Small Modular Reactors: Is Micro-Nuclear an option for Net-Zero Microgrids?

  
Via:  Freewill  •  3 weeks ago  •  48 comments

By:   Rod Walton, senior editor for EnergyTech

Small Modular Reactors: Is Micro-Nuclear an option for Net-Zero Microgrids?
Traditional nuclear power generates 20 percent of the U.S. electricity mix and does not emit greenhouse gases. The SMR modules would offer smaller footprints, much lower costs and safety redundancies, according to firms like NuScale Power

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This technology has promise in terms of both distributed grid generation (as opposed to large centralized plants and long distribution systems) and for inexpensive power for remote or underserved areas.  It also considerably more reliable and available 24/7 compared to other green technologies like wind and PV that would require expensive and environmentally detrimental battery technologies to make them suitable as baseload power sources.   It is also less environmentally impactful than hydro electric.  

If we are serious about breaking away from fossil fuels and converting to an all electric vehicle economy, then putting our investment in this type of technology is our best bet for accomplishing that cleanly, efficiently and cost effectively, even compared to other "green" technologies.  

Your thoughts?


S E E D E D   C O N T E N T



Mission critical entities are accelerating development and deployment of microgrids as they seek energy security, resiliency and resource adequacy in the face of climate change and an aging grid infrastructure.

The resources powering those microgrids traditionally have been diesel or gas-fired generators, still in abundant use today. The move to lower carbon emissions is also guiding microgrid planners to include solar photovoltaic panels and battery energy storage systems.

A   new report sponsored by the Idaho National Laboratory   points to another zero-carbon, although controversial energy supply—small modular nuclear reactors. Yes, SMR technology is unproven in the field and raises longtime safety concerns, but numerous ongoing efforts are gaining federal approval and financial backing to get a pilot plant up and running later this decade.

Traditional nuclear power generates 20 percent of the U.S. electricity mix and does not emit greenhouse gases. However, construction is hugely expensive, such as the current Vogtle expansion project in Georgia which is closing in on a $27 billion tab or more.

The SMR modules would offer smaller footprints, much lower costs and safety redundancies, according to firms like NuScale Power.

The idea of using them in a Net-Zero Microgrid is a relatively new one, though. Nuclear power offers the potential of a resilient, no-carbon and sturdy baseload-type power, but also raises concerns about radioactivity and expense.

Some may say it’s a radical idea, but the INL-approved report notes that these also are crazy times.

“Scientific evidence shows that the extreme weather events arising from global warming is worsening day by day adversely impacting the resiliency and integrity of electrical grids,” reads an intro to the INL report. “The rapid shift towards clean generation technologies, such as wind and photovoltaics, have further worsened the resilience of the electrical grid due to the increased generation uncertainty and intermittency.”

See EnergyTech's full coverage of the Microgrid Sector

Solar is impactful (although at a low capacity factor) when the sun shines, and the (usually lithium-ion) battery storage can smooth those intermittencies out. Lithium-ion systems, however, contain their own fire dangers.

The INL-sanctioned report focuses on the potential for SMR nuclear in a Net-Zero Microgrid scenario partly in remote communities. Those types of villages suffer from extreme weather and often have spotty electric transmission and distribution service.

And for remote   industrial applications needing eliable combined heat and power   (CHP or cogeneration) services but desiring to improve their sustainability profile, the INL report offers small reactors as a potential solution for those plants.

“Most remote communities lack clean resources to fulfill their heating needs,” it reads. Small reactors “can offer cogeneration to fulfill both heat and electricity demands of remote communities. This cogenerating configuration can boost the economic performance of the system while also offering means to flexible operation.”

The report dives much deeper into schematics and linkage and safety concerns, so it is currently only a virtual exercise in what-ifs. SMR nuclear itself is truly on the horizon, as NuScale has received several key federal regulatory license approvals.

True implementation is, at best, years away.

NuScale, the INL and other municipal utility partners are working on a prototype SMR site called the Carbon Free Power Project planned to be completed by 2028 or so.

Last month, Idaho National Laboratory announced it is launching a new Net-Zero Microgrid  program thanks to funding from the Department of Energy’s Office of Electricity. This program will research carbon-free solutions that offer enhanced resilience to critical infrastructure, supporting the U.S. and the entire globe, including underserved communities.


