# The Remarkable Progress of Renewable Energy

#### bigfield

##### the baby-eater
I wondered why energy companies were interested in hydrogen instead of making other synthetic fuels that are easier to store, and this provides some explanation: making carbon-based fuels is expensive, even more expensive than making hydrogen.
However, hydrogen is (1) necessary as a feedstock for other synfuels, and (2) usable much like natural gas, so getting hydrogen going is a step on the way to more easily stored synfuels.
It doesn't seem like it's being treated as a step towards anything, though, and burning hydrogen like natural gas, to drive steam turbines, still emits greenhouse gases.

Where will we get carbon in large scale quantities to sustain our future synfuel demand? Are we going to plant huge amounts of fuel crops or hope that some technology emerges in the next decade that allows us to suck huge carbon out of the air?

#### Cheerful Charlie

##### Contributor
I wondered why energy companies were interested in hydrogen instead of making other synthetic fuels that are easier to store, and this provides some explanation: making carbon-based fuels is expensive, even more expensive than making hydrogen.
However, hydrogen is (1) necessary as a feedstock for other synfuels, and (2) usable much like natural gas, so getting hydrogen going is a step on the way to more easily stored synfuels.
It doesn't seem like it's being treated as a step towards anything, though, and burning hydrogen like natural gas, to drive steam turbines, still emits greenhouse gases.

Where will we get carbon in large scale quantities to sustain our future synfuel demand? Are we going to plant huge amounts of fuel crops or hope that some technology emerges in the next decade that allows us to suck huge carbon out of the air?

Burning hydrogen produces water. Not a greenhouse gas. The first green hydrogen fueled steel plants are now being built in Japan and Sweden.

#### skepticalbip

##### Contributor
I wondered why energy companies were interested in hydrogen instead of making other synthetic fuels that are easier to store, and this provides some explanation: making carbon-based fuels is expensive, even more expensive than making hydrogen.
However, hydrogen is (1) necessary as a feedstock for other synfuels, and (2) usable much like natural gas, so getting hydrogen going is a step on the way to more easily stored synfuels.
It doesn't seem like it's being treated as a step towards anything, though, and burning hydrogen like natural gas, to drive steam turbines, still emits greenhouse gases.

Where will we get carbon in large scale quantities to sustain our future synfuel demand? Are we going to plant huge amounts of fuel crops or hope that some technology emerges in the next decade that allows us to suck huge carbon out of the air?

Burning hydrogen produces water. Not a greenhouse gas. The first green hydrogen fueled steel plants are now being built in Japan and Sweden.
Actually water vapor (humidity) is much more of a greenhouse gas than CO2. It is why in areas with high humidity, the day/night temperature differences are typically around 20F but in deserts where humidity is low the day/night temperature differences are 40F or more.

#### Cheerful Charlie

##### Contributor

Here in Texas we are in a record heat wave for this time of year. Record electricity demand. It seems wind and solar are saving our asses. Last year solar was 4% of total supply. This year 7%. And more solar energy than that is not available state wide due to lack of transmission capacity.

#### bigfield

##### the baby-eater
I wondered why energy companies were interested in hydrogen instead of making other synthetic fuels that are easier to store, and this provides some explanation: making carbon-based fuels is expensive, even more expensive than making hydrogen.
However, hydrogen is (1) necessary as a feedstock for other synfuels, and (2) usable much like natural gas, so getting hydrogen going is a step on the way to more easily stored synfuels.
It doesn't seem like it's being treated as a step towards anything, though, and burning hydrogen like natural gas, to drive steam turbines, still emits greenhouse gases.

Where will we get carbon in large scale quantities to sustain our future synfuel demand? Are we going to plant huge amounts of fuel crops or hope that some technology emerges in the next decade that allows us to suck huge carbon out of the air?

Burning hydrogen produces water. Not a greenhouse gas. The first green hydrogen fueled steel plants are now being built in Japan and Sweden.
Water is a greenhouse gas, but I was actually referring to NOx. NOx is produced by gas-fried turbines because they subject air to high temperatures, and more NOx is produced when hydrogen is mixed into the fuel because the temperature needs to be higher.

I don't even know if this is a significant problem. nitrous oxide is a far more potent GHG than carbon dioxide, but the volumes emitted might be so low that it's not an impediment to reaching net zero.

