The Lure of Free Energy

Guest essay by John Popovich

In the 1950s we were assured by the best scientific minds and the U.S. President that nuclear electricity would be of such low cost that it would not make sense to meter it. The Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty granted every country the right to enrich and the nuclear haves promised the nuclear havenots that they would help them develop nuclear electricity to increase their economic well being. It may not be clear what went wrong but it is still very difficult to determine the economics of nuclear electricity and this is in part because the fuel is provided by governments and the price may not be indicative of its cost and because of the hazard and closure costs.

The U.S. government tried to get private industry to process nuclear fuel but had a difficult time finding takers. Union Carbide made an offer that required government guarantees and big upfront cash. Maybe Union Carbide knew something about nuclear fuel processing cost since they were operating a government nuclear fuel processing plant in Tennessee which happened to be the biggest electricity user in the U.S. Other concerns about nuclear electricity cost include the fact that much of the nuclear fuel available today is a result of a scaling back in nuclear weapons by the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. and of course the processing waste and the plant closure cost.

Bill Gates and other smart people are funding research on backyard nuclear power plants. Backyard nukes sound interesting and have a long history. In the late 1940s and early 1950s nuclear power was seen to be an attractive source even at very small scale, including for automobiles and aircraft (NB36, XB70). The world’s most esteemed nuclear physicists pronounced the practicability of nuclear reactors for these purposes, and the U.S. government gave encouragement and big dollars to these efforts. Oil companies were assured this was going to happen and were eager to participate. General Atomics was Gulf and Shell spending big on “Atoms for Peace” and hiring the best scientific minds to insure success.

After the small scale nuke bubble collapsed, nuclear industrial parks became all the rage and it was deemed that big electric users such as aluminum and fertilizer makers would colocate with nuclear power plants and this would result in great cost reductions which would improve our economic well being. It’s not clear what happened.

The Rasmussen report was used to insure us that a Three Mile Island type incident would only happen every 500,000 reactor years. Then there was Chernobyl and Fukushima.

Nuclear power plants use heat from fission to produce steam to operate turbogenerators for electricity production. The 4MeV neutrons produced by fission are rough on materials and greatly increase the plant cost relative to other heat sources. Imagine dealing with the 14Mev neutrons from fusion.

Solar electricity from photovoltaics is said to be free once you pay for the system but the overall cost is greater than the grid supplied cost of fossil fuel generated electricity and this means that to get an equivalent usable amount of electrical energy from photovoltaics more fossil fuel energy is expended in the manufacture, installation, operation, and maintenance and as a consequence more pollutants are generated and our standard of living is reduced.

Photovoltaics are produced with low cost Asian labor and coal fired electricity and installed on the homes of the wealthy in the West, where the wealthy buy the politicians (the poor can’t afford to) who force the utilities to purchase the electricity from the photovoltaic arrays at high rates and pass the costs on to taxpayers and ratepayers, who are the victims of this scheme. It’s a Rolex on the roof with the blessing of sanctimony.

Germany is of course the most egregious offender in that the amount of annual solar radiation in Germany is so low, it really is “Put this where the sun don’t shine” .

Germany tries to create a pretty picture of their energy policy and has largely succeeded in fooling the public and pleasing the Greens. German electric costs have soared and are now more than twice U.S. electric cost and rising fast. The only help is that they are burning more coal. The ruler of Germany may have to please the Greens, buts it’s a fool’s play and will result in great economic harm.

Intermittent/inconsistent energy sources such as solar and wind do not allow a reduction in the number or size of power plants and in fact there is a requirement for rapid response power plants which are much costlier and much less efficient and because they are often idled they have longer payback periods. Solar and wind electric systems also produce shock loads on utility grids which are costly to accommodate. No one wants to be without electricity when the sun is blocked by a cloud.

If photovoltaic electricity were less costly than grid supplied electricity, photovoltaics would be used to make photovoltaics.

Much is forgotten and must be repeated. In the 1970s there was a Solarex Solar Breeder project and it got big government funding and a large number of adherents. Politicians loved the term “Solar Breeder” and were clueless about the economics.

In the 1970s there was a large power tower project in Barstow California called “Solar One”, and after several years it was revealed that the value of the electricity produced was less than the cost of cleaning the mirrors. How could smart people have deemed this a good way to generate electricity? In addition to sand accumulation, the windblown sand caused scratching of the mirrors glass surfaces and necessitated periodic replacement.

Siemens promoted photovoltaics in the late 19th century when they were 1% efficient and steam power plants were 3% efficient. Today photovoltaics are 20% efficient and combined cycle power plants are 60% efficient. Since the grid was much less prevalent in the late 19th century, photovoltaics might have represented a better investment in many areas.

Smart people in government agencies in the 1970s and 1980s funded solar water heaters that cost more in electricity to run the pumps and controls than the potential savings in water heating costs and these people never seemed to have the time or interest to study the situation. The initial cost of these solar water heating systems could be more than 100 times the annual “potential” savings. In Southern California the average home spent ~$80.00/year on natural gas for water heating and the solar water heating systems might save half of this or ~$40.00/year. The government rebate for solar could be $5500.00 for the maximum allowed system cost ($11,000.00) and of course smart people learned to get the maximum rebate on all systems. The active systems required costly maintenance and rarely operated more than a few years.

Smart people in the U.S. government decided to fund corn to ethanol with a cost to the economy of hundreds of billions of dollars. U.S. corn and cellulose to ethanol conversion plants consume large amounts of low cost natural gas and coal fired electricity to produce a fuel for which the federal government generates a market thru mandates.

If corn to ethanol made sense, ethanol would be used to fuel the process.

U.S. government energy experts knew when oil was $2/barrel and synfuels were $8/barrel that synfuels would make economic sense when oil cost $8/barrel and when oil got to $8/barrel they funded synfuels and were surprised that synfuels cost $32/barrel but they were never able to grasp the fact that it required 4 barrels of oil equivalent energy to manufacture a barrel of synfuels with 1 barrel of oil equivalent energy. The significance of this still cannot be grasped. It may be that the current energy secretary can grasp the situation but the purchase of corn state votes is deemed of greater importance. Nothing has to be real; it only has to be sold.

There is a studied unwillingness to see cost as the important metric-money is just a trading unit of energy.

If photovoltaic electricity was less costly than grid supplied electricity, photovoltaics would be used to make photovoltaics.


If corn to ethanol made sense, ethanol would be used to fuel the process.


If cellulose to ethanol made sense, cellulose would be used to fuel the process.

When you try to close the loop things become more obvious. Closing the loop is what might in the vernacular be called a “bullshit detector”. These schemes are adult analogs of the childhood idea of the motor powering the generator powering the motor in that they result in additional energy consumption rather that additional energy production, the difference is that they occur at great economic cost to society. These schemes often exploit price disparities in fuels and require huge subsidies and a studied ignorance to prevail.

It’s somehow very difficult to grasp the fact that a dollar is just a trading unit of energy and productivity is simply a measure of the ratio of human energy expended to useful energy returned.

I believe solar energy can and will be used to provide food, fuel, heat, and fresh water at costs much lower than present solutions, but I believe that this will primarily be accomplished by exploiting biological processes. Farmers have learned to use solar energy profitably; we can learn something from them.

Current photovoltaic systems are often the most economical choice when the cost to connect to the grid is high. Many applications have low power requirements and high grid connection cost. In these instances photovoltaic systems are competing on capital cost. To force taxpayers and ratepayers to support photovoltaic systems in grid connected locations is to waste money and energy. If taxpayer or ratepayer funds are to be used to support solar energy, they should be used where it is most effective and not as currently used. Governments could encourage the development of self-sufficient homes and businesses. We need to develop comprehensive solutions for grid independence. Storage is the “Hard Problem” and rulers are more apt to spend money where they can get votes.

Edison pictured a world with very localized power production where the reject heat from electric power production could be used and in fact Pearl Street, his first installation utilized what today we call combined heat and power (CHP). Independent residences could also benefit from the direct current (DC) provided by photovoltaics, rather than the alternating current (AC) supplied by the grid. The arguments for AC in Edison’s time were that it was easier to change the voltage to current ratio via inductors and long travel distances would be more economical at high voltage to current ratios (not a concern for grid independence or short travel distance), AC did not have to be polarized: now AC circuits have to be polarized, grounded and include ground fault circuit interrupters, and AC motors were more efficient: brushless DC motors now offer very high efficiency and much higher power density. Additional benefits of DC power production include: fundamentally reduced electrocution hazard and lower voltages can be used, many appliances now use DC and must convert grid supplied AC to DC where cost and efficiency of the convertors are significant issues, and there is also a wide range of 12 VDC products available due to its use in automobiles, motor homes, and boats.

It would be nice to think that there is careful study of the economics of energy conversion but it’s not clear where the evidence for that resides, instead there is ample evidence of the lack of careful study. An example that got worldwide attention and considerable funding was Google’s “Renewable Energy Cheaper Than Coal” Initiative (RE<C) and their focus on power towers. Maybe it was studiously forgotten that Solar One, the giant power tower at Barstow CA was found to cost more for mirror cleaning than the value of electricity delivered and yet Google promised to make electricity cheaper than coal in 5 years time and were a big funder in the Ivanpah power tower. Renewable Energy World picked the Ivanpah power tower as its “Project of the Year”. One has to wonder about the economic viability of the other candidates.

The diffuse nature of solar radiation requires that the cost per unit area for any system, including a 100% efficient system must be low.


Academics can be hired to measure all of the energy inputs and outputs and studiously miss the forest for the trees. Terms such as EROI are diversions to make less economic schemes seem more economic. It must be realized that cost is the measure of energy. If a solar energy system results in delivered electricity costs twice as much as a hydrocarbon energy system, it uses twice as much hydrocarbon energy to manufacture, install and operate and therefore is responsible for twice as much pollution. It’s a concept that hard to grasp by those whose income depends on pushing the idea that the expensive energy is cleaner rather than much dirtier.

Productivity is a measure of energy expended to useful energy returned. Money is just a means to effect this transaction. It’s easy to imagine animals hunting or tricking or stealing to get the most energetic foods while minimizing the energy expended. Biologists have documented this in studies of animal energetics e.g. “Bumblebee Economics” by Bernd Heinrich. The life of the bee and of the hive depend on it. It is more difficult to see ourselves in this light, and yet we can imagine that a farmer must get more energy from a crop than the energy invested in the crop and the salesman must consider how much energy he is willing to expend to gain a sale. It’s easy to see when we buy energy more directly at the gas station, it’s more difficult to see when the transaction is less direct but the same phenomena exist. The value of money and of goods and services are manipulated to gain as much energy as possible for the least expenditure of energy.

It seems that the right knows that “alternative energy” isn’t profitable and the left doesn’t realize that it has to be, otherwise more energy is required than returned.

Politicians everywhere have discovered that they can get votes by promising a green energy future. What’s important is votes and they are apt be out of office before the shit hits the fan.


274 thoughts on “The Lure of Free Energy

  1. Politicians everywhere have discovered that they can get votes by promising a green energy future. What’s important is votes and they are apt be out of office before the shit hits the fan.

    Like deficit spending. They will not be around when the bills come due. Politicians are famous for taking an animal mentality to issues.

    • This point is key. In most developed countries they only need a term or two to lock in lifetime benefits and position for board/commission appointments. They are rarely around when the final accounting is done, and even then there are no consequences for incompetence.

      Notice the Premier of South Australia, in the awkward position of still being around to witness the fruits of his decision making. All he gets is a little embarassment, then a long and lucrative public funded pension for grinding his State into the ground with wind power insanity.

      • Smart people in government agencies in the 1970s and 1980s funded solar water heaters that cost more in electricity to run the pumps and controls than the potential savings in water heating costs

        Bullshit. I have a solar water heater with an pump consuming 8W. On a sunny day it returns about 2.5kWh of hot water stored in the tank. Compare that to about 6h*8W = 48 Wh . is the pump takes bout 2% of the thermal energy recovered. .

        If John Popovich’s “smart people” can’t do as well as something I hacked together in the garage they are not the right “smart people”.

        I can only assume that the rest of this article is equally ignorant and worthless.

      • Remember Greg, you’re comparing the present with the statement about the 1970s and 1980s when power costs were much lower than today. Irrespective, there is still the matter of energy returned over energy invested for the lifetime of a solar HWS and on that score we can find the individual cost pays whereas the true social cost doesn’t and one of the critical factors in assessing true social costs nowadays is the veracity of the CO2 doomsday scenario. That was not a consideration in the 1970s and 1980s.

      • This is why energy costs needed to ‘necessarily skyrocket’. Because most of the Green scams wouldn’t work with energy cost being cheap.

      • I can only assume that the rest of this article is equally ignorant and worthless.

        That’s not a logical approach, Greg.

        By the way, do you consistently apply this strategy of rejecting everything in an article if you find one small error that doesn’t negate or significantly detract from the conclusion? More specifically, do you do that with things that you are otherwise in agreement with–for example, fallacious articles that claim that global warming/climate change is a great existential threat?

      • It’s not one error, it is meaningless, unverifiable claims that unnamed “smart people” did something about 40 years ago ( give or take a decade ) which is basis of his erroneous claim.

        On that basis I do not give any basis to the rest of his similarly vague claims about other “smart people” which are the basis for his other points. He has got a predetermined position which he is trying to prop up with baseless “evidence”. If he had facts, figures and references it would be different. That is why I said it was ignorant.

        He may be right on some points but more by accident than sound research.

        It’s little more than yet another energy policy rant.

      • Spot on. All about the moeny, only the people and CO2 emissions are made worse off/worse, by law. The 20 year grandfathering lock-in of subsidies ensures they have a happy comfortable retirement at our avoidable expesne by law after their short and corrupt time in the troughers rule making government. These are greedy selfish people, so obviously in it for themselves, not us..

        And pension boosting jobs with renewable companies for the ministers and senior civil servants responsible for the laws. It’s shameless in the UK Yeo, Gummer/Deben, Hendry, Davey and the criminal Huhne, all with well paid jobs leading renewables related businesses, some while still in office, Yeo while chairing the ECC Select Committee.. You can’t make it up, that’s their job. Why they go into politics, to get rich by legalised fraud at the people’s expense, possibly……..

    • Deficit spending is only a problem when a sovereign government uses bank notes as it currency. (Federal Reserve notes are bank notes). There is no such thing as deficit spending when a sovereign government uses bills of credit (like Lincoln’s greenbacks) as it’s currency.

      Bills of credit are essentially circulating tax credits on paper bills. The a sovereign government does not have to borrow or tax to make bills of credit. Note that the federal government does not have to borrow or tax to issue tax credits. It just issues the tax credits to qualified people. It can do the same with bills of credit.

      The idea of a sovereign government going bankrupt is nonsense. Tomorrow our government, by fiat, could swap out all $20 trillion in debt, with bills of credit and the government would have no debt. The only problem is that the bankers, who own our government and our politicians, would never allow the government to do what Lincoln had to do to preserve the union.

      • This is key. The whole CAGW fraud is Bankster prompted, govt & left wing tax-free foundation funded. The aims are: a massive depopulation; deindustrialisation; & the destruction of ALL nations in the quest for a world totalitarian govt.Witness the destruction of countries since 9/11 by US/UK/NATO.

