James Hansen's Generation IV nuclear fallacies and fantasies | RenewEconomy

James Hansen’s Generation IV nuclear fallacies and fantasies

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Climate scientist James Hansen’s claims about Generation IV nuclear concepts simply don’t stack up, argues Jim Green.

James E. Hansen, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, speaks at the University of Iowa's Distinguished Lecture Series on Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2004, in Iowa City, Iowa. Hansen said that the Bush administration is trying to stifle scientific evidence of the dangers of global warming in an effort to keep the public uninformed. (AP Photo/The Daily Iowan, Melanie Patterson)
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The two young co-founders of nuclear engineering start-up Transatomic Power were embarrassed earlier this year when their claims about their molten salt reactor design were debunked, forcing some major retractions.

The claims of MIT nuclear engineering graduates Leslie Dewan and Mark Massie were trumpeted in MIT’s Technology Review under the headline, ‘What if we could build a nuclear reactor that costs half as much, consumes nuclear waste, and will never melt down?’

MIT physics professor Kord Smith debunked a number of Transatomic’s key claims. Smith says he asked Transatomic to run a test which, he says, confirmed that “their claims were completely untrue.”

Kennedy Maize wrote about Transatomic’s troubles in Power Magazine: “[T]his was another case of technology hubris, an all-to-common malady in energy, where hyperbolic claims are frequent and technology journalists all too credulous.

” Pro-nuclear commentator Dan Yurman said that “other start-ups with audacious claims are likely to receive similar levels of scrutiny” and that it “may have the effect of putting other nuclear energy entrepreneurs on notice that they too may get the same enhanced levels of analysis of their claims.”

Well, yes, others making false claims about Generation IV reactor concepts might receive similar levels of scrutiny … or they might not. Arguably the greatest sin of the Transatomic founders was not that they inadvertently made false claims, but that they are young, and in Dewan’s case, female.

Ageing men seem to have a free pass to peddle as much misinformation as they like without the public shaming that the Transatomic founders have been subjected to. A case in point is climate scientist James Hansen ‒ you’d struggle to find any critical commentary of his nuclear misinformation outside the environmental and anti-nuclear literature.

Hansen states that 115 new reactor start-ups would be required each year to 2050 to replace fossil fuel electricity generation ‒ a total of about 4,000 reactors. Let’s assume that Generation IV reactors do the heavy lifting, and let’s generously assume that mass production of Generation IV reactors begins in 2030.

That would necessitate about 200 reactor start-ups per year from 2030 to 2050 ‒ or four every week. Good luck with that.

Moreover, the assumption that mass production of Generation IV reactors might begin in or around 2030 is unrealistic. A report by a French government authority, the Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety, states: “There is still much R&D to be done to develop the Generation IV nuclear reactors, as well as for the fuel cycle and the associated waste management which depends on the system chosen.”

Likewise, a US Government Accountability Office report on the status of small modular reactors (SMRs) and other ‘advanced’ reactor concepts in the US concluded:

“Both light water SMRs and advanced reactors face additional challenges related to the time, cost, and uncertainty associated with developing, certifying or licensing, and deploying new reactor technology, with advanced reactor designs generally facing greater challenges than light water SMR designs. It is a multi-decade process …”

An analysis recently published in the peer-reviewed literature found that the US government has wasted billions of dollars on Generation IV R&D with little to show for it.

Lead researcher Dr Ahmed Abdulla, from the University of California, said that “despite repeated commitments to non-light water reactors, and substantial investments … (more than $2 billion of public money), no such design is remotely ready for deployment today.”

Nuclear weapons

James E. Hansen, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, speaks at the University of Iowa's Distinguished Lecture Series on Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2004, in Iowa City, Iowa. Hansen said that the Bush administration is trying to stifle scientific evidence of the dangers of global warming in an effort to keep the public uninformed. (AP Photo/The Daily Iowan, Melanie Patterson)
James E. Hansen, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, speaks at the University of Iowa’s Distinguished Lecture Series on Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2004, in Iowa City, Iowa. Hansen said that the Bush administration is trying to stifle scientific evidence of the dangers of global warming in an effort to keep the public uninformed. (AP Photo/The Daily Iowan, Melanie Patterson)

In a nutshell, Hansen (among others) claims that some Generation IV reactors are a triple threat: they can convert weapons-usable (fissile) material and long-lived nuclear waste into low-carbon electricity. Let’s take the weapons and waste issues in turn.

Hansen says Generation IV reactors can be made “more resistant to weapons proliferation than today’s reactors” and he claims that “modern nuclear technology can reduce proliferation risks”. But are new reactors being made more resistant to weapons proliferation and are they reducing proliferation risks? In a word: No.

Fast neutron reactors have been used for weapons production in the past (e.g. by France) and will likely be used for weapons production in future (e.g. by India).

India plans to produce weapons-grade plutonium in fast breeder reactors for use as driver fuel in thorium reactors. Compared to conventional uranium reactors, India’s plan is far worse on both proliferation and security grounds. To make matters worse, India refuses to place its fast breeder / thorium program under IAEA safeguards.