#### bilby

##### Fair dinkum thinkum

Here in Texas we are in a record heat wave for this time of year. Record electricity demand. It seems wind and solar are saving our asses. Last year solar was 4% of total supply. This year 7%. And more solar energy than that is not available state wide due to lack of transmission capacity.
Presumably the other 93% is doing nothing to save your asses?

I am also uncertain how the fact that solar energy requires a massive investment in transmission capacity, which hasn’t been met even at such low levels of market share, is supposed to be a point in its favour.

#### bilby

##### Fair dinkum thinkum
I wondered why energy companies were interested in hydrogen instead of making other synthetic fuels that are easier to store, and this provides some explanation: making carbon-based fuels is expensive, even more expensive than making hydrogen.
However, hydrogen is (1) necessary as a feedstock for other synfuels, and (2) usable much like natural gas, so getting hydrogen going is a step on the way to more easily stored synfuels.
It doesn't seem like it's being treated as a step towards anything, though, and burning hydrogen like natural gas, to drive steam turbines, still emits greenhouse gases.

Where will we get carbon in large scale quantities to sustain our future synfuel demand? Are we going to plant huge amounts of fuel crops or hope that some technology emerges in the next decade that allows us to suck huge carbon out of the air?

Burning hydrogen produces water. Not a greenhouse gas. The first green hydrogen fueled steel plants are now being built in Japan and Sweden.
Water is a greenhouse gas, but I was actually referring to NOx. NOx is produced by gas-fried turbines because they subject air to high temperatures, and more NOx is produced when hydrogen is mixed into the fuel because the temperature needs to be higher.

I don't even know if this is a significant problem. nitrous oxide is a far more potent GHG than carbon dioxide, but the volumes emitted might be so low that it's not an impediment to reaching net zero.
NOx is fairly easy to eliminate by introducing an appropriate agent to the exhaust stream. Many diesel engines use urea injection systems (these spray urea solution, commonly known as AdBlue, into the hot exhaust ahead of the catalytic converter, where it breaks down to ammonia, which in turn reacts with NOx to produce nitrogen and water) to achieve this, and if it were a problem for hydrogen engines, a similar arrangement could probably be used.

Natural Gas and Hydrogen turbines probably don’t reach the necessary pressures for NOx to be a big issue though.

#### Cheerful Charlie

##### Contributor
Nuclear and gas are maxxed out. Coal plants have been shut down. Solar and wind are holding up well and are picking up the slack. Oil is in short supply and very expensive.

No sign of any expansionof nuclear here inthe near future. But some big wind and solar projects are under way.

#### Swammerdami

Staff member
Burning hydrogen produces water. Not a greenhouse gas. The first green hydrogen fueled steel plants are now being built in Japan and Sweden.
Actually water vapor (humidity) is much more of a greenhouse gas than CO2. It is why in areas with high humidity, the day/night temperature differences are typically around 20F but in deserts where humidity is low the day/night temperature differences are 40F or more.
Nitpicks:
(a) The total water in the atmosphere may contribute more directly to greenhouse at any time, but that's because there's more H2O than CO2 in the atmosphere. Greenhouse per gram of fuel is less for H2 than for carbon; greenhouse per joule of combustion energy much less.
(b) atmospheric water levels are controlled by feedback loops, not man's emissions.

#### bilby

##### Fair dinkum thinkum
Burning hydrogen produces water. Not a greenhouse gas. The first green hydrogen fueled steel plants are now being built in Japan and Sweden.
Actually water vapor (humidity) is much more of a greenhouse gas than CO2. It is why in areas with high humidity, the day/night temperature differences are typically around 20F but in deserts where humidity is low the day/night temperature differences are 40F or more.
Nitpicks:
(a) The total water in the atmosphere may contribute more directly to greenhouse at any time, but that's because there's more H2O than CO2 in the atmosphere. Greenhouse per gram of fuel is less for H2 than for carbon; greenhouse per joule of combustion energy much less.
(b) atmospheric water levels are controlled by feedback loops, not man's emissions.
Yeah, this.

If we started burning hydrogen on a vast scale, the total water vapour in the atmosphere wouldn’t change a lot; It would just rain more.

