So the House of Lords Science and Technology committee has reported on the state of the UK's nuclear industry and government plans for carrying it forward: and, as anyone who follows these matters would expect, the noble lords have reported on a situation of total, shambolic chaos. That chaos has come about, not by unavoidable …
Cost of nuclear power should not be measured in "deaths"
I don't dispute much of what you say in this article. I too am cautiously pro-nuclear. But I find that many in the pro-nuclear camp like to quote the number of deaths caused by accidents. That's like gauging the quality of a financial product based on the number of people it manages to bankrupt. The true cost of nuclear power must factor in the economic and quality of life damage caused by accidents. And unfortunately the supposedly once in a millennium accidents seem to be occurring once every few decades.
Well said. I'm particularly interested in Fukishima because there's a country that doesn't have vast tracts of land it can forget about, is a democracy so the people won't just quietly go where they are told and is a technological super-power.
If Japan can't restore everywhere outside of the perimeter fence back to pre-accident levels by the end of the decade then I say the pro-nuclear lobby should rethink things. If they can do that then fine - it's just a rather large industrial accident. Shit happens. But otherwise - no thanks. Permanently screwing up large areas of the countryside is a no-no in my book.
I don't mind what measure you use in particular, as long as it's consistent. For example, showing the number of deaths from nuclear against the number of deaths from coal is useful.
Then do the same with illnesses, impairment, quality of life or whatever.
While I would be inclined to agree with a lot of what you've put there to one degree or another, stating that once in a millennium accidents are happening once a decade is nonsense.
We've had 2 nuclear power accidents in 60 years that have made entering the radioactive zones around them "a bit risky".
The Soviets didn't let safety concerns get in the way of a reactor design that could be refuelled online and run off uranium without having to bother with enrichment.
The Japanese made the tragic mistake of underestimating how high a tidal wave could be.
I think the Fukushima incident is a valid concern, everyone thought it would be safe and while it hasn't caused any deaths and most likely never will, it has caused disruption on the land. As fir Chernobyl, it's simply not representative of a safe approach to Nuclear. The UK's CEGB assessed the RBMK reactor design in the 80s and found it dangerous. I'm pro Nuclear, but I don't think we should start building inherently unsafe reactors.
I think equal reporting should be done for "life damage" caused by the mining and burning of coal when comparing to existing nuclear technologies.
Nothing like a randomly arbitrary, uninformed deadline to get the drones working again, is there?
"Permanently screwing up large areas of the countryside is a no-no in my book."
We don't get tidal waves or suffer massive earthquakes and I would also hope that we wouldn't be building 40 year old nuclear reactors and surrounding containments. I have very little issue with *modern* nuclear energy and would much prefer that the existing stock were replaced by it rather than inevitably allowed to go on past their use-by dates.
@Mark 65:Some areas have had tidal waves and some areas have had quite large quakes. Not recently, no, but they do happen.
I am broadly and generally pro-nuclear. I'm just not prepared to give it my blind allegiance. Where natural disasters are concerned above I'm talking distant history but more recent history - living memory in fact - has demonstrated that the nuclear industry is far from perfect. People said similar things to you after Chernobyl and the Japanese had plenty of opportunity to tighten things up. Instead they have a history of fudging issues and lying about them.
Now the anti-nuclear brigade would point at that and say we shouldn't even go there. I'm not saying that. I'm a believer in the saying "You can't make an omelette without braking eggs". I'll accept that 'shit happens' but mainly the understanding that most of the time it can be cleaned up afterwards.
Granted my 'decade' is an arbitrary figure as I think another poster wrote but I chose it on the grounds of 'how long would the average person in the street be prepared to live somewhere else before being allowed back to their original life' rather than scientific or engineering plausibility. The point being that the effect on the general 'unscientific and non-engineering' public is what matters.
Stop icon because ElReg doesn't provide a 'proceed with caution' icon :)
Does anyone have a reference for how much power generation costs change if you include the decommissioning of the generation technology.
If the Romans had generated electricity using nuclear power here in the UK 1,900 years ago, would we still have to maintain secure sites for the resultant irradiated material, or would everything behave become safe hundreds of years ago?
