Nuclear Power: Has the Time Finally Come?

Commercial nuclear power emerged in the mid-1950s, to great enthusiasm. The Eisenhower administration promoted it as a major part of its Atoms for Peace program.  There was talk about ‘electricity too cheap to meter,’ and about making the world’s deserts bloom via nuclear-powered desalination.

And quite a few commercial nuclear plants were indeed built and put into operation.  In the US, there are presently 93 commercial reactors with aggregate capacity of 95 gigawatts, accounting for about 20% of America’s electricity generation.  But overall, adoption of commercial nuclear power has not met early expectations.  Costs have been much higher than were  expected.  There have been great public concerns about safety, stemming originally from the association of nuclear power and nuclear weapons as well as by practical concerns and then supercharged by the Three Mile Island accident in 1979 and then by Chernobyl (1986) and the Fukushima disaster in 2011.  Permitting and construction times have been long and  unpredictable, driven by the public concerns as well as by the general growth of regulation and litigation in the US and the custom, one-off manner in which these plants have been constructed.

There are reasons to believe that the stalled state of nuclear power may be about to change.  Some factors are:

Concerns about CO2 emissions, combined with increasing realization of the intermittent nature of wind/solar energy, point to nuclear as a solution that could be both practical and politically acceptable.  Europe’s dependency on Russian natural gas, the downside of which has been strongly pointed out by recent events, further builds the case for nuclear on that continent.  Politicians are feeling cornered between their promises of green-ness, the now-obvious dangers of energy dependency, and the need to not do too much economic damage if they want to get reelected.  Some will turn to nuclear.

The Cold War fears of nuclear annihilation are now a long way behind us–surely there are many fewer people who have nightmares about mushroom clouds than there were in, say, 1985.  (Although this point has been partially negated by Russia’s nuclear saber-rattling and by the battles around the Chernobyl area–still, I don’t believe nuclear fears are anywhere near the original-cold-war level)

The French experience with nuclear power, from which it generates about 70% of its electricity, helps build credibility for nuclear as a practical and safe energy source.  Also, the US Navy’s successful operation of nuclear submarines and other ships over several decades.

The downsides of wind and solar in terms of their very considerable land use as well as their fluctuating outputs, are being better understood as a result of experience.  Starry-eyed views of a new technology often become a little less starry-eyed following actual experience with its downsides.

New-generation nuclear plants which can be largely built in factories, substantially reducing the on-site construction time and effort required and potentially reducing the capital costs per kilowatt, are being developed.  The greater standardization, as compared with one-off construction, will hopefully also reduce licensing problems and delays.  Very importantly, most of the reactors are designed to avoid meltdown situations even if left unattended and without backup power.

Most of the new plant designs are of a type called Small Modular Reactors, although the definition of ‘small’ varies from case to case.  Companies in this space include the GE-Hitachi joint venture, a private company called NuScale (soon to go public via a SPAC), Rolls-Royce, the Canadian company ARC Energy, and a consortium of French companies developing a product to be called Nuwber.  I’ll discuss some of those SMR products in more detail later in this post.  There is also interesting work being done at Terra Power (Bill Gates is founder and chairman), which will probably merit a separate post, and on designs using thorium rather than uranium as a fuel.

The products which seem furthest along toward commercial adoption are the modular design from NuScale and the BWRX-300 from GE-Hitachi.

Some deals which are signed or in process:

–In Utah, NuScale plans to deploy their system for an organization called UAMPS (wholesale power services)

–In Romania, NuScale has a deal with SN Nuclearelectrica for a 6-module unit.

–In Canada, Ontario Power has picked the GE-Hitachi system for its first nuclear site–they ultimately plan to install up to 4 reactors there.

–In Poland, GEH has a letter of intent for up to 4 BWRX-300s to be installed by Synthos Green Energy.  Also in Poland, NuScale is working with KGHM, a leader in copper and silver production–sounds like this application is for industrial energy rather than for grid electricity.

–In Estonia,  Fermi Energia OÜ is moving toward deployment of a BWRX-300.

–The US Tennessee Valley Authority has embarked on a program to install several SMRs at its Clinch River site, starting with the BWRX-300.

The CEO of Duke Energy, Lynn Good, says that the company is talking to GE-Hitachi and NuScale as well as TerraPower and Holtec International about SMRs and advanced nuclear with storage capability.

Despite the traction, however, numerous challenges remain for nuclear.

 

Current and potentially-emerging issues:

The issue of public acceptance.  A recent Pew survey indicates that about 50% of US adults are in favor of expanding nuclear power plants; however, there is a big gap between Republicans and Democrats (60% vs 43%) and also a big gap between men and women (59% vs 41%).  See also this 2019 piece on public opinion re nuclear.  (Michael Shellenberger, a pro-nuclear guy who is now running for governor of California) has thoughts on how the greater female opposition to nuclear might be addressed.)

Public sentiment obviously has huge impact on the success of the nuclear energy,

Availability of fuel.  Although the quantities of fuel used by a nuclear plant are very small compared with the amounts of coal, gas, or oil used to generate the same amount of electricity in a conventional plant, still, these quantities are not zero.  Estimates I’ve seen for the world’s uranium reserves run from about 90 years to 250 years at the current use rate (see this)…indeed, it has been argued (for example in this video, which otherwise has some positive things to say about nuclear) that the fuel constraint implies that it doesn’t make any sense to embark on a large increase in the use of nuclear.

I question, though, whether the world really has a good sense of its uranium reserves given the relatively low emphasis that nuclear power has had in recent decades…it seems likely that these reserves would expand given more exploration driven by more demand.  Increased efficiencies in fuel processing seem likely, as well as the recycling of material in some nuclear weapons.  Longer-term, it is possible to extract uranium from seawater (though prohibitively expensive today), and thorium-based reactors would use a fuel that is much more available.

It should be of considerable concern that the US has allowed itself to get into a situation where a high percentage of its uranium comes from Russia.

Coexistence with wind and solar.  Nuclear plants are generally run flat-out, or pretty close to flat-out…which makes sense since capital costs and other fixed costs dwarf the fuel costs, so higher utilization = better return on investment.  Existing plants have also been designed technically to operate in this mode.  The SMR manufacturers make a point of their products’ ability to work in a load-following manner, so that they can compensate for the fluctuation output of wind and solar–but solving the technical problem doesn’t solve the economic problem: for every minute of the year that you run your plant at less than the maximum sustainable output, you are increasing your cost per kWh.  For this reason, it is far from clear that renewable and nuclear is a marriage made in heaven.

Wind and solar cost reductions.  Wind and solar advocates argue that these sources are on a steep declining cost curve (the terms ‘learning curve’ and ‘experience curve’ are frequently used, that battery costs are also declining…and that nuclear will not be able to meet or catch up with these costs because the volumes are not as high and the deployment (for safety reasons) must inherently be more cautious. Quite likely, though, these cost-decline curves will be intercepted and flattened out, at least to a considerable extent, by materials shortages and prices.  And there is an on-site labor component for the installation of solar and wind systems which is not likely to follow the same decline curves as the factory-built items in the system.

Pushback from the wind and solar industry. Vast amounts of money are being put into these ‘green’ industries, and a lot of people are making money or hoping to make money off of them. If they feel that the growth of nuclear is a serious threat to their revenues and profits (and consulting fees, ‘nonprofit’ salaries, etc) you can expect them to do whatever they can to defend their turf not only in the marketplace, but politically.

But on the other hand, we may see climate-hysteria pushback in some countries.  People may get weary about being asked to sacrifice endlessly to avoid a theoretically-projected apocalypse, and in some places, there may emerge a more positive attitude toward fossil fuels, especially natural gas. In such places, nuclear vs natural gas will be evaluated under strict economics, with less consideration given to its CO2 reduction.

