Waiting a decade for this!
I've been reading a lot about LFTRs lately, definitely seems the way to go as far as clean energy is concerned.
Michael Moore's documentary, Planet of the Humans, shows a lot of the renewable green energy ideas are not so Green after all and that newer nuclear technology may be the way, or only way, forward.
I'd recommend you also read this - https://whatisnuclear.com/thorium-myths.html - written by someone with a PhD in nuclear energy.
In the past, I had been a nuclear energy proponent and would bore people by banging on about thorium any time the subject came up. But I no longer believe nuclear fission has a role in energy production. It had two advantages: the cheapness of produced energy and the fact that production didn't add any CO2 to the atmosphere. But it is now possibly the most expensive way of generating electricity at utility scale - it hasn't been price-competitive for generations (surpassed by coal in the 1990s, which in turn was overtaken by natural gas which is now being muscled out by wind and solar). And the carbon-free aspect might have been significant when there were no other options but now we have cheaper, more secure, simpler sources of carbon-free energy.
What are the more secure sources of carbon-free energy?
Anything that doesn't require military-grade security for operation?
To be fair there are so many negatives to generating electricity from nuclear fission, that it's fairly down the list these days.
Primarily it's economics which have killed nuclear - until the mid 80s nuclear was relatively cheap. It's now the most expensive utility-scale source of electricity. Look at the Hinkley C contract for example where the project was only made viable because of a guarantee to pay twice the current average wholesale price for all its future output. Already the guaranteed price is twice the average electricity wholesale price in the UK - where like elsewhere in Europe the wholesale price has been dropping steadily over the last decade.
Even if it a nuclear project promised to deliver electricity at prices competitive with natural gas (far more flexible - nuclear is very slow and expensive to ramp output up and down) never mind renewables, the industry is on it's knees - most nuclear energy companies have gone bust, and recent history in the west is just a litany of project failure after project failure: abandonment after spending $9B - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nukegate_scandal - or endless delay and cost increases - https://www.wsj.com/articles/vogtle-nuclear-plant-in-georgia-faces-more-construction-delays-11623172361 (the only nuclear reactors being constructed in the US at the moment) or the Finish Olkiluoto 3 - https://yle.fi/uutiset/osasto/news/olkiluoto_3_reactor_delayed_again/12041896 - 13 years late and yet to produce a watt of electricity.
Nuclear fission has turned out to be a technological cul-de-sac unfortunately. The promises have always been enticing but what the industry has delivered in the last 3 or 4 decades has consistently been overpriced, delayed, expensive and inflexible. Where wholesale generation markets have been liberalized, nuclear been out-competed by pretty much any other source of electricity on price and/or flexibility. If it wasn't for massive government subvention and military-strategic reasons (China primarily and to a lesser extent India and Russia), the global collapse of the industry would be stark. That the industry has done a complete volte-face and clutched on environmental concerns to try to align itself with the decarbonisation of energy through a lot of PR effort is just a measure of its desperation.
Ah, I understood secure to be security of supply rather than actual physical security. Base supply is always going to be necessary, wherever that comes from.
Also, of course coal is cheaper if we don't include the absolutely colossal societal, health and environmental costs of it.
The problem is anything is cheaper.
And I'm not sure why coal is being mentioned? Coal isn't considered a viable option these days either - it might be cheaper than nuclear at a fraction of the project risk but that isn't saying much since nuclear is the most expensive way of generating electricity. Typically electricity from a coal plant costs twice as much as that from a natural gas plant - hence its rapid decline as an electricity source over the last decade. Moneypoint has been written off entirely - same has happened all over the US with coal plants. Basically, you couldn't give away a coal plant for free these days since it cannot be operated profitably. Not a single new coal plant has been built in the US in nearly ten years.
The only thermal electricity source that can keep its head above water these days is natural gas - particularly combined cycle. Traditional gas turbines have - just this year - suddenly found themselves to be out-priced by grid-scale li-ion storage. So it's pretty inevitable, they are about to start seeing a coal or nuclear like decline.
You mentioned coal...
Of course Germany shutting down its nuclear plants and reopening/delaying the closure of its coal plants was one of the biggest acts of environmental destruction I've seen in my lifetime and I can't believe they don't get more heat for it. My point was more that nuclear is expensive partly because almost the entirety of the waste collection and treatment is included in the cost which is not true for any fossil alternative. Natural gas is better than coal but its still not a long term alternative.
If we want to move away from fossil fuels completely (which seems a laudable end goal) then there needs to be something that can contribute base load or else significantly better energy storage technology.
