155 Comments

Thanks for this very detailed article.

I feel you have missed some things, though, mostly about the operational part.

"Nuclear doesn't need to be that expensive", but it is. It also takes a very long time to build a plant. And it can only be switched on once it's finished (unlike solar, where you can switch on one row of panels at a time).

We have the recent example of Olkiluoto 3, in Finland. The contractor went bankrupt. In Vogtle, in the US, the contractor, Westinghouse, went bankrupt. You point to South Korea, which is true, they have the industry knowledge, they build the same type of reactor all the time. But for instance, Europe is not South Korea. I analyse in further detail in this article the last 20 years of nuclear building in Europe: https://europeanperspective.substack.com/p/schedules-costs-and-risks-of-new

"We don't need to depend on dubious countries", but we do. Nuclear plants in Eastern Europe, which have been built under a soviet design, need soviet fuel and they had to buy it from Russia. It's been very difficult for western suppliers to provide fuel (not sure if that's solved now).

On top of that, most of the nuclear knowledge in the world comes from Russia, from the national company Rosatom. Rosatom is building nuclear in Turkey, are we OK with this? Look at Finland, they cancelled one plant in progress because 30% of the ownership was Russian.

Missing Rosatom and Russia's role is one of the main shortcomings I find in this article.

"We could build wherever", but we can't. You still need to find a location as far as possible from fault lines and possible earthquake-risk areas.

All in all, if I had a lot of money to invest, in Europe, and I wanted to generate electricity, I would not go for an option in which the continent industry doesn't have experience, or good track record, and that it would take many years to generate the first Kw (if it ever does).

Plus, decommissioning plants, which needs to be done, and it's extremely expensive and time-consuming. Calder Hall in the UK will be decommissioned one hundred years for now (if things go according to plan).

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Thanks as always, Rafa! Pt by pt:

1. "Nuclear doesn't need to be expensive, but it is"

You are using a non-representative sample of Vogtle, Flamanville, Olkiluoto, and Hinkley. You are not using all the reactors built in South Korea, Japan (until recently), or China for example. You are also not using older reactors, built very fast.

If your claim was: "Nuclear has been expensive in the last 20 years in Western countries", I would agree with that. But I would not agree with the implication: "And therefore, it will continue to be expensive".

For that implication, you need to understand the roots of the expense, and as I explain in the article, once you do, you realize recent performance is not indicative of future performance.

2. "We don't need to depend on dubious countries", but we do.

Not relevant for most countries, and Eastern countries running RBMKs could get their fuel from other providers if they paid a premium—which I assume they're exploring given the war with Russia. This is way harder to do with oil and gas.

We don't need Russia and we don't need Rosatom to make viable nuclear, as Japan and South Korea prove. Finland realized its geopolitical exposure and backtracked. They won't make that mistake again. Turkey is a special country playing a special geopolitical game. If they want to expose themselves to Russia, be my guests, but then don't complain in the future when you're dependent on them.

3. "We could build wherever", but we can't. You still need to find a location as far as possible from fault lines and possible earthquake-risk areas.

Japan disagrees with you.

And Fukushima is a bad example, as even with a historically high 9 Richter earthquake and tsunami, the engineering solution would have been pretty trivial: Just place the backup generators uphill; create more passive safety features.

Even if you were right, this still leaves nuclear as the most versatile energy for placements.

So yes, we can, and if we couldn't, it'd still be the best.

4. "If I had to invest, I wouldn't invest in Europe because it doesn't have experience"

This is not a good reason, because experience is solved with experience. If you were right, we would never do something new.

5. Decommissioning costs

They are included in the cost per MWh calculations I've shared.

No, it's actually a very small share of the LCOE. And even more so with 60 or 80y operation.

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A pleasure to debate!

Cost:

I mentioned some examples, they're not outliers. In the EU, all plants built in the last 25 years had cost overruns. Going wider, I cite Sovacool 2014: Out of 180 nuclear power plants studied, 97.2% had a cost overrun. Source: https://www.academia.edu/33888955/Construction_Cost_Overruns_and_Electricity_Infrastructure_An_Unavoidable_Risk

But I don't think we disagree here. We just focus on different parts. You also argue that costs should be brought down and that there might be a different way of building nuclear. I'm stressing that, despite what might be, the current cost is still high. I quickly looked at two plants under construction or planned.

- Poland (Lubiatowo-Kopalino): $21 billion

- Turkey (Akkuyu): $25 billion

Russia:

"We don't need Russia and we don't need Rosatom to make viable nuclear, as Japan and South Korea prove" - Agreed.

