Nuclear News

Some nice nuclear news, and some not-nice nuclear news.

First, the nice nuclear news–the newly-crowned Miss America, Grace Stanke, is an aspiring nuclear engineer and a promoter of nuclear power.

She is a nuclear engineering major at the University of Wisconsin, worked as a co-op at a nuclear fuels vendor (Exelon), and does promotional work for the American Nuclear Society.  Here’s a piece she wrote on breaking down misconceptions about nuclear power.

Now, on to the not-nice nuclear news.  People in 30 questions were asked how much CO2 is produced by nuclear power plants.  52% of the French answered “a lot” or “quite a lot.”  For Germans, the corresponding number was 43%.  And for Americans, the number is 54%.

Here’s the complete set of survey results–all in French, though.  If someone who understands that language well could read and comment on the document, it would be helpful.

A lot of public education and opinion change is necessary if nuclear is to fulfill its potential as an energy source.

30 thoughts on “Nuclear News”

  1. In one respect the people are right. Portland cement is made by burning either natural gas or coal to liberate the CO2 from limestone and the steel is is produced by also burning, usually coal, and using more coal in the form of coke to combine with the oxygen in iron ore, also producing CO2. Of course, the same is true for the highways that they’ll expect to drive their electric cars on and the homes they expect to live in and all the accoutrements of modern civilization.

    They’re cutting down old growth forests in British Columbia using oil and using more oil to convert those trees into pellets and yet more oil to transport those pellets to England to produce “green” electricity. Note that England was originally deforested to provide charcoal to smelt iron before coal. The same is true of Europe in general and now Germany is burning the dirtiest coal rather than operate nuclear plants already built.

    As bad as our political class is, we’re lucky.

  2. Interesting point in Grace Stanke’s “misconceptions about nuclear power” article:

    “I’ll admit that while I’m not nervous to talk about quantum mechanics or nuclear physics to a classroom full of fourth graders, the people who scare me the most are those who lived through the invention of nuclear weaponry and have some preliminary knowledge about nuclear science.

    When I first announced my social impact initiative onstage at a local competition, well before the Miss Wisconsin event, an older gentleman from the audience approached me after the competition concluded and asked if I really was promoting nuclear energy. Clean energy—let alone nuclear—is an unusual subject in the world of Miss America, so I knew it would cause a little bit of commotion. I told him yes, I was, and added that I was a nuclear engineering student. I had barely finished before this individual uttered obscenities at me and walked away, waving his hand back at me. I was shocked—I had never seen anyone react that way before.

    This was one of my first experiences advocating for nuclear energy. After that, I usually avoided the topic of nuclear energy with anyone from an older generation unless it was specifically brought up during conversation.”

  3. I’m with MCS on the “Not necessarily wrong” reasoning (Lots of CO2 emission inherent in the manufacture of concrete and steel to make the plants). I’m suspecting on balance it still falls well below wind and solar, however.

    On education being needed, I’m recalling a controversy from a place where I used to live, where activists started making a stink about the local landfill receiving BSFR low-level nuclear waste.

    The local news had an interview with one of the legislators which was calling to stop this, in her kitchen, with her leaning on her granite countertops.

  4. My French is actually at a level now where I can probably help with some translation but the document is 106 pages long. Anything in particular you are after?

  5. Lots of concrete and steel in wind plants, and a lot of energy used in making solar panels and batteries.

    Also, it’s not realistic to look at wind/solar/batteries in isolation. Even with the most massive ‘renewables’ buildout that is actually possible, cost be damned, there would still be a fossil fuel component required to maintain grid reliability. Add those emissions too….and those related to the additional long-distance transmission lines that are required for wind & solar.

    It would be interesting to ask the question more specifically: the *operation* of nuclear plants versus the *total life cycle, including construction* of those plants.

    The same question was asked about CO2 related to coal, gas, or oil power plants, but I didn’t see it in there referring to wind and solar plants.

  6. Sometimes it helps to look around. What we see is that the West is out of step.

    China has a very active program of nuclear power plant construction. Oil & gas-rich Russia is building nuclear power plants. Even Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — the world’s major Arabian Gulf oil producers — are building nuclear power plants. Over 40 countries have nuclear reactors.

    Yes, there are mask-wearing, CO2-fearing, Obama voters who are totally anti-nuclear. But they are the odd ones out. They are the ones the rest of the world is leaving behind. Unfortunately, they are dragging the rest of us in the West down with them.

  7. The anti-nuclear hysteria is the KGB’s most successful operation. Still going 70 years later. The CO2 production numbers assume that the models constructed by federal grant recipients, and which have failed to predict anything accurately, are valid. 97% of scientists agree with the people who are funding them. The whole scam is aimed at dismantling the Industrial Revolution. This is an exercise of ideology that belongs in a faculty lounge discussion but it escaped and is now threatening the world. Former UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson accused James Watt of starting the crisis of steam power. I guess Boris would prefer the life of the 18th century to today. These idiots are rulers.

