This is Disturbing

After announcing layoffs of 700 workers, this happened:

A California utility said Thursday it has notified the Nuclear Regulatory Commission of potential sabotage, possibly by an employee, of a crucial piece of safety equipment attached to one of its nuclear power reactors.

Southern California Edison said the incident did not pose an immediate safety threat because the plant involved, the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station near San Clemente, is currently offline. But the plant operator found engine coolant had been poured into an oil reservoir of an emergency backup generator, which would have likely caused the generator to malfunction if needed to help cool the reactor during a power failure. The tampering is being taken seriously and security at the plant has been tightened, SCE said.

The still-live reactors at San Onofre are pushing 30 years old.






101 replies
  1. 1
    gene108 says:

    The still-live reactors at San Onofre are pushing 30 years old.

    Since getting new nuclear power plants built is next to impossible, I’m not sure why anyone would expect plants to be anything but aging.

  2. 2
    Balconesfault says:

    Sounds like the work of Homer Simpson!

  3. 3
    Belafon (formerly anonevent) says:

    Or, the company could have already made enough cutbacks that an employ got sloppy during maintenance with no one to help, and he had another thing of maintenance to get to quickly, and the company is looking for someone to blame it on.

    Not that I would be terribly surprised at sabotage.

  4. 4
    NonyNony says:

    @Belafon (formerly anonevent):

    The very fact that sabotage is a possible answer at a nuclear power plant given the post-9/11 paranoia about security in this country is disturbing.

    I honestly don’t know which would be worse – to find out that this was actual sabotage or that it was just the outcome of having a poorly staffed plant with poor processes in place.

  5. 5
    Balconesfault says:

    @Belafon (formerly anonevent): Sabotage seems pretty far fetched to me, since we’re talking about a backup system on an offline unit. These systems are required to go through regular redundancy checks, and the odds on it being discovered prior to the backup system being needed were reasonably high. Were I engaged in sabotage, I’d like the probability of the risk I’d take to sabotage the unit to be balanced by a reasonably high probability that the sabotage would work.

    Occam’s razor seems to suggest sloppiness – although I can certainly understand why the utility wouldn’t want to highlight this.

  6. 6
    Higgs Boson's Mate says:

    Sabotage? Sounds more like someone who knew what they were doing was replaced by someone who didn’t.

  7. 7
    Gin & Tonic says:

    @Balconesfault: This. If the only time you start up a backup generator is during an actual emergency, you’ve got way bigger problems than some dude pouring anti-freeze into the oil fill.

  8. 8
    Schlemizel says:

    I worked at Kennedy Space Center back in the early 90s. NASA had a program to update the two oldest SST vehicles. The work was being done in CA by Lockheed people. There was some talk that they might also update the two newer ones but budgets prevented that. That meant that people in CA might get laid off after they finished work on the second orbiter.

    When it was returned the second one was found to have candy wrappers & pop cans jammed into the engines. People get weird when their jobs on involved.

    But screwing with a nuke plant! That needs to be tracked down & prosecuted.

  9. 9
    burnspbesq says:

    @Balconesfault:

    Occam’s razor seems to suggest sloppiness

    Sez you. Pissed-off workers who just found out their jobs are disappearing seem to me to be less likely to engage in the careful calculus you describe than to lash out at the first available target.

  10. 10
    Schlemizel says:

    @Balconesfault:

    “One of your worker drones from sector 7-G, sir”

  11. 11
    Balconesfault says:

    @Gin & Tonic: Early in my career, I spent a year reviewing, analyzing, and classifying NRC reports from nukes. The vast, vast preponderance of them were along the lines of: “third backup cooling isolation valve shows slow response”. These systems are being checked and checked constantly, and the level of redundancy is such that I would not be surprised if there’s a backup backup generator in case this one failed.

    I’m not saying sabotage is wholly impossible. I’m just saying that it’s far and away less likely than simple screw-up.

  12. 12
    jon says:

    @Schlemizel: I think a malfunctioning Shuttle could potentially rain not-as-much radiation on not-as-many people, but it would still be a problem worth serious prosecution.

    The plant’s generator looks to have been stupidly maintained, not necessarily sabotaged. But candy wrappers and soda cans in a shuttle engine? That’s impossible unless these guys were involved.

  13. 13
    barath says:

    The thing is, there’s a strange alliance of people who are still pushing for more nuclear: the usual suspects (GOPers) and environmentalists who are desperate for a “solution” to climate change and want to go with any option that seems like it might narrowly help. (I wrote about this dynamic a bit a few months ago, fwiw.)

    At this point the best option is for us to gracefully decommission our nuclear plants, and not replace the supply they provide (except with some solar and wind) but instead decrease demand through efficiency measures.

  14. 14
    Misterpuff says:

    @Balconesfault: Check sector G-5….

  15. 15
    Higgs Boson's Mate says:

    @barath:

    At this point the best option is for us to gracefully decommission our nuclear plants, and not replace the supply they provide (except with some solar and wind) but instead decrease demand through efficiency measures.

    Not being snarky here; who’s going to pay for those efficiency measures and will they have the desired effect at something approaching the cost of keeping the nuke plants running?

  16. 16
    chopper says:

    @Balconesfault:

    likewise, irrational responses to being laid-off aside, it would take a special kind of idiot to not realize that even low-level sabotage of a nuke plant (even in a secondary or tertiary system) is the sort of thing that’s going to get your ass in a heap of trouble.

  17. 17
    Belafon (formerly anonevent) says:

    @Balconesfault: It seems far fetched to me as well. I played nuke-electrician on an aircraft carrier in the Navy, and, no matter how pissed off people got, I never saw or heard of anyone trying to sabotage stuff. We did have the occasional sloppy work, though we did have an idiot for an officer that stuck a post it note on the inside of an engine oil cover to see if someone was checking the oil level. He did get in trouble when it obviously never turned up.

  18. 18
    barath says:

    @Higgs Boson’s Mate:

    California’s been able to keep electricity per capita constant for a few decades now thanks in large part to efficiency measures (and slightly higher than average prices. It’s largely a matter of passing the right policies…

  19. 19
    Amanda in the South Bay says:

    @barath: So please tell me why exactly nuclear power is such a bad thing?

  20. 20
    Balconesfault says:

    @barath: But by the same token – we’re trying to move our vehicle fleet towards MPG levels that are going to require a lot of plug-in vehicles … and the juice that flows through those plugs is going to have to come from somewhere.

    And if that’s just power generated from carbon combustion in a powerplant somewhere, instead of power generated in an internal combustion engine, the potential for reductions in rate of global warming is significantly reduced versus if we’re increasing our stock of renewable generation while (at least for the moment) continuing to utilize the massive capital expenditure we have in nuclear.

