Home | About | Donate

No, the US Is Not Upholding Its Paris Climate Agreement Commitments


#1

No, the US Is Not Upholding Its Paris Climate Agreement Commitments

Alex Lenferna

t the end of the Global Climate Action Summit, California Governor Jerry Brown and Michael Bloomberg pronounced that despite Trump’s intransigence the U.S. is still “upholding its commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement”. They were celebrating the fact that sub-national commitments put “the country within striking distance of the 26% reduction in greenhouse gases, by 2025, that the United States promised to hit in Paris”.


#2

What’s funny is that when you go to the website cited in the article, https://climateactiontracker.org/countries/usa/fair-share/ you’ll see that most other countries are doing worse than the US. The US is rated as “Insufficient” (but for the automatic downgrade to Critically Insufficient because they are not following the Paris Accords - i.e., if we don’t like you, we’ll ignore the data). The only country of any size that does better is India which scores a “2C compatible”.


#3

You could argue opposition to clean energy is worldwide,
within a smaller circle of obstructionists selling Big Oil,
whenever they’re not selling Big Nukes.


#5

This article should be exhibit A when arguing against the folly of incrementalism.

Incremental progress is what allows Jerry Brown and Michael Bloomberg to take a bow for window dressing as a crisis inches nearer by the day.

It’s like a doctor bragging about patching up a single bullet hole in a shooting victim who was shot twelve times.


#6

It’s all the fracking for natural gas that allows the US to do better than most other developed countries. The substitution of natural gas for coal leads to considerable reduction in CO2 emissions. The reductions may be much less if methane leaks are considered.


#7

Since when is selling nukes being obstructionist in the fight against fossil fuels?


#8

I don’t know @Wellan 's views on Nuclear Power, but he may think (I may too, I haven’t decided) that for reasons that are both technical and political, new plants won’t be rolled out fast enough to displace enough fossil fuel generation to make enough of a difference. If true, they are a distraction from whatever can be achieved in renewables and conservation and Wellan’s comment seems reasonable.

As you know, I’m not automatically opposed to Gen IV, passively cooled, safe from power outage designs, and the fact that many (most?) proposed designs can process military and civilian high level nuclear waste into something much safer is a significant bonus (even if we rolled out a small number of Gen IV reactors in the future - close to where the high level waste is, this would seem a good reason to consider them even if it wouldn’t be enough to impact climate change). However, I’m starting to think pushing for Nuclear to solve climate change is a distraction. I just don’t see it happening and if we build a couple new reactors in 30 years it will still be a bunch of money that we could have thrown into conservation (subsidies for people to upgrade to higher efficiency) and into renewables research and in my opinion actually achieve more (on climate change anyway - as I say above, I’d pay to improve our nuclear waste situation if these designs do the job well).

Now if we could find a good Gen IV design, roll out 100s of them (or depending on how small and modular, 1000s or more of them) enough to actually generate all the electrical power deficit we have using only renewables as well as generate extra electricity to charge a lot more electric cars or produce hydrogen or liquid fuels to displace diesel and gasoline, that is a very different offer. Do you really think that offer will ever be on the table (i.e., politically feasible) in the next 50 years?


#9

China is installing renewables at far below their production capacity. So is Germany. In neither case, is the problem that they don’t have enough money, or resources, or political will to build renewables. The bottleneck is the actual logistics of installation and grid integration. China is also a leading builder of nuclear, which goes to show that both can be done at the same time. And if you look at Germany’s carbon footprint over the last 18 years, you can see they’ve made depressingly little headway, despite huge investments in renewables, improved efficiency and actually succeeding in reducing overall energy consumption. And the main reason all that work has done so little good is that most of the gains have gone to displacing the nuclear they are gradually taking offline. And while old-tech nuclear has been notoriously slow to build in the U.S., it has not been anywhere near as slow elsewhere, and it definitely would not have taken Germany 18 years to add as much nuclear generation as they’ve added in new renewable generation, and yet, nobody argues that renewables are a distraction from nuclear.

“As you know, I’m not automatically opposed to Gen IV, passively cooled, safe from power outage designs, and the fact that many (most?) proposed designs can process military and civilian high level nuclear waste into something much safer is a significant bonus (even if we rolled out a small number of Gen IV reactors in the future - close to where the high level waste is, this would seem a good reason to consider them even if it wouldn’t be enough to impact climate change).”

The main reason for locating a waste-consuming reactor at the site of an old-tech reactor would be to displace the old reactor, while making use of its interconnects. Being near a supply of spent fuel or DU would not matter. The fuel supply is easy to move, and most of today’s supply will need to be moved into storage of some sort no matter what.