#### Swammerdami

Staff member
France’s bet on nuclear energy, however, is an egregious miscalculation that will severely inhibit its decarbonization efforts. At a critical juncture in the battle against climate change, diverting any finances and losing time with nuclear power, which has been in decline worldwide for decades, will only set back the country’s climate efforts, perhaps dooming its chances to go carbon neutral by 2050. Indeed, this Hail Mary pass, taken out of desperation as France has fallen woefully behind on its climate targets, will most probably come to naught anyway as the era of nuclear power wanes further no matter France’s declarations. The simple explanation: Fully fledged renewables are faster, cheaper, and lower risk than nuclear power.--Emmanuel Macron Gets Nuclear Energy All Wrong: Nuclear power won’t help France meet its climate goals on budget or on time

I try to educate myself on this confusing topic, so I clicked the link. I was quite disappointed to see that the wrong-sounding claims in the above excerpt also sounded wrong in the full article. Note the claim that "nuclear power ... has been in decline worldwide." How does this prove that France is wrong and Germany and U.S.A. are correct? The article cannot resist mentioning Chernobyl, as though that level of incompetence is common-place; and anyway, as bilby has pointed out(!), even Chernobyl's impact is exaggerated compared with other risks.

The article states "The bill for the French taxpayers will start at $57 billion, according to the New York Times." As far as I can tell, the NY Times article doesn't mention taxpayers. I rather think some of the capital costs for electricity production will be recouped by — did you guess? — selling the electricity! I'm going to have to give foreignpolicy.com a 'D' on that article. Make it a 'D+' for effort. #### No Robots ##### Maykkerz The article states "The bill for the French taxpayers will start at$57 billion, according to the New York Times." As far as I can tell, the NY Times article doesn't mention taxpayers. I rather think some of the capital costs for electricity production will be recouped by — did you guess? — selling the electricity!

The linked NYT article is paywalled for me. However this one by the same reporter is from just a few days ago and goes into detail on the financial problems of the French nuclear programme.

The FP piece is certainly tendentious. I see it as a healthy counter to the breathless nuke boosterism that seems to predominate around here. My own position is nukes if necessary, but not necessarily nukes. I honestly do not see any problem with a global solar strategy. No problem, that is, other than the typical human hubris, ignorance and egoism. I'm sorry that buggy-whip makers, er, nuclear physicists may need to retrain. However, the speed with which the global solar system is growing clearly points to it as the best option. Regulatory and construction issues around nuclear expansion simply rule it out as a fast solution. The unresolvable issue of waste and the inherent danger of catastrophic failure make it completely beyond consideration for me. I'm alarmed and troubled by the ferocious advocacy that nuclear power gets from people who seem quite rational. The insistence that it is the only way to deal effectively with climate change has made me at least open to considering it. But I just have not seen a compelling case for it. It seems obvious that a truly global effort would make solar the predominant energy source on the planet. The downsides to a global solar energy system do not seem prohibitive to me.

#### Bomb#20

##### Contributor
I wondered why energy companies were interested in hydrogen instead of making other synthetic fuels that are easier to store, and this provides some explanation: making carbon-based fuels is expensive, even more expensive than making hydrogen.
However, hydrogen is (1) necessary as a feedstock for other synfuels, and (2) usable much like natural gas, so getting hydrogen going is a step on the way to more easily stored synfuels.
But what are they going to do with all the left-over C after they extract their hydrogen from their CH4?

#### Bomb#20

##### Contributor
My own position is nukes if necessary, but not necessarily nukes.
How'd that work out for you with conscription?

#### lpetrich

##### Contributor
But what are they going to do with all the left-over C after they extract their hydrogen from their CH4?
Except that renewable-energy hydrogen production is with electrolysis:

2H2O + ️ -> 2H2 + O2

No carbon release anywhere in this process.

Furthermore, once one has one's hydrogen, one can make ammonia with the Haber-Bosch process:

N2 + 3H2 + -> 2NH3

One can make hydrocarbons and oxyhydrocarbons with the Fischer-Tropsch process:

x*CO2 + (2x+y/2-z)*H2+ -> CxHyOz + (2x-z)*H2O

These can then be used as fuels and chemical feedstocks, and even for carbon sequestration.

#### Bomb#20

##### Contributor
But what are they going to do with all the left-over C after they extract their hydrogen from their CH4?
Except that renewable-energy hydrogen production is with electrolysis:

2H2O + ️ -> 2H2 + O2

No carbon release anywhere in this process.
CH4 + 2O2 -> CO2 + 2H2O +
2H2O + ️ -> 2H2 + O2
----------------------------------
CH4 + 2O2 -> CO2 + 2H2+ O2

#### bilby

##### Fair dinkum thinkum
I wondered why energy companies were interested in hydrogen instead of making other synthetic fuels that are easier to store, and this provides some explanation: making carbon-based fuels is expensive, even more expensive than making hydrogen.
However, hydrogen is (1) necessary as a feedstock for other synfuels, and (2) usable much like natural gas, so getting hydrogen going is a step on the way to more easily stored synfuels.
But what are they going to do with all the left-over C after they extract their hydrogen from their CH4?
Usable like natural gas, not with or from.

