Another one (or more) bites the dust …

Coming back yet again to nuclear power, I’ve been arguing for a while that nuclear power can only work (if at all) on the basis of a single standardised design, and that the only plausible candidate for this is the Westinghouse AP1000. One response from nuclear enthusiasts has been to point to possible future advances beyond the Gen III+ approach embodied by the AP1000 (and less promising competitors like EPR). The two most popular have been Small Modular Reactors and Generation IV (fast) reactors. Recent news suggests that both of these options are now dead.

The news on the Small Modular Reactor is that Babcock and Wilcox, the first firm to be selected by the US Department of Energy to develop a prototype, has effectively mothballed the project, sacking the CEO of its SMR subsidiary and drastically scaling back staff. Westinghouse already abandoned its efforts. There is still one firm left pursuing the idea, and trying (so far unsuccessfully) to attract investors, but there’s no reason to expect success any time soon.

As regards Generation IV, the technology road map issued by the Gen IV International Forum in 2002 has just been updated. All the timelines have been pushed out, mostly by 10 years or more. That is, Gen IV is no closer now than it was when the GenIV initiative started. In particular, there’s no chance of work starting on even a prototype before about 2020, which puts commercial availability well past 2035. Allowing for construction time, there’s no prospect of electricity generation on a significant scale before 2050, by which time we will need to have completely decarbonized the economy.

184 thoughts on “Another one (or more) bites the dust …

  1. “Ordinary people are not well placed to read and evaluate epidemiological data or assess risk to quality of life years.”

    We’ll have to disagree on that, Fran.

  2. “#comment-229281″derrida derider

    I think alternative nuclear approaches – especially liquid thorium – are promising enough that governments should be spending serious money developing them. Have a read of this Economist article (and the Economist has long been sceptical of the economics of nuclear power).

    This was a good pointer. However Quiggin’s post was yet another piece of compromised fluff that (as is normal) ignores the waste problem. If nuclear waste is so safe and contained in glass and capsules, why on earth does it need storage in remote areas populated by marginalised, powerless, groups?

    If you are among the few who read the Economist article to the end, you will see that thorium incurs waste ionising radiation problems;

    Thorium has other advantages, too. Even the waste products of LFTRs are less hazardous than those of a light-water reactor. There is less than a hundredth of the quantity and its radioactivity falls to safe levels within centuries, instead of the tens of millennia for light-water waste.

    The gamma-ray problem is created by a quirk of the process that turns thorium into 233U. A small amount takes a different path and ends up as radioactive thallium—which is very radioactive indeed. Its gamma rays are so powerful that they can penetrate concrete a metre thick. Extracting, smelting and machining material containing even trace amounts of it is beyond the scope of all but a handful of national weapons laboratories. Rogue nations interested in an atom bomb are thus likely to leave thorium reactors well alone when there is so much poorly policed plutonium scattered around the world. So a technology abandoned because it could not be turned into weapons may now, in part for that very reason, be about to resurface.

    So which pro-thorium campaigners have explored this problem?

  3. Nick and Will, I think you are both misunderstanding the reasons for the “multiply by 3” rule of thumb used by UNSCEAR. Cs137 has a half life of 30 years but it has a biological half-life of 100 days. Once it is inside you it comes out fast. Hence the 3, I think.

    Also, all your debate is focusing on external exposure which is irrelevant. The key risk for those living in the area is food consumption. You can stand pretty much anywhere in the EZ (I have been inside the 10km EZ twice) and you won’t get any radiation even if you’re standing next to a sign that tells you the external radiation levels are well above background. But if you pick a mushroom …

    Given that there is so much debate on this thread between ordinary, educated people about what is the best response, I don’t know why Will is so convinced that ordinary, educated people are able to make judgments about epidemiology. How many people do you know, for example, otherwise educated, who think that 40 year old adults were unusual in the middle ages because the average life expectancy was short? People really don’t have a clue about epidemiology.

    Furthermore, just compare the response of govts to the nuclear accident. American citizens were running around stockpiling anti-radiation treatments in California, the UK govt laid on free emergency flights to Hong Kong (my Father wanted me to get on one!), ordinary Japanese citizens were just going about their lives. I am willing to bet that if it had been the American govt in charge and the wind had shifted south west, they would have evacuated Tokyo – which would have been a public health catastrophe.