“However, I’m starting to think pushing for Nuclear to solve climate change is a distraction. I just don’t see it happening and if we build a couple new reactors in 30 years it will still be a bunch of money that we could have thrown into conservation … and into renewables research and in my opinion actually achieve more (on climate change anyway”

Old-tech nuclear has become prohibitively expensive and slow in the U.S. So far as new builds are concerned, it is effectively dead. I have my doubts we will even finish the two remaining reactors still under construction. But the old model of government-developed, government-directed, and government-supported nuclear is also essentially dead. We’ve reached the point where most nuclear research and development work today is being done by private teams and ventures, funded mostly by private investment. As it happens, there are restrictions on the sort of nuclear testing private entities can do, so we need the cooperation and oversight of the national labs on that. But that’s why we have national labs, and having them assist is dirt cheap for the general public, so nuclear research today is a huge bargain. And if we were to simply outlaw all private nuclear R & D, that private investment money would disperse into the larger investment pool. Renewables would have no special claim on it, and they’d have to compete for it, just like they do now, and at most, they’d get just a tiny sliver of those funds, just like they currently get only a tiny sliver of the overall investment pool.

“Now if we could find a good Gen IV design, roll out 100s of them (or depending on how small and modular, 1000s or more of them) enough to actually generate all the electrical power deficit we have using only renewables as well as generate extra electricity to charge a lot more electric cars or produce hydrogen or liquid fuels to displace diesel and gasoline, that is a very different offer. Do you really think that offer will ever be on the table (i.e., politically feasible) in the next 50 years?”

It hardly gets covered in progressive and Green outlets, but the political will to support next-gen development is already here. With broad bipartisan support, the Nuclear Innovation and Capabilities Act has already been passed and Trump recently signed it into law, and that includes measures for the national labs to assist private teams with development. And in the works is the Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act, also garnering strong bipartisan support, and it’s geared to reforming the regulatory structure, which in its current form is a veritable roadblock to nuclear innovation. There’s also a Nuclear Energy Leadership Act, which is geared toward helping the development of a nuclear export industry (which is only going to happen if we develop competitive reactors).

Now, that’s just the political support for the research and development. That doesn’t automatically mean this support will extend to whatever gets developed. That’s going to depend entirely on what they come up with and how good it is. And there are so many different approaches that it is hard to say which will be best and how good they will be. This may wind up being like the auto and aircraft industries where in the early days there was a large variety of designs followed by shakeouts and consolidations around a few leading designs.

I don’t have a crystal ball, but at this point, my two favorite designs are the Moltex and Elysium reactors, both of which are molten salt fast reactors which would be capable of consuming any isotope of uranium, neptunium, plutonium, americium, curium, etc. The U.S. supply of consumables from the waste-product, by-product, and end-product streams of nuclear power and weapons manufacturing is currently running around a million tons. Feed that through fast reactors and you can make about 2550 terawatt-years of heat. And by the time the last of old-tech reactors are retired, we could be sitting on a U.S. reserve with more than 5000 terawatt-years of heat potential. (Global reserves could wind up in excess of 12,000 terawatt-years.) For context, the total heat energy that humans have derived from all fossil fuels combined over the last 5000 years amounts to about 680 terawatt-years. That means that in junk we currently don’t want, we have already inadvertently accumulated far more energy than all the energy we have previously consumed. All that is needed to unlock it is the right kind of fast reactor. This is also why locating waste-consuming reactors near waste doesn’t matter. That much energy cannot be digested quickly. If converted to electricity, the eventual U.S. “waste” supply could fuel two thousand gigawatts for a thousand years. So we’re going to need storage, and if we are going to put it into storage, centralized repositories make the most sense.

Moltex has already received site-approval to build a full-scale demonstrator reactor in New Brunswick. Elysium is currently having their fuel validated by Argonne. Both are aiming to have demonstrator reactors in less than ten years. Technically, they both think they could do it in five, but the unknown at this point is how much red tape they will have to wade through. Moltex is also proposing a grid-reserve option, where the pool coolant salt heats up a supply of solar salt to go into insulated storage tanks. That way, the reactor can continue running at full capacity even while the plant output has ramped down while variable renewables output is high, and then the stored energy can augment the reactor output when demand is high and renewables output is low. So the overall plant capacity factor could be low even though the reactor capacity factor could be close to 100%. And since the Elysium reactor also uses a molten salt secondary loop, they could do the same thing if they wanted.

The big unknown is how cheap these reactors will be. Moltex is aiming to come in at roughly $2 per watt capacity. Elysium, presumably, will be aiming to compete. (As will dozens of other teams.) We’ll have a much better sense of likely cost when the first demonstrators get built, and it is cost that is going to determine the speed of rollout. If they turn out to be very competitive, many could be built simultaneously.