  21. 21
    barath says:

    @Amanda in the South Bay:

    It’s not “such a bad thing” just not a good choice. It’s a sort of long argument (that’s what my post that I linked to is about). But in summary it’s this: right now we need to be changing our energy mix to deal with climate change and peak oil (i.e. away from fossil fuels in general) and we need to do it fast. Nuclear ends up not being a good options for a few reasons: a) the fastest the world has ever built nuclear plants (30 GW / year, which is really an extraordinary rate) is still about 50 times slower than we’d need to build them, b) the total cost of nuclear ends up being far higher than other options because of ignored externalities (i.e. long-term waste storage, accident cleanup), and c) it’s not a technology that fails well and in hard economic times you don’t want technology that you have to dump money into when something does or can go wrong (i.e. you’ll never have to spend money on security or the aftermath if someone were to sabotage a solar array, or most other energy sources for that matter).

  22. 22
    Higgs Boson's Mate says:

    @barath:

    I live in California. I think that our mild climate gives us an advantage in maintaining stable per-capita energy usage. In order for your idea to work I’m thinking that large investments in things like smart grids would have to be implemented. Some people here are still bitching about CA’s banning incandescent light bulbs. I believe efficiency + renewable is going to have a hard row to hoe.

  23. 23
    Interrobang says:

    @Amanda in the South Bay: Off the top of my head, a) Because if and when something goes wrong, it goes really wrong;
    b) Radiation has a long effective period and can’t be easily cleaned up;
    c) Nobody has ever come up with a really effective way of disposing of nuclear waste. Sure, facilities like Yucca Mountain are fine for now, but 1000 years from now when that shit is still deadly? I’m not sure human beings actually have the capacity to think in terms of safety planning on a multi-millennial timescale.

    Nuclear power may be kind of like democracy — the best answer of any that has been tried so far, but so far, we’re not exactly batting 1.000 in terms of good energy sources. Coal kills a lot of people, generates a lot of basically permanent pollution, and irradiates things too, but saying “either nuclear or coal” is also a false dichotomy.

  24. 24
    barath says:

    @Balconesfault:

    Sure, but even given an increase in demand from electric vehicles, non-nuclear options like solar PV are cheaper already (and are expected to be cheaper than coal within a year or two). (And I’m no big booster of solar PV in particular, but it seems like a far better option on every level. For baseload, solar thermal is the way to go.)

  25. 25
    barath says:

    @Higgs Boson’s Mate:

    I live in CA too, and while it’s true our climate has to do with the fact that our energy use is the lowest per capita, that doesn’t affect the trajectory of use, which has been flat for decades while other states have gone up by 50%.

    You’re right we do need investments in a new grid (though that may be needed whether we go all solar/wind or not, given the potential of many more electric cars out there).

  26. 26
    Felonius Monk says:

    The still-live reactors at San Onofre are pushing 30 years old.

    I’m pushing 72 years old. Maybe I ought to have my oil checked for coolant. Who knows, some babe might turn on my generator some day.

  27. 27
    barath says:

    @Higgs Boson’s Mate:

    I was trying to find a link about Arthur Rosenfeld, the guy that put a lot of the CA efficiency policies in place:

    http://boingboing.net/2010/01/.....ife-o.html

  28. 28
    Balconesfault says:

    @barath: I like solar PV a lot, but more for rooftop applications which reduce need for more grid capacity than for big installations out in the desert kind of thing. Particularly since the former, especially in places like the Southwest, tends to overlay peak radiation/generation with peak demand (for air conditioning). As more and more rooftop solar gets installed, there are some significant grid stability issues to be worked out (ie … sudden generation drops as a cloud passes over a neighborhood) but long term that’s solvable.

  29. 29
    Adam C says:

    @Interrobang:
    Note that there is no Yucca Mountain facility. Obama killed that proposal in 2011. Across North America, nuclear waste is still being kept in “temporary” storage on-site.

    As barath has noted, nuclear power ends up being extremely expensive once waste disposal and government subsidies are factored in. If it’s still to be considered as an option we need to be honest about what the costs are.

  30. 30
    James Hare says:

    @Balconesfault: Homer is incompetent, not malevolent. His kids live near that plant, for pete’s sake!

  31. 31
    Forum Transmitted Disease says:

    They’re not live. All three units have been shut down since the summer.

    But this is disturbing as hell. The plant has enough issues, and frankly, we need it up and running here.

  32. 32
    barath says:

    @Balconesfault:

    Yeah, it’s why for the Southwest I think large solar thermal with salt (or other) storage is a better option. It’s simple technology (and so not inherently limited in how fast it can be built like new technology like PV). Of course the Southwest has bigger problems (heat and drought) that are going to make it more and more unlivable in the coming decades.

  33. 33
    Balconesfault says:

    @James Hare: But Homer throws active isotopes out the window on his way home … and Bart skateboards on those roads!

  34. 34
    magurakurin says:

    Don’t worry. Sooner or later you too can have your very own Fukushima. It’s really only a matter of time.

    Nuclear Power: It’s safe, until it isn’t.

    100 years from now, people will look back and marvel at the stupidity of humans in the late 20th, and early 21st century and our use nuclear power. Kind of like how we look at the Romans and how they used lead for water pipes. “Can you believe that people used to be that stupid?”

  35. 35
    PurpleGirl says:

    @Adam C: Yucca Mountain never opened to begin with. Also, any number of states had by the 1970s and 1980s made shipment of nuclear waste through their territory illegal by truck or train, so transport of waste of impossible even if Yucca Mountain had opened. This was a major problem long before Obama was on the national political scene.

  36. 36
    PurpleGirl says:

    The San Onofre plants are also quite close to, if not actually on top of, a major earthquake fault.

  37. 37
    mattminus says:

    @burnspbesq: Thing is, it wouldn’t take careful calculus.

    The people in the position to do this would also be well aware of the maintenance and testing schedules.

    If it was sabotage, the purpose was more likely give the boss a headache at audit time rather than to cause a meltdown.

  38. 38
    geg6 says:

    Try living with the nation’s oldest nuke plant right in your backyard. Shippingport has featured in my worst nightmares since I was a kid.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S.....er_Station

    Of course, Shippingport was decommissioned, but they just built Beaver Valley 1 and Beaver Valley 2 to replace it. Same as it ever was.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B.....ng_Station

    And, having literally known hundreds of the people who built and operate the place, I’m not all that confident in how safe the BV nukes are.

  39. 39
    Jon H says:

    @chopper: “likewise, irrational responses to being laid-off aside, it would take a special kind of idiot to not realize that even low-level sabotage of a nuke plant (even in a secondary or tertiary system) is the sort of thing that’s going to get your ass in a heap of trouble.”