"Not relevant for most countries, and Eastern countries running RBMKs could get their fuel from other providers if they paid a premium" - Disagreed. It's not about the premium, it's about a Western provider being able to actually commercialise the fuel.

Russia is also a large exporter of Uranium. Russia has also a playbook to build nuclear plants abroad, by loaning $10b to countries that want to build it, thereby increasing their sphere of influence worldwide. Turkey is the case in point, but there are many more.

My point is that you can't say "nuclear is great" without saying "big asterisk - 50% of the world nuclear business is controlled by Russia".

Invest now in nuclear or not?

With the hat of a policy-maker, I would not place $20b on an inexperienced industry. My goal here is not to be innovative, it's to be operational. Look at Poland, they're hiring the US and South Korea, not the European companies. What about innovation, then? Use the research budget.

Two further questions:

Have you read Flyvbjerg's take on nuclear and its lack of modularity?

Have you followed the cancellation of small modular nuclear projects in the US, due to cost increases? I would have expected that you mentioned SMRs more explicitly, there's probably a reason why you didn't.

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Answering in my premium article this week! I'll make a steelman argument anti-nuclear and address

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Regarding fuel, Westinghouse has for almost two decades offered fuel for VVERs: https://inis.iaea.org/collection/NCLCollectionStore/_Public/43/056/43056279.pdf

Czechia, Slovakia, Finnland and Slovakia are switching their fuel suppliers and/or have already done this.

It is also easy and relatively cheap to create a reserve of both nuclear fuel and unprocessed uranium to have enough lead time to switch to a different fuel supplier, of which there are many.

It is not true that most nuclear knowledge comes from Rosatom. While they indeed are currently market leaders in reactor construction in international markets, there is a lot of knowledge in the US/EU/UK/KR/JAP scientific institutions and nuclear industries.

I agree that Europe must re-learn to build NPPs on time/budget, but the building blocks are there with the major French EPR2-committement, Sizewell-C construction start and major tenders in Poland, Czechia and Ukraine and several smaller ones.

Internationally, Russia and increasingly China are showing good performance in export reactor construction, e.g. Turkey, Bangladesh, India, and now Egypt.

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Jan 12Liked by Tomas Pueyo

You completely missed a crucial aspect of reliability: how often nuclear plants are offline. This matters a lot when your grid relies on them and you don't (and really can't, practically) have a lot of redundancy. In the last few years, France's reactors have famously been offline for crucial months even as energy crises have ravaged Europe, throwing the electricity sector in the rest of Western Europe into chaos. Here in Sweden, we have four operational reactors and two of them were offline last week, during an unseasonable cold-snap. Electricity prices shot up 7x overnight. Even Finland's brand-new nuclear plant (TWO DECADES in the making and billions over budget) has been offline many times this year, again, shooting up prices.

People love to talk about how renewables are unreliable, but the inconvenient truth is that *all* power sources are unreliable. Including (and especially) fossil fuel generator plants. And nuclear is no exception. And the problem with nuclear power, especially, is that it is so expensive and capital-intensive to build and uneconomical to just switch on and off, so you aren't going to build more than your baseline load. So, when your reactor's down, you don't have a backup. When dozens are down (as in the case of France recently), you are in real trouble.

Nuclear power is no panacea: It take a very long time to construct, it's extremely challenging to finance, it requires a lot of complicated maintenance even to keep running (much less run with optimal safety), and it is vulnerable to extreme weather, too.

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This is a misunderstanding of how France handles its nuclear plants.

France has enough reactors to handle them on a seasonal basis. Electricity demand is lower in summer, so this is when most nuclear reactors are stopped for maintenance.

Also, France never had a high pressure for high efficiency because it had so many reactors.

Most other countries have a dramatically lower downtime. Eg it takes a month for France to refuel its plants, and only a couple of weeks in other countries.

Now that pressure has been put on France's electricity grid because of the Russian war, France has gotten its shit together and its reactors have been getting back online faster and faster. It will continue happening.

In other words: Nuclear has been unreliable because for 40 years we've said "it's not the future". This is changing now, and it will make nuclear as reliable as we want it to be.

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Jan 12Liked by Tomas Pueyo

Well IMHO he kinda handled that when he said that nuclear plants CAN work fine without being on full capacity. You obviously NEED to run more power plants than you need - so you can handle peaks - even IF 1 plant is out (or how big of a redundancy you want).

I do feel that that aspect is NOT reflected in the operating costs chart.