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Freewill
Junior Participates
1  seeder  Freewill    3 weeks ago

Please stay on topic and keep comments respectful and without political rancor.

 
 
 
TᵢG
Professor Principal
2  TᵢG    3 weeks ago

Cool seed Freewill!

I think we can pull off safe nuclear power.   And with smaller footprints and a much larger production, we will be more able to perfect the implementation.   As we approach mass production we achieve economies of scale but also economies or perfection.  

Further, larger-scale nuclear facilities might follow the server farm approach of computing and deliver incredible power through a massive network of these smaller footprint facilities.

 
 
 
Freewill
Junior Participates
2.1  seeder  Freewill  replied to  TᵢG @2    2 weeks ago
Further, larger-scale nuclear facilities might follow the server farm approach of computing and deliver incredible power through a massive network of these smaller footprint facilities .

OMG TiG!  You aren't suggesting a nuclear "cloud"?!!  jrSmiley_100_smiley_image.jpg

 
 
 
TᵢG
Professor Principal
2.1.1  TᵢG  replied to  Freewill @2.1    2 weeks ago

I am, sorta.   Certainly a nuclear farm tied to the electrical grid (just like the myriad server farms + HTTP, etc. that implement the 'cloud').

 
 
 
Trout Giggles
Professor Principal
2.1.2  Trout Giggles  replied to  Freewill @2.1    2 weeks ago

makes sense to me

 
 
 
Freewill
Junior Participates
2.1.3  seeder  Freewill  replied to  TᵢG @2.1.1    2 weeks ago
that implement the 'cloud'

We probably don't want to sell it to the public in those terms...  

128

 
 
 
TᵢG
Professor Principal
2.1.4  TᵢG  replied to  Freewill @2.1.3    2 weeks ago

Why not?   They already have a concept of a global sharing infrastructure implemented by shitloads of mass-produced technologies networked together with economies of scale in cost and safety?

 
 
 
Freewill
Junior Participates
2.1.5  seeder  Freewill  replied to  TᵢG @2.1.4    2 weeks ago
Why not?

Nuclear 'cloud', conjures up the thought of a mushroom 'cloud', tryin to make a funny here man and you're killing my mojo.  jrSmiley_82_smiley_image.gif

I understand what you are getting at about the idea being similar to a 'cloud' type IT infrastructure, but we in the power industry might want to call it "distributed (nuclear) generation" rather than "nuclear cloud".  Just sayin...

 
 
 
TᵢG
Professor Principal
2.1.6  TᵢG  replied to  Freewill @2.1.5    2 weeks ago

Equating bombs with reactors, eh?   jrSmiley_100_smiley_image.jpg

Yeah, I might be guilty of (again) giving the public too much credit for intelligence.

 
 
 
Trout Giggles
Professor Principal
2.1.7  Trout Giggles  replied to  Freewill @2.1.5    2 weeks ago

I think you're right about the term nuclear cloud. Stick with distributed <insert word here> generation.

Now you just have to come up with the right term

 
 
 
Freewill
Junior Participates
2.1.8  seeder  Freewill  replied to  Trout Giggles @2.1.7    2 weeks ago

Distributed Generation is the term used in the Utility industry currently for all sorts of small remotely scattered generating plants be they PV, wind, gas recip cogen, gas turbine cogen, etc.  So now we just throw Micro or SMR nuclear in the mix.  It's all good.

I really think this is an exciting concept, not without its own bugs and issues, but if they can work those out, this could be a boon for eliminating fossil fuels and enabling the full implementation of the electric vehicle charging industry.  Quickest way to full realization of an all electric vehicle world, in my opinion.

 
 
 
Freewill
Junior Participates
2.1.9  seeder  Freewill  replied to  TᵢG @2.1.6    2 weeks ago
Equating bombs with reactors, eh?

Yep - unfortunately the media has been fairly successful for decades giving people that impression.

 
 
 
Kavika
Professor Principal
3  Kavika     3 weeks ago

Good seed Freewill.

I have to find a couple of old articles to ask some sensible questions. Be back later. 

 
 
 
Freewill
Junior Participates
3.1  seeder  Freewill  replied to  Kavika @3    3 weeks ago
I have to find a couple of old articles to ask some sensible questions. Be back later.

Sounds great!  Thanks Kavika.

