Nuclear Energy in 2019

General philosophy message board for Discussion and debate on other philosophical issues not directly related to veganism. Metaphysics, religion, theist vs. atheist debates, politics, general science discussion, etc.

Is Nuclear Energy Screwed?

Yes
1
13%
No
2
25%
Maybe
2
25%
I don't know
3
38%
 
Total votes: 8

User avatar
Red
Supporter
Supporter
Posts: 2911
Joined: Wed Jul 09, 2014 8:59 pm
Location: Toluca Lake

Nuclear Energy in 2019

Post by Red » Sat Jan 19, 2019 5:23 pm

I'm growing increasingly concerned about the reputation of nuclear energy in the world.

I keep getting these freaking news articles regarding nuclear energy, and they more often than not come with some major fear mongering. With the 'Green New Deal' (which is not in support of the energy source) picking up some steam too, there is definitely cause for alarm.

A Power Plant in Wales is projected to be shut down too, and former President Barack Obama's Nuclear Regulatory chairman Gregory Jaczko oddly enough has spoken out about it too. Also regarding politics, a lot of Democrats and Labour Party members are generally against nuclear.

But despite these issues, I do believe that there is hope. What can we do? Well, obviously, to start, we can vote for politicians who have a pro stance on nuclear; they are the ones that have the power to enforce and regulate nuclear energy, and can get the public to be more in favor of the issue. Political and public opinion are crucial for nuclear energy's survival. If you live in the States and have access to politicians whether on the municipal, state, or even federal level, attempt to get in contact with them about it.

We can also increase scientific literacy among the public. Most people are very, very unfamiliar with the usages and advantages of clean energy. We can create Youtube videos, write more essays or other works, or possibly best of all, put it into the school curriculum. Politicians, of course, have a hand in this, and, while almost impossible to implement, would go a long way in teaching about the importance of nuclear.

But of course, it is also important that we must be literate in the relevant sciences. Of course, I'm not saying you have to have studied it at a university level, just read some of the literature, and watch the relevant videos and documentaries on the issue. It'll be important if you're in a debate or at a rally. ;)

Despite what I said before, there is also an increase in articles and videos talking about the benefits of nuclear; how it saved millions of lives, and how it's the cleanest, safest, most realistic energy source available. Also, there are some Democrats and Republicans who are in favor of nuclear (although they also support fossil fuels, and the other renewables), and the current Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who was a former anti nuclear advocate, now believes that nuclear energy will play a part in the UK's energy future.

With what we do know, it's hard to tell the future of nuclear, since it is a sharply divided point amongst people. Time will tell of course, but that time better not take too long.
Learning never exhausts the mind.
-Leonardo da Vinci

Jamie in Chile
Senior Member
Posts: 270
Joined: Tue Apr 11, 2017 7:40 pm
Religion: None (Atheist)
Diet: Vegetarian

Post by Jamie in Chile » Sun Jan 20, 2019 4:24 pm

Nuclear's future is in the balance, but the balance of probabilities seems to suggest the % of the world's nuclear energy to stay at a similar level for some time and then steadily decline and perhaps reach a very low level before 2100.

However I think there is a wide range of probabilities around that. At the one extreme end, imagine if in the next few years there were three major nuclear disasters at power plants in the US, UK and France respectively. Then it's goodbye nuclear. But, of course, that seems very unlikely. Still, one major Fukushima-level disaster in one of those three countries would also be pretty serous. At the other extreme, imagine climate change looked to be worse than before, and wind and solar prices fail to continue to decline. Then, nuclear is required.

The basic advantage of nuclear seems to be steady, very low carbon baseload while the downsides seems to be nuclear waste and high cost of nuclear.

Wind and solar seems to be overall better than nuclear ethically speaking, since they are just as low carbon without the nuclear waste issue. So nuclear should play a limited role in countries that can get to the majority of their power from those sources. An advantage of nuclear vs these sources that's worth noting is that they take up more land.

However in practice the amount of such energy in the world is currently quite low, and the most common renewable is hydro, which has problems of affecting ecologies and methane issues which make it worse than nuclear in a global warming sense. It's difficult to make a slam-dunk case that oil, coal, gas or hydro is overall better than nuclear and therefore difficult to make a zero nuclear case except in places that can realistically get to a high proportion of wind and solar power.

A couple of years ago my feeling was that we needed to radically go towards 100% renewables and either build no more nuclear or at least stop new nuclear plants from about 2020-2025 onwards. I've changed my mind in the last year or two and become slightly more pro nuclear after I found out about the methane hydro issue, the methane leakages of natural gas, and further consideration that reduced land use is a key ethical concern. Anything that uses less land has an ethical advantage in a world of increasing population, limited food and expected droughts and crop failures due to climate change.