    They might have figured this particular kind of sabotage might not be discovered for a while, so they might get away with it.

  40. 40
    Joel says:

    the US population (as a whole) is not going to embrace efficiency-type improvements until disruptive climate catastrophies start popping up all over the country.

  41. 41
    catclub says:

    @Interrobang: “Nobody has ever come up with a really effective way of disposing of nuclear waste.”

    I can think of one, deep ocean trenches, which would be pretty effective, and not expensive. It relies on delay and dilution. My understanding is that when the scientists proposed it – because it makes some sense, they were told to NOT EVEN THINK ABOUT IT, by the politicians, who knew that something that requires math to explain and might harm Flipper, was a no go.

    Reprocessing is also effective, but has other issues.

  42. 42
    James Hare says:

    @geg6: Because why? Are your acquaintances all idiots? Poor workers? Do you believe that only the people you know are responsible for the safe operation of the plants?

    I’ve never understood “nightmares” over nuclear power. The absolute worst-case scenario is about the same as any other absolute worst-case scenario: you’re dead. The fear over nuclear plants seems overblown.

    I have my own irrational fears — I’m afraid of flying! Assuming a system will fail because failure is terrible is not exactly a way to make plans.

  43. 43
    magurakurin says:

    @catclub:

    or humanity could spend its wealth and brains on developing other ways to create energy.

    Not sure why folks still cling to the notion that nuclear power holds the magic bullet of free energy. It is always talked about as if it has been around for, like, forevah. But the reactor mentioned above in PA went on line in just 1957. There are something like 400 or so reactors in use in the world right now. Of all the reactors that ever have gone on line the number can’t be much more than 500. Of those, 5 have had partial or complete meltdowns, and at least one a total containment breach( the jury is still out on Fukushima). That seems like a shit record to me.

    Solar technology is always tut-tutted as no capable to meet the demand, but is it really fair to compare it to an industry that has had countless billions of dollars of investment and brain power? The first fission was what, 1934? Imagine if instead of nuclear power all those great minds, all that money had been poured into solar research. Where would solar technology be now? A damn sight better for sure, and there wouldn’t be 5 melted down reactor cores polluting the earth’s surface(they are all still with us). And even the ones that go on to die a natural death when they are eventually too old will present a health hazard and headaches for a long time.

    It’s dumb ass idea and if humans manage to keep it together, those from the future will look back in awe at our stupidity.

  44. 44
    magurakurin says:

    @James Hare:

    The fear over nuclear plants seems overblown.

    Lot’s of cheap land in Fukushima Prefecture now. You should buy it up. You’ll make a killing when the fear subsides.

  45. 45
    Roger Moore says:

    @Higgs Boson’s Mate:

    Not being snarky here; who’s going to pay for those efficiency measures and will they have the desired effect at something approaching the cost of keeping the nuke plants running?

    In the case of San Onofre, quite possibly so. The reactor in question is currently shut down indefinitely because of unexpected and unexplained problems with its new cooling system. Getting it back on line is likely to be slow and costly, and several attempts at getting it going have already been blocked by skeptical regulators. Not to mention that it was built to an outdated and overly optimistic understanding of the seismic risk in the area. I think this is exactly what barath means by gracefully decommissioning the older nuclear plants. When they face such an uncertain future, it probably makes more sense to spend the money on new renewable capacity or improvements to efficiency, rather than keeping the old plant going.

  46. 46
    Higgs Boson's Mate says:

    @barath:

    Thank you for the link. That man is an inspiration. Another thought occurred to me; how many people in the rest of the country would see energy conservation as being equivalent to tree-hugging and reject it out of hand?

  47. 47

    @barath:
    Any viable plan to switch to all-renewables over time requires some kind of ‘bridge fuel’ to get there.

    You have three to choose from: Nuclear, natural gas, and coal. (And frankly I think much of the NG will be directed to the transportation sector as oil prices rise– you can’t run a fully loaded 18-wheeler on batteries).

    Yes, nuclear is dangerous. Then again, the gas stove in my kitchen could explode at any time, also. And tempting as that coal might be, it’s dirty.

    Your concerns are engineering and management problems. All solvable.

  48. 48
    James Hare says:

    @magurakurin: Nuclear is held to a ridiculously high standard. Coal-fired plants have accidents all the time (and that’s not including the accidents mining coal). Natural gas extraction in the US may be causing earthquakes and contamination. Most renewable sources don’t produce power reliably enough to power the grid entirely on renewables.

    I’d love to find a solution the energy needs of the planet that doesn’t involve nuclear. So far the countries that have shut down nuclear plants are relying on dirty fuels like coal and natural gas. How is that better?

  49. 49
    James Hare says:

    @magurakurin: What a valuable input! Why don’t you bring up Chernobyl too? Contamination NEVER happens from other power generation methods.

  50. 50
    barath says:

    @Higgs Boson’s Mate:

    Maybe so, but in hard times it seems like it’s possible to also pitch energy conservation as being smart and thrifty.

  51. 51
    James Hare says:

    @Judas Escargot, Acerbic Prophet of the Mighty Potato God: These folks believe the same humans who are incapable of running nuclear plants safely are capable of designing and deploying workable renewable solutions RIGHT NOW. They can’t be reasoned with because they don’t understand that both of those statements can’t be true.

  52. 52
    Roger Moore says:

    @James Hare:

    The absolute worst-case scenario is about the same as any other absolute worst-case scenario: you’re dead.

    It’s worse than that. In the case of nuclear power, you’re dead and the land you used to live on can’t be safely inhabited for generations. Bad nuclear accidents are far, far worse than bad accidents with any other kind of power plant.

  53. 53
    barath says:

    @Judas Escargot, Acerbic Prophet of the Mighty Potato God:

    Hmm…I see a lot of absolute statements there, and the bridge fuel notion really isn’t one that I buy given that non-nuclear non-fossil fuel options are practical today just lacking investment. That’s largely because there’s no financial reason for utilities to switch away from what they’ve got now…demand is decreasing in the U.S. and there’s no price on carbon, so why switch?

    I’m not someone who worries much about the meltdown risk of nuclear (read my linked post for more). It’s that it’s not worth the cost (much of which is often ignored by those who push it) to manage safely for a really really long time. Other options don’t have that issue.

  54. 54
    magurakurin says:

    @James Hare:

    How is that better?

    So, you’re going to buy land in Fukushima, then?

    I shouldn’t pick on people, but, then again I live pretty close to Fukushima.

