We are still screwed: the coming climate disaster


I mean, it’s a scientific study of the plant’s risk. It’s not like it’s just handwaving away everything.

It’s basically looking at the various risk failures of everything in the reactor. The thing is rock solid… as, generally, all US reactors are.

At some point, you need to accept that anything has some level of non zero risk. But one core damage event every 50 million years? I think that’s a risk we can take.


I think this is a very good discussion. I am of the mindset of right now, “government regulations are holding this up” is trivial. Obviously this will need to change, and I think with the support of politicians and the public, it can.

Right now the education level on how nuclear power works is low. If you ask someone what they know about nuclear power, they say Chernobyl. The basic mechanics of nuclear power isn’t super complicated, and when it is properly explained, it feels a lot less scary. I think that a majority of the public think that a nuclear meltdown is an explosion like Hiroshima.

I also think we should be looking into increasing grid power storage capacity, and investing in solar and wind as well. I am worried with the GND that nuclear is being sidestepped for some power sources that can’t compete with coal or gas in terms of baseline power. Hydro is another large scale option, but it too is costly, and impacts the environment pretty heavily.


Bill Gates is on it. But they’re building them in China.



The worst problem with fission right now is waste disposal, for which the ultimate NIMBYism applies, making it politically impossible to place a secure dump even in the middle of Nevada desert. Nevada’s votes would have to be sacrificed by the ruling party and even then it might be impossible to get anything done in the face of near-unanimous popular opposition in the waste-dump region.

But apart from waste, there’s also the problem of the operator and their ability to manage a potentially dangerous plant (even modern ones that supposedly can’t melt down can still release a lot of dangerous radiation if mismanaged). There have been many serious problems with operators over the years. Plus with well-known industrial vulnerabilities to Internet attack, every additional nuke plant you build is another radiation hazard made available to attackers. Of course this could theoretically be guarded against, but realistically it wouldn’t be any more than current plants are protected.


What’s the worst problem that you are aware of that has occurred?


Coal has this problem as well.


Of course Chernobyl was an aberration under weird and incompetent administration anyway, so let’s ignore that one.

Most recently Fukushima involved a terrible series of lapses from a supposedly capable modern operator after the fact of the earthquake and tsunami. Many billions of dollars in costs due to the lapses, as well as fatalities and enormous human costs in terms of messed up lives and refugees. In the US, the most famous problem was at Three Mile Island back in 1979, but more recently the entire Crystal River facility had to be shut down permanently in 2009 when the building structure was damaged during generator replacement. Wikipedia lists dozens of incidents, mostly minor, but quite a number involving radiation leaks. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_reactor_accidents_in_the_United_States#List_of_accidents_and_incidents

I don’t have references at hand, but there have been many distressing reports regarding both physical and internet vulnerabilities to these power stations. Supposedly any serious attacker can gain control of most of our infrastructure facilities.

Historically I think the US nuclear power industry is far safer than coal per kilowatt-hour, but then Centralia aside, nuclear power has the potential for more dangerous consequences in individual incidents, so it’s not something to just shake off as a concern.


I meant the US specifically. Fukishiima was just as much of an aberration as anything, given it was hit by the largest tsunami in recorded history, something that is basically never going to happen to likely US installations.

If you look at that list of accidents, you see that basically none of them actually resulted in what normal folks would consider “nuclear accidents”. They’re things where some localized problem occurred, and no radiation was leaked. Hell, some of them are things like “some guy fucked up doing maintenance, and electrocuted himself”. This kind of thing effectively has nothing to do with it being a nuclear plant at all.

For Crystal River, again, there was no environmental contamination. They attempted to replace a steam generator, and in the process of cutting the concrete, cracks formed and engineers observed delamination, so they shut down the reactor. Ultimately, this ended up just being an economic hardship for the company running the plant, because they broke their reactor. But it wasn’t dangerous or harmful to anyone.

The same goes for TMI. The most famous nuclear “accident” in US history had literally zero ecological impact.

Probably the worst actual accident was at the Army’s SL-1, since it actually had a minor melt down and killed 3 people from a steam explosion, back in the 60’s. But even then, the amount of radiation released was effectively nil, especially considering the location.

Nuclear power plants aren’t magical places where no accident can ever occur. There are people there. People have accidents. But this is not unique to nuclear power plants. If anything, nuclear plants have a far better record than any other industry I can think of.

Look at that list… the entirety of the nuclear power industry in the history of the US has a total of…13 fatalities? I’d have a really hard time thinking of any industry where you only had 13 folks die since the 60’s.


And again, lets weigh what you described against the problems that we currently experience with coal ash, global warming, etc. I feel like a lot of the arguments against nuclear are letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.


In 2016 the WHO estimated that ambient air pollution was responsible for 4.2 million deaths per year. And that’s not even counting climate change deaths.

How many died because of nuclear power combined? Ten thousand?

It’s like how people have fear of flying, even though it’s one of the safest ways to travel, only because air plane crashes are such impactful events (pun not intended).