But for the next ten years or so, I think the best the U.S. nuclear industry can hope for is stasis. (We’re going to lose some reactors, but if the Lightbridge fuel works out, some of the remaining reactors might opt for power uprates.)


#10

Dara, my reply is more to you than Trog. Though both your responses were credible, neither should go without criticism. The view that Nukes should be completely fazed out should never be abandoned. I’d stipulate the next generation nuclear power plants be used for decommission purposes ONLY and equally temporary. I’d also oppose transport for commercial purposes as always unsafe, Trog.

Rebuilding more resilient grids should begin with rooftop & neighborhood arrays, NOT vast solar farms necessarily dependent upon the longest grid distances and structures vulnerable to grid failure. Match rooftop with both PHEV & BEV battery packs for storage, emergency backup power, choice and the means to reduce fuel/energy consumption for both household use and driving. I’d carry the No Nukes debate further, but I’d rather hear your take the above: PV=Rooftop/neighbornet + EV = more resilient grid. You both state details and statistics well. Asking WHY cancel the Ford C-Max/Fusion hybrid lineup does not lead to good answers.


#11

Whether they should or not is not something that we should be deciding at this point. We don’t have enough information. That’s a decision to be made after all our best options have been developed and we are in a much better position to evaluate them on their relative merits. It looks pretty clear that old-tech nuclear will be completely abandoned at some point. That may eventually happen to next-gen nuclear too, but if it happens, it should be because we came up with something better.

“I’d stipulate the next generation nuclear power plants be used for decommission purposes ONLY and equally temporary.”

And everyone is entitled to have an opinion. But if you want to argue for your opinion, it needs to be shown why next-gen reactors should not be used for power unrelated to decommissioning, or for industrial process heat, or synthetic fuel production, or district heat, or for powering heavy cargo ships, or supplying the energy for some large scale carbon sequestration projects. I’m fine with temporary just as soon as these are rendered obsolete, but for the near term, we might need them in the fight against fossil fuels.

“I’d also oppose transport for commercial purposes as always unsafe, Trog.”

Safety is not something that can ever be absolute, and it always has to be evaluated in the context of the alternatives. Nuclear fuel transport is something we have millions of miles experience with, and the incredibly robust transport flasks we use for that purpose have never leaked. The main risk is just the usual transport risk that goes with any heavy load, and probably less risk than for transporting those monster wind turbine blades. And the alternative to transporting the fuel is not transporting it, which means it stays where it is for centuries–often above ground, out in the open. That isn’t a risk-free option either.

“Rebuilding more resilient grids should begin with rooftop & neighborhood arrays, NOT vast solar farms necessarily dependent upon the longest grid distances and structures vulnerable to grid failure.”

When we’ve actually displaced fossil fuels, then I think we can have the luxury of deciding which clean tech options we don’t want and no longer need. But for now, our carbon footprint is still so large enough that we need all of it.

“Match rooftop with both PHEV & BEV battery packs for storage, emergency backup power, choice and the means to reduce fuel/energy consumption for both household use and driving.”

Discharging car batteries to power the grid is not likely to be very popular. But if you have a lot of car batteries, they could do demand response charging according to user preferences, where the cars would only take up an essential charge while energy prices were high, and pick up the bulk charge when intermittent renewables are producing and prices are low. So this has good potential for being a piece of the solution, but it’s going to take a long time before there are enough electric vehicles for large scale demand management. Last I heard, EV sales in the U.S. are only projected to be around a half million per year by 2025. We would need tens of millions before demand management could sop up a significant portion of oversupply during renewable output spikes.


#12

Sorry, but my points against nuclear power were made in fewer words. You have your opinion to use however as many words possible to make. Make your point in fewer words and still you won’t have much. It’s not possible to displace fossil fuels with clean energy misused and abused for motorized commercial activity such as we conduct today. You’re putting the cart before the horse. You’re not seeing the bigger picture. You think life as we know it - car strangled thoroughfares, exotic air travel, international shipping and domestic trucking to/from ports is a way of life that can continue, no problem, it’s all good, blah blah blah. In other words: rooftop PV+EV = resilient grids means zero to you.


#13

I was thinking of the politics of moving spent fuel. It’s been a while since reading about WIPP but at the time it seemed more controversial to move the waste over rail or roadways, though if you say it has been done plenty already with safe containers, that addresses that issue. I wasn’t thinking interconnects were as important if you were only building reactors to process waste as you could dedicate the power to producing mobile fuel of some sort, but I did not have a sense of scale and the numbers you are quoting for how much potential energy is left in this waste make the case for citing at an existing plant location (not just a weapons production location).