    Look, if most nuclear power proponents were saying what you just said, that we are in a bind and have to use the existing nuclear plants until the renewables get on line, it would be a different story. But that isn’t what you hear. You hear about how there needs to be just one more discovery and it will be safe and limitless. They don’t say that they’d love to find an alternative. They go on about how everyone needlessly worries and it’s cleaner than this or that.

    The Germans are doing it. And this year they had a record output of solar power. There cars are pretty fucking snazzy and I’m thinking there solar generation systems in 30 years are going to be the cat’s meow. Japan is at a crossroads, but the private sector is pouring billions into research and construction. Softbank’s Son has his own personal crusade to get the country off nukes.

    The States, not so much.

    And, another bridge collapsed. This time in NJ. Let’s hope the nuke plants get better attention than the rest of the infrastructure. Or you’ll be able to snatch up that cheap land on the Cali Coast.

  55. 55
    James Hare says:

    @Roger Moore: And that’s a reason for policymakers to consider when siting nuclear power plants. It is NOT a reason for individuals to fear nuclear power.

    It’s not like other methods of power generation can’t have long-term consequences. The Gulf of Mexico will be hurting for awhile because of oil drilling. The coal fly-ash pond I referenced above is a superfund site. We have no idea what the long-term consequences of fracking are.

    As another poster pointed out — how do you get from today’s grid to a renewable grid? What is your grand and glorious plan that does it without nuclear plants? If the risk is unacceptable, how do you turn off every nuclear plant tomorrow and still deliver the power people expect? How do you enforce the kind of energy efficiency required to get there without nuclear while maintaining some semblance of individual freedom?

    Answer those questions and you’ve got a way to do away with nuclear. If you can’t answer those questions we’re stuck with muddling through (which is the likeliest scenario). I’d love to stop using fission plants, but I have yet to see a viable plan to get us away from them.

  56. 56
    Roger Moore says:

    @James Hare:
    Workable renewable power is being deployed right now, so it hardly seems like a stretch to suggest that it could be deployed on a larger scale in the future. Meanwhile, nuclear power isn’t safe after generations of trying to design better plants. Is it really unreasonable to suggest that we should be spending money on deploying the safe technology instead of trying to fix problems with the unsafe one in the hope that we can fix it?

  57. 57
    James Hare says:

    @magurakurin: Fukushima pisses me off. There were a number of extremely poor design decisions made and the operator compounded those design decisions with the way the operated the plant. I won’t go so far to say that the disaster was entirely preventable, but it should not have been as bad as it was (their desire to keep the plant viable is probably more responsible for the worst effects than the loss of coolant, for example). Newer designs _are_ far safer than the Fukushima design; however, that doesn’t make it safe enough to choose over a viable renewable option. My main issue is that currently we don’t have a path from where we are to a sustainable and safe energy grid. When we’re there, I’ll help set up the IT infrastructure. I’d love to see more investment in solar and other renewables, which is one of the reasons I voted for the president.

  58. 58
    James Hare says:

    @Roger Moore: I’m not arguing against investment in renewable sources. I’d love to see more. I just don’t think we get from today’s grid to tomorrow’s grid through excluding nuclear. Japan and Germany aren’t exactly making a cleaner world by avoiding nuclear.

  59. 59
    magurakurin says:

    @James Hare:

    Japan and Germany aren’t exactly making a cleaner world by avoiding nuclear.

    Maybe not this week, but check back in 5 years. And definitely in 30.

    And if you really think the world will be better served if Japan were to decide to keep using it’s reactors, then you should read up on the Nankai Earthquake that is headed our way. Sure, we will be dead from the tsunami and the fires, but the radiation will being spewing your way and everyone’s way. Japan is the motherfucking poster child of country that shouldn’t be using nukes. There are scant few places the face the absolute certainty of future and devastating earthquakes and tsunamis.

  60. 60
    magurakurin says:

    @James Hare:

    You are absolutely right about the way the Fukushima accident was handled. Those fuckers at Tokyo Power would have all committed seppuku by now if I were in charge.

    But don’t kid yourself that greedy, slipshod management is confined to “over there.”

  61. 61
    PeakVT says:

    @magurakurin: The first working pile went critical in December of 1942.

  62. 62
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Higgs Boson’s Mate:

    This.

    Get rid of those EXPENSIVE well trained veteran workers, and bring in some kid who isn’t as senior or expensively well trained so that the executive suite at SCE doesn’t have to skimp on hookers and blow.

    There are places where the MBA mentality is not only stupid, it’s dangerous.

  63. 63
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    One on the serious problems with solar, for the corporate mindset, is that if every home had panels on the roof, the need for centralized power plants would be reduced.

    Never mind that this is in many ways more efficient, from an energy producing and an economic sense, it means that there will be less electricity metered from the centralized power plants, which means…

    REDUCED HOOKERS AND BLOW IN THE BOARDROOM! OH NOES!

  64. 64
    J R in WVa says:

    When Three-Mile Island nearly melted down, we were in Florida on vacation, instead of West Virginia. Several hundreds of miles safer, which was a relief.

    The recent Japanese disaster, which could have been and still may become far worse than it has been so far, should be a real eye-opener. Yes, no one actually died from radiation exposure on site, but thousands of workers have had exposure that can be expected to cause long-term health concerns.

    Just the other day I looked at a set of photos of huge steel arches being built to install a new containment building over the still leaking Chernobyl plant in Ukraine. There were lots of sturdy construction workers around, with hard hats and safety glasses, and NO ONE had any kind of respirator to prevent lung cancer from radioactive dust particles lodging in their lungs. Amazing.

  65. 65
    geg6 says:

    @James Hare:

    Yes, a lot of people who work or worked there are total and utter idiots. And there are also non-idiots who work or worked there who are concerned about how things are/were done, in regard to building practices, security, equipment maintenance, training, welding and welding inspections, and various other issues that affect the workings of a nuclear plant. Despite your obvious disdain for my knowledge of such matters, I actually wrote the materials and exams for the confined space training that was required for welders and welding inspectors for First Energy’s BV plant. So I have more than the average amount of knowledge about this.

    I also, since I have lived so closely to these plants my entire life, have had the pleasure of getting my own personal evacuation plan in the mail every year from our county emergency director and having to stand in line to get my iodine pills every few years.

    It’s not an irrational fear. In fact, you seem to have irrational confidence in the safety of nuclear plants and the people and corporations who run them. Seems to me that Fukushima, Chernobyl, and Three Mile Island, all events that happened just since I entered adulthood, would prove that to you.

  66. 66
    glocksman says:

    As far as costs go, the higher the costs are, the more it will affect the poorest among us.

    While the more affluent can afford to insulate their homes or upgrade their appliances to the latest standards, those of us who are less fortunate wind up owing Vectren $500 for a single month of barely tolerable inside temps.