Capital costs and interest rates.  Nuclear is capital-intensive, and economic tradeoffs with fossil fuel plants will be very dependent on financing costs. (And, in the other direction, on natural gas and coal prices)  Wind and solar are also capital-intensive sources.  The interest rate over at which a project can be financed over 20 or 50 years will have a considerable impact on its economic viability.

The Players: Here are some of the entries in the SMR market that I think are most significant:

The BWRX-300, from the GE-Hitachi joint venture.  This is a boiling water reactor, a technology with which GE has extensive experience;  It has a 300-megawatt capacity.  GEH says that the plant can passively cool for at least seven days without power or operator action, and that it uses only 50% as much steel and concrete per unit output as do current designs.  The company says that they are targeting a cost comparable with that of gas plants (I’d note that the crossover point is highly dependent on the cost of gas!) and cites a capital cost of $2,250/kW for an nth of a kind plant.  (It would be interesting to get some idea of what range N would need to be in to approach this number, and also what is and is not included in the cost)

A modular SMR design from Nuscale Power.  The modules are individual reactors of 77 MW each, clustered in packages of 4, 6, or 12 for aggregate plant capacities of 308, 462, and 924 Mw.  The company is currently private but intends to go public via a SPAC approach.  They have announced numerous partners for manufacturing and construction; some of these are also investors in the company, including Fluor and Nucor.

The Rolls-Royce SMR, stretching the definition of ‘small’ a bit with its 470 Mw capacity.  The company says that 90% of the manufacturing and assembly will be done in factory conditions and the system requires only 1/10 the land area of a conventional nuclear site.  This is a pressurized water reactor.

The ARC-100, from Canadian company ARC Clean Energy.  100 Mw capacity, as the name suggests. This design uses liquid sodium rather than water for the reactor cooling loop.

The Nuward, from a consortium of French companies.  Capacity stated as 300-400 Mw…pressurized water reactor, a technology with which France has a great deal of experience. The French government has recently reinforced its commitment to the future of nuclear, which appeared to be in doubt for a while.

As I noted above, there is also interesting work being done at Terra Power and on thorium-based reactors, which will probably merit a separate post.

Disclosure:  I have a small speculative position in NuScale, via Spring Valley Acquisitions Corporation (which will be NuScale’s vehicle for going public) and I’m also a GE shareholder.

Robert Zubrin has a three-part series on nuclear in progress at Quillette:

Part One

Part Two

 

(Previously posted at Ricochet, where there was a lot of interest)

82 thoughts on “Nuclear Power: Has the Time Finally Come?”

  1. The main obstacle to nuclear power in the US is the same as the main obstacle to just about anything else you care to name — regulation & litigation. The answer is to roll back regulations which do not have a strong cost/benefit ratio, and hang all the lawyers. Unfortunately, that will not happen until the situation gets much worse. Meanwhile, China and Russia are hard at work building out nuclear power plants — as are oil producers such as the United Arab Emirates.

    Unless Biden is successful in promoting a global thermonuclear war over his corrupt investments in the Ukraine, we in the US are facing a tough couple of generations. I remain very hopeful about the long term — but we will all be dead before that long term gets here. And that is in the optimistic “No War” case.

  2. Here’s the thing–the commies in charge don’t want to transition to “green” energy production. They want to reduce the amount of energy production. Period. They’re barely even hiding it. Read about plans for a “smart grid” and they openly say that the goal is to make people use less energy, and to pay exorbitant prices in order to force them to do so, and to use it when the authorities want them to. So, no, there’s not going to be any massive ramp-up of nuclear production, because that’s not in their interest. Unless we can smash the commies, nothing’s going to get done.

  3. I’m waiting for some Bright Boy to notice that we’ve possibly been fending off the onset of an Ice Age for the last couple centuries by our increasing industrial activity, only to discover that, as we decrease greenhouse gasses, we’re actually causing the Ice Age to develop again.

    This is very non-trivial — in one recent Ice Age, the Thames went from hippos to polar bears in under a century.

    There’s evidence to support this — not conclusive, but enough to garner some concern and attention.

  4. As I was saying:
    https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/will-anyone-tell-europe-the-age-of-cheap-living-is-over-kml25mp7k
    “The European Commission, which sets key energy policies across the European Union, sees the higher bills as a long overdue and unavoidable reckoning with reality.
    Diederik Samsom, chief of staff for Frans Timmermans, the commission’s executive vice-president responsible for energy policy, warned that the previous low cost of living came at the expense of the environment and depended on imports of Russia’s fossil fuels.
    Samsom admitted that “no one dares to say out loud” to voters that past living standards were unsustainable and that higher prices will be permanent.
    “Yes, energy will be much more expensive as of now. Energy was way too cheap for the last 40 years,” he told a recent meeting of Brussels policymakers at the Bruegel think tank, urging governments to confront “taboos”.
    “We have profited from it and created enormous wealth at the expense of planet Earth and, as we realise right now, at the expense of geopolitical imbalances [with dependency on Russia]. Both need to be repaired. In order to repair them we need to pay more for energy — and also for food. The two basic needs of life — food and energy — we have paid way too little for in the past 40 years.””

    They don’t want us to build nuclear plants to power the lights. They want the lights to go out.

  5. Brian..depends who “they” is. France is building more nuclear plants. Finland just brought up a new 1.6GB plant, and is also constructing new facility for long-term nuclear waste storage. Belgium has delayed its nuclear phase-out, planned for 2025, by 10 years. A lot can happen in 10 years

    ‘Europe’ consists of more than Germany.

  6. Let’s stick closer to home–would any company be crazy enough to start work on a nuclear plant in the US right now? How could you be sure a Democrat president wouldn’t shut it down on day one, even if you went through years of work to get it permitted and approved a la Keystone? (It’s still a mystery to me how it was legal for Brandon to do that. My impression is that the pipeline company just didn’t want to bother with the time and expense of a lawsuit?) States like NY and CA are pledged to shut down fossil fuel use over the next decade with no discussion of nuclear at all. The “plan” seems to be wind and solar and force people to just deal with it. Of course it’s never going to happen, because people don’t want to actually freeze to death to make crazy white libs feel like they’re saving the planet, but they’re going to cause a massive amount of pain.

  7. Even *Biden* has allocated $6 billion to keep existing nuclear plants (that were targeted for shutdown) in operation. (What ever happened to the idea that government funds are allocated by Congress?)

    I don’t want to just stick close to home, because what happens in other countries has a direct effect on the economics of the industry…and also, given the other-directed nature of so many politicians and media types, it seems likely that what happens in other countries affects their attitudes quite a lot. Case in point: high-speed rail.

  8. David F: “Case in point: high-speed rail.”

    While politicians are always looking over their shoulders at what the Kool Kids are doing and trying to imitate them, we have to stick close to home when it comes to competence.

    High-speed rail. The Japanese have done it. Goodness, even the French have done it. The Spanish too. And of course First in Class China has built something like 14,000 miles of clean efficient reliable high-speed rail, and is now moving on to even-faster Magnetic Levitation trains. In the meantime, California has spent billions on studies and legal fees without building any operational high-speed rail.

    This hurts to admit — but we have a special type of incompetence in the US. Or, to be more precise, our Rulers choose to pay lip service to what the Kook Kids are doing, and use that as cover to direct massive funds to bureaucrats and lawyers, i.e. themselves.

  9. HSR…we don’t have high-speed rail in the US, but we do have a very extensive freight rail system…which I would argue is more important in a country with the size and geography of the US than is passenger rail.

    A Chinese railway expert (a *very brave* Chinese railway experts) said that in his view, the leadership was too obsessed with fancy passenger rail projects (I think he actually used the phrase ‘playing with train sets’) as opposed to badly-needed workaday freight rail.