That’s good. I remember this story about a new reactor in Georgia (http://www.our-energy.com/news/new_nuclear_power_plants_in_us.html) - but I don’t know if it is still going. How many Gen III designs are being built? So your opinion is that we should continue to operate these reactors, some (all?) of which at a higher output? Any you would close tomorrow?

I agree when it comes to private R&D. I was thinking we need more public R&D into both renewables and conservation. You quoted a number of $2/watt for a new Gen IV reactor. Prices for PV solar are all over the map but I’m seeing numbers as low as 3/watt and when you look a the /watt module cost plot at http://www.solarcellcentral.com/cost_page.html, I start to wonder how low can it go. Now perhaps the lifetimes aren’t comparable and I realize solar won’t be operating at peak power nearly as high a % of the time as a nuclear reactor, but still - if the ultimate cost per kWh gets to within a factor of 2 relative to nuclear, most voters in the US just won’t embrace the nuclear option.

I looked at Moltex and Thorcon’s websites a bit last time we discussed Gen IV reactors, but I don’t recall Elysium - I’ll have to look into that. Interesting that they plan to use the same molten salt storage concept used in solar thermal plants (though I recall you or someone else told me they don’t actually store much excess energy for buffering out of Ivanpah - they just use it all). If you didn’t need to store for buffering but just ran a plant at more than the max load all the time, I suppose you could still go the route of producing mobile fuel with the excess - I suppose the salt idea is better though in some cost calculation method or they wouldn’t do it.

@Wellan,

Though the idea of processing down nuclear waste is very appealing, it sounds like we have a lot more of it than I realized - it doesn’t seem possible to do it very temporarily based on Trog’s numbers. I guess my big question on this advantage is ‘has it been done?’ Or have all the Gen IV test reactors only used virgin fuel?

I agree with you that I want a lot of rooftop solar - I live in Los Angeles and do use A/C (I could maybe hack it without, but my family would never go for it) and it is obvious in these climates that you can buy a lot of solar and use most of it on A/C taking away a bunch of the peak load requirements from centralized production. But I still think we will need centralized production, be it big wind farms, or solar thermal towers. I don’t see why centralized PV is any better than distributed though - but you do have an easier time with maintenance maybe (cleaning, repairing bad panels). I don’t have rooftop solar myself as I’m surrounded by protected Oak trees that are giving my too much shading (though if micro inverter pricing comes down enough, I’ll get something up there at some point).

I don’t know what the hell Ford is doing these days. My sister drives a C-max non-plugin hybrid and I’m using a Nissan Leaf. I understand your argument that for the same money outlay for the country, we could offset more gasoline by getting everybody to drive 30 mile range plug in hybrids and we don’t need any electric cars, but I still like my car and in fact would want the 200 mile version if it comes out in 2019.


#14

My preference for household PHEVs, matched to PV rooftop arrays, is about scale, capacity, equitable energy distribution, backup power, choice where/how to use energy, thus influencing land-use/development patterns which benefit walking, mass transit, bicycling those and other routes instead of driving. I’m a guy who helped kill Wwpps big plan to build 4 nuke plants dead and decommission Oregon’s Trojan. Nuke plants shut down: 5 So how many nuke plants you help shut down? Homes today cleaner, healthier, comfortably more energy efficient. Many old homes today saved from the wrecking ball.
There’s a lot to be said about planting shade trees amidst plaza.


#15

I’d love it if I could bike to work - I tried when I was closer and the road system in LA quickly convinced me to by a Prius. One point I don’t agree on above is the equitable part. There is nothing equitable about household solar: you have to have a house which is already unquitable and you having a bigger house if it means a bigger roof nets you more energy than someone else with a more modest house.

So how many nuke plants you help shut down?

None (I may have attended an anti Rocky Flats protest in my early years at Boulder, but that wasn’t what shut the place down. I never said I was an activist. I don’t think I (or @Trog) have to be in order to have opinions and facts connected to those opinions.

Homes today cleaner, healthier, comfortably more energy efficient. Many old homes today saved from the wrecking ball.

I’m not sure I understand - are homes today including old homes that are retrofitted? I suppose saving material is always a good thing, though I don’t support building codes that force you to irrationally keep an old building structure instead of tearing it down even when that makes more sense environmentally.


#16

Dara, any EV battery pack, small PHEV or much larger BEV ‘matched’ to a rooftop array is a vital safety device. BEV arrays however, tied to regional utility grids is like 10x to 15x more demand than much less costly PHEV systems; inequitable distribution of resources. BEVs have a smaller percentage of market demand. PHEVs should best serve more than half the actual need and demand. Combustible Hydrogen is more practically stored for PHEVs. PHEV is the more sensible choice for freight truck.