        We HAVE to get away from the hugest fraud of fiat money created out of thin air by privately owned banks disguised as part of govt, which lend this imaginary money at interest to said govts, with crooked politicians fully complicit. At 6 cents per $, last I inquired. Two books: Pawns in the Game, William Guy Carr, 1955. The Creature from Jekyll Island, G. Edward Griffin. Griffin’s newsletter is

        A good essay on nuclear, & better comments. Thank you all.
        I’m not a scientist, but much enjoyed this book by Robert Zubrin, who is a PhD nuclear engineer with 9 patents granted or pending:
        Merchants of Despair, radical environmentalists, criminal pseudo-scientists,& the fatal cult of antihumanism

        He exposes the inhumane & anti human Malthusian & Darwinist roots of the so-called “Green” movement. & shows how the clean & safe nuclear industry has been demonised & impeded through our fake news media & dishonest political political organisations, amply aided by govt bureaucrats.

        John Doran.

      • privately owned banks disguised as part of govt
        it is amazing the number of people in the US that believe the Federal Reserve is an arm of government. It isn’t. The Fed is privately held. The US government cannot create money. The Fed does this either by expanding the funds held on reserve, or by changing the reserve requirements, and the US government pays the Fed 6% annual interest on reserves for this service.

      • Yes, of a Federally Nationalized Bank. The Fed isn’t private. It is a GSE. It *is* a government agency with “shareholders” to make it look like it is something other than what it is.

      • Banks do not create money. If they did, they wouldn’t have to carry the loans as a liability on their books.

      • Actually a government CAN go bankrupt. When it has no control over its currency (see EU). However, normally, you are correct. Like Zimbabwe and Argentina before (and Venezuela now), governments can inflate their way out of debt. Of course that does not help the citizens much as they pay for the problem. Which is what I said at the start.

    • A very good article, thank you John Popowich.

      We have known most of your conclusions for several decades, and yet green activists have conned our politicians into squandering tens of trillions of dollars of scarce global resources in nonsensical green energy schemes, most of which are not green and product little useful energy.

      Here are some thoughts from 2002 and 2009. I would edit here and there based on new information, but would not change much.

      Regards, Allan

      Further on successful predictions:

      Europeans are freezing from cold temperatures and the results of incompetent energy policies, since they have relied on intermittent wind power when they really needed fossil fuels or nuclear power to survive.

      Here is one of my newspaper articles from 2002. It is a much more accurate indicator of recent climatic events than the IPCC reports, and includes a prediction of global cooling. The global cooling predictions was provided in a phone conversation with paleoclimatologist Tim Patterson, who based his comments on the Gleissberg Cycle. We may or may not be a bit late in this prediction.

      My predictions on energy are proving correct. If I were to make any changes, I would be more negative on wind power and corn ethanol than in this article – based on further research on the very low “Substitution Factor” of wind power, and the very low energy efficiency of corn ethanol. In general, I do not support energy technologies that require ongoing operating subsidies, that mask the fact that these technologies are wasteful and uneconomic.

      It is deeply regrettable that politicians worldwide have been so badly advised on this critical issue for the survival of our societies.

      Best regards, Allan


      Kyoto hot air can’t replace fossil fuels
      Allan M.R. MacRae
      Calgary Herald
      September 1, 2002

      The Kyoto Accord on climate change is probably the most poorly crafted piece of legislative incompetence in recent times.

      First, the science of climate change, the treaty’s fundamental foundation, is not even remotely settled. There is even strong evidence that human activity is not causing serious global warming.

      The world has been a lot warmer and cooler in the past, long before we ever started burning fossil fuels. From about 900 to 1300 AD, during the Medieval Warm Period or Medieval Optimum, the Earth was warmer than it is today.

      Temperatures are now recovering from the Little Ice Age that occurred from about 1300 to 1900, when the world was significantly cooler. Cold temperatures are known to have caused great misery — crop failures and starvation were common.

      Also, Kyoto activists’ wild claims of more extreme weather events in response to global warming are simply unsupported by science. Contrary to pro-Kyoto rhetoric, history confirms that human society does far better in warm periods than in cooler times.

      Over the past one thousand years, global temperatures exhibited strong correlation with variations in the sun’s activity. This warming and cooling was certainly not caused by manmade variations in atmospheric CO2, because fossil fuel use was insignificant until the 20th century.

      Temperatures in the 20th century also correlate poorly with atmospheric CO2 levels, which increased throughout the century. However, much of the observed warming in the 20th century occurred before 1940, there was cooling from 1940 to 1975 and more warming after 1975. Since 80 per cent of manmade CO2 was produced after 1940, why did much of the warming occur before that time? Also, why did the cooling occur between 1940 and 1975 while CO2 levels were increasing? Again, these warming and cooling trends correlate well with variations in solar activity.

      Only since 1975 does warming correlate with increased CO2, but solar activity also increased during this period. This warming has only been measured at the earth’s surface, and satellites have measured little or no warming at altitudes of 1.5 to eight kilometres. This pattern is inconsistent with CO2 being the primary driver for warming.

      If solar activity is the main driver of surface temperature rather than CO2, we should begin the next cooling period by 2020 to 2030.

      The last big Ice Age, when Canada was covered by a one-kilometre-thick ice sheet, ended only about 10,000 years ago, and another big one could start at any time in the next 5,000 years. Mankind clearly didn’t cause the rise and fall of the last big Ice Age, and we may not have any ability to control the next big one either.

      It appears that increased CO2 is only a minor contributor to global warming. Even knowing this is true, some Kyoto advocates have tried to stifle the scientific debate by deliberate misinformation and bullying tactics. They claim to be environmentalists — why do they suppress the truth about environmental science?

      Some environmental groups supporting Kyoto also lack transparency in their funding sources and have serious conflicts of interest. Perhaps they are more interested in extorting funds from a frightened public than they are in revealing the truth.

      Do they not know or care that Kyoto will actually hurt the global environment by causing energy-intensive industries to move to developing countries, which are exempt from Kyoto emission limits and do not control even the most harmful forms of pollution?

      The Canadian government wants to meet its Kyoto targets by paying billions of dollars a year for CO2 credits to the former Soviet Union. For decades, the former Soviet Union has been the world’s greatest waster of energy. Yet it will receive billions in free CO2 credits because of the flawed structure of Kyoto. No possible good can come to the environment by this massive transfer of wealth from Canadians to the former Soviet Union.

      Kyoto would be ineffective even if the pro-Kyoto science was correct, reducing projected warming by a mere 0.06 degrees Celsius over the next half-century. Consequently, we would need at least 10 Kyoto’s to stop alleged global warming. This would require a virtual elimination of fossil fuels from our energy system. Environment Canada knows this but doesn’t really want to tell you all the economic bad news just yet.

      What would the economic impact of 10 Kyoto’s be? Think in terms of 10 times the devastating impact of the oil crisis of the 1970s (remember high unemployment, stagflation and 20 per cent mortgage rates) or 10 times the impact of Canada’s destructive and wasteful National Energy Program. Be prepared for some huge and unpleasant changes in the way you live.

      Fossil fuels (oil, natural gas and coal) account for 87 per cent of the world’s primary energy consumption, with 13 per cent coming from nuclear and hydroelectricity. Is it possible to replace such an enormous quantity of fossil fuels?

      Hydrogen is not an answer — it is a clean secondary energy currency like electricity, but it is made from primary energy such as fossil fuels, nuclear or hydro.

      Kyoto advocates want expanded renewable energy such as geothermal, wind, and solar power and biomass to provide our future needs. Is this possible?

      In 2001, there was a total global installed capacity of eight gigawatts (GW) of geothermal power and 25 GW of wind power. Even assuming the wind blows all the time, this equals only one quarter of one per cent of worldwide primary energy consumption. The contribution of solar electrical power generation is so small as to be inconsequential. To replace fossil fuels, we would need to increase all these renewables by a staggering 33,000 per cent.

      Of course, wind doesn’t blow all the time — wind power works best as a small part of an electrical distribution system, where other sources provide the base and peak power. Although wind power has made recent gains, it will probably remain a small contributor to our overall energy needs. A 1,000-megawatt wind farm would cover a land area of 1,036 square kilometres, while the same-size surface coal mine and power plant complex covers about 36 square kilometres. Wind farms cover a much bigger area, are visible for miles due to the height of the towers and kill large numbers of birds.

      What about solar? The electricity generated by a photovoltaic solar cell in its entire lifetime does not add up to the energy used to manufacture it, not to mention the requirement for vast areas for solar farms. These solar cells make sense only in limited special applications or in remote locations.

      Hydroelectric power is another renewable, but environmental activists don’t want more hydro because it dams rivers.

      What about biomass solutions such as ethanol? Canada, the United States and a few other countries may have available crop land for ethanol to partially meet our local needs, but it is clearly not a global solution.

      Many developing countries will reject renewable energy due to higher costs, since renewables usually require subsidies to compete with fossil fuels.

      Conventional nuclear fission or, someday, fusion are the only two prospects that could conceivably replace fossil fuels. But Kyoto activists hate nuclear.

      Conservation is a good solution, but Canada has been improving its energy efficiency for decades, in response to rising energy prices. Significant improvements have been achieved in heating and insulation of homes, automotive mileage and industrial energy efficiency. However, Canadians live in a cold climate and our country is vast. There are practical limits to what we can achieve through energy conservation.

      So where will all the energy come from if we eliminate oil, natural gas and coal? Kyoto supporters have provided no practical answers, they just want to ratify this flawed treaty. It would be nice if our energy supply solutions were simple, but they’re not. In the long run, if we implement Kyoto we will have only two choices — destroy our economy and suffer massive job losses and power blackouts, or break the terms of Kyoto, which will be international law.

      Instead of Kyoto, a new global anti-pollution initiative should be drafted by people who have a much better understanding of science, industry and the environment. It should focus, not on global warming and CO2, but on real atmospheric pollutants such as SO2, NOx and particulates as well as pollutants in the water and soil — and no country should be exempt.

      Then there might be a chance to actually improve the environment, rather than making it worse and wasting billions on the fatally flawed Kyoto Accord.


      Allan M.R. MacRae is a professional engineer, investment banker and environmentalist.

      • Funny how being an engineer allows you to think clearly. Well said. I was trained as an engineer at Judith Curry’s old place. Helps your thinking immensely

  2. A certain pest will be here any minute to tell us “Germany, India, West Fredonia, etc. are investing in it so that proves it works.”

  3. Large-scale solar PV has always come down to dining on someone else’s money for a feel-good cause.

    In the US, Elon Musk is the King of the Solar Energy subsidy gravy train. But now that his Solar City energy company has been swallowed by Tesla, the massive PV losses and subsidy-dependancy can be shuffled around and better hidden from investors and regulators, Enron-style.

    Solar PV has always made economic sense where connection to grid power was costly or unfeasible and the total demand is low (like small signs on backcountry roads, ocean buoys, or backcountry-wilderness radio relay sites.)

      • crackers345

        as long as fossil fuel companies socialize the cost of their pollution

        ?? Oh, by feeding the world, shipping that food to the “eaters” of that food, cleaning it, preparing it, and storing it with refrigeration and insect-vermin free containers, by providing heat, light, shelter, and medicines?

        The world will stop – dead, back to the 7th century world the Islamists and Luddites demand of mass death and an average lifetime of 20- 25 years. Back after killing 4-6 billion. That “social cost” of their “pollution”?

  4. Nuclear civilian energy made the wrong reactor choice in 1963, they should have chosen the Molten Salt Reactor for its inherent low-pressure safety; no spending billion for a pressure dome to contain a 1500 atmosphere steam bomb if something goes wrong along with 70-150 atmosphere plumbing with triple redundant cooling and power back-up.

    • It’s my understanding that the government drove the high pressure decision. Of course when wrong choices are made, in a big way, I expect government experts in the mix.

      • I remember a Sci-fi story wherein energy-eating aliens (not intelligent, just a wild animal, essentially) discovered Earth and devoured all generated power, knocking us back to pre-electrical times. Government “experts” “taught” farmers how to use animals to plow and harvest. Even as a pre-teen, I marveled at the idea.

      • Government did put their thumb on the decision scale – in a big way. But the reason they did was military. Nuclear energy is SO attractive to the navy – for both surface and submarine use that their first engineering decisions had to be consistent with those goals: small size, high power density, reliability, technological feasibility and total system cost. The choices made have worked well for those objectives but they are not optimum for commercial public power purpose – nor were they ever intended to be.

      • The government went for the High Pressure Water Cooled reactor for two reasons. They already had built them for submarines and aircraft carriers, and they produced plutonium for bombs that is fairly easy to extract chemically from spent fuel and can be converted into reactor fuel. For some funny reason people were a bit put off by having high pressure nuclear bombs running round the clock in their backyards, so to speak. That required huge investments in making the nuclear industry safe. Safer designs were already being worked on, but the big reactor companies, GE and Westinghouse kind of tied up the market.

      • Nuclear bombs in their backyard?
        Nice of you to prove that you don’t know what you are talking about.

    • MSRs also have material problems. Molten salt is corrosive and erosive. Even tantalum has a finite lifespan in MRS heat exchangers. Still have neutron bombardment and the need for no cobalt contamination as it likes to trap neutrons and become quite hot. Cobalt 60 is a powerful gamma source.

  5. To clarify, the Director of the Atomic Commission under President Dwight Eisenhower, Dr. Lewis Strauss, said that some day nuclear fusion (as opposed to fission) would be developed using deuterium and tritium in the fuel cycle and that such fusion power would “be to cheap to meter.” For many, many reasons, and mostly related to scientific experimental research funding, fusion has not yet been proved in a controlled, non weapon environment. To learn more about fusion please see our website devoted to fusion energy science, news, views and politics at:

  6. Well laid out, John. I particularly appreciated this one:

    Germany is of course the most egregious offender in that the amount of annual solar radiation in Germany is so low, it really is “Put this where the sun don’t shine” .



  7. Sadly, factual arguments based on hard mathematics don’t work on green liberals who can only feel, not think.

      • At which time they will blame the brown/black outs on greedy corporatists who are trying to rip of the electricity consumers. As everyone knows, had they switched to renewables, power would be free by now.

  8. “German electric costs have soared and are now more than twice U.S. electric cost and rising fast. The only help is that they are burning more coal. The ruler of Germany may have to please the Greens, buts it’s a fool’s play and will result in great economic harm.”

    Not exactly. No harm for high energy consumption industry, because they get prices subsidized at international level to stay competitive

    The poor with low efficiency devices are paying the costs, but wealthy home-owners with PV and investors in wind power get subsidized from them.

    Wealth distribution from the poor to the rich.

    Somebody tell me about communistic government in Germany…

    • Herr Herbst

      As the wall fell so suddenly other unsustainable policies will surely fall. Keep up the fight.

      Tomas aus Ansbach

      • Tomas, you live in Ansbach, our capital of of Middle Franconia, you lucky guy!

        Possibly one of the tiniest capitals of the world…

        BTW, now before elections I plan to ask every party in Germany how they will solve that problem of false distribution of money.

      • No matter what they say, every re-distribution of wealth results in money flowing from those who work, to those who control government.

      • Johannes,

        Immigrated to the USA to become a cowboy many years ago. Still warm feelings to Germany. Best Wishes

    • Fabian socialism, not communism. As in Merkel and friends know what is best for Germany even if it is Syrian Muslims living on government handouts.

      Fabians are true wolves in sheep’s clothing.

  9. The thing is that devout greens reject economics as such, and want to count benefits they metaphorically pull from their nether regions. They will add in the “environmental cost of carbon”, and not care that the figures for that are mostly imaginary.

  10. I understand your desire to make a point, but the comparison of TMI with Chernobyl and Fukushima is far off the mark.

    At TMI, the containment shell worked the way it was supposed to and essentially no radioisotopes escaped the site. Chernobyl was a military design for making bomb fuel (Pu239) converted to civilian use and had no containment shell at all, along with a significantly positive void coefficient (i.e. the power increased when gas bubbles formed in the coolant).