Hansen claims that thorium-based fuel cycles are “inherently proliferation-resistant”. That’s garbage ‒ thorium has been used to produce fissile material (uranium-233) for nuclear weapons tests. Again, India’s plans provide a striking real-world refutation of Hansen’s dangerous misinformation.

Hansen claims that integral fast reactors (IFR) ‒ a non-existent variant of fast neutron reactors ‒ “could be inherently free from the risk of proliferation”.

That’s another dangerous falsehood. Dr George Stanford, who worked on an IFR R&D program in the US, notes that proliferators “could do [with IFRs] what they could do with any other reactor − operate it on a special cycle to produce good quality weapons material.”

Hansen acknowledges that “nuclear does pose unique safety and proliferation concerns that must be addressed with strong and binding international standards and safeguards.

” There’s no doubting that the safeguards systems needs strengthening. In articles and speeches during his tenure as Director General of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency from 1997‒2009, Dr Mohamed ElBaradei said that the Agency’s basic rights of inspection are “fairly limited”, that the safeguards system suffers from “vulnerabilities” and “clearly needs reinforcement”, that efforts to improve the system have been “half-hearted”, and that the safeguards system operates on a “shoestring budget … comparable to that of a local police department”.

Hansen says he was converted to the cause of Generation IV nuclear technology by Tom Blees, whose 2008 book Prescription for the Planet argues the case for IFRs.

But Hansen evidently missed those sections of the book where Blees argues for radically strengthened safeguards including the creation of an international strike-force on full standby to attend promptly to any detected attempts to misuse or to divert nuclear materials.

Blees also argues that “privatized nuclear power should be outlawed worldwide” and that nuclear power must either be internationalised or banned to address the “shadowy threat of nuclear proliferation”.

So what is James Hansen doing about the inadequate nuclear safeguards system?

This is one of the great ironies of his nuclear advocacy ‒ he does absolutely nothing other than making demonstrably false claims about the potential of Generation IV concepts to solve the problems, and repeatedly slagging off at organisations with a strong track record of campaigning for strengthened safeguards.


Hansen claims that “modern nuclear technology can … solve the waste disposal problem by burning current waste and using fuel more efficiently” and he states that nuclear waste “is not waste, it is fuel for 4th generation reactors!”

But even if IFRs ‒ Hansen’s favoured Generation IV concept ‒ worked as hoped, they would still leave residual actinides, and long-lived fission products, and long-lived intermediate-level waste in the form of reactor and reprocessing components … all of it requiring deep geological disposal. UC Berkeley nuclear engineer Prof. Per Peterson states:

“Even integral fast reactors (IFRs), which recycle most of their waste, leave behind materials that have been contaminated by transuranic elements and so cannot avoid the need to develop deep geologic disposal.”

So if IFRs don’t obviate the need for deep geological repositories, what problem do they solve? They don’t solve the WMD proliferation problem associated with nuclear power. They would make more efficient use of uranium … but uranium is plentiful.

In theory, IFRs would gobble up nuclear waste and convert it into low-carbon electricity. In practice, the EBR-II reactor in Idaho ‒ an IFR prototype, shut down in 1994 ‒ has left a legacy of troublesome waste.

This saga is detailed in a recent article and a longer report by the Union of Concerned Scientists’ senior scientist Dr Ed Lyman. Lyman states that attempts to treat IFR spent fuel with pyroprocessing have not made management and disposal of the spent fuel simpler and safer, they have “created an even bigger mess”.

Lyman concludes:

“Everyone with an interest in pyroprocessing should reassess their views given the real-world problems experienced in implementing the technology over the last 20 years at [Idaho National Laboratory]. They should also note that the variant of the process being used to treat the EBR-II spent fuel is less complex than the process that would be needed to extract plutonium and other actinides to produce fresh fuel for fast reactors. In other words, the technology is a long way from being demonstrated as a practical approach for electricity production.”

Japan is about to get first-hand experience of the waste legacy associated with Generation IV reactors in light of the decision to decommission the Monju fast neutron reactor. Decommissioning Monju has a hefty price-tag ‒ far more than for conventional light-water reactors.

According to a 2012 estimate by the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, decommissioning Monju will cost an estimated ¥300 billion (A$3.5bn). That estimate includes ¥20 billion to remove spent fuel from the reactor ‒ but no allowance is made for the cost of disposing of the spent fuel, and in any case Japan has no deep geological repository to dispose of the waste.

Generation IV economics

Hansen claimed in 2012 that IFRs could generate electricity “at a cost per kW less than coal.” A complex, novel reactor coupled to a complex, novel reprocessing system will be cheaper than shovelling coal into a burner?


He was closer to the mark in 2008 when he said: “I do not have the expertise or insight to evaluate the cost and technology readiness estimates” of IFR advocate Tom Blees and the “overwhelming impression that I get … is that Blees is a great optimist.”

The US Government Accountability Office’s 2015 report noted that technical challenges facing SMRs and advanced reactors may result in higher-cost reactors than anticipated, making them less competitive with large light-water reactors or power plants using other fuels.

A 2015 report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the OECD’s Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) arrived at the circular, disingenuous conclusion that nuclear power is “an attractive low-carbon technology in the absence of cost overruns and with low financing costs”.