#### Bomb#20

##### Contributor
However, hydrogen is (1) necessary as a feedstock for other synfuels, and (2) usable much like natural gas, so getting hydrogen going is a step on the way to more easily stored synfuels.
But what are they going to do with all the left-over C after they extract their hydrogen from their CH4?
Usable like natural gas, not with or from.
I'm not concerned with Mr. Petrich's preposition. I'm concerned with reality.

"As of 2020, the majority of hydrogen (∼95%) is produced from fossil fuels by steam reforming of natural gas and other light hydrocarbons, partial oxidation of heavier hydrocarbons, and coal gasification."​

#### bilby

##### Fair dinkum thinkum
However, hydrogen is (1) necessary as a feedstock for other synfuels, and (2) usable much like natural gas, so getting hydrogen going is a step on the way to more easily stored synfuels.
But what are they going to do with all the left-over C after they extract their hydrogen from their CH4?
Usable like natural gas, not with or from.
I'm not concerned with Mr. Petrich's preposition. I'm concerned with reality.

"As of 2020, the majority of hydrogen (∼95%) is produced from fossil fuels by steam reforming of natural gas and other light hydrocarbons, partial oxidation of heavier hydrocarbons, and coal gasification."​
Fair enough.

#### lpetrich

##### Contributor
CH4 + 2O2 -> CO2 + 2H2O +
2H2O + ️ -> 2H2 + O2
----------------------------------
CH4 + 2O2 -> CO2 + 2H2+ O2

I get your point about using natural gas to generate electricity. But one would not do that -- one would get the electricity from renewable energy sources.

I'm not concerned with Mr. Petrich's preposition. I'm concerned with reality.

"As of 2020, the majority of hydrogen (∼95%) is produced from fossil fuels by steam reforming of natural gas and other light hydrocarbons, partial oxidation of heavier hydrocarbons, and coal gasification."​
So what? With enough electrolysis, we will see the end of those fossil-fuel sources.

#### Bomb#20

##### Contributor
CH4 + 2O2 -> CO2 + 2H2O +
2H2O + ️ -> 2H2 + O2
----------------------------------
CH4 + 2O2 -> CO2 + 2H2+ O2

I get your point about using natural gas to generate electricity. But one would not do that -- one would get the electricity from renewable energy sources.
FIFY.

Getting electricity from renewable energy sources means getting electricity from natural gas -- the more renewables you put on the grid, the more you need natural gas peaker plants to deal with the unwillingness of Mother Nature to match her deliveries of sunlight and wind to the times when people want electricity.

I'm not concerned with Mr. Petrich's preposition. I'm concerned with reality.

"As of 2020, the majority of hydrogen (∼95%) is produced from fossil fuels by steam reforming of natural gas and other light hydrocarbons, partial oxidation of heavier hydrocarbons, and coal gasification."​
So what? With enough electrolysis, we will see the end of those fossil-fuel sources.
With enough electrolysis, you generated the electricity to carry out enough electrolysis, which implies you used nuclear reactors rather than renewables.

#### lpetrich

##### Contributor
Getting electricity from renewable energy sources means getting electricity from natural gas -- the more renewables you put on the grid, the more you need natural gas peaker plants to deal with the unwillingness of Mother Nature to match her deliveries of sunlight and wind to the times when people want electricity.
That's why there's a lot of research into energy storage, so one won't need natural-gas peaker plants.

#### Swammerdami

Staff member
A lot of these questions can be better understood by looking at actual numbers (dollars or joules). For example, in this important reaction pair:

2H2O + ️ -> 2H2 + O2
2H2 + O2 -> 2H2O +
----------------------------------
️ ->

How many kwh of retail electricity do you recover per kwh of retail electricity consumed? One big problem with hydrogen as fuel is the cost of storing or transporting it, but these costs are avoided when hydrogen generated during daylight (or high winds) is then burned just half a mile away at nighttime (or on windless days). Minimal transport is needed; and storage for just 12 hours. (Or convert the hydrogen to ammonia, which is also valuable and less expensive to transport.)

