“Fission Is in Fashion” and Is Over-Regulated

(p. A15) Fission is in fashion as drawbacks of intermittent wind and solar power emerge.

. . .

Regulatory limits on annual exposure around nuclear plants are less than a year’s background radiation from rocks and cosmic rays. Radiation scientists now know that people can safely absorb that much radiation every day because DNA is repaired and cells are replaced constantly in living beings. Yet regulators’ mandated limits, at a thousandth of what’s really harmful, create fright of all radiation. No one needed to be evacuated at Fukushima or around Chernobyl, places where thousands died from unwarranted fear and relocation stress.

For the full commentary, see:

Robert Hargraves. “If You Want Clean Power, Go Fission.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, January 27, 2022): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Jan. 26, 2022, and has the same title as the print version.)

EU Plans to Color Nuclear and Natural Gas as “Green,” Allowing a “Nuclear Renaissance”

(p. B6) The European Union has drawn up plans to classify some nuclear power and natural gas plants as green investments that can help Europe cut planet-warming emissions, a landmark proposal that, if approved, could set off a resurgence of nuclear energy on the continent in the coming decades.

The European Commission said it had begun consultations with European Union countries on the proposal, which is intended to provide a common set of definitions of what constitutes a “sustainable investment” in Europe. Any final plan can be blocked by a majority of member states or by the European Parliament.

“The Commission considers there is a role for natural gas and nuclear as a means to facilitate the transition towards a predominantly renewable-based future,” the statement, released on Saturday [January 1, 2022] said.

. . .

. . ., the political tide has increasingly turned in favor of nuclear power as a low-carbon solution to mitigate climate change — especially a new generation of smaller, cheaper plants across the globe, said George Borovas, head of nuclear practice at the global law firm Hunton Andrews Kurth.

“There will be a nuclear renaissance,” he said. “It’s not going to be for everyone, but it will be for a number of countries.”

Investment money wouldn’t start flowing right away, noted Ms. Drew of Credit Suisse. Banks will need to update their sustainable investment governance for funds offered to clients, to include nuclear and gas alongside renewable energy sources like wind and solar power.

And small modular nuclear reactor projects, in particular, still need to get off the ground. “It’s early days. You have a few people with business plans looking for funding,” she noted.

But as the industry scales up, so will the investments. A number of companies, from Rolls-Royce to Westinghouse, are working on models that can be put together in factories and assembled on site at the fraction of the cost of traditional behemoth nuclear plants.

For the full story, see:

Liz Alderman and Monika Pronczuk. “Europe Prepares to Classify Nuclear and Natural Gas as Green.” The New York Times (Tuesday, January 4, 2022): B6.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Jan. 4, 2022, and has the title “Europe Plans to Say Nuclear Power and Natural Gas Are Green Investments.”)

Small Modular Reactors Are Safer and Cheaper Than Older Reactors and Generate More Predictable Carbon-Free Energy Than Can Wind and Sun

(p. B13) Nuclear energy is a rare thing—a carbon-free energy source that isn’t hyped and enjoys bipartisan support in Washington. The big question now is whether new technologies that might lower the costs actually work.

Governments are reconsidering nuclear power, given its ability to provide predictable carbon-free energy.

. . .

“Modular” nuclear fission plants are where the real promise lies. Simpler designs, standardized components and passive safety features all help reduce costs. Being smaller can make it easier to find sites and integrate into a grid with intermittent renewables. Proponents estimate that modular reactors could more than halve the cost and build time associated with traditional ones.

One approach uses existing technologies to build small modular reactors, known as SMRs. They generate anything from a few megawatts to 500, compared with around 1,000 or more for a typical conventional reactor. The controlled fission reaction splits uranium, which heats water into steam, driving a turbine to generate electricity. Water also cools the reactor. SMRs use passive safety features, such as placement underground or in a pool of water, to reduce the need for some more expensive measures. It makes them cheaper to build, but opponents worry it could be a recipe for more disasters.

. . .

Others are trying to build modular reactors with new technology, such as novel nuclear fuels or cooling systems involving gas or salt instead of water. These advanced designs are intended to reduce the risk of accidents and build in more flexibility for intermittent power.

. . .

In 2020, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program co-founded two advanced nuclear reactor demonstration plants to be completed by 2027. The first is designed by Bill Gates-backed TerraPower in partnership with GE-Hitachi. It will feature a 345 MW sodium-cooled fast reactor with integrated energy storage on the site of a retiring coal plant in Wyoming. The second will be built in Washington state by X-Energy using four of its 80 MW helium gas-cooled reactors fueled by special uranium pebbles.