 
 
 
Raven Wing
Professor Principal
4  Raven Wing    3 weeks ago

A very interesting and enlightening seed, Freewill. I think most of us in the US would like to see a less expensive, yet safer, nuclear power usage. There are non-destructive uses for nuclear power that can also benefit the environment if used properly and without political fighting for singular control. 

Thank you very much for sharing this very important information with us. It does give us a good deal to think about. jrSmiley_79_smiley_image.gif

 
 
 
TᵢG
Professor Principal
4.1  TᵢG  replied to  Raven Wing @4    3 weeks ago

Safety is what has held back nuclear power.   It only takes one major accident (e.g. Chernobyl, Fukushima Daiichi ) and people freak out (and not without fair reason).   But one thing is true, if we can produce many similar (or identical) reactors we will be able to more effectively perfect them in many dimensions and, critically, in safety.

Electricity is pretty deadly stuff too, but every building has it and we have learned how to control it so that it is almost perfectly safe.   We can accomplish many great things if motivated to do so.

 
 
 
Raven Wing
Professor Principal
4.1.1  Raven Wing  replied to  TᵢG @4.1    3 weeks ago

I agree. We need to learn how to control nuclear power for the benefit of not only mankind, but, for Mother Earth as well.  And the sooner the better, as it will not be that long before many of the earth's resources we have depended on over the centuries will be running out, or, become toxic to earth's environment, and mankind.

There will never be one ruler of the world, so world leaders need to stop thinking in terms of world domination. We do, and always will, need each other in order for Humans as a species to exist. So the sooner we realize that one simple truth and start to work together to bring that about, the better our world will be for all that exists here.

What is the old saying......"No man is an Island".

 
 
 
Kavika
Professor Principal
4.1.2  Kavika   replied to  TᵢG @4.1    3 weeks ago

Three Mile Island is another and much closer to home yet it was not the largest radioactive spill in US history. Shortly after Three Mile Island, the Church Rock spill took place, and was largely ignored because it was on the Navajo reservation it has destroyed the groundwater in many parts of the rez and they have been cleaning it up since 1979. In addition, uranium mining has been devasting to the health of the miners, and many mines are still not secured.

That and the inability of reprocessing the spent rods presents a huge problem to the industry and the American public. We saw with Yucca Mountain what kind of a response it will drawn from the public.

 
 
 
Freewill
Junior Participates
4.1.3  seeder  Freewill  replied to  Kavika @4.1.2    3 weeks ago
That and the inability of reprocessing the spent rods presents a huge problem to the industry and the American public. We saw with Yucca Mountain what kind of a response it will drawn from the public.

Indeed, that is something to be figured into the design and cost from initial siting and construction, fuel cycles through-out the reactor life, and actual decommissioning.  The report cited in the article touches on all of those things and runs an analysis vs. other types of generating facilities and their fuel cycles and life-cycle costs.  They do indicate that reprocessing of spent fuel rods is more expensive, but it is technically feasible and is something that will need to be improved upon.

One thing that strikes me in this report is that at least they are figuring the fuel cycle costs and cost of waste disposal and decommissioning into the development and the full life-cycle cost of the technology.  This is something that is rarely figured into the equations for the life cycle cost of PV and battery technologies used for large scale storage (to supplement PV & wind) and of course electric vehicles.  The manufacturing of PV panels and the mining for the necessary materials is terribly detrimental to the environment, not to mention the difficulty and costs to recycle most of the silicon and other toxic components.  The mining required for lithium batteries is also taxing on the environment and the fact that there is still currently no practical way to adequately recycle them for the most part is disconcerting.  These will lead to tremendous environmental issues and costs to mitigate down the road when the PV and battery infrastructure approach their end of life, and these concerns are rarely addressed when calculating the cost per kw-hr and life-cycle cost of implementing these technologies. 

Also, keep in mind that the historical radiation issues in most cases have resulted from failures of the massive cooling systems of large nuclear power plants (500MW to 1000MW plus).  These units will be much smaller (micro reactors in the 1 to 20MW range and SMRs in the 20 to 300MW range) and more tightly contained closed systems.  I believe the NuScale technology mentioned in the article will be modular reactors in the 60 to 80MW range.  The safety will far exceed that of older much larger reactors, or at least that is the idea based on most of the micro and SMR designs in the works.   