    With respect to Fukushima, both tsunamis and earthquakes of that magnitude are unheard of in most of the US outside the West Coast. Admittedly it was not bright to put the emergency generators in the basement for a coastal installation. But an unheralded outcome is that two of the three nuclear plants in the same situation did *not* melt down, in one case due to heroic efforts to bring in emergency power. The number of excess cancers from Fukushima is very likely to be statistically indistinguishable from zero.

    In short, most of the “cost” of nuclear power is neither the actual construction nor the cost of fuel, but the cost of unreasoning fear driven by 40 years of propaganda and embodied in fanatic opposition. Right now, gas is cheap, but it won’t be forever. Don’t unthinkingly parrot the greens’ distorted views on nuclear.

    • PWRs use coolant for neutron moderation. Loose coolant and neutrons cannot be captured so fission chain reaction is broken. Chernobyl used graphite as moderator. Loose coolant and graphite vaporizes. Then explodes.

      • Actually Keith, it’s a little more involved than the Moderator/Neutron flux argument. The Chenobyl reactor was specifically designed as a POSITIVE REACTIVITY COEFFICIENT system. Why would one do that? Because you can get 30% more “burn up” from a batch of fuel.

        The Russian concept was to rely on sensitive shut down systems, that would “trip” the reactor in the event of a transient that could be hazardous.

        The CHIEF electrical engineer of the Russian system (more like a General or Admiral in their system) wanted to run a test, to see how long they could run the turbines off the “sensible heat” in the almost 1000 degree F. graphite pile, With the reactor turned off. Unfortunately, there is a problem common to all “critical assemblies” used to generate power. If you shut them down for more than 3 days, they build up enough Xenon gas in the fuel to poison the reactor for about 2 weeks (natural decay removes that Xeonon).

        The PLANT MANAGER didn’t want to be “flat on his can” for 2 weeks. A “compromise” was worked out
        with the plant and the Cheif electrical engineer. They’d run the reactor at like 3% power. The neutron flux is enough at this level to continue removing the Xeonon, and you don’t end up Xenon poisoned for 2 weeks.

        Unfortunately the reactor becomes less stable, and is likely to produce a transient which will “drop the rods” (to prevent a thing called “prompt critical”.) The Cheif electrical engineer was told this and HE ordered the “jumpering” of the safety system so that it could NOT drop the rods.

        Thus the set up for a “prompt critical” transient. It’s really a nice EUPHANISM isn’t it? It really means, “Nuclear Explosion”. Now in terms of contrasting with a boni-fide weapon, the net forces are “minor” in this type of explosion. However, the are strong enough to BLOW OFF 160 Metric Tons of shielding on top of the graphite pile, and to allow air to hit it, and at 1000 degrees F for it to START ON FIRE. Breaking open fuel assemblies (in Zirconium tubes, a refractory metal with a HIGH melting temperture, but subject to cracking given the high thermal contrasts during this fire….Ergo the incredible radio-nuclide emmissions. )

        Now why would I know all this? I was the one reponsible at the Utiliy where I worked as Engineer, to read ALL the IEAC reports (International Atomic Energy Commission) and every other reasource I could find. Also to prepare a 70 page plus report, which put everything in a form, which people of “reasonable” technical background and reading ability, could read through in an hour or two…and obtain a decent understanding of the event. LAST that report was sent to all the STATE and REGIONAL regulators and entities to demonstrate the VAST differences between the PWRs we ran and the RMBK Soviet reactors.

      • Max Hugoson,
        Thanks for the explanation.
        For a few years we helped a couple that hosted teens via a program called Children of Chernobyl.
        [Ours was a very minor role.]
        The young folks from Belarus were bright and nice.
        I wonder if they know this history.

      • Max, your description of the accident is missing a number of important things. First, the RBMK had no dedicated shutdown system. The shutdown system and the control rods were one and the same.

        Second, the design of the control rods was faulty. From a fully withdrawn position, the rods injected positive reactivity into the RBMK when the rods were dropped. This design failure had already been noted in a fuel failure event at Leningrad 2 in the late 1970s and was hushed up by the reactor designer, the Kurchatov Institute.

        Third, there was no nuclear explosion. What there was was a steam blast resulting from the power surge to 100 times rated capacity.

        Fourth, the initiating event of the steam explosion was the pressing of the AZ5 scram button that started the insertion of the control rods. Because of the faulty design of the shutdown system, it produced a power surge instead of shutting down the reactor.

      • Max Hugoson
        What you describe plus all the background, e.g. a missing inertial backup system being hushed up 3 years previously in 1983 so that bosses could get bonuses for completion before that year’s May Day parades, can be found in the book “Legacy of Chernobyl” by Georges Medvedev.

      • Better to read the UNSCEAR report for the mind numbing but less alarming facts than yet Helen Cadicots ad hysterical green technophobes who hate the technology that brings the properity that makes their cosy lives possible..

        Perhaps it’s most important to understand WHY you build a reactor without proper commercial reactor atndards of primary and secondary containment that cannot withstand a core accident. Such accidents don’t have the same consequences in a properly contained design, such major radiation releases have never been a problem in truly commercial reactor, and that includes Fukushima, which was not major release and the core was substantially contained..

        Chernobyl and Windscale were designed to make weapons grade Pu-239 as efficiently as possible, using shortened time in the core for the specially designed and fuelled rods compared to commercial fuel rods use and life – where they end up too hot to handle and full of nasty stuff that makes Pu-239 separation difficult. The similar approach used at Windscale ended up witha similar core fire accident, thankfully mitigated before an explosion by a great manager, luck and “Cockcroft’s folly” the afterthought chimney yop filter thought a waste of money by the MoD. Perhaps these designs were simply copied by the Russians based on Fuchs spying?

        The ease of physical access supports the selective hot insertion and removal of fuel rods by personnel so you can “flash fry” the fuel to ensure you maximise Pu-239 and minimise the subsequent build up of higher atomic weight plutonium isotopes. Optimising Pu-239 output from fuel rods requires the graphite core for this, and other reasons I don’t recall. Whatever, these designs were the best way to maximise yield of weapons grade 239 fast in cold war days, using chemical separation, as centrifuging is otherwise required to lose the unwanted Plutonium isotopes that can’t be chemicaly separated. SIt’s obviously a lot more complex in real [rocess terms, but you get the drift.

        Did the US, France and China (and Israel) also have reactors like this for weapons grade Pu-239 production, at Oak Ridge, Savanah, or elsewhere?

        [The graphite (highly flammable carbon) moderator core is used to allow a fast neutron flux to hit the U238 to induce fission, and to produce the Pu239 as a by-product. A water-cooled, water moderated, core slows those fast neutrons down, which is needed for the slightly-enriched U235 commercial cores and highly enriched U235 USN cores. .mod]

      • Yes there’s no doubt that graphite is the best moderator for fission reactors, meaning it is also best for growing Pu. But stories of grossly poor design of the RBMK are not accurate but heavily laced with the need for Russians to be morally and intellectually inferior. Dozens of RBMK reactors have suplied electricity safely for decades throughout Eastern Europe. The Medvedev book is a better source combining technical understanding with inside knowledge of the politics and culture. This can never be matched by an anglosaxon screeching “Russian” in a cacophonous Laandan accent and presuming to understand the system and culture from outside.

  11. This was one of the better articles we have seen here. That was a lot of history and explanation in one short read — thanks for the lesson.

    The main take-away for me, is that politicians and most Americans don’t understand real economics. After all, if the idea was viable, there would be no need for subsidies to sell it to the consumer. But with government subsidies, we see people using the most illogical systems — mostly to be “cool” and “progressive”.

    Oh well.

    • Not just most Americans. There are quite few economists that do not seem to understand economics.

    • Actually, I think it’s one of the worst. Many mistakes, and the premise is faulty. The most egregious mistake is the discussion of nukes and “too cheap to meter”. The point of that phrase wasn’t that nuclear power would be free, just that its marginal cost would be so low you wouldn’t have to charge on a kWh basis. The utility would send you a bill for your share of the total cost of producing it.

      The premise that politicians want to provide us with free energy is just not so. They want to control the decisionmaking and decide winners and losers to accrue power to themselves

  12. Hydro energy is the cheapest way to get energy and it only delays the water a bit getting downstream anyway? No harm to anyone.
    Next to that consider this: use wind energy to pump water up into a lake [reservoir] and create hydro energy when you want it at a constant stream, just like hydro energy. No harm done.
    Next: use gas. Put more plant food in the air. No harm done.
    Next: use oil. Not ideal.
    Next: use coal. You have to remove the CO, SO2, SO3 and remember the heavy metals in the ash.
    Forget about solar. Won’t work. I put up a simple solar system on my roof to run the office without any interruptions but I got more hassles with it than anything else. Dirt/dust on the panels, failure of batteries, etc. I vaguely remember Anthony putting up a system? How is that working out?
    Forget about nuclear: too expensive. The waste is a problem.

    • henryp: Not too expensive, ask FRANCE. (Essentially all standard Westiinghouse design, perfected…105% capacity factor these days (re-rates, longer fuel cycles). And the WASTE is NOT A PROBLEM either. (Ask France, who have “in the mountains” storage of the vitrified high level waste. I know I have to make this punchy and simple, so I will. After 350 years the level of activity of 1 lbm of high level waste is BELOW that of the ore from which it was originally created. (Ergo: Grind it up and distribute it in the environment freely, no harm done.) Can “we” keep it isolated that long? Well, the BONES of Gustavas Adolphus are at the basement of the Gottenburg Cathedral. They have been there 400 years. 35′ down. UNDISTURBED!

      • France are closing nuclear power in favour of solar panel roads, windmills and roof panels. The gauche want to close 50% of nuclear by 2025. The reason is simple. They have wasted so much money elsewhere in Social security, windmills, solar panels, migrant subsidies that they have no money in the kitty now or in the future for nuclear renewal. Their crap planning has left them with no way out but to make our people pay for their lack of forward planning.

      • The economy of nuclear has permitted France to be so profligate in other areas .

        The waste issue is such a willfully stupid red herring — sorry for the insult to herring . Vitrify it and drop it in an ocean trench . & speaking of half-life , the half-life of arsenic’s toxicity is infinite .

        New designs , naturally , are even safer than it’s historically safe record . Seems to me their competitiveness is largely an arbitrage of the costs of transportation of alternative fuels , particularly coal .

      • so, never mind all the danger- and keep away signs when I approached the ‘cheap’ burial site here [in South Africa], the cost to make a nuclear plant with the current prescribed safety rules is still prohibitive compared to other energy,
        :::you have to adapt to the changing circumstances.
        Mind you, the plant here in South Africa created a lot of warming of the ocean water, killing all the fish in the surrounding areas…
        Go home.
        We don’t want your nuclear energy
        and I am not even a greeny.
        I believe more carbon dioxide is better
        since I found there simply is no man made global warming.

      • henryp, they put warning signs on cups of coffee for crying out loud.
        All power plants have warm water outputs, not just nuclear, in fact they all have the same amount if the power output is the same.
        If warm water bothers you, then you’d better oppose all forms of energy except wind and solar.

      • henryp: I drive by a yellow warning sign that has cattle grazing behind it on the way to my cabin (yellow/black radiation symbol). It’s by an old, now reclaimed, uranium mine. The sign is there because a bureaucrat said it has to go there. The science is not necessarily in agreement. However, bureaucrats outrank scientists, even when we are discussing science.

        Warning signs are from bureaucrats and personal injury lawsuits in most cases. They make it difficult to know what is really dangerous and what is simply punitive regulations or cover for very dim people who can’t follow instructions.

      • France are closing nuclear power in favour of solar panel roads, windmills and roof panels.

        It’s politics. This is the price Socialists pay for Green support – a wrecked electricity system.

      • HenryP
        The only problem with nuclear is people like you. You are not alone – the current millennial generation has lost understanding of what radiation and radioactivity are and how they fit into the natural world. Public understanding of radioactivity and ionising radiation risk is pure mythology. The scientific data – huge volumes of it – are a few mouse clicks away yet no-one bothers to educate themselves about the threshold dose below which radiation risks are either zero or negative – radiation has positive effect on longer lifespan and reduced cancer. Only above a rhreshold where tissue level and blood capillary damage occurs does radiation have a carcinogenic or mutagenic effect. This information is just a couple of mouse clicks away yet 99% of the public discussion of radiation risk is utterly sterile of scientific understanding of actual health effects of ionising radiation in multicellular organisms.

        So we live in numinous superstitious dread of ionising radiation in stubborn contradiction of the large and consistent body of scientific data. All the huge safety costs heaped religiously on the nuclear industry are to defend against imaginary hazards.

        Just go to google scholar and enter mouse + irradiation + low dose + longevity + carcinogenesis. What you fond might surprise you. It’s called curiosity, which didn’t kill the cat, just educated him.

        At mu daughter’s encouragement I’m watching the Netflix original series “The 100”. The scale of ignorance of ionising radiation effects is breathtaking. Get this: by living for 3 generations in an elevated radiation environment, a group of people evolved the ability to “filter radiation out of their bloodstream “. Just think about that sentence for a moment. I can understand how an aluminium filter might filter xrays, but how would blood proteins “filter radiation”? Also you have atmospheric radioactivity still requiring the wearing of gas masks 100 years after a nuclear war. Seriously? – has anyone heard of radioactive decay or the inverse relation between activity and half life? After 100 years of decay you could safely walk into the core od an abandoned nuclear power reactor, let alone countryside lightly dusted with bomb fallout. The media culture are simply wilfully ignorant of the most basic science of radioactivity.

        It’s the same as if they believed that a wind turbine would summon up devils from hell, and therefore mandated that a church or a monastery, with paid monks and clergy, be constructed next door to every wind turbine to keep away the demons. Not exactly a level playing field.

    • Waste a problem? Shocking. I’ve never heard of any. Lots of public scaring, but a problem? All I know is that the “waste” has been stored without problems since time immemorial and can continue to be so till another way is decided upon and implemented. Reprocessing is, of course, better than storing.

      • Waste? They did a lot of reprocessing at the Hanford site in Washington. They ran uranium reactors and recovered the plutonium from the spent fuel for making bombs(like Fat Man) . Reprocessing creates it’s own unique set of wastes. They’re still trying to clean up the mess there.

    • Nuclear waste is not a problem. Environmentalists and their pet politicians are the problem.
      The solution is re-processing, with a small repository for the small fraction that can’t be reprocessed and will be radioactive for more than a few decades.

      • Mix the waste with millions of tons of mine tailings and backfill the mined out stopes. Just don’t tell greenness.

    • “Hydro energy is the cheapest way to get energy…”

      If hydro is so good, why do the green blob always protest against every attempt to put up a hydro dam? Think Franklin River.

  13. Wow. What a great summation of the facts. Reads like a pile driver. Should be run as a paid Op-Ed in every newspaper, TV, and high volume website. Think people. Think. IBMs famous admonition to it’s employees. Our plea to the people.

    Anti-civilization AGW driven policies are crumbling now. I have champagne on ice for the day of complete collapse.

    • troe, I agree, this a well written and easy to read post that hammers home many truths. Not everyone can write and summarize so much and make it fun to read.
      Thank you John Popovich. Hope to hear from you soon and often.

  14. Sorry John, that is a MYTH that someone said, “Nuclear Power will be too cheap to meter.” The full quotation is: “And we will look forward to the day, when we will have an energy source too cheap to meter.” Admiral Lewis Strauss, 1954. his son has written on this and noted that he was obliquely referring to FUSION POWER. Or the source of the energy for the Hydrogen bomb. Although the first test of an H-Bomb was in 1952, there still was a strong “secrecy” aspect of all research work associated with the H-bomb. Eisenhower had insisted on a parallel program of research to achieving a “steady state” fusion plasma for power production. Since the “fuel cost” was estimated to potentially be 1/10 that of fission fuels, it generated an great enthusiasm at the time. Stauss’ son notes that his father regretted the corruption of his reference. And as quite surprised when he saw the headlines, “ATOMIC POWER TO BE TOO CHEAP TO METER”. Ah yes, our specious and technically illiterate “media” has NOT CHANGED MUCH in 60 years!