  10. Passenger trains make zero sense for the US. The country is too big and cities are too sprawling, so once you get somewhere you need a car anyway. There’s really no comparison country.

    Is there a prediction market where you can bet “How many NEW nuclear power plants will open in country X in the next 10/20 years?” Because I’d put my life savings on ZERO for basically every country on the planet.

  11. Unless and until the dirt-worshipping pagans of the green movement get treated like the insane fanatics that they are, nothing will be done and no problem will be solved.

    It’s also true that they’re effectively communists- the green tree has red roots- and that the US has an amazing amount of corruption masquerading as incompetence- but the ceaseless bleating about the en-vir-ro-ment is the cover used to get away with it all.

    For example, the Deep State has been blocking SpaceX from launching from Texas for months now, based upon the usual excuse about the sacred dirt. More specifically, I’ve read that the supposed actual reason is that sea turtles- perhaps as many as 30 of them- might be scared away from breeding by SpaceX.

    The likely actual reason is that the SLS (Senate Launch System) has been an expensive and miserable failure for many years, which looks bad for the usual suspects. Hence, SpaceX must be stopped as long as possible, regardless of the damage done to America’s national interests in space.

    If SpaceX can be blocked on such spurious grounds, forget about ever having any successful nuclear plant built in the US.

    Expensive failures with vast cost overruns are acceptable- but not potential successes that might make the masses think they can keep having electricity available all 24 hours. That just won’t do.

  12. What is happening to the plants designed to power communities of 20,000 or so? Or a military base or a medical complex? It could be discussed above & I didn’t understand. I loved the thought of how much autonomy they’d give to small town America, making all of them kind of petri dishes of experimentation with independence.

    I suspect all those b (or b- or c) horror movies with giant bunnies, etc appearing near bomb development & testing areas have by now lost their hold on our imaginations; their cheesiness didn’t stop the thought of mutations from tumbling around somewhere in our minds. I suspect for a while they had as much leverage with superficial thought as the later more expensive productions.

  13. High Speed Rail is something China has done better than anyone. They moved 10 billion people last year and have well over 40,000 km of track. More people than there are on earth, were moved at very high speeds. ;)

    Our need for power is just going to grow. Being efficient and careful is always the way, but Nuclear Power is going to be the best way forward, as everything else is either dirty or intermittent.

  14. I am very much a pro nuclear Badger. I think that GE and the French or RR are probably our best bets, but I would never trust any company that was affiliated with Bill Gates.
    The French have a LOT of experience in nuclear power. I hope they can help us all.

  15. Ginny…systems for a town of about 20,000 people. Looks like about 3 kilowatts per household would be a reasonable estimate for total peak power requirements, so say 10,000 households giving 30 megawatts. Double that to include businesses, industries, schools, a hospital. Maybe 60 MW for the town.

    The GE-Hitachi system would be overkill; the NuScale system is planned to come in modules of 77 MW, but their smallest standard package planned is for 4 of them. They could surely build plants with only 1 module, but then the whole thing would be out of service when you have to shut the reactor down for refueling.

    The term VERY Small Nuclear Reactors is being used for those under 20 MW…3 or 4 of these should do the trick. Looks like they’re being worked on by a Korean research institute and by a company called Ultra Safe Nuclear Corp. (terrible name)

    https://www.aiche.org/resources/publications/cep/2022/april/advances-very-small-modular-nuclear-reactors

  16. Westinghouse has a 5 MWe container-sized unit called eVinci.

    Supposed to run for 8 years without refueling.

    All I’ve seen so far is marketing stuff so don’t know how real it is but is supposed to use heat pipes.

  17. I don’t think that there is much point in individual small towns having their own reactors. I used to live in a very small town that electrified by building a power plant before the grid reached them. Even after they shut down the generators and hooked in, they kept their autonomous utility. By the ’70’s, the whole system was near collapse. They weren’t able or willing to hire a competent manager or willing to put out money for proper maintenance. Everything got bogged down in small town politics. It was absorbed into the major utility that was supplying power.

    There’s a lot of good to be had from spreading out power sources on a grid. The countervailing force was always economy of scale. Bigger equaled fewer dollars/MWh. Combined with the nimby-isim when it came to building new power lines, the grid became less reliable. Small towns still get a lot more reliability from the grid then they could get alone.

    Building, staffing and operating a nuclear plant to back up “renewables” is the ultimate stupidity. The bird whackers and fryers are only carbon neutral when you are able to ignore the huge amount of energy that goes into building them and maintaining them.

  18. David F: “… we do have a very extensive freight rail system…which I would argue is more important in a country with the size and geography of the US than is passenger rail.”

    No disagreement from me on that point, David. However, the pertinent issue is competence. The Hard Lefties in California and elsewhere set out to build High Speed Rail in the US, whether we needed it or not. And they have succeeded in spending large amounts of money on stacks of paper, while failing to build any actual High Speed Rail.

    That is the real issue — the inability of the Ruling Clique in the US to accomplish even what they claim they want to do. The US has become Gulliver tied down by Lilliputian threads of bureaucracy. High Speed Rail is simply a real-world demonstration of that fact. And that fact will apply to nuclear power too — very unfortunately.

  19. Town next to me has municipal power, and it seems to work fine, they’re certainly not interested in getting absorbed into the regular NY system. I think it all depends on the state and the local authorities, of course. Given the state of things and the dim outlook out of DC, I’d think there could be a lot of interest in localizing power production. The problem of course is that in many cases local governments have been completely hollowed out and are just wards of the state at this point…

  20. Until the NRC changes its rules on staffing of nuke plants to account for the smaller plants the new SMR’s will not probably be cost effective when natural gas prices decrease after the Biden mis-administration is finally thrown out like the rancid garbage they truly are.

    The shutdowns of Ft. Calhoun in Nebraska Duane Arnold in Iowa, and Kewaunee in Wisconsin were based on operating costs. All 3 were older plants and generated about 500 to 600 MWe. They each had about the same number of employees on site as the Wolf Creek plant in Kansas and the Callaway plant in Missouri which are 1300 MWe plants. They were also facing increased capital outlays to replace old equipment needing replacement. The formerly low cost of natural gas and the windmill/PV panel subsidies were hurting them also.

    On the subject of the “vaunted” Chinese high speed rail lines, take a look at which of those lines are making money and which ones are not. Most of them are not making enough to even cover their operating costs. Same with the Japanese and French. High speed rail tracks require constant error free alignment maintenance to ensure safe operation.

  21. Re: “running flat-out” It would be nice if there was a variable load that could easily (and economically) switch in and out to use “excess” electricity when the consumer market slumps or sleeps. Desalination?

    Compressed air, or separation into nitrogen, oxygen, and even CO2 removal?

    Spin the centrifuges for plutonium separation or uranium enrichment on recycled fuel pellets, during the off-hours? (seems like a lot of wear and tear on spinning parts. Maybe laser isotopic separation would be better.)

    What would your city do with an intermittent supply of nearly free electricity?

  22. High-speed rail, like light rail, is something that has to be forced on people.

    Everyone loves both ideas, but when you go and ask “Hey, you’re headed to City “X”, this weekend… How’re you getting there?”, they all tell you they’re driving their own car. Why? Because, when they get to “X”, they have things to do, things to take there, and things to bring back. Nobody wants to be hauling Grammy’s little treasures home on the train…

    When you get down to it, most people do not want to live in the environment that these systems create and are designed to support. Most people, given a choice, will not live in the hive-like inner cities we’ve created. Not to raise families, not to actually live; it’s all well and good when they’re young adults on the make, partying hard every night, but once they reach their family-rearing points, they don’t want to live like that anymore. It’s all “I want my own house, my little space around it, and be able to have something of my own…”

    Don’t look at the ideals everyone spouts. Watch what they do. You go around my little town in the mountains, and all you find being built are nice homes for the Seattle refugees, who’ve fouled their own nests past repair, and are now seeking refuge in rural peace and quiet. We’ll see how long that lasts, with these idiots voting for things, but for the moment…? They’re all voting with their feet for things antiethical to what a lot of them no doubt espoused and voted for in Seattle over these last many years.

