically 0”.

      And we need to get there as soon as possible. 2050 is quite late, and we’re going to acrue a lot of CO2 in the meantime.

      With today’s technology, we can reach practically 0 CO2 emissions from electricity production, and we could reach it decades earlier than 2050, but it will require nuclear, and lots of it. Nuclear is our best option by far to combat climate change and ocean acidification, and it bothers me to an extreme amount that the environmentalists are not taking the problem seriously.

      Reply
    2. No, everything you said is refuted in my article. Even your load following argument, which ignores (a) that they included this in the math and (b) the new nuclear tech being readied for use does not have this problem. That latter in fact is a major point of my article.

      Stop ignoring what we are saying. Stop using already refuted and addressed arguments. Pay attention to the actual peer reviewed math. Stop citing articles that never say what you claim.

      Please.

      Reply
  11. Richard Carrier wrote:

    “The article you cited made no statements that were both correct and pertinent to what my article was about. It was a waste of my time to read it. All the more so after I read the rebuttal, which you didn’t tell me about, which completely exposes the bogus claims being made in that article to begin with.”

    First, being a scholar yourself, obviously I assume you would look at the followups. And if for some reason you thought this does not apply to other subjects than your own, I did tell you there were followups. But apparently you stopped reading after you read some nonsense by Weißbach that you did not understand but that agreed with your preconceived notions. So you did not continue to read where Raugei, one of the world’s foremost experts on the subjects, now joined by three other of the world’s foremost experts, again answer Weißbach (a PhD student with no prior history of publishing or even studying anything related) [1]. That is the final followup, I would assume because the journal declined Weißbach a response. By the way, if you don’t know how to gauge someone’s standing in the scientific community, Google Scholar Citations is your friend [2]. Four more of the leading experts, as selected by the International Energy Agency, join Raugei specifically discussing Weißbach’s confused approach in another paper, which is a very good clarification of the terms and concepts involved [3].

    But really, even given that you clearly do not understand the subject, you should see obvious signs of Galileo complex when you see phrasings by Weißbach such as “sophisms”, “politically motivated” or “deception”.

    “There are no costs to us that were not included in the original analysis.”

    Please! First, non-energy costs (such as salaries) are completely absent in an EROI calculation. To be clear, this is not because Weißbach made a mistake, or even misunderstood this point: these costs *should* not be included in EROI, which is why no serious person with any relevant knowledge would think EROI represents a measure that can be used to compare monetary costs.

    “The critic you are leaning on wants us to count energy we never paid for, as a cost (e.g. the cost of burning the sun; the cost of creating fossil fuels).”

    Now you are letting Weißbach confuse you. We have a finite amount of fossil fuel. Which is valuable, it has a market price. When we use it for X, that incurs a cost, just as if we were spending dollars or work hours. Because we could use it for Y instead, or we could use it next year. The burning of the sun has no equivalent; the sun burns at the same rate regardless of whether we capture some solar or wind power. If we do not capture this power now, we cannot capture it at a later time or use it for anything else. Therefore, capturing this energy incurs no cost for us; we lose nothing.

    In addition, consuming fossil fuels incurs massive (but largely hidden) costs as a result of the climate change it effects. This is obviously not the case for nuclear fuels, here only the alternative cost is relevant (eg, we could use this fuel for something else, or we could use it in the future). All these costs can be quantified in monetary terms if we like (fuel has a market price).

    However, you are doubly wrong: Raugei does not want to include the fuel cost in the EROI, because that is not part of the EROI definition (Weißbach is super-confused here). If one wants to compare overall monetary costs of different production systems, that means EROI is not useful.

    Consider just a very simple example here: let us say we can build a cheap oil power plant using 1000 units of oil. This plant can burn 100000 units of oil to generate 10000 units of electricity in the plant’s lifetime. Let’s assume in this scenario we can use 1 unit of oil to extract 100 units of oil.
    Let’s say we can also build an advanced oil power plant that costs 50000 units of oil to build, but which can burn 500000 units of oil to generate 200000 units of electricity.

    The EROI(el) here becomes:
    Plant 1: 10000/(1000+100000/100) = 5.0
    Plant 2: 200000/(50000+500000/100) = 3.6

    So, the first plant is better, or more economical, because it has a higher EROI? Not so fast. Let’s instead look at the units of electricity produced per the total number of units of oil that we use:
    Plant 1: 10000/(1000+100000+100000/100) = 0.10
    Plant 2: 200000/(50000+500000+500000/100) = 0.36

    So what is going on here? Simple: EROI, by definition, does not include the cost of the fuel itself. That is not the purpose of EROI, and to use it for such a comparison means you don’t understand EROI.

    “The cost (USD/Khw) of wind, for example, is including a vast consumption of fossil fuels.”

    Of course. And ditto for nuclear or whatever. Because, today, the grid mix, certainly in every production system, always contains fossil fuel usage. In principle, we could use electric power for all the trucks that mine aluminium, iron or uranium ore, all the processing, etc. Since nuclear and wind both produce only electricity, there is no difference between them in this respect. If you think we would go “bankrupt” if we build more wind, then we will also go bankrupt if we build more nuclear. And we will go bankrupt faster, because nuclear is more expensive. Luckily, your reasoning is based on a fringe misconception that has no basis in reality.

    Now, you appear to assume that all the leading experts in the world are unaware of how energy systems work, and that there is some secret truth that only a handful of obscure blogs on the internet has exposed. How do you imagine that this conspiracy survives? Why do you think that vastly different and competing economies such as the US, China, Germany, India etc are all investing massively in wind power, if such investments will only lead to bankruptcy?

    “No. We have numerous countries with decades of real data.”