I also am even more concerned about climate change than a few years ago. The last few years (2016-2018) have been poor. Individuals, companies and governments continue to fail to respond spectacularly. Whereas I previously thought climate change deaths could be held to say 1 million a year on average in the century 5 or 10 million a year now looks more reasonable after I read some books summarizing the science and considered the failures of the last few years, and the existentialist, extinction level threat seems to me to have gone up from very unlikely to just reasonably unlikely due to the pathetic and slow response from everyone. Therefore, the nuclear waste issue, and risk of disasters, starts to look like something we can accept.

User avatar
brimstoneSalad
neither stone nor salad
Posts: 9339
Joined: Wed May 28, 2014 9:20 am
Religion: None (Atheist)
Diet: Vegan

Post by brimstoneSalad » Sun Jan 20, 2019 5:54 pm

Jamie in Chile wrote:
Sun Jan 20, 2019 4:24 pm
Wind and solar seems to be overall better than nuclear ethically speaking, since they are just as low carbon without the nuclear waste issue.
Not really, EREOI is not so good with solar. Wind has limited applications, but also kills a lot of birds so...

Solar is good for residential use. I think it could take over most of the grid, but it's no good for manufacturing.

Nuclear waste isn't really an issue, that's just what anti-nuclear people complain about, but solar and wind have their own pollution streams.

What we might see is a few areas that are nuclear friendly take over all of the energy intensive industries and then export those products to other areas that are nuclear-phobic.

If we manufactured all of our aluminum, fertilizer, etc. in these pro-nuclear areas, the rest could probably manage on solar.
Jamie in Chile wrote:
Sun Jan 20, 2019 4:24 pm
hydro, which has problems of affecting ecologies and methane issues which make it worse than nuclear in a global warming sense.
Methane issues are an interesting case for not expanding hydro.
Jamie in Chile wrote:
Sun Jan 20, 2019 4:24 pm
Anything that uses less land has an ethical advantage in a world of increasing population, limited food and expected droughts and crop failures due to climate change.
That's true, which is why I think rooftop solar is a winner, it just can't provide industrial level power. It also decentralizes power production which can be better for transmission. Better to produce at point of use. The trick is the batteries, which also have environmental costs.
Jamie in Chile wrote:
Sun Jan 20, 2019 4:24 pm
Therefore, the nuclear waste issue, and risk of disasters, starts to look like something we can accept.
Well, waste is a non-issue. The "leaks" don't really register on changing background radiation levels.
Coal smoke is far worse. Even the particulate pollution in solar manufacturing is worse, and kills more people (as I understand it, people inhaling dust).

When you look at deaths per kilowatt hour, it's hard to beat nuclear's safety despite the occasional disaster. It's just the deaths are more concentrated in disasters, whereas in solar/wind/etc. they're more spread out. Installers falling to their deaths, factory injuries, etc.
It's like the difference between airplanes and cars.

Jamie in Chile
Senior Member
Posts: 270
Joined: Tue Apr 11, 2017 7:40 pm
Religion: None (Atheist)
Diet: Vegetarian

Post by Jamie in Chile » Mon Jan 21, 2019 7:11 pm

The damage done by nuclear waste has to be considered vs the amount of time that waste is damaging. Someone could dig it up in a thousand years not knowing what it is. That's not a nice present to leave the future. Even fossil fuels negative effects mostly last a hundred years or some hundreds at most I think.

I don't think EREOI is a good metric for solar because we are talking about free energy that costs nothing to produce. Instead, we should look at the amount of electricity per unit cost and per unit carbon; in which case solar looks good. Agreed on rooftops.

Solar and wind deaths are likely negligible compared to fossil fuel pollution and climate change. Nuclear: very hard to calculate since there are so few events each one of which causes a lot of deaths. It's like as an analogy if I asked you to estimate the number of deaths due to asteroid/comet impacts in this century. There is a good chance it could be zero or a very low number, but there is some very small chance it could be billions. There is also an ethical differences between people employed by the solar and wind industries, who enter perhaps knowing the risks, and perhaps die due to their own errors in some cases, vs the deaths from fossil fuels (and to a lesser extent nuclear) which are imposed on others who are totally innocent.

Wind is responsible for a tiny fraction of bird deaths; fossil fuels and even nuclear kill more birds according to https://theconversation.com/wind-farms- ... -why-79567

Bird deaths is only really a factor in wind vs solar debate since everything else (or at least other major power sources) causes much more suffering than wind bird deaths - probably more human deaths than bird.