    Friend of mine was a huge advocate for the light rail system over there, proselytizing for it and constantly talking it up. Care to guess how many times she’s actually ridden it? Yeah; about twice. It’s just not convenient for her, see?

    Same-same with most of these advocates; the ideas they come up with and then force on the body politic are all things they’d never use themselves, but think that everyone else “should use”. You would think that at some point, the cognitive dissonance would begin to draw their attention, but they’re mostly self-involved sanctimonious jackasses that have not one ounce of real self-awareness.

  23. Pouncer…”What would your city do with an intermittent supply of nearly free electricity?”

    One possibility that has been discussed is electrolysis for hydrogen production. Another is Bitcoin mining.

    Problem with both of these is that the capital investment in the equipment…the electrolyzer or the mining computers…is only being used part-time. If capital costs are low enough compared with the benefits of the low-cost electricity, it still might make sense.

    There are probably other possibilities as well…

  24. It’s worth pointing out that fuel is not much of an issue for a long time if you’re serious about nuclear. You can design reactors that convert the non-fissionable U-238 (that is, most uranium) into plutonium while generating power. As a bonus, it’s far easier to separate plutonium from uranium than it is to separate U-235 (which is nuclear fuel) from U-238 (which, again, is not.)

    That’s also the downside; easier to separate makes it easier to make fuel, but also easier to make bombs, especially since ‘easier to separate’ means less need for the specialized centrifuges and the like that have been the technologies controlled to prevent proliferation.

    The more breeder reactors you build the more likely someone unpleasant eventually ends up with some plutonium.

    Not really advocating for widespread breeder reactor use, but it tends to be a good thing to be aware of trade offs; the calculus may change.

  25. Yet to be fully explored: Thorium reactor technology.

    If the environmentalists were serious, they’d be all over this stuff. They aren’t, and from that you can extrapolate that what they’re actually interested in is human extinction by way of taking us back to the stone age. All the “renewable” power technologies have that as an end, when examined in detail. You cannot run a modern civilization on them; eventually, the run-down will mean the end of said civilization, because every iteration of replacement installations use more and more energy that you just don’t get back. Have a look at honest calculations about the net energy inputs required to build your average wind-power installation, and then compare that to the amount of power you actually get out of it during its actual service life.

    If you look at the numbers and compare them to what you see out on the ground, what you find is that it’s all lies, all the time. The usual BS on wind power has an assumption of something like 60-80% availability for each tower. Go have a look at your nearest wind “farm”; how many are actually turning during your visit? Spend a day working nearby, or just sit and watch… Do you see them turning? How do you imagine non-turning generators make electricity happen? Now, calculate the net energy inputs for things like maintenance and heating on the equipment, to keep it from freezing…

    Whole thing is a fraud, and always has been. Only the innumerate and doltish that never leave their screens could fall for this BS on the scale that we have.

    Swear to God, if there are ever trials for these people? They’re going to go up against a wall, somewhere. Either that, or be bankrupted in civil court.

    I can honestly see there being enough outraged “normies” that the laws might be rewritten to enable seizure of assets and trust funds for all these clownish “foundations” and universities. That’s where I think they ought to be looking, when it comes to paying off student debt: The endowments for the institutions who swindled them in the first place. Along with their enablers in the rest of the “public education” swindle–“Oh, Johnny… You simply must get a degree, in something… Or, you’ll never have a nice life…” Fifty years later, when Johnny is still paying back his insane loans, the ones that can’t be discharged in bankruptcies… How ya think he’s gonna vote, when the smarter demagogue picks up on this as an issue?

    Biden’s latest “pay off student loans” scam is going to go over like a lead balloon with the people who have to work for a living, cementing the Democrats as disconnected advocates for the losers of the world.

    It’s like watching a slow-motion political suicide for an entire party. Mind-boggling, TBH…

  26. Note what’s absent in this Caltech magazine article about the “smart grid”–anything about nuclear. Also anything about, hey let’s make sure we have as much energy as we need!
    https://magazine.caltech.edu/post/smart-grid-renewable-energy-electric-vehicles
    Lots of awful stuff about how people just need to adjust to less power, and at inconvenient times, though…
    “Wierman’s research focuses on how to make the grid more compatible with the uncertainty of renewable energy, which starts with a simple concept: if our energy supply is a little less predictable, then our energy demand needs to be a little more flexible…
    Still, citizens will inevitably become more attuned to the “whens” and “hows” of their energy use. This will happen most visibly through what Wierman calls “price signals.” The cost of energy will move up or down over time depending on energy supply and demand; this will provide individuals with financial incentives to change their energy use….
    “I do think that with a smart grid, price signals are going to be increasingly visible to consumers, especially for those with EVs,” Wierman says. “The time of day you charge will be a significant factor in how much you pay for that charge, whether you’re at home or in a parking garage. It’s going to be something that may be frustrating for some but maybe exciting for others in terms of chasing the deal.””

  27. Brian….I only skimmed it, but didn’t see any discussion of how one could operate, say, a steel mill using electric arc furnaces in such a way as to only use power when the grid wants to make it available…or for that matter, a data center…or a semiconductor fab.

    Lots of electricity use for non-consumer purposes.

  28. David: Don’t think Caltech is immune to liberal delusions or wokeness-they’ve banished all mention of their founder Robert Millikan, as well as numerous other historical figures. It’s not a temple of real science anymore.

  29. David F: ” but the capacity factors (actual generation divided by what it would be at nameplate output rating) I’ve seen quoted are more like 30-40%.”

    But that capacity factor needs to be reduced due to another issue — the mismatch between when the power is produced in the Scam equipment and the actual need for power at that very moment. This is because we can’t effectively store electric power.

    Then there is the other factor of wasted backup power, because there has to be fossil/nuclear equipment running all the time to compensate for the moments when the Scam equipment is not producing enough.

    From what I have heard, regulations in many areas pay a premium price for ScamPower whether it is needed or not, while reliable power generated in excess of immediate requirement is simply an economic loss.

  30. Unfortunately the French appear to have lost their mojo in building new reactors with both the Finnish and UK reactors they have spent the last 15-20 yrs building have been over budget by
    a 3x or so factor and the Finnish one just now powering up, the UK one limboish but probably several yrs away from completion. And then there is the aspect that ~20% of the 40+ yr old
    French reactors are shut down for safety inspections and remediations, as feasible. Pretty good life span but considering how poorly the French reactor building has gone in the UK and Finland one wonders how well things will go back in France for future reactors.

  31. Every commercial nuclear reactor has what we call coupons installed in the core in various places. These coupons are stainless steel of the same alloy used to build the reactor vessel and coolant piping and are there to study the effect of neutron embrittlement on the material. Ever so often some are removed during a refueling outage and sent to labs for testing. Metallurgists for Westinghouse (I used to work at the CircleBarW ranch) and at the NRC told me that the old fears of reactor vessels getting too brittle to be used as they age was not as bad as first feared back in the 1960’s. Advances in fuel design and plant operation has stretched the available lifetime from 40 years initially to 60 now, and there really is no reason the current plants could not be run for a 100 years or more. The plants being built now certainly could do that.

    sch, EVERYONE in the west has lost their mojo on building nukes quickly. In both the US (early 1990’s) and France (early 2000’s) when we quit building them, the craft and engineering talent either went on to building combined cycle gas turbine plants, refineries, or retired/died. There is an extreme shortage of people who know how to build nukes and I am afraid the current ones working at Vogtle 3/4 get done, they will disperse and the hard learned lessons will be forgotten again. I remember telling several Westinghouse executives in 2004 about the shortage of craft and field engineers who knew how to build nukes. They were all giddy about the “Nuclear Renaissance” when American utilities seemed to be interested in ordering over 30 new plants and no one was thinking about minor details like craft labor, the engineering talent pool, and industrial infrastructure we needed to get those built.