    • Sorry John, that is a MYTH that someone said, “Nuclear Power will be too cheap to meter.”

      I was there. It was said. I heard it.

      • Really, you were at a meeting in 1954 to hear that? Hum, presuming you were about 22 to 25, that would make you about 85 years old. Wow! Gamecock, glad you are still kicking and using the internet.

      • I was in Aiken, SC, in 1955. My parents and my neighbors all worked at the Savannah River Plant. Ground Zero of the U.S. nuclear program. The meme of electricity becoming too cheap to meter was common knowledge.

      • Aaaand it suddenly occurs to me that Gamecock might be a reference to hunting quail or pheasant, and not a video game thing like I originally thought. >¿<

    • I understand that phrase was used at the opening of the first UK nuclear power plant in the 50s.

  15. Determing the cost of nuclear is not difficult and the cost of the uranium is almost negligible – 3/4th of a cent per kilowatt hour. And uranium is so plentifully mined that many companies have stopped operating them and waiting for uranium prices to go up. This article seems unaware of the new nuclear, which he deemed as “backyard” or small scale plants, which is not even remotely the
    desirability of the new reactor designs. These molten salt designs are so totally safe and cheap to build that Moltex Energy is claiming under $2 per watt to build, which is, contrary to the article, the giant portion of the cost of current nuclear reactors, running from $6 to $8 per watt to build. Their
    fuel costs are also cheap – way less than half that of current reactors, since they can burn nucear wastes, of which we have a plentiful supply. Ot Thorium, which is also dirt cheap. These molten salt reactors will, without any doubt, dominate energy producion in the future, and a very near future at that.

    • Arthur how can you say “These molten salt designs are so totally safe and cheap to build” when not one has built, and operated? Has Moltex built one yet? PS….you can’t “burn” fission products (wastes.)

      • If you know anything about engineering you can say they can be made to be totally safe. A molten salt reactor was built in the 1960s and operated from 1965 to 1969.

        You certainly can “burn” fission products in a molten salt fast reactor. Because every transuranic isotope fissions in the fast neutron spectrum – even uranium-238. Fission waste is ~ 94% uranium-238, 4% fission products (and decay ‘daughters’), ~ 2% others (U-235, U-236, Pu-239, Pu-240, …). The fission products and daughters must be removed. The rest (96% of it) is good fast reactor fuel.

  16. Interesting treatise on energy policy for votes. It is the appearance of doing something good rather than the cost/results that appears to count, worldwide. This will all go away when the climate turns cold, for good. An ice age will not support the world population without huge changes in energy production and use. And, it will come – and it is overdue. Actually, the failure to plan for such a change will cost, probably, half the human population, much food production, and thus livestock production. Many will starve, as we are most likely past the ‘carrying capacity’ of the planet for our species under the current energy production and use methods.
    It is too bad that hydrogen energy was not included in this treatise. Hydrogen production requires water and electricity, and can be performed by any renewable source, such as solar, wind, tide, etc. Small nuclear reactors could produce hydrogen for eons of ice age, even using generated heat to melt ice.
    It can be produced for single dwellings and groups of dwellings. It can work on seawater. It can work on grey water. Municipal sewage treatment could create massive amounts of hydrogen, not just from the sewage, but from the water in it, which is the bulk of the liquid (other than on superbowl day). In fact, all grey water could be used at point of production, instead of piping it to treatment plants. Garbage trucks could take the dewatered results to landfills, instead of using pipes to drain it to remote treatment sites. Runoff from storms could be used to produce hydrogen. There are limitless opportunities to convert water to hydrogen and oxygen, and it need not be drinking water.
    Yes, there are difficulties in storing hydrogen and utilizing it. But, it can power vehicles, dwellings, offices, businesses, and, of course is the most abundant energy source we have. Talk about renewable – what is more abundant than water, if you count the oceans?
    It could even be used for water purification, by extracting the hydrogen from ‘dirty’ water, then recombining it with oxygen.
    Hydrogen provides more energy density than any other known fuel except nuclear/atomic. Almost 3 times that of natural gas, which is second. Why on earth have the scientific/political systems not seized on this remarkable energy source which provides virtually all the good sides of energy production, with literally none of the bad byproducts? No more wells, no more oil drilling, no more fracking, no more particulate air pollution, no more coal mines and transport.
    For those that consider this too hard to master, consider what it takes to manage the piecemeal approach we have already created.

    • John, the problem is Hydrogen as you described it isn’t an energy source. It’s only a energy storage medium. You only get as much energy out of the Hydrogen as you used to Crack it from the water in the first place (actual, less. Some is wasted in the process).

      And frankly, it isn’t a very GOOD storage medium. What you gloss over as ‘difficulties in storing hydrogen and utilizing it’ is in truth a highly explosive lighter then air gas that is capable over time of defusing through any know material. To store it at a even remotely useful density requires cryogenic storage tanks, which themselves require a constant supply of electricity. And to get the energy back out of it you have to either burn it or convert it in a fuel cell, both of which also result in some loss of energy as waste heat. Although a clever design might make use of that waste heat, for instance by using it to help bring your cryogenically cooled hydrogen back up to room temperature so you CAN use it. Or did you think your average fuel cell could run on liquid Hydrogen?

      I’m not sure where you got that Hydrogen has 3 times the energy density of natural gas, or that those 2 are the highest. Perhaps you are confusing Specific Energy (energy per kg) with Energy Density (energy per liter).

      When measured by volume, as you have to if you are planing on storing it as a fuel, then even liquid Hydrogen doesn’t come close to the energy density of plain old gasoline. Much less anthracite coal.

      And frankly, I’m not seeing any benefit in all this playing with Hydrogen. Any place that could set up the infrastructure to make, store, and use Hydrogen could just as easily use the electricity as it is. Even as a potential fuel for transportation it simply doesn’t measure up.

      Maybe one day, when most of our electricity comes from Fission, Fusion, or something more exotic, then it will make sense to create Hydrogen for fuel for vehicles that can’t carry their own power plant… assuming we haven’t come up with rechargeable power cells that are better by then… or just synthesize gasoline from water and CO2.

  17. The U.S. is totally missing the Boat on Next Generation Nuclear Power, Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor Technology, Cleaner, Safer, Cheaper. It can also use existing Nuclear waste as fuel. India and China are ahead of the U.S. on this one.

  18. Reminds me of the laws of thermodynamics:

    1. You can’t win.
    2. You can’t get ahead.
    3. You have to play.

    • Yes, SMC, and of the engineering students’ dilemma. “Constants aren’t and variables wont.”

  19. I do think utility scale and community scale solar can win. That requires knowledge of the ongoing cost plunge in panels, BOS costs, and regulatory education without utility vested interest and lobbying in the way. (Most people don’t have that knowledge and never will if they keep looking at averages of a mostly subsidized industry and perpetual pilot project-PPP mentality govt. policy.) Battery storage may take some time but the cost declines are starting. In five years time the also rans in solar will be wiped away, wind will be done after exhausting tax credits, and nuclear will be an even more faded memory. Coal will be around in the remaining portfolio of competitive assets after closures but subject to the next election and the pace of undermining efforts. Natural gas will still be the winner but not for all cases and locations. It also requires a straight edge mentality of price cycles gone for good, somewhat like recessions a thing of the past. That’s not how utility planning is done, but who knows with energy populism like in Calif.

    • When solar can compete with everything else without government paying 3/4ths of the cost, let me know.

      • The other 1/4th is waiting to clear out the undergrowth and bring some sense and order to the industry without govt. demonstration projects for the benefit of the politically connected.

    • you have energy down cold. Do utility solar numbers work without regulatory interference of any kind. RFS etc.

      • The time line is two years, but again all but a few analysts are not watching that closely on the cost and margin metrics. Its made more difficult by current overcapacity and zombie companies in China. The main unknown is when all the noncompetitive players move on and out. That’s like small businesses waiting for their inferior but breathing competitors to expire. My guess is that the roll forward steamroller of ultra low cost output after several years of huge price weakness from overcapacity like a lot of other Chinese overcapacity industries will be the one-two punch to weed out the industry. ITC won’t matter to these winners at that point.

    • Read somewhere (Analog??) that the laws of thermodynamics are:

      You can’t win.
      You can’t break even.
      You can’t get out of the game.

      (and There is a game)

  20. Greetings Mr. Popovich
    Interesting analysis, ‘there’s no such thing as a free lunch’. In my old neck of the woods (I left some decades ago) the ‘hydro energy’ is the main source of electricity.

    “It seems that the right knows that “alternative energy” isn’t profitable and the left doesn’t realize that it has to be”

    I think the left knows it too, but they don’t advertise fact that their ‘lunacy of green energy subsidy’ should be supported by the additional lunacy of the wealth distribution through taxation or ruining profitability of rest of economy, or both.

  21. John Popovich:

    All energy is free: it was all created at the Big Bang and cannot be destroyed.

    But collecting energy into concentrations sufficient to do useful work is expensive.

    Fortunately, nature has done much collection for us and has stored the collected energy as fossil fuels and radioactive materials.

    Everything else is economics.


    • And politics. We could build nuclear reactors for less than a billion dollars . . . if we had to. It is our decadence that allows us not to.

    • more or less that is the big plan. Cant see it for a very long time unless we want to cut living standards to the bone. Literally the bone age.

  22. We shouldn’t be looking at “alternative energy”

    We should be looking at “ APPROPRIATE energy”

    & keep politicians out of it… (in fact keep politicians grubby fingers out of anything to do with infrastructure & security).

    • Surveyors, military types, and engineers did (do) a decent job of providing direction for the country. Bankers screwed things up a little, so to fix things politicians step in and shit on everyone.

    • “We should be looking at “ APPROPRIATE energy””

      Here we have a problem, because greens run the government in most western governments. If they don’t have government in their own right, they have the balance of power. In those few places they don’t have the balance of power, they force the language of the argument in ways that mean they win.

      So, the problem with green thinking, is that they don’t think it’s a problem if the power goes out. Look at the change of government in South Australia when they had that state-wide power failure. Didn’t happen, because it suited the greens that actually control the state.

      Major power failures will happen in Victoria without the power generation from Hazelwood when the get into summer with exactly the same lack of consequences for the government. It will also cause another state-wide power failure in SA, but what do the greens care about them?

  23. Very informing article….in many regards.
    In my opinion is one that should be considered very seriously…

    But said all this, in the prospect of me not misunderstanding a given particular point….I have to say…that regardless of pros and cons when comparing the AC to DC current….as far as I can tell…in production and making of energy DC can not compete at all with AC, regardless of any scenario or idea…

    When pros for DC may somehow make a case for it, the simple natural truth as for the moment is that while DC very cost efficient in it’s usage due to transformation, the DC current as per production and making of energy is a very big handicap when compared to AC.

    When considering that no else in Universe can create or destroy energy, the only way to transform energy in means of production and making, in electricity, the AC is the main workable and sufficient main method, while in the same time the DC method is not even any where close to it for even the slightest comparison.

    To consider that DC can overtake the AC in the transforming-production-making method of energy, one has to consider the very transforming of reality, nature, and Universe, in its own basics and laws…….at least as far as the reality , knowledge and experience does allow up to the present state of our civilization and human knowledge….and the reality up to now.

    But still contemplating and venturing in it, can make some very very reach and wealthy- healthy with no regards to any thing else involved…..


  24. I saw an article recently that claimed that the cost of solar power had now gone negative! I didn’t bother reading it, but obviously we can now relax, power is not only free, it provides cash too.

    Green fantasies are truly fantastic!

      • I actually went and found it and read it. Apparently this has happened in Germany, California and South Australia: they produce too much renewable power when nobody wants it, so have to pay people to take it! Amazing stuff, renewable energy, none of it around when we need it, too so much about when we don’t, they have to pay you to take it away. Sounds like mangoes round our way :)

        I swear I’m not making this up, google “negative cost of solar power”.

  25. Well done, Mr. Popovich! Covered a lot of ground about as concisely as possible. Should be [resented before the House Science Committee.

  26. Fuel for transportation – South Africa makes synfuel from coal – wasn’t mentioned. I think oil should be reserved for petrochemicals.

    I like the idea of solar photovoltaic powered residential communities. Pricey to be sure, has it’s limitations, and YOU have to maintain it, but combined with cell phones, “we” get rid of all the ugly “telephone” poles and no more outages from electrical and wind storms unless it hits your joint.

    Windmills are ugly and dumb. The Texas panhandle, never a beauty spot, is really ugly now.

    I think there were some exaggerations about the capital costs of producing solar, wind and methanol systems.

    Other than that, spot on.

    • Even in the best locations, you can’t put enough PV’s on your roof to power your house.
      You’d still need the power poles.
      PS: How you gonna get cable to your house?

      • But only when it isn’t raining or the wind blowing to hard.
        For me, cable includes internet, including high upload speeds which I need when doing work at home.

      • Directional underground drilling machines. Natural gas, water and cable comes underground. It’s being done lots of places, but not for high voltage transmission. Telephone poles should largely go the way of the dodo bird – at least for residential. Industry & commerce is still gonna need lots of juice, and windmills and roof top solar aren’t ever going to do the job.

      • At the depth these things run, it’s cheaper to just dig a trench and drop the pipes and conduits into it.

    • Oil doesn’t need to be “reserved” for anything. We don’t need government dictating what oil is used for. That is what the free market is for. And sorry, but solar powered residential communities is nothing but a pipe dream, and an expensive one at that. People who like “green” energy have no conception about cost. They don’t seem to care. It is all part of their cognitive dissonance.

  27. It’s hard to build an economical power plant when you have to redesign two or three times before construction is completed.

  28. In my very humble opinion I can’t see the currant renewables ever gaining much of a foothold and never would have without the CO2 hysteria. As the truth emerges from the propaganda and the non problem of anthropogenic Global warming is exposed, wind and solar will fall back to the niche markets they can compete in. The real energy revolution is in new technology and is not that far out. Brilliant Light power expects a prototype this year ( Lawrenceville Plasma Physics is making good gains on their Focus Fusion project (, and several fronts are showing promise in the LENR field. If any of these make it to the market the wind mills and solar farms will be in need of reclamation.

    • Correct about LPPFusion. Their reactor is an aneutronic process (no radioactive waste or components) and involves direct generation of electricity by induction transformers (ie no generators or turbines)… that reduces the projected wholesale costs of electricity to about .5 cents a kWH instead of the current US average of $.12.. This is a near term (5 year implementation project)

      The company is completely transparent and publishes in peer reviewed journals… Currently LPPFusion is ranked between #1 and #5 in the world for meeting fusion breakeven… but competitors have all peaked while LPPFusion will be loading final components and the ultimate fuel, pB11 , starting this summer. The reactors are incredibly compact and are designed to generate 5 MW each. Funding has been tight because the founder Eric Lerner will only license on terms that ensure that the electric power from his reactor remains ultra-cheap. Reactors like this can displace virtually all fossil fuel applications for heat, electricity and propulsion.

      The latest educational videos can be found at

  29. Note that if you subtract the cost of regulations, delays, courts, etcetera, etcetera, ad nauseum from nuclear or fossil fuel power plants – they are far cheaper to operate.

    Add the same costs as nuclear or fossil fuel plants to wind, solar, biofuels – they are an even worse deal.