 
 
 
Kavika
Professor Principal
4.1.4  Kavika   replied to  Freewill @4.1.3    3 weeks ago

Agreed that the report did cover the complete cycle of the process. I'm not totally against the use of nuclear but having been at and seen the destruction at Church Rock that is still being cleaned up (superfund site) as the result of the spill/breach and mining done there over 40 years later gives me great pause on anything nuclear. 

I did some research on the GA nuclear plants and the cost and delays involved. All I can say is WTF.

 
 
 
Raven Wing
Professor Principal
4.1.5  Raven Wing  replied to  Kavika @4.1.2    3 weeks ago
We saw with Yucca Mountain what kind of a response it will drawn from the public.

There are still some of us alive who remember seeing the news of what happened with the Atom bomb during WWII, and all the fear of attacks aimed at the US during the Cold War. I

know I will never forget the sound as a child of the wailing sirens as they were tested and having to take cover under our desk at school, as if that would provide any real protection if it were a real attack. While there never was a real attack on the US, it was an experience that stayed with many of us senior folks for the rest of our lives.

So the events that involved nuclear power plants may have tended to evoke the fear we lived with for so many years during the Cold War. And would evoke a new fear for younger generations based upon all the news media regarding the nuclear power plant mishaps.

Thus, perhaps using the smaller units would be easier to control, and possibly prevent the kind of large scale threats we have seen with the larger plants. 

Just my thoughts.

 
 
 
Freewill
Junior Participates
4.2  seeder  Freewill  replied to  Raven Wing @4    3 weeks ago
It does give us a good deal to think about.

Indeed!

 
 
 
Split Personality
PhD Principal
4.2.1  Split Personality  replied to  Freewill @4.2    2 weeks ago

I just read this.

A $4B nuclear power plant backed by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett is set for construction in Wyoming (msn.com)

I guess my question would be about the different costs incurred in building a SSBN.

The initial design was $8.5 B

The majority of which was for vertical launch ICBM technology.

The CBO reported that the actual cost for the 12 ship class would be $5.5 Billion

while the Navy insists its going to be $3.5 B

So if Warren & Bill build one for $4Billion for the first one

What would be the average for the next 12?

Certainly much less than any project since 2009 which averaged $9 Billion

Nuclear Power Cost | Union of Concerned Scientists (ucsusa.org)

 

 
 
 
Mark in Wyoming
Professor Silent
4.2.2  Mark in Wyoming   replied to  Split Personality @4.2.1    2 weeks ago

thats the one i was talking about .

 cant say im too impressed with the location they chose .

 about 2- 2.5 hrs south of yellowstone , a known and active seismic area that has activity weekly if not daily .

 usually hit with 2-3 on the scale quakes quite often, sometimes bigger but have never seen one go over 5 on the scale . .

the other 2 sites that were under consideration was Rock Springs on the southern border with colorado , and Gillette in the north east corner of the state . they chose Kemmerer.

 my understanding is they were looking for now defunct/ closed  coal mines to place it in .

 
 
 
Freewill
Junior Participates
4.2.3  seeder  Freewill  replied to  Split Personality @4.2.1    2 weeks ago

Cost overruns are a legitimate concern in any public energy project.  However your article lamenting them in the nuclear industry is based on the track record of massive reactors and plants with far higher outputs and older technology.  The SMRs, and the sodium fast reactors coupled with molten salt energy storage systems proposed in Wyoming, are smaller modular and safer reactors aggregated in a single plant. That modular concept itself designed to address the cost issues you are concerned about.  Comparing the experience with older technology to what is being proposed today is not a fair comparison.

Regulatory issues and delays (some driven by public fear and perhaps rightly so) have also played into the massive cost overruns in the older technology nuclear industry.  The DOE and NRC, however have been quite involved in the development of these SMR and similar technologies since 2000, and in earnest since 2014, and approved the first plant of its kind just last year .   It will be interesting to see how that project and the one in Wyoming pan out.

 
 
 
CB
Professor Principal
5  CB     3 weeks ago

It is unfortunate that this topic is going to run into this one (aired November 13 on MSNBC):

In the Dark of the Valley | Official Trailer

It seems (once again) there has been another 'cover-up.' And the question is this: Just how much nuclear reactor 'history' is not on the record already?  Note: I hate to 'attack' this interesting subject right out the gate, but I was thinking about this very issue, when the documentary aired.