    Reality set in and within 3 years those 30 new plants shrunk to 10, and then by the time Southern Nuclear and SGE actually ordered AP1000 units, all the rest had stopped considering them. Cost overruns sunk the plant in South Carolina and now Vogtle is the last and probably only one left. I’ll believe the SMR’s will get built when I see construction licenses issued.

  32. The boiler makers and pipe fitters that would build new nucs are the same ones building and repairing fossil fuel plants and turning around refineries, etc. If you can find one that isn’t booked solid to the end of the century. If only degrees in interpretive dance and post feminist literature were transferable to something like that instead of brewing complicated cups of coffee.

    To the extent that the work can be transferred to a factory, machines can fill some of the gap. There’s a huge difference in productivity between factory processes and field. The rub is that anything where you’re talking 100’s of MW will have to be in a lot of pieces to be hauled anywhere and assembly won’t be a matter of just plugging a few things together. There’s a trend towards building large plants like gas liquefaction on huge ships, barges actually since they don’t have propulsion, to take advantage of the progress that’s been made in ship building. For us, the problem is two fold, first: a lot of the need is inland and second: shipbuilding is another of the things that Americans won’t do, at least efficiently.

  33. Thanks for posting, David. In a way it’s a good thing that we’ve been so slow about building new reactors. Current reactors waste most of their fuel and produce a relatively large amount of nuclear waste. If energy becomes expensive enough, perhaps it will eventually become economically feasible to build breeder reactors instead. Natural uranium is only 0.7% uranium 235, which is the fissile material that produces most of the energy in current reactors. Their fuel rods are typically enriched to a few percent U235. Most of the rest of natural uranium is U238, which cannot support a nuclear chain reaction. However, breeder reactors would convert the U238 into fissile plutonium 239, allowing far more of the available energy to be used. Breeders also produce copious neutrons, which can be leveraged to destroy long-lived transuranics and reaction products. As a result, the residual radiation from running a nuclear plant for 30 years could potentially be less than that from running a coal plant for the same amount of time after a few hundred years, instead of thousands or tens of thousands of years.

    The same goes for the thorium breeders David mentions in his post. Like U238, thorium isn’t naturally fissile, but can be converted into fissile U233 in a breeder. Unfortunately, as things now stand, it would take many years for approval of new builds of such reactors to percolate through the Nuclear Regulatory bureaucracy. That’s one problem we need to solve before building them without heavy government subsidies becomes feasible. The fact that Pu239 and U233 can also be used to build bombs is also an issue, but one that I think can be safely managed.

    I notice the military plans to build a small modular reactor at Idaho National Laboratory, where I used to work. If so, it will be the first new reactor built there in a long time.

    https://americanmilitarynews.com/2022/04/military-going-forward-with-transportable-micro-reactor-generator/

    More than 50 reactors were built there in the 50’s and 60’s. It’s sad that it’s now become incredibly difficult for us build even one.

  34. I wonder if you took a survey of all the programmers and all the welders out there, who would be the happiest. I’ve done both. Both have their satisfactions and both have a large share of tedious, repetitive and, for welding, physically demanding aspects. Not that that makes either job different from most others. If there are any jobs out there that consist of uninterrupted bliss, they weren’t hiring when I was looking.

    I’ll lay long odds that most welders are happier than most interpretive dancers. I’d probably be willing to wager that for most artists, their happiness is inversely proportional to the amount of formal art instruction. Diogenes could spend a lifetime looking for a happy MFA working as an artist.

    The little boy that dreams of being a fireman probably doesn’t spend much time dreaming of cleaning and stowing fire hoses. At least until he becomes a fireman.

    I can remember as a child how I would imagine how great having some toy would be, only to find if I actually got it somehow that it was only a toy and would soon enough be eclipsed by something else. I remember thinking at one time that being a forest ranger would be my dream job. At that time, we were given an aptitude test. Guess what, I would have been a great forest ranger. I’ve taken all such results with a big grain of salt ever since.

    A good job is one that consistently pays the bills. A good life probably has a good job, or even succession of good jobs as part, but only part of it.

  35. Helian/DD: “… perhaps it will eventually become economically feasible to build breeder reactors instead.”

    Depends on what the meaning of “economically feasible” is, as Bill Clinton might have said. The big economic barriers to nuclear power in the West today are mostly consequences of excessive regulations and misguided regulations. Not such a problem in China (19 reactors currently under construction) or India (8 under construction) or even little South Korea (4 under construction).
    https://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/facts-and-figures/world-nuclear-power-reactors-and-uranium-requireme.aspx

    Fortunately, regulations are something we could change with a stroke of a pen. Unfortunately, it is our Political Class which holds the pen.

  36. MCS “The little boy that dreams of being a fireman probably doesn’t spend much time dreaming of cleaning and stowing fire hoses. At least until he becomes a fireman.”

    Yes. And the kids who dream of becoming scientists are not happy when they learn how much time they will spend writing and rewriting reports, memos, etc.

  37. I don’t think anyone is really happy with realizing their childhood dreams, mostly because they were sold a false bill of goods in the first place. You don’t know what goes into the job, when all you see are the romantic versions of it in kid’s books or in movies. Not to mention the fact that the media portrayals of just about everything are epically delusional…

    It’s a fact of life, that. In the service, the guys who were talking about making a career of it before they knew what they were getting into were always the “one tour and done” guys, while those of us who were “Yeah, one enlistment will be enough for me…” there at the beginning were the ones waking up one morning 20 years later, going “WTF did I just do…?”. I don’t know anybody who I was ever around that started off with the intent of making a career of it all, and actually did so. Likewise, all the guys who were “Yeah, I’m a lifer…”? Most of them never got past their first enlistment, and were always highly prone to early career termination for various reasons, not the least of which was misconduct.

    Same thing is observable in cops; the guys who want the jobs? Usually don’t last. The guys who sort of fall into the situation? They wind up going the distance.

    Strange syndrome, that. I think it ties in with my observation that the truly talented and gifted people out there? They never, ever make use of those talents and gifts in their careers. It’s too damn easy; there’s no challenge to it for them. I had a friend of mine during my first overseas tour in Germany, who was this God-gifted musical talent; he could literally pick up an instrument he’d never seen before, watch someone playing it for a little bit, and then play it well enough that the people he borrowed it from thought he was a professional. He’d play music on a lark, but it was too damn easy for him, so he never “followed his talent” into a musical career. He was the despair for at least two amateur bands during our time working together, and the bandmaster at V Corps personally came down to try to convince him to come play for them. Which he refused to do, because he found it “boring”.

    Seen that same thing play out in a couple of other contexts. I think that the usual run of people that make careers out of something are generally talented, but not so talented that it’s too easy for them. There has to be a challenge involved, or there’s no meaning to it for them.

  38. Most of the rest of natural uranium is U238, which cannot support a nuclear chain reaction.

    The Canadian CANDU reactors run on mostly U238 with a very small amount of U235 (0.72%) using heavy water as a moderator. Other light water reactors use about 5% U235

  39. “Depends on what the meaning of “economically feasible” is, as Bill Clinton might have said. The big economic barriers to nuclear power in the West today are mostly consequences of excessive regulations and misguided regulations.”