    This is even without considering subsidies to the worthless sources, which actually push them into a net negative expense (aka, profit) from government action.

  30. In my part of the country we have shuttered nuclear plants including fusion from the Howard Baker- never met an atom he didn’t like-era

    This is the genius behind the 1990 Clean Air regulations that John Beale received a gold medal for. Not against nuclear but have seen promises that didn’t come true resulting in 30 years of bond payments for nothing. WUWT should establish “The Ring” allowing proponents of different energy sources to battle it out.

  31. Solar electricity from photovoltaics is said to be free once you pay for the system but the overall cost is greater than the grid supplied cost of fossil fuel generated electricity and this means that to get an equivalent usable amount of electrical energy from photovoltaics more fossil fuel energy is expended in the manufacture, installation, operation, and maintenance and as a consequence more pollutants are generated and our standard of living is reduced.

    Is the above statement true?
    I had thought solar had progressed to the point where the panels where energy positive.
    I’m watching a thread on another forum about the same topic and would like to respond but not sure what the real story is.

    • The making of the panels may or may not be energy positive. However you also have to account for everything else that is needed to build up a solar power facility. There’s also the cost of recycling the panels when they reach the end of their useful lives.

  32. Make me think about the solar heat exchanger I had on my roof in FL. In a good day it might increase the temperature in my pool by 2C, then if I forgot to turn the flow off for the night, the temperature would be down by 4C the day after.
    And it reduced the life of the roof shingles by several years, cost me 15k to replace!

    Got a heath pump now, but I guess I should feel bad about that, and who really needs a pool!

  33. “…the fact that much of the nuclear fuel available today is a result of a scaling back in nuclear weapons by the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. …”

    I call BS on this statement…the output of Canada’s and Australia’s uranium mines can’t be used for weapons (by law/edict) so the supply is entirely driven by the demand of the nuclear power industry. And fwiw Canada has lots of untapped reserves of Uranium.

    • Uranium that had already been mined assuming a certain level of demand, still exists, even if the demand suddenly drops.
      I’ve also read that when nuclear weapons were decommissioned, the highly enriched cores were diluted down the the lower levels needed for power plants and made available to power plants.

    • A quick look at global Uranium production data shows his claim to be utter BS. It is now dominated by Kazakhstan who produces 50% more than Canada (#2) and Australia (#3) combined. Their production increase represents the entire global increase since 2004…it increased 6-fold long after the SALT/START treaties kicked in so it was not weapons driven.

    • In Canada’s case, back in the 60’s Lester B Pearson (PM at the time) banned the sale for use in weapons. The US sourced its weapons from African uranium and later on a US mine (I believe they also experimented with extracting it from sea water).

    • Price yes…but read his statement…he implies supply was driven by demand for weapons which isn’t true when major suppliers weren’t serving that market (for Canada that was 50 years of supplying solely the power, medical, etc. industries).

  34. Seems that greenies want to add in the “social cost” of carbon-based fuels to up the ante against renewable sources, since there’s no way to square the economic benefit of RE vs. fossil fuels. In other words, change the equation to win the game.

    • Good post. Al Gore is a colossal douche. I known him as a 6th District citizen since 1975. Take my word on it.

  35. Magical solutions have always had appeal. A miracle weight-loss system, the cure for cancer, a perfect sleeping pill, free energy for your home, X-ray specs, etc. Heck if there were a simple solution to all my problems, I’m sure I’d be interested. But I’m old enough to be a crotchety skeptic, and I can smell a con job.

    • PaulH. I know a sure fire way to make a small fortune. Take a large fortune to the casino. And, there is no magic about it. Governed by the laws of probability and the house always has an advantage via giving themselves the higher probabilities.

  36. Cost and Price, while similar, are completely different.
    The Cost of energy production and the Price of energy produced, varies, by necessity by the means to produce it.
    Here in NZ, we have the majority of power produced by hydro and therefore the ‘cost’ would have been high initially, and the impact upon the country, equally high. Some even felt that this so called clean energy, shouldn’t even be had by way of hydro storage and there was a (successful) protest to ‘ban the dam’.

    Nuclear here in NZ, is un-touchable…and I have to accept that, but have been swayed to look again at this power source.
    The Molten Salts style reactors as promoted by Kirk Sorenson, is at the top of the list.
    Here is a source where the Cost to produce the system is high, but the Price of the energy once the reactor is built, is negligible…so the energy consumed should be cheap….very cheap.
    The material used for fuel is/could be the by product ie, read..waste, of other industrial processes.
    The same can NOT be said for the current fuel for nuclear reactor sourced energy.

    Low/no fuel cost for a MSR energy source = cheap energy/power.

    Sadly, the chances of NZ having ANY nuclear source of energy, is the same as the CAGW crowd rolling over and giving up their views about CO2.


  37. Fukushima and Chernobyl are the poorest, examples to choose. Nobody died from radiation in the first, and 85% of all people who died died at Chernobyl. Only one person died in the French nuke system, possibly from a forklift accident. The cost for nuclear is grandly inflated because of activist hysteria. 4kto 5k workers annually perished in China’s coal mines up until recently. Radiation at Hiroshima declined to natural background within a year of the bomb. There is tons more of this story out there.

  38. “If photovoltaic electricity was less costly than grid supplied electricity, photovoltaics would be used to make photovoltaics.”

    One line is missing here: If wind powered electricity was cheaper then grid electricity from hydro, nuclear and coal-fueled, the wind turbines would be made using power from wind turbines.

    Obviously they are not. If they were, they would cost at least twice as much as now, probably 4 times as much, based on my own calculations.

    Energy is literally money. Less taxes and profit, the price on a turbine is entirely energy in stored or delivered form. The fact that production becomes more efficient with time doesn’t abrogate this fundamental principle. Raise the price of energy and the price of everything rises.

  39. How many times have people died in fossil fuel plants because somebody failed to do sufficient amounts of maintenance?
    Accidents happen. The world is full of humans and few of them are perfect.
    The over all safety record for nuclear is as good or better than all other forms of power.

  40. Not “or better”. Nuclear is much safer than other forms of generation in deaths/unit energy from radiation related accidents, 50 directly or indirectly from an uncontained Stalin Era plutonium plant accident, that’s it. If you doubt this read the relevant updated UNSCEAR report (last one 2012?).

    “Siemens promoted photovoltaics in the late 19th century” Really? I am curious about the Siemens19th Century PV technology, unaware this existed in Victorian times..

    Wjhy are people debating their opinions on LCOE when facts exist? As well as the safest, most sustainable and zero CO2 emitting enrgy source Nuclear is the CHEAPEST elelctrical energy per KWh on all the fully costed IEA studies @ 3 different IIRs, including coal and gas.. Free summary here:

    But these are only the hard science facts, easier to believe in whatever science denial you like the sound of that can’t do anything it claims in fact. People are very strange, not much progress from the MOche, inspite of al that scienific progress and education, the average human is still pig ignornat, lazy minded on facts, fearful and superstitious. And so easy to defraud with snake oil remedies for that must make the problems they claim to solve worse in science fact, including CO2 emissions versus preferring clean gas replacing coal and nuclear replacing both, so insiders and the rich can make a fast buck by law at everyone else’s expense. Government at work..

  41. Wow! This has to be the worst guest essay I’ve ever seen on this site. Is John still in high school? I ask because I’ve read much better essays by mediocre high school students. Just a few examples:

    “In the 1950s we were assured by the best scientific minds and the U.S. President that nuclear electricity would be of such low cost that it would not make sense to meter it.”

    No … the “too cheap to meter” nonsense was an offhand comment made in a speech by Lewis Strauss, a career bureaucrat who was neither a scientist nor a U.S. President. Only die-hard anti-nukes have ever bothered to mention it since the 1950’s.

    “… but it is still very difficult to determine the economics of nuclear electricity and this is in part because the fuel is provided by governments.”

    Uh … say what?!! The fuel today is provided by private sector corporations.

    “The U.S. government tried to get private industry … Union Carbide made an offer that required government guarantees and big upfront cash. Maybe Union Carbide knew something about nuclear fuel processing cost since they were operating a government nuclear fuel processing plant in Tennessee which happened to be the biggest electricity user in the U.S.”

    Union Carbide has never been involved in making fuel for commercial nuclear reactors. The Y-12 facility that you refer to is a Manhattan-Project-era facility whose only purpose was to produce material for weapons.

    “Other concerns about nuclear electricity cost include the fact that much of the nuclear fuel available today is a result of a scaling back in nuclear weapons by the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. and of course the processing waste and the plant closure cost.”

    Er … Today? The Megatons to Megawatts Program ended in 2013. Once again, John is cluelessly parroting out-of-date, inaccurate information.

    “Bill Gates and other smart people are funding research on backyard nuclear power plants.”

    The company being funded by Bill Gates has plans to build a PROTOTYPE nuclear reactor that will produce about 600 megawatts of electricity. That’s not something that will fit in your typical “backyard” — in fact, it’s about 10% larger than the average coal plant running in the US today and much larger than your typical natural gas plant.

    And the nonsense goes on and on. There’s too much stupid stuff for me to waste time debunking it all. Anthony, I’m embarrassed for you for agreeing to publish this crap.

      • Since you asked for more, I’ll continue with this nugget:

        “The Rasmussen report was used to insure us that a Three Mile Island type incident would only happen every 500,000 reactor years. Then there was Chernobyl and Fukushima.”

        The “Rasmussen Report” (which is the nickname for report WASH-1400) is now considered grossly obsolete. It was pioneering for its time (1975) in that it was one of the early applications of the technique of Probabilistic Risk Assessment (PRA). Nevertheless, it’s methods were criticized, even at the time, and it is simply unfair to criticize the report for not predicting Chernobyl, since it did not consider the reactor designs being used by the Soviet Union.

        Just as nobody wears leisure suits, listens to 8-tracks, or runs calculations on mainframe computers that read a deck of cards today, nobody takes WASH-1400 seriously. If you want to see the state-of-the-art in PRA analysis, then you should look at the “State-of-the-Art Reactor Consequence Analyses” (SOARCA) report, which was published in 2012 and is available on the internet from the US government as document number NUREG/CR-7110.

        That the author doesn’t even mention this report indicates to me that he is just recycling old garbage that he dredged up from who knows where — probably on a Greenpeace or Union of “Concerned Scientists” website.

    • Don’t stop there. ” 4 MeV neutrons are rough on materials” ? Which? The reactor vessels at essentially all operating nukes in US sees thermal neutrons and are good for 60 years, even those fabricated in late 1960s. Dominion considered re-licensing the vessels at Surry 1,2 for 80 yrs. Modern vessels are even better against neutron embrittlement. Other materials are less limiting or can be routinely replaced at the end of service life. Fusion is a different story.

  42. Perverse incentives is what it is called, has happened many times in many places and many ways, it usually ends eventually.

  43. Very good piece John. You covered most of the bases.

    Bill Gates has also promised a billion dollars for a new, clean, cheap form of energy production. I think there is one on the horizon although many here disagree and will likely use this as an excuse for the usual ad hominems.
    Rossi’s QuarkX LENR reactor and LP’s SunCell are both scheduled for demos this Summer, with believable calorimetry. Not long to wait. Time will tell who is right.

  44. “The 4MeV neutrons produced by fission are rough on materials and greatly increase the plant cost relative to other heat sources. Imagine dealing with the 14Mev neutrons from fusion.”


    Would someone care to do the long division for a civilian. Not just the numbers, but the explanation. This is a genuine question and not a snark. Thanks.

    • I am nothing of an expert, but the energy of subatomic particles is measured in electron volts (eV), so a 14 eV particle would have more energy than a 4eV similar particle.

      • Thanks, but I’m a civilian. Your explanation really doesn’t help. How about the version for the inquisitive 12th grader who got middling grades in science classes but ranks in the top 1% in verbal skills and general reasoning?

      • I think maybe what the original post was saying was the reactions in a fission reactor tend to damage the structure of the reactor, and the more energetic reactions in a fusion reactor should damage the structure even more.It is analogous to trying to deal with something at 1400 Kelvin degrees v 4900K==>3.5 times as much energy.

      • Tom, that much I understood. I was hoping for some elaboration in English.

        Years ago — 14 to be exact — I met a nuclear guy on the QE2 while going from New York to England. For whatever reason, or lack thereof, we got to talking about fusion. He told me that it was a complete non-starter because fusion is so intensely radioactive that nothing can contain the reactor.

        I’ve always hoped I’d find a discussion of this issue that I, a non-scientist but not a dummy, could understand.

      • Re Fusion. Fusion in machines has been a fact at JET since 1991. Plenty of videos on the site but I like this one. Enjoy

        I suggest you Google this rather than accept on received opinion from a bloke on a boat w/o checking his published info first? First off it is the fusion plasma that needs to be contained in the Torroidal magnetic field, and has been for decades, 13 years before you met your “expert”. This was not a real scientist you spoke to. He clearly made it up in defiance of the proven science. The radiation is actually not a problem, and what fusion seeks to create a lot of. It is a neutron flux that comes from the fusion of a few grams of charged Tritium and Deuterium gas nucleii contained in the Torroidal magnetic field of the device, “containment” of the neutrons is not the plan, they are uncharged and need to be free to be captured by a surronding Lithium jacket to produce power, or, alternatively the jacket can contain waste to be transmuted into safer isotopes, or spent fuel to be transmuted into new fuel for fission reactors, whatever. That is not yet done and a job for the Torus after ITER, a long way away still. ITER won’t have the originally planned Lithium jacket.

        JET created a contained fusion at Culham on 9th Novemer 1991, at 100 Milion degrees, and has done so thousands of times since. They do public visits at three levels of technological understanding. I was inside it when the wall lining was being changed from carbon to Beryllium tungsten – in 2008? – as a lining material test for ITER in France, currently under construction and ten times bigger. Check that out.

        What your man said was simply assertive nonsense. However It may well be fission is a better way to produce the energy we need when fossil is exhausted as a commodity source of intense controllable enrgy, and is quite sustainable for the life of the human race, but fusion is an avenue to pursue for few generations more, certainly as a powered source of plentiful fast neutrons for transmutation that is not a function of reactor criticalaity, as it is with fast fission.

        The materials technology at fusion temperatures and neutron fluxes is far harder than the nuclear science, BTW. We are dealing with containing a plasma 10 time hotter than the heart of the Sun, where every element up to Iron is made. Need a Super Nova to make the heavy stuff and a star creation to scoop it up. We can conatin fusion plasmas, , but its tough and still limited to pulses of a few seconds, up to 20s from memory. No reason why you can’t heat Lithum with pulses of fusion and integrate the heat , though…. all this is online on the EFDA and other sites. Culham has a Facbook page. Man made fusion on Earth has been real proven science for 15 years.

        To produce energy in a steam turbine they plan to capture the fast neutron energy in a jacket of Lithium which will be colled with a primary cooling circuit of ??? – in the version after ITER. ITER will be close to production scale but won’t be able to capture neutrons or put power on the grid. They will try to reach “ignition”, more power out that in, as I understand it.

        Meanwhile fast fission may make Fusion less attractive as it runs at more reasonable temperature levels and burns the heavy actinides that thermal neutron fission doesn’t, so using much more of the fuel and leaving mainly short lived fission waste. This ends the problem of storing the longer lived actinides from thermal fission spent fuel, which isn’t really waste, except to Americans. In more rational and advanced cutures the actinides and much smaller half life and less radiologically hazaradous fission waste in the spent fuel are separated – for re-use as renewable fuel and safe disposal respectively – the waste placed in naturally radioactive rock as vitrified rock itself, and soon no more radioactive than the natural rock containing it. I hope that helps a bit. Seems the bloke on the boat and the bloke down the pub both need the same level of independent validation ;-).

