Criticism: Nuclear Fission is Incredibily Underpowered

I know nuclear power is a bit of a hot button issue for many folks, but the science behind is far less problematic. Nuclear Fission is the most effective carbon fighting technologly we have bar none. The fuel emits little to no carbon, while making MILLIONS of times more energy per unit of fuel. Even with all the infrastructure from start to finish, it’s 1/100th the carbon use for any other fuel.

Changes suggestion: Increase the range on enviromentalist impact, remove gdp effect (covered by others), oil use should be a range from +/- 20, co2 from +20 to -50, and tech is up to +0.05 starting from the middle.

Nuclear fission is not “the most effective carbon fighting technology we have bar none.” There is widespread consensus among scientists, economists, politics, and the general public that renewables such as wind and solar are cheaper, faster to build, more reliable, and more resilient than nuclear. There have been numerous studies, including a recent comprehensive one from Wartsila, that have detailed pathways for completely carbon neutral power generation for every single country in the world. Not a single one includes the need for nuclear. It can all be achieved through a combination of renewables (wind, solar, hydro, bio, and others), storage capacity, grid interconnectivity, and hydrogen and other flexible power-to-X technologies. We have the technology for all of this as of 2020 - all we need now is the political and societal will to implement them. Moving towards nuclear fission is the wrong direction and the wrong priority for us all.

Nuclear fusion, on the other hand, has a much more promising outlook, and there is very interesting and promising research being done in that field. It should be strengthened as it will likely be required to sate humanity’s long term energy requirements.

So no, I would have to disagree that nuclear fission is “incredibly underpowered.”

(Part 1) Yeah, I’m sorry that’s incredibly anti-science and… just wrong.

Let’s break it down:

-Wind is pretty solid on the economics and utility but it’s severely location dependent. You need places of consistent wind flow that is enough to make power but not enough to rip the blades off. That’s a few places (The Great Plains, Southern Argentina, Somalia, Denmark, and a few small spattering around) but it’s nowhere near enough. Sure, you can transmit, but it starts getting really costly and inefficient over 400 miles.

-Solar is sadly the nowhere near as good as what people think it is. First, it’s incredibly carbon intensive to make. Secondly, it also location dependent as you need a location that gets enough sun to make the power to offset the costs and carbon. Third and most importantly, you need to store the energy. Peak power supply from solar is from 11am-3pm for most areas, while peak consumption is from 6-9pm. There isn’t enough lithium on the planet to store enough energy to power a major metro area for a night (and lithium mining is one of the most ecologically damaging activities we have.) It would require a doubling of efficiency to match natual gas and wind economically (good luck), and that’s without a quantum leap in battery technology to make it useful outside of combatting electricity use from air conditioners.

Here is a map of effective locations for both wind and solar: https://zeihan.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/13-globalwindsolarpotential-cutaways-vi-01-scaled.jpg

Here are the costs of electricity generation full cycle: https://scontent.find1-1.fna.fbcdn.net/v/t1.0-9/35148118_485975328489732_6926080054124347392_o.jpg?_nc_cat=104&_nc_sid=cdbe9c&_nc_ohc=sumDNWexor0AX_1KhKb&_nc_ht=scontent.find1-1.fna&oh=039d4f24f86262683223e8f3e9f30b86&oe=5FAD6A20

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(Part 2) -Fusion is not even remotely an option. We have been chasing that car since the 50s and we are no closer to getting it now than we were then, here’s why: Fusion events only happen in nature two different ways. First, being a Nova event (where gravity shoves the material together to the point where it becomes critical.) Second, being a stellar core (where gravity forces material close enough together that quantum tunneling get it the rest of the way there.) That reaction is actually so small and slow, that it only makes ~276.5 watts per cubic meter (search core of the sun.)

Making either of these viable on the surface of a planet is not realistic. First requires forcing material to criticality, which triggers a nova event (on earth we have those, they are called thermonuclear weapons.) So far, every experiment to make fusion outside of using fission nuclear bombs, requires far more energy than the reaction makes or releases so much that it is in no way containable. The second requires building a Dyson Sphere.

