July 28, 2021

289: The Future of Nuclear Energy -with Mark Schneider

How is nuclear energy a solution to climate change, energy independence, and planetary prosperity?


Many people are turning away from conventional power, and opting for sustainable solutions. Nuclear power plants may not be spiking headlines, but they are being eyed as a viable option for the future.

 

The future of nuclear energy production is in strong hands because unlike many other aspects of life, nuclear power is an option that will ALWAYS be needed.

 

Mark Schneider joins the program to help show how the advancements in nuclear energy have created solutions that answer the questions of climate change, energy independence, and planetary prosperity.

 

But what about the common objections we hear about nuclear energy?

 

Are nuclear power plants safe? Are nuclear power plants efficient? Are nuclear power plants bad for the environment? Can nuclear waste be recycled?

 

Mark answers and overcomes all those objections (and more) on today's information-packed episode of The Brian Nichols Show!

 

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Transcript

All right. And with that joining me here on The Brian Nichols Show Tucker nucular energy today, Mark Schneider, welcome to the program. Hey, thanks for having me, Ryan. Absolutely, Mark. We're talking about nucular energy today. And this is a topic. I've been getting just tons of people saying, Brian, please can we can we do an episode focusing on nuclear energy. I've had Alex Epstein on the program. He did his moral case for fossil fuels where we actually we looked at a little bit of nuclear energy we talked about I'm not sure if you're familiar over on Netflix, Zac Efron did his down to earth series where he traveled all around the globe. And his first stop was to I forget the type of plan it was, but it was funny because we didn't even talk about nuclear in the episode and Zac Efron's dad is a nuclear scientist. And as an Alex pointed that, that was a little weird omission in the conversation, they're talking about all alternative forms of energy. But yes, nuclear energy. I've heard this brought up time. And again, Brian need to have somebody in the show to talk about the value of nuclear energy going forward. And really, to show if people aren't really talking about it, they're not really serious in the conversation for renewable energy going forward. So with that being said, Mark, introduce yourself to the program. And what got you so fascinated that you want to talk about nuclear energy here on a libertarian ish

podcast? Alright, so so I did, I spent 23 years in the nuclear industry, I served in the Navy on up work on both submarines and aircraft carriers. And then I did three years working for Dominion energy. And now it's just kind of a hobby, I promote, you know, nuclear energy. So that's kind of the quick background on myself, I was an operator, you go through lots and lots of training on how nuclear physics works, and all that. But the big thing that really started fascinating me, and my wife is also nuclear engineer, we have the nerdiest pillow talk on the planet. But that's good. She's way smarter than me. But we started we talking and communicating and discuss things about, you know, the advanced reactor design systems, right. And so really, for, you know, fun and entertainment, I did a bunch of research and learning about these, these advanced designs and how they operate. And some of them are super, super fascinating and super cool. And I like I'm gonna bring it right up from the beginning, because it's a super awesome design. And that's the the Aurora, which is by a company called oklo. This reactor went into licensing licensing process. On March 11 2020, it's a three year licensing process. Federal regulation requires a three year time period, it's arbitrary, it just is. But it is, it's going to run on spent nuclear fuel or nuclear waste, as everyone likes to call it, from EBR to which was a test reactor back in the 1960s. That operated into the 80s. So we've got to react a new brand new reactor design. it's it's a it's a micro reactor, meaning it's small. So can we build the factory so you build most of the components in factories, put it you do most your testing, bring it together at the final site, assemble modules, do your final testing, and then bring the reactor online, which is going to reduce the construction costs and construction times that the nuclear industry is actually really good at this. If you look behind you see USS Washington, that's a version of a modular reactor that's new nuclear powered submarine, and we build them in a factory, the US is turning out a nuclear reactor every six months that way. So, you know, we have the capability of it, but it's primarily on the shipbuilding side. So we can do this, you know, land base size, the roars a 1.5 megawatt reactor, that's about 1000 homes. And it fits on a quarter acre lot, quarter acre lot, your standard lot of for a, you know, home, right, just a standard suburban home is on about on a quarter acre. But the big thing with nuclear energy is nuclear energy does not produce co2. it if you're concerned about carbon emissions, or as a greenhouse gas and causing global warming, then this solves that nuclear energy producers, by the way, 20% of the power in the United States versus about 10% of the power worldwide. But this new reactor is an advanced design that no one has really, you know, thought about as far as going into this small with nuclear, for the purposes of you know, producing power. But, you know, these things are designed to work and basically fuel them once every 20 years. So you put a new reactor core and every 20 years, and that's a relatively simple process with the raw reactor design.