    But this real data is about a magnitude worse than the projections by Weißbach. Now there is no doubt that modern technology is more efficient. We have real data for some of this too, but only for short periods for model plants which means there are great uncertainties when it comes to the long term and real-world usage.
    Using the best available data, nuclear does well (which I have stated many times already) in terms of CO2 emissions, but not better than other tech (the uncertainties are far greater than the differences). But it *is* more expensive. On the other hand, in some regions you can’t build more of the cheaper alternatives. So then you may need some nuclear even though it is more expensive and not any better climate-wise. Like I have said so many times: there is no single tech that is the whole solution, and anyone who thinks there is is a fanboy without real knowledge of energy systems.

    »Many countries are highly reliant on nuclear. They have not been “scrapped.”«

    Here you are either shockingly clueless or dishonest. Many, perhaps most nuclear projects outside of China in recent decades have indeed been scrapped. An operating power plant is not a “project”, and since the initial investment is the dominant lifetime cost for nuclear power, once a plant is built there needs to be exceptional reasons to disband it ahead of time. Let me give you a link to a good recent article in the NYT [4]. It’s not fake news.

    [1] Just to help you google: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/257304631
    [2] For instance: https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=DDOSaVwAAAAJ&hl=en
    [3] http://www.iea-pvps.org/index.php?id=349
    [4] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/18/business/energy-environment/nuclear-power-westinghouse-toshiba.html?_r=0

    Reply
    1. AnonymousSpaceCowboy May 19, 2017, 9:13 pm

      > Many, perhaps most nuclear projects outside of China in recent decades have indeed been scrapped.

      Goddamnit. I am giving citations for a reason. Read them.

      http://euanmearns.com/nuclear-capital-costs-three-mile-island-and-chernobyl/

      South Korea has been building nuclear power plants from 1980 to the present day, at costs of less than 3000 USD / KW, and the costs are decreasing, down to around 2000 USD / KW circa 2010.

      India has also built several nuclear power plants with “recent decades”, most recently around 2004, at costs of around 2000 USD / KW.

      What you wrote is flatly dishonest. Knock it off already.

      And you’re still not responding to our argument. If you don’t respond to our argument, you’re not going to make any progress. Again, my argument is thus:

      We must maintain a modern industrial society. To maintain a modern industrial society, we cannot afford to have substantial portions of our working population work in energy production. Today, in the United States, about 1% of the workforce works in energy production. This is possible with fossil fuels because of the energy density of fossil fuels and the relatively small labor requirements to retrieve these fossils fuels. This fact is approximately captured by its EROEI measure: high EROEIs allow a small portion of our society to produce our needed energy, and a small EROEI means proportionately more of our society would need to work in energy production to produce our needed energy.

      These are simple facts about physics that are true regardless of the economic system in place. It is true in a free market economy, and in a command economy like communism.

      You might try to argue that money costs adequately capture this, but they don’t. Money costs are a grossly inappropriate measure. In particular, the money costs of wind and solar on the market right now are lower than they would be in a hypothetical society that was the same, except without the use fossil fuels. In other words, if you tried to use solar and wind to power the manufacture of more solar and wind, it would require incredibly larger amounts of human input labor, so much so that our modern industrial society would probably collapse, and particularly because of the problem of intermittency and the huge energy manufacture costs of energy storage.

      These problems are somewhat independent of the fraction of energy production that is composed of solar and wind. If it takes X% of the population to achieve 100% energy from solar and wind, then it takes (1/2)(X%) to achieve 50% of the energy from solar and wind.

      For very small fractions, like 10% or 20% which we have today in some countries and systems, then the intermittency can be covered by other reliable generators, whether hydro, nuclear, or fossil fuels. In this situation that we currently find ourselves, we don’t need massive energy storage. We do not predict that the current system is impossible. We are making predictions about the solution where a much larger fraction of the energy production infrastructure is unreliable and intermittent.

      https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=DDOSaVwAAAAJ&hl=en

      > Life cycle assessment and energy pay-back time of advanced photovoltaic modules: CdTe and CIS compared to poly-Si

      The usual analyses assume polycrystal silicon because it does not involve rare minerals which prevent the needed scaling. Cadmium and tellurium are rather far down the list of elements in the Earth’s crust, so much so that we could not possibly build enough solar cells of that variety to make a difference.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abundance_of_elements_in_Earth%27s_crust

      Quoting: Abundance in crust (ppm):
      Silicon: 466,000 ppm
      Lithium: 20 ppm
      Tellurium: 0.005 ppm
      Gold: 0.0011 ppm

      You’re suggesting that we mass manufacture solar cells using a material that is almost as rare as gold, in a scale never before seen where we need to cover large portions of the Sahara desert to achieve our goals, and you’re expecting me to take you seriously? Are you even trying? Seriously?

      Reply
    2. Johan, I read everything. All of it.

      Raugei et al. never say what you claim. Never. Not anywhere in any of their followups.

      Period.

      I’ve fully addressed this. All of it. Including the followup. In my comments. Read them. Pay attention.

      Please.

      And stop moving the goal posts by pretending you said something else.

      This isn’t going to get you anywhere but deeper into a self-rationalized delusion. For example…

      “First, non-energy costs (such as salaries) are completely absent in an EROI calculation.”

      False. The costs are all loaded in based on data for actual operation and maintenance.

      It’s also doubly false: Raugei et al. never say this. This has nothing to do with their articles. You are acting like they said this. They didn’t. They never mentioned any such claim.

      “We have a finite amount of fossil fuel…. The burning of the sun has no equivalent; the sun burns at the same rate regardless of whether we capture some solar or wind power. If we do not capture this power now, we cannot capture it at a later time or use it for anything else. Therefore, capturing this energy incurs no cost for us; we lose nothing.”

