Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Nuclear power and growth

Jason Crawford's "Roots of Progress" blog on what happened to nuclear power is an important read for many reasons, among them economic growth, climate, and regulation. It's a review of Why Nuclear Power Has Been a Flop by Jack Devanney which goes on my must-read list. 

Perhaps the important economic question of our time is this: Is growth over? Are we running out of ideas? Or is our decades-long growth slowdown the result of an increasingly sclerotic, over-regulated, crony-capitalist rent-seeking political system? Nuclear power offers an interesting case study. 

Through the 1950s and ‘60s, costs were declining rapidly. A law of economics says that costs in an industry tend to follow a power law as a function of production volume: that is, every time production doubles, costs fall by a constant percent (typically 10 to 25%). This function is called the experience curve or the learning curve. Nuclear followed the learning curve up until about 1970, when it inverted and costs started rising:



Plotted over time, with a linear y-axis, [note mulitplicative scale in the last graph] the effect is even more dramatic. Devanney calls it the “plume,” as US nuclear constructions costs skyrocketed upwards


 

Read carefully. US construction costs exploded in the 1970s. South Korean construction costs did not. The blue points do not continue because the US simply stopped building nuclear power plants, not because we solved the cost disease. 

This chart also shows that South Korea and India were still building cheaply into the 2000s. Elsewhere in the text, Devanney mentions that Korea, as late as 2013, was able to build for about $2.50/W.

The standard story about nuclear costs is that radiation is dangerous, and therefore safety is expensive. The book argues that this is wrong: nuclear can be made safe and cheap. It should be 3 c/kWh—cheaper than coal.

The post goes on about the safety issue, which you should read but I won't summarize. 

The point for us: Here is a clear case of an end of growth. We know the cause. We did not run out of ideas. Regulation killed this industry. 

 the NRC approval process now takes several years and costs literally hundreds of millions of dollars.

Why? Among other causes, Crawford lists beautiful parables of incentives gone wrong (Second economic lesson for today.)  

Incentive 1: Costs shall never decrease

Excessive concern about low levels of radiation led to a regulatory standard known as ALARA: As Low As Reasonably Achievable. What defines “reasonable”? It is an ever-tightening standard. As long as the costs of nuclear plant construction and operation are in the ballpark of other modes of power, then they are reasonable.

This might seem like a sensible approach, until you realize that it eliminates, by definition, any chance for nuclear power to be cheaper than its competition. Nuclear can‘t even innovate its way out of this predicament: under ALARA, any technology, any operational improvement, anything that reduces costs, simply gives the regulator more room and more excuse to push for more stringent safety requirements, until the cost once again rises to make nuclear just a bit more expensive than everything else. Actually, it‘s worse than that: it essentially says that if nuclear becomes cheap, then the regulators have not done their job.

He offers several lovely anecdotes. A key, when the general energy price goes up, regulators demand more "safety" expense, but when the general energy price goes down, they obviously don't ratchet down. That's how Nuclear ended up being more expensive. or, 

The new rules would be imposed on plants already under construction. A 1974 study by the General Accountability Office of the Sequoyah plant documented 23 changes “where a structure or component had to be torn out and rebuilt or added because of required changes." The Sequoyah plant began construction in 1968, with a scheduled completion date of 1973 at a cost of $300 million. It actually went into operation in 1981 and cost $1700 million. This was a typical experience.

Incentive 2, 3: CYA and pay for delay

The individuals who work at NRC are not anti-nuclear. They are strongly pro-nuclear—that‘s why they went to work for a nuclear agency in the first place. But they are captive to institutional logic and to their incentive structure.

The NRC does not have a mandate to increase nuclear power, nor any goals based on its growth. They get no credit for approving new plants. But they do own any problems. For the regulator, there‘s no upside, only downside. No wonder they delay.

Further, the NRC does not benefit when power plants come online. Their budget does not increase proportional to gigawatts generated. Instead, the nuclear companies themselves pay the NRC for the time they spend reviewing applications, at something close to $300 an hour. This creates a perverse incentive: the more overhead, the more delays, the more revenue for the agency.

There's much more here about how it went wrong.  

It is possible to forget. It is possible to kill technical progress and growth. 

How will it get fixed?