For wind - - this is same problem (just happens more often - but for shorter periods) + so ptx/battery capacity is needed - if you don't have "something else" - ike we use gas today (germany is converting their gas electricy plants to burn hydrogen - which windfarms are currently starting to add to their windfarms - so they simply produce hydrogen when prices go too low - and then that hydrogen can be used to deliver electricity when wind is too low. (or sold for other purposes)

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A lot of the operational costs data in the article comes from the US, where the incentive is stronger to get them online all the time. So the US shows what can be done when the incentive is right.

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Jan 12·edited Jan 12

Hydrogen is almost certainly going to face severe operational issues. If methane (a denser compound) leaks and disruptions are an issue today, imagine how much that is compounded by a hyper-light, pure gas with tiny molecules an eighth of the molecular weight that defies even the most stringent attempts to contain it!

Thankfully, the effect of a hydrogen leak isn't as environmentally hazardous as a methane leak, but it's *extremely* flammable (basically twice as flammable as methane), so you have major safety issues there. If/when hydrogen becomes mundane and common, we're going to be dealing with quite a few Hindenburg disasters.

Unfortunately, there just aren't any easy answers in energy, even though we really *really* want them. The rhetoric around nuclear power is today as naive and over-optimistic as it was when it was originally commercialized. And I see that in this essay here. But that's not to say that any of the alternatives are so flawless, either.

Wind power (even with hydrogen or battery backup) is far from ideal, by itself. Its proponents have also been very much overpromising.

The fossil fuel people *really* want hydrogen to happen because it's very complementary with the processes and infrastructure of methane ("natural gas"). But there's a good reason why H2 hasn't taken off yet and probably will settle into a few niches, rather than as a generalized solution.

I think we're going to have to swallow the bitter pill that limitless, always-on energy solutions aren't going to work in all contexts. We need to return to a world where you work with the variable sources of useful energy and work presented to you.

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Don't confuse high pressure hydrogen for vehicles etc. with hydrogen generated at a solar farm and stored in low pressure bags on site. This is then used later at peak times in a hydrogen burning engine/generator. It is relatively low tech and cheap storage.

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The turnaround of all this loses something like 80-90% of energy, with all the pbms that hydrogen has.

https://unchartedterritories.tomaspueyo.com/p/why-hydrogen-is-not-the-answer

Better do the Terraform thing and transform into methane, and then use that in the existing system.

If you want it just as an overnight energy storage system, batteries are way more efficient than hydrogen

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Jan 15Liked by Tomas Pueyo

Not sure where you get such a low efficiency from. Wind/solar farm use a low tech system. The electrolyser efficiency is 80% to 95%. The hydrogen generated is not stored at pressure, but in gas bags so there is little pumping loss. It is then burnt in a gas engine which will run at around 40% efficiency giving about 32% overall system efficiency. The electricity will be fed into the grid at peak rates, which will compensate somewhat for the efficiency loss. This is a simple system and the hydrogen does not leave the site where it is generated. I agree that batteries may be better - it depends on the financials. They are still very expensive - especially for longer term storage. Hydrogen obviously makes financial sense in some cases, that is why it has been used in places.

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Maybe you're right and instead of 80-90 it was 70-80. I haven't looked at energy storage in depth yet so I need to.

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Well 0.8 x 0.4 = 0.32

So what economic perspective do you see for a storage technology that looses 2/3 of its stored energy per round-trip AND has expensive equipment to pay off that also doesn't last forever?

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Jan 12Liked by Tomas Pueyo

Oh, this is interesting/more promising! I'll have to look into that more.

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Jan 12Liked by Tomas Pueyo

You missed insurance cost in your analysis.

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Please tell me more!

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According to my understanding insurance cost for nuclear makes nuclear the most expensive source of energy. I have no details here but am interested to learn about that. I also guess that insurance cost for coal, wind and solar differ greatly. Also, have you considered the impact of investment companies? Many are moving out of non-renewable energies. How does that impact financing costs?

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Ah OK. My current understanding of this (I have not looked at it in detail):

Insurance cost is baked into the cost of capital.

Most of the cost is due to the long delays and overruns. Solve that, and you solve the insurance cost.

I don't believe the majority of the cost is linked to accidents. I don't know how they're handled, but things like Chernobyl might be covered by the state, I don't know.

Either way, this is very linked to the government, because if they create vast exclusion zones that are unnecessary and the reactor must pay for all that real estate, yes insurability might be hard. If instead the exclusion zones are reasonable, then this becomes a non-problem.

All to say: I don't believe insurance is a standalone big problem, but if somebody makes a strong case for it, I will listen

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Jan 13Liked by Tomas Pueyo

@Tomas - I think you need to look into that insurance issue in detail - in America, and I believe most countries where nuclear operates, the insurance cost is limited, with the rest paid by government. In the US the relevant legislation is the Price-Anderson act, and its famous for making nuclear with risk accounting, look cheaper than it is.