And that's one of the it's really fascinating, but the big thing when you talk nuclear energy, I do like to talk about the impact that nuclear has had with renewables. So in 2009 California decided to shut down. It's called songs to San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station down. It was just north of San San Diego in the Southern California area. And that's the day the year that the the rolling blackouts began in California every summer. And then now we see right now that Governor Cuomo and the mayor of New York City are talking about how New Yorkers need to conserve their electricity in the summer because they're about to have to, or they're going to have to go into rolling blackouts. Well, literally, two months ago, they shut down Indian Point, nuclear power generating station. So every time we see we shut down nuclear, you see the fact that renewables can't keep up. So they have to, you know, basically is rolling blackouts or the to quit switch over to fossils. And a lot of cases, it's both, when New York shut down Indian Point, their carbon emissions spiked by 35%. overnight. So that's one of those crazy things when you look at it that we know nuclear is carbon free. And we have evidence of it. And you know, so we know it can and But the big thing is getting to the future, but how do we go from these large scale reactors that take a decade to build on to, you know, how quickly can we build these and when you get into modular construction, that's probably the best way to get there.

Wow, that's a lot of notes. To start off, I have my So usually, my paper I have here for my trusty notes, when I'm going through and trying to recap episodes and you stay up to date with what we're talking about is, it's usually gonna take about 25 minutes to fill a page, I think I have a full page right now in the first five minutes. So that's impressive, because you're going through and let's kind of start off here from how we approach things the program through the sales based lens, right solutions based selling particularly and in this in this really way you've outlined what nucular is and the impact that nuclear has already, and then showing the impact that we know nuclear can have. And you're starting to touch on a lot of what I say a lot of as it relates to number one, the number one objection I've seen about nuclear is the safety of nuclear, particularly in the waste of nuclear, not only does this Aurora from oklo run on nuclear waste, but it lasts for 20 years. That's, like fascinating, that's incredible that that the technology is to the point now, where one of the main objections that I remember hearing is now being resoundingly answered. So I would say number one, that's a great way to overcome that objection. But let's be real market, there's going to be folks out there who are gonna be fighting tooth and nail against nuclear. So what are some of those common attacks that you hear from folks who say, No, nuclear is not the way to go? What's their argument?

There are, since the arguments usually come into nouns, and those two, it's two nouns. And it's Chernobyl and Fukushima, because of the accidents. Chernobyl was terrible, killed 51 people, you have the area for you, that is now an exclusion zone, Fukushima, we melted down three reactors destroyed a total of four. And I say we because I own that as part of the industry, right? I use we in this and then I'm gonna own my failures. But we have to look at it. Those were, you know, 1960s design reactors, and Chernobyl is the big one. What about Chernobyl, and what's your normal didn't have a containment structure. So the containment, if it had one, it would work, this design would have kept the, you know, the explosion that occurred because they had a steam explosion. And then with Fukushima, if we'd let the Get up, if we knew about the operators of at TEPCO, the Tokyo Electric Power Company, if we let them actually do their job, and not require the government to say yes to a bunch of things, those reactors wouldn't have exploded

time out. Explain that. I'm curious, what do you mean, the government not letting them do their jobs? What did the government do and Fukushima, they're not letting them do their job that could have prevented it.

So when in the United States, the shift manager can release radioactive gases into the atmosphere? Because they have the health and safety of the public at the forefront. They don't ask permission. They're going to do it. And the governor is going to respond based on the way the plan operates. That's how the US does it. In Japan, in order to do that, they have to get permission from government entities. And so they didn't get the permission to events off the gas. And because the reactor was generating a bunch of hydrogen gas, it builds up and you basically had four little mini Hindenburg actually, macro Hindenburg explosions. Right. So you have four hydrogen gas explosions.