      This has nothing to do with policy decisions, which are based on actual cost to output. That’s the entire point. You clearly don’t understand what we are talking about. You don’t seem to get how the actual cost in dollars is a drag on the economy unless you get a high return in energy. That’s the problem we have to solve, and why nuclear far outstrips all alternatives, which are literally unsustainable economically because they cost too much in total energy input.

      This fact is totally unaffected by “untapped energy sources” and not relevantly affected by “limited resources” (indeed, on the latter measure, nuclear wins by far: we have billions of years of accessible fuel for nuclear; not for fossil).

      Stop trying to change the subject.

      And stop saying false and irrelevant things even when you do.

      This is getting annoying.

      “In addition, consuming fossil fuels incurs massive (but largely hidden) costs as a result of the climate change it effects.”

      Um…dude. My article makes exactly that point.

      Have you lost track of what we are even discussing?

      “Let’s instead look at the units of electricity produced per the total number of units of oil that we use”

      That’s already factored in.

      And Raugei et al. say nothing about this. Naturally, because it’s already figured.

      “And ditto for nuclear or whatever.”

      Already factored in. And not challenged by Raugei et al.

      Please follow the peer reviewed math.

      Please.

      “Many, perhaps most nuclear projects outside of China in recent decades have indeed been scrapped.”

      You are confusing proposed increased production, with actual production.

      That’s the whole point of my article: that this fear of increasing nuclear production must end.

      Meanwhile, reliance on nuclear is still widespread. And generates extensive data on real costs. Which were factored in. Factored into the peer reviewed article. And not challenged by Raugei et al.

      You really don’t seem to have read Raugei et al. You don’t even know what their debate is about.

      Reply
  12. “Which? It looks mostly correct to me.”

    The EROI calculations, for instance. See the links to the rebuttals I posted in my response to Richard.

    “The money costs of solar and wind are very cheap right now because they are being subsidized by cheap fossil fuels.”

    That is true, but the exact same is true for nuclear. Except, it is not so cheap. The effect of fossil usage is however best examined by looking at LCA analyses. These suggest that tech like wind, solar and nuclear fall in the same low range.

    “What the EROEI number for solar and wind is telling us is that the required fraction is substantially higher, and perhaps even higher than 100%, aka impossible.”

    Not for any serious or mainstream analyses. It’s perilous to compare ERO(E)I numbers between radically different types of technologies because that is not how EROI has typically been used. While your description of EROI is correct in principle, and works like that in simple theoretical cases, in the real world things get much more complicated and the result is that real-world EROI numbers employ system boundaries that make the results comparable only across similar production methods and only for the short term. See [1] for a good overview.

    Improving EROI calculations to allow for wider comparisons would be interesting, but in the meantime as long as we keep monetary costs AND fossil fuel usage in check, the scenario you envision is not possible.

    “It’s practically a religious dogma of the environmentalists that 1- solar and wind can work”

    Which is obviously true if you look at the full range of qualified research, however it is a religious dogma of the anti-environmentalists that it cannot work.

    “and 2- nuclear is so evil that it must never be considered.”

    Which is obviously false if you look at the full range of qualified research. But you are using the fact that some environmentalists are wrong on one point, to reason that they must be wrong on another point, where they happen to be right. And so you are becoming as irrational as they are.

    “Mark Jacobson, a known liar and fraud”

    Really, if you have any evidence that he is a “fraud”, Stanford University take such charges quite seriously. Jacobson is a scholar in good standing. I don’t think he is correct in his estimates of carbon emission resulting from nuclear, because most other experts arrive at significantly lower estimates. But I take issue with any attitude to disqualify or malign a researcher simply because they disagree with the mainstream. Academia will handle that and dissenting views are an essential parts of making progress.

    On the other hand, yes of course you are right that anti-nuclear activists will cherry-pick and use only the most unfavourable data for nuclear. Just like you are doing with wind and solar. This is why I’m not looking at anti-nuclear or pro-nuclear or anti-wind or pro-wind advocates, but at the scholarly mainstream.

    “the west passed regulations on nuclear that were often needless, based on pseudoscience (i.e. the linear no-threshold model)”

    Sorry, but here you are engaging in pseudo-science. The linear no-threshold model (LNT) is well established and endorsed by the mainstream consensus such as expressed by the US National Academy of Sciences and their counterparts around the world. The model is supported both by a wide range of statistical data for low radiation exposures, and by experimental results showing that at least some DNA damage must to be caused by a single radiation quantum. There are researchers challenging it, and as for Jacobsen above this is just fine. But we have to be serious and respect that the current mainstream consensus is that the LNT model is valid.

    Now, interestingly, and as I already mentioned earlier in this thread, the LNT actually predicts extremely low overall harm from nuclear power. So why so many nuke-fanatics are willing to destroy their own scientific credibility by embracing fringe alternative theories is quite mysterious.

    “regulations [..] drastically raised the money costs of nuclear power”

    You can gripe about this all you want, but it is true nevertheless. Nuclear power is that expensive. If you want to build it, you have to pay what it actually costs, not what it would cost in some fantasy world that you would prefer.

    “South Korea stands out as a prominent example where nuclear costs continued to decline year over year after Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.”

    I think you have not really followed. South Korea did indeed have less regulations. And they started building some plants that were projected to be cheaper. And then it turned out that they had used counterfeit parts, the two new reactors that had been finished had to be shut down, I believe for about a year, with other plants in production being delayed by several years. So maybe a bit more regulations would not have been all bad. I have not seen final numbers for the actual final cost, but extrapolating from similar delays elsewhere I doubt these reactors turned out to be so economical. Massive delays are the rule rather than the exception, which is why realistic cost estimates must never be based on estimates of future projects but rather on real-world costs of plants that have actually been completed.