    Exactly. It’s a classic case of regulations doing far more harm than good. Estimates of the number of deaths per year from coal particulates run as high as 100,000. Replacing those plants with nuclear would save a lot of lives.

    “The Canadian CANDU reactors run on mostly U238 with a very small amount of U235 (0.72%) using heavy water as a moderator. Other light water reactors use about 5% U235”

    No, they don’t run on mostly U238. They run on that small amount of U235, which is why they need that heavy water as moderator. It doesn’t absorb as many neutrons as normal water. Occasionally neutrons with energies over 1 MeV will cause U238 to fission, but the cross section, or probability is much lower than the fission cross section of U235 with much slower, or thermal neutrons. That’s why moderators are used – to slow down the neutrons released in fission. Some U238 is eventually converted to fissile Pu239 via neutron absorption, and that can help keep the reactor critical, but the contribution is small compared to U235.

  40. Jeffrey C: “Store the stuff in Yucca Mountain.”

    Nuclear “waste” is considered dangerous and requires storage because … it emits energy.

    What do we normally call a material that emits energy? Normally, we call that “fuel”.

    We could use spent nuclear fuel/nuclear “waste” to generate useful power. We don’t because of … regulations.

  41. We could use spent nuclear fuel/nuclear “waste” to generate useful power. We don’t because of … regulations.

    Reprocessing used fuel is not economically effective right now. It is cheaper to mine uranium and process that into new fuel than it is to reprocess used fuel assemblies.

  42. One of the reasons that reprocessing isn’t economic is because it’s cheap to store the amount of waste we have now on a day to day basis. I believe that after the initial cool down in a water bath to allow the hottest components to decay, they can just put up a concrete containment on site for long term storage. Not much more trouble than shipping containers used to store anything else. The real cost is what to do to separate it from the environment for the 10,000 years until it will be harmless.

    Oddly a government that can’t manage to do a budget for even a year has found that impossible. I remember the process that landed the repository in Yucca Mountain because I was living about ten miles from one of the other finalists in the Texas Panhandle. Once all the ra ra from the chamber of commerce types died down and the reality of drilling multiple shafts through the Ogallala Aquifer settled in it was decided in the most democratic way possible that a dormant volcano was a much better place. They counted noses in each of the congressional delegations and Nevada lost at three.

    Now that’s off the table too. You can be sure that if they ever figure something out, the cost of storing un-reprocessed waste will rise considerably.

  43. Well, this is interesting…
    https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-04-29/half-of-french-nuclear-fleet-is-shut-for-works-squeezing-supply
    “The halt of yet another nuclear unit in France means half of its reactors are now offline for maintenance, keeping power supplies tight in a country that is traditionally one of Europe’s biggest electricity exporters. Twenty-eight reactors are offline as Electricite de France SA struggles with extended outages after corrosion issues were found at some sites, requiring lengthy checks and repairs…”
    Have they been cutting corners on maintenance? Is someone in the system on an anti-nuclear kick? Inquiring minds want to know…

  44. The whole process of finding a suitable site for nuclear waste reminded me of a story my dad told me.

    He was once called out to where a crew was installing a street light in down town Denver. On consulting their plat that was supposed to show all the utilities that were underground, it seemed there was a phone line at their location. As per SOP, they called the phone company who sent an engineer with another plat that showed a different location for the phone line as well as my dad. My dad said; “Our plat shows it’s here, yours shows it’s there so why don’t we put the pole over there?”. The phone guy insisted their plat was right and besides wouldn’t that mess up the light pattern, (it made no difference) so he insisted the keep with the original plan. 24″ auger meets 600 pair cable and a chunk of down town Denver was without phones for a while.

  45. Thanks to the blessings of bureaucracy, we managed to botch a deal we made with the Russians for each side to destroy 34 tons of weapons grade plutonium by converting it to fuel and burning it in existing reactors. We eventually decided it would be too expensive to get rid of it that way and announced to the Russians that we would mix the plutonium with some other stuff to make it “inert,” and then treat it as waste. Needless to say, the Russians weren’t dumb enough to buy that gambit. No matter what you mix plutonium with, it can be separated chemically. No complex enrichment facility would be needed. The upshot is that the Russians never got rid of their 34 tons of Pu, either. At this point, Putin’s probably quite happy it’s still available.

    https://www.politico.com/agenda/story/2018/02/07/russia-not-disposed-plutonium-000641/

  46. Odds are, today’s “radioactive waste” will be tomorrow’s sought-after resource due to advances in technology.

    I’d also go so far as to suggest that making it too hard to get at, by putting it beneath something in a continental subduction zone might well be seen as a mistake.

    I have to say that I’m sort of disappointed in the lack of sense these people in charge of dealing with this stuff demonstrate. You tell me that you’ve got a hazardous material that’s dangerous for a few tens of thousands of years? Glassify it, and find a nice location where subduction is going on, and let it go with the flow back into the mantle. How long will that take, and how hard would it be to access…? Forget burying it on the surface; find the right location, and let it ride the path down underneath a continent. By the time it surfaces again, it’ll be well past its freshness date.

  47. I wonder if the fanatical anti-nukers out there who claim the least little bit of radiation is deadly ever wonder how all that argon ended up in our atmosphere? Since many of them are vegan, they probably eat a lot of radioactive bananas and potatoes, not to mention the kitty litter they buy for their numerous cats.

  48. They’re not scientists, they’re sciencism cultists, the majority. They’ve no more idea about radiation than they do about how the motor in their car works. Or, for that matter, much of anything at all. They can’t even fix the doorknob on the front of their house, without calling in a tradesman, most of them.

    The irony is that they mock the religious as being credulous believers in outmoded superstition, but the reality is this: They really have no more idea about what “science” is than the most fervent follower of Jehovah or Allah; the only real difference is in who they chose to listen to, which lab-coated authority figures they chose to respect. They can’t actually understand or critique the things those lab-vestment clad prophets tell them, but they feel validated because it’s “science”, so they mouth the words and never dare question the latest science-ecclesiastical pronouncements. It’s really no different than the old days, it’s just that there’s a new pope in town, and he’s got a diploma from Harvard or wherever else he got it. It’s all kinda sad, when you think about it–This is how the Enlightenment ends, in an ironic echo to the days of Papal authority over the church. The sheep-like minds of the true believers all in lockstep with their new authority figures, because they can’t stand having to think for themselves.

  49. I recall telling my mother that a film we saw at school said nuclear-powered electricity would be too cheap to bother to bill for. She laughed and assured me they’d find a way to charge.

  50. Samantha Power, unquestionably one of the “global elites” who is shaping the future, had this to say today:
    “Fertilizer shortages are real now because Russia is a big exporter of fertilizer. And even though fertilizer is not sanctioned, less fertilizer is coming out of Russia. As a result, we’re working with countries to think about natural solutions like manure and compost. And this may hasten transitions that would have been in the interest of farmers to make eventually anyway.”

    Does that sound like the sort of thing you’d hear from the “elite” who would be leading us onto the cusp of transitioning to ubiquitous nuclear power?

  51. As a result, we’re working with countries to think about natural solutions like manure and compost. And this may hasten transitions that would have been in the interest of farmers to make eventually anyway.”

    More evidence of the fantasy world they live in.

  52. Nuclear waste is not a big a deal as it’s hyped up to be. Yucca Mountain would be a big corp/government boondoggle. Perhaps we’re better off with the current system of storing on site. See this video as to why.

    https://youtu.be/4aUODXeAM-k

  53. I love people who claim “Follow the science!”.

    Not only do they not understand what science is, they can’t even describe it vaguely accurately:

    “Science is a methodology by which we can assign a reliability value to a proposition.”