 
 
 
Split Personality
PhD Principal
6  Split Personality    3 weeks ago

Great seed

 
 
 
Split Personality
PhD Principal
6.1  Split Personality  replied to  Split Personality @6    3 weeks ago

KEY use would be support bases

possibly along the border

 
 
 
Mark in Wyoming
Professor Silent
7  Mark in Wyoming     3 weeks ago

About a year or so ago i took part in a phone survey about nuke power in Wyoming , usual questions testing the waters .

 Found out later it was funded by bill gates , and then come to find out that one of these mini plants had been proposed for the state .

It has even gone as far as 3 towns being slated to be chosen as the site of one of these plants , turns out they all were in former coal producing areas , no biggie really with the shift away from coal and all.

 As of yesterday a site was announced and the plan as far as i know proceededs .

I  am just finding it interesting how its all coming around . and the process.

 
 
 
Trout Giggles
Professor Principal
8  Trout Giggles    3 weeks ago

I like the idea of scaling down nuclear technology to supply heating and electrical needs to remote areas. And TiG's idea of networking them is a great idea, also.

Great seed, Freewill, thanks for posting it. I've always been fascinated by nukes and nuke technology. When I was in Alaska we had an attachment that monitored Soviet nuke testing. They had micro nuke generators that powered the seismographic equipment. Since it was nuke powered they had to wear thermoluminescent dosimeters (TLDs) every time they visited the sites (very remote areas) and our office sent someone with them once a year to observe and offer safety advice (they never needed it). I was beyond thrilled when it was my turn.

 
 
 
Nerm_L
Masters Principal
9  Nerm_L    3 weeks ago

Yes, it is time we consider (or reconsider) nuclear power generation to address climate change.  Nuclear would be more reliable than the other alternative generating technologies being promoted.  IMO the biggest obstacle to overcome will be public perception.   

In the case of nuclear reactors, smaller scale is safer.  Small scale reactors have been deployed over the last 60 years for military applications meaning the technology has been well developed.  So, technology and safety shouldn't really be an obstacle as long as the scale is kept small.

It seems to me the technical problem that needs to be addressed is the continued use of steam generation.  Replacing the coal furnace with a nuclear heat source was the practical approach 60 years ago.  But the dependence on water is a problem that limits where coal generators can be sited and switching to nuclear reactors won't address that problem.  As I understand it, the hoped for development of fusion reactors will still utilize steam generators so the problem of water dependence will still be a limitation.

Personally I doubt small scale nuclear can have a significant impact on climate change because of public pushback.  Public concerns and opposition would slow deployment to a snail's pace and greatly increase the costs of construction and operation.  IMO the public would accept continued use of coal (and climate change) before accepting any sort of nuclear generation.  Public activism would kill this idea in the United States no matter how practical and safe the technology may be.

 
 
 
Perrie Halpern R.A.
Professor Principal
10  Perrie Halpern R.A.    3 weeks ago

Great article FW. I think this is a possibility, but like Kavika, I have the same concerns. Also, there is a security issue. Lots of small nuclear plants could present a security issue. The uranium could be stolen and used for dirty bombs. 

But I do see the value in considering this. The planet really can't take much more of us. Three days ago, Long Island got hit by 6 tornados. Long Island almost never gets tornados. I guess we do now.

 
 
 
Mark in Wyoming
Professor Silent
10.1  Mark in Wyoming   replied to  Perrie Halpern R.A. @10    3 weeks ago
Lots of small nuclear plants could present a security issue. The uranium could be stolen and used for dirty bombs. 

it would be more likely that the radioactive material( doesnt have to be uranium) would be gotten from a local dentists office if they have an X -ray machine, any radioactive material will do  , how much security is there ?

 then again , how many dentist offices would have to be robbed to make an effective dirty bomb ?

 i would be more concerned with the geolocation of such plants , personally, putting one in an active seismic  or flood zones doesnt make good sense to me  . it would have to be appropriate for the location and the risks presented by those locations .

 
 
 
zuksam
Junior Silent
10.1.1  zuksam  replied to  Mark in Wyoming @10.1    3 weeks ago

I'd be worried about Terrorists blowing up the actual plant. Small reactors might work well on a campus with 30-40 reactors so that security, operation, and maintenance would be more economical that spreading them throughout the countryside. We have plenty of shuttered military bases that are already "Brown Fields" that would make great Reactor Farms.