    Given this diversity of opinion (and the fact that Japanese people are the most rational of the lot when it comes to radiation) I really think the idea that people can just make their own decisions is not helpful. It’s also a terrible disaster response policy – “every man for himself”. Try that next time there’s a major chemical accident in a big city, and watch the compensation claims stacking up to the sky …

  4. @P.M.Lawrence

    My claim was not that all government added value to groups of humans. It’s almost certainly the case that the vast majority of government-like bodies over the last 7000 years have been extremely nasty, and in many cases, added, in net terms, to human misery.

    That reality does not however recommend the view that “adults can look after themselves without a giant social process to cosset them”. Those governments that added to misery did so by imposing on a less irrational or less equitable form of social organisation than had previously obtained.

    Governance can stand not long stand ethically higher than the community from which it issues. Yet at the point where complex and diverse communities achieve a consensus on what they want and the vehicles through which these can be realised those services that are deliverable in practice are underpinned and the community is strengthened, and therewith, the integrity of governance.

    Your plea against bad governance in PNG caused by the presence of government is entirely plausible, but the answer still lies in a strengthening of the underlying social base of government rather than opposition to government more generally.

    It took hundreds of years for governance in the west — which still lacks legitimacy in my view — to reach the coherence it now brings to public policy. Self-Government in PNG dates from 1975 and from a much weaker cultural and economic base than Australia had in 1901 or even at the end of transportation. It’s still a developing economy.

  5. @Will Boisvert

    I suppose we will, but as someone who works amongst the ordinary and their children, I can assure you that reading epidemiology and life stats would be beyond all but a handful, this side of a radical change in the structures of governance and the priorities in adult learning.

    A look each day at the lifestyle choices people make and the ease with which people can be persuaded to vote against their interests and accept their disempowerment does not recommend them as capable of weighing nuance in life chances over decades.

  6. @Hermit
    Certainly prefer a wind farm over my back fence to a coal mine any day. They are aesthetically awesome and in a simplified form (wind powered pumps) have been part of the australian rural landscape for a long time. Anecdotally visited the Albany Wind Farm while holidaying out west. Noise up close at around 50 metres is minimal – less than the background traffic noise in a Canberra suburb.

  7. @P.M.Lawrence
    It’s because good governance broke down that those things happen. Not wishing to make light of what must have been a terrifying experience, but those situations are ‘exceptions that prove the rule’. They happen because everyday governance fails.

    However this is not just about governments. There is a whole system of everyday caring and cooperation that supports most of us in normal life. It is generally taken for granted because of habits of thought in capitalist patriarchy.

  8. It’s almost certainly the case that the vast majority of government-like bodies over the last 7000 years have been extremely nasty, and in many cases, added, in net terms, to human misery.

    A year ago I would have agreed. But having recently read Steve Pinkers book, The Better Angle of Our Natures”, I’m no longer convinced. Pinker makes a very compelling case based on extensive data sets that the arrival of government, even in the form of psychotic violent Kingdoms, actually lowered rates of human violence and misery massively. And I say that as a libertarian who rarely misses an opportunity to stick the boot into the institution of government. It wasn’t that these early governments weren’t nasty, self serving and brutish it’s just that what preceded them was in consequential terms much worse.
    That said I think PWL makes a good point. And we should be careful to separate concepts such as governance and society from the institution called government. They are not the same thing.

  9. Ikonoclast – support for the Linear No threshold hypothesis is waning. The following extract from Wikipedia has a 2012 citation which I believe is a decade later than for the quote you provide.

    One of the organizations for establishing recommendations on radiation protection guidelines internationally, the UNSCEAR, has recently recommended policies that do not agree with the Linear No-Threshold model at exposure levels below background levels of radiation to the UN General Assembly from the Fifty-Ninth Session of the Committee. Its recommendation states that “the Scientific Committee does not recommend multiplying very low doses by large numbers of individuals to estimate numbers of radiation-induced health effects within a population exposed to incremental doses at levels equivalent to or lower than natural background levels.” This is a reversal from previous recommendations by the same organization.

  10. @Will Boisvert
    As someone who has studied epidemiology, Will, I agree with Fran and fn. Many people don’t understand epidemiology. I don’t even get involved in debates about it usually because it’s too frustrating, even with well educated people.