But the IEA/NEA report made no effort to spin the economics of Generation IV nuclear concepts, stating that “generation IV technologies aim to be at least as competitive as generation III technologies … though the additional complexity of these designs, the need to develop a specific supply chain for these reactors and the development of the associated fuel cycles will make this a challenging task.”

The late Michael Mariotte commented on the IEA/NEA report: “So, at best the Generation IV reactors are aiming to be as competitive as the current − and economically failing − Generation III reactors. And even realizing that inadequate goal will be “challenging.” The report might as well have recommended to Generation IV developers not to bother.”

Of course, Hansen isn’t the only person accounting creatively. A recent report states that the “cost estimates from some advanced reactor companies ‒ if accurate ‒ suggest that these technologies could revolutionize the way we think about the cost, availability, and environmental consequences of energy generation.” To estimate the costs of Generation IV nuclear concepts, the researchers simply asked companies involved in R&D projects to supply the information!

The researchers did at least have the decency to qualify their findings:

“There is inherent and significant uncertainty in projecting NOAK [nth-of-a-kind] costs from a group of companies that have not yet built a single commercial-scale demonstration reactor, let alone a first commercial plant. Without a commercial-scale plant as a reference, it is difficult to reliably estimate the costs of building out the manufacturing capacity needed to achieve the NOAK costs being reported; many questions still remain unanswered what scale of investments will be needed to launch the supply chain; what type of capacity building will be needed for the supply chain, and so forth.”

Hansen has doubled down on his nuclear advocacy, undeterred by the Fukushima disaster; undeterred by the economic disasters of nuclear power in the US, the UK, France, Finland and elsewhere; and undeterred by the spectacular growth of renewables and the spectacular cost reductions (he claims that renewables account for 1‒2 percent of global power generation ‒ the true figure is 23.5 percent).

Hansen needs to take his own advice. Peter Bradford, adjunct professor at Vermont Law School and a former US Nuclear Regulatory Commission member, wrote in response to a letter co-authored by Hansen:

“The Hansen letter contains these remarkably unself-aware sentences:

‘To solve the climate problem, policy must be based on facts and not on prejudice.’

‘The climate issue is too important for us to delude ourselves with wishful thinking.’

‘The future of our planet and our descendants depends on basing decisions on facts, and letting go of long held biases when it comes to nuclear power.’

Amen, brother.”

Dr Jim Green is the national nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth Australia and editor of the Nuclear Monitor newsletter, where this article was originally published.

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  1. Joe 3 years ago

    ….the future is not CLEEEEEEEN Coal it is …..NU CLEAR energy

    • Barri Mundee 3 years ago

      Not according to all the evidence.

      • Joe 3 years ago

        DJ and Barri, I was being sarcastic with my comment. I am 100% for RE and NU CLEAR is not RE in my book. It is an abomination that we just keep passing off to the next generation to worry about.

        • Barri Mundee 3 years ago

          The subtlety went over my head Joe. We get the odd troll on this site.

    • DJR96 3 years ago

      Given that there is no break-through developments in nuclear, nevermind breakthrough cost reductions, nuclear is not in the foresee-able future at all.
      Quite frankly I think it should be given up altogether. All that funding could do a lot more in storage technologies.

  2. john 3 years ago

    The inherent problems with using material in generation iv reactors seem to be that there is not a solution to the resultant cost of clean up.
    While the aim is to take material that has been used to make weapons perhaps this is commendable.
    The problem is that some of the material can be utilized to make weapons.
    IMO it is only a matter of time before there is use of material obtained and used in another country, then we have a problem.
    To say that international safeguards will be put in place is impossible to implement due to the paranoid attitude to {a world government authority}.
    Aim to shut down the present reactors and render the waste products as safely as possible.
    Frankly I do not think this will happen any time soon.
    A dismal future frankly for those who may be in harms way.

  3. Alastair Leith 3 years ago

    In a twitter exchange I had with Ben Herd (Director of the Bright New World, a shiny new PR heavy promotional vehicle for nuclear industry) over the weekend, much of which he deleted after blocking me he said “why should cost be the issue?” when we have CC to worry about.

    Priceless, cost isn’t the issue they’re now telling us after decades of the nuclear industry claims ranging from of “too cheap to meter” to “unreliable renewables” we’re now being told cost is not the issue here, it’s more low carbon (even when it’s not low carbon) baseload power we need desperately, just as baseload power is being disrupted by PV and the midday zero demand duck-curve we’ll be seeing in all sunny places in a decade or less.



    • solarguy 3 years ago

      These Nuke weak heads are about the control and hence the money……….well said.

      • AuldLochinvar 3 years ago

        You are an unobservant ignoramus if you have not noticed that the control exercised by Big Carbon is enough to have fooled people into imagining that wind turbines are a good idea. That’s what Energiewende was really about, and if you and Jim Green have not noticed that it’s a dismal failure for CO2 reduction, you are stupid as well.

        • solarguy 3 years ago

          Now your getting nasty! Ghandi said it best…… at first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.

          You don’t know when to give up on the piss weak nuclear fantasy, do you……you dumb, two headed son of a bitch!

    • Zvyozdochka 3 years ago

      Heard is a lost cause.

