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Human Factors and Energy Transistion

Noah Rettberg

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Chris Keefer  0:00  

Welcome back to Decouple. Today I'm joined by I've lost count, I think for time returning guests, Noah Rettberg. Definitely someone who is frequently in the top five, although you jostle in position with Doomberg, Mark Nelson, Caleb Kallemets. Some of the other Decouple favorites. No, and I talk a lot kind of offline. And we have these fabulous conversations and I was kicking myself for not recording them. So today, we're going to be doing a little bit of a smorgasbord something probably a little more casual. I hope it's going to be entertaining for the listeners. But as a quick reminder, beyond that glowing introduction, Noah is a physics laboratory technician and training, and a member of the German pronuclear movement called nuclear Aria. previous episodes definitely worth checking out. The Grim fairy tale of German electricity was your first appearance. And I'm sure I remember the other titles but you've given us some great I'll say it

Noah Rettberg  0:56  

was a canary in a coal mine and how to fail an energy transition.

Chris Keefer  1:00  

Those are the exact titles anyway No, it's awesome seeing you again welcome back to Decouple

Noah Rettberg  1:06  

mn thanks for having me here and allow me to punch way above my weight being in the top Decouple episodes with like, actually accomplished people like Calif and Mark and Doomberg.

Chris Keefer  1:18  

Well, you know, Decouple is a meritocracy. And you've earned your position. I'll just put it that way. The guests I mean, it sorry, not the guests, the listeners have decided no, so you're just gonna have to, you know, it's good. Stay humble, but you deserve it. Anyway, let's, let's just catch up a little bit. I don't think he needs to do the self introduction because you're such a Decouple veteran. But what's new, what's exciting? What do you think about these days? No.

Noah Rettberg  1:42  

Specifically, the last days, we have had a severe downturn, Florida, in Germany and all over Europe. I mean, those are not countrywide phenomena. Those are continent wide phenomena. And we are experiencing basically a doldrum at the same time of having almost no sun out all over the continent, with some exceptions, like in Denmark and the most western parts of Britain. But basically, there's a continent wide phenomenon, no, no mound of interconnectors will say that and it's enduring now for three days, and we're burning blackness amounts of coal right now. I mean, we've seen receding mounds of coal online coal and gas online on the German grid that basically a year ago I would not have thought they would be technically able to get on the grid right we have now 31 data Watts and 17 of coal 17 Zero watts of gas like hats off to Mr. Harvey I was actually skeptical that it would bring enough coal and gas online to replace those three giant reactors but apparently he did.

Chris Keefer  2:53  

That's in that is a kit like there's been a few headlines that have flashed past and I haven't like fact check them all. But have you guys already brought those five semi retired lignite plants back on line is that part of what's contributed to the amazing success of keeping the German grid alive

Noah Rettberg  3:08  

was so when we talked about semi retired lignite plants we have brought I think several smaller units back I think when we did our last episode, they have already brought three plants back. No, not three plants, three units back, but those were smaller units. We have also brought back other plants like we have bought a bituminous coal plants better like the Haydn coal power plants which is effectively replacing their own nuclear power plant. We have also brought back 800 gigawatts called unit in the south of my state, the name escapes me and yeah, we have brought several coal power plants back online and did a similar thing with gas

Chris Keefer  3:57  

and like how visible Are they like when they fire back up? Because I mean, I know from friends that did a bicycle trip across Germany they were just like their fucking wind turbines everywhere. You know, like that none of the energy infrastructure is like very visible. I'm just wondering like I've seen footage of the Mordor lignite pits, and you know, Jesse Freeston, did a good little tour with Thijs Beckers in that region but you know for instance that coal plant that fired back up in the south of your like your state is that something like that a German would be aware of is it just because we're paying attention to electricity map and seeing that Germany is the same color as fucking Poland right now in terms of carbon emissions and electricity man or like how visible is it's a German public health awareness German public of the fact that they are just cruising on like majority coal now?

Noah Rettberg  4:44  

I mean, you will, we will read it in some outlets, but if you don't read it, you will not see it. It's not visible to you if you don't either follow the data or, or the outlets that you trust it will write about it but um, It's just another tower blowing some steam in the air, we have, you will see that also from many industrial sites, we need rival on highways. So that is not not an uncommon sight and those power plants, while they are more massive, I mean not more massive but more volume is the nuclear power plant, they are larger in that regard. It's usually one or two units of them and not 1000s of them that you have with wind power plants. So most people will not notice this.

Chris Keefer  5:33  

Is their air quality issues like the people notice like the air is worse or like, are they far enough away from urban centers that you don't really notice it. The other thing I've heard from from Hold on. The other thing I've heard from activists in Ontario Antinuclearism, Ontario is who pointed Germany as the example as recently as last year, out of Friday's for future climate march, they said, you know, Germany has shut their old coal plants and the ones they have online are state of the art, they're really good for the air, they've got great, you know, particulate capture systems. I mean, you guys do things? Well, you're good nation of engineers.