  11. As someone who has studied epidemiology, Will, I agree with Fran and fn. Many people don’t understand epidemiology.

    You don’t need to have a full understanding. You just choose who you will listen to. In theory this is all that representative democracy offers us anyway. A chance to choose who to follow. Except with democracy you frequently get lumbered with the dude other people want to follow not the one you would like to follow.

  12. I think I earlier said that SA wind power doesn’t vary by more than 20% in an hour. That can’t be right, as I’ve had someone point out to me. Maybe it’s 20% of total capacity in an hour or something, but I’d have to find my original source and discover how I’ve managed to misunderstand it. Sorry for any confusion.

  13. Some SA relatives on a 45C day went to take the sea airs at the foot of the cliffs at Wattle Point on Yorke Peninsula. They sent me a phone picture of the turbines not moving (OK it was a still image anyway) so presumably the gas fired power stations were powering all those aircons. Yes most pensioners and 80% of Adelaide homes generally still don’t have PV to power theirs. That gas that was burned in the power stations is half as dirty as coal yet is expected to triple in price.

    If wind turbines are so aesthetically pleasing surely Canberrans should have them on Black Mountain or even the lawns of the new Parliament House. Seems the honour of hosting them goes to the hobby farm belt over the border which kind of negates the point of the long commute from the ACT for a tranquil setting.

  14. @TerjeP

    UNSCEAR is a revolving door front for the IAEA and other pro-nuclear bodies. UNSCEAR lacks independent integrity. UNSCEAR’s data is incomplete and biased. Its report outcome is rigged.

  15. @Hermit

    Here’s some “evidence” in the Hermit mode. “I walked over the hill, I saw some houses with no solar panels. My friend sent me a still (sic) picture of a wind turbine not turning. This proves wind and solar power will never work.”

    Gee, this mode of thinking is fun. “I walked along a street. I saw a car stopped by the side of the road. This proves cars don’t work.”

    “I saw a man eating food. Later he was sick. This proves all food makes you sick.”

  16. It’s pretty funny to read you say you just “choose who to listen to”, TerjeP, given you have a natural talent for identifying the most deceptive and misleading commentators and following their lead, just so long as they aren’t the government. See e.g. your continuing ridiculous positions on AGW.

    The reality is that when it comes to big deicisions like “should I flee the home I was born in because of the exploding nuclear plant,” people look naturally to the govt to advise them, because they can’t trust people like Andrew Bolt (who is, I believe, one of your idols).

  17. people look naturally to the govt to advise them

    So it’s all good them. The government doesn’t need to mandate an evacuation. It can just advise people that they should evacuate and people will naturally look to them for such guidance and all will be fine and dandy.

    Whilst they are at it perhaps they can stop mandating that we pay tax and just advise that we do so. I’m sure everybody will naturally give accordingly.

  18. @faustusnotes

    Tax fetishism could be a symptom of ODD.

    “Adults with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) feel mad at the world, and they lose their temper regularly, sometimes daily. Adults with ODD defend themselves relentlessly when someone says they’ve done something wrong. They feel misunderstood and disliked, hemmed in and pushed around. Some feel like mavericks or rebels.”

    I don’t know if Terje fits this description, but Andrew Bolt certainly does.

    Tax fetishism may be the ‘realist’ thing some ODD adults can focus on as manifestation of all the potential wrong that others can and will do to them, given a chance.

    Where does that belief that others are inherently not to be trusted comes from?

  19. For those who think the nuclear disaster at Fukushima is over.

    “By Yuka Obayashi , via Japan Times , April 20, 2014,

    The manager of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant admits to embarrassment that repeated efforts have failed to bring under control the problem of radioactive water, eight months after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told the world the matter had been resolved.

    Tokyo Electric Power Co., the plant’s operator, has been fighting a daily battle against contaminated water since Fukushima was wrecked by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

    Abe’s government pledged half a billion dollars last year to tackle the issue, but progress has been limited.

    “It’s embarrassing to admit, but there are certain parts of the site where we don’t have full control,” Akira Ono (pictured) told reporters touring the plant last week.

    He was referring to the latest blunder at the plant: channeling contaminated water into the wrong building.”

    And this;

  20. Cover ups and suppression of research and findings are clear signs that interested parties have things to hide. The new Japan secrecy laws seem squarelt aimed at supressing information on Fujushima. But the history of lying and cover-ups goes right back to at least 1959. Consider the following transcript from a nuclear documentary “Danger of Nuclear Power”.