That is a really good comparison to make. Because of the very highly publicized incidents, nuclear power safety is often perceived to be low, when in fact it is safer that alternatives. Much like airline accidents.


The only way I can envision a massive drive to build more reactors is if some future Administration has the stones to declare climate change a national security risk (which the Pentagon already has) and then followup with a national emergency. The nuclear regulatory agency would then have to release streamlined regulations and somehow that administration would then need to authorize the funds, probably 100’s of billions.


Most of the fear of nuclear isn’t even based on actual incidents. Very few people know about things like SL-1, given it’s minimal impact on anything (sorry if you are related to one of the 3 guys who died).

Most of the fear is based, literally, on movies. Tons of people, especially from older generations, confuse the plot of “The China Syndrome” with TMI. They think that movie actually happened. They also think that the movie’s description of a melt down is what happens, that the nuclear core will burn down through the crust of the earth, to china (lols).

I think the real way that this happens, is for the people who have traditionally been opposed to nuclear power, to pull their heads out of their asses and realize that it’s exactly that opposition which has largely contributed to our current reliance on fossil fuels.

The GND should include a dramatic upscaling of nuclear power, in conjunction with other renewables.

France alreay did this once. In 10 years, they did a massive increase of their nuclear power plants, and made dramatic reductions to their carbon footprint. We can totally do this.

The GOP has traditionally supported nuclear power. If the left wing shifts to also supporting it? Then we can actually do it.


Because we aren’t like france, business have to take government loan guarantees (subsidies) and still decide to invest in a 20 year nuclear plant. And it just doesn’t happen in the US because there are so many better investments they could make with the same money, even with the loan guarantees. The reasons why nuclear doesn’t get built in the US are purely because it just isn’t attractive to business.

But also we shouldn’t pick a winner in a market. The government should appropriately tax carbon, and we’ll see if Nuclear can compete as a low carbon source. Meanwhile all carbon-free tech should get a lot of taxpayer funded subsidized research to lower the cost of all sources. Including stuff like carbon capture for natural gas, etc. Whatever hits, is what gets build.

My guess is that other sources are better (cheaper), combined with natural gas peaking plants that just turn on to fill in the gaps, and a generally expanded electric grid to enable larger power markets (which would also help nuclear: you could build the plant in a community that wants it for the jobs, and sell the power long distance). HVDC lines are great nowadays.


I don’t think this concern applies. If a two foot rise in sea levels, or acidification of the oceans are really possible/likely then we aren’t talking about the free market. We are talking about an existential threat and we need to deal with it as such. We need every reliable technology available and now. That means nuclear power is the first wave. It’s a proven tech that we KNOW can meet the power demand. Obviously we should still invest and invest heavily in technologies to replace fission plants. If we are staring mass extinction in the face, why is this even a debate?


Power in our country is actually the easier thing. It’s industrial production like steel, agriculture, and spreading carbon free tech to the other 84% of the world that is going to be the hard part.


None of them were meltdowns, of course, but a number did leak substantial amounts of radiation into the environment. Less total than coal mining, to be sure, but still some real lapses that caused damage.

But nuclear fission is clearly better than coal once the waste problem is settled. It’s just that there are serious issues to consider that don’t arise for other kinds of power plants, and right now the cost of solar and wind is dropping so rapidly that soon fission may not even be cost-effective anymore.

And the waste problem is still a hot potato and an absolute barrier to progress that no administration has seriously attempted to address for decades.


I’m going to keep making comments like this until some one listens: Solar and Wind are ready and reliable and cheaper than any other low carbon option. Right now, a watt of nuclear power costs ~3x what a watt of solar/wind power costs. That ratio is only going to get worse for nuclear power in the future (barring next gen technologies). The amount of solar power you can buy for a dollar has been increasing exponentially for the last 6 decades, and seems set to continue to do so for the foreseeable future as research and economies of scale continue to drive its price down. There does seem to be a place for nuclear, but that’s really only after you’ve switched 50% to 80% of your generation to renewables. E.g. once we’ve built $5T+ worth of renewables in America. Which we haven’t done yet.


Solar and Wind are cheaper WHEN THEY CAN BE DEPLOYED.

That’s a really critical aspect to the problem that you are missing.

Wind power can only be used in certain areas. The economic viability you are talking about is based upon placement of wind turbines in areas where there are high enough constant wind speeds to provide power. It’s not a standard cost per megawatt for any turbine anywhere. Due to the nature of the power source, the variability based on location is dramatically higher than you see with traditional power plants.

Likewise, with Solar, you have not only variability based on geographic location, but based on time of day and weather. This is why it’s generally considered unsuitable for baseline power generation, since it’s not cheaper once you include the necessary battery storage to provide for round the clock generation.

In theory, you could work around these kinds of things by transporting power all over the place, but the reality is that our power grid is nowhere near capable of such a feat. Overhauling it would cost immense amounts and take quite a while.

Solar and wind cannot, today, serve the same role as nuclear power.


Yes, I feel the same. I’m happy to have nuclear provide baseline power, though I’m skeptical it will happen.