    Instead, we get people more aptly described by this Cyanide and Happiness piece:

    https://files.explosm.net/comics/Kris/same.png

  54. }}} This hurts to admit — but we have a special type of incompetence in the US.

    We don’t have high speed rail in the USA because we have zero need for it, and even less want for it. Politicians love passenger rail, because it gives them big money to spend on their constituencies… “High Speed” rail is just the same problem, but it spends money even faster.

    We lack the population densities — yes, even in Cali and New England — that they have all over the place in Europe, Japan, and China. New England can just BARELY support justifying passenger rail. It can’t justify high speed rail. Too many people want to go to too many places to justify a limited-target system like rail. And most of the attempted assertions of where to built it — Miami to Orlando, FL — or LA to SF — are not justified by actual support for them. LA to SF tries to say that it can take the place of people flying from LA to SF… except that the numbers are not there. They’d have to capture ALL the LA to SF/SF to LA traffic to even hope to break even. Meanwhile, it’s competing with equipment and infrastructure that can be used for OTHER DESTINATIONS to justify their expense. If traffic goes up or down on the LA/SF corridor, the same planes can be used to fly from LA to Vegas. Or Vegas to Houston. Or wherever.

    The reason they can’t build high speed rail from LA to SF isn’t that they’re incompetent at building rails. It’s that they’re competent at milking a boondoggle. Which it is. And anyone with sense knows this. The sooner they complete it, the sooner its ridership will show that they were stupid to think that it was the Rail of Dreams: “If you build it, the riders will come.”

  55. }}} The French have a LOT of experience in nuclear power. I hope they can help us all.

    One problem with France is that they don’t comprehend how to market anything they create.

    This is why they have to protect their own markets. Which feeds back to exacerbate the problem.

    One word:
    “Minitel”.

  56. }}} the NuScale system is planned to come in modules of 77 MW, but their smallest standard package planned is for 4 of them. They could surely build plants with only 1 module, but then the whole thing would be out of service when you have to shut the reactor down for refueling.

    The solution there would be to pick a spot where you could build one package to serve four communities of reasonable size.

    Florida would be a prime case — I would lay odds you could find a spot halfway between Daytona Beach and Gainesville, FL, and then supply Daytona Beach, Gainesville, and Ocala — those three probably use at least that much power — Gainesville Metro is >250k, Ocala is a bit smaller, Daytona is a bit larger. Then run power lines from there into their own grid networks, and also supply the general surrounding semi-rural areas.

    The main point being, you could use a number of them to show proof of concepts.

  57. You can gauge someone’s seriousness and ability to think by asking them what their opinion on light rail or high-speed rail is. If they’re in favor of it, they’re almost always idiots mouthing the opinions of others in a futile attempt to seem intelligent.

    Raw fact is, none of the passenger rail systems really work. About all light rail succeeds at is providing subsidized transportation to inner-city criminals seeking to raid the suburbs. High-speed rail is a vanity project that never quite attains the promised economies of scale or use. The whole thing falls down on the simple fact that rail of any sort, is by nature fixed to one route between set locations at set times. Human needs rarely conform exactly to these, so people either have to compromise within those constraints or seek another solution. If you’re a European louche more concerned with appearances than actual performances, rail looks really good. If you’ve got to be somewhere at a certain time to do things, it isn’t quite the wonderful solution they all say it is. “They”, as in all things that “they” pronounce upon, are generally feckless morons.

    Rail works for cargo. People ain’t cargo; you can’t shunt a passenger train aside onto a siding for a few days due to network congestion; in fact, said passenger service trains are generally the cause of congestion. Rail is an inflexible solution that they want to inflict on very flexible people, who have other needs than the ones the central planners of the railways imagine they have. The childish infatuation with passenger rail is a marker for essential stupidity and inability to recognize reality; there’s a reason all these systems have to be propped up by government, and it ain’t because too many people want to use them, either.

    In a truly sane world, there wouldn’t be any passenger rail at all. Rail would be cargo-only, and a hell of a lot more efficient. Cars and roads are not the ideal solution, but they’re the most humanistic one we’ve got, so far. People actually choose to use cars, whenever they can, for good reasons.

  58. Riding the train in England is awesome. You can in a fairly short time get to a different city, where you can then walk to wherever you want to go, because the cities predate cars.
    And in general there are trains nearly constantly on the major lines, so you don’t even really need to worry about schedule.
    And you don’t even need a reservation, because the seats are all available, because no one rides the train…
    LOL.

  59. OBH: “The reason they can’t build high speed rail from LA to SF isn’t that they’re incompetent at building rails. It’s that they’re competent at milking a boondoggle.”

    You may be right about that, OBH. Sadly, that is a tremendous criticism of “democracy” and the people of California who voted for those self-enriching politicians and voted to indebt themselves borrowing money which would be used to pay for lawyers & kickbacks instead of building a rail system. As the saying goes — You can’t save someone from herself.

  60. Kirk: “Raw fact is, none of the passenger rail systems really work.”

    We should not separate the rail system from the society in which it is placed. High Speed Rail and mass transit light rail/metro systems don’t work in the US because we have ended up with a low population density, even in most cities.

    Contrast that with the Chinese societal structure. Efficient High Speed Rail between major (and not so major) cities, connecting to extensive light rail/metro systems within each city. Step off the HSR train and step onto the Metro taking you to where you need to go. But that works only because of the very high population density in Chinese cities, with most people living in 30-story apartment blocks within walking distance of Metro stations, supermarkets, schools, parks.

    As well as the physical infrastructure supporting rail in high-density Chinese cities, there is something else that may be more difficult for Westerners to face — the high level of public decorum among Chinese city dwellers. Perhaps it is because of their relatively homogenous population; perhaps because of the Chinese focus on not “losing face” with their fellow citizens; perhaps because the Authorities exercise a very low tolerance for public anti-social behavior. The end result is that the Chinese system works for Chinese people in high population densities. It certainly would not work in a US that has much lower urban population densities and is unwilling to enforce rules on acceptable behavior.

    Running High Speed Rail and light rail/metro systems needs a lot of electric power — which brings us back to the need for reliable 24/7 nuclear power, which China is pursuing.

  61. I recall telling my mother that a film we saw at school said nuclear-powered electricity would be too cheap to bother to bill for. She laughed and assured me they’d find a way to charge.

    Suppose you saw a film and told your mother than phone service — beginning with long-distance calls — would become too cheap to bother with ITEMIZED billings. No formula for minutes and distance, no “nights and weekend” discounts, not even a simple count of the number of calls made per month She’d laugh and assure you the phone company would still charge a “flat rate” monthly connection fee, just to be part of the system, right? Because your mom was SMART.

    Your dad, also smart, would have told you it would never happen as long as AT&T had a monopoly on phone service. The government would have to Bust the Bells before the rate maze ever went away. Also, your dad said, if phone service ever was “too cheap to meter” that every teenager in America would have a phone by their face every waking minute.

  62. …and your Crazy Uncle would have told you that the government would track your every movement and listen to your every word on phones that you could carry around with you…

  63. Here’s something interesting: Finnish-led consortium Fennovoima has cancelled a deal with Russian group Rosatom to build a 1.2 GW plant, project valued at $7.5B.

    https://www.france24.com/en/live-news/20220502-finnish-group-scraps-nuclear-plant-deal-with-russia-s-rosatom

    Finland already has 5 reactors operating, one of which just came on-line, and gets about 35% of their electricity from nuclear, so I doubt if this decision should be read as Finland walking away from nuclear.

  64. One thing one Chinese documentary I watched emphasized, was that efficient high speed rail allows people to work from quite a bit further away than slower transport systems. The same travel time, and a much larger radius of possibility for workers.