      • Seeing is believing… a JET Fusion Plasma pulse. The 100 Million degrees is the dark stuff in the middle, none of the main plasma is visible, the stuff at the edges is not where its happening, kinda impressive. Lots of those 14 MeV neutrons flying through everyhting. These are several MegaWatt pulses running for up to 20 seconds., from 1 gramme of gas. More energy in than out, so the kit around the Tokamak is pretty impressive too. Worth a visit. Here’s a pic from my last visit for the core chamber scale. Lots of less close up pics on EFDA site.

        BTW this started in the Cold War when a team from the UK Zeta project (false alarm on Mormon cold fusion level, but advanced) were invited by the Soviets who wanted to know whether the Tokamak they had designed to contain a fusion plasma would work as adverised, a secretly despatched team was welcomed by the Soviet Academy of Sciences with full disclosure when the CCCP and the West were at Military loggerheads. The UK first fired up a rather basic JET in 1984 after the Queen opened it, I visited then, still have the brochure, it was first running at 10 Million degrees with resistive heating in the plasma alone, the first fusion pulse was on my birthday in 1991, with a shed load more energy injection and Deuterium/Tritium gas, 7 years later. Can’t make it up………. the spunds must be from somewhere, but the Plasma is silent, in a deep vaccuum. Enjoy:

      • brianrlcatt April 16, 2017, 6:21 am: “Re Fusion. Fusion in machines has been a fact at …”

        Can I one-up that, or maybe this is more on a par with it – fusion-like temps produced at ambient room “pressure” without the muss and fuss of Tokamak:

    • May I try, as others seem ot to have satisfied you or explained well. I also communicate energy reality to “laymen”, the ones who prefer facts to greenwash. and tutor maths and physics to University entrance in retirement. I am a professional physicist (first degree) and engineer, with experience as a design engineer and also in radiation physics before tetch business, as distinct from yer usual “experts”. Not brilliant but recognised as competent and experienced by my Institutes. A jobbing expert who has worked in radiation physics. Hope that adds cred. You can also find my evidence on energy in the Library of the Houses of Parliament.

      Because energy at atomic level is so tiny, the unit of charge on the electron was picked on to create an atomic unit of energy, the electron Volt. Not a lot, but there are many electrons, and other particles. Lots of noughts.

      The difference, put simply, means their (sort of kinetic) energy is 14/4 times greater in Fusion than in fission, if you believe these numbers. The fission one is wrong for commercial reactors, and 4Mev at the high end for fast fission reactors, that are the next gen future and the Russians already have in production operation but the US does not, and is greenly backward about.

      The maximum fission neutron energy is less that 1MeV for a commercial thermal neutron generation reactor, BWR, PWR, AGR, etc, , and to have themselved a fission interaction neutrons need to SLOW DOWN, to thermal Neuton energies of 0.025eV, just wandering about like a gas at that temperature, molecule wise. That’s why the moderator is there – to slow them down enough so they can have themselves a fission. So most neutrons are slowed to thermal level before interacting with anything other than the fuel encapsulation and moderator material. And never have a 4 MeV energy.

      A fast fission reactor may reach this neutron energy, but there are no long term production examples to understand the effects on materials of 24/7 operation. So the step to fusion for materials technology is apparently far greater – but not really…. as I expand on below, this is meant to be a summary intro..

      Link on neutron energies.

      The 14MeV figure for fusion is correct. The materials that can deal with this without rapid degradation in more strenuous than research enviroments are in development, See section 4 of link for a rough idea of the problem solving process.

      ****** BUT – What fo do the units actually mean?

      One electron volt is a very small unit of atomic energy, at the at sub atomic level. It’s NOT a voltage, it’s the energy acquired when the charge on an electron (the e) is accelerated by a potential of 1Volt the V.

      So, 1.6×10^-12 Coulombs x 1Volt = 1.6X10^-12 Joules. Or not a lot of energy. This is an energy unit at the Quantum level, it can repreent the differences in energy between electrons in different orbits and converts to wavelengths of atomic spectra by Planks constant h, so that Energy in eV = hf, where the frequency f is the lights colour, in the visible range and beyond. Lots of very large positive and negative exponents involved. But still basic High School physics.

      So 27KeV in an old style TV tube, 150KeV in an X-Ray Tube, etc., It’s the applied voltage times e the charge on an electron. OK?

      Looked at from another perspective…….

      This is the same energy as you learnt at High School in conventional physics, given by Energy = Current X time X Voltage in Joules = Watt seconds. Note current X time it is flowing is charge in Coulombs, so charge times votage is also joules. VIT has the unit of Joules.

      1 Watt second = 1 joule = 1.6X10^12 eV.

      1.6 Milion, Million eV. Does that help? Actually, this is part of High School science……

      INTERACTION/CROSS SECTION: Now it gets interesting and more serious nuclear physics, it’s been 46 years but I will give it a go. A neutron is not charged so can move through matter with little interaction, as an atom is mostly space, think solar system only smaller, and te neutron has no charge, unlike an electron or nucleus, to interact with. In fact the cross section is HIGH for very SLOW thermal neutrons and U-235. With construction materials the neutron energy is not as important as far as damage is concerned as the cross section for capture of the material they pass through, which varies with neutron energy AND material. So materials tech is important, but not insurmountable, hence the Berylium/titanium lining now tested in JET for ITER. And the other stuff in the link. Temperatures are another problem. And cleanliness of the lining in the space level vacuum, where contamination can severely impacy performance. Why the graphite first uised is been changed for Beryllium/tungsten, it adsorbed fusion products and raw material over time which desorbed inconveniently during 100 Milion degree pulses, as I understand it.

      In case it helps, this creation of special units of energy happens at the other extreme of power delivery, where we uses GWh or KWh, which is a shitload of Joules, technically speaking.

      1 KWh is 1,000 Watts (e.g. 250 Volts times 4 Amps ) for 3,600 seconds, so 3.6 Million Joules. etc. You will find the US uses the unit of Thousands of Kilowatt hours when assessing risk, for example (GWh in science fact), and Billion when they should use Giga, Trillion when its Terra, etc. – which explains why they also mixed the units and missed Mars. Always check units are global standard or American Texas Petrochemical, y’all.! Barrels of oil are another enrgy unit BBLs of Texas Light, etc.. Can’t make it up, it’s been done.

      Hope that helps. The only correct information you appear to have received is the energy of a Fusion Neutron, the implications are incorrect, and perhaps loosely grasped hearsay? Was your man a physicist or simply management? Engineers can afford the QE2? I never could. even after the MBA, etc. Jealous. Hope that helps. PS You can Google all this yourself, Hyperphysics is good on the basic science, and my qualifications for credibility. CEng, CPhys, MBA.

  45. 1/. It was fusion energy that was to be too cheap to meter.

    2/. Nature herself runs the market. If there are no rabbits, foxes died out. If there is no produce, socialist parasites die out too.

  46. Those who can do and then get criticized for it. If making electricity was left to the likes of John Popoffhismouth you would be sitting in the dark in your cave.

    The US Navy and US commercial power has a perfect safety record, no one has been hurt by radiation. About 20% of our electricity comes nukes with a 90% capacity factor for the last 25 years.

    Part of the reason for our sucess is self criticism. We critic what we did well and what we could do better and share the information.

    “The government went for the High Pressure Water Cooled reactor for two reasons. They already had built them for submarines and aircraft carriers, and they produced plutoniumcrotozedfor bombs that is fairly easy to extract chemically from spent fuel and can be converted into reactor fuel.”

    Which goverment? This might surprise some critics but the US does not dictate to the world although we are often followed.

    Light water (moderated) reactors were selected because the compact reactor design would fit in the hull of ships and inside containment buildings.

    LWR are not used to make bombs. Graphite moderated reactors are an example of weapons reactor.

    LWR operate at a much lower pressure than fossil plants. The higher the steam pressure the higher the thermal efficiency of the steam turbine. This is very important for the economics of fossil plants.

    LWR are further classified as pressurized and boiling water. A BWR produces saturated steam in the reactor vessel. PWR produce steam in a separate vessel called a steam generator.

    • There’s a lot to be said for an LWR experience base of more than 60 years. Precise understanding of criticality control both inside and outside of the reactor (CIPS anyone?) Deep, hard won understanding of materials issues (PWSCC, IGSCC, FAC neuron embrittlement, etc.). To date, don’t have any of this for molten salt. As well as a deep human resouce base – nuclear navy, INPO, WANO, NRC, etc.(don’t underestimate this aspect).

      Can’t imagine a licensed design for thorium reactor in less than 30 or 40 years. If someone with knowledge on the issue has other ideas, chime in.

      • I would say 30 or 40 years is conservative based on my recent US experience with new LWR designs.

        This does not rule out it being done in a country with lax regulation but those countries depend on the US or EU to approve designs.

      • Perfect point, Robert. Fast fission is the next step, 100 times the actinide burn can’t be bad. No less real waste though, as distinct from spent fuel, as the same number of fissions are required for the same energy. Already on the way in Russia and elsewhere. Ball droped for political reasons by Carter admonistration, who also misunderstood the technologies because they were called “fast breeder reactors” All reactors breed. It depends what is bred and if that is for commercial or military purposes., etc.

  47. We had a nuclear fuel reprocessing plant all read to start operations, when Carter pulled the plug.

    To set an example. Which no one followed.

    Nuclear fuel isn’t really “spent” around 95% recoverable energy remains, but daughter products that are chain-reaction poisons build up, and need to be removed.

    In a Molten Salt Reactor design, the reprocessing is part of the fuel loop. So MSRs, once started up, can be fed “spent” nuclear fuel and burn it up. Deploy the MSRs on an existing nuclear power facility, and there are no transportation issues.

    The nuclear power industry has been bedeviled by political issues, because of nuclear weapons proliferation concerns and Soviet propaganda actions (our anti-nuke movement are all puppets).

  48. One of a best shart essay i ve read about “free” energy…what is lacking is on what shoulder is the burden of failure, because, it is not free, but some are making money with it.

    • and i and not sure what you said abour nuclear energy is right…but i love so much ” if photovoltaic electricity was less costly than grid supplied electricity, photovoltaics would be used to make photovoltaics.”

      If corn to ethanol made sense, ethanol would be used to fuel the process.” that i forgive approximations..

  49. “the amount of annual solar radiation in Germany is so low, it really is “Put this where the sun don’t shine” .”

    and yet the Germans regularly get a third of their weekday daytime electricity from solar power for 6 months a year.

    German coal use is not increasing.

    [Griff, you really ought to learn to do research before making claims.

    “In Germany we’re living with a paradox resulting from the energy transition,” says Ms Kemfert. On the one hand, the country is investing in renewable energy helping to bring emissions down, while on the other the increased use of coal acts to force them up.”


    Coal still rules.


    • Germany gets roughly 8% of their total energy from renewables. Their emissions plateaued in 2009 and have been flat ever since. Total renewables has 30% of Germany’s electric market, which makes statements like “and yet the Germans regularly get a third of their weekday daytime electricity from solar power for 6 months a year” very disingenuous.

      You need to start consider what the word “regularly” means. It’s a vague & flexible target which only serves to illustrate the desperate inconsistency of solar, since they “regularly” get zero percent of their electricity from solar at night. In other words, to be effective, they need storage for this daytime only source of electricity.

      Of that 30% electricity, less than 6% of their total electricity usage comes from solar and less than 1.5% of their total energy usage (including transportation) comes from solar.

      The price of electricity in Germany has risen by 80% since 2007. Bear in mind that emissions stopped dropping in Germany in 2009, so you have to ask what they are getting for this investment. The answer is a reduction in nuclear power — if you are anti-nuclear, that’s great. But, if you are against carbon dioxide emissions, why would you care?

      “The German government recently said that 6.9 million households live in energy poverty, defined as spending more than 10 per cent of their income on energy. This is partly a result of Germany’s Energiewende, the country’s turn away from nuclear and towards renewable energies.

      This year alone, German consumers are expected to subsidize green energy to the tune of a whopping €23.6 billion ($33 billion) on top of their normal electricity bills for the so-called “renewable energies reallocation charge.” — Bjorn Lomberg

  50. John,
    This comment is spot on:-

    Productivity is simply a measure of the ratio of human energy expended to useful energy returned.

    I read this a few years ago:-
    “If a business is not profitable then it is not sustainable.”
    The examples you give can all be categorised as parasitic businesses.

  51. Tasmania has a great network of hydro power stations which are government owned and weren’t connected to any other part of Australia. Life was good with the assets mostly paid for and the price of electricity relatively low. Then, some rocket scientist in the Government decided that the price of hydro power in Tasmania should be ‘market’ driven (this was mid 1990’s) and somewhat related to the dam levels. (even though the government had no control on the filling of the dams). Invariably the price of power crept up – because the state government was topping up the coffers to pay for who knows what hare brained scheme or social experiment. At some point, bought about by the lure of selling ‘green’ energy to the mainland, a very large extension cord was plugged into Tasmania from Victoria. We now have the situation where Tasmanian residents are paying up to $0.27/kwh for green energy which used to be the only form of energy in Tasmania.
    That is, a state where all of the energy was renewable and cheap is now paying more for it because the state government can sell it on the ‘market’ because it is ‘green’. The irony of it all is that people in Tasmania are installing solar power on properties BECAUSE of the cost of green power!

  52. John wrote: “Intermittent/inconsistent energy sources such as solar and wind do not allow a reduction in the number or size of power plants …”

    Agreed. But what fraction of the cost of electricity from fossil fuel is due to the cost of fuel and what fraction the due to the capital cost of building a plant and staffing it so that it is available when needed. For natural gas, 75% of the cost can be fuel (assuming 10% discount rate for capital). So when plentiful, intermittent renewable electricity causes a natural gas plant to be shut down, 75% of the cost is saved and 25% should be added to the cost of the wind or solar. If one believes that emitting CO2 has negative externalities, then subtract those costs also. One could summarize this information in an equation, where ICR = increased cost of renewable, CR = cost of renewable, CG = cost of gas, and SCC = social cost of carbon (with all terms expressed in $/kWh.

    ICR = CR + 25% CG – SSC

    For electricity from coal, about 1/3 of the cost (CC) is fuel.

    ICR = CR + 67% CC – SSC

    John continued: “…and in fact there is a requirement for rapid response power plants which are much costlier and much less efficient and because they are often idled they have longer payback periods.”

    Agreed, but I accounted for the cost of idle time above. What does “less efficient” really amount to? How much more does electricity cost from a plant running at 50% of optimum output rather than 100%? The reference below suggests that 90% of maximum efficiency at 50% of optimal output is possible for CC-Gas.

    John finished with: “Solar and wind electric systems also produce shock loads on utility grids which are costly to accommodate. No one wants to be without electricity when the sun is blocked by a cloud.”

    Agreed. More spinning reserve will be needed. Even worse, grids with larger amounts of “asynchronous” renewable energy are increasingly unstable.

    • “The reference below suggests ….”

      No Frank it suggest nothing. It is an interesting article about very small power plants.

      “John finished with…”

      Frank you do know that John made up 90% of his essay? That is how liars operate. Mix in 10% truth and then say whatever fits your agenda.

  53. Just a factoid and observation or two. S. Australia wastes a lot of time debating what is often straightfoward joined up energy science denial, overall an utterly dysfunctional triumph of politics for avoidably regressive subsidy profit/gain from energy supply, justified by green belief preferred to the established facts of energy generation – on the grid. The climate is not changed much, reasons below.