User avatar
Red
Supporter
Supporter
Posts: 2911
Joined: Wed Jul 09, 2014 8:59 pm
Location: Toluca Lake

Post by Red » Mon Jan 21, 2019 8:11 pm

Jamie in Chile wrote:
Mon Jan 21, 2019 7:11 pm
The damage done by nuclear waste has to be considered vs the amount of time that waste is damaging. Someone could dig it up in a thousand years not knowing what it is. That's not a nice present to leave the future. Even fossil fuels negative effects mostly last a hundred years or some hundreds at most I think.
Nuclear waste is a non-issue. Consider this; all the nuclear waste used can only fill one American Football field.

To put the process simply, the nuclear waste is locked up in containers and have very strong security. They undergo a cooling process to clear the waste of any radioactive elements that remain. It undergoes this process for a few years until all elements are gone, which does take a while, but doesn’t pose as a danger to anyone. Even without cooling, the radioactivity sticks around for about 20 thousand or so years.

We also can't forget that nuclear waste can also be reused for Energy again, as with a lot of things. It's one of the most important parts of effective engineering.

And I highly doubt that posterity will be unaware of what the waste is though. It's not like archaeologists will look at it and just make SWAGs on what they are, since things will be well documented and carried out. Even if they don't know what it is, I highly doubt they'll just fondle around with it (if it's in containers and kept underground), they'll probably leave it alone, keep it off limits, or have it examined by their scientists.

As for fossil fuels, it doesn't really matter if in 100 years the effects will heal themselves, since we only have about 10-15 years at most to stop this problem we've created for ourselves. Millions of lives can't wait for another century to roll around. ;)
Jamie in Chile wrote:
Mon Jan 21, 2019 7:11 pm
I don't think EREOI is a good metric for solar because we are talking about free energy that costs nothing to produce. Instead, we should look at the amount of electricity per unit cost and per unit carbon; in which case solar looks good.
EROEI is everything. It basically determines whether not an energy source is viable or just counterproductive.

Solar is not free, it's actually quite expensive to build those panels, and can also cost a few lives. Is spending money, especially tax money, on solar farms a cost effective way of providing energy for the American people, let along the world?

Solar for residential use can have benefits, but not everyone lives in a place where it's always sunny. It can save you a bit on the electric bill, though.

Overall, internationally, solar can not create enough energy to sustain us. Maybe in 10-15 years solar might be a more efficient energy source as the technology improves, but again, we can't wait 10-15 years.
Jamie in Chile wrote:
Mon Jan 21, 2019 7:11 pm
Solar and wind deaths are likely negligible compared to fossil fuel pollution and climate change.
Solar and wind aren't entirely CO2 free either.

Utility comes into play here too. Would it do more good to use the money and resources to build Nuclear plants, or solar and wind farms?
Jamie in Chile wrote:
Mon Jan 21, 2019 7:11 pm
Nuclear: very hard to calculate since there are so few events each one of which causes a lot of deaths.
@brimstoneSalad covered the Fukushima incident.

Chernobyl didn't cause much of an explosion, it was mostly the debris that caused the deaths. The debris, affected by the radioactivity, affected the grass that the cows eat, which also happened to be the cows that people got their dairy from.
Jamie in Chile wrote:
Mon Jan 21, 2019 7:11 pm
There is also an ethical differences between people employed by the solar and wind industries, who enter perhaps knowing the risks, and perhaps die due to their own errors in some cases, vs the deaths from fossil fuels (and to a lesser extent nuclear) which are imposed on others who are totally innocent.
If this is true, what's the relevance? I don't think anyone here follows Virtue Ethics.
Jamie in Chile wrote:
Mon Jan 21, 2019 7:11 pm
Wind is responsible for a tiny fraction of bird deaths; fossil fuels and even nuclear kill more birds according to https://theconversation.com/wind-farms- ... -why-79567
Simon Chapman, the guy who wrote that article, is an anti-nuclear advocate who is a very pro-wind guy. It isn't surprising someone like him would make an article such as this one.
https://www.audubon.org/news/will-wind- ... safe-birds
Some other sources I've found say the number for Wind is in the hundreds of thousands.
I don't know what sources to trust anymore.
Learning never exhausts the mind.
-Leonardo da Vinci

User avatar
brimstoneSalad
neither stone nor salad
Posts: 9339
Joined: Wed May 28, 2014 9:20 am
Religion: None (Atheist)
Diet: Vegan

Post by brimstoneSalad » Tue Jan 22, 2019 4:53 pm

Jamie in Chile wrote:
Mon Jan 21, 2019 7:11 pm
The damage done by nuclear waste has to be considered vs the amount of time that waste is damaging.
It's only really dangerous for a few hundred years. The thing you need to understand about radiation is this:

Elements with long half-lives aren't usually dangerous (unless they're just poisonous), because they aren't very radioactive.
The actually dangerous radiation comes from elements with *short* half-lives, which means it's almost all gone after a couple hundred years.

