Nuclear energy is getting a second look, mostly because of the need to meet a deadline to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But, there are concerns that deadlines can’t be met without nuclear energy.
Its critics, on the other hand, insist nuclear is too expensive to operate, too slow to build and too dangerous because of the enormous risks associated with its failure.
In Episode 13 of Maxed Out, host Max Fawcett invited Zion Lights, a British climate activist and writer. Lights has been the spokesperson for Extinction Rebellion UK, an environmental movement that uses civil disobedience to force government action on climate change. Recently, she started Emergency Reactor, an organization in support of nuclear energy. While that might seem like a contradiction for an environmentalist to support nuclear energy, she doesn't see it that way.
Lights takes us through her journey to becoming a pro-nuclear environmentalist and breaks down why nuclear gets a bad rep.
“There are also still a lot of what I would call legacy fears from an old generation who grew up under the fear of nuclear war. The problem is that they've kind of passed that fear down to younger generations,” says Lights.
“They still have this fear … there'll be an explosion, there'll be like a war and there'll be lots of death, and that's all misinformation,” she adds.
What people are reading
Max’s conversation with Lights takes us from The Simpsons to modern-day Germany and offers an analysis of where nuclear energy stands in comparison to renewables and what Big Oil has to do with all of this.
“If you actually go far back to the 1970s, the fossil fuel industry put lots of money into anti-nuclear campaigns… They were basically saying, ‘Nuclear will take your jobs. We don't want nuclear here.’ So the number one interest is, ‘What do we need to do where to protect fossil fuels?’”
As for Max, he doesn't count himself among the critics of nuclear energy, but he does have a bone or two to pick about how nuclear energy is used in some quarters to either slow-roll climate policy or undermine support for renewables, like wind and solar.
Listen to Episode 13, Nuclear Revolution, on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or your favourite listening app.
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We've clearly got a huge
We've clearly got a huge challenge ahead to electrify everything, even bringing down energy requirements substantially by, for example, banning private jets and building much better public transit. Still, this recent talk by Gordon Edwards, "We must stop chasing nuclear pipe dreams" is a cautionary tale about any plans to ramp up nuclear.
It includes safety concerns that can be verified (e.g., here: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0269749122005735), but more pertinently, a 'state of the enterprise' that confirms the continued extreme cost of nuclear.
As commenter Pounder once wrote, there's a reason why no private company has built a nuclear reactor in Ontario. Much better to get moving quickly on renewables, retrofitting, etc.
Nuclear is too slow to roll
Nuclear is too slow to roll out to address the climate crisis, it is more expensive than renewables, it leaves behind lethal waste for thousands of years, it emits much more carbon than renewables, and the industry wouldn't exist if they had to cover for their own liability costs like every other industry.
Also, they get special treatment from governments in Canada and the US because they're tied to the nuclear weapons industry, Those financial benefits have allowed them to afford a bigger media platform than renewables.
See links below for verification of the above.
Lovins: Nuclear Makes Climate Crisis Worse by Blocking Faster Uptake of Cheaper Options https://www.theenergymix.com/2019/12/02/lovins-nuclear-makes-climate-cri...
Nuclear creates almost four times the CO2 emissions that solar creates, and almost 30 times the CO2 emissions that hydroelectric produces: See link: https://www.dw.com/en/fact-check-is-nuclear-energy-good-for-the-climate/...
Nuclear Power and the Climate Crisis
Choosing Nuclear Power is Needlessly Putting More Tools of Death Into Our Future https://wearetheboat.blogspot.com/2021/03/choosing-nuclear-power-is-need...
There are two big criticisms
There are two big criticisms about nuclear energy: cost and delay; it is hard to justify a claim that it is dangerous because there have been relatively extremely few deaths and diseases caused by nuclear plants after many years of use.
On cost, what we need to compare is the price of a reactor with the price or life on earth. Under the fossil fuel regime, life of humanity is threatened in the near term.
On delays, it is evident that we lack engineers skilled enough to plan correctly in the first place. We need to enhance training in nuclear engineering.
“If you actually go far back
“If you actually go far back to the 1970s, the fossil fuel industry put lots of money into anti-nuclear campaigns…"
Decades later, the oilsands industry is asking Ottawa to foot the bill for small modular nuclear reactors to generate heat to melt bitumen to replace natural gas.