. . .

There is also innovation in nuclear fusion—combining atoms to generate energy—which comes with fewer safety and waste concerns. This month, Commonwealth Fusion Systems secured $1.8 billion in funding with promises to build reactors in the 2030s. But many think commercially viable fusion remains a very long shot.

For the full commentary, see:

Rochelle Toplensky. “Nuclear Power’s Second Chance.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2021): B13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date December 20, 2021, and has the title “Nuclear Power Has a Second Chance to Prove Itself.”)

New Nuclear Designs Are “Cheap, Efficient, Extremely Reliable”, “Nearly Carbon-Free” and Much Safer

(p. A17) Jacopo Buongiorno, a nuclear-engineering professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has calculated that over the life cycle of power plants, which includes construction, mining, transport, operation, decommissioning and disposal of waste, the greenhouse-gas emissions for nuclear power are 1/700th those of coal, 1/400th of gas, and one-fourth of solar. Nuclear also requires 1/2,000th as much land as wind and around 1/400th as much as solar. For any given power output, the amount of raw material used to build a nuclear plant is a small fraction of an equivalent solar or wind farm. Although nuclear waste is obviously more difficult to dispose of, its volume is 1/10,000th that of solar and 1/500th of wind. This includes abandoned infrastructure and all the toxic substances that end up in landfills. One person’s lifetime use of nuclear power would produce about a half-ounce of waste. Even including the Chernobyl disaster, human mortality from coal is 2,000 to 3,000 times that of nuclear, while oil claims 400 times as many lives.

Although the federal government tends to resist nuclear power, many nuclear technologies are being investigated and funded by private capital including molten-salt reactors, liquid-metal reactors, advanced small modular reactors, microreactors and much more. More than 70 development projects are under way in the U.S., with many designs intended to create assembly-line construction facilities to simplify and standardize testing, licensing and installations. One appealing approach is to replace large-scale facilities with many smaller but safer, cheaper and more-manageable ones. The $10 billion 10-year planning and implementation cycle for a large nuclear plant can be cut in half with a small modular reactor and another half with a microreactor.

. . .

Nuclear power is cheap, efficient, extremely reliable and nearly carbon-free. New designs, including smaller reactors, drastically reduce the risk of large-scale radioactive contamination.

. . .

Sacrifice isn’t always the path to progress.

For the full commentary, see:

Andrew I. Fillat and Henry I. Miller. “Nuclear Power Is the Best Climate-Change Solution by Far.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, Nov. 5, 2021): A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date November 4, 2021, and has the same title as the print version.)

Cuomo-Endorsed Closure of Indian Point Nuclear Reactors Increases New York’s Use of Fossil Fuels

(p. B6) For most of his long political career, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo railed against the dangers of having a nuclear power plant operating just 25 miles away from New York City, saying its proximity to such a densely populated metropolis defied “basic sanity.’’

But now, the plant is preparing to shut down, and New York is grappling with the adverse effect the closing will have on another of Mr. Cuomo’s ambitious goals: sharply reducing the state’s reliance on fossil fuels.

So far, most of the electricity produced by the nuclear plant, known as Indian Point, has been replaced by power generated by plants that burn natural gas and emit more pollution. And that trade-off will become more pronounced once Indian Point’s last reactor shuts down on April 30 [2021].

“It’s topsy-turvy,” said Isuru Seneviratne, a clean-energy investor who is a member of the steering committee of Nuclear New York, which has lobbied to keep Indian Point running. The pronuclear group calculated that each of Indian Point’s reactors had been producing more power than all of the wind turbines and solar panels in the state combined.

For the full story, see:

Patrick McGeehan. “Nuclear Plant’s Shutdown Means More Fossil Fuel in New York.” The New York Times (Tuesday, April 13, 2021): A15.

(Note: bracketed year added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated April 13, 2021, and has the title “Indian Point Is Shutting Down. That Means More Fossil Fuel.”)