This is why waste only has to be stored for about five years in water (while it's really hot).
After that it's a slower process.
Jamie in Chile wrote:
Mon Jan 21, 2019 7:11 pm
Someone could dig it up in a thousand years not knowing what it is. That's not a nice present to leave the future.
1. At that time it would barely be radioactive at all.
2. Congratulations to them, then, for having found a stockpile of plutonium fuel.

Anybody with the technology to actually dig it up would have no problem using it.
And if we DON'T get on it and use nuclear power, there may not be anybody around to dig it up in a thousand years.
Global warming is an existential threat. Nuclear power is not. Nuclear war is an existential threat, but that ship has sailed and nuclear power doesn't increase its probability of occurring (it arguably decreases it, as weapons grade material is spent up in reactors).

Jamie in Chile wrote:
Mon Jan 21, 2019 7:11 pm
I don't think EREOI is a good metric for solar because we are talking about free energy that costs nothing to produce.
That's just not true: nothing is free.
It costs time and resources, including human labor. It costs ENERGY, as in coal or gas energy, to manufacture. You could manufacture solar with solar power, but now you're just increasing your costs and resource use even more.

It's a very important metric, because it tells us how plausible it is for us to actually sustain ourselves on the energy we get out of it.

In order to produce enough solar panels to sustain ourselves, we'd need to invest about 1/3rd of the world's energy production to do it. That is just not plausible. We can't just take a third of the world's energy away today and return with solar panels later to make up for it (and create such industry as that). Add to that the fact that we also have to store the energy, and it gets even more silly, we might be talking half the world's energy production for a few years to get things started. We don't have the time or resources.

Contrast to nuclear, which returns 75 times the energy you invest. We could very easily invest under 2% of the world's energy into building nuclear plants today, and we'd be zero carbon as soon as they were done.

If you want to keep reactors far from cities, solar and batteries manufactured with nuclear energy are very plausible. Solar manufactured with solar energy just isn't. We can't divert that many resources to get it started, and solar would take possibly decades to bootstrap itself. Again, we don't have that kind of time.
Jamie in Chile wrote:
Mon Jan 21, 2019 7:11 pm
Nuclear: very hard to calculate since there are so few events each one of which causes a lot of deaths. It's like as an analogy if I asked you to estimate the number of deaths due to asteroid/comet impacts in this century.
Nuclear isn't an asteroid strike, we have control over it, and we can roughly calculate the odds of events like Fukushima based on reactor designs and chances of natural disasters. It's more like a plane crash; again compared to cars the numbers speak for themselves. Nuclear has also been on a trajectory of becoming safer, with accidents less likely as we learn from mistakes; the same is not so for solar and wind.
Jamie in Chile wrote:
Mon Jan 21, 2019 7:11 pm
There is also an ethical differences between people employed by the solar and wind industries, who enter perhaps knowing the risks, and perhaps die due to their own errors in some cases, vs the deaths from fossil fuels (and to a lesser extent nuclear) which are imposed on others who are totally innocent.
Workers are guilty? How so?
In what way did they deserve their fate more than anybody else when they often had little to no choice to go into the field to provide for their families? It's not like they want to take this risk for enjoyment (like sky divers, where you could make that argument).

Jamie in Chile wrote:
Mon Jan 21, 2019 7:11 pm
Wind is responsible for a tiny fraction of bird deaths; fossil fuels and even nuclear kill more birds according to https://theconversation.com/wind-farms- ... -why-79567
Maybe, but here's the actual study and it says wind and nuclear are roughly comparable:
https://theconversation.com/wind-farms- ... -why-79567
The paper concludes that further study is needed, but also that fossil-fueled power stations appear to pose a much greater threat to avian wildlife than wind and nuclear power technologies.
I'd have to look into their methods and where they're getting the mortality from for nuclear. Probably from the hot water runoff that some plants produce, which has environmental costs. You don't have to do it that way.
Jamie in Chile wrote:
Mon Jan 21, 2019 7:11 pm
Bird deaths is only really a factor in wind vs solar debate since everything else (or at least other major power sources) causes much more suffering than wind bird deaths - probably more human deaths than bird.
If it's actually true that nuclear somehow kills as many birds as wind does, that's a mark in favor of solar. Nuclear causes far fewer human deaths than birds per unit of energy, and much less than wind and solar. It's the lowest in terms of human fatality, period.