Noah Rettberg  6:05  

So I would 20 Agreed, subscribe to that. Those drum power plants, this is not Nanticoke, which has barely any air filtering system. Those, those coal power plants that we have today are pretty much dead. Already in the 60s when, when air quality, we, as a matter of fossil fuel burning became such a big issue that couldn't be no longer ignored. We implemented evermore increasing regulations on them. And the way that this works with coal and also with nuclear is basically that what the drum regulations say is that your plant has to be state of the art. So this is basically the technological requirement that all those drum nuclear power plants that this is also the reason why all those drum nuclear power plants got so many upgrades over their lifetime. While basically all the American wants that statement. The American nuclear regulator said, Don't touch anything, keep everything as it is because it's kind of safe the way it isn't. We don't trust new stuff. And new stuff has gone through a rigorous process. The German regulators endorsed the nuclear operators to implement newer and safer technology in their plant, and sometimes even forced them to shut down plants when they didn't. And a similar thing is true, although they are less rigid there with the fossil fuel plants. So those coal power plants growing back online, and burning a crap ton of coal does not affect German air quality, to the degree that, for example, an anti cold been online would affect Toronto air quality, but they will still negatively impact Durham air quality. And we will see probably 1000s of very 10s of 1000s of more people getting sick from this, and probably hundreds of people dying from the additional air pollution from the Drop Off Plan. So this is definitely the fact but it's will not be as severe as it was in Toronto,

Chris Keefer  8:12  

you know, I want to get to get a little bit more of an update on the kind of current situation in Germany, you are kind of our official German correspondent, we're going to be getting to, I think a more theoretical discussion of something that we're both passionate about, which is the human factors element of energy transition. So, you know, just to give our listeners a sense of what's coming up. But just, I guess a couple more anecdotes. I mean, it's funny how we get our information and how it's filtered. You know, our perceptions of the world are so incomplete, especially with social media algorithms kind of feeding us content, further siloing us into our communities, but you know, some of the stuff that crosses my plate is like a German exercise phenomenon, like dancing to stay warm. You know, I think, again, this is probably skewed by my biases that this comes across my platform. I don't think it's the new exercise craze to hit Germany, but I guess I'm just trying to get a sense of, you know, what is the overall gestalt feeling on the street in terms of energy crisis, is it you know, some people have suggested and again, my bias is might be that it's, it's, you know, the human experience of it is worse than it is. But again, from a German on the ground there, what's the overall sense of how the energy crisis is proceeding? And the effects you're feeling kind of in society, be it turning down your thermostats or more factories closing or whatever comes to mind for you.

Noah Rettberg  9:30  

So different people are feeling this energy crisis differently, depending how materially well off they are, where they live, how they live, what what their jobs are. So what we are already seen is slowly ramping up the industrialization of Germany, which now basically even drum state media doesn't say isn't happening anymore. So this is all Ready growing on, and it's really growing on. And this, this feeling of this 10 hurts our economy severely. And in the long run, I think this is very present in the German mind, with maybe some exceptions, among very ardent green supporters. But this feeling of something is broken down is present regarding to the our people freezing in their home, certainly, but this has always been the case that not everyone was like being able to pay their bills. But this is much more severely this this winter now that we will have more people that are lowering their thermostats in order to save gas, not because they want to, but because they have to say I can't afford it anymore. But this also varies. How well off you are where where do you get your energy from many people have like district heating, they don't need to rely on that. Oil has been getting a little bit more cheaper. Right now, it's still very expensive, but it's not as expensive as it used to be during the peak of light, two euros per liter. So people with oily heating are probably a bit more are a bit better off in this sense right now. So this definitely will affect what is definitely happening right now as we are seeing a lot of people burning a lot more firewood to stay warm. And this is a vector of air pollution that will be increasing. As with many home fireplaces, I mean, we are now seeing them getting air filters, but many don't have them. So unlike those coal power plants, they are unfiltered. And in large cities that can become a problem less on the countryside. But in cities it does. So let's let's start on. It's super

Chris Keefer  11:51  

interesting in in Canada, like we have the province of Quebec, which is you know, almost all hydroelectricity, the heat with hydro, their winter peaking. But there's a kind of romantic attachment in Canada to burning wood. I mean, I used to think it smelled good when I walked down a city block and hurt and smelled a woodfired chimney. As I learned more about air pollution, I started to think otherwise. And you know, an interesting kind of factoid is I liked

Noah Rettberg  12:16  

it. I grew up on the countryside, we had wood fired oven as like an auxiliary heating device. I fucking loved it. I fucking loved it, chopping down some some old trees on our garden that were too old would sit and then having some mates and dropping it into little pieces of firewood put it in the oven in the winter, drinking a hot cup of cultural and my mother reading Christmas tales to me. So I very much sympathize with the feeling of of sympathy that people have for firewood, I can understand that.