With any plugged-in EV, you’ve got choice whether drive or keep the fridge cool, water hot, the clothes dryer doing its job, etc.

The smaller PHEV pack can extend its lifespan for years as stationary household low-power uses. Not so easy with larger BEV packs which are also more expensive to replace at recommended 100,00 miles or so. PHEVs offer more incentives for more people to drive less… such as written in my essay.

The idea of empty cars and buses and trucks everywhere is nonsense, worse than nonsense. Car companies aren’t the main colluders in this fraud. Bezos, Musk, Zuckerman, Uberites and their real estate agents are in for a surprise when their Amazon investments tank. When the truth of NO Robotaxi world sinks in, urbanites must face the truth about their future being heavily reliant on new fleets of specially designed mass transit buses with better connections to metro rail lines. If you think self-driving cars is going to happen, you’re being wrongfully misled, mostly by corporate interests, mostly Uber who’d rather not pay drivers at all; by trucking company jerks who’d fire drivers in a second. Etc etc.


#17

This was the state of transport flask testing back in the 70’s:
youtube (dot) com/watch?v=sIOPfyVZeX8
(actually a 3-minute video, I don’t know why it repeats)

Transporting used fuel has been less common in the U.S. than transporting fresh fuel, with only around 250 shipments so far, but it is very common outside the U.S. also with no releases, and I see no reason to suppose we’d be any worse at it.

“I wasn’t thinking interconnects were as important if you were only building reactors to process waste as you could dedicate the power to producing mobile fuel of some sort,”

I suspect fuel production reactors would mostly be located next to or in an ocean. The volumetric carbon density is about 90 times greater in seawater than air, and it’s easier to separate from water. That’s what prompted the Navy to use seawater for its synthetic jet fuel experiment.

“I remember this story about a new reactor in Georgia - but I don’t know if it is still going.”

The V.C. Summer project is dead, though unfortunately not before a few billion had been spent on it. The Vogtle project is still hanging on by its fingernails, but it is under continual threat from disputes between the various backers, and it’s fate is far from certain.

“So your opinion is that we should continue to operate these reactors, some (all?) of which at a higher output? Any you would close tomorrow?”

Under current conditions, I think Indian Point would be a leading candidate for closure, and there are also some current practices I’d like to see revised, but I don’t know at this point how much the accident-tolerant fuels in development would change the picture. I wouldn’t want power uprates without fuel that was qualified for it.

“I realize solar won’t be operating at peak power nearly as high a % of the time as a nuclear reactor,”

It isn’t just about percentage. If you had a car which sometimes wouldn’t start, and sometimes would stop working while you were driving, and sometimes would start itself up on its own, it might have the same percentage of engine run time as another car which only ran when you wanted it to, but is there any question which car would be more valuable to you? The molten salt reactors in particular are likely to have lower capacity factors than today’s nuclear, but that’s because they’ll have more demand-response flexibility, making them more useful and valuable.

“but still - if the ultimate cost per kWh gets to within a factor of 2 relative to nuclear, most voters in the US just won’t embrace the nuclear option.”

First, it doesn’t have to be a majority across the US. People in North Dakota aren’t going to give people in California a say in their decisions. So regional majorities would be enough, and there are regions where even current-tech nuclear has majority support. And second, I think it depends on the kind of nuclear. I’ve known avowed anti-nukes who concede they would not object to fusion power if we ever manage to get it working for cheap enough. For most who oppose nuclear, the main reasons are cost, chance of meltdown, and the indefinite fate of the spent fuel. But I have yet to talk to anyone about liquid fuel reactors who could not easily grasp why liquids cannot melt. If the reactor was also cheap enough and actually consumed existing waste, what do you think the principal remaining objections would be?

“I looked at Moltex and Thorcon’s websites a bit last time we discussed Gen IV reactors, but I don’t recall Elysium - I’ll have to look into that.”

They’ve kept a low profile, but it’s a serious venture. The core tech team came out of the Navy reactor program, led by a guy who specialized in alternative reactor designs, and they have more hands-on reactor design, building, and testing experience than most next-gen developers. With their Navy background, it’s maybe not so surprising that they’ve come up with a design with a small form factor (yet more powerful than the Navy’s largest carrier reactor) that would work on a pitching ship. (The Moltex design, in contrast, would be a very poor candidate for use on a ship.)

“Interesting that they plan to use the same molten salt storage concept used in solar thermal plants”

The Moltex idea isn’t just to use the same concept. It’s to use the very same supplies and hardware that is already being used for solar plants.

“(though I recall you or someone else told me they don’t actually store much excess energy for buffering out of Ivanpah”

Ivanpah has no storage. It generates steam directly. Any supplemental comes from burning gas. But there are other solar facilities which do have thermal storage. The amount of storage and the scale of the plant uprate will depend on how much flexibility is needed from the plant, and over what timescales. But it would mostly be for timeshifting for less than a day or two.