Casual, no big deal. Thanks, government. Isn't government. Great, sorry to interrupt your train of thought I thought it was important to make sure we focused on

that's great. And then the other government intervention with with both those events is that you know, they have these forced evacuations, right. They have got themselves and the public so afraid of radiation. That you can't be anywhere near radiation is bad radiation is bad. But there's a band, there's actual studies that say that if you don't get enough radiation, you will actually die of cancer at higher rates than people who do receive radiation. Right? Your body has to develop a defense mechanisms against those cancer cells that are produced in your body, you just don't you have to find that right band. And I'll tell you, the airline industry actually has higher rates of cancer due to radiation exposure than the nuclear industry does. Because pilots fly they get a lot of solar radiation. So but it's natural, right? We always hear well, it's natural, it's natural. Well, you know what cyanide is natural to, but I'm not going to go around, you know, inhaling a bunch of cyanide. Right? So we have to understand that just because it's natural doesn't mean it's good for you. So an understanding of the different aspects, you know, how radiation works on our back on way into my train of thought, so I want to steer me back, right? Yeah,

yeah, no, no. So well, we'll go back because the common objections, right, you start to touch on the first being Chernobyl, Fukushima. So those being tossed out. And then you started talking about more the radiation being bad. What other objections Do you see going through the industry in terms of people staining against nuclear energy?

So the other one is, is cost. And we've already discussed that with the modular construction, right? So once you get modular construction, it drops the price. And we know it drops the price, we've seen it in the industry, it's just no one wants to listen to the fact that we do it on submarines all the time. And then the big one, like we talked about is the waste, and a lot of people because the waste lasts a long time. Right? But it's highly controlled nuclear waste has killed exactly zero people on planet Earth, right? And people don't realize that you can walk up to a, you could go up to the the Trojan power station, what's left of it, right, Trojans shut down in the 90s. And they're literally all that's left is the switchyard. And the casks that contain the nuclear waste the spent nuclear fuel that oklo can run off, and he could walk up and hug those things and no problem, right? It's what you get, you got to pull these things apart, they're difficult to pull apart. You know, so and the ways to get talked about terrorism. And I'm like, you know, what, if I'm a terrorist, I'm not going to a nuclear site to get the waste, I'm going to a hospital to get radiation therapy treatments, right. radiotherapy treatments, because there's less security, it's easier to handle. It's portable, it's designed to be portable. nuclear waste is not designed to be portable, designed to be the opposite of portable. So that's the other thing. And they know there's a what's going to stack up the quantity of it. So again, we talked about time, we don't know how big they are, or how much waste they generate. We were talking about the fuel density, right? A gummy bear of uranium contains as much energy as a tonne of coal. Right, so giant mound of coal, like like three rail cars worth of coal, it and I might have the numbers off here is is equal to one gummy bear your lifetime in a traditional nuclear reactor can be powered off of one soda cans worth of uranium. But if we switch to advanced reactor designs, you can power 20 lifetimes off of that one soda can of uranium because we're using all the energy instead of just 5% of the energy. So it's very dense. When you look at that submarine behind me. It operates for 33 years, and the nuclear waste from it will fit in a 55 gallon trashcan. So Oh, yeah.

Interesting. Okay, so now folks, we've heard we have the product, it is new killer to the problem that we see folks out there. Number one energy, the energy crisis number two, climate change. So let's focus on those problems right now. Right, we're offering the solution, we hear the objections. So now we know what to prepare for, to overcome them. So let's focus on the positive outcomes. We're selling this to your average person. They're a little weary of nuclear because they've heard these objections throughout all of their life. Pretty much they've you know, they've watched the documentaries of the mutants route from Chernobyl, right, whether that documentary or mockumentary? That's right. Yeah. So yeah. So So when you're, you're selling to folks, it's I would always argue it's important to help show that better future so it's hard. Let's give you the magic wand. You're helping us sell this to your average person. What would that magic future look like for folks if we did embrace this as a solution?