Chernobyl Discredited Communism, Not Nuclear Power

(p. C2) In his chilling new book, “Midnight in Chernobyl,” the journalist Adam Higginbotham shows how an almost fanatical compulsion for secrecy among the Soviet Union’s governing elite was part of what made the accident not just cataclysmic but so likely in the first place. Interviewing eyewitnesses and consulting declassified archives — an official record that was frustratingly meager when it came to certain details and, Higginbotham says, couldn’t always be trusted — he reconstructs the disaster from the ground up, recounting the prelude to it as well as its aftermath. The result is superb, enthralling and necessarily terrifying.
. . .
Higginbotham describes young workers who were promoted swiftly to positions of terrific responsibility. In an especially glaring example of entrenched cronyism, the Communist Party elevated an ideologically copacetic electrical engineer to the position of deputy plant director at Chernobyl: To make up for a total lack of experience with atomic energy, he took a correspondence course in nuclear physics.
Even more egregious than some personnel decisions were the structural problems built into the plant itself. Most fateful for Chernobyl was the baffling design of a crucial safety feature: control rods that could be lowered into the reactor core to slow down the process of nuclear fission. The rods contained boron carbide, which hampered reactivity, but the Soviets decided to tip them in graphite, which facilitated reactivity; it was a bid to save energy, and therefore money, by lessening the rods’ moderating effect. Higginbotham calls it “an absurd and chilling inversion in the role of a safety device,” likening it to wiring a car so that slamming the brakes would make it accelerate.
. . .
. . . Chernobyl exposed the untenable fissures in the Soviet system and hastened its collapse; the accident also encouraged Mikhail Gorbachev to pursue drastic reforms with even more zeal.
Higginbotham observes that the plant was run like the Soviet state writ large — with individuals expected to carry out commands from on high with an automaton’s acquiescence. At the same time, when it came time to assess responsibility for the disaster, any collectivist fellow feeling evaporated, as the ensuing show trials insistently scapegoated a few individuals (some of them already dead) in a desperate attempt to keep a crumbling system intact.
The accident also decimated international confidence in nuclear power, and a number of countries halted their own programs — for a time, that is. Global warming has made the awesome potential of the atom a source of hope again and, according to some advocates, an urgent necessity; besides, as Higginbotham points out, nuclear power, from a statistical standpoint, is safer than the competing alternatives, including wind.

For the full review, see:
Jennifer Szalai. “BOOKS OF THE TIMES; Nuclear Disaster In Chilling Detail.” The New York Times (Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019): C2.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date Feb. 6, 2019, and has the title “BOOKS OF THE TIMES; An Enthralling and Terrifying History of the Nuclear Meltdown at Chernobyl.”)

The book under review, is:
Higginbotham, Adam. Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2019.

Bill Gates Says Regulations Keep Innovative Nuclear Technology Out of U.S.

(p. B3) Add Bill Gates to the list of executives whose businesses have been ensnared by the Trump administration’s battle with China over technology and trade.
The tech tycoon and philanthropist said in an essay posted late last week that a nuclear-energy project in China by a company he co-founded called TerraPower LLC is now unlikely to proceed because of recent changes in U.S. policy toward China. That leaves TerraPower, which had been working on the China project for more than three years, scrambling for a new partner and uncertain where it might be able to run a pilot of the nuclear reactor it has been developing, according to company officials.
. . .
Mr. Gates, in a year-end essay posted on his personal website on Saturday [December 29, 2018], said TerraPower might be able to build its nuclear-reactor pilot project in the U.S., but only if there are changes to regulation. The Microsoft Corp. co-founder said he intends to advocate for those changes in 2019 because he sees nuclear power as “the only carbon-free, scalable energy source that’s available 24 hours a day.”
“The world needs to be working on lots of solutions to stop climate change,” he wrote. “Advanced nuclear is one, and I hope to persuade U.S. leaders to get into the game.”

For the full story, see:
Greene, Jay. “Bill Gates Project Hit by Trade Fight.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2019): B3.
(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed date, added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date Jan. 1, 2019, and has the title “Trump’s Tech Battle With China Roils Bill Gates Nuclear Venture.”)