I mentioned coal as a likewise "dead" electricity generation technology - not as an economically viable option in this millennium.
Germany produced over 260TWh of electricity from hard coal and lignite in 2010, in 2020 the number was 130TWh. During that time nuclear production fell from 140TWh to about 65TWh.
In the same period German renewable production grew from 105TWh to over 250TWh annually. Overall, seems like pretty good progress to me - a C+ at least, and hardly the biggest act of environmental destruction in a generation that you view it as?
The move away from fossil fuels - particularly in electricity generation - is already happening at great pace with sustained year on year global double digit growth for solar and wind. Meanwhile utility scale li-ion battery charges have - as of 2021 - for the first time become actually cheaper than gas peaker plants for demand following and are currently the new gold-rush in American electricity generation. We don't currently have any problem that nuclear solves effectively or economically - too slow to deploy, too capital intensive, produces electricity than cannot compete on price, is no-good for demand following, politically unpopular, etc. It's a very effective way to burn a load of government money, mind you.
German nuclear production fell because they shut them down following Fukushima. Germany being renowned for being on a major fault line 🙄 This resulted in the delay in the shutdown of numerous coal power production plants.
Growth in renewable energy is great. The benefit of nuclear has always been the consistency of supply and the ability to respond to demand. Something that other renewable options can not currently do.
If it wasn't for coal, there would have been rolling blackouts in Ireland over the past 6 weeks.
Wind energy production was very low.
Moneypoint (coal) and Tarbert (heavy crude) jave been central to keeping the lights on.
The country needs investment in base load power stations for when the wind doesn't blow and the sun doesn't shine. I.e. gas, and I would like to see the re-start of looking at the nuclear option.
I'd rather a modern nuclear power plant in Ringsend over that incinerator.
I heard Norway had made big investments in Thorium reactors but had to shut down all work and refocus on oil and gas production due to the prospect of Russian intervention supported by the EU.
"The benefit of nuclear has always been the consistency of supply and the ability to respond to demand."
Not at all. The benefit of nuclear was that it was seen as the most economical way to produce electricity for decades. That era ended in the late 1980s.
Nobody ever installed nuclear because of their "ability to respond to demand" because generally nuclear reactors are terrible at responding to demand.
Most nuclear reactors are designed to output a constant amount of electricity more or less 24/7 and suffer wear and shortened life span if forced to vary the output regularly. It's a major disadvantage of nuclear compared to fossil fuels and is one reason why coal - for a while - was preferred by grid operators. It takes hours if not days to ramp nuclear generation up and down - far too slow to deal with the seasonality of demand at the daily scale.
Right, I have not put that forward correctly.
It is the constant level of output that is what I was trying to get to. It is something other environmentally sound options still don't provide for the most part. Wind can provide almost an entire grid or nothing depending on conditions.
"If it wasn't for coal, there would have been rolling blackouts in Ireland over the past 6 weeks."
If it wasn't for renewables, interconnectors, turlough hill, natural gas, etc. we'd be in the same boat. The grid is a fairly finely balanced machine and knock out any significant component and things are going to go south quickly. Over the last month , renewables - despite dire conditions - provided more of the electricity consumed in Ireland than coal and interconnectors provided 50% more electricity than generated by coal.
Coal is pure legacy - once the current generation of plants reach end-of-life, that's it. Just look at the what's happened capacity factors for coal in the US for example - a 10 year straight line downward trend. If you must burn fossil fuels to generate electricity, then burn natural gas which generates electricity at about 1/2 of the fuel price and produces 1/4 of the CO2 for the same energy produced. Gas plants cost much less to build and can be built in a fraction of the time. It wasn't coal that kept the lights on in Ireland over the last month, it was natural gas. There isn't a single attribute of coal generation that makes it attractive against its competition hence not a single new coal plant is planned in the US or Europe and so the era is of coal electricity is coming quickly to an end.
The energy industry globally is going through a revolution of change at the moment - and is changing much faster than many realise. Stuff that was true even 5 years ago is no longer valid. It's hard to keep up with the changes which as the economics and technology of generation have been transformed by advances in wind, solar and li-ion utility-scale storage. Same story throughout history - old technology gets displaced by cheaper more efficient new tech.
Glad to see someone else watched that series!
"It is the constant level of output that is what I was trying to get to."
