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Nuclear energy is in fact better than renewables (for both us and the environment )

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Posted by12 hours ago
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Nuclear energy is in fact better than renewables (for both us and the environment )

Hello everyone, this is gonna be a bit longer, so if you are not interested in a long read, feel free to scroll to TLDR.

2020欧洲杯体育在线网址So to begin with, I believe a bit of background about myself is appropriate so that people have an idea about where this all comes from. I am 24, just finishing my master's degree in inorganic chemistry this year. Ever since I was little, I have always been baffled regarding the opinions many people had about such issues. I ended up in a lot of fights with people who were also very concerned about the environment over the years, which mostly didn't achieve much, which has really troubled me because the facts are clear, but for some unknown reason (at the time) no one seemed to get it. The goal of this post is to get it off me and hopefully show as many people as possible, what the reality is. I will try to distinguish as clearly as possible among the pure data and my own opinions in this piece. By no means am expert in this field, but I have a decent understanding of all the field which play the part in this (thermodynamics, electrical engineering, energy sources, and a bit of high energy physics).

2020欧洲杯体育在线网址The first thing people should understand is the basics of energy distribution. Our entire energy grid is the result of the fact that energy generation is an extremely inefficient process (in a common power grid around 68% of energy is lost before it gets to your home). Every means (apart from solar panels) is dependent on a generator that generates electricity by Faraday's Law of Induction. Without getting technical, what happens is that when you move magnets and conductors next to one another, electricity is generated. What happens in the reality that some sort of fuel produces gasses (commonly water vapor, which has very good properties for this) that spin a massive machine with magnets around a huge coil. This machine is a state of the art, costs loads of money and all of that is worth it to not lose as much energy as we would otherwise. The rest of the grid is made to accommodate this. Electricity is made in huge power plants because they are more efficient than small ones distributed more densely. To reduce the losses in transmission, all the power is converted to very high voltages, which itself costs billions in infrastructure and maintenance.

We have established, that all we need from the fuel is to spin the rotor (the moving part of the generator). So which one is the best? As in everything in life, there are trade-offs, but some combinations are definitely better than others.

Here is a small overview of common energy sources.

  • Solar energy - one outsider (there is no spinning involved). It is surprisingly bad for nature, the manufacturing and disposal of solar panels are very dirty and energy-intensive. They also have a very short life, high volatility (both throughout the year and wether depending) and not the best efficiency. The only reasonable use of solar panels, in my opinion, is to put in on rooftops for house heating or in 3rd world countries where infrastructure doesn't give any alternatives.

  • Wind energy - apart from destroying the landscape, it is also very volatile. In contrary to popular opinion, very fast winds are actually not a good thing, is it strains the bearings (greatly simplified) and has to be actually slowed down. What you want are consistent faster winds. The efficiency if good, up to 40 %

  • Geothermal energy - sadly not very viable on a large scale, but with good geothermal sources very very good. You basically get pressurized steam (there are lots of types, let us omit the technicalities), that you don't have to do much with before pushing into the generator.

  • 2020欧洲杯体育在线网址Fossil fuels - Coal, Natural gas, Oil - They are very dirty. And I mean very very dirty. Depending on the coal used (varies a lot) it actually often produces more radioactive waste than nuclear powerplants (scary, I know). That waste is either ash or gets dispersed in the exhaust from the plant. Mostly radioactive carbon, uranium, and thorium. The sad thing is we need these plants. They are the only ones that can quickly react to energy needs and basically stabilize the entire grid. At around 35 efficiency, depending on many factors, they are not a huge win, but cheap, versatile provide most of the electricity.

  • Nuclear power - Most of the people don't understand where the energy comes from, so this will be a quick walkthrough. Many have you know or have seen the famous equation by Einsteins E = mc22020欧洲杯体育在线网址, what it means is that there is some sort of equivalency between energy and mass. And that is exactly where nuclear energy is from. A very small amount of mass is converted into huge amounts of energy when the atoms are split. It has many disadvantages such as nuclear waste, constant output, very high building costs, etc, but it produces clean energy (yeah, hard to believe, I will talk about in detail below) and very low price.