I'm not being facetious. For all I know, it might be cheaper to run a secure facility for 100 years (if that's all you need) than the environmental costs of cleaning up after coal- or gas-powered stations. In the case of very expensive wind power generation, the decommissioning costs per KWH must be very low.
The UK bill for decommissioning our existing reactor fleet is heading towards £70 billion (albeit spread over a long time), excluding the cost of a long-term repository which hasn't even been designed let alone planned. These costs have been driving up our power bills for quite some time now - something which Lewis forgot to mention.
And the cost of nuclear also has to include the liabilities taken on by the State as no private insurer will ever cover a nuclear plant.
Yes it's green power and we should have it, but let's have an honest pricing for nuclear electricity.
Decommissioning and waste handling are actually negligible costs of nuclear power IF nuclear companies are forced to pay for them right away. The money then sits gaining compound interest for 30-40 years plus and is plenty to handle the decommissioning.
This does require responsible attitudes and foresight, so I guess that means law and regulation around it.
The problem is that depends on many things. The level of fear about radiation is really, really absurd. At the moment, your allowed to wear a old fashioned glow in the dark watch which uses radioactive elements to get the dials to glow in public.
On a nuclear plant, that watch would set of radiation detection alarms and be treated as high level radioactive waste.
Most "nuclear waste" by all appearance is actually nothing of the sort. A desk that's sat in an office building near a reactor for 20 years? That's radioactive waste because it's marginally more radioactive than background levels. Some of the "high level waste" (ie, the actual radioactive stuff) would require thousands of years to return to background levels however this could be dealt with by geological disposal ie, burying it sensibly in the right sort of environment. This presents no risk, and we know this because the natural atomic reactions that have taken place at Oklo about 1.7 million years ago were contained this way despite having absolutely no shielding or containment for the reactions or the waste.
If you applied the same radiation standards to a coal plant as a nuclear plant for radiation, the coal plant would have to close because a coal plant releases more radiation than a nuclear plant. That's because coal contains some uranium and thorium which gets concentrated in the ash by burning the coal, and the uranium either goes into the ash or up the funnel.
Personally I would like to see more efficient 4th generation uranium plants to replace the aged 1st and 2nd generation plants we have running as a stop off until research into Thorium Salt reactors pays off. (Thorium Salt reactors produce waste which is at background levels within 300 years)
However, we aren't doing any research into Thorium Salt reactors so we'll have to buy the reactors from China in a decade.
Last few years now (especially since Iran started kicking off), I have found it very hard to understand why there has been so little research into Thorium reactors: at the start, when governments wanted enriched uranium and plutonium to go into their weapons, it did make some kind of genocidal sense to develop uranium fission reactors; but I really don't understand why nobody (apart from China, and that only recently) is doing Th fission research.
It won't create weapons-grade materials, it is naturally less liable to meltdown and the waste has a far lower half-life.. what's the problem?
Mine's the one with the 232Th in the pocket
"It won't create weapons-grade materials ... what's the problem?"
The answer's in the question
And even 70 billion is a bargain compared to wind
At least the nuclear reactor will have provided useful energy for its lifetime. The cost of a wind fleet equal to a 1GW nuclear reactor (most sites have 4 or so reactors) is about 10x the cost of building the nuclear, and blights the landscape with 30,000 wind turbines. They are 5 million each. Even with 30,000 there would be 1/4 the time with no lights or hospitals, 1/2 the time with about enough, and 1/4 of the time with so much power as to have no where to put it.
There are no alternatives right now to nuclear, unless you like pollution, or live in some hydro bonanza place like Quebec.
I don't believe for a second the 70 billion mark. I think it can be done way cheaper.
You might be able to buy them from Norway instead
I know this isn't exactly the kind of reactor you mentioned but if Aker Solutions can pull it off it should be a very clean and safe reactor.
The problem with Thorium and existing nuclear is that it's a completely different process. Expecting the existing nuclear engineers to adopt or endorse Thorium is pretty much the same as trying to get a bunch of techs in a windows only shop to throw their experience out of the window and agree to scrap the win boxes and replace them with *nix.