  65. Not really on topic, but the just grabbed a Canadian general from Mariupol and have taken him for a talk with the FSB. ;)

    Told you there were interesting people in there.

  66. }}} Sadly, that is a tremendous criticism of “democracy” and the people of California who voted for those self-enriching politicians and voted to indebt themselves borrowing money which would be used to pay for lawyers & kickbacks instead of building a rail system.

    Well, yes, but you have to grasp, it is a self-evident fact that the vast majority of people still living in Cali are feckless idiots (i know there are some still there, for various insufficient but personal reasons, but most of the wiser heads have long since left).

    This means that the ones remaining are at best Useful Idiots, and often Useless Idiots, but they’ll still vote for what they are told is “The Right Things”.

    Voting for “Mass Transit” options is always a matter of virtue signalling, even for those who would never ever be caught dead making use of it.

  67. The people who always “know better” than their critics are generally almost always wrong, and every time they force through some BS like the sports arenas in Seattle, they wind up making everyone else pay for them.

    Here’s my thinking on the whole thing–You want “high-speed rail”? Fine; it’s incumbent upon you to a.) pay for it, and b.) make it pay off, in terms of actual, y’know… Use. And, you don’t get to use taxpayer dollars to do it with, either–Anything that requires government intervention and tax money is just you committing armed robbery with extra steps. Personally, I’d strongly suggest that if you can convince “the majority” of the electorate to sign up for your idiocy, then you should be able to convince that many people to pony up out of their pockets to pay for your BS in the first place. If not? Then, that means they’re really not to damn serious, doesn’t it?

    The thing with these assholes being able to suck in tax monies is that they’re able to convince people that that money really isn’t coming out of their pockets; it’s a scam, pure and simple. The average idiot never connects the feel-good BS they vote for or support with actual money coming out of their pocket, ‘cos it’s all “painless” to them. Until the BS like the failed nuclear power plants up here in Washington State winds up costing them decades worth of higher utility rates that they all bitch about, completely forgetting that they voted that BS in in the first damn place.

    Public monies ought to be severely limited. Things like these massive boondoggle programs for high-speed and light rail ought to be right out, when it comes to eligibility for tax money support. People bitch all the time about “subsidies for oil”, but the BS they’ll pay for with “renewable energy” and passenger rail idiocies is nearly infinite. And, the other thing is this: Oil subsidies eventually come back, in the form of taxes and other such things. Money spent on never-built and never-used rail projects, on the other hand? You might just as well have hired the Joker to burn it for you, for all the good it does.

    If the stuff they have actually constructed so far in California ever actually gets used, for anything even remotely connected to transportation? I’ll be very surprised; more likely, it’ll be a “Hey, remember this…?” article about sixty years from now, marveling at the wasted money of our generation.

  68. Kirk: Of course, but the problem with your position is that it hasn’t been a central tenet of national politics for about 130 years.

    The last truly GREAT PotUS we had was actually a Democrat — Grover Cleveland (the one who attained two separate non-successive terms). He’s the last PotUS who continually demonstrated a concern for retaining the proper sphere of government — from the wiki:

    When Congress, pressured by the Grand Army of the Republic, passed a bill granting pensions for disabilities not caused by military service, Cleveland also vetoed that. Cleveland used the veto far more often than any president up to that time.

    In 1887, Cleveland issued his most well-known veto, that of the Texas Seed Bill. After a drought had ruined crops in several Texas counties, Congress appropriated $100,000 (equivalent to $3,015,926 in 2021) to purchase seed grain for farmers there. Cleveland vetoed the expenditure. In his veto message, he espoused a theory of limited government:

    I can find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution, and I do not believe that the power and duty of the general government ought to be extended to the relief of individual suffering which is in no manner properly related to the public service or benefit. A prevalent tendency to disregard the limited mission of this power and duty should, I think, be steadfastly resisted, to the end that the lesson should be constantly enforced that, though the people support the government, the government should not support the people. The friendliness and charity of our countrymen can always be relied upon to relieve their fellow-citizens in misfortune. This has been repeatedly and quite lately demonstrated. Federal aid in such cases encourages the expectation of paternal care on the part of the government and weakens the sturdiness of our national character, while it prevents the indulgence among our people of that kindly sentiment and conduct which strengthens the bonds of a common brotherhood.

    Then there’s his third “SOTU” speech:

    “When we consider that the theory of our institutions guarantees to every citizen the full enjoyment of all the fruits of his industry and enterprise, with only such deduction as may be his share toward the careful and economical maintenance of the Government which protects him, it is plain that the exaction of more than this is indefensible extortion and a culpable betrayal of American fairness and justice … The public Treasury, which should only exist as a conduit conveying the people’s tribute to its legitimate objects of expenditure, becomes a hoarding place for money needlessly withdrawn from trade and the people’s use, thus crippling our national energies, suspending our country’s development, preventing investment in productive enterprise, threatening financial disturbance, and inviting schemes of public plunder.”

    — Cleveland’s third annual message to Congress, December 6, 1887 —

  69. I love Teddy Roosevelt, but, face it, he’s the one who first stopped grasping the proper limits of government activity, and unleashed us with the very first of the Alphabet Agencies — the FDA, etc.,

    Instead of doing things to get industry to clean up its act, to create a trustworthy self-governing board, he created a government body to do something rightly done by a non-governmental entity.

    And that’s a slippery slope we’re still sliding down, now pretty much fully out of control, as our endlessly increasing national debt shows.

  70. OBH,
    While I agree with you that TR deserves a good deal of criticism, I fail to see where enforcing minimum standards on things like food purity and drug efficacy fall outside the purview of government. Both are areas which a common citizen would find impossible to verify for themselves. \At the same time, UL is an example of a private entity that has worked well and it’s certainly possible to imagine a similar organization to enforce food safety.

    The problem is to find a third party to provide the impetus and enforcement. For UL that would be the fire insurance industry. Their motive in both simple and unarguably positive. They simply want to prevent loss of property from fire. While the food industry would seem to have a desire to prevent food borne illness, the history is that they were at best completely ineffective and at worst allowed other interests to dominate that goal in the name of reducing cost and increasing profit.

    A better example would be NASA, that started out doing basic research in aviation and morphed into the giant waste of public money exemplified by SLS which should probably be called NLS for Never Launch System.

  71. Government agencies always morph over into either the Pentagon, or NASA. It’s the nature of the beast. If you rely on the UL model, at least then you can kill the thing with legislative and judicial fire; you can sue UL or its equivalent for malfeasance and so forth. Likewise, the insurance companies keep them honest… Put that functionality into something enshrined under governmental authority and immunity, and you get utter corruption in the end. Look at the Canadian version of UL, for example…

    I think that both the Roosevelts were dangerous lunatics, just like Wilson. Differing lunacies, but lunatic nonetheless. The FDA should have been a UL-like entity, something that could be sued and kept under control by the market–Which includes the insurers and the public being able to take them to court. Who can successfully sue the FDA, again? As a practical matter?

    When the functionality is taken over by government, bad things happen. The inherent immunities and unlimited budgets just lead to an utter lack of accountability and a total lack of restraint. Were UL to go off the deep end, you could route around it by establishing another certifying authority–Which keeps them honest and on their toes. With the FDA, the illusion that everything can be controlled by government is what enables a lot of the stupidity they’ve gotten up to. Were they but one voice in the market, with the potential of being supplanted by someone doing a better job…? They’d be a hell of a lot more circumspect.

    Govern best by doing least. You want to play God? Go into theology and start a church; government ain’t your place as a fallible human being that thinks they’re God or can do his job. Both Roosevelts and Wilson were of that mindset, and they never should have been let at the reins of power.

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