      • Alastair Leith 3 years ago

        He jumped in a conversation with another PR outfit I was having on Twitter called @moms4nuclear (yeah you read that right, straight from the astroturf-101 playbook). Moms4nuclear played the “bully” card because I questioned their claim to skepticism and independence when they both work for nuclear plant that is under threat of closure. Herd assumed I was because they said so… etc etc and so it went on.

        He called SEN “anti-nuclear” because we used the BREE LCOE and WACC figures in our modelling for NPPs, thus precluding it from any of the carbon abatement models we have for the SWIS grid. (We used Finkel’s WACC for coal, gas and renewables in latest modelling but Finkell didn’t even bother listing a WACC for nuclear, presumably because it’s so far north on LCOE time line wasn’t an issue for Finkel given their ridiculous coal and gas use out to 2070).

        He also has produced his PhD critiquing all the 100% RE studies he could find (by way of indirectly taking them to task for not emphasising “clean baseload nucelar power”). I asked him for the full paper and the link he provided was a page with dead links on it. So then he said write to me. Here’s the abstract and anybody can write to him [email protected] and get the full text and see what you think.

        His claims seem to be making mountains of molehills to me, claiming we need to model the FCAS when we have had one of the most experienced power engineers in WA (Craig Carter for one of a few) audit it for FCAS capacity (there’s a huge over-capacity of existing gas turbines that can be converted to synchronous condensers just for a start, then there’s FFR and synthetic inertia that can be fitted to modern type 4 wind turbines and PV arrays too, chemical batteries for fast response at a modest price compared with balance of 85% to 100% RE system, PHES).

        • Ben Heard 3 years ago

          Dear Alastair,

          Yes, you can have the full paper if you write to me, or just give me your address and I will send it to you. You have done neither. You are speaking to this paper on the basis of reading and abstract, and misrepresenting it. You could have had it, in full, free, days ago. But you didn’t bother.

          As I stated previously to you, it is not my PhD. It is one chapter thereof and you are misrepresenting me. Two other chapters are also published in peer-reviewed journals, a fourth (the crickets you refer to) was submitted to a journal today, a fifth (more crickets) will likely be submitted in coming weeks. Meanwhile your organisation is producing work which you lean on, but does not submit it for proper scrutiny to journals.

          I tried to get the summary findings of your modelling and got this dead link instead http://www.sen.asn.au/modelling_findings , and I might add, no offer to send me the document when I pointed it out to you.

          I referred to your organisation as anti-nuclear because it has quite evidently sought grounds for exclusion of this technology from modelling, instead of interrogating the evidence and assumptions. And yes, the 10% WACC assumed in BREE is out-of-step with pretty much all the literature on energy analysis I could find. There is no way anyone can claim to be taking climate change seriously by discounting the future at 10% per year.

          When we discussed FCAS, you told me your organisation had assumed it away and not actually done the work, which I seem to recall you described as ‘expert level shit’ having confessed you are not an engineer. This is the point of that criteria: yes, it is complicated and no it cannot be assumed away and left uncosted. Or, it can be, but the accompanying claim needs to be moderated accordingly.

          Meanwhile, I heaped ample praised on SEN and the work from what I could see of it and made several suggested improvements. You responded like I was attacking you (I wasn’t. Criticism is normal process). I’ll repeat it again here: I think it looks like good work. I’m really impressed that the transmission has been taken into account. I think it is good enough that some more effort should be put in to bring it to publication so that people can be more confident in it and it can have a higher profile. I would love to be the reviewer and I would not be seeking to sh!tcan it, I would be seeking to improve it. Who knows? SWIS along with NZ could be a possible exception to the core finding in that paper you refuse to read. I think that would be really interesting.


          • Alastair Leith 3 years ago

            I never said that I had written to you, just that you had offered it. You seem to be in the business of manufacturing glass jaws, Ben. Given your accusations of my bully and refusal to provide the example of such behavior I let it go, why assist you any further. Your accusation was little more than a knee jerk response to a meme posted by @moms4nuclear (a paid for PR vehicle for the nuclear industry) saying “No Bullies” because I questioned their claim to independence and skepticism in their video. Seemed a bit rich to me.

            As I noted above, im told the Finkel Review didn’t even list a WACC nuclear in its WACC listings for other technologies like coal and gas. I also offered to forward your critique and info to the modelers (volunteers remember) which I’ve already done formally through our committee process so it’s up to them to revise as they think is necessary. We always want to be able to defend the modelling as realistic and employing conservative estimates.

            I drafted a few hundred word email to you after that exchange but given your behavior I decided to sleep on it and then thought why bother if everybody who does accept your take on things is the enemy. I accept that your environmental concerns are genuine (unlike many in the nuclear industry I’d have to point out) and that you very much believe in you proposed solutions to climate change. I just don’t like they way you go about it, and wont be going out of my way to seek any further contact with you.

            We considered FCAS, transmission (less than $1b added HVAC transmission to retire all coal in WA), weather patterns done to 60 minute intervals at all locations and reasonably conservative demand increases again from BREE (even though EE and rooftopPV has seen a general decline on the SWIS and the NEM since 2012). Basically your four criteria. Yet you claim no 100% RE study has ever done this, hence my initial push back on this claim.