Here is where the comparison between renewables and nuclear comes. Unpopular fact is that nuclear energy is about 2x- 3x cleaner than solar and wind. Most of the difference comes down to the fact that building windmills and solar panels is expensive, energy-demanding, resources demanding, they don't last very long, but most importantly they produce very little energy for all that. The nuclear power plant is very expensive to build, but after that, it produces very little waste (more on this later) and a huge amount of energy. If we were to calculate in the cost of manufacturing and disposal of these power sources and normalize it to the energy output, it turns out that it produces around 2-3 times less CO2 while being significantly cheaper. E.g. if we were to replace a nuclear power plant by renewables, we would both hurt the nature and pay twice the money for it (while not including in that the nuclear plant is built already).

Many people have a large number of concerns about anything that contains the word "nuclear". This personally saddens me, as I believe it comes partly from not understanding and partly from the media turning it into the big thing. For instance, MRI that we all know from hospitals are "correctly" called NMR standing for Nuclear Magnetic Resonance, but people were scared of it being called nuclear and just turned down the procedure without even listening, so they call it MRI instead, it still works the same.

To quickly comment on most common fears about nuclear plants:

  • It will explode! - Well, there is always a small possibility, the problem is that people are terrible with big numbers and statistics. In reality, nuclear plans are immensely safe nowadays, with great oversight and many precautions, a catastrophic failure is pretty much a non-issue

  • But Chernobyl!?!?!?! - It isn't actually such a big deal as media make it. I am not saying it wasn't a true tragedy, but objectively it isn't something that could possibly happen in a modern power plant. Everything went pretty much as poorly as possible. Approximately 4000 people have died as a result. Well, the flu kills 10 000 people only in the USA annually. Estimated traffic deaths around the world are about 1 250 000 people annually. Does Chernobyl seem that bad now?

  • 2020欧洲杯体育在线网址The nuclear waste is a terrible thing - well yes and not. You see, radioactivity is very natural, even bananas are slightly radioactive (they contain potassium). Nuclear waste is encased in huge casks, made out of steel, concrete, etc. It isn't something that just leaks radiation everywhere, they are immensely durable, safe and well maintained. Most of the people have never been to the nuclear powerplant, I have been to the reactor itself. Without any protection, you can just walk above the pool with the nuclear waste that is hot and fresh from the reactor (excursion are allowed to people working/studying the field, while the reactor is in maintenance to change fuel pellets). The radiation isn't much and just water (yeah, just regular water) can pretty much contain it. All that happens is that the water is a bit blueish

What people usually don't understand about renewables:

  • Manufacturing of renewables is no "green", not it the slightest - Silicon isn't as clean to make, it's not just sand. Phosphorous isn't either. Titanium coating? Aluminum? I am not against chemical, not in the slightest, you just have to. But purifying the silicon takes energy. A lot of energy so does other stuff. And disposing of them is hell.

  • 2020欧洲杯体育在线网址Wind and solar do help one another, but they are still immensely volatile, dependant on the part of the year and local weather. If you have a little bit of them, it's ok. But if you start to add serious amount of them in the electric grid, it becomes a problem. You see, energy consumption is not always the same and we have to be able to react to it. So we want to make energy when we need it, not when it pleases. This is the reason huge pump-storage hydro facilities exist. They use overflow nuclear electricity during the night to pump water up and in the highest demand produce some of the electricity back.

  • Renewables are non-scalable. As you add more turbines there are only worse and worse spots, you need huge batteries to defend the grid from their volatility, huge ones, you would run out of lithium to cover entire worlds needs. Truth is, it just isn't happening.