At the end of the day, though, what is needed is not a few reforms, but “metanoiete”: a deep repentance, a change to the industry‘s entire way of thinking. Devanney is not optimistic that this will happen in the US or any wealthy country; they‘re too comfortable and too able to fund fantasies of “100% renewables.”

This goes too easy. Not only the US, but now the alphabet soup of international agencies is trying to foist these fantasies on poor countries.  

Instead, he thinks the best prospect for nuclear is a poor country with a strong need for cheap, clean power. (I assume that‘s why his company, ThorCon, is building its thorium-fueled molten salt reactor in Indonesia.)

Nuclear and carbon

The post starts with one obvious statement, but one that bears repeating: If we are going to de-carbonize the economy -- which means a vast increase in electricity -- and also allow people around the globe to escape poverty, only nuclear power can do it. 



"Nuclear power is ..a scalable source of dispatchable (i.e., on-demand), virtually emissions-free energy. It takes up very little land, consumes very little fuel, and produces very little waste. It‘s the technology the world needs to solve both energy poverty and climate change."

Final thought 

I wonder as each anniversary comes up how we should remember the costs and benefits of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This is usually presented as the horror of what the bombs did to civilian Japanese, vs. saving the larger horror of a long war, incendiary raids by fleets of B29s, and innovation of the home islands. 

But let us indulge in a little counterfactual history. Had we not seen what nuclear bombs can do, it is likely our economy would enjoy widespread cheap nuclear power. There would be no global warming, climate change. And economic growth would have been a great deal larger, especially in poor countries. Of course, had we not seen the horror of two small nuclear bombs, the US and Soviet Union would quite likely have at some point used much larger bombs, a thousand-fold greater horror. 

If you want to say obvious things about safety and proliferation, the possibilities of new designs, read the post or the book first. 

 

47 comments:

  1. But what about Three Mile Island an older person will ask and a younger person: But Chernobyl; did you not see the HBO? series?

    France hardly an unregulated country has nuclear power plants generating much of its energy needs i believe; and moreover the construction, safeguards, etc. of nuclear power plants are today to the old ones like a modern automobile is to one of very past generations.
    Too many lawyers in DC who just want to regulate.

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    1. I find leadership to be the main problem. There were massive No-Nukes demonstrations in Europe in the 80's.
      The governments installed them anyway! That is what is needed today.

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  2. "The post starts with one obvious statement, but one that bears repeating: If we are going to de-carbonize the economy -- which means a vast increase in electricity -- and also allow people around the globe to escape poverty, only nuclear power can do it. "

    This goes too far, no? Surely you can at least hypothetically conceptualize a scenario where renewable energy becomes cheap and ubiquitous enough to achieve decarbonization without undue burden. I'm sure you've seen the recent news about current trends in solar power cost, with a literal order of magnitude reduction of cost in just 10 years: https://ourworldindata.org/cheap-renewables-growth
    It seems entirely possible that that trend will continue sufficiently to achieve these goals, even without nuclear power.

    Could nuclear energy be an important component in a decarbonized, prosperous future? Sure! But if it gets left behind, humanity is not doomed. To state otherwise is to be irrationally pessimistic.

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    1. Sol,ar power will never solve the sunset problem. And winds are inconstant too. Ask the people in Texas how much good renewables can do in a pinch.

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    2. What happens at night? And don't say batteries because if you do the math the cost and the amount of land to house the batteries is enormous.

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    3. "Surely you can at least hypothetically conceptualize a scenario where renewable energy becomes cheap and ubiquitous enough to achieve decarbonization without undue burden."

      The point is NOT that we shouldn't focus on renewables as a stand-alone solution, but rather to force people to confront the inherent choice: for renewables to have a chance to work as a stand-alone solution in even the best case scenarios, either (1) people in Africa/India/Asia cannot be allowed to consume as much energy as people in North America & Europe, or (2) the dire "existential threat" projections must turn out to be wildly wrong.

      Moderates don't like that choice, and are therefore drawn to "third path" solutions like nuclear, fracking, hydro power, etc. But really any choice is fine -- there are no easy answers here -- so long as people ACKNOWLEDGE the choice they are making. Just pretending renewables can work if we just believe hard enough is disingenuous.