            I know the BZE SEP, while outdated being the first 100% RE study in Australia, also considered these aspects and was audited by a large energy engineering consultancy who should know. At 40% (or was it 60%) CST with Thermal Storage FACS and the rest wind (with potential for FFR and synthetic inertia) FACS is not a deal breaker.

          • Alastair Leith 3 years ago

            Here’s a link to the latest modelling spreadsheets (not the SIREN component). I can’t help you interpret them though, still learning how to use PowerBalance myself.


          • Alastair Leith 3 years ago

            To clarify, as you have a habit of misrepresenting me, I said that there are numerous publicly available papers modelling wind FCAS. I said they are doing power engineering moelling not desktop demand and supply modeling. I said they use tools like Mathlab which is beyond or remit or need. It’s like asking did you model each of the 300 MW coal plants for thermal loads and pipe stresses, it’s completely unnecessary to the objectives of our modelling.

            To extend on that, one of these papers demonstrates that on one of the largest grids in USA adding what they call a high penetration of wind generation to the largely fossil grid would actually IMPROVE FACS on the grid, not reduce it.

            And there are many such papers on fourth generation wind turbines and I have read a good few of them, but as you rightly point out, I make no claim to be expert in this field.

            Here’s one by Nick Miller et al, I have another I obtained from a conference organiser but it’s behind a paywall I think.

            From the conclusions, after first noting that on US grids FFR capacity is declining even where wind hasn’t been added and

            “The present reality that many thermal plants have controls that withdraw their primary response quickly contributes to degraded frequency performance. Modeling of primary
            frequency response, including capturing key elements such as which generators are actually contributing, and which generators have controls that withdraw primary response and contribution of load behavior, requires careful attention.”


            As wind penetration increases, the potential for wind plants to participate in frequency control becomes more important. These investigations show that frequency sensitive controls on wind plants can have a substantial beneficial impact on system performance. Inertial controls from wind
            generation provide fast transient support, via controlled inertial response from wind turbines, which can significantly improve the system frequency nadir. This is particularly the case if the frequency nadir is significantly lower than the settling frequency, which tends to be the case if the system has generators with adequate, but slower control action. Under normal conditions, these controls will add margin in avoiding under-frequency load shedding. Participation of wind plants in providing primary frequency response, i.e., plants with governor-like controls, will have significant beneficial impact on both frequency nadir and settling frequency. This should prove valuable under conditions when the system is short of other resources. To provide this function, wind plants must be dispatched below
            available wind power, causing an opportunity cost equal to the lost production (like spilling water over a hydro dam). Since the controls can be quite fast relative to conventional thermal and hydro generation, the benefit is greater. Other types of generation, active load controls, and energy storage
            devices may all be able to provide comparable benefits

          • Ben Heard 3 years ago

            If you actually read the paper, and the supplementary material, you will see how we have handled this. But, again, this is just hand-waving: either do it right, or be transparent that it had not been done yet. There is nothing wrong with that latter course of action. The problem is claims that lack the requisite evidence.

          • Alastair Leith 3 years ago

            We did it right, Ben. Your comments are laughable.

          • Alastair Leith 3 years ago

            I didn’t say we “assumed it away” (more verballing by Heard this is an MO) I said we had very experienced power engineers in this state (actually with a career working on the SWIS grid in the relevant bodies) examine the models for Frequency Response capacity and any other power engineering issues.

            I also listed all the ways, like converting gas generators (some of which we still have operational in the 85% RE model most favored by the modellers for promoting because it’s same or less cost than BAU) to synchronous condensers by spinning them at idle (no gas burning). And the wind and solar technology that can contribute and is required by default on some grids in USA and Europe.

            When repeated presented with a false dichotomy of modelled or assumed I said we didn’t model it we made an assumption based on our models and there are infact a great deal of assumptions in any model, the question is are they reasonable or unreasonable. Defensible or indefensible? I’m told our assumptions on FCAS are defensible and reasonable for the purposes of the modeling, to make the argument that the WA government needs to lift it’s game on renewables and climate action after two terms of inaction and climate denial.

    • juxx0r 3 years ago

      You and I dont often exactly agree.

      In this case i totally agree that we should overbuild wind and solar, especially solar, and some storage. (how do i underline overbuild??)

      And that that would be the case even if nuclear was a silver bullet. Because the development time screws the pooch, the cost means we can have more wind and more solar for the same price and there’s not a waste issue with wind and solar. Nuclear: Three strikes and you’re out.

      Bottom line is that that even if nuclear was any good, it’s still rubbish.

      • Alastair Leith 3 years ago

        There’s a few html tags you can use in disqus like anchor, image (doesn’t always work for me), underscore , strikethrough , emphasis, strong,


        , maybe some others. Google the syntax to get it right.

        • juxx0r 3 years ago


      • Alastair Leith 3 years ago

        Have you ever tried to point this out to a zealot though?

      • Alastair Leith 3 years ago

        And how will nuclear pay itself off over a 35-70 year timeframe if and when PV is being sprayed onto every build cladding product for zero marginal cost and PV modules are approaching <1c/W which Ray Kurzweil suggests should be as soon as ~2036 with 9, 10 or 11 more doublings of global deployed capacity?

