Re: [SystemSafety] nuclear energy - disparate policies?

From: Matthew Squair < >
Date: Wed, 30 Oct 2013 07:32:46 +1100

Leaving aside technology maturity there's an unstated false dichotomy in the argument that it's all X or all Y.

Back in the 80s David Collingridge pointed out that when we try to regulate new technologies we run into a paradox. Early on we can change things but lack the knowledge of what's important, later on we have the knowledge but it becomes very difficult to do so due to cost, incumbency and other 'you can't get there from here' type issues. See PWR technology as a classic example.

He recommended 'corrigibility' as a solution, which basically means taking small steps which can easily be reversed while keeping your options open. There's a cost to this of course.

In energy policy that translates to maintaining a balanced portfolio of energy sources, as for example the Swedes and Danes have, so that if you don't like a particular technology you can divest, which they are. Compare that to Frances near full commitment to the nuclear fuel cycle for electricity generation, or my own country Australia's historical answer to energy (burn more coal).

Comparatively the divest costs will be much less in the first scenario, and in the second, well you may not actually be able to get off the hook if you think about the shutdown/care taking costs and time frames.

The same principal should probably (definitely) be applied to the portfolio of new alternative energy technologies coming on stream as well, noting the limits of our powers of prediction.

Matthew Squair

MIEAust, CPEng

On 30 Oct 2013, at 5:14 am, Mike Ellims <michael.ellims_at_xxxxxx

Well this is one way to waste an afternoon.. here goes.

Peter Bishop wrote:

I attended a talk recently where the speaker contended that most energy technologies

do not scale to meet total world need sustainably

Actually silicon solar panels are not a problem, the US DoE SunShot Report from Feb 2012 states...

   Crystalline silicon feedstocks are virtually unlimited. However, silver, which is

   currently used for contacts, has some limitation. If different contact materials are

   used, such as nickel-copper (which is currently under development), the c-Si supply

   is virtually unconstrained. The glass, steel, and aluminum used as encapsulation and

   support structures are not subject to rigid supply constraints, but their costs will be tied to changing commodity prices.

   Material shortages are a concern for several semiconductor materials used in some

   thin-film, concentrating, and emerging PV technologies: tellurium in CdTe; indium,

   selenium, and gallium used in CIGS; indium, germanium, and gallium used in some

   III-V multijunction cells; and ruthenium, sometimes used in dye-sensitized PV cells.

   Conductive materials may also be a concern in the longer term, including molybdenum used for CIGS PV contacts. Of these, the primary concerns are the

   tellurium supply for CdTe and the indium supply for CIGS; thus, this discussion

   focuses on these two materials.

I wonder what will happen to Germany with 80% renewable on a very cold week in winter,

with no sun and a high anticyclone. And if it were to last 10 or 15 days?

To which peter replied...


If you follow the literature, there are lots of solutions (and one B Gates seems to have his finger in a lot of the pies) some a bit more "out there" than others...
The Germans are working on using excess power to produce methane which can of course be stored until it needed. They estimate you could store 3 months worth of energy using the existing infrastructure. They also plan to float a "mountain" on hydraulic fluid and store energy as gravitational potential.

In England they are a number of different types of thermal storage in, or going into demonstration stages (multi MwH), one with very high round trip efficiencies. A spin off from MIT has a demonstrator on line that works on similar principles using compressed air above ground. The advantage of these systems are they use existing technology and can be scaled to 100's MW.

In California there is a proposal to use hills, railway lines and some very heavy trains that are wound up the hill... and mirroring the German mountain moving idea one company is proposing to use large blocks of concrete in holes in the ground.

Another part of the solution is grid interconnects, the latest idea is a 5 GW DC link between Scotland and Iceland - where they have more power than they know what to do with. In a similar manner the Danes plan to ship excess wind power to Norway and import hydro.

As Peter pointed out there seem to be a lot of options with batteries with all sorts of weird and wonderful chemistries approaching market.