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    4. "Solar power will never solve the sunset problem.
      And winds are inconstant too.
      Ask the people in Texas how much good renewables can do in a pinch."

      The problem isn't the source of energy (wind, solar, other renewables), the problem is how to store excess energy when it is available.

      The problem with Texas is that they do not want to be tied into the national electrical grid. That stems from the whole Enron scandal. If Texas had been tied in, they could have purchased power from the rest of the country while their gas fired power plants were down. Notice I said gas fired power plants (not wind turbines, or solar arrays).

      The Restauranteur,

      "What happens at night? And don't say batteries because if you do the math the cost and the amount of land to house the batteries is enormous."

      See:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pumped-storage_hydroelectricity

      "Pumped storage is by far the largest-capacity form of grid energy storage available, and, as of 2020, the United States Department of Energy Global Energy Storage Database reports that PSH accounts for around 95% of all active tracked storage installations worldwide, with a total installed throughput capacity of over 181 GW, of which about 29 GW are in the United States, and a total installed storage capacity of over 1.6 TWh, of which about 250 GWh are in the United States."

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    7. Batteries, but no one asks where and when do you get the power to recharge them ? Simple double or tripple the number of turbines and solar panels just for recharging work. Duh !

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  3. And here we thought while Economics was born during the Rational Enlightenment, here is a clear example of irrationality. I can only surmise the regulatory maze is designed to help the carbon energy industry. Yes, there are externalities with both but at some point the hope is that technology, fused with some wisdom, will solve the negative externalities problem with nuclear. Japan had issues with that plant I cannot remember in the last decade - the waste had polluted ocean waters to an extent that the fishing industry in that part of the world has suffered greatly. Who wants to eat radioactive fish?

    I think as technology gets better we can use nuclear as a stepping stone to better energy alternatives.

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  4. This is a rather optimistic view for the blog called "Grumpy Economist"

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  5. Sounds like the issue of our age isn't global warming or nuclear power, but our particular kind of regulatory state.

    The fact that France gets most of its electricity from nuclear power suggests that executive agencies or regulations in and of themselves aren't the issue. The issue is whether agencies have a goal and are held accountable. France wanted nuclear power and got nuclear power. What do we want? By revealed preference, we want lots of well-paying jobs for lawyers.

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  6. downunder Nuke power is a no go because it takes way too long to build and is way too expensive. It is over 3 times the cost of renewables.

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    1. At night? When the wind dies down?

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    2. Batteries, Pump-Storage, Power-to-Gas. In a big area it is increasingly unlikely that it is calm everywhere.
      Take a look at "Radical transformation pathway towards sustainable electricity via evolutionary steps"

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  7. The regulatory story is a pale reflection of the political story. The political story is that the "progressive" left has made opposition to nuclear energy technology an article of faith. (I can speculate as to why they did it, but I have no firm evidence to support those speculations.)

    The anti-nuclear faith is so important to the left that, even though they claim to believe that the continued use of fossil fuels is an "existential threat" to mankind, they will not consider nuclear power to be part of their proposed solution.

    Prophet of climate doom, James Hansen, late of NASA was labeled a "denier" by other climate believers for advocating use of nuclear power to replace fossil fuel electricity generation.

    I think that if the "climate change" story were true, no rational person could do anything but support the dramatic and rapid expansion of nuclear power. The leftist opposition nuclear power means that they are not rational or do not believe the "climate change" story.

    I will accept any policy proposal intended to limit fossil fuel use without a pro nuclear policy. Another position is simply irrational.

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    1. If someone really believed that climate change poses such an existential threat that radical changes must be made within a very short time frame, they would probably be telling every government in the world to risk local catastrophes by building nuclear power plants. If they are disposed to impoverish the world several times over, surely obscenely costly and absurdly secure nuclear power plants must be in the ballpark of what would be justified by its benefits.

      You'd think that, but they do respond to mentions of nuclear energy as do religious zealots.

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  8. There is something to be said for prudence with nuclear energy and it isn't exactly straight-forward to think about cost-benefit analysis in this context. It's one of those cases where you're looking at unbelievably small odds of a horrible catastrophe. Still, the regulatory environment you describe above cannot be rationalized as a response to a difficult problem.

    It just sounds like lawmakers found a way to ban nuclear power plants without having to pass legislation that makes this explicit.