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Jan 12·edited Jan 12Liked by Tomas Pueyo

IMHO you missed as Rafa says - the ong building time of plants - and the operational cost - to live up to the safety requirements thats there currently. South Korea doesn't have the same requirements to live up to.

So either we "ignore what our experts in europe deemed important' - or we wait for Thorium (thats the same as molten salt reactors right?)reactors to actually be in production - and then with molten salt - safety requirements should be able to be relaxed - so it actually will be possible to do it cheaper than wind (or at same cost - but using less landscape space).

The biggest danger which your post ignores - is that IF we sit and wait for nuclear to reach be workable in europe/us - we'll be wasting a LOT of years in wind production capacity - so we should IMHO build wind (and for countries that use airconditioning because of sun - solar to match ) capacity NOW.. and those wind and solar live 15-25 years expectedly - and at that time - hopefully nuclear can be ready to maybe take over some of it.. we'll see.

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I addressed it in Rafa's comment.

These reactors are not representative.

We don't sit, we just start building. France is doing it. You'll see how their EPRs building will start going faster and faster.

China is doing it.

My guess is the US will start doing it, and we'll witness it again. it will take a few years to get there, but the faster we start, the faster we get there.

We still need to keep building solar and wind, but we can't rely on them for our grid. Their lack of dispatchability and the dependence on China make them unviable as the main source of electricity.

Let's build it all!

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Jan 12Liked by Tomas Pueyo

I'm super-happy that France is building out (and updating/replacing) their aging fleet of plants. Nuclear is a very important piece of the puzzle.

It has its flaws, and will, in my view, require a societal acknowledgement that energy is an important enough service that it should be subsidized. I would even go so far as to say that energy = the economy, and that we're oddly "energy blind" about this. State subsidy and financing will help with some of the difficulties financing something with such a disproportionate up-front capital cost and such variable marginal future expected profits.

What I don't think we should do is overpromise on what nuclear (or any other energy technology) can do. France has tons of nuclear energy and still has had to import electricity, especially recently. Sweden is generally "energy-independent" between its hydro/nuclear (with small contributions from wind/solar), but it still has days in the depth of winter where it needs to import, oftentimes at very high costs. And it often happens that wind is slack, rain feeding hydro has been less, and/or reactors are offline and then things get dicey and we have to fire up the old oil-fired plant on the west coast.

Energy policy is too wonky and complicated for people to adopt this fanboy, either-or posture that you see so often in this debate.

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Amen!

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"We still need to keep building solar and wind, but we can't rely on them for our grid."

Why? If we (the US) had the will to build sufficient nuclear capacity for _all_ our grid power needs, why would we also need solar and wind?

Just curious. Thanks!

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Nuclear would work alone.

But solar and wind are pretty good, and their cost is coming in super low.

It's a bet to assume nuclear costs will shrink with more reactors built, but it's not a bet that solar costs will continue shrinking

So let's not put all our eggs in one basket

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Same for storage - batteries are comparably low complexity as photovoltaics and therefor show similar learning curve steepness. Compressed air storages and other mid- to long-term storage tech options also are much less complex than nuclear and therefor have a natural tendency to decrease in cost faster when built at scale.

So its the economy stupid - nuclear has very low probability of becoming more economic than solar and wind again, and as soon as solar+storage costs are lower, there is no market for nuclear anymore and their operators (the taxpayers in most cases) will have to shoulder the decommissioning costs.

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Actually it is a pretty sure bet that solar costs will continue to decline. There has been a continued improvement in efficiency from 16% initially to the 22% now commonly commercially available. There are new developments that are close to commercialisation that will push the efficiency to the mid 30% range. Costs of silicon wafers continue to decline. Suggest that you look at PV Magazine to get a sense of what is happening. It is all part of the normal learning curve effect. As Tony Seba says - it is like gravity. Nuclear has not had that learning curve effect because of the safety oncosts - and the volumes are too small.

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Jan 15Liked by Tomas Pueyo

The vast majority of nuclear plants are offline only for their scheduled maintenance and refueling, which is always arranged to coincide with periods of minimum demand. Some plants operate on 12-month cycles but most operate on 18-month or even 24-month cycles. This is why typically nuclear plants operate with over 90% availability. Solar in contrast - at least in Germany and Switzerland - achieves only 11% availability. In other words, you need to install 13 GW of solar energy (plus associated storage capacity) to replace one 1.6 GW reactor.

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Jan 13Liked by Tomas Pueyo

I appreciate the running debate in these comments ... the back and forth is thought provoking and good to see ... three thoughts for consideration ...