    Off the grid in S.Australia? Use solar PV, expensive storage, pay up and leave those on the grid alone – oh, and keep the diesel gene fuelled up in case the sun don’t shine and batteries go flat. But don’t expect other people on the grid to pay for it in subsidie. Finally, its 8/7 output really doesn’t do much for climate change as advertised versus cheaper 24/7 low CO2 gas CCGT or zero carbon Nuclear.

    Lots of facts on cost. Beacause I see so much unqualified opinion on this, here are the IEA 2015 actual costs. Nuclear stil cheapest, but the margins are determined by interest rates. ALL costs are included in LCOE.

    nb: Renewables offseting clean CCGT plant’s 1/3 of the time or so don’t save very much CO2 (CCGT is 40% the CO2/KWh compared to coal). No opinion required. Just the facts. By all means demolish old unscrubbed toxin emitting coal, but replace it with what works best on the energy science to power a 24/7 grid, CCGT and nuclear in most cases, and, again, use solar for midday a/c offset, but not subsidised.

    If gas or nuclear are cheaper, use them for the aircon too, not solar. Why wouldn’t you? How hard can this arithmatic be?

    Seems Oz voters, and some Americans in sunnier climes, supposedly educated to 16 in science, are too selfish/greedy/lazy minded or simply not interested in figuring these facts out when bribed with easy money subsidies that impoverish others. And, as far as the grid supply security goes, more renewables with unpredictable intermittency must make electricity supply increasingly dependent on expensive interconnect without capable 24/7 fossil or zero carbon nuclear “back up” available on these grid “Islands” to 100% of capacity. etc. Good luck with that. Pre-broken non-solution on the engineering facts for easy profit on the legislative fact.

    S.Austalia is only 12TWh pa or so, mostly empty with loadsa wasteland to experiment with, and coal at the surface, also a long way from the real world, so good luck with whatever nonsenses you want to subsidise. It’s actually a great place to test CCS coal that can maybe deliver zero carbon energy at low fuel coast. How much research going on into that? Not a lot? No quick ‘n easy subsidies for “clean coal” from green deceit.

    Energy supply is well proven established engineering, it isn’t based on unprovable ever climate science models. Anyone with science O Level can do the physics of the joined up grid, and the CO2 effects. Answer? Renewables are mostly a politcal fraud whose profits are enabled and guaranteed by easy subsidies enforced by law for what can’t deliver it’s claims, mostly. Except money into the subsidy trough from over pricing. Only way such enrgy science denial can be enforced. The markets would finish it in no time, even if CO2 emissions were still part of the consideration, but on their engineering facts, not political asssertions.

    FACTS ON THERMAL SOLAR: Solar thermal is very different, and works exremely well, even in temperate countries, because its low’ish grade heat all through, as with CHP schemes, all you need for water heating but not other uses, hot water is not generally a real time demand. As with Hydro, the natural energy is integrated over relatively long periods compared to short periods of use later. The heat energy is captured and stored directly in water which is also the high thermal capacity heat sink, all at under 100 degrees C. This saves the waste of a lot of pure electrical energy in heating. A terrible use of refined enrgy, that is better used for things pure energy is required to power on demand, after it has incurred the costs and waste of being inefficiently refined from primary fuel – most efficient is CCGT gas at 60%. Again gas is better used directly for heating at 90% plus in condensing boilers. .

    Expensively generated electrical energy must be used when generated. or converted into other enrgy forms, such as chemical or gravitational potential energy for later reconversion, massively innefficiently. As any fool knows.

    Solar in S.Australia/near desert colonies that are almost off the grid, or a grid Isand, is sort of OK, but w/o subsidies. I would submit that even in these climates, w/o subsidies, and taken 24/7 ratyher than spot supply, the electricity is cheaper to generate with nuclear or clean low CO2 gas CCGT generation. As the IEA figures above also show.

    The Tasmanian story of interconnection is simply a corrupt political stitch up, as we have here in the UK, if people took their green tinted glasses off. Obviously adequate hydro like Norway or Paraguay is ideal. ot enough for most larger countries. The question is how ro handle prolonged droubt or breakdown. The reason government interfere is legalised extortion – money for their lobbyists and themselves after office, stealth taxation, etc. Tasmania doesn’t need an intercconnect. It does need some backup in case of drought. But why an underwater cable, the most expensively daft way to do this, dependent on a surplus at the other end. (Answer, because the situation is used to profit lobbyists, politicians and permanent official insiders, not Tasmania’s energy supply). Note who gets what jobs after office…Follow the money, forget the environment.

    FACT: A simple CCGT power station is cheaper, and can gap fill when required very flexibly and cost effectively (coal firing is messy and requires docks and railways not a simple pipeline, and coal takes significant efficiency hence cost hit if not run 24/7).

    The cost of an undersea interconnect is about the same as the CAPEX for a new CCGT power station of the same capacity, not the same at all as a land based power line – high voltage/salt water, ships and achors and fishing vessels, etc.e and less than easy to repair, the same for the cable and plug as a whole real power station. c.USD 1B per GWh. Check it out if you doubt it. Just build a quick ‘n easy CCGT power station and strategic gas reserve. Low cost, clean and low CO2 when its used. Secure, and available unsubsidised over its life. Job done.

    So why do you REALLY need a cable interconnect again? Not only do the cable layers make a lot of money, but also the mainland generators from the over priced by law electricity whose subsidies can now flow into their coffers as a nice llittle earner for them, and indirectly for the insiders who forced it on Tasmania. You can’t make this shit up, that’s the job of politicains and officials for their lobbyists, by law.

    And if If you want serious science denial in energy in action, go to Southern Australia that has a grid supply death wish, as above. Fortunately there is hardly anyone there and their 12TWh pa energy consumption is irrelevant on a global scale, in fact Oz is effectively an off grid country and Asia’s coal mine – whose science denial in energy generation and increasingly zealous reversion to the historic weak, intermittent and expensively inadeqaute energy sources of 3rd World economies proceeds apace – as the Great Barriet reef is used to excuse the fraud on renewable energy and other unnatural acts with energy science.

    Fortunately this doesn’t affect the serious developed world – that can’t deny the science and survive economically, so good luck with that, mate! Your on your own, with your politicians and assorted troughers. Like it or not, Tony Abbott understood the facts of this.

    FINAL FACT: It’s not even about climate change. If you do the maths of optimally mixing the various modalities on the grid, and if CO2 is a contributory cause of AGW, then the promotion of over subsidised renewables must be making net O2 emissions from grid generation expensively and avoidably worse than the better alternaitves of gas and nuclear replacing coal, in most developed countries it is being done, for a fast buck in its name. Nuclear seems the ideal solution for Oz. Plenty of remote places and Uranium, to extract, process, store, dspose of spent fuel and waste, and transmute the fuel and spent fuel, as well as place nuclear power stations with “no worries” , which are anyway the safest generation modality by far. And wholly sustainable wherever the Uranium comes from (the sea if necessary).

    PS Nuclear waste is not the unfissioned actinide part of spent fuel. Waste is only the fission products, and even then some have valuable uses, Like Tc-99. . Yes, you can fission actinides until most are gone in new reactor technologies, but they were never waste, and are stored recoverably for this purpose by most civilised countries. Fast fission appears the best first step to burning the actnides in spent fuel, already in production use in Russia. That will leave a lot more but shorter lived fission waste. You can’t “Burn waste”, it doesn’t fission, but you can transmute some into other faster decaying isotopes or stable elements in a fast neutron machine, fission or fusion. TBD. More here.

    The only problems with doing this in a manner we control, is politicians who don’t understand energy or nuclear energy and would rather avoid it ………… until lobbyists, banks, permanent civil servants and ministers can figure out how to enrich themselves by law from it. I suspect that will mean another regressive intervention on track record, grasping avoidable failure from the jaws of success for personal short term profit with both greedy hands. I may be wrong, but the track record is 100% this way. Maybe that’s 110% ;-)

    • “FACTS ON THERMAL SOLAR: Solar thermal is very different, and works exremely well, even in temperate countries, ….”

      Really Brian! Then you can show wide spread world wide adoption. Things that ‘work’ very are readily adopted and become the standard (e.g, gas and electric hot water heaters).

      Two basic engineering problems. You have to match the available heat collection to demand to achieve a reasonable payback period. Second you need a staff maintenance person with spare time.

  54. I hear bristlecones have extraordinary properties. One or two can heat or cool an entire hemisphere…

  55. There’s a whole lotta dumb in this post … where to begin?

    The cost of nuclear fuel is minimal, and it has been produced commercially on a large scale for decades, both in Europe and more recently here in the United States (new production plants have come on line in recent years). Most of the cost of nuclear plants is wrapped up in safety systems and certification costs. Even so, the levelized cost of nuclear (i.e., full cost accounting including waste disposal) is about the same or a little less than coal and natural gas are today. Nuclear produces no air emissions (other than water vapor from cooling towers). And it’s extremely reliable and dispatchable, more so than any other source.

    As for the silly, “if PV were good we’d use PV to make PV”, that’s like one of the dumbest things I’ve ever read on the internet, and that’s saying something!

    By that reasoning, we’d instantly drop coal because nobody uses coal-fired mining equipment to dig coal, or coal-fired trains to haul coal. Similarly, nobody uses natural gas fired drilling machines to drill for natural gas, and transport of NG is not by, well, NG, but by pipeline which is pressurized by gas turbines that are powered by god knows what – nuclear, hydro, coal, wind, PV, NG, diesel gen sets, whatever is available to produce the trons.

    The cost of PV is already well below that of any other source but wind – based on utility power purchase agreements, the current pricing of PV power is on the order of $50 per MWhr and dropping fast, compared to around $95-100 per MWhr for gas, coal, and nuclear. Wind power is about half that, at around $24/MWhr, but it is less reliable than solar in many parts of the earth (but very reliable where wind power is produced the most in the USA, specifically West Texas – believe me it is windy as hell there all the time).

    • By the way, when did become a source of shilling and hackery on behalf of coal? Seems that all of the grossly-misleading and snarky posts here concerning energy production are written solely for the purpose of dissing everything but coal, and trying (extremely unsuccessfully) to pretend against all evidence and common sense that coal is somehow the fuel of the future, when it’s clearly on a path to near zero. In the last decade we’ve already seen massive decreases in coal demand due to massive reductions in the number of coal plants world wide, not just in the USA.

      [You are entitled to your opinion, even if it is wrong. There’s no “shilling” going on here, no pay to play for articles or anything like that…but we are reporting the current status, the political change of the winds, and commenting about it. Like it or not, coal has a place in our energy supply both in the US and in the world.

      Perhaps you should go to China and accuse the leadership there of being “shills” for having coal plants that make up the majority of their electricity generation.

      Let us know how that goes. – Anthony Watts]

      • Right on, Anthony. Everyone should know that China brought 500 standard 600 MWe supercritical coal units online in 3000 days between 2005 and 2013. A new unit every six days for eight years. To me, this is beyond comprehension and represents the greatest engineering feat in human history. Why did they do this (you might ask)? Not because coal is clean but because it is cheap. The heavy lifting of 800 milllion peasants out of abject poverty might offer some hint as to the endeavor.

      • You are conveniently ignoring trends which are all going down for coal. Have been for more than a decade. And yes, shilling does not require payment from coal producers – shilling is defined as:

        “an accomplice of a hawker, gambler, or swindler who acts as an enthusiastic customer to entice or encourage others.”

        Pretending that coal is the energy source of the future is indeed shilling. You can deny that all you like. But being for coal has zilch to do with being an AGW skeptic, which is a matter of science, not of propping up a particular extractive industry.

        Stick to science, and your website can have some credibility. Being a coal hawker discredits the rest of what is actual science based.

    • “The cost of PV is already well below that of any other source but wind – based on utility power purchase agreements,…”

      Cost are not based on ppa.

      Costs are based on including all the costs. Who knew!

      Cost per MWh are based on actual costs divided by actual production. Who knew!

      Since telling the truth is so easy, you have to wonder why the solar PV industry never does?

      • Uhhh …. PPA ARE the costs as paid by the utilities who are the wholesale energy buyers on behalf of end user customers. Wholesale energy producers do not sell power at a loss if they expect to remain in business.

    • Duane, where does the solar power cost fit into the demands for electricity at night? If you calculate the cost based on full sunshine for X hours per day, even if you’re silly and say the sun shines 12 hours a day, you’ve at best got power for half a day. PV is nothing but a demand offsetting item during sunny days. Any other time, it represents unused capacity, i.e. unused sunk cost. While there may be a place for PV in the energy supply line, it’s never going to be a reliable base load supplier. It’s only useful role is as a peak demand assist in sunny areas of the world or as an onsite supply with batteries in off grid locations. If one of the myriad “nagical” battery technologies ever comes to fruition, then the calculus might change, but currently, it’s a Green SJW signaling tool in most installations.

  56. Nice article but I am not keen on the DC aspect.

    DC generation is done by AC alternators followed by rectification, no savings there.

    Utility DC transmission is only cost effect for long distances, typically greater that 500km.

    Brushless DC motors are 3 phase AC motors with electronic commutation.
    Delivering low voltage DC to houses would be a nightmare.

    If it were to originate from Solar Pv, then the voltage will be varying, how will your electrical devices cope?

    Can you charge your phone from a usb connection running at 2.5V? No.

    To power my 6kW electrical shower, at 230V AC it draws 26 amps.

    At 12V DC it would draw 500A, my house cables would need upgrading significantly and those of the neighboring area.

    • ” If it were to originate from Solar Pv, then the voltage will be varying” This is not true. PV cells do not vary the voltage, the current they deliver depends on the amount of light hitting the cell. Most silicon based cells output about 0.5V each, in both dim light and bright sunshine. A 12-volt solar panel will put out 12 volts on a cloudy day with minimal current, and the same panel will put out 12 volts in direct sun shine, but at maximum rated current.

    • PS, using electricity to heat water for a shower is a waste. A more cost effective solution is to use a solar powered hot water system.

      • BS!

        It cost about 25 cents to take a very long hot shower at 10c/kwh. I measured it.

        So Michael, tell me about your ‘cost effective’ thermal hot water systyem and I will tell you about mine.

      • Retired Kit P with 4 3×6 foot panels, and my 100-watt pump, I can heat the 50 gallon hot water storage tank to 120 degrees F in less than four hours. That’s about 1/2 of a kilowatt hour, which by your pricing would cost me about a $0.05 So I pay $0.20 less than you for a nice hot shower.

      • It’s well insulated, and after two cloudy days the tank temp will drop from it’s peak at 160 to about 120. Still hot enough to scald. When it hits about 90, the electric heating element will kick in.

    • Oh, and I forgot, who says the DC delivered to your house has to be 12 volts? What if they used the existing wires and provided DC at 240 volts? In that way you shower would only need 25 amps, and I believe you wouldn’t need to changed the breakers in your panel. (You can increase the voltage solar panels put out by connecting them in series)

      • The problem with DC comes when you are trying to break an arc. With AC, arcs break automatically 120 times a second. With DC you need to redesign the breakers so that they elements are pulled further apart in order to break the arc mechanically.

      • The other problem with DC is that the voltage has to be 240V from the distribution point all the way to your house.
        With AC you can leave the voltage high until just before it is delivered to your house. This means transmission losses are greatly reduced.
        This is the reason why AC won out over DC initially.

  57. Hmm, OK re Uranium costs, still small if extracted from seawater, the “forever option”, at $200/lb for Yellowcake. Will reduce by a factor of 100 with fast fission due to higher actinide burn up, so are then vanishingly small. All CAPEX, almost zero OPEX, like broadband, as one economist pointed out.