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    1. Stephane,

      "It's one of those cases where you're looking at unbelievably small odds of a horrible catastrophe."

      You are correct, it's not the fact that people may die from an accident, it's that nuclear accidents tend to be large scale ones. There is also a bit of sensationalism that is given to any form of large scale tragedy.

      I think part of the problem is that economies of scale that were applied to coal fired and natural gas power plants (bigger is more efficient) are also applied to nuclear power plants when they may not be entirely appropriate given that a significant failure at a large nuclear plant carries minute odds of a large scale catastrophe.

      https://www.westinghousenuclear.com/new-plants/evinci-micro-reactor/gclid/cjwkcajwmv-dbhameiwa7xyrd01_8asawz6vtcnypmcp_4wgj7n9-cpmgosnhiwvzmxsshahhypi4bocnumqavd_bwe

      With micro-nuclear plants, there is a larger probability that one power plant out of a hundred might fail, but the environmental effects of that one failure are significantly smaller than a failure of a single larger power plant. Yes, you lose some efficiency with a bunch of smaller plants, but you mitigate the potential for large scale catastrophe.

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    2. @Frestly you make a great point that the cancer (from radioactive heavy metals) and respiratory diseases caused by coal plants are "out of sight out of mind" whereas our government spent 50 years telling us that deadly radiation would fall from the skies at any time.

      We'd have a different view of things if "cold war nuclear education" had discussed exactly how people live in Hiroshima and Nagasaki today and included practical steps about "sweeping up fallout and keeping water on hand" instead of pretending that you'd survive a nuke under your desk.

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  9. May I ask why either nuclear (or renewables for that matter) would actually decarbonize the economy? I understand that it would add to our total production of energy, but I don't follow how that would necessarily lead to decarbonization.

    Fossil fuels do not seem to me to be in any danger of becoming 'useless' historical curiosities that with all our ingenuity we can no longer find any productive purpose for. The idea that nuclear/renewables can somehow 'replace' carbon fuels seems to assume some maximum amount of energy after which we will not be able to put any more to use. Are there any reasons to believe such a thing?

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    1. I've never once heard an argument that anything except a much cheaper energy solution would decarbonize the economy, which is why you often read about a carbon tax (especially one funding public carbon sequestration projects) as being the only effective tool.

      Realistically we as humans are going to scale up every mode of energy production at the same time, which means we'll need double or triple the amount of energy later to recapture the carbon we didn't avoid burning along the way.

      This type of discussion also ignores slash and burn practices, since trees are nature's carbon sequestration system.

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  10. Spitballing is easy but it accomplishes nothing concrete. All the processes you mention are decades away from implementation and probably will not work as currently envisioned. Nuclear is something that can be done today cheaply and safely. I looked at your article and it was all modeling and theories and nothing concrete. We know how well that works on climate science.

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    1. Sure, some of the best non proliferation designs (gen 4, gen 5) are 10-20 years away, but there's no reason the US couldn't build a bunch of passive safety (gen 3) plants within 5 years if the NRC were funded exclusively based on their kilowatt generation.

      Your argument has been made for 70 years, that we can't build better plants because we haven't seen better plants built yet, but in the information age it's a weak premise.

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  12. Excellent post. Thank you. We need more exposures of the facts like this.

    Thank you for referencing and and using a figure from my 2017 paper and from Lovering, Yip and Nordhaus (2016).

    Also, for making the (correct) point that nuclear power is safe. It is actually by far the safest way to generate electricity, and always has been since the first power reactor went online in 1953.

    Also absolutely correct that “Regulation killed this industry.”
    And about ALARA, which should be changed to AHARS (As High As Reasonably Safe)

    You are correct that only nuclear can make a major contribution to decarbonising. But that is not a reason to support nuclear power because global warming and increasing CO2 concentrations are massively beneficial for the world economy and the biosphere, not harmful. The main reasons to support nuclear are that is is by far the safest way to generate electricity, it is potentially the cheapest way to generate electricity by far, and it has effectively unlimited fuel availability (10,000 to 100,000 years of uranium and thorium resource available).

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    1. The pervasive issue is one of communicating safety. Nuclear power like flying feels super risky but is actually super safe. Being in a car feels super safe but is actually the #1 cause of death between 18-40.