UK nuclear: Walking into darkness with eyes screwed shut
A nice change to see a rational ,coherent argument about this emotive subject.
> "It won't create weapons-grade materials ... what's the problem?"
>The answer's in the question
Not any more: we don't want loads of enriched 235U being made, even for us. We already have far more than we could ever use for nuclear bombs, and we're not looking to make current stocks into nukes.
I realize you were probably being cynically sarcastic, but wouldn't it be the perfect way of calling Ahmadinejad's bluff, to say "well, if you're really wanting nuclear power, use Th - if you continue trying to enrich uranium, we'll nuke you from orbit (it's the only way to be sure)"?
Who cares if it's a completely different process?
If existing nuclear engineers don't want to jump ship, then train up some new ones. They shouldn't be the ones dictating the direction of research, anyway.
To be clear, as my first post hopefully shows I am in favour of Thorium development. That said, I think that it's important to recognise that many people trained on uranium fission have little to no idea about thorium based fission, given that even the principles involved are different.
On a side note, as a bonus Thorium reactors should also be able to burn up much of our existing stocks of high level waste as part of their process. However, despite appearing technically perfect we aren't going to use them, because Green groups are irrationally anti nuclear and would rather we expend all of our resources on wind/solar. It should be noted that building wind actually results in more gas plants being built to provide power when the wind is not blowing.
More wind and less nuclear is actually demanding that more fossil fuels are burnt. You won't hear Greenpeace saying that however. Seemingly they view the process of fighting against damaging the environment to be more important than the outcome of their actions.
For someone in favour of Thorium development, you're remarkably pessimistic about it :-)
I'm not sure that many green groups understand the significance or the difference between fissioning of different heavy elements: I didn't myself, until catching something recently and reading pretty much everything I could find on Thorium fission, trying to work out what the catch is. I have managed to convert an out-and-out "nuclear is BAD" greenie to the idea that if Th fission does what it looks like it should be able to do (usual caveats apply), even nuclear fission can be a good thing. Maybe it's an idea that just needs to reach critical mass..
A few numbers, if you want.
So far, eight light water reactors of the types proposed for UK new build have been comprehensively decommissioned - including the original Shippingport PWR, Trojan (a near 1,000 MW unit), Haddam Neck (BWR) and others. In these cases the entire reactor has been removed, the containment and ancialliary buildings removed and the site released for unlimited use. In some cases, however, some dry-cask storage for spent fuel remains on site. The fuel should have been removed to Yucca Mountain, but the political paralysis around the repository means it remains on the original site.
Decomissioning costs have been in the range $600-1000 per KW of capacity (the smaller plants tend to cost more). Note LWRs are much cheaper to decomission than the gas cooled designs we built, not least because there's not a 2,000 tonne graphite core to dismantle and dispose of.
We'll take the mid-point - $800/KW - and not make any assumptions about learning curves, or the fact that new designs are "decommissioning friendly".
An EPR is 1600MW - so, £800M, if we assume a $1.6:£1 exchange rate. Assuming the EPR hits the same through life capacity factor as Sizewell B's managed so far - about 88% - it's make something like 740 million megwatt-hours over it's 60 year design life.
That's about £1.08/MWh. A MWh currently trades (wholesale) at about £50.
If you assume 2% interest rates (i.e. German Bonds), you actually need to set aside about 1/4 that amount.
I prefer "realistic". The UK is never going to put any realistic amount into Thorium research with the ignorance, apathy and stupidity of the general populace. If it ever came down to it, the benefits would never be discussed. The greens would scream NUCLEAR!!! CHERNOBYL!!!! and politicians, having long ago given up with rational debate in favour of sound bites would drop the program to protect their public support figures.
Not only that, but any programme of this kind would need to be a decade long project. Can you see a politician funding something that is:-
1) In the national interest, but against the politicians personal interest.
2) Likely to require billions in research to create a usable reactor and train the people to build and operate it.
3) Take so long to complete that their political opponents would get the benefits, and take the credit.