  8. “I had barely finished before this individual uttered obscenities at me and walked away, waving his hand back at me. I was shocked—I had never seen anyone react that way before.”

    In the 2000’s I was a physics undergraduate at an engineering school in upstate NY. At a casual social function (meeting of the science fiction club) a fellow physics major and I were discussing energy policy. A mutual friend, a bit older than us and not a student, but part of the extended social group, became interested and listened to us discuss the practical shortcomings of various “alternative” energy sources. Curious, he asked what we would recommend for baseline power. We both simultaneously said “nuclear.”

    He gasped and physically jumped backwards with a quavering-voiced “Noooo!”

    The sight of the shock and fear in his eyes has stuck with me ever since.

  9. Dan from Madison…I’d be interested if any of the questions ask about the *downsides* of wind/solar…land use, intermittency, dependency of limited & scarce minerals, etc.

    Also, did they cross-tab any of the nuclear questions with age, sex, educations, etc?

    And anything else you think is interesting.

  10. Exelon is an electric utility originally born from the merger of Chicago’s Commonwealth Edison and Philadelphia Electric Company. They aren’t a fuel vendor.

  11. Advo…my mistake. Her LinkedIn profile says about this job:

    “At Exelon Nuclear, I’m excited to be helping out with the developing Vendor Independent Methods Project by modeling reflectors, performing low power physics testing, helping with fuel enrichment, and more!”

    She titled the job “Nuclear Fuels Vendor Independent Methods Co-Op”, guess I assumed that meant she was working for a fuel company…sounds like the job was really about fuel-related projects that apply across vendors.

  12. An interesting study but I did not see any appendix with information regarding data or methodology. I’m always a bit skeptical about surveys and even more when they cover such a broad range of topics and respondents. I did a quick search over at the main web site for such information as well as survey tabs and found nothing, I’m sure it exists but probably has to be requested.

    As far as the question about amount of CO2 produced by nuclear, it is explained of course by ignorance but also keep in mind what the iconic image of nuclear power is, cooling towers with a bit of steam coming out of them. I’ve found that most people cannot distinguish between smokestacks and cooling towers. We also need to keep in mind that nuclear power has been demonized in the West for the past 50 years not only in Europe but in the U.S. since Three-Mile Island. As an old political mentor of mine might have said, no one ever lost votes by taking a s**t on nuclear power and in fact there is zero political money to be made by taking the opposite side of the bet.

    I’ve mentioned before Francis Menton’s work on issues with enemy storage and the impossibility of building a renewable-based grid ( The solution, if you are going to abandon hydrocarbons, is nuclear, the numbers do not add up any other way, but our masters have decreed solar and wind instead. We are not only not building new nuclear, we are early retiring existing plants (Diablo Canyon, Indian Point)

    Why? Nuclear power doesn’t have the constituency (see Mike K.’s earlier comment) and renewables do. We are about to go through a world-historic moment of trillions of dollars being poured into technologies that nobody can honestly believe will deliver what has been promised and will instead cripple our civilization. The problem is that in the short to medium-term I see no way of stopping it as the whole renewables project has reached a critical mass in terms of political, financial, and financial capital. Projects of this size and nature take on the characteristics of a mass psychosis and cannot be stopped by rational debate, but only by the intrusion of reality such as a society-shaking energy crisis. Maybe the energy crisis sparked by the Ukraine War will be the one that does it, but I’m not betting on it.

    When (if) that moment arrives when we can break the resistance and start to implement large-scale deployment of nukes then we will face some implementation issues. Nuke plants of the size we’ll need take at least 5, probably closer to 10 years to construct. Also given the number to be built here and planned to be built world-wide there will extreme shortages in terms of materials and trained personnel. It will be a long-haul.

    I had always believed that politicians were liars, cheats, and the stealers of children’s lollipops but also thought that they were cunning enough to keep their options open. I guess I was wrong.

  13. Mike..”I’ve found that most people cannot distinguish between smokestacks and cooling towers.” Applies to coal & gas plant, too…photos are sometimes taken in a way which makes the water vapor look dark, like steam. And I’m sure that when the term “carbon” is used as a shortcut for “CO2”, a lot of people think it is some sort of particulate being emitted, rather than a gas.

  14. Mike: “We are not only not building new nuclear, we are early retiring existing plants (Diablo Canyon, Indian Point)”

    Very true. But we need to remember — We are not the world. Whether it is because of stupidity or because of manipulation, politicians in the West are driving us into energy poverty, and ultimately into irrelevance. But we are not the world. Other parts of the world have smarter politicians. The human race will survive and advance, but “we” — the West — will not be part of it.