“If you didn’t need to store for buffering but just ran a plant at more than the max load all the time, I suppose you could still go the route of producing mobile fuel with the excess”

If you are going to go to the expense of building a fuel production facility, you’ll get the best return by operating it as close to full-time as possible. With molten salt reactors, occasional curtailment would not be a big deal. They should be excellent at ramping up and down quickly. The main justification for storage would be if there is already so much short-term mismatch between production and demand that it improves the plant economics to time-shift reactor output from when prices are low to when prices are high.

“I suppose the salt idea is better though in some cost calculation method or they wouldn’t do it.”

It’s cheaper and more efficient for short time shifts. Fuel storage would be better for long timeshifts, but that would mean slow payback, which is risky in a field where so much changes so rapidly.

“Though the idea of processing down nuclear waste is very appealing, it sounds like we have a lot more of it than I realized - it doesn’t seem possible to do it very temporarily based on Trog’s numbers.”

It only occurred to me to run the numbers for the first time a couple of months ago. After deducting energy lost to neutrinos, it takes roughly 3.1 x 10^10 fissions per second to produce 1 W of heat. Since 1 gram of any fissile material contains about 2.5 x 10^21 atoms, that works out to about 2.556 gigawatt years of heat per metric ton. I knew we had a lot of weapons byproduct, spent fuel, and DU, but even so, I was surprised and a bit amazed when I got the energy total and found it greatly exceeded all the combustion energy we’ve used so far. But nearly as surprising to me is that no-one seems to find this at all remarkable (except for the woman who thought it would be an awful, no-good, terrible thing if we were to gain access to such a large supply of energy and not have something about it that would give us reason to restrict our use of it). I guess we live in an age of so many technological wonders that the threshold for finding something impressive or even interesting is much higher than it was in my day.

“I guess my big question on this advantage is ‘has it been done?’ Or have all the Gen IV test reactors only used virgin fuel?”

We have experience and scientific knowledge covering each part of the process, but they haven’t been combined into a single operational system yet. The Elysium fuel fabrication method is currently undergoing validation at Argonne, but you need a full-scale reactor to actually reach critical mass, so the first full-system validation probably won’t come until the first demonstration reactor fires up.


#18

Interesting. For liquid hydrogen, is it better to be next to the ocean or would freshwater be better?

My comment about % was to address the apples/oranges of dollars/watt between Nuclear which goes 24/7 vs Solar which goes 7/7 (or whatever the mean number of hours is if you match peak power * hours against energy per day. Yes I know that there are issues with having an impulsive power source and we aren’t there on grid storage yet. I don’t have numbers on $/watt of solar thermal which has a better power buffering strategy but I imagine it’s higher than rooftop PV.

That’s a good point, but I would say it matters how much national support nuclear has too. Even if plants can go forward without any federal financing, there is still federal regulation. As you pointed out, both new fission efforts have floundered and I’m sure there’s going to be trepidation even at the state level.

I still support fusion research (in high school in the 70s I was very optimistic, now I’m much more pessimistic) but I’ll bet you most of those anti-nukes who think they are OK with fusion haven’t thought about the radiated plant waste (I agree with you that it is a more tractable problem than actual fission fuel waste - and this is why I’m ok with fusion research - still, most anti-nukes won’t like that). On that topic, what particular fusion path is showing the most promise do you think? With my limited reading, it seems inertial confinement is not going as well as magnetic.

As you’ve corrected other people, I think many don’t understand the physics of heat generation compared to solar heat trapping - perhaps they worry about heat added for climate change (a non-worry)? or perhaps they worry about very low cost super abundant energy driving other resource depletion and perhaps even encouraging population growth - after all with abundant energy you can do a lot - make as much fresh water as you want - make all the fertilizer - more concrete - and on and on. Not a reason to not try hard on energy solutions for me.

I am pretty ignorant of what has actually been achieved with Gen IV. I was thinking they have actually operated small reactors with similar designs (I know molten salt designs have been done - I read https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Molten-Salt_Reactor_Experiment a while ago, but that is a very old reactor so maybe aspects are used in Gen IV but I assume there are many other characteristics).

Again thanks for the detailed responses, I doubt I’d know as much as I do about Gen IV if you didn’t post here. I’ll try to do some more reading before the topic pops up again.


#19

To produce liquid hydrogen, you just need a source of hydrogen, but liquid hydrogen is not a very practical way of transporting hydrogen. Much easier to transport it as part of a molecule. For direct-to-use fuels, those would mostly be hydrocarbons, but if you were just looking for a chemical carrier that could be converted back to hydrogen at point of use, ammonia looks like one of the better options. Search on ‘CSIRO ammonia’ for one such conversion approach.