No? I didn't think so. All of which shows how badly our system lets us down when China is putting $30 billion into their thorium program. Their rulers aren't worried about short term popularity. I find it deeply humiliating watching China planning rationally to out compete us over a long term. Nobody is going to wake up to what China is doing until we are buying engineering expertise from China as well as all of our manufactured goods. But hey, it's more than 5 years off. Why bother about it?
Sorry, where does this $30Bn number come from?
Let's be clear about what the Chinese are doing.
The origin of this story seems to be something in "Wired" magazine back in FEbruary. It reported a speech at the Chinese National Academy of Sciences saying that they'd do some planning and lab-level studies on Thorium systems. It didn't mention any sum at all, much less something like $30Bn.
That seems to be an internet myth.
What they're actually committed to building is about 70 - count them, 70 - conventional reactors. They'll be a mixture of derivatives of the old Framatome PWR design, and an uprated 1400MW version of the Westinghouse AP1000. Conservatively that's $100Bn or so. They're investigating further upgrades to 1700 or even 2100MW, if the passive cooling capabilities can be scaled up.
They've signed deals to build sodium cooled fast reactors, based on the Russian BN-300. That's probably about $10Bn.
They're building a near-commercial scale HTR - gas/graphite - using a derivative of the old pebble-bed concept; that's probably a $billion or two.
The reality is, the thorium stuff is at best a sideshow, to a programme that's going flat out on conventional nuclear technologies.
You don't scrap the computers
In replacing Windows with LInux or BSD Unix, you don't scrap the boxes. the other systems will run just fine on the old hardware, maybe better.
Similarly, in switching from Uranium to Thorium, you don't scrap the old engineering concepts, you just have to change the input variables. The same physics works. the same dangers are there.
Thorium is harder to get to go through the cycle, but it does go through it. basically, Uranium has more bang for the buck. Just as gasoline has more bang for the buck than CNG. That's why a gasoline fueled car goes farther than a natural gas fueled one.
Oh, and the Thorium cycle DOES potentially produce some fissionable by-products. But, just as the proposed thorium reactors will 'burn' many of the byproducts, a Uranium reactor can also be designed to 'burn' the plutonium produced in the reactor.
There is a lot of discussion on these topics which should go on before a national course of action is selected. The discussion should go through from a physics based level to an engineering level before the politicians ever get involved.
The Lords seem to be listening. That's good for the UK. I wonder if Commons will be as logical and level headed?
Lewis Page thinks cancer only matters when it doesn't happen to him personally.
Fact is - and facts are thin on the ground here, once you wave away the 'cretinous' rhetoric - Chernobyl cancer cases are easily into five figures. And deaths would have been so very much higher without a mass evacuation and an exclusion zone.
But apparently a mass evacuation doesn't count as a health effect. (Who knew?)
As for Fukushima - we'll see what happens when you get the same amount of radiation released with a much smaller exclusion zone.
The first post-meltdown births will be happening any day now. And the cancer clusters will be happening for decades.
But touting an idiot technology that shits all over your living room when there are cheaper and cleaner alternatives still makes perfect sense to some people.
Who knows why?
>Chernobyl cancer cases are easily into five figures
No, four figures. And most of those have been cured.
I'm curious about this statement
What are the cleaner and cheaper alternatives? Seriously - I'm cautiously pro-nuclear, but I try to keep an open mind, but I can't see anything else that has the generation potential with such ease.
The options as I see them are thus:
Wind - expensive, not reliable, can't be used for baseload. Only works in certain conditions. Changes the weather downwind of the site, requires enormous amounts of space.
Solar - panels are a nightmare to manufacture, the energy budget in creating them is huge to the extend that 1m² of high-quality polycrystalline panels has a whole-life breakeven after 14 years, and require enormous amounts of space. Extensive maintenance requirements.
Geothermal - has potential, but widescale applications would require a lot of wells to be sunk, and deep, which would be expensive. There is also the concern about the amount of hot steam released into the atmosphere through cooling having climate effects surely? Would be ideal for baseload otherwise.
Tidal - has potential, but again expensive. Needs development to arrive at best solution. Long-term environmental effects from restraining free water flow around the world could be a problem (you're taking energy out of a system).