        • juxx0r 3 years ago

          exactly, i dont know where you’re going to find someone who would want to build one of these things with their own money.

          • Alastair Leith 3 years ago

            there’s a few companies working on small modular reactors made in the factory and installed. Lets see where they get to on the economics… you’d think the window is closing with solar and battery prices heading where they seem to be heading.

          • Wallace 3 years ago

            They are assuming economies of scale. But to achieve economies of scale you have to first manufacture a lot of units in order to work through your learning curve, build efficient supply streams, that sort of thing.

            And that means that you need a sufficient number of early adopters who are willing to pay “$1,500 for a TV that will later sell for $500”

            Where are those utilities that will pay 5x, 8x the cost of wind and solar just for the bragging rights of owning one of the first SMRs?

          • Alastair Leith 3 years ago

            Yep, i imagine that they’ll be leaning on the US military complex to help on that account.

            But the military have been on a solar, wind and biogas push so will be interesting times. Also the navy has some concpetual project where they take CO2 out of the ocean and make bunk fuel for their ships, I imagine they figure they’ll power it with SMRs, won’t be solarPV out on the ocean that’s for sure.

          • SteveBloom 3 years ago

            They won’t be doing that out at sea.

          • Alastair Leith 3 years ago

            That was part of the appeal I gathered, not having to transport it so far and having more points to refuel from, apart from it being “carbon neutral” (or closer to it than bunk fuel).

    • jimgreen 3 years ago

      Hi Alastair, what is the source/reference for the table on US Govt Subsidies over last century?

    • Ben Heard 3 years ago

      I didn’t delete anything Alastair. That’s how blocking works. You can’t see my tweets anymore.

      You misspelled my name.

      • Alastair Leith 3 years ago

        I checked your Twitter page logged into another account that you haven’t blocked (I’m on a few groups like SEN so have access to several twitter accounts).

        Apologies if you didn’t delete but I found these tweet were visible after you blocked me the first time I checked immediately after you blocked me but not on the following Monday.

        • Ben Heard 3 years ago

          It’s not ‘if’. I just didn’t. So fine, apology accepted.

          • Alastair Leith 3 years ago

            Not sure why i can’t see them though. Perhaps if they were all begun with @usefuldesign that made them invisible to other accounts. Twitter has made that a bit opaque now by removing the “with” handles from the front of comments.

            A nice way to accept my apology might be to dig up my bullying of those lovely @moms4nuclear so I learnt to speak with greater restraint in public. Or retract that public accusation. It’s not a trivial accusation as I noted just before you blocked me. And having been genuinely harangued by packs of nuclear “enthusiasts” sharing originating IP locations in the past (lots of name calling and baiting and not much else) and seen others get same treatment I do take it as a bit of rich accusation to make.

            Not that you’re responsible for every pro-nuclear troll on the internet but it’s kind of well known on RE websites that they operate in both well organised and intentional ways to abuse people who they disagree with.

      • Alastair Leith 3 years ago

        You’ll be glad to know I reported your accusation of SEN being “anti-nuclear” on the basis of using conservative BREE LCoE and WACC numbers.

        Note, we used Finkel numbers for WACC for those technologies that the Finkel Report did list, they didn’t even consider nuclear WACC worth mentioning! And Finkel himself has been on the record for a long time as supporting nuclear power in Australia. More recently he’s qualified saying, if it can be economic.

        • Ben Heard 3 years ago

          Fine, but, in the only document on this process I have been able to find, you quote the BREE number with the 10% WACC as grounds for not using nuclear. Rather than thinking this through, SEN used a high WACC to exclude a technology then used a lower WACC to make the preferred technology cheaper.

          A recent paper by MV Ramana, who is no fan of nuclear, did the analysis with 5% WACC. Most of the literature suggests 5, some 7, but note the Stern Review for the UK, lauded for progressive climate change economics, used 1.4% to value to future as he thought appropriate. So, this is what I mean about SEN updating the work and submitting for proper review; it can’t pretend to have made some passive decision, it has made an active decision not to look any closer than convenient.

          And yes, Finkel Review completely excluded it. I seem to remember you writing that off as being not concerned enough about climate change. Again, which is t? I would also have liked to see nuclear included in the table that showed energy options and their lifetime carbon emissions. It wasn’t.

          • Alastair Leith 3 years ago

            It’s not that we “didn’t use” nuclear, it’s that at that LCOE price it doesn’t lift the Carbon abatement models by including it. And to include nuclear it would be a fairly big whack of generation on a smallish grid using say a 1GW plant. We do list it for comparison purposes. Also there’s a bunch of other reasons that preclude nuclear in the mix for Australia but we don’t even consider those at SEN.

          • Ben Heard 3 years ago

            But the price depends on the assumptions Alastair. Does SEN or does it not want to use 10% WACC when literature suggests 5-7%? Does it want to assume 30 year amortisation as per BREE when standard for nuclear is 40 years and they are designed for 60? Does it plan to run nuclear in the model at 83% capacity factor as in BREE, when that number is a global average from 2006, compared to 91% for the top quartile, which matches the last 10 years of the 100,000 MWe US sector?