  • 2020欧洲杯体育在线网址All of these are not imaginary statements. They are real. Let's have a look at an example. France vs Germany. Both of these are wealthy countries where people care about the environment. But they took very different routes. Germany went renewable. Mostly wind, some solar. About 35 % of their total energy is renewable, so how are they doing? Their energy is expensive. Very expensive. Twice the price of France's energy. So at least they are not producing CO2 right? Well, they do. A lot more than France. Even if you normalize it on energy produced. And the worst thing is that the gap is getting bigger! Why? Because renewables just can't scale efficiently anymore. So what did the Frace do right? Why is it cheaper and cleaner? Nuclear energy. France gets almost 72% of energy from nuclear, the highest in the world. And it turns out it works.

So what about the future then? It all looks so grim.

2020欧洲杯体育在线网址Well, again yes and no. Let me state that the proposed solution is to largely my own idea, but I believe it is firmly based in reality and will most likely be the way it goes. We will continue to heat up the planet in the foreseeable future. We would have to basically give up the civilization otherwise. The best way would be to have as much energy from nuclear energy as possible, use other sources where it makes sense and simply wait until fusion is ready. WHICH IT WILL BE! Get ready to get excited :)

2020欧洲杯体育在线网址So fusion is in some way a opposite of nuclear power plants. What happens there is that heavy atoms are split using neutrons. We call this "Fission". What fusion does it the exact opposite. It uses light elements and fuses them together, which converts mass into energy. The great news about it is that it is using hydrogen (deuterium and tritium- two isotopes that aren't so common but still easy to get from oceans and lithium to cover humanity for thousands of years). There is no possibility of an explosion, not even theoretical. No waster. Just clean and pure energy.

2020欧洲杯体育在线网址Well, that sounds awesome? Why don't we have it yet? The thing is, its not quite that simple. There are more models etc by for sake of simplicity what we pretty much need to do is create a small sun (yep, the sun is using hydrogen as fuel and makes helium as a "waste"(helium from helios, which means sun in ancient greek)). But in the last decade, fusion energy has come a long way and with ITER being finished in 5 years approximately, the fun will start. ITER is a most expensive project ever to be built in human history and it will be the first fusion reactor that will work and produce energy (it is still for research, but will be net positive). Where does all of my certainty come from? I have been to some lectures from the CERN physicists about fusion as well as a big fan for years. Fusion is a huge technological challenge, but all the fields required have immensely advanced and that is why it will succeed. The fusion is simple if you can use gravity, the fuel just presses itself and fusion beings. Well.... that isn't an option for us so what will we do. We take a very very very hot plasma (millions of degrees) and compress it, this makes fusion start, but starting it isn't the problem, sustaining is. It is so hot, that you need to hold it "levitating" in the electromagnetic field, you have to control huge temperature gradients (changes in temperature over short distances). There are numerous challenges for which you need huge and powerfull magnets, incredible shielding, superconducting cables, high energy physics, the physics of hot plasma, very advanced robotics for maintenance, etc. but it will happen. With a clean source of cheap energy, a lot of problems we have will have very good solutions and I am very much looking forward to it. We have our best people on in, way smarter and more dedicated than you or I.

This has stretched out more than I expected without really getting into the details. If this thread catches on, I might expand it while reply to some of the interesting questions. Thanks, everyone for reading


TLDR: Renewable resources are not scalable in reality and will never fulfill the needs of humanity. The sad reality is that nowadays we are using mostly fossil fuels and heading to the direction that doesn't have a promising future. Nuclear energy is vastly cheaper while being 2-3x more ecofriendly that renewables, most of what people know or think they know about these sources is grossly misplaced and media are only feeding into it. These aren't just theoretical thoughts but the reality of current France and Germany is the best example. France has almost three-quarters of its energy from nuclear and is 2nd best (eco-wise) country in the world. (1st from only energy standpoint). It produces way less CO2 per kW energy than Germany (this disparity is only increasing) while having around twice as cheap energy.