      Why do we trust new airlines but not new nuclear plants? It probably has to do with monopolies -- airlines wouldn't be around if their PR was as bad as the nuclear industry, but most nuclear projects are monopoly contracts using a private-public partnership.

      We should also encourage the public to think about the problem in a different way. If tomorrow we found 100x our current supplies of both coal and thorium, we could build unlimited power plants with either. After all, we can agree future generations will need more energy than we do, especially around the world.

      In the coal world, we will have hundreds of thousands more cases of asthma, COPD, and cancer, along with the existential threats of global warming and limited coal supply.

      In the thorium world, we have the potential for a small number of plant employees to be exposed to a small dose of radiation that will likely be harmless. The passive safety of the plant eliminates the risk of a meltdown. Which do you choose?

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  13. Thank you for this post, I am an economist, silent reader of your blog. I just want to mention that for not specified reasons, facebook is restricting me from sharing any post of this blog

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    1. The great Hoover web team tried, reports

      "I tried posting a link from the Grumpy blog and your John Cochrane site on Facebook and had no issues. I also had a few members of my team try and they had no issues. I tested using the Facebook share widget that you have at the bottom of each post as well as just posting the link in my status and had no issues – screenshots attached.

      I think your use may have some issue with their browser or Facebook profile."

      Let me know if still not working, or specifics. I do want to know if I get blocked by the Tech Titans.

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  14. Great overview of a great blog post reviewing a great book. It should be pretty clear to anyone capable of understanding basic science that a passive safety reactor (e.g. Thorium molten salt or other Gen 3, Gen 4, or Gen 5 designs) simply cannot experience the catastrophic failures of Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, and Fukushima.

    As the HBO show Chernobyl pointed out, that reactor design was fundamentally unsafe but didn't blow up any other reactors (more detail is contained in the book the show was based on). Indeed, even the specific accident almost certainly wouldn't have happened (despite the "scram" off button being an "on" button) if they hadn't decided to run the test with no preparation in the middle of the night after a shift change.

    But the fundamental design shift in reactor design to passive safety without the possibility of a meltdown hasn't been broadly highlighted.

    It seems clear from the current discussion that there's a catch-22 of regulation preventing the building of new reactors that would prove the new technologies that would reduce regulation.

    The analogy to aviation is spot-on. In the US, we either need those specific changes to the NRC, or we're just going to hemorrhage money on energy until we see every other country in the world generating carbon-free energy for cheap.

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    1. No deaths due to radiation or radioactive contamination from Three Mile Island of Fukushima. Around 60 to 70 known deaths from radiation or radioactive contamination from Chernobyl, and perhaps 100 to 200 others that have not been identified. All the other deaths from Chernobyl and Fukushima were due to the upheaval in peoples lives caused by the forced evacuations.

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    2. Peter,

      "No deaths due to radiation or radioactive contamination from Three Mile Island of Fukushima. Around 60 to 70 known deaths from radiation or radioactive contamination from Chernobyl, and perhaps 100 to 200 others that have not been identified."

      It's not just the human deaths that occurred immediately after the explosion.

      "The Exclusion Zone covers an area of approximately 2,600 km2 (1,000 sq mi) in Ukraine immediately surrounding the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant where radioactive contamination from nuclear fallout is highest and public access and inhabitation are restricted."

      The entire state of Delaware is only about 2500 square miles in size. Imagine having to declare half a state totally uninhabitable for the next 20,000 years.

      Or worse, the entirety of New York City (Manhattan, Bronx, Long Island, Brooklyn, etc.) is only 302 square miles. Imagine trying to tell about 8.4 million people that they have to abandon everything.

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    3. Definitely not. There is no valid reason to declare areas uninhabitable after major nuclear accidents.