So that magic future would actually look a lot like France or Ontario, Canada, and they're very similar, right? In geographic size, not necessarily population, but also energy mixture, right. So France is 70%, nuclear, 25% Hydro and five For others, and they have 5% carbon emissions in their electrical grid. Ontario is about equivalent to that. And when you compare that to Germany, which is, by the way, the most carbon emitting nation in Europe, which is basically a braced renewable energy, right, you can look and you can see the comparison of the two, you can basically remove all this, you know, all these pollutants you're putting in the atmosphere from fossil fuels. But the other thing when you're looking at a nuclear energy is the nuclear energy actually has a great safety record. If you look at the amount of deaths per unit of energy, nuclear has the lowest except for solar farms. Right, and that's including turtle, Bob exclude Chernobyl, it becomes the lowest by a longshot. And part of that is the way the industry works. You have a government regulator, and you know, we can there are pros and cons to using the government is we have a government regulator, the baseless sits at the site, making sure that the operators are ensuring that the plant is following their safety protocols. They're using, you know, all the you know, meaning, you know, not just not just the nuclear aspect, but safety aspect, right, the number one killer of people in the wind, the wind and solar industry are false, right? They're not wearing their proper safety here, the United Kingdom is killing a person a month off of wind turbines alone. Right. Whereas the nuclear industry, it's, you know, I don't like talking about the death rate, because this is a scary thing. But the fact is, the nuclear industry strives to actually get that to zero, where is wind and solar, his death is ramping up in the United States. roofers, in the roofing industry has seen a 15% increase in deaths due to rooftop solar installation. Right. So the fact is, is that when you look at wind and solar, they're not the same things everyone wants to talk about, they're actually extremely dangerous, because they're not very regulated. They don't have someone going around and watching them do that. Because half the time you go to a wind farm, I have friends that they weren't, they got out of the Navy and went and worked in the wind, wind industry, because the pay is great. But they're climbing up on these 300 600 foot tall wind turbines. by themselves. There's no one within miles of them. If they don't put their fall harness on, it's on them. But if you work in a nuclear plant, right, you've got other people around you. And I haven't done it right, I had to wear a fall harness, and you did not dare walk up a ladder that require or very, that didn't require fall harness without having that on at a risk of losing your job. Right. So the fact is, or getting as a company getting a fine by the regulator. Right. So the fact is, is the nuclear industry has embraced regulation to the point of ensuring that safety is paramount in you know, the idea of producing energy.

Can I play devil's advocate now about regulation? Because back to your original point about the cost of regulation EU us Japan specifically is that maybe a threat a looming threat, if we were to do our SWOT analysis of nuclear energy, one of those threats coming down the road was as nuclear energy becomes more and more prevalent, that that would incentivize more regulation that could lead to more disasters like Fukushima.

So um, when you look at the advanced the advances in reactor technologies that can be installed in current reactor systems, and that we're testing the United States, the United States is testing this stuff, and Russia and China are testing a lot of these things. There are a few designs that basically would have been if they weren't that exist today that are in the final phases of commercial testing, that if you went you put that fuel design into the reactors at Fukushima, like let's say we could go back in time to to march 10 2011. If you stuck all those that fuel into those reactors, they may have melted down because of a lock loss of cooling but they would not have generated any hydrogen gas so you would not have the explosions. So just with technologies that we have today that are that are just almost down the line that are they're being installed final phases to be mass used. We're seeing an improved and safety and then leads to designs like the Aurora. The Aurora actually has safety features that prevents it from being able to melt down and the United States prove this with the the EBR two reactor actually, the ebrt reactor they showed that they can shut down gave it a worse than Fukushima scenario. It shut itself down once a hot idle state and stayed there till they decided to bring it back online. So with when you change the designs of reactors going away from water is your cooling, you actually develop a better safety margin. And that's one of the big arguments, the anti, you know, advanced nuclear architect, well, but what about sodium? sodium is explosive? And I'm like, Well, yeah, okay, liquid sodium is explosive if it gets in contact with water. But you put nitrogen and blankets on these things, that it's really not, there's actually never been an issue of a sodium exposure at a nuclear power plant. And by the way, Russia operates several of these on their submarines. And they have large scale commercial reactors that operate using sodium coolant.

You just haven't had them get tested against aliens? Have you mark, you

know, aliens? Or I like to think of velociraptors with frickin laser beams on their forehead. Like that's, that's either way. Yeah, that's that's the big thing. You know, there's there's a famous article, this nuclear famous article talking about, you know, what happens if you were to, you know, breach a nuclear power plant, and you're trying to swim down to touch the, the, or what would happen to your body if you're swimming in spent fuel pool where the where the spent fuel is, is stored until it's into long term storage. And it talks about the effects of the radiation. But the very last line of the article says, But don't worry, you wouldn't make it past the first two feet. Before your your your blood basically filled the top of the pool, as you were, you know, riddled with bullets from the security guards.

Yeah, I will. So let's do this. We're wrapping up. We're, we've already painted the better picture. But let's outline an objective timeline. Because I think this is where people sometimes are like, this sounds great. Will I ever see this actually happen? You're talking about the Aurora. It's actually out there. It's a product that is now going into production. We're seeing it being embraced. So what's the timeline look for this nucular future? Is this something we're going to see 510 15 years mark.