But that's NOT a useful feature of nuclear - the opposite in fact. Peak to trough demand can vary by a factor of 2 or more on a daily scale. Say your base load (off-peak demand) is 3GW and you've built a 3GW nuclear plant. The grid operator will hate you for a number of reasons. The existence of the nuclear plant providing constant "base load" amplifies the effects of the variance in the demand for all the other generators. You now need 3GW of dispatchable power plants to cover the peak demand but because of the nuclear plant, these generators which will have to sit fully idle for 12 or 16 hours a day. At least with wind, you might get to run the plants at reduced capacity when the wind is higher but you don't have the situation where you're guaranteed that the brand new gas plant you were FORCED to build to avoid blackouts will have to sit fully idle for 60% or more of the time.
The other problem is that you'll probably need to build at least two such nuclear plants. On average, a US nuclear plant is down for 10% of the time. It's not a complete disaster in a big diverse market like the US but if a small country like Ireland was relying on a single nuclear plant then you clearly will need a back-up to cover this unavoidable downtime or at least some spare reactors.
Nuclear just doesn't solve any of the problems of modern grids. And the problem it does solve - producing lots of electricity - can only be done at prices that are simply too expensive. Wind and solar are worse in some ways for demand matching but they have the advantage that they're super cheap (1/4 to 1/5 of the price of nuclear on a levelled basis), super quick and easy to deploy and that they are highly predictable (particular solar - wind up to 2 or 3 weeks) unlike thermal plant failure which is almost completely random (and thermal plants fail regularly).
"Moneypoint (coal) and Tarbert (heavy crude) have been central to keeping the lights on."
Err.. The current issue is due two to natural gas plants being off line! Last year Moneypoint was off line for almost a year. Not exactly a ringing endorsement for fossil fuels!
As for the physical security of a Nuclear plant, that is a great point that I've never thought about, despite knowing about the signicficant specialist military/police units both US/UK use to protect theirs.
Our military/Gardai are in no way resourced to protect a Nuclear station, most obviously our Air Corp has neither helicopter gunships, nor fighter jets for overhead cover that both the US/UK use. We would need to spend at least a billion+ there to equip them with enough resources.
I'd also doubt that our army is big enough or has the correct equipment for this job. I'd guess they would need at least a couple hundred extra soldiers (keep in mind training, reserves, different tours, duty shifts, replacements, etc.), plus specialist equipment and vehicles.
I'm very glad that the Chinese are working on a Thorium reactor, it is a good idea to have a plan B, just in case.
I don't think they would change the case for Nuclear in Ireland, they still wouldn't make economic or logistical sense for such a small, isolated grid, with such rich renewables resources. But perhaps some day we could be importing over the interconnnectors electricity generated from mainland European Thorium reactors.
For us, the focus has to be on maximising the use of our significant renewable resources over the next 10 to 30 years.
Ah I wasn't really thinking about it in Ireland anyway - with the interconnectors built/being built its not really as relevant where these things physically are.
Except when some natural disaster or political instability cuts off the flow or makes it more expensive and we then realise that we can't generate enough power to sustain ourselves. We rely too much on outsourcing for other critical goods and services in this country, we should be careful about planning for a reliance on outsourcing our electricity generation.
Ireland's energy import dependency has dropped from about 90% around 2008 to 65% now. We relied far more on imports for energy before renewables took off. If the vehicle fleet could be replaced by BEVs, Ireland could easily become a net energy exporter within a decade or two. The quicker more wind and solar gets deployed, the quicker the country reduces its dependence on imports for energy.
Yes, it seems many people don’t know the history of our energy dependence, how bad it use to be and how much better it is now!
In the 60’s and 70’s the majority of electricity was generated by imported oil! Obviously we saw the foolishness of that with the oils crisis in the 70’s and as a result in the 80’s we switched to coal. Not great as we still had to import most of it from Poland, etc. More politically stable then oil, but still completely reliant on others.
Today we get 40%+ of our electricity from our own wind and the rest is mostly natural gas from our own reserves, with a relatively small amount being imported from nearby neighbours UK and Norway in the North Sea.
Not since Ardnacrusha was opened in the 30’s have we been so independent from outside resources as we are today.
And it is only going to get better, throughout our history we have been using imported oil for our cars. As grim points out if we can move those to EV’s then we greatly reduce our reliance on imported oil. And then over the next 10 years we will be moving to 70% renewables.
Long term, as we add more and more renewables, hydrogen production and interconnconters, it is quiet possible we will switch to being a net exporter of energy.
Thorium has been the fuel of the future since 1946.
It's all been tried before, but not in an era where renewables costs are in free fall when measured over the timescales it would take to develop, commercialise and large scale rollout of new nuclear plants.
How long will it take to breed enough fuel to prime another reactor ?
China is trying everything, including solar power from space.
Solar power collected in space has the advantage of being unaffected by weather or that pesky thing called "night".