We are still screwed: the coming climate disaster


Other technologies like gas and solar have gotten cheaper. And when you build a nuclear plant the costs are up front so you’re competing against the future cost of those technologies as well, and they still seem to be dropping. Obviously nuclear would look better with a strong carbon tax though.


But that’s not it… Because nuclear plants that we built in the 50’s didn’t cost the equivalent of $25 billion dollars. It wasn’t even close.

It’s not simply that competing technology has become cheaper. It’s that something else has made building nuclear plant more expensive. Dramatically so.

And yet those old Reactors are still running, safely, decades after they were created… So it’s not like we did a crappy job.

And really, nuclear technology has advanced hugely since then… Because we built tons of reactors since then. Hell, we put them on boats now.


Sorry but things cost more now. Take any element of dozens that need to be worked out to build a nuclear power station - say initial site selection. That was a $30K study in 1950, translating to say $900K today?

A site selection study today would probably be $10-30 million. It’s because the site selection today needs to look at:
-Forestry, wildlife, endangered species, plant, marine, land, insect, migratory patterns, water effluent impacts, downwind impacts. Find an endangered slug and it can delay the whole project four years (seriously)
-Air, noise, traffic, security, haulage routes
-Land values, social impact, housing, retail impact, sight impact, shadow impact
-Fluvial geomorphology (I like that one), hydrology, soil, groundwater
-Community consultation, open houses, design charettes, workshops, stakeholder consultation, First Nations, agencies, public health, conservation authorities, active transportation committees, business improvement associations, community groups

Do you want me to keep going? Ok I will…

-local municipal councils, state government, a dozen federal agencies
-evacuation routes, catchment areas, highway capacity analysis of evacuation scenarios
-emergency services (fire, police, ambulance), travel times, hospitals
-archaeology, cultural heritage
-site drainage, contaminated soils

Again, feel free to pick through a half dozen of these to sacrifice, then enjoy your 10-year delay in court for inadequate consultation and appeals.

China doesn’t deal with these things - so move to China, where the government gives you a check for $200 and then builds a nuclear power plant on top of your house.

We haven’t even hired a design consultant yet, by the way…


I felt this was a good read, with a pertinent clip quoted below

An insight into the magnitude of different elements of capital cost was provided by testimony to a Georgia Public Service Commission hearing concerning the Vogtle 3&4 project in June 2014. Here, for Georgia Power’s 45.7% share, the EPC cost was $3.8 billion, owner cost $0.6 billion, and financing cost $1.7 billion (if completed by 2016-17). The cost of possible delayed completion was put at $1.2 million per day. The total cost of the project was expected to be about $14 billion.

The 2016 edition of the World Nuclear Association’s World Nuclear Supply Chain report tabulated two breakdowns in capital costs, by activity and in terms of labour, goods and materials:

Design, architecture, engineering and licensing 5%
Project engineering, procurement and construction management 7%
Construction and installation works:
Nuclear island 28%
Conventional island 15%
Balance of plant 18%
Site development and civil works 20%
Transportation 2%
Commissioning and first fuel loading 5%
Total 100%
Nuclear steam supply system 12%
Electrical and generating equipment 12%
Mechanical equipment 16%
Instrumentation and control system (including software) 8%
Construction materials 12%
Labour onsite 25%
Project management services 10%
Other services 2%
First fuel load 3%
Total 100%


Dude, you realize that the list you just posted indicates exactly my point. A ton of that is stuff you don’t actually NEED to do. Its stuff that we didn’t do in the past. I mean, ok, so the land is more expensive, but that’s a trivial chunk.

I mean, look at the stuff in the site survey… Archeology and cultural heritage? In the grand scheme of shit, that ain’t really that important.

I mean, sure, maybe you think that stuff is more important than making carbon free energy fast. But that’s the choice you are making.

Because you absolutely could just say, “you know what? We’re not gonna really sorry about that crap. This is a serious problem, and there isn’t really anything that big that’s gonna happen from taking a tiny plot of land to build a nuclear plant on.”

Because, again, we did this before… More than half a century ago. And apparently, it worked out fine.


Nuclear is a technology of the 20th century and nothing will bring it back to former ‘glory’.


And if you tried to introduce your brand new invention of the automobile today, it would be banned as too dangerous to the public. Rules and expectations for many things are higher today than decades ago. Nuclear power is a tough nut to crack, because there are so many people opposed to it in any form, that they have the power to block new plants just by delaying and slowing construction with lawsuits, etc. Every day of construction delay costs over $1Million.

The plants built in the 70s were designed and tested against the most extreme accident models at the time, which we have since learned are not nearly the most extreme possible failure modes, and there are much more common and more dangerous ones. And the amount of refits and upgrades to safety for existing plants is one reason we can’t build new ones, it’s so crazy expensive just to keep up with safety for the ones we have already.

