Nuclear Power News and Debates

I don’t think there’s a thread covering the newest issues and news about nuclear power, but there are some developments worth tracking and talking about, so I’m starting a new thread to capture new news regarding nuclear power and debates about it.

The big news that got me thinking about this:

This is great news - especially the part about the reactor approval being final and forbidding legal challenges during the installation of one of them. This was the prime method anti-nuclear activists used to shut down nuclear power, so it’s good to see.

Nuclear power is also making a dramatic comeback in popular opinion. Here in Canada, the majority of the public now supports more nuclear power, and in Alberta support is at a whopping 72%. I’m hoping that after this year’s provincial election we will start making a strong push to add nuclear power to our mix here.

I agree that more domestic nuclear power is good, both economically and environmentally. We’ve demonstrated that nuclear power can be safe long term.

I assume these units are for more rural areas or any areas with low population density. I also assume it’s more efficient for a utility to build a full size plant that would service a large geographic area rather than a lot of smaller ones. Perhaps these would be used as supplemental power when needed?

Sounds like good news. We definitely need more nuclear power.

They provide a constant 50MW, which is enough for several thiusand houses. my understanding is that you can create a facility of arbitrary size by simply adding more of them.

The beauty of SMRs is that they don’t require the massive up-front capital investment of a standard reactor. They are passively cooled, and can’t melt down. Because they are built in a factory and shipped to a site, we can ramp up manufacture much more quickly than with conventional reactors. Decommissioning ismas simple as digging up the reactor, loading it on a truck and shipping it back to the factory for refurbishment.

Also. their relatively small capacity and small size means they can be located where they are needed, without requiring large grid resources, For example, the Alberta oil sands could use one to power the steam reformation process, reducing the CO2 footprint per barrel in half. Or a large cement plant or steel plant could locate a reactor nearby and give us CO2 free steel, plus probably power the community around the plant.

Alberta and Saskatchewan have both announced plans to install SMRs. Politics being what it is, we’ll probably have to wait for the Canadian versions being made down east before the feds will okay it, though.

These are also perfect for bringing power to poor countries without a major grid infrastructure. Rolls-Royce also has one that is designed to be used in space or on the Moon.

I understand your point, and it is fully valid.

But there’s something inherently humorous about your first suggestion for how to use sorta-portable nuclear power is to install it to facilitate mining & refining petroleum.

From a quick cursory read, this seems like welcome news. I’d love to see these small nuclear units replace gas-fired peaker plants. 50 MW is about the same order of magnitude as most peaking power plants.

Another option that some places are looking at for short-term peak power generation is, believe it or not, batteries. A city in Belgium is replacing a turbojet peaker plant with 40 Tesla megapacks which, coincidentally, can produce 50 MW. The New York Power Authority is also looking at Tesla megapacks, and Ventura County in California has already done so.

Not really my first suggestion. Alberta has been talking about doing that for a long time.

Alberta needs LOTS of nuclear power. We have none right now, very little hydro, and solar and wind can only make up to around 30% of our power or so at best. Canada sucks for solar, and while wind is pretty good here, we’ve already built out the best spots. So we NEED nuclear, and the sooner we get it the better. We also need more wind if we can find places to build productive wind farms, but we are nearly maxxed out on solar.

As for the oil sands, if we can produce the stuff with the same carbon footprint as middle eastern crude, we can replace imported crude. And make no mistake: we will need oil for decades, and natural gas for a much longer time. Pretending we can just shut it all down as many environmentalists claim (and our Prime Minister apears intent to do) is a fast-track to burning coal again, as Europe is finding out.

Peaking power is a perfect use for batteries. We have a battery system in Alberta which is used for that. That’s about the only thing batteries are really useful for on the grid. They can’t be used to store energy to make up for intermittent wind and solar, but they can help reduce peak pricing for sure.

It occurs to me that a key question here is how long it takes one of these reactors to go from standby to full power. IIRC traditional large nuclear power plants have quite a long startup time. Unless these modular reactors can go online pretty fast, my idea of using them as peaker plants is much less useful, although peak loads are often predictable in advance – e.g.- the predictable switch from late-night power to morning demand, or the air conditioning loads from an expected heat wave.

OK, does anyone know the process after a company applies for a license? I presume that licensure is not automatic, because there are a lot of folks we don’t want having nuclear materials, but what are the requirements? Can the NRC refuse just because they feel like it? Are they expected to approve more like 90% of licenses, or 10%?

Nuclear has its virtues, and it’s absolutely unambiguously far better than coal in every way, but peaking is something that it’s absolutely not good at.

Yes, my last post, after I thought about it for a moment, suggested that this may indeed be the case.

I strongly disagree with that statement.

This is exactly what people were saying before Fukushima. And it’s the same thing people will be saying before the next nuclear accident. And the one after that.

There is also still no good solution to the nuclear waste problem.

Unfortunately, I don’t have anything “good” to suggest as an alternative. Coal adds tons of CO2 to the air and a lot of other particulates and such, including sulfur dioxide which forms acid rain. Coal has been the target of environmentalists lately, so many coal plants have switched from burning coal to burning natural gas instead. That gets rid of the acid rain problem, but you’re still releasing a buttload of CO2 into the atmosphere. Solar and wind are far too inconsistent to provide steady energy on a massive scale. Hydro destroys the environment and has already reached max capacity in most areas.