    Narrator : “Dr. M Fernex , physician retired, medical faculty university of Basel, is part of campaign denouncing the conflict of interest between two organisations of the UN, the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency ) promoter of the nuclear industry and the WHO (World Health Organisation). An agreement was signed in 1959 between those organisations. The WHO is prevented from undertaking independent medical research on the health effects of radiation or from informing populations on the consequences of accidents like Chernobyl when the atomic lobby does not agree.”

    (Cut to scene, entrance, UN Geneva 12 Feb 2001.)

    Narrator continues: “Here a letter is being delivered for Khofi Anan and Dr. Bruntlandt, director of the WHO asking for an amendment of this agreement and freedom for the WHO to work freely on the health effects of radiation. (Murmurs of greeting and introductions.)

    UN Rep: (Translation from French) We already got a letter from you with your demands. We responded to it saying that your concern, in our opinion, was unfounded. We promise to look in the letter you delivered today. Dr. Bruntlandt will answer it before the end of this week. Thank you all for coming, joining us today. Thanks.

    Narrator: “In 1995 the Director-General of WHO, Dr. Hiroshi Nakajima, tried to inform on Chernobyl by organising in Geneva an international conference with 700 experts and physicians. This tentative (sic) was blocked. The International Agency for Atomic energy blocked the proceedings which were never published. The truth of Chernobyl would have been a disaster for the atomic energy industry.”

    Dr. M. Fernix: (Translated from French) “The interdiction to publich which fell on the WHO conference will maybe be lifted for the next WHO congress. But the IAEA will also be there, don’t worry: UNSCEAR, IAEA with fantastic money. To buy scientists in poor countries doesn’t cost a lot. With $10,000 you can buy many persons.”

    So I think we need no longer pay any credence to the liars, manipulators and keepers of dark secrets who push nuclear energy. If they have nothing to hide, why this huge cover-up and supression of independent WHO analysis? These liars have zero credibility.

  21. More proof of the dangerous lies of Tepco and the nuclear industry in general. Please also check my 2 posts above. I am posting heavily because the LIES of the nulclear industry and lobby must be countered.

  22. France is an interesting case because they already have the lowest emissions in Europe yet Hollande says by 2025 the country must be on 50% renewable power. He has nothing to lose saying that since he will have moved on by then. According to the firm JonesLangLaSalle France has emissions of 91 grams of CO2 per kwh while Germany has 349 grams. Australia is 873 grams per kwh which shows we are deluding ourselves if we think we can achieve low carbon anytime soon.

    Other emissions data uses different methodology which is even more flattering to France. According to a recent blog post the average power price (residential. industrial?) in France is about 15 eurocents per kwh (not cheap by US standards) while for Germany the figure is about 26 eurocents. If Hollande’s policy is to retire already built nuclear plant it will almost certainly make electricity more expensive.

  23. Julie – when it comes to the government maybe you have Stockholm syndrome. You should get it checked.

    Where does that belief that others are inherently not to be trusted comes from?

    I think we should trust people to spend their own money and trust people to vacate their homes at a time and in a way of their choosing. Maybe you agree?

  24. Breaking news about Fukushima from Global Research Canada. Backed up by information from the Journal of Radioactivity.

    “We reported in May 2011 that authorities knew – within days or weeks – that all 3 active Fukushima nuclear reactors had melted down, but covered up that fact for months.

    The next month, we reported that Fukushima’s reactors had actually suffered something much worse: nuclear melt-throughs, where the nuclear fuel melted through the containment vessels and into the ground. At the time, this was described as:

    The worst possibility in a nuclear accident.

    But now, it turns out that some of the Fukushima reactors have suffered even a more extreme type of damage: melt-OUTS.

    By way of background, we’ve noted periodically that scientists have no idea where the cores of the nuclear reactors are.

    And that highly radioactive black “dirt” has been found all over Japan.

    It turns out that the highly radioactive black substances are likely remnants of the core.

    The Journals Environmental Science & Technology and Journal of Environmental Radioactivity both found (hat tip EneNews) that the highly radioactive black substances match fuel from the core of the Fukushima reactors.

    The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission agrees.