One ... if we pull back up to the top level of the debate, a driver of the argument is basically that we are missing game changing sources of energy due to inappropriate comparisons (and metrics) which reinforces inappropriate actions/beliefs. I wonder if we quantified the life cycle costs removing all subsidies & cost effects of regulatory burden; added back "clean up" or site retirement; adjusted for replacement capital needed; and set appropriate long term capital costs --- could we compare these different energy sources on a comparable 80 - 100 year timeline. Hypothetically picking the year 2100 ish (this is the IPCC reference point & also the reference point for much of the global population calculations), we might be able to put this thinking onto a footing that makes comparison more balanced.

It seems to me that a significant part of the argument (not Tomas's alone BTW ... Lomborg and a few others are attempting to focus the policy effort similarly - see The Smartest Targets for the World as an illustrative approach for evaluating policy and selected initiatives), is that once we understand these comparisons, then the levers we pull - subsidies, regulations, education & training, standardization & productivity, financing costs / partnerships - would be directed differently.

Two ... I have instinctively feared that the policy direction we have been moving in is incorrect - not because climate change or human energy needs are the wrong issue - but because we are not working to the allocation of resource which strategically gets to a balanced outcome for humans (I don't have that answer). Our debates are not "human focused". It would be helpful to remove the "social / political" dogma (both sides) from this and go about finding the best way to create a global direction which relies on human initiative. Focus us on a positive mission (land on the moon, cure cancer). Once we have at least a directional sense of this, the debates on the details become more a matter of levelling the field so that different "how to" approaches can compete (ie 4 years to build a reactor vs 10 .... or something like the speed of the Covid vaccine development because the "how to" changed). Further, many of the debates I read are positioned in a binary manner - either / or. This is critically wrong when it comes to climate solutions and energy freedom for humans. Is there not a way of defining this in a "non zero sum" manner (credit to Robert Wright for the term) ? Directional approaches always require learning which means adjustment when we don't get the outcome we expect - and most plans are wrong before they are put to the test - so adaptation/innovation in pursuit of a direction would be more constructive and powerful.

Third, if we can imply in a quick sentence that the world needs to spend trillions (say 25% of global GDP equivalent), then the allocation of resource becomes pretty critical and a mission focus would move the needle. The arguments always seem to point to a "if you don't achieve XXX, by this date, we are doomed". Nothing is framed in learning stages or achievable actions that add up. Even in this article, the reference to 15,000 plants could power the world ... ok I get why its there ... but assuming the $20 billion number per plant can be used, that's $300 trillion. I can't get my head around that just the same as I can't get my head around the numbers for solar / wind / EV / etc. The point being that the mission can be understandable but how do we break it down to get a sense of the policy alternatives that need real understanding to be implemented.

As always ... thank you for the great work and to the group for running with it ... from somewhere where it is Minus 35 degrees today :))

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I wouldn't survive in -35...

Thx! Yes I agree with you and your approach.

Quickly, it wouldn't be $300T anymore.

@20B for a $1GW plant is $20,000/kW construction costs.

Historically, the number is more $2,000/kW, so it goes down to $30T

To give you orders of magnitude, the world spends $6T/y on energy, so this is just 5y of energy spend.

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Jan 12·edited Jan 12Liked by Tomas Pueyo

You say Nuclear plant life can be extended, but do not consider the cost of that extension. Koeberg in South Africa cost over R20 billion to extend its life and there are big queries that we have not been told the true costs (and it is far over time as well).

Nuclear safety also depends on good quality of staff. Another problem we are having is South Africa is losing skills to run our nuclear plant (Koeberg).

You underestimate the cooling issue. Nuclear plants have to be on the coast or on a large dam. One problem they had in France was there was insufficient cooling during a drought. The loss of the Kakhovka reservoir means that the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant is unable to operate, even if the war situation allowed it. Because the dam was needed for the nuclear plants maybe one should add the loss of life for the dam breaching to nuclear deaths.

The other issue with nuclear is it goes back to a centralised supply philosophy. A renewable decentralised grid is more resilient. I saw an article by someone in Ukraine to that effect.

Here are the links: https://www.pv-magazine.com/2023/01/17/hope-springs-renewable/

https://www.dw.com/en/french-nuclear-plants-break-a-sweat-over-heat-wave/a-62806646

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True!

• Extensions are usually extremely beneficial economically, since the cost is mostly construction. Look at the LCOE graph I showed comparing nuclear costs with or without building

• Staff is a pbm if you're thinking of shrinking the fleet. Hence let's build it up!

• I'm hearing South Africa has its own problems with skill mgmt. I am no expert.