Hydro (pumped storage or otherwise) - Proven technology, and allows to come online at periods of high power. Not really a long-term solution without significant inflow into reservoir. High expenditure in terms of both budget for construction, and required land-take.
Nuclear - proven technology. High capital expenditure in both commissioning and decommissioning, but when you amortise cost per kWh over life then much more reasonable. Relatively low carbon power. Issue with long-term storage of waste, but correct infrastructure can 'burn' waste to reduce toxicity. Safety issues (ref Chernobyl et al), but number of directly-attributable deaths still probably much much less than from coal mining / oil drilling etc. Newer reactors much much safer than 30-year old ones in Japan.
Fossil fuels - proven technology. Well developed, but not as efficient. Creates massive amounts of CO2, and even worse when considering CO2e. Coal (both in mining and burning) release significant quantities of radiation into the atmosphere.
For my way of thinking, nuclear to provide a significant proportion of base load, with other 'sustainable' options providing back-up, with wind available but used to top-up pumped storage for high demand periods would be the best balance. Excess energy (ie overnight base load) could be used to crack hydrogen from seawater or create hydrocarbons for transport etc.
I fully expect to get heavily downvoted for this, so let the flaming commence. It just bothers me when people from ALL sides of the argument can't see that the only way we can realistically achieve what we have said we will is by significant efficiency improvements and a good, balanced mix of supply sources.
It's either that, or we all go back to the Dark Ages.
Even if Chernobyl cancer cases are well into five figures (and it's extraordinarily difficult to prove a causative effect), it's still chicken feed compared to the fossil fuel industry in terms of overall health impact. Nobody is pretending that nuclear is 100% safe, but neither is any other means of generation. The main difference is that fossil-fuel related deaths, injuries and illnesses tend to happen in far away poor countries. With nuclear we have to take on board the (tiny) risk ourselves.
I think you may be disappointed when it comes to spotting cancer clusters after Fukushima too - standing outside Fukushima town hall would have given you the same dose as driving a lorry full of bananas. If you happened to be driving those bananas around Cornwall then you'd clearly be truly screwed, by your estimation.
Chernobyl was clearly the worst nuclear energy accident that has ever happened - but the chances of such an accident happening again are miniscule, with proper current safety regimens and reactor designs. How many significant nuclear accidents have happend in majority-nuclear France since they started building reactors there? Clue: none. When was the last time there was a Tsunami hit the UK? Prehistory.
Chernobyl was bloody awful, but stopping nuclear energy because of it would be like banning water because sometimes people drown in it.
Oh, and mass evacuations are a social effect, rather than a health one.
Whilst the figures on health are "economical with the truth" in the article, we don't know how many cancers and deaths etc have been caused by burning fossil fuels - it wouldn't surprise me if an accurate factual study could be undertaken it show it roughly even across most forms of energy production. And if you can provide clear accurate factual evidence of these "cheaper and cleaner alternatives" then I might drop support for nuclear!
Chernobyl is a red herring
Chernobyl is a red herring because it was a number of things that simply don't apply today, or to anywhere outside the Soviet Union. It was an inherently unsafe design where they turned off all the safeties and blew themselves sky high. That's not a "nuclear accident", it was deliberate failure. Chernobyl was as bad as it gets but it was done on purpose.
<quote>When was the last time there was a Tsunami hit the UK? Prehistory.</quote>
Pedant cap on. It was 1755 (see: Lisbon Earthquake)
Figures with sources are easy to find
Coal - world average: 161
Coal - China: 278
Coal - USA: 15
Natural Gas: 4
Solar (rooftop): 0.44
Hydro - Europe: 0.10
Hydro - world including Banqiao: 1.4
Nuclear : 0.04
(I did not check the biofuel. I expect that if you include the coal/oil needed to make the fertiliser required to maintain soil quality then the death rate will increase to match the coal/oil. Intensive agriculture is powered by chemicals not sunlight.)
Re: I'm curious about this statement
The Japanese are already doing trials on this:
I have no idea why Chris Huhne has done so little with it. After all, this is a form of renewable energy that is reliable. It only takes a few acres of land.
