Nuclear Now’ Review: Oliver Stone Makes the Case for Power Plants
The director’s new documentary considers our complicated relationship to nuclear energy and argues that it is our best hope against climate change.
The documentary’s first half wrestles with the enduring fears that nuclear boosters have struggled to debunk — the result of a few snowballing factors, the film argues, including the association of nuclear power with nuclear warfare and the exceptional disasters that occurred in 1986 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, and in 2011 at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station.
The latter sections, concerning the innovations and obstacles to future applications of nuclear power, veer somewhat into the weeds. But the film’s aversion to formal or rhetorical bombast as it discusses scientists’ hopes for a better future is its own balm. We’re staring down catastrophe, Stone explains matter-of-factly, but our greatest tool is already in our grasp.
Nuclear power once seemed like the world’s best hope for a carbon-neutral future. After decades of cost-overruns, public protests and disasters elsewhere, China has emerged as the world’s last great believer, with plans to generate an eye-popping amount of nuclear energy, quickly and at relatively low cost.
I’m not entirely sure what to call China’s form of government, but let’s say that it is not something terribly close to a democracy, in spite of their formal name. In most of the rest of the developed world, some kind of democracy is the usual form of government.
Those fears - rational or not - are driving most of the developed world away from nuclear power. When the people have the power to choose those who govern, those who govern are going to cater to the fears of the people.
China’s government does not need to respond to the people’s fears nearly as much. So those who govern are free to choose things the people might not like. They don’t have to cater to the people to retain their power in government. So the fears of nuclear power are not an impediment to building nuclear power plants in China.
I’m not going to judge whether these fears hindering nuclear development are rational or not. But we will find out over the next 50 years or so how this plays out. If China is able to avoid major disasters with their nuclear power plants, that might help allay some concerns in the rest of the world. On the other hand, if there are some major problems - regardless of the source of the problem - that will continue to feed the fears in much of the rest of the world.
Fears don’t help, but the real driver is cost. Nuclear power has always had popular support in the United States. The Vogtle 3&4 reactors expected to come online this year total about 2 GW and cost around $35 billion. That’s a lot of money to come up with before generating a single electron. And in some cases even existing nuclear facilities need subsidies to keep operating (or so the operators claim). If an existing plant isn’t profitable, a new one won’t be either.
The are also practical market problems. Electricity consumption has been pretty flat in the US for a couple decades. There isn’t much need for new large scale plants of any type.
Electric cars alone I read plus 18%, changeover to heat pumps over 20 years or so at three x efficiency,
It could be a relatively small 2 to 3 percent per year type of increase. Also electric cars may be charging more off of base load power overnight.
Don’t forget that base load power is changing with the increase in solar production. In some parts of the country with lots of solar production, the lowest demand time for the grid is early to mid afternoon, when solar production is at it’s peak. For those areas, that is the best time for EV charging, at least from the standpoint of grid operators.
Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom wants to buy massive amounts of renewable energy to help keep the lights on. The idea is to use the state’s purchasing power to convince private companies to build large scale power plants that run off of heat from underground sites and strong winds blowing off the coast — the kinds of power that utility companies have not been buying because it’s too expensive and would take too long to build.
“We laid out the markers on solar and wind, but we recognize that’s not going to get us where we need to go,” Newsom said during a news conference last week. “The issue of reliability has to be addressed.”…
The Democratic governor, now in his second term and widely seen as a future presidential candidate, insists California will be carbon neutral by 2045. But this goal is often mocked in the summer when, to avoid rolling blackouts, state officials turn on massive diesel-powered generators to make up the state’s energy shortfall.
Demand for electricity in California has increased as the state takes step to move away from fossil fuels…California will need to add about 40 gigawatts of new power over the next 10 years, according to the California Independent Systems Operator, which manages the state’s power grid.