Discussion: View Thread

What about nuclear power?

  • 1.  What about nuclear power?

    Posted 07-19-2022 12:43 PM

    I have questions about nuclear power and its role in our electrical power system. What fraction of our energy is presently produced by nuclear power? Should it be increased? Are safety and cost acceptable? Are new technologies available or coming? Could new Small Modular Reactors be a sound approach?

    William McAnally Ph.D., P.E., D.CE, D.NE, F.ASCE
    Columbus MS

  • 2.  RE: What about nuclear power?

    Posted 07-20-2022 12:17 PM
    Some good questions, Bill.  Environmentally, nuclear is probably the best form of power generation we currently have available to us.  Economically, however, it is relatively expensive.

    Michael W. Hall, PE, M.ASCE
    Sr. Engineer
    Dolese Bros. Co.
    Oklahoma City, OK

  • 3.  RE: What about nuclear power?

    Posted 07-24-2022 10:33 AM
    Nuclear contributes 8% to the US energy supply as of 2021 per the US Energy Information Administration. I think the fundamental problem with nuclear energy in the US is the lack of a coherent energy policy and government commitment to nuclear energy. I do not see this changing any time soon. The economics still need to work - including allowance for massive cost and schedule over runs - and the nuclear waste disposal issue needs to be addressed. This is also part of policy and commitment. Then there's public perception of the relative risk nuclear poses. This may be the greatest obstacle. I'm not very optimistic about new plants. However, I do question the decisions that have been made to shutter existing plans before their end of life - or to consider life extension. I really do not know enough about the decision making process to knowledgably comment, but these decisions feel questionable.

    Mitch Winkler P.E., M.ASCE
    Houston, TX

  • 4.  RE: What about nuclear power?

    Posted 07-25-2022 10:05 AM
    Since I am not very knowledgeable about the world of nuclear power, I will instead share thoughts from Bill Nye's book "Unstoppable" about climate change. The summary is that he shared a lot of peoples' concerns about viable long-term waste disposal options, but also thought it would be valuable to increase use of nuclear during the "short-term" while scaling up renewable sources such as solar, wind, etc. Sounds reasonable in theory, I wouldn't be surprised if the reality ended up being more complicated. 

    Unrelated, I met someone from Germany over the weekend and they commented that they did not agree with their country's decision to deactivate their nuclear plants recently as "turning those plants on and off" is a multi-month affair that could leave their country in need of energy and without a way to create it.

    Christopher Seigel P.E., M.ASCE
    Civil Engineer

  • 5.  RE: What about nuclear power?

    Posted 07-25-2022 01:26 PM
    You should look into Plant Vogtle in Waynesboro Ga.  I don't know the details, but they've experienced 12 billion dollars in cost overruns.

    Todd Powell P.E., M.ASCE
    City Engineer
    City of Thomasville
    Thomasville GA

  • 6.  RE: What about nuclear power?

    Posted 08-03-2022 11:06 AM
    Vogtle is a cautionary tale of cost overruns for conventional large nuclear plants, as have been several others. It's said to be safer than conventional plants in that core cooling doesn't require electricity, but nearly doubling its estimated cost begs for an analysis of why.
    I'm wondering if time and cost overruns are a universal problem. Do other countries experience the same problem?

    William McAnally Ph.D., P.E., D.CE, D.NE, F.ASCE
    Columbus MS

  • 7.  RE: What about nuclear power?

    Posted 08-02-2022 01:57 PM

    Issues on this topic are plentiful – both in favor and against. On one hand, scientific/technical and economic standpoints advocate in favor of it – arguing it as a clean power source. On the other, public perception of it – is one of fear associated with very high risk and huge financial losses. The disasters (the recent catastrophic ones were the Chernobyl 1986 and the Fukushima 2011) starting from 1957 – are a showcase of situations that raise many questions. The Wiki article shows a chronicle of nuclear accidents and radiation hazards.

    • The 1992 National Academies Publication 1601 shows that Europe is the major producer of Nuclear Power (France 77% and Germany 33% followed by Japan 26% and USA 19%).

    • The World Nuclear Association in its 2022 article Safety of Nuclear Power Reactors poses as a major advocacy group for generation of Nuclear Electric Power.

    • GAIA – An Atlas of Planet Management (Anchor Books 1984; N Myers Ed) made an excellent case – let's say from public and environmental perspectives: The Nuclear Industry is sick. Far from providing a cheap and plentiful supply of energy that would satisfy world demand for the foreseeable future, it has provided us with expensive energy source fraught with intractable technical problems and unacceptable environmental risks. Long-lived radioactive wastes cast a shadow which reaches across the generations. Perhaps the result of such a public perception has resulted in less and less numbers of Nuclear Power Plants being built across the globe.

    • The fear of radiation hazard becomes clear if one considers the half-life (the length of time it takes for half its radioactivity to die away) of nuclear wastes a reactor produces – which is in the order of 24,000 years and more.

    • Apart from such arguments – one can also discern that in the Sun-Earth thermodynamic energy balance – the Nuclear Power amounts to a net addition of heat energy. Therefore, may not be as climate friendly as one thinks it is (see Entropy and Everything Else and Warming Climate and Entropy).


    Dr. Dilip K Barua, PhD


    Google Scholar

  • 8.  RE: What about nuclear power?

    Posted 08-03-2022 11:05 AM
    Thanks for the useful perspective, Dilip.
    This recent magazine item shed some light on the newest technologies.

    William McAnally Ph.D., P.E., D.CE, D.NE, F.ASCE
    Columbus MS

  • 9.  RE: What about nuclear power?

    Posted 08-10-2022 10:20 AM