EDIT: As many people have brought up a couple of things I will go over them quickly:

  • Nuclear plant safety: Just to give an idea of what would have to happen for a nuclear plant to explode. Gravity would have to stop working. The reactors are nowadays constructed in this way: The nuclear fuel is in vertical rods in the reactor covered with water. Above it, huge control rods hang on electromagnets. In the case of anything happening the control rods will be released and fall into the reactor. There, they will absorb the neutrons which cause the fission and stop the reaction in seconds. They can be used to control the reaction by partially lowering them into the reactor, which will slow the radioactive fission.

  • Nuclear waste: This indeed is a problem, but not very different than people imagine. It is pretty much just ok to bury it a couple km underground in a stable location. It isn't the best solution, in theory, we could just launch it to the sun, but when we are talking about the alternatives. Nuclear waste really doesn't pose a problem. Nowadays it is stored mostly in the plants themselves. The pellets and loaded into a container, covered with concrete and then have multiple other layers on top. You can literally walk around the container and unless you are there every day nothing will happen.

  • Thorium reactors instead of uranium**:** Thorium is a very similar element to uranium. It has been brought up by many people and is argued to be safer which is partly true but doesn't really make a difference in reality. I t is trued that thorium is theoretically superior to uranium with greater abundance ( around 3x much), easier use, etc. The main problem is that the uranium nuclear plant technology is well-matured and researched. It would take decades for all the research and prototyping for thorium to be finished for it to become widespread. As we have enough uranium for the foreseeable future, I think we should rather use the money to boost fusion research. By the time we run out of uranium, it will be likely so warm, that it doesn't matter anymore unless fusion is adopted.

EDIT 2: As many people have brought mentioned land contaminated by Chernobyl and SunnyBunnyBunBun did a great job going through some of the facts here it is. Furthermore oceans will rise and take more land if we don't stop global warming. We cant revert the past, but we can influence the future.

To generate 1 MegaWatt of electricity, here's how much land you'd need using these energy sources:
- coal: 12 acres
- natural gas: 12 acres
- nuclear: 12 acres
- solar: 43 acres ! (~4x as much!)
- wind: 70 acres !! (~6x as much!)
2020欧洲杯体育在线网址- hydro: 315 acres !!! (~26x as much!!!)

Inefficient? And that's WITHOUT counting the production of the materials involved and the disposal of them once they need to be replaced (like you said, solar panels are made from Silicon. Making them or disposing of them is NOT a green process.)

2020欧洲杯体育在线网址Once you count everything involved in production in, the numbers EXPLODE. From MIT's report, here are the overall land requirements for each energy type, if 100% of the electricity in the US were produced by these sources:

- Solar - 33,000 sq. km
- Wind - 66,000 sq. km
- Nuclear - 440 sq. km

2020欧洲杯体育在线网址That's not a typo. Solar takes up 75x MORE space than nuclear, and wind an astonishing 150x more. This is not inconsequential. This is land and its wildlife that is affected.

Sources:

2020欧洲杯体育在线网址Studied engineering at MIT, worked in renewable energy industry for 4 years.

3.7k comments
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level 1
2.1k points · 12 hours ago

2020欧洲杯体育在线网址Here’s the tl;dr for you guys

Geothermal and hydro are nice but can’t be scaled to meet demand. Solar and wind are nice but too intermittent to provide constant grid baseload.

2020欧洲杯体育在线网址Choose fossil fuels and a dead planet or nuclear energy and a living one. Baseload energy must be supplied.

The end.

level 2
174 points · 7 hours ago · edited 1 hour ago

If we all just stopped using electricity and lived in harmony with nature we wouldn't need electricity!!! /s

EDIT: Jesus christ kiddies yes, I was being sarcastic, ffs

level 2
180 points · 10 hours ago · edited 9 hours ago

Unfortunately, the nuclear energy plants we use today are all costing money and have been built with massive benefits from the government. Not a single nuclear plant is operating on a commercial level. None of the plants have taken into account the costs of securing the waste for the years to come and to dismantle the plant itself.