Similarly a comparison between renewables and nuclear would be easier if we looked at hard numbers and projections. Of course this is going to run into difficulties. For example, one alleged drawback to nuclear is the risk of weapons proliferation: What dollar cost do we associate with Senegal or Burma getting H-bombs?

#### Bomb#20

##### Contributor
That's why there's a lot of research into energy storage, so one won't need natural-gas peaker plants.
But the most efficient, safe and cost-effective way to compactly store large amounts of energy is already known.

Uranium

#### bilby

##### Fair dinkum thinkum
A lot of these questions can be better understood by looking at actual numbers (dollars or joules). For example, in this important reaction pair:

2H2O + ️ -> 2H2 + O2
2H2 + O2 -> 2H2O +
----------------------------------
️ ->

How many kwh of retail electricity do you recover per kwh of retail electricity consumed? One big problem with hydrogen as fuel is the cost of storing or transporting it, but these costs are avoided when hydrogen generated during daylight (or high winds) is then burned just half a mile away at nighttime (or on windless days). Minimal transport is needed; and storage for just 12 hours. (Or convert the hydrogen to ammonia, which is also valuable and less expensive to transport.)

Similarly a comparison between renewables and nuclear would be easier if we looked at hard numbers and projections. Of course this is going to run into difficulties. For example, one alleged drawback to nuclear is the risk of weapons proliferation: What dollar cost do we associate with Senegal or Burma getting H-bombs?

Proliferation is a massive red herring.

Hydrogen bombs require fusion expertise and you cannot get that from power plants, which are exclusively fission based.

And making fission bombs (A-bombs, not H-bombs) using a modern (ie post-1960s) power reactor is so difficult and expensive that you are always better off just having a separate weapons program and leaving your power plants alone.

Making A-bombs either requires high enrichment of uranium, which a power plant can’t help with other than by providing electricity to the enrichment plant (that could just as well come from any other generation technology); Or production of 239Pu that contains only a trace of 240Pu - something that a power generation plant does very poorly.

In every case of a nation developing an A-bomb apart from India, the bomb was developed before their first power reactor was even built. In some cases (eg North Korea) they have A-bombs and no nuclear power program at all. In India, their bomb program uses its own Pu production reactors that don’t generate electricity.

The hybrid reactors designed in the 1950s and ‘60s to make both electricity and Pu for weapons were all pretty shit at both jobs. The UK’s Magnox design generated pathetic amounts of both products; The USSR’s RBMK design was both pathetic and astonishingly and stupidly dangerous, and remains the only reactor type in history that has managed to kill people not employed at the plant.

As the Koreans demonstrate, a nation state that wants an A-bomb has no need of a nuclear power generation capability at all; And (per South Korea) a nation state that has lots of nuclear power stations and is under serious military threat from a nuclear armed neighbour will nevertheless not necessarily seek to develop a bomb of their own.

If Senegal or Myanmar want an atom bomb, they will develop one whether or not they have a nuclear power industry. Just like North Korea did; And for that matter, just like the USA did.

#### bigfield

##### the baby-eater
But what are they going to do with all the left-over C after they extract their hydrogen from their CH4?
Except that renewable-energy hydrogen production is with electrolysis:

2H2O + ️ -> 2H2 + O2

No carbon release anywhere in this process.

Furthermore, once one has one's hydrogen, one can make ammonia with the Haber-Bosch process:

N2 + 3H2 + -> 2NH3

One can make hydrocarbons and oxyhydrocarbons with the Fischer-Tropsch process:

x*CO2 + (2x+y/2-z)*H2+ -> CxHyOz + (2x-z)*H2O

These can then be used as fuels and chemical feedstocks, and even for carbon sequestration.
Ammonia would be easier to store and transport than hydrogen, but the technology for ammonia-fuelled turbines is still in development.

For example, Mitsubishi is developing a (mere) 40MW generator.

As far as I can tell, ammonia is difficult to use as a fuel because it is slow-burning.

#### Loren Pechtel

##### Super Moderator
Staff member
Proliferation is a massive red herring.

Hydrogen bombs require fusion expertise and you cannot get that from power plants, which are exclusively fission based.

But that's not a huge obstacle. The knowledge is out there.

And making fission bombs (A-bombs, not H-bombs) using a modern (ie post-1960s) power reactor is so difficult and expensive that you are always better off just having a separate weapons program and leaving your power plants alone.

No, they've built a working bomb out of reactor-grade plutonium and it went boom. AFAIK the details are classified.