For producing hydrogen from cracking water, it depends on how you are attempting it. For general electrolysis, it wouldn’t matter. For high pressure electrolysis, there could be an advantage to doing that in deep water (like one to two kilometers deep) but the other logistical problems I think make this an unlikely option. For thermochemical cracking, you’d start with steam, which can be generated from almost any kind of water.

“Even if plants can go forward without any federal financing, there is still federal regulation.”

There is already rising bipartisan support for regulatory reform, and at this point, it looks like the emphasis is on dealing with pointless regulatory obstacles to development. If we can get to the point of showing how much better than old-tech nuclear these new reactors could be, I think the general public can be brought to see that it makes no sense block operational licensing for better nuclear when we already allow licensing for the old inferior tech.

“I’ll bet you most of those anti-nukes who think they are OK with fusion haven’t thought about the radiated plant waste”

For neutronic fusion, the goal is to use most of the neutrons for breeding tritium (typically done in the molten salt which is used for getting the heat out of the reactor core) leaving a relatively small amount of activated metals . They just need gamma shielding for a few decades, which is pretty cheap and easy. For aneutronic fusion, residual radioactivity falls off in a matter of hours. Neither represents a radiological contaminant release and dispersal hazard to the general environment, which is what I think most anti-nukes rate as their primary concern.

“On that topic, what particular fusion path is showing the most promise do you think? With my limited reading, it seems inertial confinement is not going as well as magnetic.”

There is so much secrecy surrounding some of the best funded private fusion development programs that it is hard to say who is actually leading right now. From what information is available, I concur that it looks like magnetic confinement is in the lead to attain break-even energy, but then there is the engineering problem of keeping the heat from the super-hot core from reaching the surrounding super-cooled coils, and how to get that heat energy out so that it can do useful work, and how to do the whole mess cheaply. That last step is the crucial one, because if it can’t be made economically competitive, there really is no point.

Power-surplus fission reactions are ridiculously easy to do, the main challenges being the occasional possibility of too much surplus energy, and containing the fission products. Fusion swaps the fission product containment problem for the much more difficult problem of forcing atoms together that want to go every which way except together. And it seems like the most likely approaches that stand a chance of accomplishing that are the least likely approaches to be cheap.

At the other end of the spectrum from magnetic confinement is aneutronic focus fusion which uses pinch plasma confinement, such as is being attempted by Eric Lerner at Lawrenceville Plasma Physics. His approach has tremendous potential to be cheap (almost ridiculously cheap). And it is generally acknowledged that what he’s attempting has a sound theoretical basis (unlike, say, cold fusion). But the mainstream view is that he’s attempting levels of plasma control that are beyond our present state of technology. Even so, he keeps making progress, and even if the odds of his succeeding are very low, if he does succeed, the resulting energy revolution would be sweeping and dramatic on a scale the likes of which humans have never seen before. So I think his project bears watching, even if the odds of something happening there are slim.

But some fusion research isn’t looking at reaching energy breakeven. We have already demonstrated fusing rare tritium and abundant deuterium to produce neutrons. Thermal-spectrum lithium molten salt reactors, on the other hand, produce unwanted tritium, but they have a restrictively tight neutron economy. So some people see potential for combining the two so that each can supply the other’s needs.

“perhaps they worry about very low cost super abundant energy driving other resource depletion and perhaps even encouraging population growth”

I’m hoping the trend holds that as people migrate towards a high-energy first world lifestyle, their reproductive rates tend to fall off.

“- after all with abundant energy you can do a lot - make as much fresh water as you want - make all the fertilizer - more concrete - and on and on.”

The woman who thought lots of cheap, clean energy from waste would be a bad thing is kind-of a more extreme version of Naomi Klein. Klein is hoping to use the threat of climate catastrophe to bring about the social reforms she has long desired (and cheap nuclear could be a threat to her strategy, so she dismisses it without even considering it). But this other woman views our current energy system as being technocratic, exploitative, and rapacious, which she sees as being the masculine expression of patriarchy. Her hope is that we will be forced to abandon our high-energy lifestyles, and we’ll return to living close to the Earth, and we will once again value and appreciate indigenous and matriarchal tribal knowledge. As she sees it, cheap, clean nuclear would just allow the perpetuation of our current lifestyles and economic and social systems.

“I am pretty ignorant of what has actually been achieved with Gen IV. I was thinking they have actually operated small reactors with similar designs (I know molten salt designs have been done - I read [wikipedia…Molten-Salt_Reactor_Experiment] a while ago, but that is a very old reactor”

I think even the people who developed and ran that experiment failed the grasp the magnitude of that accomplishment. Their sights were set on developing the thorium fuel cycle, and they came up with the MSRE as a better vehicle for thorium than a standard solid-fuel reactor, so they merely saw it as one step in a larger plan.

