Robert Bryce’s Power Hungry podcast has a excellent interview with longtime nuclear energy blogger and podcaster Rod Adams. It’s almost two hours and has rather few views so I thought I’d post a little bit of background and highlights.
Rod Adams is a slightly gruff looking Annapolis graduate (a ring knocker as he calls himself) and former submarine nuclear officer. His voice sort of reminds me of the late great James Gandolfini. He’s certainly the world’s most prominent blogger and podcaster on nuclear energy. He cares very deeply about the importance of nuclear energy for human well being. 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 podcast can get rather technical. Bryce does a great job of making this an accessible overview.
Lately, Michael Shellenberger has been getting a lot of attention promoting nuclear. He sort of gives the impression that too much attention is being paid to newer reactor designs and that large AP1000 type designs are the way to go, especially with Russia and China moving ahead. Shellenberger is admittedly not a STEM person, but he has educated himself and has a good overview of the basic concepts. Adams pretty much lives and breaths this stuff and follows the industry and new developments very closely. He’s excited about a new generation of driven people who see an opportunity to transform 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 upcoming small modular reactors. He’s very familiar with licensing and siting locations. Yes, they won’t be ready until 2027, but there are a lot of intriguing aspects. The biggest one is that they are designed to be meltdown proof. He has a recent post on economy of scale (republished from 1996) that has an interesting twist for light water reactors:
For example, one assumption explicitly stated in the economy of scale model is that the cost of auxiliary systems does not increase as rapidly as plant capacity. In at least one key area, that assumption is not true for nuclear plants.
Since the reactor core continues to produce heat after the plant is shutdown, and since a larger, more powerful core releases less of its heat to its immediate surroundings because of a smaller surface to volume ratio, it is more difficult to provide decay heat removal for higher capacity cores. It is also manifestly more difficult, time consuming and expensive to prove that the requirements for heat removal will be met under all postulated conditions without damaging the core. For emergency core cooling systems, overall costs, including regulatory burdens, seem to have increased more rapidly than plant capacity.
There are also a lot of intriguing prospects for siting. They will fit very nicely at existing coal plant sites. Coal plant sites are not likely to have gas pipelines and additional pipelines are being blocked. There should also be a lot more electricity demand coming with electric cars and gas heating being exchanged for heat pumps and such. One fascinating thing he points out is that nuclear costs have not actually gone up. It’s just that they have to deal with congested grid pricing from wind and solar.
One interesting new design is the Natrium from Terrapower and GE Hitachi. It will have a molten salt buffer between the core and the steam turbines. This will allow it to spool electricity generation up and down fast to deal with intermittent wind. Yes, nuclear power is so good it will enable the blight of wind turbines and stick us with them forever.
Adams sees a need for cutting CO2 emissions and says he thinks the best way to do it is with a carbon tax. He thinks this will help make prices more predictable and make planning easier for energy companies. He criticizes wind farm tax credits being the same for all locations, even where there’s already congestion. He credits Daniel Yergin’s book, The Prize, with showing how important it is to keep energy supply and demand balanced.
I’ve included a minute guide to help those interested to check out various parts without having to go through the whole thing, but it’s all worth listening to.
4:00 to 5:00 – Why he prefers term ‘atomic’ to ‘nuclear’
7:00 to 14:00 – AP1000
13:00 to 15:00 – Natural gas availability
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 in US
1:01:00 to 1:02:00 – Natrium with molten salt buffer
1:03:00 to 1:04:00 – Regulation and policy
1:04:00 to 1:07:00 – New reactors and sites
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 – Congested pricing due to wind
1:13:00 to 1:17:00 – Getting nuclear to work
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 issue as strategy
1:31:00 to 1:35:00 – Rod’s motivation
1:34:00 to 1:40:00 – Oppostion to nuclear
1:41:00 to 1:44:00 – Books
1:45:00 to 1:49:00 – Concluding optimism
56:00 – Nuclear plant costs have not increased
58:00, 1:13:00 – Carbon price
1:04:00 – 2027 should be interesting year
1:20:00 – Navy expertice should be declassified and utilized
1:38:00 – Coal interests fought against nuclear
1:43:00 – Praise for Daniel Yergin’s The Prize