Fossil-fuel boosters, including the Alberta and Saskatchewan governments, are among the strongest supporters of nuclear power. For fossil-fuel and nuclear boosters, renewables are the common enemy. Nuclear power stations will use fossil-fuel generators as backup, not intermittent renewables.
Travers Solar project near Vulcan costs $700 M for 465 MW of installed capacity (no fuel costs or fuel waste disposal costs).
NuScale's SMR in Utah costs $9,300 M for 462 MW.
NuScale's nuclear capacity costs at least 13 times more per installed MW. The same energy dollar spent on solar buys us 13+ times more installed capacity.
When you take into account solar's lower capacity factor (say 20% vs SMR's 90%), solar is still one third the cost.
Solar and storage costs are falling over time, while nuclear gets more expensive. Nuclear has a negative learning curve.
Nuclear fails on cost alone.
NuScale's SMR construction
NuScale's SMR construction cost does not include operational costs, including fuel, fuel disposal, maintenance, repair, financing costs, and further cost increases.
Nor does that figure reflect subsidies.
"The price would be much higher without $US4 billion federal tax subsidies that include a $1.4 billion U.S. Dept of Energy contribution and a $30/MWh break from the Inflation Reduction Act."
"Eye-popping new cost estimates released for NuScale small modular reactor" (Institute For Energy Economics And Financial Analysis [IEEFA], January 11, 2023)
I forgot the currency
I forgot the currency conversion:
Travers Solar project near Vulcan costs $Cdn700 M for 465 MW of installed capacity.
NuScale's SMR in Utah costs at least $US9,300 M for 462 MW.
After currency conversion, NuScale's SMR costs at least 18x more per installed MW (capacity). The same energy dollar spent on solar buys us 18+ times more installed capacity.
When you take into account solar's lower capacity factor (say 20% vs SMR's 90%), solar is still one quarter the cost.
I am so tired of these pro
I am so tired of these pro nukes popping up with what they think is a stroke of genius on pushing the nuclear addiction. There is NO SAFE WAY OF STORING HIGH LEVEL NUCLEAR WASTES FOR 5 million years. It is enormously expensive, takes 20 years to build one reactor, and creates thousands of tons of CARBON EMISSIONS TO BUILD..CONCRETE BUNKERS, TRANSPORT FUEL ON AND ON AD NAUSEUM. GERMANY THE U.S. ETC ETC ARE NOT BUILDING NUCLEAR PLANTS.
On a cost and project
On a cost and project timeline basis, solar and wind will win every time compared to nuclear. Tesla is now entering the grid battery storage field big time with lithium iron phosphate batteries (no cobalt or nickel) and are about to build the largest battery in the world in Scotland -- 400 MW! -- just onshore from the largest offshore wind project in the world. China's CATL (makers of the most advanced batteries in the world) and Tesla have both been very active in Australia building massive power storage battery packs for the grid. They have been directly responsible for quickly eliminating the demand for coal-fired power.
And of course there are other possibilities, like deep geothermal power and much better conservation in building technology and agriculture.
Knowing all this, I would still be open to SMRs being designed specifically to burn the existing high level waste at existing nuclear power plants, rendering it down to a far, far less toxic glassy material more acceptable for deep repositories, and getting at least a decade of zero emission electricity out of the deal.
This is the problem with too many critics of nuclear power: Instantly say NO! and ignore the existing problem with spent fuel. One also wonders how many of them have ever cooked on gas stoves or visited a dentist's office or got a CAT scan? Medical isotopes are essential to our health care system, and yes indeed, you need a small reactor to develop and process them.
Fossil fuels have killed hundreds of millions of people over the last 75 years. Death by nuclear power over the same period has not resulted in even a half percent of that, including the highly flawed and independently disputed analysis and exaggerations about Fukushima and Chernobyl. Nuclear can be pulled apart on cost and the production of radioactive waste that requires special handling. But not on the number of deaths, especially when compared to coal and oil that produce carcinogenic particulates. In that context, nuclear is a flea on the camel's back.
Using an SMR to render the tar out of the sand is an example of misdirected priorities when the SMR is more easily eliminated on cost, or possibly redirected to the grid along with solar and wind to displace oil byproducts with clean electricity in the domestic economy while leaving the tar in the ground.
Then there is the Arctic. Icebreakers need to defend the North year round. They could have SMRs and refuel once every 30 years, or diesel using bunker oil with regular refueling every month with tankers. In the pristine Arctic.