    [1] http://www.iea-pvps.org/index.php?id=349

    Reply
  13. AnonymousSpaceCowboy wrote:

    “Citation:
    http://euanmearns.com/wind-blowing-nowhere/

    Why are you citing a climate revisionist website? That website is crammed with the worst pseudo-science and alt-facts imaginable. You have cited it several times in this thread. Why? Why do you even read such nonsense? If, by some chance, that site contains some true claims, you still could not know, because the authors are obviously unreliable. And even with those claims that are in some way true, you can be sure that they are studiously cherry-picked and not reflective of a balanced view of the current scientific understanding.

    Your posts are full of fundamental errors, obvious misrepresentations of my claims, and now also profanity and rudeness. I will only make some brief comments:

    1) Nuclear power is in all mainstream energy engineering considered a poor choice for load following, for exactly the reasons I stated. If you disagree with the engineering and scientific mainstream, bring that up with the experts and don’t blame me or try to “prove” that I “really” meant something that is incompatible with what I actually wrote.

    2) The gains from grid interconnectedness with respect to variability of wind power is not to be measured in the increase of the absolute minimum, but rather in the decrease in the area between the average and actual production. It is this area that incurs costs versus a perfectly invariable energy source. Reducing this area reduces these costs.

    3) I do not have to present any solution for supplying the world with energy in order to point out factual errors in your claims. These errors are errors regardless of whether such a solution even exists, or whether it is dependent on nuclear power (a question I have not discussed much, other than saying that I believe nuclear has a role in the short and medium future, and, depending on technology advancements, in the long run as well).

    4) Nuclear power construction, like all construction, is obviously cheaper in low-salary countries like China, India and South Korea. Not least, the lower engineering salaries are relevant. As salaries have risen, construction has become markedly more costly, which is especially apparent in South Korea. Projects in these countries – at least India and South Korea – have been subject to the same pattern of repeated and lengthy delays that have marred the scarce Western projects, further undermining the hypothesis that reasonable changes in regulation could drastically change construction costs.

    Reply
    1. AnonymousSpaceCowboy May 26, 2017, 3:20 am

      To Johan Rönnblom
      I don’t give a damn about your tone trolling.

      You’re still dodging your error: Earlier, you said that nuclear cannot load follow because of intrinsic physical limitations. Yet, many / most nuclear powers designed today, especially in France, are quite capable of load following. You then attempted to move the conversation to economics, and that is dishonest.

      You’re a goddamned dishonest shit for asserting that nuclear has the same reliability problems as wind and solar. It’s beyond the pale. It’s incomprehensible. There is no way someone informed and honest could say something that obviously wrong.

      The point that you need to take away from the historical data of overnight capital costs of nuclear power plants is that in India, France, and South Korea, costs went down over time from circa 1980 to 2010, and yet costs went up over time in the rest of the western world. The point is not absolute costs, but the trends. Nuclear power is very expensive in the west because of a regulatory and societal overreaction to the accidents of Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, and in other countries that adopted sensible approaches to nuclear power, they saw costs decrease over time.

      The takeaway from the Weißbach paper is still the same, even with today’s numbers.

      They were being overly conservative by assuming pumped water storage, which cannot work for other reasons.
      https://dothemath.ucsd.edu/2011/11/pump-up-the-storage/
      Instead, let’s talk about what it actually looks like for batteries.

      Poly Si solar cells: 2.172e9 joules / square meter of solar cell and associated equipment, not including storage. 15% conversion efficiency. 5% losses from inverter. 25 year lifetime.

      Lithium ion: At 80% discharge, 6000 cycle lifetime or 20 year shelf lifetime. Energy manufacture costs / energy storage capacity = 136. Round-trip storage losses = 13%. Assume 7 days of storage. Most of the storage is going to be rarely used, only during the worst crunch periods, and so we’re going to be practically limited by shelf lifetime and not cycle lifetime.

      Assume Sahara desert, average winter day, 195 W / sq meter solar radiation. Seasonal storage is impossible, and so we need to solve for winter solar radiation values. Assume 3000 km of transmission at 10% total losses to get that power to Europe. I’m not even counting the costs of the transmission, which is substantial.

      The sun only shines for about 1/5 of the day, so we suffer storage round-trip losses during 4/5 of the day.

      Energy production for 1 day of 1 sq meter of solar cell
      = (1 day) (195 W / sq m) (1 sq m) (15% cell efficiency) (95% from inverter losses) (1/5 * 100% + 4/5 * 87% from storage roundtrip losses) (90% from transmission losses)
      = 1.94e6 Joules approx

      Energy production for 25 years, aka the solar cell lifetime
      = (25 years / 1 day) (1.94e6 Joules)
      = 1.77e10 Joules approx

      Energy costs for solar cells et al, not including batteries
      = 2.172e9 Joules

      Energy costs for batteries
      = (energy cost / energy storage ratio) (energy from 7 days of production) (number of replacements)
      = (136) [(7) (1.94e6 Joules)] (25 years / 20 years)
      = 2.31e9 Joules approx

      buffered EROEI
      = (1.77e10 Joules) / (2.172e9 Joules + 2.31e9 Joules)
      = 3.95 approx

      And the real number is still substantially worse than that. I didn’t take into account the energy costs of building the transmission infrastructure. I didn’t take into account necessary solar cell overbuilding in order to have excesss energy on the good days in order to charge the storage and also supply the needed power; Weißbach used a factor of 2. I assumed that we’re putting it all in the Sahara desert; any real system is going to get substantially less solar radiation daily average.

      I’m also ignoring material shortage problems: There’s not enough lithium for this plan. Not enough lead. Not enough nickel. There’s enough sodium and sulfur for sodium-sulfur batteries, but those are far worse, and our EROEI plummets further.