    Indeed, “hot particles” with extremely high levels of radiation – 7 billion, 40 billion , and even 40 billion billion Bq/kg – have been found all over the Fukushima region, and hundreds of miles away … in Tokyo.

    Let’s put this in perspective. The Atlantic notes:

    Japanese regulations required nuclear waste with 100 or more bq/kg of Cesium to be monitored and disposed of in specialized containers.


    The new government limit for material headed for landfills is 8000 bq/kg, 80 times the pre-Fukushima limit.

    So the hottest hot particle found so far is 5 million billion times greater than the current government limits of what can be put in a landfill.

    In other words, the core of at least one of the Fukushima reactors has finally been found … scattered all over Japan.

    Nothing like this has ever before happened before.”

    And abstract from “Isotopic Pu, Am and Cm signatures in environmental samples contaminated by the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant accident”

    “Dust samples from the sides of roads (black substances) have been collected together with litter and soil samples at more than 100 sites contaminated heavily in the 20-km exclusion zones around Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant (FDNPP) (Minamisoma City, and Namie, Futaba and Okuma Towns), in Iitate Village located from 25 to 45 km northwest of the plant and in southern areas from the plant. Isotopes of Pu, Am and Cm have been measured in the samples to evaluate their total releases into the environment from the FDNPP and to get the isotopic compositions among these nuclides. For black substances and litter samples, in addition to Pu isotopes, 241Am, 242Cm and 243,244Cm were determined for most of samples examined, while for soil samples, only Pu isotopes were determined. The results provided a coherent data set on 239,240Pu inventories and isotopic composition among these transuranic nuclides. When these activity ratios were compared with those for fuel core inventories in the FDNPP accident estimated by a group at JAEA, except 239,240Pu/137Cs activity ratios, fairly good agreements were found, indicating that transuranic nuclides, probably in the forms of fine particles, were released into the environment without their large fractionations. The obtained data may lead to more accurate information about the on-site situation (e.g., burn-up, conditions of fuel during the release phase, etc.), which would be difficult to get otherwise, and more detailed information on the dispersion and deposition processes of transuranic nuclides and the behavior of these nuclides in the environment.”

  25. LOL Terje who do you imagine is holding me captive? But when it comes to the government it is getting so much easier to find conservatives who are worried about ‘this’ government and what is going on.

    You might be surprised at how many farmers and country people are working out what neo-liberalism really means for our future.

    All people are not equally capable of spending their ‘own’ money responsibly or choosing when to safely evacuate or not. Life is only that simple in Libertarian dreams.

    There are no perfect persons who are capable of being rational and always making the right choice so decisions about trusting people are always dependent on the circumstances.

    Do you think that the capacity of adolescents particularly with regard to high powered cars is trustworthy? And old people who may be getting dementia, do they have the same right to make choices about when to leave their home?

    So are you saying that you do tend to trust people, rather than thinking that they are more likely to be out to rip you off than not?

  26. Do you think that the capacity of adolescents particularly with regard to high powered cars is trustworthy?

    “Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.” – P. J. O’Rourke

  27. > I think we should trust people to spend their own money and trust people to vacate their homes at a time and in a way of their choosing. Maybe you agree?

    Not in the general case, no. What do you know about coordination algorithms?

  28. An excellent and sober report completely debunking the so-called nuclear renaissance.

    Click to access 20130716msc-worldnuclearreport2013-lr-v4.pdf

    A couple of gems from this report:

    “The nuclear industry is in decline: The 427 operating reactors are 17 lower than the peak in
    in 2002, while, the total installed capacity peaked in 2010 at 375 GWe before declining to
    the current level, which was last seen a decade ago. Annual nuclear electricity generation
    reached a maximum in 2006 at 2,660 TWh, then dropped to 2,346 TWh in 2012 (down 7 percent compared to 2011, down 12 percent from 2006). About three-quarters of this decline is
    due to the situation in Japan but 16 other countries, including the top five nuclear
    generators, decreased their nuclear generation too.”

    “Three of the world’s largest four economies (China, Germany and Japan), together representing a quarter of global GDP, are now running their economies with a higher share of renewables than of nuclear.”

  29. Will Boisvert, you wrote, “But everything is cheaper in India and China…” in response to my mentioning how much solar is being installed for in those countries. If you think this is the case, why have previously insisted that new wind power capacity in China costs about the same as it does in Australia?

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