    IOW, while I support the goal of increased efficiency, price increases on energy itself do have negative effects.

  67. 67
    Jay C says:

    @James Hare:

    Nuclear is held to a ridiculously high standard. Coal-fired plants have accidents all the time (and that’s not including the accidents mining coal)

    Are those standards for nuclear plants really all that “ridiculous”? You ave an accident at a coal-fired plant, and the results are: The plant goes offline, workers may be killed or injured, and an expensive and lengthy clean-up/repair will be required. At a nuclear power station, the plant will go offline, workers may me killed or injured, an far lengthier and more-expensive cleanup will be required, with the additional possibility of decades/centuries-long contamination from deadly radioactivity. Those “fears” you seem to want to dismiss aren’t all divorced from reality.

  68. 68
    Chris T. says:

    Useless trivia: the two SONGS (San Onofre Nuclear Generation Station) reactors are called SONGS 2 and SONGS 3. There was supposed to be a SONGS 1 but it was never built. (Which makes the two structures look even more breast-like…)

  69. 69
    handsmile says:

    On the subject of nuclear waste storage, there is a terrific documentary film, “Into Eternity” (2010) that details the preliminary construction of an underground repository in Finland.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Into_Eternity_(film)

    The facility will be excavated from granite bedrock to a depth of over 1,700 ft. through a system of tunnels. Along with construction sequences, the film features interviews with engineers, academics, environmentalists, and politicians.

    Upon the site’s completion (c. 2020), it will begin to accept canisters of spent fuel for an estimated 100 years. Once storage capacity has been reached, the site will be permanently sealed, intended to remain undisturbed for 100,000 years. One fascinating aspect of the film is discussions of how to ensure that future descendants will know and understand the dangers of this facility.

    @barath:
    It’s been a pleasure to read your informed commentary (with links no less) throughout this thread.

    @magurakurin:
    Your on-the-ground perspective on the subject of nuclear power (here and in previous related threads) is always worthwhile and appreciated.

  70. 70
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    If nuclear power is so safe, why are their caps on liability in the event of an accident?

  71. 71
    Chris T. says:

    @Roger Moore:

    It’s worse than that. In the case of nuclear power, you’re dead and the land you used to live on can’t be safely inhabited for generations.

    If you’re selfish, or a Libertarian (but I repeat myself), then once you’re dead, nothing else matters. Land poisoned for decades? No problem, you’re dead anyway!

  72. 72
    James Hare says:

    @magurakurin: Greedy, slipshod management is best considered the rule rather than the exception.

    I work in data center systems engineering. I get to see the tremendous amounts of waste involved in running highly-available systems. We’re getting better at it, but running those data centers RIGHT NOW is using almost 2% of all power used in the United States. That number will likely go up. I’m for “all of the above until renewable gets there” and I think it’s a matter of many years — probably not going entirely renewable until after I’m dead.

    If trying to convert the world to all renewable power at gunpoint had a chance of succeeding I’d have to rethink my mostly-pacifist stance. I’m just not sure EVEN AT GUNPOINT we can get there right now. As such, I see nuclear as the lesser of three evils when you consider the other options. I’d say in order of evil it’s:
    1. Coal
    2. Natural Gas
    3. Nuclear

    I agree Japan is ill-suited for nuclear power. I can’t speak too much to management there (Fukushima certainly makes them look REALLY bad) but the environmental risk alone should be enough to give everyone pause. I remember after the Sendai quake looking at the hundreds of aftershocks over 6.0 and just wondering what that would feel like. I finally got a taste here on the east coast of the US when we had a 5.9 a little under 200 miles south of where I was working. That was absolutely terrifying. It could have been another disaster — the Lake Anna nuclear plant was within 50 miles of the epicenter and experienced accelerations outside its design parameters.

    I don’t think we necessarily disagree — I am more comfortable with nuclear simply because I don’t have your experience. My experience with nuclear plants has been limited to the decommissioned X-10 graphite reactor in Oak Ridge, the aforementioned Lake Anna plant, the Vermont Yankee (which pissed me off more than scared me — overriding the will of the voters to keep a plant in operation is fucked) and a nuclear plant in Georgia I visited when I was younger. Thankfully those plants have operated without containment breaches (so far).

    I’d love to move all spent fuel to dry cask storage and do away with spent fuel ponds like the ones at Fukushima that at one point really threatened catastrophe. I think one of the most important things to deal with RIGHT NOW is the problem of spent nuclear fuel storage — the current ad-hoc situation is asking for trouble.

  73. 73
    PeakVT says:

    @Chris T.: SONGS Unit 1 operated from 1968 to 1992. It’s been decommissioned, but the containment building still stands and is used for various purposes.

  74. 74
    Original Lee says:

    @geg6: This. My cousin’s in-law’s house is less than five miles from Cook Nuclear Power Plant. His father-in-law worked for Cook for about 10 years. Cook has special disaster sirens sited in concentric circles for, I think, 20 miles our from the plant, that get tested regularly (either monthly or quarterly). You get used to living with the knowledge that something could go spectacularly wrong pretty much at any time (either quick or slow, doesn’t matter).

    Perhaps this is also true for anybody living near a chemical plant or petroleum refinery, or pretty much any mineral processing plant (cf. Libby, Montana), but I think one of the reasons for the special frisson of dread from nuclear power is that radiation is invisible and can do significant damage before you even know anything is wrong. Those of us who have taken the training for handling radioactive materials know this in a way that the general public doesn’t. OTOH, at the rate science education is going in this country, elevated levels of fear about microbes and epidemics could also be ours to savor again.

  75. 75
    LesGS says:

    @Chris T.: When my family drives by them, we say, “There’s Kali’s teats.”

  76. 76

    @barath:

    Hmm…I see a lot of absolute statements there, and the bridge fuel notion really isn’t one that I buy given that non-nuclear non-fossil fuel options are practical today just lacking investment.

    When talking to matters of empirical fact, I tend to speak in short declarative sentences. It’s an engineer thing.

    That said… where do you propose to get the energy to build all those solar panels, windmills, LED bulbs, high-speed rail, next-generation electrical grid, etc etc etc? All that work will take energy. Lots of it. You can’t melt, purify and fab silicon with a windmill. We’ll need a bridge fuel to get there.

    And IMO, next-generation nuclear plants (incl. Thorium reactors) will have to be part of any serious solution.

  77. 77
    Another Halocene Human says:

    @Judas Escargot, Acerbic Prophet of the Mighty Potato God: Yes, nuclear is dangerous. Then again, the gas stove in my kitchen could explode at any time, also. And tempting as that coal might be, it’s dirty.