Chernobyl Was Due to “Bureaucratic Incompetence,” Not Due to Technology

(p. C6) Dr. Medvedev’s study of Lysenko was not approved for official publication in the Soviet Union, but samizdat, or clandestine, copies circulated among the intelligentsia. In 1969, the book was translated into English and published as “The Rise and Fall of T.D. Lysenko.”
Dr. Medvedev was fired from his job at an agricultural research laboratory, and within a few months was summoned to a meeting with a psychiatrist, on the pretext of discussing the behavior of his teenage son. Instead, Dr. Medvedev was taken to a holding cell, where he managed to pick the lock and walk away.
Soon afterward, on May 29, 1970, as Dr. Medvedev recounted in his book “A Question of Madness,” he was confronted at his home by two psychiatrists accompanied by several police officers.
“‘If you refuse to talk to us,’ one of the psychiatrists told Dr. Medvedev, ‘then we will be obliged to draw the appropriate conclusions . . . And how do you feel yourself, Zhores Aleksandrovich?’
“I answered that I felt marvelous.
“‘But if you feel so marvelous, then why do you think we have turned up here today?’
“‘Obviously, you must answer that question yourself,’ I replied. “A police major arrived. “‘ And who on earth might you be?’ Dr. Medvedev asked. ‘I didn’t invite you here.’ ”
“He protested, to no avail, that the homes of Soviet citizens were considered private and inviolable to the forces of the state.
“‘Get to your feet!” the police major ordered Dr. Medvedev. ‘I order you to get to your feet!’ ”
Two lower-ranking officers, twisted Dr. Medvedev’s arms behind his back, forced him out of his house and into an ambulance. He was driven to a psychiatric hospital.
The preliminary diagnosis was “severe mental illness dangerous to the public,” and Dr. Medvedev was repeatedly warned to stop his “publicist activities.”
Meanwhile, his brother, Sakharov and other activists for greater openness in the Soviet system sent telegrams and published open letters calling for Dr. Medvedev’s release. One of his friends, the novelist Alexander Solzhenitsyn, then still living in the Soviet Union, condemned Dr. Medvedev’s detention with a bold and blistering statement.
“The incarceration of freethinking healthy people in madhouses is spiritual murder,” he said. “It is a fiendish and prolonged torture . . . These crimes will never be forgotten, and all those who take part in them will be condemned endlessly, while they live and after they’re dead.
“It is shortsighted to think that you can live constantly relying on force alone, constantly scorning the objections of conscience.”
Solzhenitsyn received the Nobel Prize for Literature later that year.
. . .
In 1990, Dr. Medvedev wrote an account of the 1986 nuclear disaster at Chernobyl, which he considered inevitable, with the Soviet Union’s history of scientific and bureaucratic incompetence.
“In the end, I was surprised at how poorly designed the reactor actually was,” he told the New York Times in 1990. “I wanted to write this book not only to show the real scale of this particular catastrophe, but also to demolish a few more secrets and deliberate misconceptions.”

For the full obituary, see:
SCHUDEL, Matt. “‘Scientist exposed agricultural fraud and Soviet incompetence.” The Washington Post (Sunday, Sept. 6, 2018): C6.
(Note: ellipses between paragraphs, added; ellipses internal to paragraphs, in original.)
(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date Sept. 4, 2018, and has the title “‘James Mirrlees, Whose Tax Model Earned a Nobel, Dies at 82.”)

The books by Zhores Medvedev that were mentioned above, are:
Medvedev, Zhores A. The Rise and Fall of T. D. Lysenko. New York: Columbia University Press, 1969.
Medvedev, Zhores A., and Roy A. Medvedev. A Question of Madness: Repression by Psychiatry in the Soviet Union. London: Mcmillan London Ltd., 1971.
Medvedev, Zhores A. The Legacy of Chernobyl. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1990.

Floating Nuclear Power Plants May Be Cheaper, Greener, and Safer

(p. B5) MURMANSK, Russia — Along the shore of Kola Bay in the far northwest of Russia lie bases for the country’s nuclear submarines and icebreakers. Low, rocky hills descend to an industrial waterfront of docks, cranes and railway tracks. Out on the bay, submarines have for decades stalked the azure waters, traveling between their port and the ocean depths.
Here, Russia is conducting an experiment with nuclear power, one that backers say is a leading-edge feat of engineering but that critics call reckless.
The country is unveiling a floating nuclear power plant.
Tied to a wharf in the city of Murmansk, the Akademik Lomonosov rocks gently in the waves. The buoyant facility, made of two miniature reactors of a type used previously on submarines, is for now the only one of its kind.
Moscow, while leading the trend, is far from alone in seeing potential in floating nuclear plants. Two state-backed companies in China are building such facilities, (p. B5) and American scientists have drawn up plans of their own. Proponents say they are cheaper, greener and, perhaps counterintuitively, safer. They envision a future when nuclear power stations bob off the coasts of major cities around the world.
“They are light-years ahead of us,” Jacopo Buongiorno, a professor of nuclear engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said of the Russian floating power program.
Rosatom, the Russian state nuclear company, has exported nuclear technology for years, selling plants in China, India and a host of developing nations. But smaller reactors effectively placed on floats can be assembled more quickly, be put in a wider range of locations and respond more nimbly to fluctuating supply on power grids that increasingly rely on wind and solar.
The Russian design involves using submarine-style reactors loaded onto vessels, with a hatch near the bow to plug them into local electrical grids. The reactors will generate a combined 70 megawatts of electricity, or enough to power about 70,000 typical American homes. Rosatom plans to serially produce such floating nuclear plants, and is exploring various business plans, including retaining ownership of the reactors while selling the electricity they generate.

