An Upbeat Look At Nuclear With Rod Adams – Watts Up With That?

Newly published by climate skepticism

Posted on Dec 16 20 by MIKE DOMBROSKI

Robert Bryce’s Power Hungry podcast features an excellent interview with longtime blogger and podcaster Rod Adams. It’s almost two hours and has pretty few views so I figured I’d post a bit of background and highlights.

Rod Adams is a slightly gruff-looking Annapolis graduate (a ring knocker, as he calls himself) and a former submarine nuclear officer. His voice kind of reminds me of the late great James Gandolfini. He is certainly the world’s most famous blogger and podcaster for nuclear energy. The importance of nuclear energy for human wellbeing is very important to him. His podcasts start with a catchy jingle: There’s a better way. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of the subject and his blog posts and podcasts can get pretty technical. Bryce does a great job of making this an accessible overview.

Michael Shellenberger has been drawing a lot of attention lately for promoting nuclear power. It gives the impression that too much attention is being paid to newer reactor designs and that large AP1000 designs are the way to go, especially as Russia and China move forward. Shellenberger may not be a MINT person, but he has trained and has a good overview of the basic concepts. Adams lives and breathes this stuff and keeps a close eye on the industry and what’s new. He is happy about a new generation of motivated people who see an opportunity to change the future. BTW Adams has a great podcast interview with Shellenberger about his new book.

Adams is very optimistic about the potential of Nuscale’s small modular reactors to come. He is very familiar with licensing and siting. Yes, they won’t be ready until 2027, but there are many interesting aspects. The biggest one is that they are melt resistant. He recently published a post on economies of scale (republished from 1996) that has an interesting twist on light water reactors:

One assumption that is explicitly stated in the economy-of-scale model is, for example, that the costs for auxiliary systems do not rise as quickly as the system capacity. In at least one key area, this assumption does not apply to nuclear power plants.

Since the reactor core continues to generate heat after the plant is shut down and a larger, more powerful core releases less heat to its immediate surroundings due to a lower surface-to-volume ratio, it is more difficult to provide heat dissipation for the decay cores with higher capacity. It is also obviously more difficult, more time-consuming and more expensive to prove that the requirements for heat dissipation are met under all postulated conditions without damaging the core. For emergency core cooling systems, the total costs including regulatory burdens appear to have increased faster than the plant capacity.

There are also many interesting prospects for choosing a location. They go very well with existing coal-fired power plants. In coal-fired power plants, gas pipelines are unlikely to exist and additional pipelines will be blocked. There should also be a much higher demand for electricity when electric cars and gas heaters are swapped for heat pumps and the like. One fascinating thing he is pointing out is that nuclear costs haven’t really increased. It’s just that they have to deal with overloaded grid prices from wind and sun.

An interesting new design is the sodium from Terrapower and GE Hitachi. It will have a molten salt buffer between the core and the steam turbines. This allows him to quickly wind the power generation up and down to deal with intermittent winds. Yes, nuclear power is so good that it enables wind power from wind turbines and keeps us with them forever.

Adams sees a need to reduce carbon emissions and believes the best way to do it is through a carbon tax. He believes this will help make prices more predictable and make planning easier for energy companies. He criticizes the fact that the tax credits for wind farms are the same for all locations, even if there is already an overload. He credits Daniel Yergin’s book The Prize for the importance of balancing energy supply and demand.

I’ve included a quick guide to help those interested in reviewing different parts without going through the whole thing, but it’s all worth listening to.

Minute guide

4:00 to 5:00 – Why he prefers the term “atomic” to “nuclear”

7:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. – AP1000

13:00 to 15:00 – availability of natural gas

15:00 to 25:00 – Nuscale

25:00 to 29:00 – General Electric Boiling Water Reactors

29:00 to 32:00 – Westinghouse

33:00 to 37:00 – Oklo

37:00 to 45:00 – Terrestrial Energy, Thoricon – Molten Salt Reactors

45:00 to 46:00 – nuclear powered ships

46:00 to 50:00 – Advanced reactor projects

50:00 to 1:00:00 – Prospects for nuclear power in the US

1:01:00 to 1:02:00 – sodium with molten salt buffer

1:03:00 to 1:04:00 – regulation and politics

1:04:00 to 1:07:00 – New reactors and locations

1:07:00 to 1:08:00 – Rod is now a venture capitalist

1:08:00 to 1:10:00 – Existing fleet

1:10:00 to 1:13:00 – Overloaded prices due to wind

1:13:00 to 1:17:00 – get nuclear power up and running

1:17:00 to 1:23:00 – Navy, Rickover

1:24:00 to 1:26:00 – waste

1:27:00 to 1:29:00 – Jimmy Carter

1:29:00 to 1:31:00 – waste problem as a strategy

1:31:00 to 1:35:00 – Rod’s motivation

1:34:00 to 1:40:00 – opposition to nuclear power

1:41:00 to 1:44:00 – books

1:45:00 to 1:49:00 – Final optimism

Points of interest

56:00 – The cost of nuclear power plants has not increased

58:00, 1:13:00 – carbon price

1:04:00 – 2027 should be an interesting year

1:20:00 – Navy expertise should be released and used

1:38:00 – Coal interests fought against nuclear power

1:43:00 – Praise for Daniel Yergin’s award

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