            Or does is not understand how that LCOE price was derived?

            Or does it not care, since it provided a handy reason not to think about including nuclear power?

            Those three assumptions change the LCOE dramatically based on identical capital costs. If SEN is actually about climate change and decarbonisation first, it would look into this properly and, I would suggest, should be arguing as loudly as possible for low WACC (across the board) in energy analyses to value the future appropriately.

            If your crew has an LCOE calculator set up, tell them to work through the process with those assumptions. You will be very surprised at the outcome.

          • Alastair Leith 3 years ago

            SEN is actually about Sustainable Energy Now. From that constitutional perspective, nuclear isn’t sustainable. But there was no intent to dismiss it on that basis, because we’re making comparisons to BAU and the alternatives. I’m happy to advance any critique you like to our modellers.

          • Maltster 3 years ago

            Anyone relying on that particular Conversation article for the “low carbon” nature of nuclear power should also be aware of the follow-up/response article by Lenzen (one of the authors cited by anti-nuclear Diesendorf) in which Lenzen cites the US NREL emissions intensity figures (referenced by the IPCC and the South Australian nuclear royal commission, but notably ignored by Diesendorf)…


            …and also points out just some of the many crippling issues with the notorious Storm/Smith website.

          • Alastair Leith 3 years ago

            Thanks for the link, Malster.

            It’s interesting (to me anyhow) how as if by training all nuclear power supporters put the adjective “anti-nuclear” before the name of any person or organisation that they consider to not be in alignment with their own views. There’s a whiff of persecution complex about it, a la fake news cries.

            I critique the LNC and ALP all the time on climate policy, fossil fuel lobbyists and mouthpieces, in the press and politics but I’m not constantly jumping for the “anti-renewables” moniker. To me it’s kind of self evident where stridently propagandist orgs and their mouthpieces are coming from and doesn’t need me to bash people over the head with a label for them.

          • Alastair Leith 3 years ago

            Are you suggesting that Nuclear will attract cheaper finance than wind and solar? that the risk is actually lower than wind and solar? This would be news to me.

      • Alastair Leith 3 years ago

        fixed spelling

  4. Arthur Burnside 3 years ago

    This article has a LOT of problems. In its confused attempt to attack nuclear power
    it bounces around, mostly griping about fast neutron reactors (a favorite of Russian
    nuclear designers) and claims “billions” of govt money spent to develop. I’ll
    pass on that claim, but point out that molten salt nuclear reactors have
    received a pittance of govt (or investment) capital. A couple million, at most.
    The criticism cited MIT’s Kord Smith as one who has “debunked numerous claims”
    made by Dewan’s Transatomic Power a designer of molten salt reactors. Those
    “numerous claims” aren’t very numerous – they consist of exactly two claims, both of
    which refer to essentially the same thing (spent fuel, so-called nuclear wastes) :
    namely, how much is produced and what percentage consumed, essentially the same question. Dewan had incorrectly calculated a figure that had been published on her design for many months – more than a year, without any of the nuclear power professors at MIT (including the clueless Smith) noticing anything wrong. THAT proves that her calculation error was not easy to spot and was easy to make. The only error was that her calculation indicated exaggerated percentages. She never claimed her reactor could consume all nuclear wastes (spent fuel). Her calm reaction was appropriate – the value of a molten salt reactor in no way rests upon nuclear waste considerations. So much for the “debunking” claim.
    Besides, one might say, nuclear wastes are not wastes at all, and NOT because they can (or cannot ) be used to power a fast reactor, as falsely claimed in this silly article. Nuclear wastes contain enormous amounts of residual thermal energy, which, for some stupid, bizarre reason, govts have been frightened into believing must be buried underground, apparently in order to heat up the subterranium soil. This essentially free thermal energy (350 degrees) is capable of performing
    gigantic tasks, such as desalinating enormous amounts of sea water. More laughable is the article’s clueless claim that Thorium is a danger because of its proliferation risks (incorrectly implying that MSRs typically use Thorium – they DON’T). If the article’s author had even the slightest familiarity with Dewan’s published info, he would have seen that Transatomic Power recommends fueling their reactor with Uranim, NOT Thorium (their reactor CAN be configured
    to burn Thorium). It should be obvious that reactors located in civilzed nations (which already possess Plutonium ) can burn Thorium without the slightest danger. The idea that terrorists could break in and grab Plutonium is beyond stupid.
    Perhaps the biggest lie in all this is the article’s strange focus on fast neutron reactors, which are not even competitive with MSRs. Scare talk of Fukushima is irrelevant whe discussing MSR technology, which has no safety issues. Wind turbines and solar panels have safety issues,MSR power plants do not. In case anyone gets the impression that the claims made in this article of high nuclear costs have have any relevance to MSR’s , they will be very unpleasantly surprised
    if they quote these figures around anyone even only slightly familiar with MSR plant designs. MSR is NOT a “new nuclear technology” – it has been around for many decades, but was never practical because of the issues of large moderators and corrosive effects of molten salt. There are no “unknowns” here,except, to a small extent, by some MSR designs. In the case of TAP, it is about determining the exact amount of corrosion resistance of their core alloys. This will only have an effect on the total cost estimate – it can not invalidate the design, because the uncertainty
    is simply not that great. Other designs, such as Moltex Energy , solve the corrosion issue another way – they use sacrifical materials, replaceable every 5 years or so. And their moderating actions differ as well. As for costs, these designs are very specific in all details with respect to the plant. Any experienced manufacturing cost estimator can provide an accurate estimate, especially considering the fact that the plants themselves can be built in a factory and site preparation is so
    minimal and sites are so plentiful (no cooling water sources – lakes, are required). These plants can be located within cities and towns, basically anywhere. As for costs, Transatomic hired an independent company to provide a cost estimate (so much for the article’s fictional claim that the companies themselves estimate costs). The estimate was $4 billion for a 450MW plant. An MSR plant’s lifespan will exceed 60 years. That is, depending upon which LWR plant manufacturer is invoved, anywhere from 35% to 65% that of a LWR plants. The cheapest estimate comes from Moltex Energy, whose innovative design takes advantage of many components already used by, and in production for, LWRs. In an interview with Nuclear
    Energy Insider Moltex reveals its overnight capital cost of under $2 per Watt, based on an independent cost estimate by a leading UK engineering firm. Further reductions to this overnight cost are expected for modularised construction. This is over three times cheaper than a typical LWR and even cheaper than a coal-fired plant. Levelized cost of power would make this the cheapest power of any technology, including combined cycle natural gas. These MSRs also can
    be operated as load following plants. Thus these plants do NOT depend as much on fossil fuel fired peak power as either wind or solar and , of course, their on demand dispatchable power is many times more valuable than the unreliable power produced by wind/solar. It is totally inconceivable that any sane grid operator would choose wind/solar over MSR generated power. It is obvious to everyone (especially the Chinese, who recently banned any more wind power capacity because of its “disruptive” effects on their grid) that MSRs are the future of power
    generation – it is superior to all other technologies in every conceivable way. China and India are well along in their MSR development, although India is especially concerned about Uranium supply (for no apparent reason) and therefore are choosing Thorium as a fuel.
    But, in my opinion, it would be hard to vote against Moltex Energy, since they are virtually on the threshold of commercialization, due to their ingenius use of existing fuel rod technology, etc.
    Molten Salt Reactors are just around the corner. It will be interesting to see which MSR designs prevail, but there is no suspence about which power technology will win out – nothing can compete with MSR power. Nothing.

