The Gordian Knot of the 21st Century

Why Nuclear Power has been a Flop

Jack Devanney; CTX Press 2020

This book focuses on the Gordian knot of our time, the closely coupled problems of electricity poverty for billions of humans, and global warming for all humans. The central thesis of the book is that nuclear power is not only the only solution, it is a highly desirable solution, cheaper, safer, less intrusive on nature than all the alternatives.

Just about everybody, including most pro-nuclear folks, accept the fact that nuclear electricity is inherently expensive. Thanks to its remarkable energy density,
nuclear power is not inherently expensive. It is inherently cheap. This book argues that conventional nuclear power should cost less than three cents per kilowatt hour.

But nuclear power is expensive, prohibitively so in most parts of the planet. The reason why nuclear power is so expensive is a regulatory regime which by design is mandated to increase costs to the point where nuclear power is at least as expensive as coal. In such a system, any technological improvement which should lower cost simply provides regulators with more room to drive costs up. This same regime does an excellent job of stifling competition and technological progress by erecting multiple layers of barriers to entry.

Our goal is not just to make nuclear electricity as cheap as coal or gas fired electricity. The goal is to keep pushing the cost of nuclear power down and down, allowing us to replace fossil fuels almost everywhere. Imagine what we could do with 2 cents per kWh power in electrifying transportation and producing carbon neutral synfuels. This can only be done in a harshly competitive environment. We must force the providers of nuclear power to compete with everybody.

If nuclear power is to be allowed to cleave the Gordian knot of electricity poverty and global warming,then we must completely change the way we regulate nuclear electricity. This book makes the case for this change and outlines what the replacement system needs to look like.

The author is the Chief Designer for ThorCon which is developing a molten salt reactor based nuclear power plant. Although the book makes no mention of ThorCon, he has a horse in this race and an obvious conflict of interest.

The book may be downloaded for free under the Creative Commons Share Alike license (CC BY-SA 4.0).

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Discussion Rules

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Our blog threads are limited to discussions related directly to the issues raised by the book. While vigorous debate is encouraged, tone is important. Off topic, disrespectful or vulgar comments will result in the post being deleted and the poster blacklisted.

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The Gold Standard and ALARA

Discussion of the current nuclear regulatory regime and possible aternatives should take place on this thread. Examples of counter-productive rules or practices are solicited.

Nuclear for synfuel and other non-power markets

Discourse on using nuclear heat in markets where direct electrification is infeasible or uneconomic should be directed to this thread.

Electricity poverty and social development

This thread will focus on the role of electricity in economic development, the magnitude of the problem, the disparity in availability, and its implications. Concrete examples are solicited.

Pollution, radiation, and CO2 emissions

Comments relating to the health impacts of fossil fuel pollution, radiation hazard, and global warming should be posted to this thread. This includes discussion of LNT and alternatives.

Power generation technology and economics

This thread will host a technical discussion on nuclear technology and economics, including alternatives to light water reactors.

Book release notes, errata, corrections

The book will be a living document at least for a while. Corrections and suggestions for improvements, complaints about unclear  or unpersuasive passages, additional material, photos, or citations should be posted to this thread. As the book is modified, release notes and acknowledgements will be posted here.
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