This is a proposal for using wave energy to set up a pumped hydro scheme. The problem is that it requires a lot of wave energy generators to get the output. A working gigawatt version will probably never be built. Plan on getting around a couple of liters per second from each wave generator.
It's the old saying. "There is as much strength in a million fleas as in one ox. Did you ever try to harness up a million fleas?" It looks good, but it will be very expensive to implement. Also, the pumped seawater will contaminate the water table with salt.
It has ever been so. Rather than calculating the cost to the country of nuclear by the costs of decommissioning reactors, they should realise that these costs will be miniscule when compared to meeting our energy requirements from all the other sources put together.
I have always maintained the only viable option is nuclear and this only serves to strengthen my belief. UK government needs to wake up and smell the coffee, while it still can before they're making it on a wood burning stove.
The wrong sort of argument
Lewis, Lewis, Lewis!
While I admire your passion and you may even be right, you won't win any arguments. The problem is that to get public opinion in favour of an idea, that public has to lose something they value. It's no good promising "jam tomorrow" or "a bad thing might/will happen". The various financial crises we've been enduring for the past 3 years shows that nobody is prepared to suffer now for advantages later. Not us, not the greeks: nobody.
if we are going to blame the government (and to be fair, it's parties on all sides, colours, beliefs and abilities) for short-term policies, bowing to NIMBY-ism, prevarications or even carelessness it's because these are the politicians that we have decided to give power to. They reflect us.
Sadly the only way to get some action on energy security is for the country to experience its loss. Not to have the price screwed forever upwards like the mythically boiled frog. It needs a SHOCK to kick-start a new initiative, not a gradual phasing in or gradual price increases. However when that shock happens, just like it did for the economy it will (no doubt) be unexpected, severe and blaming all the wrong people for it's causes (and therefore looking at all the wrong remedies for its solution).
When that happens you may well have a schadenfreude moment, for all the good it will do. Though I'd advise you to have all your evidence printed out and a torch handy, as the lights will be off and the computers won't work.
But if he tells them now...
So he shouldn't make an argument at all? If your country can't learn by any means other than injuring itself, then at very least now is a fine time for him to secure his "told you so" rights. The schadenfreude's free!
Besides, there's a tiny chance somebody might even listen.
All the anti-nuclear arguments in a single post!
Thankyou for taking the time to explain all the valid anti-nuclear arguments complete with citations of the evidence needed to back your position. Please post more like this so everyone can understand why we do not have much nuclear capacity.
PS - why don't you start a company that sells only sustainable power that is not from fossil fuels and nukes. Remember to wrap up warm, go everywhere by bicycle and keep well away from the rest of us: Without hot showers and a washing machine you will smell awful.
I may have to print this article out and start hitting people over the head with it.
Couldn't agree more. Wish i was in a position to make it happen, alas, i'm not...
This excellent site (no connection...) shows a very stark picture today - coal and gas FTW, the windmills are doing nothing but looking pretty:
Damn...an article by Mr P that I'm almost in agreement on! AC 'cos I don't want to be known as a LP fanboi!
But is it safe!
Can you guarantee no one will ever die or be injured by a nuclear accident? I thought not!
And will the nuclear plants devalue my property if built anywhere near me? I thought so!
Give me death by hypothermia and decent house prices until we all die out.
>Can you guarantee no one will ever die or be injured by a nuclear accident? I thought not!
No but we can guarantee that someone will be killed by the mining of fossil fuels. Several thousand every year I believe.
As opposed to the devaluing of your property
caused by having no reliable electricity supply?
Mine's the lead-lined one, I'm off to Dungeness.
Serious sarcasm failure there, all of you downvoters (and the two commenters above)...
But is it safe! →
Quote- Can you guarantee no one will ever die or be injured by a nuclear accident? I thought not!
No- Can you guarantee that thousands of miners will not continue to die every year in China?
Problem is if it was left to Central Government to sort, nothing would be done but it would cost Billions; if it was left to Private Industry corners would be cut in the name of Profit/Share Dividends; experience tells me a colaboration between the two would result in the worst of both worlds (high costs and cut corners)!
Maybe we should just hand it over to the French, they seem to be far better than us at running a Nuclear Industry.
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