If you need a buttload of power for something the size of a modern city, you realistically have two choices for the bulk of your power, either nukes or natural gas. So you can either have nuclear accidents and the horrible mess of nuclear waste for the next tens of thousands of years, or you can trash the atmosphere with greenhouse gases. Neither one is a “good” solution. Global warming is the more immediate danger, so nuke plants are currently the way to go. But that makes nuke plants the lesser of two evils. It doesn’t make them “good”.

While coal has killed more people than nuke plants, no single coal plant accident has ever even come close to rendering a thousand square miles of land uninhabitable for several thousand years like the Chernobyl exclusion zone. Also, the waste from a coal plant can be made into concrete and is relatively safe. The waste from a nuke plant can kill people for tens of thousands of years.

I would say nukes are “better in most ways”, not “better in every way”.

Peaking is still very much the domain of gas turbines and other turbines like steam or hydro. Peaking power has to respond in milliseconds, not minutes or hours.

The basic mechanism is frequency based. The turbines spin at the correct frequency, and if the load goes uo it tends to slow the turbines, so there’s a feedback loop that causes them to burn more fuel to compensate and get the turbines back up to the correct frequency. If the load drops, the turbines start to speed up and fuel is cut back to slow them. This happens in a control loop, very quickly. It’s basically automatic gain control (AGC).

Plants that can smoothly adjust to demand are ‘dispatchable’. That includes gas and steam turbines for rapid change, and for forecasted changes, hydro and biomass can do it. Nuclear is a little slower, but it can also ramp,up and down. But it’s generally considered baseload power, and is perfect for replacing coal and oil and a certain amount of gas that might be used to supplement baseload. Solar and wind are not dispatchable without some form of storage.

This is why wind and solar can’t replace gas. In fact, the more intermittent sources you add to the grid, the more natural gas peaking you will need, because you have to not only make up for demand increase, but for supply decrease when the wind stops or the sun goes away.

If you reduce natural gas turbines past a certain point, you’ll start getting frequency instability and power instability. I suspect there is hardware for batteries that might help with this, but I’m not that familiar with grid scale batteries for peaking power.

This is why natural gas will be with us for a long time. Despite what our PM says about us ‘decarbonizing’ and going to net zero, Alberta is forecasting MORE natural gas consumption in 2041 than today, while significantly increasing wind and solar. That’s in the engineering plan, not the glurge politicians sell to the public. The plans I’ve seen for a few states are the same. What’s actually going on is that coal is being phased out and replaced by wind and solar, with natural gas being used to keep everything stable. That’s why shutting down gas production and refusing new gas permits is going to be a huge problem down the line.

If you look around at all the solar and wind stuff, they have primarily replaced coal, at the expense of increased natural gas. That’s a big win, aince gas generates half the CO2/BTU. But the truth is, we need a lot of natural gas. Nuclear can help somewhat there, but it’s primarily going to replace baseload, which is usually a combination of coal, gas, oil, and hydro.

A grid with 50% nuclear, 30% wind/solar and 20% gas is sustainable and doable without bankrupting us. It would only have,about 10-15% of the greenhiuse gas emissions of one based on coal/oil/gas. In areas with substantial hydro and in southern regions, wind/solar become more reasonable but you’ll still need gas for peaking, Just not as much.

It is too bad you keep trying to politicize this by bringing up Trudeau, instead of just talking about the issues. This could be a really good non-political discussion.

Sorry, I wasn’t trying to be political, which is why I said PM instead of Trudeau. I was just trying to point out the gap between rhetoric and reality. I could have used Rob Ford or someone else.

But you’re right - it was too political for this thread. My bad. I’ll stick to the technical stuff. Besides, there’s plenty of blame (and sometimes credit) to go around. And when it comes to nuclear power I don’t think there’s a very large gap between parties any more. Trudeau has been pretty good on nuclear power, at least rhetorically.

The main reason that nuclear power plants are not used as a peaking plant is their capital cost. It costs so much to build that it is only economic to keep it online as much as possible. Natural gas turbines are far cheaper to build and maintain per kilowatt of capacity.

There are a few physics issues with ramping nuclear reactors up and down, (mainly the cycle of xenon buildup and burnoff) but those can be dealt with if they are designed with that in mind . If modular reactors can come down in price, they could function as peaker plants, but I don’t know if that’s the best way to use them.

If they go to liquid salt designs, those are almost perfectly designed for load following, assuming that capital costs doesn’t demand maximum output.

The US Navy has operated dozens of nuclear power plants for more than half a century, with not a single accident that released a significant amount of fissile material, or that killed anyone. That’s not because of luck, but because of excellent safety processes and checks.

It can be done safely - this is a factual statement.

I agree.

Nuclear energy accounted for 71 percent of France’s total electricity production, with only minor mishaps over the past 50 years.

Ultimately we have to switch to nuclear. The demand for energy is not going to decrease, and in fact is only likely to increase. While there have been some promising develops in fusion power, it remains in a constant state of “10 years away” (for 50 years). And we cannot continue to burn fossils fuels without causing extensive damage to human civilization and the world’s ecosystems. The more fossil fuels that remained unburnt the better. Sadly, we should have been building nuclear power plants 20-30 years ago, but the NIMBYs prevented it.

So, I definitely support the idea of small reactors on the general principle of supporting nuclear power. My concern would be is it better to have one nuclear power plant and keep it safe then many small plants? I.e., does having more plants make it more likely for a failure to occur?

I haven’t heard much since 2021 on thorium reactors. Has anybody seen anything interesting on those recently?