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Mon Dec 21, 2020, 11:59 PM

It appears that only one of the two remaining nuclear reactors in California is operating tonight.

(Graphics in this post will not show up in Google Chrome, but should be visible in Microsoft Edge and/or Firefox.)

Both reactors are located at the Diablo Canyon plant; I would guess that one is refueling for its final run before it's shut and replaced by dangerous natural gas, probably accompanied by wide cheering by people who don't know shit about climate change, or for that matter, about the number of deaths caused daily from air pollution. (Hint: More people die every day from air pollution than die from Covid-19 on Covid-19's worst day.)

Around the equinox, I took it upon myself to download graphics at various times of the day from the CAISO website.

I kind of put that project on the back burner, but I have been reminding myself to check in on California's electricity profile around the winter solstice, which is today.

California is rather unique among the various so called "renewable energy" nirvanas all around the world as we surge toward 420 ppm of the dangerous fossil fuel waste carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. It's one of the few places where solar electricity routinely produces more instantaneous power than does wind, usually between 7 am and 6 pm, although in the early morning the solar energy supply is trivial, as it is in the late afternoon. Peak demand in California begins in late afternoon to early evening time frame, most days if you look.

As of 18:45 PST here are today's power supply graphically displayed as of 18:45 PST 12/21/20:

The grey line near the bottom is the single nuclear reactor operating right now at Diablo Canyon in one building. If you use the pop up on the live website, you will see that the power output at Diablo Canyon's single operating reactor has varied only by 3 MW, from 1,141 MW to 1,144 MW, more or less, continuously, all day, all night.

Here is the so called "renewable energy" output for all the renewable energy systems in California, again as of 18:45 PST 12/21/20

It appears that as of 18:45 the single reactor operating at Diablo Canyon is producing more power than all of the wind and solar facilities in the entire state, reliably.

Each evening the solar output goes (slightly) into negative territory because of power losses to all the power lines connecting Californias so called "renewable energy" infrastructure. As of 18:45, these power losses amounted to -39 MW. All of the wind turbines in California, combined, were producing 534 MW of power, less than what a single turbine in a moderately sized power plant can produce. This means that the overwhelming amount of the copper, steel, neodymium iron boride magnets in all of California's wind turbines represents stranded assets, doing nothing, producing nothing. California has laced itself densely with power lines to service all that wonderful so called "renewable energy" infrastructure. On very windy days, these wires have to be disconnected, lest they spark and cause a fire, big fires, like those we've been seeing in recent years, as climate change worsens at an ever increasing pace.

As of 18:45 12/21/20, California was dumping 10,542 metric tons of CO2 per hour into the planetary atmosphere to power its grid.

2020's atmospheric concentrations peaked during the week beginning May 24, 2020 at 417.43 ppm. I would estimate, having followed the figures at the Mauna Loa Carbon Dioxide Observatory closely for many years that in May of 2021 will end up somewhere around 420 ppm. The current 12 month rolling average for 10 year increases (measured weekly) in carbon dioxide concentrations is now at 24.13 ppm/10 years, or 2.41 ppm per year. 2.4 ppm per year is the fastest such rate of increase ever observed.

There's a little bit of noise in these figures, which is understandable.

Oh, in case, you're thinking that Covid impacted climate change, it didn't all that much.

Near the end of December, 2002 - I started writing here in 2002, the 12 month rolling average for 10 year increases was 16.81 ppm/10 years, or 1.68 ppm/year. In the week of December 22, 2002, the concentration of the dangerous fossil fuel waste carbon dioxide in the planetary atmosphere was 374.25 ppm. The most recent reading at the Mauna Loa website (Week of 12/13/20) was 413.92.

For the 18 years I've been writing here, arguing for nuclear energy, I've been hearing how nuclear energy wasn't necessary, because solar, wind, geothermal and wave energy would save the day.

They didn't.

These are facts. Facts matter.

I trust you are enjoying, in spite of the Covid plague, the run up to the holidays.

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Reply It appears that only one of the two remaining nuclear reactors in California is operating tonight. (Original post)
NNadir Dec 2020 OP
Loki Liesmith Dec 2020 #1
cstanleytech Dec 2020 #2
NNadir Dec 2020 #3

Response to NNadir (Original post)

Tue Dec 22, 2020, 12:22 AM

1. Excellent post

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Response to NNadir (Original post)

Tue Dec 22, 2020, 05:59 AM

2. What are your thoughts towards the attempts to create fusion plants? Do they hold out much hope in

your opinion as a better alternative to nuclear or do you think its to early to tell?

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Response to cstanleytech (Reply #2)

Tue Dec 22, 2020, 08:29 PM

3. Fusion plants are not an alternative to nuclear plants. They ARE nuclear plants.

I have to say that I am fond of the idea of fusion plants, for severak reasons.

The first is self-serving: For the last decade, I've been attending lectures at the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab's Science on Saturday, where at least 25% of the lectures involve developments in fusion energy. It would be dishonest of me to oppose fusion energy to have accepted all the free donuts they give at the lecture without supporting them.

The second reason I support fusion plants is that fusion reactors produce high energy neutrons, more than an order of magnitude higher than fission plants. These neutrons can do things that even the fast neutrons in a "fast" fission reactor can't do, and induce certain nuclear reactions, particularly spallation reactions, that can produce rare radioisotopes that may have wide applications outside of energy applications.

