The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Green Nuclear Deal

Among some of the worthwhile core tenets of the Green New Deal proposal, supported by a large number of progressives, are the following: (1) reduce carbon emissions into the atmosphere dramatically; (2) use alternative energy sources to replace fossil fuel energy generation; (3) work to make all physical structures in the United States energy efficient; (4) eliminate the use of fossil fuels for transportation with specific emphasis on automotive and air transport. The problem with this is that these goals are to be achieved under a time frame that is unrealistic, costs associated with these goals are astronomical, and the center of innovation and control is the federal government. All of that is deeply problematic. In addition, there are other aspects of the proposal that have absolutely nothing to do with a greener environment or with anthropogenic climate change, but are political in nature, encompassing medical care, guaranteed levels of income, social programs, and a variety of other unrelated goals.

For the moment, let’s concentrate only on the energy-related portions of the Green New Deal. By virtually any measure and by the admission of leading Democrats, the Green New Deal is “aspirational.” There is almost no detail, no discussion of actual costs, little mention of technologies that might make goals happen, and no implementation plan beyond the goals described.

Reading my Twitter feed yersterday, I ran across a proposal by Mark Schneider (@subschneider). Schneider is a private citizen who tells us that he spent 20 years operating nuclear power plants for the U.S. Navy. After his retirement from the Navy, he spent years working in the commercial sector of the nuclear industry as an operator of a “3-loop Westinghouse nuclear plant.”

Schneider decided to propose an alternative to the Green New Deal which he refers to as the Green Nuclear Deal. His plan would result in zero emission power generation and could actually be achieved within a decade or two. It would be expensive, but a combination of government and private sector expenditures could achieve it.

Here is what Schneider proposed (edited for clarity and continuity):
Phase 1: Deregulate a lot of the nuclear industry. [Schneider goes on the discuss unnecessary and costly regulations and why they are a roadblock to progress.] With regulations removed the next part of phase 1 would be for the government to intervene and fund recommended construction on VC Summer Units 2 and 3 [nuclear plants in Jenkinsville, SC that would serve a significant sector of the Southeast]. And then to push for companies with existing licenses to build other New Generation 3 PWRs [pressurized water reactors] and BWRs [boiling water reactors].

Phase 1 is really about replacing the aging commercial nuclear fleet to support the base load energy source. California spent $100 billion dollars on green energy that can sustain whopping 23 minutes of power needs. For the same price they could have built 6 to 10 new nuclear plants.

Phase 2: Have a national laboratories that design of the Navy’s nuclear power plants create a smaller commercial variable power plant design to use during peak demand hours. Large-scale nuclear plants don’t function well at varying power levels. The Navy’s nuclear power plants are designed to vary power levels because ships do not operate at top speed all the time and must fluctuate between low and high power constantly based on the mission. Smaller scale (1000 MW or less) nuclear plants could be used to supplement larger plants during peak periods.

Phase 3: Place focus on developing a new generation for fusion power plants. These new designs have unlimited passive safety systems. Meaning that if an incident occurred and all operators suddenly die, the plant would go to safe idle or shutdown mode indefinitely. This is obviously preferred to the current generation 2 and 3 reactors in service that require specific operator action. Even the new generation 3+ HP 1000 plants require operator action after 72 hours. After Fukushima, a program called BDB flex was implemented. It requires diesel driven equipment on site in harden facilities to combat ‘beyond design basis’ incidents (e.g., a tsunami or hurricane). Overall the safety of currently operating plants is enhanced because of the procedure, but the NewGen for designs would eliminate this.

Phase 4. Fusion power plants. To get this technology will require competitive efforts similar to the Manhattan Project in 1940s. To ensure public safety we would need to construct a large-scale test plants in the middle of nowhere. This has been done in the past during the 50s and 60s when fission was being developed on a large-scale. I n fact the only nuclear accident in US history that involved a fatality occurred in the middle of nowhere in Idaho SL-1 . After the accident, design requirements were built into new plant design to preclude rod injection. I would hope any fusion designs would not have any major accidents but we would need to put them in the middle of nowhere. Fortunately, we have three major new national nuclear sites in the middle of nowhere.

We could pick three types of fusion core designs and give sites $1 billion each to start design and construction. The two labs to get their project furthest along in the five-year time would be awarded an additional $1 billion for further development. As project progresses we can continue to fund them until they produce 2 different very viable large-scale fusion plants.
A quick read of Schneider’s plan indicates it is also ”aspirational,” but this private individual has provided more detail and a more realistic approach than anything proposed in the Green New Deal. It would be guaranteed to result in zero omission power generation. If completed, it would eliminate the need for fossil fuels in power generation by mid-century. It would be expensive but manageably so, and it is something that would rely predominately on private sector development, if the government simply got out of the way.

The proponents of the Green New Deal tell us that we are headed for a climate crisis that is existential in nature. Other proponents tell us that our response should be analogous to World War II. If this really is an existential crisis and if the planet hangs in the balance, any plan that is proposed should NOT be the product on uninformed, tendentious ideologues who never managed anything bigger than their political campaigns (and probably didn't even do that). It should use all available technologies– particularly those technologies that have been proven to work and could provide a zero-emission source that would yield half of the nation's energy needs within 10 years. It might be worth asking the primary congressional authors of the Green New Deal why nuclear power gets no mention in their “aspirational” plan.