  15. From Nikkei Asia:

    “Myanmar’s military leaders are moving forward with a plan to adopt Russian-built small modular nuclear reactors as the country grapples with an energy cliff caused by dwindling output from natural gas reserves.

    The Ministry of Electric Power and Rosatom, Russia’s state-owned nuclear energy company, outlined a joint feasibility study on SMRs, in a memorandum of understanding signed late November.”

  16. There are people in the US who are pushing for small modular reactors. The problem with a distributed network of small reactors – it makes life harder for the control freaks.

  17. Frank…there are at least 2 US companies that have SMR products and can take order for them now: NuScale and GE-Hitachi. TerraPower (Bill Gates) is somewhere in the process of commercializing their Natrium system (345MW), which combines a GE-Hitachi reactor with molten salt thermal energy storage.

  18. The major challenges with nuclear power are not technical, they are bureaucratic.

    The West does bureaucracy. That is why we are falling behind the Rest of the World.

    Sucks to be us as this progresses — cold, de-industrialized, poor — surrounded by broken windmills and rusting solar panels. But other sections of the human race will be fine.

  19. The rest of the world has bureaucrats far more corrupt and far more ‘expert’ at making government a nightmare than ours. There is a reason the Russian military is grossly incompetent. China may even be worse.

  20. David Foster – I regularly read a site run by a guy who tries to get areas to buy one of those US reactors. Lots and lots of red tape, which would magically disappear if TPTB benefited.

  21. “The anti-nuclear hysteria is the KGB’s most successful operation.”

    Strange. I think Russia sells more nuclear plants that anyone else. I have never seen any Russian anti nuke stuff, outside of propaganda from the usual suspects.

  22. Most of the studies I’ve seen confirm what is “intuitively obvious,” i.e. that nuclear plants generate far less carbon over their lifetimes than fossil fueled ones. For example,

    Money quote:
    “The research, published in Nature Energy, measures the full lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions of a range of sources of electricity out to 2050. It shows that the carbon footprint of solar, wind and nuclear power are many times lower than coal or gas with carbon capture and storage (CCS). This remains true after accounting for emissions during manufacture, construction and fuel supply.”

    It has also long been known that coal plants potentially represent a greater radioactive danger than nuclear plants:

    It is worth noting that no coal plant captures all of the fly ash it produces, and radioactive uranium and thorium are concentrated in this ash. Unlike the radioactive waste of a nuclear plant, which is captured within a heavy concrete enclosure, however, these sources of radiation are simply released into the atmosphere, where they can easily be inhaled. Both elements release alpha particles which can’t penetrate your skin, because they dump all of their energy within a short distance after striking solid material. However, if you breath them in, the “solid material” that will slam them to a stop, absorbing the millions of electron volts they carry, will be your living lung tissue. When they dump that much energy into a living cell, they can easily disrupt its DNA, potentially causing it to become cancerous. Estimates of how many people this has killed range into the hundreds of thousands worldwide.

    Next generation breeder reactors would have many advantages over current designs, including reduction of the radioactive danger. The residual radioactivity from running such a plant for 30 years would be less than that from an equivalent coal plant after three centuries. That may seem like a long time, but anti-nukers habitually cite figures in the tens of thousands of years or longer. After that period, the radiation from the coal plant waste would remain virtually the same for millions of years, whereas that from the nuclear plant would continue to drop much more quickly.

  23. PenGun – December 22, 2022 at 4:55 pm:
    “The anti-nuclear hysteria is the KGB’s most successful operation.”

    Strange. I think Russia sells more nuclear plants that anyone else. I have never seen any Russian anti nuke stuff, outside of propaganda from the usual suspects.

    Of course the Soviets never denounced nuclear power themselves. You did notice that it was a KGB operation? The Soviets, through the KGB, funded and encouraged “useful idiots” to oppose nuclear power in western countries. This is called undermining the competition.
    The tradition continues. Russia today is one of the largest oil exporters, and also (covertly) a major funder of “green” activism in the West. When the British government bans fracking, cui bono?

  24. Helian/Doug Drake – December 22, 2022 at 6:56 pm:
    It has also long been known that coal plants potentially represent a greater radioactive danger than nuclear plants…

    There was a nuclear power station with radiation detectors in the exhaust ducts of the ventilation system, to detect any leakage of radioactive stuff. One day the detectors triggered. The plant was shut down while the staff went over it in extreme detail, searching for the leak. They found nothing. This happened several times. Then someone had the bright idea of putting detectors in the intake ducts. Every time, the exhaust detectors triggered, so did the intake detectors – first.

    Obviously, the source of radioactivity was external. It was then noticed that the detectors had tripped only when the wind blew from a certain direction. And what was in that direction? A large coal-fired power station…

  25. I had a cousin who worked at a nuclear plant alongside the Missouri river. Due to standards, the water going out of the plant was cleaner than the water coming in. Something the anti-nuke crowd never acknowledged.

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