    Only one of those things effectively pollutes the site of the explosion for centuries.

    Also, too, radiation exposure is stochastic. There is no safe lower limit. People don’t want to die like the Curies did. Dementia, radiation-induced rheumatism, cancer? Shit, take a whole bunch of things that people are scared of and Plutonium provides.

  78. 78
    Another Halocene Human says:

    @glocksman: As far as costs go, the higher the costs are, the more it will affect the poorest among us.

    Bingo. Somehow landlords are never “incentivized” to make their units more energy efficient and the poor get their power cut off and cook outside like it’s rural central Africa around here.

    Something is fucked up about this picture.

  79. 79
    JustAnotherBob says:

    @Judas Escargot, Acerbic Prophet of the Mighty Potato God:

    That said… where do you propose to get the energy to build all those solar panels, windmills, LED bulbs, high-speed rail, next-generation electrical grid, etc etc etc? All that work will take energy. Lots of it. You can’t melt, purify and fab silicon with a windmill. We’ll need a bridge fuel to get there.

    First half of 2012 we got 3.5% of our total electricity from non-hydro renewables (wind, solar, etc.). Installation rates of wind and solar are accelerating. Wind is now our cheapest way to generate ‘new’ electricity at about 5 cents per kWh. Solar is being installed in Germany for $2/watt which would mean about 8 cents per kWh in the US.

    Geothermal is running about 8 cents. Tidal is developing quickly and should drop to well under 8 cents. Tidal generators dropped into a river or the Gulf Stream become 24/365 generators.

    Short term we will use natural gas for fill-in when the wind isn’t blowing and Sun shining. Longer term we’ll install more storage.

    If need be, we’ll build a lot more pump-up hydro. We’ve hundreds of existing dams that could be used. More likely one or more of the emerging battery technologies will be the storage route we’ll choose.

  80. 80
    JustAnotherBob says:

    @Judas Escargot, Acerbic Prophet of the Mighty Potato God:

    Neither nuclear or coal will be our “bridge fuels”.

    Coal is a dead man walking. We’ve licensed only one new coal plant in the last 3-4 years and we’ve closed or are about to close over 100. New coal would be very expensive to build.

    We need to close existing coal plants in order to reduce our health care costs.

    Nuclear is priced off the table. Even the people in the nuclear industry acknowledge this. Plus it takes roughly a decade to build a new reactor and we could only build a few at a time. We don’t have enough trained and experienced engineers and technicians to allow us to build faster.

    Furthermore, we don’t have very many places where we could site new reactors. They need cooling water. The Mississippi is running dry, inland water sources cannot be trusted with the predicted more frequent droughts climate change is bringing us. There are not many coastal neighborhoods which would allow a reactor in their back yard.

    Natural gas, with its problems of fracking and CO2, will almost certainly be our bridge fuel. Hopefully we’ll see a viable storage solution in the next year or two and that will allow us to move away from CO2.

  81. 81
    PeakVT says:

    @JustAnotherBob: Here’s one large-scale storage technology – underground pumped storage. I have no idea if the numbers would work, but the concept is intriguing.

    A lot of electricity can be stored as ice, since A/C is a major use. That works best for large facilities, however.

  82. 82
    JustAnotherBob says:

    @Higgs Boson’s Mate:

    I live in California. I think that our mild climate gives us an advantage in maintaining stable per-capita energy usage.

    CA doesn’t have the heating requirements of some other states but is does use a lot of electricity for AC.

    That aside, there’s much that can be done to cut electricity usage. Let’s compare per capita electricity usage for three states that live ‘side by side’…

    Rhode Island 7,434
    Delaware 12,904 1.7x more than RI
    Virginia 14,489 1.9x more

    Washington, DC 19,896 2.7x more

    Or Wyoming at 27,457 vs. South Dakota at 13,916, 2x more.

    Or Kentucky at 21,590 vs. Pennsylvania at 11,759, 1.8x more.

    http://energyalmanac.ca.gov/el.....-2010.html

  83. 83
    PeakVT says:

    @PeakVT: Forgot the link.

  84. 84

    @JustAnotherBob:

    Coal is a dead man walking.

    The Chinese appear to disagree with you. And they outnumber us nearly 4:1. And Japan has had to start importing coal again to meet their demand for electricity post-Fukushima

    There are new, lower-cost reactor designs (that are incapable of ‘melting down’ like the old GE boiling-water designs, they fail safe) that could be built today. If only there was the political will. It’s only a ‘priced out’ industry because of political issues that have nothing to do with the engineering.

    Regarding NG, I agree that it will be a (perhaps THE) major bridge fuel here in the US since North America just happens to have reserves of it. And it’s cleaner than coal… but as I said up above, IMO once the heavy trucking/equipment industry realizes in a decade or so that the path of least resistance is to convert their vehicle fleets to NG, natural gas will become expensive more quickly than most people seem to think.

  85. 85
    JustAnotherBob says:

    @PeakVT: Yes, one company has been pursuing using tunneling machines to create underground reservoirs. I doubt that is going to prove to be cost effective.

    Germany is in the process of using abandoned mines for pump-up hydro.

    Personally, I think we are very close to affordable/cheap battery storage. Ambri’s liquid metal battery is very promising.

    There are already companies installing “cold” storage. They freeze water or other substances at night when electricity is cheap and then use that stored cold with heat pumps to provide air conditioning when electricity is expensive.

    What is interesting to me is that PV solar is getting so cheap that the present price difference between midday/peak and late night/off-peak electricity might disappear. It already is in Germany. On sunny days the price of electricity in Germany peaks in the morning before the Sun comes into play, drops to the price of late night during midday, and then peaks again as the Sun sets.

  86. 86
    JustAnotherBob says:

    @Judas Escargot, Acerbic Prophet of the Mighty Potato God:

    China has capped their coal use. Starting in 2015 they will allow no more increase in coal. There will be an annual limit of4.1 billion tonnes of standard coal, about 7% higher than what they burned in 2010.

    At the same time they have increased their 2015 goal for solar by over 4x, from 5 GWs to 21 GWs. And they continue to install wind and build more hydro. (They’ve scaled back their nuclear somewhat.)

    There are new, lower-cost reactor designs (that are incapable of ‘melting down’ like the old GE boiling-water designs, they fail safe) that could be built today.

    If that were so then why did no one offer to build any when there were multiple opportunities to build new reactors in the last few years?

    I think if you take a good look you’ll find these “new, cheaper, safer” reactors to be ideas and not realities. No one has built a working thorium reactor that produced inexpensive electricity.

    The nuclear industry doesn’t think that a cheap reactor can be built. Who would know better?