• Cooling is an issue when not designed around. There's plenty of sea. It stands to reason that war stops a nuclear reactor's production.

• Centralized makes sense. Decentralized makes sense as long as it's dispatchable, which today it's not with solar.

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Jan 13Liked by Tomas Pueyo

• On the contrary the cost is is very significant because major items have to be replaced. Solar in SA costs about R8 to R10 million per MW, so the R20 billion could have put in 2GW of solar - about 700 MW to 800 MW of dispatchable power if one put in batteries at about R30 million per MW - the same as one nuclear generator.

• Small countries like SA cannot build up a big fleet. It is simply too expensive. The lack of local skill means that they have to bring in ex-pats which comes with a high cost and vulnerability. Another issue, the continued breakdown of SA's infrastructure, crime, dumb politics, and so called black economic empowerment means that skilled people (mostly, but not only whites) are leaving the country. Any African country will have this issue.

• SA is water poor. The touted advantages of nuclear is that they can be put anywhere. But if one is forced to only put them on the coast then we sit with the problem of having to run long long transmission lines.

• We have blackouts almost daily in SA due to the continued decline of Eskom, our electricity provider. I, together with many South Africans, have solar + batteries. I promise you it is dispatchable. I am not off the grid, but even if the grid is down for an extended period I can manage by cutting down my usage. My system actually drops geysers, pool pump, etc. automatically. Your comment about "war stops a nuclear reactor's production" shows exactly the point I was trying to make - a central nuclear plant is vulnerable and the distribution network is vulnerable. Distributed microgrids are much less vulnerable, not only to war, but to damage by storms and fires. As we are finding in SA, it gives a real sense of security to be able to generate one's own power. I suggest that you look at RethinkX Rethinking Energy. https://www.rethinkx.com/energy-lcoe

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Will reply in a premium post next week!

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Jan 12Liked by Tomas Pueyo

Wind is not subsizdized in Denmark f.ex. Operators of windfarms actually now PAY for the right to setup windfarms (offshore) - and also pay their share of the "grid expansion" costs.

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Jan 12·edited Jan 12Liked by Tomas Pueyo

Ditto in Sweden. The right-wing government now (allegedly) wants to subsidize nuclear (but they've not been forthcoming with details or actual funding, which is true of many things they make a lot of noise about) while at the same time charging wind operators to connect to the grid. This not only is rather a Big Government and anti-free-market sticking-of-a-thumb-on-the-scale move by ostensible Conservatives, but also makes energy grid policy an either-or thing, when different forms of generation can be very complementary. Wind, hydro, and nuclear are ideal complements for wintertime demand here.

Energy politics end up always being about which source you want to subsidize, as none of them are as economical if you remove all forms of government support.

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This is a very interesting comment. I broadly agree.

A proper energy plan should not be for 4 years based on your preferred source of energy. It should be a 20-year plan, taking into consideration all aspects: dispatchability, cost, sustainability, transmission lines...

Note 2 things however:

• Electricity markets penalized nuclear heavily, because they incentivized peak demand sources of energy and penalized baseload. Their creation made nuclear unviable. The only way to make them viable again is with governments that think long term.

• Transmission networks are optimized for a few big sources of electricity (which btw is more efficient), not for lots of distributed suppliers. So from a strictly short-term economic perspective, charging for the connection makes sense. If you do the 20-year planning thing, maybe you reconsider the grid design to not charge wind as much (but you also need to account for firming costs, nuclear benefits...)

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Jan 12Liked by Tomas Pueyo

An technical, but important aspect of a grid is the frequency of the AC wave. It is essential that all energy sources are synchronized to avoid destructive interference. The baseload not only provides power, but it acts also a a reliable metronome. Distributed solar&wind alone would not be able to do so.

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There's grid following inverters, and grid forming inverters. The latter can do so. GPS clocks are cheap and more than accurate enough to synchronize everything.

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Jan 12Liked by Tomas Pueyo

Fantastic article. Best single source on the topic I have ever seen. However, could you in the future expand on the energy market baseline penalty? This sounds like a major obstacle if not addressed with nuclear build out.

My take on the issue is that energy is crucial to human flourishing and nuclear is one of the best sources for the reasons you have laid out above. This is definitely an area where the environmental extremists derailed material prosperity, safety and environmental/climate health. Some times I wonder who has done more damage on net to humanity — fossil fuel companies or environmentalists? Any way I think about it, FF companies have contributed massive benefits to billions of people. Environmentalists? I think their net score to human welfare, despite obvious benefits in some areas, is arguably questionable?

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I'll think of it. I'd need dramatically more knowledge to be able to address it, but I'll be on the lookout for it.