If you have any questions about wind or solar I would start you with this thread and ask you to look into the op’s work: https://twitter.com/peterzeihan/status/1074644971720986624

If you have any questions on how nuclear fission is awesome and the best way forward, get in contact with this guy. If he can’t answer a question, he is connected to someone can: https://twitter.com/KarlAlexPauls

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Vaguely related game mechanics thought: Democracy 4 doesn’t really model technological development, but you could kind of produce its effect with events that create non-decaying grudges. It could be cool to represent some of the effects of the International Fusion Research Project as discrete technological breakthroughs instead of as just smooth increases to EnergyEfficiency and decreases to OilDemand.

(e: At least in a mod, anyway; I can see why you wouldn’t want that in the base game, without a good way to represent the effect to the player)

It’s interesting that you accuse me of “anti-science” when you’re peddling debunked myths about renewables and outdated information in your arguments.

  1. Wind is indeed location dependent, but not nearly as stringent as you might think. There are plenty of places where wind is extremely viable, despite it not being “ideal” as the map you show claims. The legend does specify, but I suspect that map shows places where the capacity factor for renewables is very high - likely over 80%. However, it is not necessary to have such a high capacity factor for projects to be viable - most existing sources of energy have capacity factors of 40%-60%, yet are still fully operational. Therefore, if we expanded that map to show places where that capacity factor for renewables was above, say, 50% instead of 80%, that map would be drastically different. The part of Canada where I live for example, is shown on your map as having almost no viability at all for renewables, yet we have some major wind and solar projects underway that will lead to some of the highest growth in renewable generation capacity in North America - and that is under a government that has not been very supportive of the industry. As for transmission, that is nonsense. Europe has an interconnected transmission network that operates over thousands of kilometers, which is one of its strongest assets in terms of helping expand renewable generation and easing fluctuations in generation. It will certainly need upgrading over the next decade or two, but it is neither “inefficient” nor unviable. I will also add that the map you shared does not show the vast potential for offshore wind energy and floating wind and solar plants, of which many countries are already utilizing.

  2. What I said above regarding capacity factors applies to solar as well, which massively increases the viable area that is purportedly shown in your map. That solar “is incredibly carbon intensive to make” has already been debunked many, many times. Study after study shows that solar has comparable lifetime emissions to wind and nuclear, which have the lowest lifetime emissions of any generation solutions. Here is an outdated study on the matter, which does not take into account the fact that emissions from PV manufacturing have fallen considerably in just 3 years:

  1. Battery technology is not the only way to store energy for consumption during night time. Gravity-assisted storage, hydro-based storage options, and power-to-X technology will play a large role in energy storage. Keep in mind that wind energy continues to generate throughout the night. And even when considering battery power, keep in mind that we already have the technology to build low-lithium batteries, and that does not even take into account promising solid-state batteries that will likely be commercialized in the next decade.

The source you published on the costs of electricity generation is wildly outdated. Keep in mind that the cost of solar has gone down dramatically over the past 2 decades, and even more so in the past two years. Here is what the International Energy Agency had to say in a study published yesterday:

As for fusion, I agree that it is a moonshot, and it will likely take decades before the technology can be viable and commercialized for electricity generation. That’s why I specifically said, in my post, that it is a long-term solution. But there have already been some important realizations in the field, specifically at ITER, where fusion has been successfully demonstrated while taking in less energy than is produced. There are a lot of hurdles to overcome, but if fusion ever becomes viable, it will be a cheap, clean, and radioactive waste-free source of nuclear energy.

Renewables are cheaper to produce, safer to operate, easier to maintain, much faster to build, require less capital investment, produce no radioactive waste, and can vastly decentralize energy generation, which is important for overall grid resilience. The only upside to nuclear is low lifetime emissions, but those emissions are matched by renewables, and will likely be overtaken by them this decade. Therefore, from a competitive point of view, nuclear has basically nothing going for it anymore. It is no wonder that investment in nuclear energy has fallen to record lows in recent years.

These studies are sourced from forecasts for 2040 and 2050…

As far as my data, none of it is older than 2018. I have nothing more to add to this conversation…

Quite typical of nuclear advocates to run away from the conversation when presented with the sheer amount of arguments against nuclear power.