Thing is that on paper, and with the E=mc2 formula in mind, nuclear looks great. But “behinds the scenes” there is so much more to it than just splitting some uranium. Same story for hydrogen cars. On paper a simple burning of hydrogen to produce water makes your car go for free. But compressing hydrogen to a fluid, keeping it cool and the leaking because of the insane small atoms is rocket science and the reason we still don’t have them on a large scale...

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level 2
2 points · 8 hours ago

2020欧洲杯体育在线网址Solar and wind are fine once you add storage, of which there are plenty of choices. You lose efficiency a with the storage, but remove all the risk and cleanup that goes along with nuclear.

level 2
6 points · 8 hours ago · edited 7 hours ago

2020欧洲杯体育在线网址Hydro can't be scaled

Washington state gets 2/3 of it's power from hydro. That's pretty good scaling.

Solar and wind are nice but too intermittent to provide constant grid baseload.

Batteries. There's a lot2020欧洲杯体育在线网址 of ongoing research into sustainably scaling battery storage.

Choose fossil fuels and a dead planet or nuclear energy and a living one. Baseload energy must be supplied.

No... Just no. The solution is diversification. Wind in flat areas. Hydro near mountains. Personal solar and storage for homeowners. And nuclear to fill in the gaps.

That way you decentralize some of your production, making it less susceptible to attack. You also diversify your power, so if for some reason we find out that nuclear, solar, wind or hydro has unseen health/environmental impacts, we can abandon it as we have backups we can fall back on.

level 2
2 points · 8 hours ago · edited 6 hours ago

His tldr is wrong though. Tidal stream scales, and wind intermittency partially cancels out over country sized grids. You dont need much baseload you need a much smaller amount of peaking, some storage and some demand side management.

Nuclear is already 4x more expensive than current mass renewables but even worse it is a 60 year gamble/commitment vs 20 or so for eg wind or solar, so the correct comparison is the average cost, and capabilities, of the next 3 generations of renewables, including the one installed in 40 years time. Renewables costs have trended dramatically downwards, more than quartering in the last decade. This means the 4x more expensive figure is very misleading and in reality nuclear is vastly worse than this implies

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level 1
3.9k points · 12 hours ago
Silver

You went all out, dear god, I didn’t read all of it bc I don’t have time (sorry) but what I do know is that yes, we should use nuclear, and, in my opinion, start researching fusion technologies and that would mean having a reactor as small a a car that powers a city

level 2
Original Poster1.2k points · 12 hours ago

They won't ever be as small unless there is a breakthrough that would change the very nature of our understanding of thermochemistry. The thought is definitely correct tho, the energy provided by fusion is immense. I myself see it as a huge reactor with a net of superconducting cables to major cities.

level 2
61 points · 12 hours ago

2020欧洲杯体育在线网址We should use Nuclear, fusion is coming along and we will test it’s viability on a large scale very soon. , if you’re interested.

level 2
20 points · 10 hours ago · edited 10 hours ago

Functioning fusion reactors will be bigger than cars. Today's test reactors are already larger, and a functioning solution with more energy output than input has to be built on an even larger scale. The promising technologies are stellarators like the and tokamaks like the . The great advantage of fusion reactors over fission reactors is that the nuclear waste has a very short half-life period and that the fuel are hydrogen isotopes instead of uranium.

level 2
5 points · 9 hours ago

They take at least 5 years to build. No career politician wants to set someone else up for success.

level 2
2 points · 9 hours ago

Not only size is important but fusion would bring down the radio active problem as well that occurs with fission (as we're using today)- Unless I've been misunderstanding something a lot.

level 2
2 points · 8 hours ago

Hmm, a certain company called Vault-Tec would be very interested in this

level 2
2 points · 10 hours ago

2020欧洲杯体育在线网址start researching fusion technologies

It's well on its way:

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Created Feb 14, 2012