For the full story, see:
Andrew E. Kramer. “Drifting toward the Future.” The New York Times (Monday, Aug. 27, 2018): B1 & B5.
(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 26, 2018, and has the title “The Nuclear Power Plant of the Future May Be Floating Near Russia.” The online version says that the title of the New York edition version was “Rocking the Nuclear Boat.”)

“Renewables Are Not the Answer”

(p.B1) . . . : Global carbon-dioxide emissions have stopped rising. Coal use in China may have peaked. The price of wind turbines and solar panels is plummeting, putting renewable energy within the reach of meager budgets in the developing world.
And yet as climate diplomats gather this week in Bonn, Germany, for the 23rd Conference of the Parties under the auspices of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, I would like to point their attention to a different, perhaps gloomier statistic: the world’s carbon intensity of energy.
(p. B2) The term refers to a measure of the amount of CO2 spewed into the air for each unit of energy consumed. It offers some bad news: It has not budged since that chilly autumn day in Kyoto 20 years ago. Even among the highly industrialized nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the carbon intensity of energy has declined by a paltry 4 percent since then, according to the International Energy Agency.
This statistic, alone, puts a big question mark over the strategies deployed around the world to replace fossil energy. In a nutshell:
. . .
The most worrisome aspect about the all-out push for a future powered by renewables has to do with cost: The price of turbines and solar panels may be falling, but the cost of integrating these intermittent sources of energy — on when the wind blows and the sun shines; off when they don’t — is not. This alone will sharply curtail the climate benefits of renewable power.
Integrating renewable sources requires vast investments in electricity transmission — to move power from intermittently windy and sunny places to places where power is consumed. It requires maintaining a backstop of idle plants that burn fossil fuel, for the times when there is no wind or sun to be had. It requires investing in power-storage systems at a large scale.

For the full commentary, see:
EDUARDO PORTER. “Why Slashing Nuclear Power May Backfire.” The New York Times (Weds., NOV. 8, 2017): B1-B2.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date NOV. 7, 2017, and has the title “Wind and Solar Power Advance, but Carbon Refuses to Retreat.”)

“The Ideological Insistence on Renewables and an Irrational Fear of Nuclear Power”

(p. A25) Berkeley, Calif. — CALIFORNIA has a reputation as a leader in battling climate change, and so when Pacific Gas & Electric and environmental groups announced a plan last week to close the state’s last nuclear plant, Diablo Canyon, and replace much of the electricity it generates with power from renewable resources, the deal was widely applauded.
It shouldn’t have been. If the proposal is approved by the state’s Public Utilities Commission, California’s carbon dioxide emissions will either increase or decline far less than if Diablo Canyon’s two reactors, which generated about 9 percent of the state’s electricity last year, remained in operation. If this deal goes through, California will become a model of how not to deal with climate change.
. . .
Nearly every time a nuclear plant has been closed, its energy production has been replaced almost entirely with fossil fuels, including in California. In 2012, when the San Onofre nuclear plant closed, natural gas became the main replacement power source, creating emissions of carbon dioxide equivalent to putting two million cars on the road.
. . .
Even if by some miracle California did manage to replace 100 percent of Diablo Canyon’s output with renewables, why would a state ostensibly concerned with climate change turn away from its largest single source of clean energy? The answer, as is perhaps obvious, is the ideological insistence on renewables and an irrational fear of nuclear power.
The only countries that have successfully moved from fossil fuels to low-carbon power have done so with the help of nuclear energy. And the backlash against antinuclear policies is growing. Increasingly, scientists and conservationists in the United States are speaking out in defense of nuclear power.
If California indeed closes Diablo Canyon, emissions will either rise or fail to fall as quickly as they could, and the antinuclear agenda will be exposed as anathema to climate protection.

For the full commentary, see:
MICHAEL SHELLENBERGER. “How Not to Deal With Climate Change.” The New York Times (Thurs., June 30, 2016): A25.
(Note: ellipses added.)