Another reason is that the ITER, the large fusion reactor being build in France - it will not be a power reactor even though it is alleged that it will be the first fusion reactor to continuously operate that will produce more energy than it consumes - is an international effort of the type that brings scientists from all around the world to achieve a common goal. These transcultural efforts are good for humanity, period.

Yet another reason is that the effort engages in the study of plasma physics which has many applications, everything from lighting, to manufacturing, to electronics, and - ion propulsion engines now operate in space - propulsion. These are useful spin off technologies.

Although they only discuss it sheepishly a PPPL, a real possible application is a fusion/fission hybrid reactor, in which the fission targets are subcritical, allowing for very fast shutdown of fission reactors. This is an application similar to the ADS (Accelerator Driven Subcritical) system.

The solutions to certain computational modeling issues have been streamlined by the laboratory as well. The laboratory is a resource for the development of sophisticated applied mathematics.

The study of plasmas is important in pure physics; most of the universe is, in fact, plasma.

The ITER will also answer some questions in materials science that can be answered no other way, in particular, what is the maximum amount of energy that a material can sustain while remaining intact on both an atomic level as well as a macroscopic level. After one of the Science on Saturday lectures at which, during the Q&A I raised some points about materials science, one of the scientists at the lab came up to me when "the show" was breaking up, to discuss high dpa (displacements per atom) materials, that he indicated had been developed at the lab. He gave me his card, and I promised to send some information on MAX phases, but I lost it. The lab is important to the development of refractory materials, which are as critical to fission reactors as they are to fusion reactors. We had this kind of silly conversation about why they want to use either hafnium or tungsten as opposed to zirconium, mostly because they don't want the marketing disadvantage of having to explain the accumulation of Zr-93 isotopes.


Both Hafnium and (to a lesser extent) tungsten are materials subject to depletion. The nice side of tungsten is that it is transmuted by neutrons into the rare and very valuable elements rhenium, osmium and iridium.

All this said, I'm not sure that fusion power reactors will ever become widely commercial sources of electrical power. There are many problems that need to be solved, the most notable of which is heat transfer. Fusion reactors have the highest energy to mass ratio of any possible primary source of energy. The active materials driving the reactor, tritium and deuterium, are on the order of grams, not tons. While this suggests that fusion reactors would have the lowest possible impact on the environment, it happens that most of the energy will appear as either gamma radiation or as very high energy neutrons. Being neutral particles, one cannot control neutron flows with magnetic or electric fields. They go wherever the hell they want to go until they collide with something. This means that the heat exchange needs to be the entire surface of the reactor. (The positive particles in the plasma, helium nuclei (alpha particles) and tritons and deuterons can be steered - and I've seen proposals along these lines - but again, a lot of the energy is in the form of neutrons.) The neutrons need to be slowed without destroying the material, and they must do so in such a way as to assure that the energy of the slowing is recovered.

In a fission reactor, the neutrons act over a very wide surface, usually involving a liquid phase coolant (although there are exceptions) where the phase change absorbs some of the energy as the heat of vaporization. It's hard to imagine this in plasmas which while not very dense, are also very hot.

The current solution seems to involve flowing lithium blankets, where the impacting neutrons generate tritium - stuff that makes the morons at Greenpeace get wedgies in their underwear - to drive the reactor. In theory, unless fission reactors generate the tritium, something they're quite well suited to do, all fusion reactors need to be breeder reactors, where the bred fuel is generated by nuclear reactions with lithium.

It is not clear that these materials will be cheap enough to satisfy all of our energy mavens who are unwilling to consider the minimization of external costs (the costs to the environment and health) to be worth the internal costs. If you hang around in the E&E forum on this site, you can hear all kinds of stupid claims that the "cost of solar energy is falling" which is great when the sun is shining, but disastrous when it isn't. (This is why Denmark and Germany have the highest consumer electricity prices in the OECD.) A lot of "renewables will save us" types turn into Ayn Rand types when the capital costs of a nuclear plant are discussed, since they are wholly unwilling to consider an investment in a power plant that will last close to a century and serve generations yet unborn, when the alternative is to make cheap junk that will last 20 years, become landfill for these future generations to clean up, and will provide only grief to future generations.

There is no information as to how long a fusion reactor can run while remaining viable. If fusion reactors have a lifetime as short as, say, a wind turbine or a solar cell, they're not going to be much good.

It may be possible to conduct heat transfer in fusion reactors using electromagnetic fields, again for charged particles. I don't know, but there is still the question of how do you collect the energy of neutrons to drive electrons. In my opinion, we are not close to solving this problem.

A big disadvantage to fusion reactors as compared to fission reactors is that they don't generate very much long lived radioactive materials. This has long been considered an advantage, but only because fear and ignorance has prevented us from realizing how important radioisotopes actually are. Specifically, gamma radiation is the only viable approach to solving some otherwise intransigent environmental problems, notably persistent organic pollutants, particular the halogenated excamples, especially those involving carbon fluorine bonds. Ignorance about radiation actually kills people and works to destroy the environment.

I think that the ITER will work, albeit in a useless way, since the energy it produces will not be harnessed to do chemical or mechanical work. For the time being, let's say the next 50 to 75 years, however the only viable option to save humanity from itself is precisely the one which generates fear and stupidity - nuclear fission.

Fission is the best source of energy available now. We need it now. The planet is dying.

I hope this is helpful.

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