So right now it's looking like spring of 2023, that oklo should be breaking ground on their their first Aurora in Idaho, in the spring of 2023, also, another company new scale is a more advanced design of a traditional reactor, this modular smaller than the current large scale reactors. And they've got a 12 unit facility that they're going to break are also in Idaho, they're going to break ground on as well, right around that same timeframe. Wyoming is in the process of changing legislation, and working to, with Terra power to build a test reactor design there. There are three, three other government sites that are selected for advanced reactor designs. The Russians broke ground and are building a brand new fast reactor that's going to run on nuclear waste out. In I think it's more of the central area of Russia, specifically, the Chinese have several advanced designs that they are working on right now. So as a, you know, when you look at the timeline, this stuff is here now under construction, and it's rapidly coming to the forefront. We see lots and lots of companies that are pushing for developing agreements. Last I heard new scale has agreements like 12 different countries to build nuclear reactors in nations like South Africa, Poland, Ukraine, United States, maybe Canada, maybe the United Kingdom. So they're, they're looking at their first 12 unit facility is going to break ground. But they're looking at the next decade, potentially, like two to 300 of their 75 megawatt units. So Whoa. So really quick, what

what just I know, we're getting short in time, but like, what is this going to look like? What will this do mean? It is going to be like if Tesla got his way in the early 1900s. Like going forward, like the world would be you know, floating cars right now. Is that kind of that the point we're at where if we get this nuclear energy, changing the way that we look at energy, that I mean, goodness, the sky's the limit?

Yes, the sky's the limit. And when you're looking at the amount of energy that we have available to us, right, you know, everyone talks about, you know, how fuel is going to run out and all that so like, right now, I think there's enough in available uranium reserves for like 80 years, that's without, you know, sourcing new uranium and that's, that's just using our current lightwater reactor designs, right, you only use they use 0.7% of the uranium and so you multiply that times basically 130 or something like that. So now you've taken 80 times 130. And that's, you know, that's not even excluding what we have is other waste products. That is depleted uranium is like tank bullets and stuff like that and armor that we could then use as as fuel and then you Getting the thorium right I'm gonna give you a little bit of touch on thorium. So you don't get you know too much beat up on on that. But when you get into Thor and our, so we have like 80 to like, you know, centuries, we're probably in the 1000s of years, then Thor and extends it into like, you know, 10s of 1000s if not hundreds of 1000s of years potentially we have up to a million years of viable energy on planet earth in the form of nuclear energy.

Wow, that's pretty darn cool. Well, how about that, folks, that's a that's a call to action right there ever heard one, explore this as a solution that we have a million years worth of energy right here and good old Planet Earth, you don't need to go to Mars or wherever it is that Ilan is gonna go in the future. So with that being said, Mark, obviously, what we want to make sure we're able to continue this conversation with folks, because this is something that I'm excited to learn more about, especially as we are heading towards that time for Aurora 2023. That's right around the corner, folks, believe it or not less than a year and a half away. So with that being said, Mark, where can folks go ahead and follow you support the work you're doing? And obviously Why go ahead and learn more?

Yeah, so you can find me on Twitter. My Twitter handle is at sub Schneider as a sub is in submarine and my last name Schneider. I like to make it simple. Keep it simple, stupid. That's what they taught me in the Navy. So, um, but yeah, that's, that's kind of the biggest thing. You know, and I just kind of advocate I go, I go in and out of advocating for just because I get busy in my life. I have six kids. I work full time. I'm going to college right now, too. So, you know, it's, you know, I've got a busy life. So sometimes I just got I can't I can't do this hobbies as much

but six kids. Yeah, you were busy. Don't get in there, Mark. Well, Mark, thank you so much. We'll make sure we include all your links there in the show notes, folks. If you want to go ahead and continue the conversation, head over the show notes, click the links there. And of course, with that being said, Mark Schneider. Thanks for joining us on today's episode of The Brian Nichols Show. Thank you so much.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

Mark Schneider

Nuclear Futurist

Mark Schneider is a nuclear futurist, a leading expert in emerging Gen IV Nuclear and the President of Gen IV Nuclear Inc. with over two decades of experience in the Nuclear Industry both in the United States Navy and as a commercial power plant operator.

Mark has a bachelor's degree in Nuclear Engineering Technology. He has utilised his skills from his past Nuclear experience to develop his ability to educate and train the public on the emerging Gen IV Nuclear Technologies. His experience is beyond just the operations of nuclear power plants but also how new technologies can be associated with nuclear power. His Green Nuclear Deal is the answer to Climate Change that answers both the environment and economical effects. Gen IV will make negative CO2 emissions technologies viable. The idea is to directly suck carbon dioxide out of the air. There are start-ups working on this now and Gen IV Nuclear will make this a viable technology for the future.