 
 
 
Mark in Wyoming
Professor Silent
10.1.2  Mark in Wyoming   replied to  zuksam @10.1.1    3 weeks ago

well the extent of my knowledge of nuclear security comes from Stratigic Air Command ( SAC, yes i was SACumsized ) and having to actually provide security for such materials .

 the event of some terrorists "blowing up the plant ", is actually a minimal risk because of how the material is both secured ( usually layers of re enforced concrete  and steel) , and personel dedicated to the acsess and control of same . that doesnt say the plant itself wont be damaged , but the material would be extremely hard to get to to have any effect on it .

 to simply set a bomb wont do much if proceedure is followed , it would take something along the lines of a MOAB or another nuke to really do anything to get to it  .

 
 
 
zuksam
Junior Silent
10.1.3  zuksam  replied to  Mark in Wyoming @10.1.2    3 weeks ago

Well the way I see it is anything can be blown up and the more security and protection the better. It's cheaper to protect 30 reactors in one place than to have them scattered in 30 different places plus they can share safety redundancies and operating crews.  

 
 
 
CB
Professor Principal
11  CB     3 weeks ago
The SMR modules would offer smaller footprints, much lower costs and safety redundancies, according to firms like NuScale Power.

Now that would be nice to get in participation.

 
 
 
SteevieGee
Senior Silent
12  SteevieGee    3 weeks ago

I like the idea of small modular reactors.  I think they can be much safer than the huge reactors from the past but I have concerns about the disposal of spent fuel.  Our nuke plant here was closed by voters in 1989.  The fuel is still stored on the site because there's no place to take it.  I'm sure this is something that can be dealt with.

 
 
 
Perrie Halpern R.A.
Professor Principal
13  Perrie Halpern R.A.    2 weeks ago

Article opened

 
 
 
Freewill
Junior Participates
13.1  seeder  Freewill  replied to  Perrie Halpern R.A. @13    2 weeks ago
Article opened

When was it closed?

 
 
 
Dig
Masters Guide
14  Dig    2 weeks ago

It's a myth that fission energy is clean energy. In addition to mining and refining the fuel (and potential operational hazards), it produces some of the most toxic and dangerous waste known to man, and it stays that way for hundreds of thousands of years.

A nuclear plant occupying a square kilometer of land produces about the same power as a square kilometer of solar. The only plus is the steady output. Solar is intermittent, but it doesn't produce tons of nightmarishly toxic waste annually, requiring special storage and monitoring for a quarter of a million years. Factor the cost of that in, and the potential... no, the likely environmental harm, and nuclear becomes a non-option in my opinion. Nuclear energy is less than a century old, and how many problems have we already with the waste? Only 249,900 more years to go until the oldest of it is safe.

 
 
 
Freewill
Junior Participates
14.1  seeder  Freewill  replied to  Dig @14    2 weeks ago
It's a myth that fission energy is clean energy.

Sure, the older style nuclear plants and technology was certain not as "clean" as the newer modular and micro technologies will be.  No source is going to be perfectly "clean" or "green". The question is, which will best wean us off of fossil fuels?

But don't fool yourself, the PV and other renewable industries are not as "clean" as they are touted to be either.  As I mentioned above, the mining for materials and the manufacturing of PV panels is a very messy  and energy intensive venture, especially in China where cheap labor, cheap power from coal, heavy subsidies and lax environmental regulations allowed Chinese PV panel firms to bury the worldwide competition. See article in the IEEE Spectrum in 2014 HERE entitled "Solar Energy Isn't Always as Green as You Would Think", especially in China.  All this while turning a blind eye to what happens when all these billions of panels reach the end of their useful life, or are replaced by newer technology even ahead of that time.  A HBR 2021 article HERE outlines the huge price we will pay environmentally when these panels start filling our landfills because it is so much cheaper than recycling them. 

If early replacements occur as predicted by our statistical model , they can produce 50 times more waste in just four years than IRENA anticipates. That figure translates to around 315,000 metric tonnes of waste, based on an estimate of 90 tonnes per MW weight-to-power ratio.

Alarming as they are, these stats may not do full justice to the crisis, as our analysis is restricted to residential installations. With commercial and industrial panels added to the picture, the scale of replacements could be much, much larger.

