Real Energy Solution: Intermittent Wind & Solar No Match For Small Nuclear Reactors

200 small nuclear reactors are presently powering 160 ships and submarines all around the world, and have been for decades.

What’s on foot is a move to bring those reactors onshore and use them to shore up power grids being wrecked by the chaotic intermittency of wind and solar.

STT promotes nuclear power because it works: safe, affordable, reliable and the perfect foil for those worried about human-generated carbon dioxide gas – because it doesn’t generate any, while generating power on demand, irrespective of the weather – unlike the forever unreliables: wind and solar.

One of the feeble ‘arguments’ against it, is that nuclear power plants are of such vast scale that they take longer to build than the pyramids of Giza, and cost twice as much. SMR technology takes the sting out of that case.

And, as Walter Starck outlines below, SMRs provide the perfect opportunity to reintroduce our good friends logic and reason into the debate about what powers us now, and the future.

Clean, Green and Absolutely Sustainable
Quadrant Online
Walter Starck
3 August 2021

One of history’s most valuable lessons is that much of what is widely believed at any one time will later be viewed as nonsense, and it is vanishingly unlikely that this does not still apply. On the contrary, our current system of education is now actively pursuing an indoctrination in postmodern thought which seeks to deny, demean and dismiss the all-too-brief ascendancy of reason and evidence as embodied in the scientific method. The impetus for this is simple. Reason and evidence threaten established careers, status and beliefs held dear in academia, and it is they who determine the content of education.

Resistance to this corruption of science is fading in favour of the notion of an innate, intuitively understood ‘higher’ morality. Only the uncompromising clarity of the consequences of errors and false beliefs leaves engineering as one of the last remaining redoubts of simple evidence based truth.

A primacy of reason and evidence over authority and faith has been the essential foundation for the extraordinary advance in the human condition arising from Western Civilisation over the past few centuries. However, this is now under existential threat by a rising surge of totalitarian ideology. In a time of unprecedented prosperity, ease, and comfort, it appears a substantial slice of the populace is unhappy and seeking some greater meaning and purpose in life, albeit something which also requires minimal personal cost and effort. Public virtue signalling by conspicuously approving or disapproving ideas of negligible personal consequence has become epidemic, and there is a rich smorgasbord of such concerns from which to choose. Environmental threats, various social inequalities and sexual aberrations, especially relating to gender, are currently the fashion.

The idea of an imminent and dire threat to the global climate from fossil fuel emissions and the necessity of a complete shift to wind and solar power is especially favoured. Although there is strong evidence to indicate the threat is far more uncertain and less severe than is being claimed and the limitations of the so-called renewable energy are manifold, reason and evidence rarely ever seem able to induce a committed believer to reconsider their faith.

Fortunately, in this instance there is another option, and it offers a no-regrets solution that conforms far better to the unfolding reality. It also affords the added bonus of avoiding a detour into the dustbin of history for those who cannot wake up and catch up.

Before examining this solution let’s just briefly consider some of the key limitations of wind and solar power:

  • Both are diffuse and erratic with little control of availability.
  • Output generation averages about only 25-30% of nameplate capacity (e. they require 3-4 times greater installed capacity in addition to full backup capacity running in standby mode.
  • Massive energy farm development plus grid infrastructure expansion and operational complexity will be required.
  • Hugely increased demand for copper, rare earths, lithium, and other resources is likely to exceed available supplies resulting in shortages and steep price increases.
  • The service life of wind turbines and solar panels is only about 2 decades.
  • Environmental impacts of the mining and refinement of raw materials plus the manufacturing, installation, operation, and disposal of outdated equipment will be extensive.
  • Multi-fold increases in power costs and frequent blackouts should be expected as the new norm.

Regardless of all the pros, cons and uncertainties of climate change and renewable energy, there is a clean, safe, reliable, affordable, scaleable, low-impact no-regrets solution in the form of small modular nuclear reactors (SMR). This not just some techno-nerd fantasy. Hundreds of this general type have been built and extensively operated over the past half-century in ships, submarines, and remote power installations. The technology is well understood and designs for commercial use are in advanced stages of development in several nations (read more here).

