The promise of nuclear. Really, we promise!

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Nuclear energy proponents drone on about the advantages of the Next Gen reactors. People should realize that the long list of advantages to that technology does not apply to any ONE technology, but rather, to a collection of different technologies that would not be part of any one reactor. So, there’s that. But now, we have one of the Great Breakthroughs evaporating even without that particular bit of smoke and mirrors being … cleared up and fogged over? Whatever. Anyway, here’s the story from MIT

Transatomic Power, an MIT spinout … is shutting down almost two years after the firm backtracked on bold claims for its design of a molten-salt reactor….

Transatomic had claimed its technology could generate electricity 75 times more efficiently than conventional light-water reactors, and run on their spent nuclear fuel. But in a white paper published in late 2016, it backed off the latter claim entirely and revised the 75 times figure to “more than twice,”…

[This] made it harder to raise the necessary additional funding, which was around $15 million. “We weren’t able to scale up the company rapidly enough to build a reactor in a reasonable time frame,” Dewan says.

So, no there isn’t really a reactor that will use up spent fuel and provide energy so cheap we won’t have to meter it.

Here is one of the articles that originally came out extolling the new technology’s virtues. I link to it here so you know what bullshit looks like.

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7 thoughts on “The promise of nuclear. Really, we promise!

  1. I link to it here so you know what bullshit looks like.

    I could say much the same about various studies published by well-known proponents of 100% renewables but I won’t because I don’t think it’s useful.

    Given the scale of the challenge of deep decarbonisation, rhetoric aimed by one camp at the other isn’t just unhelpful at this point, it’s dangerous.

    1. MikeN

      First, I’d have to question the premise:

      Google’s boldest energy move was an effort known as RE<C, which aimed to develop renewable energy sources that would generate electricity more cheaply than coal-fired power plants do.

      That’s the false equivalence between $/MWh from low carbon generation tech and the $/MWh from a coal plant – ignoring the externalised cost of coal (climate change, particulate air pollution). But yes, the cost of energy will probably have to increase.

      We decided to combine our energy innovation study’s best-case scenario results with Hansen’s climate model to see whether a 55 percent emission cut by 2050 would bring the world back below that 350-ppm threshold.

      K&F don’t quantify in this article what this means:

      Our calculations revealed otherwise. Even if every renewable energy technology advanced as quickly as imagined and they were all applied globally, atmospheric CO2 levels wouldn’t just remain above 350 ppm; they would continue to rise exponentially due to continued fossil fuel use.

      The rate of CO2ppm increase is driven by emissions (we’ll ignore carbon cycle feedbacks for peace of mind), so the hint at the assumptions underlying the scenario is useful:

      Our study’s best-case scenario modeled our most optimistic assumptions about cost reductions in solar power, wind power, energy storage, and electric vehicles. In this scenario, the United States would cut greenhouse gas emissions dramatically: Emissions could be 55 percent below the business-as-usual projection for 2050.

      While a large emissions cut sure sounded good, this scenario still showed substantial use of natural gas in the electricity sector.

      Which is why scaling energy storage with VRE is vital. Gas really is a bridge to nowhere.

      That’s because today’s renewable energy sources are limited by suitable geography and their own intermittent power production. Wind farms, for example, make economic sense only in parts of the country with strong and steady winds.

      Until you invest in HVDC transmission capacity that connects the W&S resources to high demand centres. Which again adds to the cost of a transition to renewables and returns the focus to the false equivalence between $/MWh from low carbon generation tech and the $/MWh from a coal plant – ignoring the externalised cost of coal.

      So our best-case scenario, which was based on our most optimistic forecasts for renewable energy, would still result in severe climate change, with all its dire consequences: shifting climatic zones, freshwater shortages, eroding coasts, and ocean acidification, among others.

      It does seem likely that the degree of failure to avoid climate impacts is the future. We’re going to hurt, but how much depends on what happens next. Which is why apples and oranges cost comparisons between FFs and low carbon tech – including nuclear – are not a constructive way of thinking about the energy problem.

      Our reckoning showed that reversing the trend would require both radical technological advances in cheap zero-carbon energy, as well as a method of extracting CO2 from the atmosphere and sequestering the carbon.

      I’d agree with all of that.

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