      Realistically speaking, it’s probably going to be a net energy negative, e.g. EROEI < 1. Aka, it's impossible. Actually physically impossible. It would violate the fundamental laws of thernodynamics.

      tl;dr
      Like you, I endorse research into "all of the above". However, it's a fairytale that we can solve global warming and maintain our industrial standard of living with wind and solar as the primary energy supply. The only thing that can work with proven and available tech is nuclear. Right now, especially for a design like ThorCon, we could build the needed amount of electricity generation in a few decades, and reduce CO2 emissions from electricity production to practically zero, and do it without substantially altering electricity costs. Of course, we would need to do a lot more, including fixes for agriculture (??), and fossil fuel transport (i.e. electric batteries, and maybe synthetic liquid hydrocarbon fuels from CO2 from the air or oceans). We need to be doing this now, this massive rollout of conventional AP-1000s, while concurrently building that prototype of ThorCon, a commercial prototype of the IFR aka S-PRISM reactor, and a half dozen other next-gen reactor designs. We need a Manhattan Project level of investment and funding, but we won't get that because of lying dogmatic dipshits like you.

      Reply
      1. AnonymousSpaceCowboy wrote:
        “I don’t give a damn about your tone trolling.”

        Failing to control one’s temper is one thing. Not even recognizing the value of respectful conversation is something else. I normally don’t debate anonymous people, but I have made an exception since you are Richard’s friend. However, my patience is not infinite.

        “Earlier, you said that nuclear cannot load follow because of intrinsic physical limitations.”

        I did not. You seem to be confused and start believing your own lies after you have repeated them a few times.

        “many / most nuclear powers designed today, especially in France, are quite capable of load following”

        Not really. Let’s look at France. The company in charge of balancing the power grid is RTE, and they release some data on how they do it. There is a short description in English [1] and I can find reports for a few months [2, 3, 4].

        From here we can see that for upward adjustments, the most important technology is hydropower, followed by imports and then thermal (eg fossil fuels). Nuclear power is used very sparingly. For downward adjustments, again hydropower and exports are most commonly employed, although nuclear here tops out thermal/fossil for distant third place.

        So, to repeat my original statement: Nuclear power is unsuitable for load following because “for technical and economical reasons you want to run it 24/7 with as few interruptions as possible”. This is clearly true also in France.

        “You’re a goddamned dishonest shit”

        Your recurring emotional breakdowns are derailing the conversation. As usual, you do not understand what I’m saying because of your lack of basic knowledge of power systems.

        One reason for simultaneous shutdown of multiple nuclear reactors is extreme weather conditions. Storms can endanger the water intake for the cooling system. There have also been recent shutdowns resulting from discoveries of systematic equipment errors in France and South Korea. Beyond nuclear-specific reasons for interruptions, we have risks that are independent of the mode of generation: threats to the grid itself. Severe storms can cut off the grid at several places at once.

        For these reasons, *all* power systems need reserve power. It’s just a question of cost, how often do you need to employ it and how much capacity do you need. Note that no one builds a system to be absolutely 100% secure: some risk of a failure (blackout) under absolutely extreme conditions is acceptable, because the amortized cost of the blackouts will be lower than the investment needed to prevent them.

        “in India, France, and South Korea, costs went down over time from circa 1980 to 2010, and yet costs went up over time in the rest of the western world”

        This is highly doubtful and certainly cherry-picked. By some data, you can see a very modest decrease in India but it is the result of only a few reactors coming out somewhat more economical, not enough to call a trend. For France, I find no data in support of your claim, the trend continues upwards during your chosen period as well as beyond it. For South Korea, again some data suggests a very limited improvement for a small number of recent reactors, but this data does not appear to include the increased costs resulting from the subsequent shutdown and delay due to the counterfeit parts scandal. [5]

        “The takeaway from the Weißbach paper”

        There is no takeaway from the Weißbach paper, it has been rejected by the scientific mainstream. Mark Jacobson would be a far more credible source by every academic standard.

        “let’s talk about what it actually looks like for batteries”

        No, let’s not. That’s a positively absurd strawman. No one is arguing for such a solution. Batteries can have a small but significantly contributing role if we already have them for other reasons, which will happen when electric vehicles start gaining in numbers. But absent some major technological breakthrough, no one will suggest mass storage of electricity in batteries, let alone for 7 days (seriously, what are you smoking here!?). This is almost as bad as your previous idea to store power in a “heat reservoir”. Please, just stop speculating on technology you have absolutely no understanding of.

        “The only thing that can work with proven and available tech is nuclear. Right now, especially for a design like ThorCon”

        This is what you call “proven and available”? ThorCon is a highly speculative research project, they do not even have a prototype. I’m sorry, you’re living in a fantasy world.

        Meanwhile in the real world, the cost of solar power is in free fall. [6] Who knows where it will end. What we can confidently say, though, is that electricity will be generated by a diverse mix of technologies, with no single technology being responsible for 50% or more, and likely not even 30%. My gut guesstimate for where we will be in 20 years would be something like wind 25%, hydro 15%, biomass 15%, solar 15%, nuclear 15%, other 10%, fossil 5%, but I’m not going to motivate this guess further.

        [1] http://www.rte-france.com/en/article/balancing-mechanism
        [2] http://www.rte-france.com/sites/default/files/bilan_mensuel_ma_10_2016.pdf
        [3] http://www.rte-france.com/sites/default/files/bilan_mensuel_ma_05_2016.pdf
        [4] http://www.rte-france.com/sites/default/files/bilan_mensuel_ma_12_2015.pdf
        [5] http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0301421516300106

        Reply
        1. AnonymousSpaceCowboy May 28, 2017, 11:19 pm

          > > Earlier, you said that nuclear cannot load follow because of intrinsic physical limitations.
          > I did not. You seem to be confused and start believing your own lies after you have repeated them a few times.