As the Koreans demonstrate, a nation state that wants an A-bomb has no need of a nuclear power generation capability at all; And (per South Korea) a nation state that has lots of nuclear power stations and is under serious military threat from a nuclear armed neighbour will nevertheless not necessarily seek to develop a bomb of their own.

If Senegal or Myanmar want an atom bomb, they will develop one whether or not they have a nuclear power industry. Just like North Korea did; And for that matter, just like the USA did.

Want scary? I've seen a paper that presents the basics for a pure-fusion bomb. I'm sure the author was deliberately omitting details, but since he had numbers he must have worked them out. Basically, it used staged explosives to compress a magnetic field and create fusion in a D-T pellet, and used the energy from that to set off a larger secondary. No mention was made of using that to set off an even larger tertiary but since the secondary was able to survive long enough to detonate I see no reason a tertiary wouldn't. It lacked the fission core of the secondary that a Teller-Ulam bomb uses, relying entirely on the compression to initiate the fusion burn.

#### bilby

##### Fair dinkum thinkum
No, they've built a working bomb out of reactor-grade plutonium and it went boom. AFAIK the details are classified.
It’s easy to do that. The challenge is getting it to go boom with any significant force, because the Pu240 tends to cause premature chain reaction initiation, breaking the warhead up before it finishes imploding.

It’s basically useless to build a usable weapon of war; It’s interesting in controlled conditions to people who are in the research phase.

Pu240 spontaneous fission causing unpredictable and unwanted high neutron flux is one reason why the Manhattan Project took so long, and cost so much.

If making A-bombs were as easy as the proliferation scaremongering from the anti nuclear power lobby suggests, the Manhattan Project would have been wrapped up in a fortnight at a cost of a few thousand dollars.

#### bilby

##### Fair dinkum thinkum
But that's not a huge obstacle. The knowledge is out there.
The knowledge is out there whether or not people build a civilian nuclear power generation system. No nuclear weapons state needed to build nuclear power plants in order to develop their bombs. Not one.

#### bilby

##### Fair dinkum thinkum
Want scary?
No. I want people to stop being scared of an industry whose commitment to safety makes the commercial aviation industry look like a bunch of devil-may-care cowboys.

#### Swammerdami

Staff member
I reddened the herrings further when I mentioned H-bombs. Only nine countries have A-bombs; and of them perhaps only five — the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — have H-bombs. (That's Google's guess I think; CIA may have a better picture.)

A more practical threat, IIUC, is for a "dirty bomb" in which fission is not even involved. Just gather some highly radioactive material (e.g. waste from a nuclear reactor), shield it from radioactivity detectors, transport it to a population center or infrastructure hub, and blow it up with a conventional explosive. Presto! Deaths and catastrophe. You don't need plutonium, enriched uranium or even expertise. Are not nuclear reactors (of any type) or waste disposal sites the best places for a terrorist group — e.g. ISIS or Proud Boys — to acquire material for a dirty bomb?

I'm not trying to add to the climate of fear; and I DO agree that nuclear power — and conservation — are key parts of the way forward. But let's put all the cards face-up on the table.

#### bilby

##### Fair dinkum thinkum
I reddened the herrings further when I mentioned H-bombs. Only nine countries have A-bombs; and of them perhaps only five — the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — have H-bombs. (That's Google's guess I think; CIA may have a better picture.)

A more practical threat, IIUC, is for a "dirty bomb" in which fission is not even involved. Just gather some highly radioactive material (e.g. waste from a nuclear reactor), shield it from radioactivity detectors, transport it to a population center or infrastructure hub, and blow it up with a conventional explosive. Presto! Deaths and catastrophe. You don't need plutonium, enriched uranium or even expertise. Are not nuclear reactors (of any type) or waste disposal sites the best places for a terrorist group — e.g. ISIS or Proud Boys — to acquire material for a dirty bomb?

I'm not trying to add to the climate of fear; and I DO agree that nuclear power — and conservation — are key parts of the way forward. But let's put all the cards face-up on the table.
A dirty bomb is a brilliant terror weapon. Like a phoned in bomb threat, it strikes fear into people that massively outweighs any direct harm it can do, and can cause significant harm due to overreactions by the people whose job is to defend others from harm.

It’s a shit idea if you want to kill or injure anyone. But it’s great for scaring people shitless.

I do particularly like the ease with which you assembled it, and shielded it from detection.

Meanwhile on planet Earth, “waste from a nuclear reactor” is available in two flavours - not radioactive enough to be dangerous; And so radioactive that attempting to steal it would almost certainly be fatal.