  87. 87
    PeakVT says:

    @JustAnotherBob: Well, the incumbent players have billions of dollars sunk into their current designs, so I wouldn’t trust them to figure out a new design that could be built for a significantly lower cost. They probably also lean on our politicians to concentrate nuclear energy research dollars on the details of operating reactor types instead of on new reactor designs.

    That said, I don’t think there’s cheap reactor design that’s just waiting to be drawn up. Lots of really smart people have been thinking about the problem for a long time and haven’t come up with a fundamentally new design since the 1960s.

  88. 88

    @JustAnotherBob:

    China has capped their coal use. Starting in 2015 they will allow no more increase in coal.

    With a 7-9% annual growth rate for China’s GDP? Not Gonna Happen.

    It’s a nice gesture, though.

    If that were so then why did no one offer to build any when there were multiple opportunities to build new reactors in the last few years?

    Money, of course. “Lowest-bidder” procurement has a way of making companies risk-averse. There won’t be any major risk-taking by private companies on this, the government will have to subsidize any bold new reactor designs.

    BTW, the new plants in SC and GA will be PWR, not the older and much more dangerous BWR (with PWR, the reaction stops upon coolant failure).

    So at least we’re up to the latest in 1970s nuclear tech. I suppose that’s progress.

  89. 89
    JustAnotherBob says:

    @Judas Escargot, Acerbic Prophet of the Mighty Potato God:

    With a 7-9% annual growth rate for China’s GDP? Not Gonna Happen.

    China has been very good about hitting its energy goals, and hitting them early. With wind they set five year goals, hit each one in less than five years, and then set a more ambitious goal.

    China loses a lot of electricity with its poorly constructed grid. I expect they will meet a lot of their future needs via efficiency, both transmission and use.

    Nuclear is just plain expensive. Existing plants are running into financial trouble. Oyster Creek is going to close in a few years rather than spending money to rebuild its cooling tower. Chrystal River and San Onofre are both down for repairs and the cost may mean that they may not come back up.

    A plant in Wisconsin is closing down next month because it can’t operate with current electricity prices.

    From a very interesting article about existing nuclear plants –

    Even plants with no pressing repair problems are feeling the pinch, especially in places where wholesale prices are set in competitive markets. According to an internal industry document from the Electric Utility Cost Group, for the period 2008 to 2010, maintenance and fuel costs for the one-fourth of the reactor fleet with the highest costs averaged $51.42 per megawatt hour.
    That is perilously close to wholesale electricity costs these days.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10......html?_r=1

  90. 90
    JustAnotherBob says:

    @PeakVT: Yeah. I’ve seen their idea before. But I see no indication that anyone is taking it seriously enough to build a test version.

    The company I was thinking about was named Riverbank. They seem to have disappeared.

    Another idea for pump-up is closed loop where the upper and lower reservoirs are both man-made. One would just need two pieces of land close together with adequate altitude change between. Connect them by boring a small tunnel. Install a pump/turbine hybrid at the bottom. You’d need enough water to fill them once and then enough to replace the annual evaporation.

    Someone is working on one of these systems in the Tehachapi Mountains close to LA. I think it would have something like a 3,000′ head, which is enormous. That would greatly reduce the amount of water required.

    There’s also a company in Utah which has been pursuing closed-loop.

  91. 91
    PeakVT says:

    @Judas Escargot, Acerbic Prophet of the Mighty Potato God: the new plants in SC and GA will be PWR, not the older and much more dangerous BWR

    This is incorrect. The first PWR went critical about the same time as the first BWR (1953 vs. 1954) and have always been the most common type of reactor. (PWRs are utterly dominant if you count naval reactors. My research into this indicates a total of 1101 PWRs have gone critical, vs 127 BWRs.) Both will melt in short order if they lose their coolant due to decay of reaction by-products. The biggest flaw specific to GE-designed BWRs is the complicated containment system. PWRs almost always use a big, dumb box for containment, while GE BWRs have a pile of pipes. The design was mean to be less-capital intensive, but it hasn’t really worked out that way.

  92. 92
    JustAnotherBob says:

    @PeakVT:

    Here’s the immense problem facing new (and even old) nuclear. Reactors have to sell their power at their “price”, cost plus reasonable profit, for about 8,000 hours per year. Their prices are calculated on 90% capacity. 24 x 365 x 0.9 = 7,884 hours.

    The cheapest estimate I’ve seen for new nuclear is 12 cents per kWh. Wind is now 5 cents. Natural gas is 6 cents. Solar is being installed in Germany for $2/watt, which in the US would produce 8 cent per kWh electricity.

    If the grid is amply supplied by wind, for example, then nuclear has to sell at a bit under 5 cents in order to cause wind to be curtailed. That’s a 7 cent loss which has to be made up by increasing their 12 cent charge other hours.

    Wind (5c) + solar (8c) + NG (6c) just takes away the market from nuclear. Even if we stuck a big carbon tax on NG and doubled its price nuclear couldn’t make it.

    And I think a more realistic price for nuclear is well over 15 cents per kWh. Perhaps as much as 20c.

  93. 93
    PeakVT says:

    @JustAnotherBob: Oh, I know. See this article on negative learning-by-doing in the nuclear industry. The so-called SMRs under development (of which the leading candidates are all PWRs) may be able to bring costs down some, but that’s largely speculative on the part of their proponents.

  94. 94
    JustAnotherBob says:

    @PeakVT: Cheap power from SMRs would rise from economies of scale. Produce a lot of these and the price should fall as specialized machines/robots do the same thing over and over and supply chains firm.

    Problem is, and this is what EVs are facing, the first units out of the factory are not cheap. It takes a lot of throughput to bring down the cost. Nissan figures that they need to be manufacturing 500,000 to 1,000,000 units per year to drop their cost to that of ICEVs.

    There’s no market, worldwide, for hundreds of thousand, even tens of thousands of MSRs. There’s probably not a market for more than a few hundred at the very best.

    Even if there was enough market to recover the R&D costs over the long run, who is going to purchase those first several hundred very expensive units?

    There’s so much “only if” thinking that goes among the nuclear supporters. The big tell, IMO, is that the nuclear industry is not building reactors except in ‘command economies’ such as China and the State of Georgia.

    Utilities put their money into technology that they expect will make them money. The only places in the US that are considering nuclear are where construction funds can be “seized” from present customers and where the cost of generated electricity, whatever it turns out to be, can be forced on customers.

    In Joe’s article he omits the bid that Turkey got for some new reactors. They also asked for turnkey bids and the price turned out to be around $0.20/kWh.

    Ontario, San Antonio and Turkey asked for turnkey bids because the nuclear industry has a long and nasty history of bidding low and delivering very high.