          You said this:

          > Because it takes a lot of time to stop and start a nuclear power plant, […]

          Continuing on.

          > Meanwhile in the real world, the cost of solar power is in free fall. [6] Who knows where it will end.

          Doesn’t matter. As the Weißbach paper shows, the big problem is the storage, and until that is solved, solar might as well be free for all of the good that it will do. We need reliable power. Solar is not reliable power. Whatever solution you can cook up to get reliable power with solar will 1- look the same without solar, e.g. solar just saves fuel costs, or 2- it will require massive amount of energy storage, which is impossible with current tech, and unlikely with future tech.

          This factoid is a distraction. Because of the massive and immediate threat of global climate change and ocean acidification, we need to be focusing on a 100% solution that we can start doing /right now/.

          > There is no takeaway from the Weißbach paper, it has been rejected by the scientific mainstream. Mark Jacobson would be a far more credible source by every academic standard.

          I just posted the math. I don’t give a damn if every so-called expert in the world is against me, as long as I have the evidence on my side. That’s the fundamental difference between religious thinking, and scientific thinking. The math is so simple that even a high schooler can understand it. I just posted the math.

          About Mark Jacobson. The man is a documented liar and a fraud.

          His 100% WWS plan is a sham.

          https://atomicinsights.com/clean-doable-liquid-fission-lf-energy-roadmap-%E2%80%A8powering-world/

          The one lie that really gets me is his popular article in Scientific American where he casually drops that nuclear produces 25x as much CO2 as wind. When one reads his own papers which form the basis of this conclusion, we find /staggering/ amounts of dishonesty.

          The Scientific American article states “25 times as much” is a simple fact inherent to the technology. Whereas, for the paper, it assumes a short time horizon, and assumes a long build time for nuclear, and assumes that we’ll burn coal until the nuclear is built, and that “25 time as much” number includes substantial amounts of coal! These assumptions in the paper in the context of the paper are fine, but then taking this out of context as he did in the Scientific American article is dishonesty of the highest degree.

          It gets worse. He also assumes that there will be a nuclear war every 30 yeas, and he calculates the CO2 emissions from burning cities, and he includes these CO2 emissions into the emissions of nuclear power, and this is how he gets the “25 times as much” number.

          Mark Jacobson is a fraud, lair, hack, charlatan, etc. He is a shameless liar, and I would be surprised if he’s not a shill paid for by big oil. Anyone who cites him as an expert is similarly dishonest, or very ignorant. If it were even possible, by trying to cite this person in a positive light, you and your other arguments have become even more discredited.

          Similarly, the green movement has promoted this man to the position of their most respected expert, which is quite a shame. By elevating such a fraudster, it shows that the entire green movement is no better than a religious cult, or the Republican party.

          Sources:

          Article in popular magazine Scientific American
          Issue: November 2009
          Article Title: A PATH TO SUSTAINABLE ENERGY BY 2030
          Authors: Mark Z. Jacobson and Mark A. Delucchi
          ?? Unstable URL: http://www.nonukesyall.org/pdfs/sad1109Jaco5p.indd.pdf

          Paper in Energy & Environmental Science
          Title: Review of solutions to global warming, air pollution, and energy security
          Author: Mark Z. Jacobson
          Received 12th June 2008, Accepted 31st October 2008
          First published as an Advance Article on the web 1st December 2008
          DOI: 10.1039/b809990c
          ?? Unstable URL: https://web.stanford.edu/group/efmh/jacobson/Articles/I/ReviewSolGW09.pdf

          Title: Providingall Global Energy with Wind, Water, and Solar Power, Part I: Technologies, Energy Resources, Quantities and Areas of Infrastructure, and Materials
          Authors: Mark Z. Jacobson and Mark A. Delucchi
          Energy Policy, in Press
          Submitted September 1, 2010; Revised November 11, 2010; Accepted November 22, 2010
          ?? Unstable URL: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1YuHAue1F3KohXhrf6__HsxLHvNwFQoz7Gsr72wCrwQ1Gy0zUtdLTZiRjXuvd/view

          > One reason for simultaneous shutdown of multiple nuclear reactors is extreme weather conditions. Storms can endanger the water intake for the cooling system. There have also been recent shutdowns resulting from discoveries of systematic equipment errors in France and South Korea. Beyond nuclear-specific reasons for interruptions, we have risks that are independent of the mode of generation: threats to the grid itself. Severe storms can cut off the grid at several places at once.

          We need a proper engineering perspective. No system will have 100% uptime. We do need a system that has an uptime that is comparable to the current system uptime, which is about 99.95%. The problems that you name do not prevent a majority nuclear solution from achieving that uptime. The intermittency problems of solar and wind, plus lack of scalable storage, do prevent a majority solar and wind solution from achieving 100% uptime.

          And again, because you are a rather dishonest fellow, allow me again to preemptively remark: I don’t demand a majority anything solution. I’ll take whatever will work. However, you need to tell me right now what is the 100% solution, whether it’s a single tech, or a mix of dozens of different techs, because we need to building it right now to combat climate change and ocean acidification. And again, the only such solution is majority nuclear fission.

          > > “The only thing that can work with proven and available tech is nuclear. Right now, especially for a design like ThorCon”
          > This is what you call “proven and available”? ThorCon is a highly speculative research project, they do not even have a prototype. I’m sorry, you’re living in a fantasy world.

          You are simply wrong. All of the “moving parts” of ThorCon have years of engineering history behind them, specifically the work on MSRE et al at Oak Ridge National Labs. ThorCon’s motto is “no new technology”, and because of that, they could be ready for full scale production in a decade or less, and they would be too, if not for people like you. They are ready for full scale prototyping right now, with years of engineering work that they’re building off of, a design that involves only well tested and well understood engineering and physics. Can you say the same for any non-nuclear, zero CO2, 100% solution to the electricity grid? You cannot, because there is no such thing.