The stuff in the latter category also has the minor impediment to theft of being encased in thick steel and concrete casks that are practically impenetrable, and are located in some of the best guarded locations on Earth. Attempting to steal high level waste would likely result in the deaths of the thieves from high speed lead poisoning, long before they got close enough to kill themselves by trying to half-inch stuff so hot that it’s literally glowing.

Stealing high level nuclear waste would be about as practical and easy as stealing molten iron from a particularly well guarded blast furnace.

But there’s no limit to the number of ways you can imagine nuclear power helping terrorists to kill people, when you are unconstrained by reality, and can just have a team of ninja supervillains handwave away any practical difficulties.

You may not be trying to add to a climate of fear, but you’re most assuredly a victim of it, if you believe your concerns expressed here to be reasonable or rational concerns that need to be taken into consideration.

#### Loren Pechtel

##### Super Moderator
Staff member
No, they've built a working bomb out of reactor-grade plutonium and it went boom. AFAIK the details are classified.
It’s easy to do that. The challenge is getting it to go boom with any significant force, because the Pu240 tends to cause premature chain reaction initiation, breaking the warhead up before it finishes imploding.

No, I meant it produced a reasonable yield for a fission bomb. Not a fizzle. I suspect it required a much more sophisticated imploder than an ordinary Pu design, though.

#### Loren Pechtel

##### Super Moderator
Staff member
A more practical threat, IIUC, is for a "dirty bomb" in which fission is not even involved. Just gather some highly radioactive material (e.g. waste from a nuclear reactor), shield it from radioactivity detectors, transport it to a population center or infrastructure hub, and blow it up with a conventional explosive. Presto! Deaths and catastrophe. You don't need plutonium, enriched uranium or even expertise. Are not nuclear reactors (of any type) or waste disposal sites the best places for a terrorist group — e.g. ISIS or Proud Boys — to acquire material for a dirty bomb?
Dirty bombs are only an economic threat, they would be unlikely to kill people.

If the bomb is hot enough to kill someone it would almost certainly have killed the people who made it.

Dirty bombs contaminate, they don't kill.

#### Swammerdami

Staff member
You may not be trying to add to a climate of fear, but you’re most assuredly a victim of it, if you believe your concerns expressed here to be reasonable or rational concerns that need to be taken into consideration.

I was NOT trying to pander to anti-nuke fears. Just the opposite.

Renewables have their own hard-to-measure and controversial costs. Some concerns are ecological. And for intermittent power to be effective, big advances in battery technology are desired. (And the "Let's Go Brandon" ilk is worried about humans getting "mad cow" disease from wind turbines, or such.)

What I am suggesting is that the pros and cons of both paths be carefully assessed, and expected costs quantified, so that the choice becomes a hard-nosed cold-blooded calculation.

#### bilby

##### Fair dinkum thinkum
You may not be trying to add to a climate of fear, but you’re most assuredly a victim of it, if you believe your concerns expressed here to be reasonable or rational concerns that need to be taken into consideration.

I was NOT trying to pander to anti-nuke fears. Just the opposite.

Renewables have their own hard-to-measure and controversial costs. Some concerns are ecological. And for intermittent power to be effective, big advances in battery technology are desired. (And the "Let's Go Brandon" ilk is worried about humans getting "mad cow" disease from wind turbines, or such.)

What I am suggesting is that the pros and cons of both paths be carefully assessed, and expected costs quantified, so that the choice becomes a hard-nosed cold-blooded calculation.
Great.

It’s a seventy year old technology. When are you planning to start, and do those of us who already did that, really need to wait while you catch up?

It’s not even as though it were a close decision. We can pretty much rule out fossil fuels, as the costs of climate change are so high that they just can’t compete.

We are left with only two technologies currently able to produce power on demand, nuclear and hydro; And two that require expensive storage, wind and solar.

How expensive is that storage? Well, it doesn’t exist, so the amount of money needed to buy it today is infinity dollars. That price will probably fall; But chemistry sets limits on how far it can fall, and it almost certainly cannot fall far enough to ever be competitive. And if it does, it will probably be too late.

Wind and solar are only viable if supported by either fossil gas, or high-grade handwavium.

#### No Robots

##### Maykkerz
Storage issues for solar are reduced to the point of elimination as the global transmission system expands. This system will likely make use of ultra-high voltage transmission for efficient long-distance transmission (1000s of km).