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Good to know! Yes, eventually they become so good they are price competitive. This is great! The entire article compares with wind and solar not to diminish them (they're great!) but because so many people now know they're great, they become a great benchmark for nuclear to compare against (because it looks good in comparison!)

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Well in fact - currently we only have 2 sources of electricy that anyone in europe is offering to build free of cost (unsubsidized) - and thats wind+solar (some now with ptx production).

That should make it obvious, that your article is misleading - as the safety requirements and operational experience needed simply isn't there - and the cost needs to reflect the redundancy needs (which it doesn't) for every power source.

These are glaring omissions - that I often see nuclear proponents make.. Without them - you would not be able to deliver with operational safety (ie. always power in outlets) - which everyone kinda expects :)

I hope you will adjust this to actually cover the realities of this. There is a report developed by danish scients (a group of 20+ from diff. institutions) - which did this calculation and ended up with nuclear being "feasible - but with a huge delay - due to building time" - but still would cost 2x+ the price of solar+wind for Denmark (due to our size and offshore wind options). It could be a good source of info on these calculations maybe.

https://vbn.aau.dk/en/publications/fakta-om-atomkraft-input-til-en-faktabaseret-diskussion-af-fordel

a danish reader has made a summary of wind production for europe - and backup capacity needs : https://ing.dk/artikel/atomkraftlisten-giver-svar-om-vindmoellestop-prisen-paa-en-kwh-og-politisk-kidnapning-af#comment-1066183 (reload once after initial load - to get to post #77)

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A few reactions:

• Don't use one country as the rule for all. "Wind and solar are unsubsidized in my country" doesn't mean "therefore it's the best for all countries".

• I'm superglad wind and solar are so good there!

• Beware: the more wind and solar, the more you need firming costs, and I'm going to guess those are not baked in today.

• Safety and operational experience get there when you develop the reactors. It's not rocket science: Build them, and you'll get it.

• Recent delays are not representative of future building times, as I've said many times already. I'm going to bet your reports use these as their basis for that conclusion (Flamanville, Olkiluoto, Vogtle, Hinkley).

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Jan 12·edited Jan 12Liked by Tomas Pueyo

"• Don't use one country as the rule for all. "Wind and solar are unsubsidized in my country" doesn't mean "therefore it's the best for all countries"."

I did not. Your graph shows costs of wind - as if its subsidized everywhere - when its actually NOT. That was my point - your graph of wind being subsidized makes it seem as thats the case everywhere.

in regards to firming costs - those wind plants companies want to build - some of them will also produce hydrogen - and some places they "move hydrogen further" - into a a "natural gas" substitution - we already use in many places - so they produce that when they have excess power (instead of stopping windmills).

state would have to buy those - and in the hours they do so - the electricity cost will simply be higher (which will lower the usage in those periods - which is already happening in DK)

The Danish ernergy net maintainer (energinet) has said that they expect they will start to require windfarms to be "grid statekeepers" - instead of grid-follows - meaning they'll be required to be able to "always deliver power" - within certain requirements. Such capabilities can be handled with batteries and f.ex. a local storage of hydrogen - produced from the same windmills when its blowing too much. That way - hydrogen will be stored "offshore" - and won't be as much of a danger - and it won't need to be transported to be used..

But it will be interesting to see the future for this - and I look very much forward to the new SMR reactors - that cost a lot less than the current nuclear standard systems (due to the security requirements for secure operation as they stand today in europe).

For a country as small as Denmark - they are particularly interesting, because they are cheaper in smaller sizes - and we simply don't need as big plants (as we need failover, and redundancy instead). But lets see once we hopefully start to see some of those in production.

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Jan 16Liked by Tomas Pueyo

Thanks for taking the time to respond, Tomas. I agree that freedom is the main advantage of liberal democracies, particularly if you define freedom broadly. I also agree that "Western World" doesn't quite capture it (though Australians -- I'm one! -- are certainly used to thinking of themselves as part of the Western World) because it throws the focus on geography and history rather than on something more universal. Freedom certainly fits the "universal" bill, but it's vague, means somewhat different things to different people, risks alienating (or at least irritating) many of your readers, directs attention to the ADVANTAGE (as you say) of that type of system rather than the nature of the system itself and commits the sin of using a value-fraught word when what is needed is a neutral one.

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Let me rephrase to make sure I understand. You’re saying “Free World risks alienating and is unjust to people from non-Free World countries, focusing on a value difference when we shouldn’t”. Is this accurate? If so, a few reactions:

You can choose your values so if you want to belong to the Free World and uphold that value, you are welcome.