The advantages of SMRs are manifold:

  • Efficient manufacture in a factory with only limited on-site construction required.
  • Double or more service life than that of solar or wind technology.
  • Power output is highly reliable, predictable, and controllable.
  • Readily scalable to demand by adding modules.
  • Minimal line loss and network complexity through nearby generation.
  • Minimal environmental footprint or impact.
  • Radioactive waste can be easily and safely disposed in deep mines located in stable geological locales where there is no groundwater.

The only real problem is nuclearphobia, now endemic in our culture. Meanwhile, China and Russia will continue to use our social media, NGOs and UN bodies to stoke our fears and our economic self-flagellation while continuing to expand their own use of fossil fuels until their own SMR technology is mature and competitive. At the same time, Russia will enjoy large profits from providing natural gas to Europe, as will China from selling us the expensive renewable technology — solar cells and wind turbines for starters — to assure our general economic impairment. Then, all too soon, all that junk will present a major disposal problem, in addition to requiring costly and ongoing replacement.

A further consideration in favour of SMR technology involves the risk of high intensity solar flares to the current power grid with such vulnerability being further increased by the expansion of the grid imposed by the diffuse nature of wind and solar power.  Analysis indicates that X-class flares, which have the potential to  inflict widespread damage to the grid via a ‘Carrington Event’, may be likely on a centennial time scale with damage requiring weeks or months to repair. Such extended outages would render affected cities uninhabitable resulting in waves of refugees flooding out in a highly distressed condition. Dispersed SMR-based power employing only small local networks would be relatively easy to protect from such damage and much easier to repair.

Regardless of all the virtue signalling, eco-evangelism, and whatever climate may or may not do, SMR technology is on track to begin to be commercially available within this decade. It’s advantages in cost, reliability, dispatchability and environmental impact are overwhelming. All of the cost, effort and resources going into wind and solar power will almost inevitably turn out to have been a costly dead end and, given the inevitability that sooner or later there will be another massive Carrington Event, the economies depending on them will struggle to recover.

To compound the impossibilities of achieving Net Zero using wind and solar power, it will also demand an approximate doubling of electrical power generation to replace all our cars, trucks and buses with electric vehicles. Then, too, there will be a need to accommodate a huge increase in demand driven by population growth and Third World economic development.

The only thing that makes possible even a shred of serious consideration of the renewable power fantasy must surely be the apparent widespread disability in quantitative reasoning, as is manifest in the interchangeable use of millions, billions and trillions of dollars when our betters spruik the “investment” of going green.

We have entered an era of unprecedented change and complexity in human affairs with which our existing systems of governance and problem-solving are proving inadequate. Choosing leadership by ongoing popularity contests and relying on proclamations from a high priesthood of self-proclaimed academic expertise for matters shrouded in unknowns, uncertainties and assumptions is simply not good enough. If we cannot soon begin to recognise the necessity of a fundamental rethink in regard to problem solving, the ascendency of Western Civilisation appears likely to prove to be all too brief. That has been a recurrent pattern in human history.

On a more hopeful note, there is one thing that may make this time truly different. The advent of powerful Artificial Intelligence is beginning to become too effective to ignore. It at least affords some hope of restoring a primacy of reason and evidence in problem solving, and perhaps even serving as an effective antidote against our addiction to self-serving rationales and comforting nonsense.
Quadrant Online

3 thoughts on “Real Energy Solution: Intermittent Wind & Solar No Match For Small Nuclear Reactors

  1. On ABC RN LNL podcast 16/08/2021 with Phillip Adams OA speaking with Emeritus Prof Ian Lowe.
    Topic of 25min: Should we be considering nuclear power as an alternative to coal?

    At 5:07min
    Adams asks how long it would take a wind turbine or solar panel to repay the energy used to make it?
    Lowe says depending on the conditions somewhere between 18 months to 2 1/2 years.
    If the Goldilocks wind blows & sun shines, just right, & barring component liberation and hail stones.

    At 16:40min there is a price comparison. Lowe: The game is over, the price of nuclear power last year was 16 cents a KwHr, solar was 3.7, & wind was 4.