#### skepticalbip

##### Contributor
Storage issues for solar are reduced to the point of elimination as the global transmission system expands. This system will likely make use of ultra-high voltage transmission for efficient long-distance transmission (1000s of km).
Are you really expecting that there will be power lines from the night side of the planet to the day side? A power grid linking Africa, Europe, Asia, North America, and South America? That cities in North America during their night will be using solar power from solar cells in Africa during Africa's day? When do you think such a grid could be in operation?

We already have an electrical grid using high voltage transmission at 155KV to over 500KV and typical transmission distances are less than 500 miles. High voltage AC transmission reduces power loss due to resistance but losses due to corona discharge increase as the voltage increase.

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#### bigfield

##### the baby-eater
Storage issues for solar are reduced to the point of elimination as the global transmission system expands. This system will likely make use of ultra-high voltage transmission for efficient long-distance transmission (1000s of km).
I didn't realise there was a global transmission system in the first place.

There's the project to transmit electricity from Australia to Singapore, which is interesting but insignificant in the context of a project to power one side of the planet from the other.

#### No Robots

##### Maykkerz

As noted above, China is the first to employ 1,000,000 Volt (1,000 kV) transmission lines and has begun an aggressive plan to interconnect major provinces with UHV lines. As noted in a recent Forbes article, Ultra-High Voltage Transmission Can Break China’s Cycle Of Energy Dependence, China has already demonstrated transmission at distances of 2,500 km, with lines up to 5,000 km being planned.

So, yes, I do expect a global transmission system wherein night and day will not be an issue and hence nor will be storage.

#### No Robots

##### Maykkerz
Construction of the global transmission grid should be the top international priority for dealing with climate change.

#### bilby

##### Fair dinkum thinkum
Storage issues for solar are reduced to the point of elimination as the global transmission system expands. This system will likely make use of ultra-high voltage transmission for efficient long-distance transmission (1000s of km).
Expands from what? There currently is no global transmission system; This is just more hypothetical handwavium.

1,000km is about 10% of enough; How do you build the other 90%, while avoiding massive losses?

#### bilby

##### Fair dinkum thinkum
Map showing current energy infrastructure.

A line through the Aleutians would pretty much make it global.
… but completely incapable of handling the flow of energy needed to achieve, or even come close to, your stated objective.

This is like drawing a map showing all the roads, down to dirt roads and overgrown tracks, and then assuming that you could drive freeway levels of traffic along them all.

Also, most of the grids on that map don’t join up. It’s easy to see a small gap and think it’s trivial to bridge it, but there’s usually a reason why that small gap is there, and ‘small’ is a matter of the scale of your mapping - a thousand ‘small’ hundred mile gaps is a hundred thousand miles of missing grid.

I don’t think you have any grasp of the scale of your proposal, or of the engineering obstacles to its implementation.

It’s easy to come up with hypothetical solutions if you handwave away any obstacles; But you can’t build an actual solution that way.

#### No Robots

##### Maykkerz
Is there any scenario in which solving the eco-energy crisis does not involve significant engineering obstacles? Expanding the electrical transmission system doesn't seem overly difficult in comparison with, say, constructing hundreds of nukes or off-worlding to Mars.

#### skepticalbip

##### Contributor
Map showing current energy infrastructure.

A line through the Aleutians would pretty much make it global.
Why go through all the mining and smelting required to make such a mass of power cables and solar panels needed to even start approaching your dream? Why not just set up fusion power plants in every neighborhood in the world and do away with all the long power transmission lines? .... since we are dreaming.

#### bilby

##### Fair dinkum thinkum
Is there any scenario in which solving the eco-energy crisis does not involve significant engineering obstacles? Expanding the electrical transmission system doesn't seem overly difficult in comparison with, say, constructing hundreds of nukes or off-worlding to Mars.
Constructing hundreds of nuclear power plants is something that has actually been done in the real world by real people.

#### skepticalbip

##### Contributor
Is there any scenario in which solving the eco-energy crisis does not involve significant engineering obstacles? Expanding the electrical transmission system doesn't seem overly difficult in comparison with, say, constructing hundreds of nukes or off-worlding to Mars.
Constructing hundreds of nuclear power plants is something that has actually been done in the real world by real people.
And it works. 80% of France's power grid is supplied by nuclear power.

#### No Robots

##### Maykkerz
There's the project to transmit electricity from Australia to Singapore, which is interesting but insignificant in the context of a project to power one side of the planet from the other.

Very cool. Could be a model for trans-oceanic power cables.