With the current capacity, it costs an estimated $20-30 to recycle one panel. Sending that same panel to a landfill would cost a mere $1-2.

The totality of these unforeseen costs could crush industry competitiveness. If we plot future installations according to a logistic growth curve capped at 700 GW by 2050 (NREL’s estimated ceiling for the U.S. residential market) alongside the early replacement curve, we see the volume of waste surpassing that of new installations by the year 2031. By 2035, discarded panels would outweigh new units sold by 2.56 times. In turn, this would catapult the LCOE (levelized cost of energy, a measure of the overall cost of an energy-producing asset over its lifetime) to four times the current projection. The economics of solar — so bright-seeming from the vantage point of 2021 — would darken quickly as the industry sinks under the weight of its own trash.

This ongoing waste and the cleanup of PV and battery waste will dwarf any issues and expense involved with safely containing spent nuclear fuel.

A nuclear plant occupying a square kilometer of land produces about the same power as a square kilometer of solar.

That is patently false.  According to this study :

If solar provided one-third of Americans’ electricity in 2050, it would require just 4,000-11,000 sq-km.  In other words: with an area no larger than the amount of land currently devoted to golf courses, we could power a third of the country with solar energy.

Using these real-world figures, I estimate that supplying one-third of projected 2050 U.S. electricity demand with nuclear reactors would require nearly 1,500 sq-km of land. That’s still only 15 percent of the land currently devoted to golf courses in the United States.

Using these updated figures, nuclear energy is still less land-intensive than solar or the total land area spanned by wind farms, but nuclear’s land requirements are larger than the land area actually taken out of production by wind farms, and equivalent to the total area disturbed during and after construction of wind farms. At the same time, the cooling ponds/lakes and buffer zones at nuclear sites are also  often used as recreational sites  or wildlife sanctuaries, so only a portion of the total site area spanned by a nuclear facility is devoted solely to electricity generation.

With the technology headed in the direction of smaller modular reactors, the land-use numbers for nuclear energy production will continue to drop.  If the goal is to rid ourselves of fossil fuels as a means of generating electricity and fueling our vehicles, then I'm afraid nuclear energy is the only way we are going to be able to do this in a reasonable time frame, with the least amount of environmental impact.  And it is the only technology at present capable of supplying 100% of our energy needs as a baseload generator (available 24/7/365), without the need for incredibly environmentally detrimental utility scale battery storage systems.

 
 
 
Nerm_L
Masters Principal
14.1.1  Nerm_L  replied to  Freewill @14.1    2 weeks ago
And don't fool yourself, the PV and other renewable industries are not as "clean" as they are touted to be either.  As I mentioned above, the mining for materials and the manufacturing of PV panels is a very messy  and energy intensive venture, especially in China where cheap labor, cheap power from coal, heavy subsidies and lax environmental regulations allowed Chinese PV panel firms to bury the worldwide competition. See article in the IEEE Spectrum in 2014 HERE entitled "Solar Energy Isn't Always as Green as You Would Think", especially in China.  All this while turning a blind eye to what happens when all these billions of panels reach the end of their useful life, or are replaced by newer technology even ahead of that time.  A HBR 2021 article HERE outlines the huge price we will pay environmentally when these panels start filling our landfills because it is so much cheaper than recycling them. 

Everyone talking about solar panels ignores the necessary metallurgical step.  Silicon must be produced from silica sand.  Ten tons of silica sand will produce about 2 tons of useful silicon metal for panel manufacture.  And smelting 10 tons of silica sand will produce 7 tons of carbon dioxide.

All the carbon dioxide is emitted before a solar panel can begin generating electricity.  Simply producing solar panels will cause a spike in carbon dioxide emissions.  And we're told that carbon dioxide will persist in the atmosphere for decades; the metallurgical emissions of carbon dioxide will persist longer than the useful life of the solar panel.  Capturing the metallurgical emission of carbon dioxide will significantly increase the cost of producing solar panels.  If the smelting step is configured to capture carbon as silicon carbide then the yield of useful refined silicon would be reduced.  We'll end up with mountains of waste just like coal waste ponds.

And the refining step after smelting relies on chlorine gas which is nasty, nasty stuff.  Silicon refineries will be as nasty as petroleum refineries.

Nature doesn't provide a free lunch unless you're a hunter/gatherer.   