    Lowe then goes on to talk about the benefits of extracting hydrogen from water until at 18:19min there is talk about mini nuclear plants mentioning Barry Brook then Lowe goes on to say that 10yrs down the track there has been no progress at all on small modular reactors…they don’t yet exist.
    Then on fusion energy there’s only an international project that has reached milliseconds.
    The last I heard in June 2021 (plenty on YouTube) was that China’s tokamak had achieved a record 20 seconds.

    So either someone is very out of touch or there is a lot of misinformation being peddled. I might have something to do with Lowe flogging a new book.
    Nepotism is rife as apparently Uni chancellors determine their own salary and extras.
    Wow! And the World Bioenergy Assoc is in country Lismore, NSW. Not far from the smoky town of Mullumbimby, as the crow flys.

    Can STT clarify with some research facts for these talking heads.

  2. Politicians and environmentalists prefer and subsidize, to put the world on life support electricity from breezes and sunshine!

  3. Hi STT,
    Thank you for today’s posting of Walter Starck’s Quadrant article on SMR technology.
    In conjunction with yesterday’s post on the Geelong “big-battery” fire, it offers the opportunity to offer a comparison between the “big-battery” plus wind and solar farm generator supply approach and the SMR technology generator supply approach to the replacement of the brown-coal generation fleet in Victoria.
    Readers may remember that, for yesterday’s STT post, , I contributed a “quick-and-dirty” back-of-envelope calculation of the minimum number of “big-batteries” of the size of the Geelong battery, the subject of the post, that would be required, realistically, in conjunction with a vast wind and solar farm fleet, to replace Victoria’s brown-coal power stations.
    If readers remember, the answer is a lazy 1500 or so Geelong “big batteries”. Yes, 1500, that’s the minimum required to provide for a 5-day no-wind no-sunshine scenario – a conservative requirement that might avoid widespread blackouts. It also presumes, optimistically, that all batteries are in a fully-charged state at the start of any such period.

    So, let’s ask a similar question of SMR technology: how many 300 MWe SMR reactors would be required to fully meet the minimum electricity output presently provided by Victoria’s brown-coal power stations? (I could choose to use Victoria’s maximum demand as the requirement, but let’s compare like with like.) And, let’s use the exact same AEMO operational data that I used for the calculation to determine the number of Geelong-sized “big-batteries” to meet that requirement.

    It is actually a much simpler calculation. Remember, these SMRs are deliberately designed to be a direct plugin replacement for an existing, fully-dispatchable, power station. So, all we need to calculate is: how many SMRs are required to supply, 24/7, all day, every day, 365 days of the year, if necessary, the requirement of the 4000 MW used in the battery calculation?
    The answer is 4000 MW divided by 300 MW, which is, I think, rounding up, 14 SMRs. That’s right: 14 SMRs.

    To be classed as a SMR, one of these units has to be small enough to be able to be transported by rail to the site where it is to operate. We can expect then that any one SMR unit will be of a comparable size to any one pair of the battery containers shown at the Geelong “big-battery”, one unit of one pair catching fire at the end of July 2021 being the subject of yesterday’s STT post.

    The aerial view photo accompanying the post clearly shows 40 buildings, each comprising a pair of identical battery units, each looking to be about the size of a shipping container. This 40-building set seems to comprise one half of the Geelong “big-battery”, with a similar-sized complex on the other side of the road in the picture. The 40 building pairs in this one half are arranged in rows of 10, with a wide gap in the middle of each row, the rows planted as a 40-unit rectangular block.

    Clearly, 14 SMRs are going to take up far less space than even that required for just one such Geelong “big-battery”. And, there is absolutely no requirement whatsoever for even a single wind turbine or solar panel, let alone the thousands of such “farms” required to charge those 1500-plus “Geelong big-batteries”. Each SMR is designed to have an operational lifetime of some 80 years, requiring refuelling once every two years.

    Clearly, the decision is a no-brainer: as STT has been saying now for years: if governments are serious about reducing CO2 emissions, then not adopting nuclear power is not an option.

    This comparison shows that the choice to use nuclear power is a no-brainer. To choose the wind plus solar plus “big-battery” instead, is utter folly, utter stupidity.
    Paul Miskelly

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