  14. Richard:
    First, let me clarify my main point. I don’t mind at all that you are a fan of nuclear power, or that you want to combat misconceptions about the supposed danger of nuclear power.

    But what happened here is clearly this: Some complete amateurs managed to publish an error-ridden and ultimately utterly unreliable paper. The scientific community dealt with this just fine. However, the paper was, as is always the case, picked up by people on the lunatic fringes, eager to cite anything that seems scientific that can bolster their claims. In this case, by the climate revisionist blog of one Euan Mearns and its climate revisionist blogger Roger Andrews. Your friend, being a reader of this alt-fact website, or at least of Andrews’ contributions, forwarded the paper to you, and because you lack the relevant subject knowledge you fell for it and based a blog post almost entirely around the claims therein. Because, that is your only source for your statements that wind and solar would be inefficient and uneconomical, and your other arguments are entirely secondary.

    Richard Carrier wrote:
    “Raugei et al. never say what you claim. Never. Not anywhere in any of their followups.”

    They are even themselves reciting Raugei’s initial comment in their final summary: “in the light of all of the above, there appears to be ample reason to question the reliability of the authors’ numerical results, and, most importantly, their internal as well as external comparability to those produced by previously published
    studies”

    That is what I cite Raugei for. That you really should not use Weißbach’s numbers. Especially not to compare them with any other numbers inside or outside Weißbach’s paper.

    “The [salary] costs are all loaded in based on data for actual operation and maintenance.

    It’s also doubly false: Raugei et al. never say this. This has nothing to do with their articles. You are acting like they said this. They didn’t. They never mentioned any such claim.”

    First, Raugei says “[the standard measure EROI PE‐eq] is perfectly valid, and clearly preferable to Weißbach et al.’s misleading “EMROI” acronym, since money has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the way it is calculated.”

    But moreover, EROI *by definition* does not do what you claim. If you put salary costs into your calculation, that may or may not yield an interesting result, but it is not an EROI. See again [1]. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you’re going to end up with a number that is meaningless though.

    “[fuel cost] has nothing to do with policy decisions, which are based on actual cost to output.”

    Then you do not understand the fundamentals of economics, which is often defined as “a science which studies human behaviour as a relationship between ends and scarce means which have alternative uses.”
    Fuel is a scarce means for which we have alternative uses, as I described. And this is relevant to policy makers because there are consequences from the depletion of scarce means. The mainstream definitions, as explained by Raugei et al, are not due to some political conspiracy as Weißbach alleges.

    “we have billions of years of accessible fuel for nuclear”

    Not with any remotely production-ready technology. If we have a major breakthrough on thorium, or we find a completely revolutionary method to economically extract uranium from sea water, or we tame fusion power. These are major ifs. I’m in no way dismissive of thorium but we cannot ignore the massive engineering challenges that are still unsolved. They may never be solved. Meanwhile, we might learn how to cheaply produce hydrogen with genetically modified algae, or something. Research-wise, I advocate betting on all horses. Policy-wise, I advocate relying on no scientific breakthroughs.

    “That’s [the total units of oil used] already factored in.”

    Now you are contradicting yourself: is it wrong and irrelevant from a policy perspective to factor this in, as you claimed above, or have Weißbach done it? I can answer: it is relevant from a policy perspective, it is wrong by definition to include in an EROI calculation, Weißbach has not made this specific error, and Raugei advocates the use of other, well-defined and well-researched measurements to overcome this limitation of the EROI.

    “Please follow the peer reviewed math.”

    You clearly mean the peer-*rejected* math.

    [1] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/312165899

    Reply
    1. Reply to “anonymousspacecowboy”:

      For some reason, you cannot let go of your claims of nuclear being suitable for balancing the power grid, even though I have demonstrated that you are wrong by posting actual data from the example *you* chose – namely France. This is what I wrote originally:

      “Because it takes a lot of time to stop and start a nuclear power plant, and for technical and economical reasons you want to run it 24/7 with as few interruptions as possible. So nuclear is only ever suitable for the ‘base’ rate of lowest electricity consumption during the daily and even yearly cycles. To some extent this can be evened out by exporting during the night to neighbouring regions, but only if these regions are not themselves running on nuclear power.”

      All of this is true and accurate.

      a) It does take a lot of time to stop and start a nuclear power plant, and this has consequences. As we saw from the French statistics I posted, they barely use nuclear power at all when the load needs to be increased. This is because it would take too much time to start a new power plant, so the only way to achieve this would be to constantly have reactors running in “braked” mode, wasting fuel just in case a power increase is necessary. Presumably, the small contribution from nuclear happens when the demand increases again soon after a decrease where a nuclear plant has needed to enter such ‘braking’ mode.

      b) For technical and economical reasons, you *do* want to run with as few interruptions as possible. The calculations of Weißbach (which are unreliable, I’m only using this paper as a ‘hostile witness’ here) assume a very high uptime, for exactly this reason. As do all optimistic calculations for nuclear power. Besides the technical losses involved with starting and stopping, the reason for this is the very high investment cost which dominate the nuclear economics.

      c) Nuclear *is* only ever suitable for the base rate of power. As we saw from France, even though hydro power generates perhaps one seventh as much power as nuclear, it is used for balancing at about three to four times as much as nuclear power. Fossil fuel, even though its share of total generation is negligible, is used about as much as nuclear. This is what it means that something is not suitable: that you use something else, even when you have less of it available.

      d) Exports are indeed important, as we saw from the French data we can see that it is used for regulation at about twice the rate of nuclear. Of course, France is in a good geographical position with many populous neighbours.

      e) You have made the claim “You then attempted to move the conversation to economics” but as the original quote shows, it was about economics from the very start.

      f) You have claimed that “you said that nuclear cannot load follow because of intrinsic physical limitations”. As seen above that is untrue, there are several independent markers that show I cannot have meant this:
      i) I use the word “want”, which makes no sense if we were physically unable to do it.
      ii) I state that the reasons include economical reasons, which makes no sense for something that would be physically impossible; economics is not a factor for impossibilities.
      iii) I use the word “suitable”. For something to not be suitable, it also has to be possible.