The amount is not the issue, it’s the quality :joy:

As a point there, large scale batteries aren’t lithium based. They generally are pumped water reservoirs or another way of storing energy as gravitational potential instead of chemically.

And on Fusion, the JET project in the UK and hopefully ITER should continue the successes in 2035. It has shown artificial fusion is possible and there are good signs for it being a net gain in terms of power.

That’s actually the point… Battery tech is so bad and so expensive that the best means we for storing power is building artifical lakes, pumping water in with excess power, and making power later with hydro. Now think about how bad that actually is. It takes up vasts amounts of land, is expensive as hell, and the power goes through 5 form changes.

I would put my last dollar on betting JET and ITER don’t see any major success, for the reasons provided above.

Well, the JET project has already had successes as a testbed, its shutting down end of this year due to Brexit. ITER is meant to be its successor.

And pumped storage doesn’t take up much useful land, its generally in tall rocky areas. There are at least 616,000 potential sites located. Some may not be the best but only a fraction is needed.

And the battery tech isnt an issue. Its not what its meant for. We design batteries to be small and high energy density. This makes them expensive and thats where most of the research is going. Not surprising we don’t have cheap large scale chemical batteries. Especially when another method is cheaper and works.

AFAIK there actually are pretty decent batteries being worked on for the purpose of house elecricity storing. It’s a bit of a trade-off but usually they go with being less energy dense (like, it’s not gonna work for everybody, but if you have a decently sized garden, you could have a shed that’s essentially a battery) but remaining safe and being good at handling variable charging/discharging and having a very long lifespan while being affordable.

I think I heard of a water and iron based battery that accomplishes these things. That was years ago though. No doubt there have been tons of other ideas floating around.

It’s basically impossible to fulfill all of the above-mentioned criteria at once (if somebody makes it work, they’ll no doubt make a huge fortune), but if you can sacrifice a few of these criteria:

  • energy density
  • conversion efficiency (either way - how much electricity you pump in actually gets stored and can be gotten out again)
  • (dis)charging speed
  • ability to cope with (dis)charging variability
  • lifetime / efficiency falloff
  • reliability (temperature dependence, a requirement to remain relatively stably fixed in place)
  • safety (hopefully it won’t randomly catch fire)
  • environmental friendliness (during material gathering (mining), production, life, and afterwards(recycling? etc.))
  • price
  • weight

You can probably do a whole lot better on everything else.
So most likely, different settings will (and already do) see very different kinds of batteries.

I can’t speak to the specific impacts in game as I don’t own it at the moment but I’ve been around the topic of power generation enough to find these arguments pretty familiar.

  1. Wind/Solar are intermittent power sources that lacking sufficient storage ( which nobody currently deploys ) drives the price of power up as demand and supply get mismatched. See German power prices vs France for reference. The upside is that in G7 countries at least they’re less capital intensive then any of the dispatchable non-emitting power sources. The intermittent downsides will increase rapidly as penetration of the grid goes on without sufficient storage.

  2. Nuclear is very expensive in capital terms in the G7, outside of that you can find some vendors and situations that catch up with solar in terms of capital cost ( Indian VVERs vs Pavagada ) once you adjust for annual output. Downside would be high cost to implement the policy and long time to get anything going with the fastest builds being in the 6 year area. While this is on average as fast as solar the ability of wind/solar to complete smaller projects leaves them with a lot less lag time. Big investment with a long ‘tail’ of impact and a long ramp up seems suitable.

  3. Load shifting storage is in it’s infancy at best, for the most part it exists right now as a way to ensure grid stability so there’s time for dispatchable sources to spin up so you can reduce the amount of spinning reserve kept up.

  4. The future of nuclear is very very likely to remain fission, if we’re considering fusion as a reasonable possibility then a plethora of novel fission reactor designs are more likely still. While the individual designs probably aren’t important for the game the goals of reducing waste, improving safety and reducing capital costs should probably be considered especially if there’s much in the way of tech development allowing players who invest in nuclear ( or battery tech for that matter ) to make certain policy choices more powerful and less costly over time.

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