    Those were all open bidding processes. If a company believed that they could deliver for less than the prices in Joe’s article they could have submitted a bid. That no lower bids came in tells us how expensive new nuclear really is.

    No company said that they could supply some SMRs for a good price.

  95. 95

    @PeakVT:

    Both will melt in short order if they lose their coolant due to decay of reaction by-products.

    This is true. Which is why backup systems to keep pumping coolant to contain decay heat is so important (and I hope the lessons of Fukushima won’t go unheeded in future designs).

    But with PWR, the coolant is the neutron moderator, so the core reactions at least stop if the water levels go down. Not so with BWR. So IMO, PWR > BWR.

    There are modern BWR reactors alleged to be safer than older PWRs, but this is largely because of additional redundancy in newer BWR cooling systems (dual-redundant used to be considered ‘good enough’… no more).

    I’d just as soon bag them all and see a move to molten salt reactors in the medium term, which operate at near sea-level pressure (less mechanical stress). Molten salt also has other potential applications for energy storage outside of nuclear, so any tech developed would have other uses.

    But (barring some interested Elon Musk-like billionaire) that will take public funds to make practical.

  96. 96
    Phillip says:

    So, I did want to call out a couple things- first, that the only way we really have of disposing of nuclear waste in a human lifetime is to burn it in a specialized reactor (WAMSR, other thorium salt designs) so we could actually reduce the waste stockpile by building the right types of new reactors. Second, just wanted to remind everyone that coal plants generate more radiation exposure via the radon and some particulates than nuclear plants do. The analysis I saw on nextbigfuture.com suggested that three years of coal plant output equaled the amount of radiation spewed into the environment as all the nuclear accidents, plus bomb tests, ever. (it has been a while since I read it though.)

    Third, solar requires a lot of water as well- cooling and cleaning panels/mirrors, and we all remeber the impact of hydro from the three gorges dam. Renewable has environmental impact, especially on greenfield sites. I’d rather re-use brownfield, say by slotting SMRs into old coal plants to take advantage of the existing turbines, transmissions, and rights-of-way.

    Ideally though, we get fusion or LENR. Whoever made the crack about the best of 1970s engineering had a point- we are lightyears past that in design ability. We just haven’t built anything that doesn’t already have a safety track record. (you see the catch-22 there, rigt?)

  97. 97
    PeakVT says:

    @JustAnotherBob: Production doesn’t need to be the hundreds of thousands to gain from economies of scale. (Does Boeing have economies of scale? EMD?) But I think you’re right that demand will fall far short of whatever is needed to really gain some efficiency.

    No company said that they could supply some SMRs for a good price.

    No commercial SMR is far enough along for the designers to seriously bid on anything, regardless of what cost they might ultimately be built for .

    @Judas Escargot, Bringer of Loaves and Fish Sandwiches: But with PWR, the coolant is the neutron moderator, so the core reactions at least stop if the water levels go down. Not so with BWR. So IMO, PWR > BWR.

    Water is the moderator in BWRs as well. There are potentially some issues with transient voids, but both BWRs and PWRs have negative void coefficients. PHWRs have slightly positive void coefficients, and RBMK reactors have strongly positive void coefficients.

  98. 98
    JustAnotherBob says:

    @Phillip:

    The question is not “coal or nuclear”. Coal is gone. We’re watching it die. Trying to justify nuclear because it is not as bad as coal is not a viable argument.

    PV solar actually requires almost no water. Most solar array are not washed. A test array in the Tuscon area was not washed for a couple of years. When it was finally washed performance improved roughly 1%. That small a loss does not justify the cost of cleaning.

    We can site solar arrays over the footprint of coal plants as well. Actually, we can install most of the solar we need on existing rooftops. The rest can go over parking lots. Some in the desert makes sense, but we aren’t likely to see a large percentage there.

    Wind takes an amazingly small amount of real estate. And none of it in places where people really want to live. No one wants to live where the wind howls day and night.

    It really doesn’t matter if nuclear is safer than its public perception. It’s the perception that counts. Try to install SMRs where coal plants once stood and most neighborhoods are going to rise up in protest. It might be, in your opinion, irrational fear. But it is real fear and it will motivate resistance.

    Let Homer melt one more down in the next few years and we’ll see widespread calls for shutting all reactors. Especially if the meltdown occurs in the US or Europe.

    TMI we got to write off because most of the radiation was contained. Chernobyl was written off because we could blame it on shoddy Soviet workmanship. Fukushima changed the game.

    The Japanese are widely viewed as competent and a really technological country blew it. Following Fukushima Japan, Germany, Switzerland and Belgium decided to get out of the nuclear business. One more meltdown and nuclear will become a pariah.

  99. 99
    JustAnotherBob says:

    @PeakVT:

    Does Boeing have economies of scale?

    Boeing (and the other airplane manufacturers) have no competing alternative technology. There is no other way to travel long distances rapidly so we pay what Boeing charges.

    We have a variety of ways to generate electricity. Several that are cheaper than nuclear.

    No commercial SMR is far enough along for the designers to seriously bid on anything

    The idea has been floating around for a long time. We have already built a number of small reactors – look at what powers some of our Navy. I don’t think anyone would suggest that multiple companies haven’t crunched the numbers to see what it would cost to build a SMR factory and crank some out.

    If some company saw a route to profit then I think we’d see someone building them. Right now what we see is pressure on the federal government to build some at taxpayer expense. That, to me, is a clear indication that the math does not work.

  100. 100
    Phillip says:

    Ok, fair points. I will admit that the way solar is going, existing rooftops + parking lots might work. It will need a massive capital financing program somehow- most of the private owners of those things are capital constrained, and so unable to make the upfront costs.

    On the other hand, would you agree it is worth pursuing new nuclear, specifically thorium or other liquid salt designs, with the express purpose of burning through the nuclear waste we have now?

    …also, the disaster at Fukushima wasn’t the nuclear plant. It was the tsunami. A first-world country has 20,000 (?) people die in a natural disaster. Even though the reactor melted down, it is pretty small potatoes next to the loss of life.

  101. 101
    Tehanu says:

    @Another Halocene Human:

    Somehow landlords are never “incentivized” to make their units more energy efficient

    Not true. All the California utilities give energy efficiency rebates to owners of multifamily buildings — quite generous rebates, actually — and if the tenants are low-income, they can also qualify for a number of free energy-efficient appliances and other measures (like weatherproofing). California is ahead of most of the country, but it’s far from the only state with this kind of program. I take a back seat to nobody in terms of despising the 1%, including the owners and executives of big utility companies, but you don’t know what you’re talking about. My own experience, by the way, with replacing an old fridge with an energy-efficient one was that it paid for itself in reduced electric bills in less than 6 months.

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