  5. Bill Fortune 3 years ago

    I take issue with the lumping of the Transatomic Power design with breeder reactors.
    And how is it the Rickover and crew designed the first commercial reactor, put in a sub and got the sub in the water within 6 years ? As a former Civil Service engineer I contend that the bureaucrats will not approve anything as long as the money flows to them.

    • Alastair Leith 3 years ago

      That’s fast even for a conventionally powered submarine if it was operational also. (Collins Class had some teething issues)

      • Bill Fortune 3 years ago

        your statement shows that u have not read you history about Admiral Hyman Rickover and the Nautllus. Rickover was more of a dictator and got support from Congress to the President. The bureaucrats had to step aside.
        Today the bureaucrats are in control so the new technology is going to China, Indonesia , South Korea and others. The bureaucrats will study everything until the money runs out. “If you don’t make any decisions you can never be blamed for making a mistake.” U, my friend, and all u young people are being suckered !
        Bill F. former Chief Steward, International Federation of Professional & Technical Engineers, Local 4, Dept. of Defense, Navy, Waterfront Facilities for the overhaul of nuclear submarines.

  6. HarryDutch 3 years ago

    A dear, the anti-nuke guys are at it again. China has completed the construction of their advanced Gen-IV HTR-PM (210 MWe) high-temperature gas-cooled reactor. They finished the TRISCO nuclear fuel facility in 2015. For this type of reactor they are building a mass production factory, with the intention by 2022 to start fabricating the components for some 400 600MWe reactors to be shipped to site for fast construction. This reactor is ideal for District Heating, Hydrogen and Desalination Projects. TRISO fuel particles are designed not to crack due to the stresses from processes (such as differential thermal expansion or fission gas pressure) at temperatures up to and beyond 1600 °C, and therefore can contain the fuel in the worst of accident scenarios in a properly designed reactor. One of China’s stated goals for developing the HTR-PM is that they have the potential to substitute for the combustion unit in its fleet of modern supercritical coal plants, as they produce similar steam turbine inlet conditions. As many of China’s coal plants are located close to cities, this is seen as a potential route for quickly improving air quality. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yBQQtA3tWy4

  7. HarryDutch 3 years ago

    The Russian ‘closed’ nuclear fuel cycle’. Gen-III + BN-800 a sodium-cooled fast breeder reactor that began commercial operation in 01/11/2016 and a proposed follow on for the Gen IV BN-1200 (cost $2.56m per mw) reactor. The BN-800 runs on mixed uranium-plutonium fuel, helping to reduce the weapon-grade plutonium stockpile and provide information about the functioning of the closed uranium-plutonium fuel cycle. Furthermore the BN-800 supplies 880MWe electricity to the grid. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k5q7gP1q9zM