 
 
 
Dig
Masters Guide
14.1.2  Dig  replied to  Freewill @14.1    one week ago
No source is going to be perfectly "clean" or "green". The question is, which will best wean us off of fossil fuels?

A combination of solar, hydro, wind (both offshore and on) and tidal, with a focus on developing ever-cleaner storage for on-demand delivery. Supercapacitors look cleaner and more promising than chemical batteries, as long as the storage period is relatively short (a day or two). Gap-filling backups (for the time being, anyway) should be the already-existing natural gas plants that use waste heat from the primary gas turbine (basically a big jet engine) to heat boilers for powering secondary steam turbines. No coal, though.

And don't fool yourself, the PV and other renewable industries are not as "clean" as they are touted to be either.

Like you said, nothing is perfect. However, they don't produce radioactive waste with a half-life of tens of thousands of years, and the fuel itself (natural differences of potential) is clean. It's also free — no fuel costs.

That is patently false.

Yeah, sorry about that. I see that I confused solar insolation per km² with output. A GW of solar energy may fall on a square kilometer of land, but we're still pretty inefficient and can only turn around 20% of that into power.

Still, even if solar was the only option (and it's not), with quality storage and distribution we could power the entire country using only 10,000 square kilometers of land, which lumped together for visualization looks like this:

original

That's Elon Musk's 'Blue Square', which I think assumes 21% efficiency. Of course we'd want it spread out all over the place, not lumped together like that.

With the technology headed in the direction of smaller modular reactors, the land-use numbers for nuclear energy production will continue to drop.

Land-use isn't my concern.

If the goal is to rid ourselves of fossil fuels as a means of generating electricity and fueling our vehicles, then I'm afraid nuclear energy is the only way we are going to be able to do this in a reasonable time frame, with the least amount of environmental impact.

Sorry, I couldn't disagree more. The waste problem ruins it. It doesn't matter to me if it's created in thousands of small reactors or a few big ones.

Just sharing my opinion. Not trying to be combative.

 
 
 
TᵢG
Professor Principal
14.2  TᵢG  replied to  Dig @14    2 weeks ago
Only 249,900 more years to go until the oldest of it is safe.

I wonder if we will have a future disposal method of nuclear waste such as loading it up as a payload directed into the sun.

 
 
 
Dig
Masters Guide
14.2.1  Dig  replied to  TᵢG @14.2    one week ago
I wonder if we will have a future disposal method of nuclear waste such as loading it up as a payload directed into the sun.

Maybe, if launches are ever considered safe enough, and cheap enough. I sure wouldn't mind getting that toxic mess off the planet.

 
 
 
TᵢG
Professor Principal
14.2.2  TᵢG  replied to  Dig @14.2.1    one week ago

Given the amount of time we have to work with, I expect (if our species survives) that we will develop very economical means to transport waste on a one-way ticket to the sun.

 
 
 
Nerm_L
Masters Principal
14.3  Nerm_L  replied to  Dig @14    2 weeks ago
A nuclear plant occupying a square kilometer of land produces about the same power as a square kilometer of solar. The only plus is the steady output. Solar is intermittent, but it doesn't produce tons of nightmarishly toxic waste annually, requiring special storage and monitoring for a quarter of a million years. Factor the cost of that in, and the potential... no, the likely environmental harm, and nuclear becomes a non-option in my opinion. Nuclear energy is less than a century old, and how many problems have we already with the waste? Only 249,900 more years to go until the oldest of it is safe.

We're still relying on reactor designs intended to produce plutonium for weapons.  The nuclear reactor designs currently in use produce heat as a waste byproduct.  Reducing neutron flux in the core is not an innovation; that's only a band aid to use a design for a purpose other than intended.  And that's why so much highly radioactive waste is produced.

We haven't invested in the research needed to move beyond steam generation.  We need to learn how to capture alpha and beta radiation (protons and electrons) for generation of electricity.  A beta source isn't that different than an electron gun used in tube displays.  Those old picture tube TVs were essentially designed to emit beta radiation.  A beta source isn't any more dangerous than a microwave emitter (a cell phone).  A plastic housing will stop alpha and beta radiation.

The only reason a nuclear reactor occupies a square kilometer is because the design is based upon steam generation.  If we would invest in research on alphavoltaics and betavoltaics then the need for ancillary steam equipment would be eliminated.

 
 
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