If however you don’t think that freedom is as important, you will feel that you don’t belong, and that’s totally fine! Countries that prefer sharia or honor or national prestige to freedom are free to do so. They then don’t belong to the Free World because they opted out, and that’s fine. It’s very much the distinction that I’m going for.

Finally, as I wrote in another article, freedom is THE fundamental difference with these other approaches. I think it’s the source of the prosperity we see in the Free World, and hence it’s quite an apt term to latch onto.

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Jan 16Liked by Tomas Pueyo

Que gran artículo Tomás. Gracias

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Jan 15Liked by Tomas Pueyo

Whoa, I considered myself pro-nuclear before reading this article, not sure if this was appropriate compared to now!

I am very happy that we have a few state actors with continuous domestic plant construction programs again, this is also important to allow newcomers to buy their new reactors from experienced vendors without intolerable delays and overruns. Pakistan, UAE and hopefully Turkey and Bangladesh are real success stories enabled by Chinese, Korean and Russian baseload of domestic construction. Lets hope France can become good again, we need a strong European NPP supplier too. Very happy about many European NPP plans, this has the potential for economics of scale for the first time since the 90s.

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Jan 15Liked by Tomas Pueyo

Great article, Tomas. I appreciated having it all in one article and so well thought out. One thing I was selfishly wishing you would have added was more in depth exploration of Three Mile Island hoax/exaggeration and how the debut of The China Syndrome movie the same week fed into the hysteria. I try to tell this story succinctly to my students about how media themes can be self fulfilling but I’m not as good of a story teller as you are. So it would have been nice to see a few paragraphs about three mile island instead of just passing mention. I completely understand why you chose Fukushima and Chernobyl as examples, as they are more illustrative to your thesis. But selfishly I love the eye opening look I get when I tell students about Three Mile Island hysteria. I also wonder if the olde age of the US Congress maybe over represents three mile island as a reason why nuclear is risky.

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Agreed!

My hypothesis is that the Overton Window can more easily opened with the people who did NOT experience TMI, because those people have developed an irrational fear to nuclear (based on the campaign you mention). So I don't want to take down an argument that my target audience doesn't even have in mind!

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Jan 14Liked by Tomas Pueyo

This comparison and the global promotion of electricity generation via nuclear power should have happened in early 2000, rather than now. China should have been helped to scale up reactors rather than coal plants... The thing is that electricity generation via nuclear power is a complex and heavily centralized infrastructure that does require investments for decades and stable/consistent political support over that same time, so countries where plans are made for decades (like China, Russia and few others) or where the states are rich and strong with monetary sovereignty still there like Japan or South Korea.

If the political landscape and/or stability are much less consistent over decades (like in Europe), how could we expect to have a government committing on huge upfront budget, while the return on investment will only start to show a decade later.

With similar budget a liberal or a right-wing government would get quicker real results (to boast about, before next election) by going for the more decentralized option to incentivize national R&D on solar heat, solar PV and wind power, while supporting lower-cost manufacturing production (and material extraction) in the border countries to the EU (north-Africa), trading energy infrastructure development funds and jobs there against better control of the immigration for instance...

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Jan 14Liked by Tomas Pueyo

I did some searching on why we don't have a larger share of nuclear energy today and if that might change in the future.

What I found was that reactors will (continue to) be large (https://cleantechnica.com/2023/01/18/the-nuclear-fallacy-why-small-modular-reactors-cant-compete-with-renewable-energy/)

and

that the share of nuclear energy is likely not going to go up in the future (https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/share-electricity-nuclear?tab=chart)

(https://cleantechnica.com/2023/11/06/nuclear-energy-free-market-capitalism-arent-compatible/)

Looks like Solar and Wind are going to be dominant in a non fossil future and Hydro and Nuclear will belong to the rest.

(https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/electricity-fossil-renewables-nuclear-line)

(https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/share-elec-by-source)

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Great article, thanks for sharing it publicly

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Great article.

I’m an MMTer, which means I believe fiat-currency governments need not incur ‘cost’ when they fund public purpose. In fact it is the whole point of a fiat currency. On the other hand, you can use private capital if you want to but it begs the question why?

Canada and its CANDU technology doesn’t get much attention or recognition. Ontario is currently struggling with building more of its proven CANDUs or new ‘small’ (300MW) GE-Hitachi reactors based on ‘proven’ components.

As an ex-engineer, I am convinced of the need to establish proven technologies that can be built quickly and reliably vs new, unproven designs. At the same time there is a need to innovate. It’s a difficult issue.

No mention of fusion - no complaints - I always wonder how we will ever get the energy out. At the end of the day, all nuclear reactors share exactly the same steam turbine technology with coal fired plants. The trick is how you get the energy to the stream turbine.

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