    BUT it then seems your cost figures hear are simply made up or unrepresentative for whatever reason, spot – or include a subsidy offset? Nothing is that cheap on LCOE for new build. I repost the IEA 2015 LCOE energy cost per modality at 3 interest rates, all in. I’d recommend that than a set of unreferenced localised assertions. It’s also in line with most projections based on global deals from respected bodies and consutant engineering firms. Just sayin’

    As this shows, Nuclear is cheapest LCOE for new build. Solar PV is more expensive. For the UK and much of Norther Europe it is also absolutely pointless. VERY low duty cycle in Winter, when the UK is at 75degrees to the Sun at midday, a VERY weak energy source, and not there when needed. as Sir David MacKay FRS, DECC’s Chief Scientist 2008-2014, pointed out to all before he died, solar is pointless for us, and renewables an undeliverable delusion overall, on the hard energy physics.

  58. Anything nuclear is scary when any accident can made a whole region “inhabitable” for a long you can convince the people who come “to help you”, which is, a long time. Depends on how many scary “scientific” studies you can provide to “prove” the horrible dangers of such trivial additional ambiant radiation.

    Nobody wants to have his home declared “contaminated” or “dangerous”, even if by dangerous spirits.

    Which makes the nuclear option scary, over designed and inefficient.

    Software can in theory be perfect, a big steel piece, probably not.

    • Since your scenario can’t happen, it’s not a worry.
      Exclusion zones are created by politicians for political reason.
      With the exception of about 1/2 a mile or so around the reactor itself, people could return to Chernobyl already.
      There was never a need for the Fukishima exclusion zone in the first place.

  59. Long thread, but just to address one point: The CANDU reactor design obviates the need for (expensive) fuel enrichment; it uses natural uranium. The design also facilitates fuel element replacement during operation. Once you have “used” fuel, you have plutonium-enriched uranium that can be replaced in the reactor once the fission poisons have been extracted.

    • CANDU’s use Heavy Water, which is expensive. If it was a great design, it would of won on merit.

  60. “The reference below suggests ….”

    No Frank it suggest nothing. It is an interesting article about very small power plants.

    “John finished with…”

    Frank you do know that John made up 90% of his essay? That is how liars operate. Mix in 10% truth and then say whatever fits your agenda.

  61. I recently watched “The Big Short” on a plane ✈️ journey to San Francisco. This is a powerful and personal exposee of deep corruption in the financial industry and the lead-up to the 2008 crash. An equivalent movie needs to be made about the green energy scam. It could be called “The Big Greenout” or “Selling Sunshine ☀️ ” or something similar.

  62. Re all the pro-nuclear commenters on this thread: here’s your chance to show the world how to do it right.

    From the NRC news site for April, 2017, this item 17-016 (see link) is excerpted below

    “NRC and DOE to Hold Third Advanced Reactor Workshop”

    “The Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Department of Energy are continuing their joint
    workshop series on innovative reactor technologies, April 25-26, in Bethesda, Md.
    “We are encouraging interested parties to continue discussing the most efficient and effective path forward to safely develop and deploy advanced reactors in the United States,” said Vonna Ordaz, acting director of the NRC’s Office of New Reactors. “We expect to discuss topics such as modeling and testing innovative technologies, as well as how vendors might approach getting their designs approved for U.S. use.”

    “The NRC defines advanced reactors as those technologies using something other than water to cool the reactor core. The NRC is currently discussing one such advanced design with a vendor considering applying for design certification. The NRC remains available for early-stage discussion with other potential advanced reactor vendors.”

    (my comments) Perhaps this time, some creative nuclear designer will find a way to make nuclear power safe, cheap, and reliable. It is instructive to remember that if all power plants were nuclear-powered, the changing loads on the grid require that the plants run at approximately 50 to 60 percent on an annual average basis. Minimum loads occur at night in the Spring and Fall seasons, and typically reach approximately one-third to one-fourth of maximum or peak load. Peak load typically occurs in mid-afternoon on a late Summer day. However, some grids have peak loads in the Winter as heating demands are greatest.

    An all-nuclear grid requires that electricity sales price from nuclear be doubled, at least, to pay for the unused capacity.

    A nuclear-powered grid will charge at least 50 cents per kWh.

    France notwithstanding; their nuclear plants were nationalized and sales price was subsidized, set by the government with zero view to recovering the costs to build or operate. see link below to a discussion on France and nuclear power.
    “Following France in Nuclear is Not the Way to Go,” April 14, 2014.

    • Twisted logic, warped facts and intentionally altered reality, I give you Roger Sowell.

      We have been down this ‘road’ before …

  63. It’s a lot more cost effective than solar PV, only less popular as an add on because the subsidies are lower. I ONLY know of solar thermal water as standard in new builds, solar PV as an owner occupier susbidy fuelled add on.

    Where is solar water heating in new builds not used? Solar thermal water heating is widespread on the mediteranean coast, as any holdaymaker to an EC med country knows, from Greece to Portugak and inland a ways.. A friend of mine spent a whole career starting up BPs operations in this area, in the Med, Australia and the USA, which went tits up when BP switched to solar PV. It is also widely used in UK new builds, all my kids recent build flats and houses have thermal solar water heating as part of the design, it’s not unusual at all.

    BTW What I try to focus on is the costed science w/o subsidies. Not what subsidy distorted markets create, BTW. To a degree susbidies have also helped solar water, but less so than the politically driven solar PV. If you read Sir David MacKays “Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Aiir” he explains the relative excellence of thermal water heating in extreme latitudes where solar PV becomes pointless, which I thought I also had summarily explained. Yes, of course its adjunctive to fossil heating, as there isn’t enough energy to heat all the water by thermal solar in the UK, I read about 50% pa, but it IS in new builds in the UK because it works and is cost effective, and I would suggest is the dominant water heating method in the Med.

  64. The bottom line of Green Renewable Clean Energy, you can not manufacture it without Coal and Natural Gas. You can not build a Solar Panel with Solar Power and you can not build a Wind Turbine with Wind Power. It is simply impossible. Hence, to increase the use of Solar and Wind, we must increase the use of Fossil Fuels. To save the World we must destroy the World? The manufacture of Solar and Wind components requires high temperatures as well as chemicals that only come from Fossil Fuels and Hydrocarbons. How are you going to make a steel tower with Wind Power? It is not done know, I know the first, “knee jerk” response. “EAF, Electric Arc Furnace”, sorry friends, that requires Coke which is Coal. That is just one part of the process. I can throw, “Propene” into the process as well. Propene comes from Oil. You need Propene to produce Fiberglass. What are the chemicals and processes used to manufacture any kind of Solar Power. All will require high temperatures, chemicals, and elements that are manufactured only with Fossil Fuels.

    When we run out of Fossil Fuels, Solar and Wind will cease to operate a week or two later, let alone be replaced.

  65. Wait a second. It cannot take 4 bbl. of oil to make one ethanol bbl. of fuel. That would mean that at the pump the price of ethanol would be based on 4 x $50 = $200 per barrel cost of fuel. That would mean that ethanol would have to sell at the pumps at a cost of 4x that of gasoline. Even with subsidies this can’t be right? Is this some estimate based on the total energy used and how was this number arrived at?

    If someone can show me the math and basis for this claim, I would love to see it. (And if this is the case, then ethanol not dumb, but beyond stupid dumb).

    Albert D. Kallal
    Edmonton, Alberta Canada

    • @Albert

      If you have not noticed many posters are against everything and have not experience producing anything.

      American farmers produce food. They are so good at it that they can produce more than the world needs. Using standard engineering processes, protein can be separated from the energy component with organic fertilizer as a by product.
      I have also read many better explanations of the benefits of ethanol.

  66. “Perfect point, Robert. Fast fission is the next step, 100 times the actinide burn can’t be bad.”

    How do you know, have you studied nuclear physics (aka, modern physics)?

    Before suggest a solution you may want to check to see if there is a problem. Just because some bonehead idiot says there is on the internet does not mean there is actually a problem.

  67. “Nuclear industrial parks became all the rage and it was deemed that big electric users such as aluminum and fertilizer makers would colocate with nuclear power plants and this would result in great cost reductions which would improve our economic well being. It’s not clear what happened.” This happened:

    Once I was in the for design of the Emergency cooling system of fast breeder snr 300.

    After a year the staff was reduced because the greens stopped construction SNR 300 immediately.

    The most MSM photographed / hated cooling tower was converted into a climbing range.

  68. Greg April 15, 2017 at 2:12 am wrote

    Bullshit. I have a solar water heater with an pump consuming 8W. On a sunny day it returns about 2.5kWh of hot water stored in the tank. Compare that to about 6h*8W = 48 Wh . is the pump takes bout 2% of the thermal energy recovered. .

    8W pump translates to 0.01 H.P. ( actual figure 0.0107282 H.P. ).

    Never heard of so small solar water heater pump !

  69. Ashok you wan’t be so silly to tell us yous supply your hometown, will you.

    “Smart people in government agencies in the 1970s and 1980s funded solar water heaters that cost more in electricity to run the pumps and controls than the potential savings in water heating costs and these people never seemed to have the time or interest to study the situation. “

    • Johann Wundersamer April 16, 2017 at 12:46 am

      Johann you don;t seem to understand my comment.

  70. “Academics can be hired to measure all of the energy inputs and outputs…”

    This only becomes necessary when some sort of subsidy has been introduced to the system. Without subsidization, the monetary costs of the inputs (all of them, not just the ones the academics can figure out) and the monetary revenues from the outputs (before any taxes reduce them) tell you whether the outputs exceed the inputs by a sufficient margin to justify investment in the process before consideration of taxes.

    Taxes can then still be sufficiently high to drive people away from investing (just as reverse taxation, i.e., subsidization, drives people toward investing even though the process is uneconomic.)

    All that remains to be done then is a societal consideration of costs that are not picked up in the investment process, such as pollution, despoiling the landscape, failing to provide for site reclamation, etc. Politicians and academics should direct their focus toward those extraneous costs borne by society at large, but not by the investors, and stay out of the subsidy game altogether. Levying taxes to cover those societal costs might make an investment uneconomic, but that would be proper since all costs would then be included.

  71. “So I pay $0.20 less than you for a nice hot shower.”

    Mike is a genius, who knew!

    He saves 20 cents a day on power costs per shower assuming it is sunny. Since Mike failed to mention what cost to install can we assume his mommy or daddy bought it for him, maybe uncle Bob?

    Gerald, runner up to Mike in the genius category, comparing PV junk to solar hot water junk.

    So I said would tell you about my system. The year was 1987. The designer, me, who researched the safety requirements of adding an additional source to a code pressure vessel. Since my teenage children would be taking showers, I thought it would be good to put in dual temperature mixing valves. Emergency room visits for scalding are so expensive.

    The solar resource was ideal being at 2000 ft elevation in central California. Being on a south facing hill, the panel were placed below the house and worked on natural circulation. Since I worked for the local utility, I was able to buy good quality components a cost of about $1000 and do the work myself.

    The system worked great. How long it would work I do not know because the nuke plant I worked closed and we had to move. I did consider starting a solar business. However, when you consider things like liability and paying certified craftsmen, the cost go to about $4000.

    When the saving benefits are considered, the only way to make a living is to sc*m many customers. So it is one thing to be condescending to Mike and Gerald, it is a different thing to look them in the eye and smile while taking there money.

  72. Anti-nuke Roger writes,

    “Re all the pro-nuclear commenters on this thread: here’s your chance to show the world how to do it right.”

    Done! As a nuke professional I can not take any credit. It happened while was in high school. More than 45 years ago I was learning to right when operating LWR in the US Navy and later US designed commercial power plants.

    At time the US was a leader in exporting nuclear reactors. Today, almost all the commercial reactors in the world are derivatives of US designs that I learned on, even China.

  73. Anti-nuke Roger writes,

    “(my comments) Perhaps this time, some creative nuclear designer will find a way to make nuclear power safe, cheap, and reliable.”

    Before I retired I was one of those creative nuclear designers. US designed LWR have a perfect safety record, no one has even been hurt by radiation from our power reactors. It is hard to improve on perfect.

    The deigns I learned had a design reliability of 80%. Actually reliability for the US fleet is 90% with availability on cold winter nights and hot summer days close to 100%. The new design I was working had a goal of 95%. Lots of efforts goes into improve reliability. For example, the South Korean have achieved breaker to breaker operation during the first fuel cycle on new designs.

    Nuclear power has also provided cheap power in the US. Cheap is a relative term and complicated. Operating cost at nuke plants are not affected by fuel cost.

    Currently natural gas is cheap because the industry has over produced. Because generating cost at gas plants is currently low, nuclear and coal are still cheap.

    • For Retired Kit P

      You stated “US designed LWR have a perfect safety record, no one has even been hurt by radiation from our power reactors. It is hard to improve on perfect.”

      I wonder how you, as a pro-nuclear advocate, reconcile that statement with the proven cancers that occurred nearby and during the California Rancho Seco nuclear plant’s operating years, then declined once that reactor was shut down. See the 2013 Mangano and Sherman study. “Long-term Local Cancer Reductions Following Nuclear Plant Shutdown” Joseph J. Mangano, Janette D. Sherman, Biomedicine International 2013; 4: 12-25.

      Also, how do you reconcile your “no one has even been hurt by radiation from our power reactors” statement with the 2009 Mangano study of East Coast incidence of thyroid cancers caused by radioactive iodine from operating nuclear reactors.

      Mr. Mangano’s abstract states: “County-specific incidence data, available for the first time, document that most U.S. counties with the highest thyroid cancer incidence are in a contiguous area of eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and southern New York State. Exposures to radioactive iodine emissions from 16 nuclear power reactors within a 90-mile radius in this area indicate that these emissions are a likely etiological factor in rising thyroid cancer incidence rates.”

      see “Geographic variation in U.S. thyroid cancer incidence and a cluster near nuclear reactors in New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania.” Mangano, JJ, published in Int J Health Serv. 2009;39(4):643-61.

      The facts are clear: operating nuclear power plants have caused and are causing cancers and killing people.

      Or, perhaps you Kit P have clear evidence to the contrary? If so, please share that with the audience.

  74. @Duane

    “Wholesale energy producers do not sell power at a loss if they expect to remain in business.”

    How stupid are you? Wind and solar are in the business of mining money from the goverment.

    Wind and solar is being built because it is mandated by goverment not because a utility resources management plan showed is was needed.

  75. There is no “pollution” with natural gas and Nuclear energy. Only coal that is unscruobbed, OK the ash pools for scrubbed coal equire remediation. Nuclear waste is easily dealt with after separation for spent fuel, or as spent fuel if you are the backward USA and don’t reuse the 95% of spent fuel you can, and the cost IS part of nuclear’s LCOE, also the lowest in multiple IEA and other goverment studies. But those are only facts.

  76. How exactly did this Radio Iodine get out of the fuel rods, through the reactor vessel, through the containment building and into the environment without a nuclear accident being detected, and when these faciities are ringed by very sensitive detectors? You can’t establish a correlation simply by making it up and manipulating very low numbers of disease occuraences, there has to be a mechanism..

    This smacks of the supposed Luekemia clusters anti nuclear propaganda in Germany and the UK, eventually dismissed by government after study of our own and foreign data.. The incidences are tiny and likely to have several possible causes. The green technology l haters also tried to manipulate disease data to prove cancers from electromagnetic radiation near power lines. Statistical biology is very manipulable, and the disproved, but persisted with for anti nuclear purposes, LNT hypothesis is a classic example of that. No statistically significant epidemiology to support it. nb: I have had a career in radiation ohyics and protection at NPL and RPS/NRPB.. CEng, CPhys.

  77. From your paragraph on AC power, I would have to say you do not have a grasp on several important fundamentals especially as they relate to NEC (National Electric Code) requirements

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