But humans are terrible at understanding risk, even the analytical humans. If you want to make the argument that it’s maybe better for humanity to build nuclear plants and statistically suffer a few local nuclear disasters in order to save the planet, you must an actuary or engineer, but no politician or brand manager will ever do that.


Well, in a practical sense, too bad. These studies are built in now, and part of a legal framework for this type of development. The government doesn’t have the authority to break its own laws. Skip cultural heritage and a farmer that owns a nice late 19th century farmstead will be able to appeal the approval. The permit will get revoked and the study will get done, at higher cost and longer delay than if it were done properly in the first place.

In a less practical and more philosophical sense, again too bad. Cultural heritage is important, so is archaeology. That farmstead might be worth preserving. The study you want to skip will tell us something about its history, the people that came before. The study might find that the house can be moved, or that money should be set aside to restore it. Yes it costs money, but so what? We live in a culture that values those things. By skipping it, you quite literally just became the Chinese government that plowed over a historical community and didn’t compensate it’s residents enough. Most of us don’t want to live in that place, even if it means we get a clean nuclear power plant.


The same procedures are involved when building coal mines, coal ports, coal railroads, and coal power stations here in Australia, yet they proliferate everywhere regardless.

I hear from friends that are still in consulting about how annoying it is to be knee-deep in a project when they find that a Koala lives around the proposed site, or that they spend ages trying to find a suitable site for a development that doesn’t involve clearing pristine forest housing endangered species, and yet too much forest is cleared nonetheless and the Koala is on track for extinction by 2050 (in the state of New South Wales where I live).

I can see Timex’s side to the argument too, what’s the point of the cultural heritage of a farmstead when future humans will be too busy scraping together a subsistence trying to farm the coming hellscape to appreciate it? Solar/Wind with batteries might be able to take a small enough footprint to not have to involve any large sacrifices (e.g. rooftop solar, offshore solar/wind).


Tim is right - this “stuff you don’t NEED to do” isn’t specific to nuclear power, and other energy installations find ways to handle it. What matters is where nuclear is different than other forms of energy production, and that is in the risk mitigation.

As I said above, nuclear power fail states are at best extremely dangerous and at worst massive disasters. Mitigating that risk is where the high cost comes from, both at the front end when designing and building the plant, and during the life of the plant as safety processes are maintained and updated.


It’s also interesting to note that the normal operation (not fail states) of coal and natural gas plants is far more hazardous than nuclear ones — by which I mean pollution and greenhouse gas emissions — but the operators of those plants are basically permitted to transfer the cost of that hazard to everyone else.


Plus there are many different types of risk. Waste (still no solution despite 70 years of best efforts), security, fuel supply, and expertise that goes hand-in-hand with nuclear weapons.


Yeah, i guess climate change isn’t really THAT big a deal then.

Nah dude, it really ain’t. Some bones or pottery, buried in the dirt, aren’t really that big a deal, in the grand scheme of things. They don’t actually matter.

See, that’s the thing here… You can’t simultaneously say that climate change is the greatest danger in the history of the human species… And then simultaneously say that this other shit matters so much as to limit our options for dealing with climelate change.


See, this is what I mean. The waste from coal and gas plants is also hazardous, and there is a lot more of it, and there is basically no solution despite hundreds of years of efforts. So it’s not clear to me that the waste argument is the one that rules out nuclear.


It’s also worth realizing that the waste from nuclear power plants is effectively infintesimal. All, all the waste from every nuclear power plant, that has ever existed, anywhere on earth, fits into an area 10 feet high, going from the endzone to the 10 yard line of a football field.

Like, even if you did literally nothing with it besides bury it in the ground and just allowed it to contaminate the ground water… the impact would be super localized, because there just isn’t that much of it. It wouldn’t destroy the fucking planet.

The reality is this:
When it comes to actually just building the nuclear power plant, as a raw engineering task, it is not prohibitively expensive. It’s NOT THAT COMPLEX. It’s a super well understood problem. And modern reactors are even simpler than the old ones we built 70 years ago.

The additional costs are stuff that we, as a society, are CHOOSING to impose. We can choose not to, if we think it’s an important thing to do.


Ah, the engineer’s perspective. Politics and economics say that someone is gonna try to make money and gather power through the process, eroding those “simple” engineering principles. Leading to both higher costs and less safety. This happens with every type of power, the difference here is just that the stakes are higher.


We’re arguing different sides of the same issues which we agree on. I’m saying there’s a regulation framework that can’t be bypassed and is unlikely to be surmountable, and you’re saying it needs to be bypassed and surmounted. Ok.

Thing is I’m pretty sure the fact that we live in a democracy with laws and individual / property rights just won’t be able to change that framework in time to construct nuclear power to avert climate change. The scientists who looked at it holistically from a public, private, cost, feasibility, and even new research and technology (modular reactors) also agree with me.