      Thomas, P.; May, J. Coping after a big nuclear accident. Process Safety and Environmental Protection 2017, 112, 1-3. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psep.2017.09.013

      Thomas, P.J. Quantitative guidance on how best to respond to a big nuclear accident. Process Safety and Environmental Protection 2017, 112, 4-15. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psep.2017.07.026

      Waddington, I.; Thomas, P.; Taylor, R.; Vaughan, G. J-value assessment of relocation measures following the nuclear power plant accidents at Chernobyl and Fukushima Daiichi. Process Safety and Environmental Protection 2017, 112, 16-49.
      https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psep.2017.03.012

      Waddington, I.; Thomas, P.; Taylor, R.; Vaughan, G. J-value assessment of remediation measures following the Chernobyl and Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accidents. Process Safety and Environmental Protection 2017, 112, 16-49.
      https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psep.2017.07.003

      Yumashev, D.; Johnson, P.; Thomas, P. Economically optimal strategies for medium-term recovery after a major nuclear reactor accident. Process Safety and Environmental Protection 2017, 112, 63-76. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psep.2017.08.022

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    4. 1.2 Chernobyl Accident 1986
      (Updated April 2020)

      • The Chernobyl accident in 1986 was the result of a flawed reactor design that was operated with inadequately trained personnel.

      • The resulting steam explosion and fires released at least 5% of the radioactive reactor core into the environment, with the deposition of radioactive materials in many parts of Europe.

      • Two Chernobyl plant workers died due to the explosion on the night of the accident, and a further 28 people died within a few weeks as a result of acute radiation syndrome.

      • The United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation has concluded that, apart from some 6500 thyroid cancers (resulting in 15 fatalities), “there is no evidence of a major public health impact attributable to radiation exposure 20 years after the accident.”

      • Some 350,000 people were evacuated as a result of the accident, but resettlement of areas from which people were relocated is ongoing.

      The conclusions of this 2005 Chernobyl Forum study (revised version published 2006) are in line with earlier expert studies, notably the UNSCEAR 2000 report which said that “apart from this [thyroid cancer] increase, there is no evidence of a major public health impact attributable to radiation exposure 14 years after the accident. There is no scientific evidence of increases in overall cancer incidence or mortality or in non-malignant disorders that could be related to radiation exposure.” There is little evidence of any increase in leukaemia, even among clean-up workers where it might be most expected. Radiation-induced leukemia has a latency period of 5-7 years, so any potential leukemia cases due to the accident would already have developed. A low number of the clean-up workers, who received the highest doses, may have a slightly increased risk of developing solid cancers in the long term. To date, however, there is no evidence of any such cancers having developed. Apart from these, the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) said: “The great majority of the population is not likely to experience serious health consequences as a result of radiation from the Chernobyl accident. Many other health problems have been noted in the populations that are not related to radiation exposure.”

      Source: https://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/safety-and-security/safety-of-plants/chernobyl-accident.aspx

      Video: ‘Experts talk about the health effects of Chernobyl’ https://youtu.be/PZUvoeIArDM

      Deaths
      2 during the explosion
      28 in the 30 days following the accident
      15 due to thyroid cancers since the accident
      19 more emergency workers died 1987–2004
      64 total

      References

      WHO – ‘Health Effects of the Chernobyl Accident and Special Health Care Programmes – Report of the UN Chernobyl Forum Expert Group “Health”
      https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/9241594179
      https://www.who.int/ionizing_radiation/chernobyl/who_chernobyl_report_2006.pdf

      WHO – 1986-2016: CHERNOBYL at 30 https://www.who.int/publications/m/item/1986-2016-chernobyl-at-30

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    6. Peter,

      "Definitely not. There is no valid reason to declare areas uninhabitable after major nuclear accidents."

      Seriously?!?! And next you are going to tell me there were no valid reasons to extinguish the burning nuclear fuel with sand and boron at Chernobyl and there are no valid reasons to encase the destroyed reactor with a concrete sarcophagus at Chernobyl?

      "The United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation has concluded that...there is no evidence of a major public health impact attributable to radiation exposure 20 years after the accident.”

      Because 350,000 people were evacuated? Because the destroyed reactor was encased in concrete? Because of everything that was done to mitigate the after effects of the explosion?

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    7. FRestly, I suggest you to study the five references on how to deal with a big nuclear accident I linked in my comment of 25 April, 10:00 pm and the recent WHO reports and World Nuclear Org report on the Chernobyl accident.

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    8. "passive safety reactor (e.g. Thorium molten salt or other Gen 3, Gen 4, or Gen 5 designs) simply cannot experience the catastrophic failures of Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, and Fukushima."

