Some of the experimental reactors would be better done on a larger scale, due to the physics involved. Fast breeders, for example, would work best with large core loads, and couldn’t really be modeled accurately using a small core load.
“I’m not as optimistic as you are that Gen IV reactors can really be cost efficient and desirable,”
The cost effectiveness will not look good for any of them at first–especially for the ones designed more for mass production, because you have the added expense of a production facility amortized over very few units. And for some of them, like the Integral Fast Reactor, I don’t see them ever being much better than today’s reactors in terms of economics, but the other important factor, as you noted, is how desirable they are. But even if some would never net a major cost reduction, some of the designs are so basic and simple that their potential in that regard looks large.
“but if I’m wrong and or if they end up still not useful if we had no nuclear waste, but turn out to be useful in processing existing high level waste down to a less radioactive result that would still be worth it.”
One of the reasons for investigating diverse kinds of nuclear power, instead of just focusing on the ones that look the most cost competitive, is that they would have different properties and advantages which we might be able to combine for a better net results. The best reactors for consuming spent fuel (and bomb-fuel, and depleted uranium) are fast reactors, but these would tend to be large, slow to build, and hard to modularize. Small thermal-spectrum molten salt reactors, on the other hand, could be made much cheaper, but they’d be lousy for waste-burning. And for the thorium-fuel versions, they wouldn’t have nearly the breeding capacity of the fast breeders (breeding capacity limits how fast you can deploy new capacity) and at some point you’d need to feed the transuranics from the enriched-uranium versions into a fast breeder to burn them up. With a mix of reactor types, the disadvantages of one kind can be offset by another. It’s like how today it can make economic sense for a grid operator to run a small number of fast-ramping gas peaker plants and a much larger number of windmills. The gas plant isn’t cost effective if viewed in isolation, but the windmills aren’t reliable enough on their own, so the combination of cheap wind power and gas dependability get the job done at an overall lower system cost.
“But in terms of overall government research money and economic activity in the private sector, I still want the bulk of it gong to improving the renewable mix we have now as well as a smarter grid and better grid storage. What is your opinion there?”
I think government investment in research and development is a bargain, and we should be doing more of it, but I think government investment and incentives in business and market development has a lot less going for it, and tends to line pockets more than it does actual good. (If you don’t mind a little crudeness, John Oliver’s segment on Economic Development had some good examples.)
“What is a good target for grid storage in terms of TWh and TW?”
Last I heard, the global grid storage capacity was supposed to reach around 5 GWh by the end of this year, which is something like triple what it was at the end of 2015. It’s a big jump, and I’ve heard it described with words like “skyrocketting” but it is still a long way from TWh territory. The projections I’ve seen for 2025 are still in the 20 to 25 GWh range worldwide. To put that in context, in 2016, global energy consumption topped 600 quads of energy–around 18 million GWh. Storage is clearly going to be useful and important for things like frequency regulation and peak shifting, but long-term bulk storage does not look likely to happen on a significant scale for quite a while. However, the main thing people are looking to storage for is to even out intermittent renewables, but intermittency is yet not a big problem at today’s low penetration rates. So the good news is we have time to develop storage technologies while we continue to roll out renewables as fast as we can. The bad news is we have that time because the deployment of diffuse renewables, even going as fast as we can, has been difficult and slow. All renewables combined have yet to grow at a rate fast enough to keep up with the growth in demand, which means that year after year, more of our energy is coming from fossil fuels, and that’s expected to continue for at least another decade–unless we come up with something new that can help.
“what about liquefying air, flywheels, electrolysis and hydrogen storage, flow batteries, salt water batteries, standard lithium batteries but safer and lower cost?”
Also an instance of technologies with diverse properties, so different ones will be a best fit for different applications or regions–which is why we’ll likely need and be able to use all of them. And storage will help, but the scale of the challenge is huge and time is short, so we’ll also need something more.
“it’s always much harder for an individual to make the right decisions when that overall mass of people aren’t with you”
Even if a large enough chunk of the population were to slash their consumption enough to reduce demand, the result would be that prices go down. Not hard to guess what happens next.
“This is why I’m completely behind regulatory changes like banning regular light bulbs”
We’ll need many approaches, but one of the things they’ve found with some households that updated their lighting is that they often wound up installing extra lights, they subsequently ran higher levels of ambient light, and were less conscientious about turning high efficiency lights off when not using them. It’s kind of like how flat panel TV’s saved a lot of power per unit over the old cathode ray sets, but we also wound up with more TV’s and panels on in each household simultaneously, and all kinds of new uses for them (store and street displays, jumbotrons, waiting areas, cars and vans, etc.). Three steps forward, two steps backwards–if we’re lucky.
“We need a carbon tax”
And uniform direct dividend to everyone. Yes. That would be great. And all we are lacking at this point is some way to make it happen on a large enough scale around the world to make it work.