User avatar
Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
Master of the Forum
Posts: 1198
Joined: Sun Feb 21, 2016 5:57 am
Religion: None (Atheist)
Diet: Ostrovegan
Location: The Matrix

Post by Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz » Tue Jan 22, 2019 5:25 pm

I'm going to say that I don't know. There seems to be a lot of fear mongering about nuclear power that a lot of people including many who I respect have bought into. On the other hand it seems to have broad support among politicians. One thing I shall note is that in my experience most people when supporting and/or voting for political figures aren't really that fussed either way about their policies on nuclear power. As a matter of fact everyone I have met outside of this forum prioritises other issues such as economy, immigration etc. This could have positive and negative implications if it is representative of the general public. The downsides are of course that people will care less if anti-nuclear legislation is passed. The upside is that it means that even if most people are anti-nuclear, that does not mean that they will vote in anti-nuclear politicians (e.g. Many people who support Corbyn are anti-nuclear).

User avatar
Red
Supporter
Supporter
Posts: 2911
Joined: Wed Jul 09, 2014 8:59 pm
Location: Toluca Lake

Post by Red » Tue Jan 22, 2019 8:28 pm

On the issue of wind killing birds, I don't really see it as a truly compelling argument, it's more of a "Plus there's that..." argument. But it also can help strengthen the case against wind if you're arguing with vegans, vegetarians, or someone who just is more concerned about animals. I mean, I even remember Trump talking about the issue of birds and wind turbines.

Though the numbers aren't as simple as I made them out to be, even if we are to grant that nuclear kills more birds, we still can't deny the fact that long term, nuclear is the best option in regards to climate change and overall good, since that deals with millions of human lives.

As for your post @Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz, I agree it's unfortunately overlooked as almost definitely the most important political issue of our time, since the fate of so many people depend on it. Hopefully your speculation is correct, in that most people are at worst apathetic to nuclear and would support their preferred politicians regardless of their positive stance.
Learning never exhausts the mind.
-Leonardo da Vinci

Jamie in Chile
Senior Member
Posts: 270
Joined: Tue Apr 11, 2017 7:40 pm
Religion: None (Atheist)
Diet: Vegetarian

Post by Jamie in Chile » Tue Jan 22, 2019 8:41 pm

I am not going to reply to every point there, due partly to available time but also many threads above just look like they are going to be a pointless argument, or are drifting off the main topic, or I just don't have anything value to add or would just be repeating myself.

I don't know enough about nuclear waste to get into the detailed discussion about that. It is obviously a negative point for nuclear, but quite debatable how serious. Thanks for sharing what you know. It sounds like you both know more than I.

Surely the comparable metric for solar is how much money you spend to get x energy. The low efficiency of solar is more of a plus point since there is room for improvement.

Solar is no longer so expensive any more. If you're referring to upfront cost, that is true but the investment may be a net financial gain for society when you consider the lifetime cost of the solar panel (very little maintenance etc) and cost of all the climate change disasters. Most studies on the overall cost of fighting climate change effectively conclude that this is the case.

Nuclear is not a fast solution for climate change, is it? I believe it takes quite some years to go from proposing a nuclear power plant to getting the energy - maybe 5 or 10 or 20 years? Could wind and solar be done faster?

The carbon and energy cost of producing a solar panel is paid off in a year or two.

User avatar
brimstoneSalad
neither stone nor salad
Posts: 9339
Joined: Wed May 28, 2014 9:20 am
Religion: None (Atheist)
Diet: Vegan

Post by brimstoneSalad » Thu Jan 24, 2019 4:00 am

Jamie in Chile wrote:
Tue Jan 22, 2019 8:41 pm
Surely the comparable metric for solar is how much money you spend to get x energy. The low efficiency of solar is more of a plus point since there is room for improvement.
Costs for solar are due to producing panels with fossil fuels, though.
Jamie in Chile wrote:
Tue Jan 22, 2019 8:41 pm
Nuclear is not a fast solution for climate change, is it? I believe it takes quite some years to go from proposing a nuclear power plant to getting the energy - maybe 5 or 10 or 20 years? Could wind and solar be done faster?
A lot of that is political. Nuclear power plants can be built very quickly. About 5 years. If we started building enough of them now, we could be 100% green in five years.
Jamie in Chile wrote:
Tue Jan 22, 2019 8:41 pm
The carbon and energy cost of producing a solar panel is paid off in a year or two.
But where are we going to get an extra 1/3rd energy production to actually make that many panels? And the batteries (which make it worse)?

Post Reply

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 2 guests