      Depending on the design and the specific type, you may be right that the wouldn't fail in the same way, but they can fail differently. Admiral Rickover wasn't a fan of sodium and I haven't seen anything to show he was wrong. Look at the first USS Seawolf, or Fermi 1.

      The best book to move someone's attitude closer to the airline model I think is " Atomic Accidents: A History of Nuclear Meltdowns and Disasters: From the Ozark Mountains to Fukushima" by James Mahaffey. It's a history of the unclassified atomic accidents, history, not anti-nuclear and it's very well written.

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    10. Unknown,

      An old engineer once told me, you can never make something completely idiot proof because God is always producing bigger idiots. Sounds about right to me.

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  15. Nuclear power is and always has been the safest way to generate electricity. In the USA and Europe electricity generation with coal causes 150,000 more deaths per TWh than nuclear, natural gas 40,000 more and wind 1,500 more.

    Nuclear could become the cheapest way to generate electricity. Were it not for the unwarranted fear of this technology that was generated by the anti-nuclear power protest movement starting in the 1960’s, nuclear power could now be around 10% of its current cost.

    The cost of nuclear power can be reduced by removing regulatory impediments. Internalising the externality costs of all energy technologies would further increase nuclear’s competitiveness and, therefore, its deployment rate and rate of cost reduction.

    The negative externalities of energy technologies can be largely internalised by taxing or subsidising them in proportion to their health impacts. The health impacts of electricity generation technologies can be internalised by either taxing technologies in proportion to their health impacts or subsidising those with lower impacts in proportion to the impacts of the technologies with the highest health impacts.

    If each technology was required to pay compensation for the annual cost of the deaths it causes in the US, the estimated amounts each would have to pay per MWh are:

    Technology US$/MWh
    Coal 144
    Oil 346
    Natural Gas 38
    Biofuel/biomass 115
    Solar (rooftop) 4.2
    Wind 1.4
    Hydro 0.048
    Nuclear 0.001

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    1. The figures in my comment of 24 April used the 2016 Value of a Statistical Life (VSL) for the USA. I've updated them using the 2020 VSL for the USA:

      Technology US$/MWh
      Coal 174
      Oil 418
      Natural Gas 46
      Biofuel/biomass 139
      Solar (rooftop) 5.1
      Wind 1.7
      Hydro 0.058
      Nuclear 0.001

      In the USA and Europe electricity generation with coal causes 150,000 more deaths per TWh than nuclear, natural gas 40,000 more and wind 1,500 more.

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  16. Pro nuclear articles from the last couple of days:

    Podcast 146: Michael Shellenberger on Nuclear Power, Progressive Hypocrisy on Energy Policy, and His New book, ‘Apocalypse Never’

    https://quillette.com/2021/04/23/podcast-146-michael-shellenberger-on-the-case-for-nuclear-power-progressive-hypocrisy-on-energy-policy-and-his-new-book-apocalypse-never/

    Quillette founder Claire Lehmann talks to author and activist Michael Shellenberger about how environmental alarmism and ideological blind spots often prevent us from having a rational discussion about the best way to address climate change while growing national economies.

    "Climatists for Nukes" By Robert Zubrin | April 24, 2021 https://www.nationalreview.com/2021/04/book-review-the-dark-horse-climatists-for-nukes/

    "The Dark Horse: Nuclear Power and Climate Change, by Finnish writers Rauli Partanen and Janne Korhonen, is a noteworthy exception. It is a fine and truly competent work making the case for nuclear power now, as it really is. There’s no use of fakery to justify decades of environmentalist sabotage of the nuclear industry with specious claims that PWRs are unsafe systems imposed on the world prematurely by the maniacal U.S. Navy captain Hyman Rickover, or other such nonsense. Instead, they take no prisoners, showing how the PWR, conceived by Rickover as the power source for the submarine Nautilus in 1954 and made the basis for the commercial nuclear industry worldwide ever since, was, and remains, a very sound engineering choice."

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  17. "US construction costs exploded in the 1970s. "

    US Construction costs of all types of public (and publicly funded) construction exploded in the 1970s, thanks largely to the National Environmental Policy Act of 1970. That means that it's also true of US construction costs of non-nuclear power plants as well (though that can shift the ideal mix of what gets built even if all costs increase.)

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    2. https://www.outsideonline.com/2416503/cuyahoga-river-fire-2020-1969

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