This is a huge concern! If you’re not willing to throw in the towel yet, good, I guess.

On a side note, the ability to appeal a development for lack of adequate consultation / compensation / environmental studies (such as cultural heritage) is really the heart of a democracy in my opinion. Forget congress voting to declare war, that has nothing to do with you and me on a day to day basis. It’s the day-to-day processes, the farmer writing a letter to a guy at a desk in Washington saying that his farm is worth saving. For better or worse if we do demolish that farm we do it with open eyes and consensus and studies and compensation. We don’t just send a bulldozer. I also point out this disconnect here @Timex in that you’re supposedly a small government, personal-responsibility type, yet you want the government to literally bypass the laws about consultation and compensation to build an industrial-scale power plant? Basically what you need and want then is then communism?

Nuclear waste is also not a ‘technical issue that can be easily solved’. It’s a terrible legacy. I looked it up for my local power plant and their answer? “We are currently storing waste on site, and constructing new buildings when they get full. This is currently a new building every five to seven years”. It’s radioactive for thousands of years. Those buildings won’t last thousands of years. Yes, the quantities are small, but even if transported by truck or train to Yucca mountain, some of those trucks and trains will crash. Some of the containers will leak. I understand, that radiation exposure to small-town Alabama is a small price to pay for clean power. I’m on your side. But we live in a system where the small town gets to say no. Again, communism?

Natural gas WITH CARBON CAPTURE might be cheaper than nuclear. Solar and wind are cheaper. Not cheaper with subisidies, cheaper. We should and are building as much of it as we can. Base load is a major issue, but we haven’t tried everything else yet either. Low-head micro-turbine hydro, battery storage, thermal storage, and true market pricing. Power should be much more expensive on a still night when there is no solar and wind, and we should adapt our systems to have our electric car feed the grid and give us cash back on those nights. These ideas ARE compatible with our current framework.


Yeah, this is really the heart of the issue. Solar/Wind are cheaper, faster to install, require far less initial capital investment, and have almost no security issues or long lasting environmental impacts. Until we’ve replaced a large chunk of our carbon based power sources with Solar/Wind, it doesn’t make sense to spend money on new nuclear power plants. Twenty or thirty years ago, nuclear would have been a great investment. Ten or thirty years from now, newer forms of nuclear might be a good way to handle the base load problem. But at the moment it doesn’t really have a place.

To support my views, I include this highly scientific graph:


But why can’t a regulation framework be bypassed?
It’s not some force of nature. It’s a self imposed limitation. You can change those laws. You can change how you enforce those regulations.

Yeah, you buy that land. I mean, you seem to be confusing different issues here.

On one hand, you have things like eminent domain. Stuff like forcing someone to sell their land to you.

But beyond that, if you buy the land? Then it’s yours. You can do what you want with it. Now, you may get to a point where you don’t like the fact that some land NEAR you now has a nuclear power plant? But that’s kind of too bad. You don’t own land that you don’t own.

Well, two points here.

As I just said, buying land from people and then building a nuclear plant is not communism. Hell, unless you use eminent domain, it’s not even a government matter. It’s just buying land and using that land.

But beyond that, if what we’re talking about is doing some massive government program to try and tackle what is being described as some existential threat to mankind, then this kind of thing becomes moot. I mean, if you are already going to go down that road, you can’t then say, “Oh, but we can’t have the government intrude into our lives!” You can’t say, “We need more government intrusion… but not for nuclear power!”

It’s a TRIVIAL amount of waste. OH man, they have whole BUILDINGS with it! Oh man, that’s, what… thousands of square FEET! That’s like, 0.000000000000001% of the earth!

It’s a trivial fucking problem, dude. Oh man, it’s radioactive waste! Oh noes! Dude, you get more radiation out of existing coal plants than any nuclear plant… it just happens to float away into the atmosphere, so no one cares.

No matter how bad radioactive waste is, it’s super localized. That means you can just fucking not go where you put it, ever. You can just say, “That section of the earth is dead to us, forever”, and… it doesn’t matter, because it’s a trivial amount of space.

The problem with AGW caused by CO2 is that it affects the entire earth. It’s not localized at all. You can’t hide from it.

If you are trading the utter destruction of one tiny area of the earth, in order to preserve the rest of the earth? That’s a good trade. You should take that trade.

Solar and wind cannot provide the baseline power generation you need. Full stop.

Yeah, guess what? “Trying everything” takes time.

Nuclear is a solution to the problem, TODAY. It doesn’t bank on hoping that you invent some new, viable solution. It’s already solved.


Just FYI it’s super frustrating and stupid people are still arguing over nuclear power. It’s literally the primary solution for energy production that isn’t carbon based, and only realistic solution, and people want solar panels.

Solar and wind can not work without massive batteries, at best.