      “As the Weißbach paper shows”

      It shows nothing. It has been dismissed and has no scientific standing. Citing such a paper makes you a kook.

      “I don’t give a damn if every so-called expert in the world is against me, as long as I have the evidence on my side.”

      You have not shown any evidence at all. You have not answered any of the technical arguments – every time I show you to be wrong, you just avoid responding and move on to something else.

      “That’s the fundamental difference between religious thinking, and scientific thinking.”

      Yes. Your delusion is clearly of a religious nature. You have now stated plainly that you are uninterested in the scientific mainstream, a clear sign. You have exhibited repeated emotional outbursts when your beliefs get questioned. Like Christians asserting that invisible Jesus must of course be real, you call paper products “proven and available”. But even worse than that – and it is shocking that it can get worse: you cannot admit that your object of faith has any flaw, no matter how small. Now, an infatuated young man may honestly think his girlfriend is the prettiest, kindest and most reasonable being on Earth, but even he will admit she is not the world champion in golf or the foremost expert on geriatrics. But you – you are not content to claim that nuclear power would overall be the ‘best’ solution, whatever that would mean – you need it to be perfect in every way. It has to be the most carbon friendly, the safest, the cheapest and perfectly capable of generating regulating power. It is not enough for you that it is as good as something else in even one category, it always has to be number one. That does not happen outside of North Korean or other religious cults.

      “About Mark Jacobson. The man is a documented liar and a fraud.”

      Nothing of what you claim, even if it were true, would make him a documented liar or a fraud. These are charges that have meaning, you cannot call someone a liar and fraud simply because you disagree with them.

      Moreover, the link you cite argues against a thesis Jacobson has published in a high profile peer-reviewed scientific paper. The proper way to address problems in such a publication would be to submit an article to the same journal. However, your link does not seem to refer to any such publications (I may have missed something, but it is not made clear). Rather, it refers to non peer-reviewed articles by think tanks and commercial interest groups. This is not how to argue convincingly. I have not used any number by Jacobson, but if this is the best criticism you can provide, he starts looking quite good, maybe I should look into his research more.

      “He also assumes that there will be a nuclear war every 30 yeas, and he calculates the CO2 emissions from burning cities, and he includes these CO2 emissions into the emissions of nuclear power, and this is how he gets the ’25 times as much’ number.”

      This is doubly wrong, and completely wrong: First, he does not assume there will be nuclear war every 30 years, rather he calculates the CO2 contributions for *one* such war during the next 30 years, giving clear numbers assuming that the risk of such a war is as low as 0% or has high as 100%. As it turns out, the maximum contributions from such a war – as calculated by Jacobson – amounts to between two and six percent of his total for nuclear, quite insignificant for the overall conclusion. Rather, the dominant factor in his calculation is opportunity cost, the fact that it takes a lot of time to build nuclear power and that if we could build something else quicker that will avoid emissions during the build time. Jacobson appears here to be calculating the marginal benefits of investing in various kinds of power production. For a vast (non-marginal) program, the numbers may be very different. But all of these assumptions are very clear in his paper.

      Now, I doubt you have read Jacobson and it is clear you have no idea what he is even arguing, rather just repeating tales that your faith leaders have told you.

      “[ThorCon] could be ready for full scale production in a decade or less”

      You just earlier said it was “proven and available”. You’re contradicting yourself. Yes, in principle it could be available in a decade, though that seems wildly optimistic. I’d rather put my money on the ‘stable salt’ design which does not require a constant pumping of hot, toxic, radioactive, highly corrosive molten salt, and which would require less innovation to turn it into a real world power generating plant rather than a research prototype. Even more likely, the Indians have had a head start with a long running thorium research programme. But most likely of all, or least unlikely, I would name the extremely ambitious and well funded Chinese research.

      But in any case, the technology simply does not exist, and in the meanwhile we must build what we have.

      Reply
      1. AnonymousSpaceCowboy June 4, 2017, 11:07 pm

        > [Concerning Mark Jacobson] Nothing of what you claim, even if it were true, would make him a documented liar or a fraud. These are charges that have meaning, you cannot call someone a liar and fraud simply because you disagree with them.

        Really? He told the public that nuclear power plants produce 25x more CO2 than wind. What he didn’t tell them was that his number was based on CO2 emissions from a massive amount of burning coal in coal power plants, and CO2 emissions from burning cities from regular periodic nuclear war. You just said (paraphrase) “even if it were true, that doesn’t make him a liar and a fraud”. Really? Go fuck yourself, you dishonest shit. I have nothing more to say to you.

        Reply
        1. “his number was based on CO2 emissions from a massive amount of burning coal in coal power plants, and CO2 emissions from burning cities from regular periodic nuclear war”

          I just showed above that Jacobsen assumes *zero* contribution from nuclear war, and even in his high estimates they are wholly insignificant. Your response? You just repeat your disproven claim, without offering any sort of argument.

          Repeating a statement that you have just learned is completely wrong makes *you* a liar and a fraud.

          “Go fuck yourself, you dishonest shit.”

          Yet another emotional breakdown, your usual response when encountering arguments you cannot dispute. Please do return to the troll caverns you clearly emerged from, where alternative facts rule and civil discourse is frowned upon.

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