Imagine if we’d had a different history, where we went from balloons to prop-driven dirigibles, but hadn’t developed airplanes. And then a team at a dirigible engine factory comes up with the idea of a turbine jet engine, but they realized dirigibles would have to be much heavier to handle the increased expected power, which would create a succession of engineering problems. But someone has the idea of attaching the jet engine to gliders instead. To see if that would work, they stick a dirigible motor on a large glider and fly it around for a few years, and it works great. But just as they are ready to start work on the developing the jet for their glider, their project is canceled for being irrelevant to dirigibles, and the prop-driven glider plane winds up collecting dust in storage for the next 50 years while the world continues on with prop-driven dirigibles, and people refer to as a piece of equipment from that strange engine project that failed.

“so maybe aspects are used in Gen IV but I assume there are many other characteristics).”

The original Gen IV list didn’t even include molten salt reactors. As they gained increased attention, they were added, but only under the category of thermal spectrum reactors. Molten salt fast reactors were only recently slipped in, almost as an afterthought. The irony here is that the best-funded star from the original list–the sodium-cooled fast reactor–has some of the worst prospects, while the afterthought category has some of the best. I think we’ll eventually have thorium or thorium-hybrid MSR’s, but I suspect at that point it will be a ho-hum addition to a diverse field of MSR’s. The revolutionary idea was the MSR itself.


#20

Perhaps. But it has been proposed when there was more optimism about hydrogen powered fuel cell cars which I’m not sure are going anywhere now. I still recall seeing a convincing energy budget that started with electricity and ended with vehicle miles and for the FCEV, they looked at hydrogen gas in pipelines (has its own set of problems from the H2 being so small and reactive) and separately at liquefying and transport (in each case the overall efficiency for the BEV was around 70% and the FCEV was around 25%. I was pretty sour on FCEV after seeing that though I was a big proponent in the early 90s. CSIRO ammonia looks interesting - I suppose this basic table could be updated with that path and maybe the 25% will go higher. I recall the fuel cell stack itself is part of the problem - real world efficiencies of up to 85% were forecasted, but they didn’t get anywhere near that. If Wellen is right that we are better off with PHEV than BEV, I’d love to see a different power source than gasoline - a small ammonia -> H2 -> fuel cell would be cool if they can work it out better.

Lots of interesting fusion links out there which I haven’t looked it in a while. I wish Eric Lerner the best of luck.

I’ve never read any Naomi Klein, but I’ve heard her on Democracy Now quite a few times. I didn’t have as a harsh a take on what she had to say as you do, but I’ll listen for that thread going forward.

I agree mostly on affluence leading to lower fertility rates. I’d want to push that with other levers since it is clear it can be done (Iran is the prime example, but other poorer countries have had big shifts in TFR so they must have done something too). I see plenty of more affluent people than me where I live, and I’m often surprised how many of them have 3 or more kids. I wish that were more frowned upon - social pressure is one of the levers.


#21

There would be nothing wrong with using hydrocarbon fuels based on recycled carbon. It is just the fossil carbon that we have to stop releasing.

“Lots of interesting fusion links out there which I haven’t looked it in a while. I wish Eric Lerner the best of luck.”

I think I do too, but I can’t even begin to imagine all the implications if he gets his reactor working. I have the feeling we would soon wind up with almost all of our energy eggs in one basket, which is a bit disconcerting. But at least it would quickly kill coal dead.

“I’ve never read any Naomi Klein, but I’ve heard her on Democracy Now quite a few times. I didn’t have as a harsh a take on what she had to say as you do,”

Here’s a short clip (skip the first minute) that provides a fairly concise vignette of her position:
youtube (dot) com/watch?v=XLRikyCRu54

But there’s a significant part of the clip that’s easy to miss if you don’t know the context. She prides herself on the amount of research she does for her writing, she has a staff of researchers, and I know of several well-informed people who have tried to educate her about next-gen nuclear, so when she glibly says “I don’t know about that kind of nuclear” what that doesn’t capture is the degree to which she has aggressively resisted learning about or giving any consideration to that kind of nuclear (and nevermind that she is saying Hansen is wrong about nuclear when he specifically advocates for the development of better kinds of nuclear). She also derisively likens next-gen nuclear to “real capitalism” (complete with finger quotes) which she has elsewhere dismissed as fantasy.

If my assessment seems harsh, I guess the salient question would be whether it was inaccurate. If it’s both accurate and harsh, then that just means harsh is what she deserves.