Then there is bio-mass, waste to energy, geothermal, wave power and tidal. Then there is of course the enormous resource of hot air generated on safety critical mailing lists!


John Downer wrote... ( and I need to type faster)

What about 'carbon-capture-and-storage' (ie: 'clean coal')? It's hugely expensive right

now (about as much as nuclear, as I understand it), but it's had a fraction of nuclear's

investment and it carries a fraction of the risks.

The American Coal industry has publically stated that it's a technology that will never be economically feasible - just after Obama directed the EPA to form new rules on CO2 emissions that mandates it for new coal plants. This is despite say for years that it would be the answer to the Co2 problem...

The main issue isn't the lack of ideas or technology, it's the lack of finance, imagination and will (except in Germany and China). Despite that, Deutsche Bank has increased their estimate for solar installations for 2014 from 35 GW (July) to 50 GW in the last week.

This is fun, isn't it.

Dr Michael Ellims

-----Original Message-----
From: systemsafety-bounces_at_xxxxxx mailto:systemsafety-bounces_at_xxxxxx On Behalf Of John Downer
Sent: 29 October 2013 18:00
To: Jan Sanders
Cc: systemsafety_at_xxxxxx Subject: Re: [SystemSafety] nuclear energy - disparate policies?

Stepping back from questions of practicality for a second, I think it is equally important to remember the other side of the equation as well:

Whilst people look with horror at the accidents in Nuclear plants what

is the death and injury toll from coal oil and gas industries? I

would suggest much higher, it is not just at the power plants but the obtaining the raw fuel to

start with. A helicopter full of people was lost only a month or two ago

in the North sea en route to an oil rig.

Tragic as the loss of a helicopter is, the official Japanese Diet report into Fukushima concluded that they genuinely came close to having to evacuate Tokyo, perhaps permanently. (ie: if the spent fuel pool above the ruined Unit 4 had drained and started to burn.) Something the (then) prime minister and other high-placed members of the Japanese cabinet have since reaffirmed repeatedly.

Let's set aside the (hugely contested) dangers of radiation and just focus on the economics. 35 million people live in Tokyo. It's a hub of the world economy. I don't want to sound hyperbolic but I struggle to imagine any coal, oil, gas or indeed helicopter accident that could even hope to touch a nuclear accident in terms of potential blowback.

Compared to this, the logistics of making renewables work seem like problems worth tackling.


ps: What about 'carbon-capture-and-storage' (ie: 'clean coal')? It's hugely expensive right now (about as much as nuclear, as I understand it), but it's had a fraction of nuclear's investment and it carries a fraction of the risks.

Dr. John Downer
Global Insecurities Centre.
School of Sociology Politics and International Studies (SPAIS). University of Bristol.

On Oct 29, 2013, at 1:07 PM, Jan Sanders <jsanders_at_xxxxxx wrote:

Hello All,

On 29.10.2013 17:25, Peter Bernard Ladkin wrote:

On 10/29/13 5:16 PM, Thierry.Coq_at_xxxxxx

I wonder what will happen to Germany with 80% renewables on a very cold week in winter, with no sun and a high anticyclone. And if it were to last 10 or 15 days?


We'll be able to plug our electric cars into our houses and power

them until the sun comes out.

I doubt that, even if there is enough storage capacity for 15 days or more in car batteries for the whole of Germany. - It would immobilize the electric car fleet.

Mitsubishi claims it can do two days already on a full charge. To the

power companies at the moment, that is anathema; the grid

infrastructure is not made for it and could not cope. But that can

change too.

The current aim improve German electricity grid infrastructure improvement (Engergiewende) aims at reducing the operational reserve. I would think that thousands of electic cars coming and going is not really going to reduce the need for operational reserve.

And insulation.

The family of my heating engineer lives in a house of which the

heating costs are (he claims) 100 per year. Biomass energy. And lots

of conservation measures. It's not for everyone - small rooms;

recirculated air through filters. But there are sixty-six years in

which to make it better.

What about industry?


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