Chris Keefer  12:55  

It's the equivalent though in the city Anyway, well in the country as well. But I guess the city you know, you're more jam packed together of idling a semi truck an 18 Wheeler, just having it idling in front of your house, apparently, it's similar kind of in terms of the air quality issues. And what I was saying about Quebec, Montreal, they actually banned the use of home, you know, fireplaces, because they were getting smog days in the winter, despite heating with electricity and having a very, very clean energy system. Anyway, there's an interesting anecdote, let's, um, let's shift gears and move on to some of the stuff we've been sort of talking about offline and wanting to get out to the masses. As I said, you know, I talk a lot about the nuclear secret sauce, I'm not going to do it again, in in depth, because my listeners are probably tired of hearing me reference it and are probably well acquainted with it. But in short, you know, it's trying to identify what were the preconditions of the various successful nuclear Bill does that happen over and over again, country and country to country like a relay race, passing the baton? And, you know, briefly, those were low interest, capital, favorable governance with good stable regulations, you know, a nuclear reactor design that's proven, standardized, and then supply chains and human factors, you know, intimately familiar with nuclear building and with the design that is being built. I've already gone on too long. But you know, the Human Factors element I think we both agree is kind of one of the critical elements of the story that gets least talked about, we're always talking about reactor designs and, you know, reactor sizes, should they be small versus large. We're aware of, you know, how high interest capital can drive prices up through the roof. But this whole labor element, I think, is a passion for both of us. And particularly when talking about, you know, this potential for a nuclear renaissance and how ambitious we can be, I think both of us would like to see 1000 reactors bloom. But I think both of us have spent enough time analyzing this field to understand that, as much as we might wish for that. but it's just not going to happen on any kind of a short timescale, particularly that would be consistent with some of our climate goals. But human factors, I think, is that something that we kind of agree on as being, you know, a Caleb Kallemets was on and he kind of agreed that has the longest lead time, you know, you can get a reactor pressure vessel a lot faster than you can train up a whole workforce. Are you in? Are you in agreement that human factors is probably the greatest limiting step, not just to nuclear, but to any energy transition? Or do you have a alternative hypothesis?

Noah Rettberg  15:31  

Yes, I would, I would, I would subscribe to that there is really nothing, no resource that is really a limiting factor to nuclear. And the only limiting factor that we have will struggle to overcome is slaver requirements. Nuclear has barely any land with firemans, barely any material requirements, lead stuff that would actually be a consumable and nuclear reactors, fissile materials or Chronium. All that stuff is plentiful, the available. So that doesn't limit us in how much nuclear we can get all that will limit us in the long run, is, how many people can we get into into nuclear? And how much energy will be generated per human working into nuclear?

Chris Keefer  16:24  

I think I think we're in agreement that I mean, there's people talk about, like, you know, Uranium reserves are limited. If we did add, like 20 to 30 reactors every year, we'd be out of uranium in seven or two years, I know that you're a big fan of sodium fast reactors, and there are ways to breed nuclear fuel and really extend that I think Nick Touran is on the record of saying we have like a billion years of nuclear fuel if we were to close the fuel cycle. So, you know, uranium often comes up as a potential limiter, in terms of like the long term viability of nuclear. But let's let's keep, let's keep focused on the human factors and dive into that a little in a little bit more of a granular level.

Noah Rettberg  17:01  

Where do I start? I want to ask you one question. Why do you think that Pressurized Water Reactors are so dominant in let it stood there candles, which are also kind of pressurized? But why do you think that Pressurized Water Reactors, for example, were so popular, especially in the US, which was one of the first big movers basically, the first big mover in nuclear,

Chris Keefer  17:24  

I mean, the narrative that I'm most familiar with is that Rickover, you know, went for that with the submarine design, the Nautilus. And then because that was kind of the most developed technology by the US Navy, the most mature one, that it just kind of dominated as they moved into power plants. So that's, that's the story that I've heard. And there's the thorium bros who say there's a bit more of a conspiracy theory and that it's all tied into nuclear weapons and that they could have gone the kind of molten salt thorium route, and but they didn't, because you wouldn't get weapons grade material. Those are the two, you know, maybe the ones I'm most familiar with in terms of theories, but I'm guessing that you have a shocker here for us. No,

Noah Rettberg  18:01  

no, it's, it's I mean, you're kind of go into the right direction. Of course, Rick over snooty Navy played a big role in that. And this is simply for the reason that in many US nuclear power plants in the US not still currently, but even more in the past, of the people working there were people that used to work on nuclear submarines, nuclear aircraft carriers, the US nuclear Navy, cranked out a lot of nuclear technician that worked 10 to 20 years as nuclear technicians on those vessels. And then when they retired, they were still at an age where they could sort of work for 20 more years. And they then went and did what they were best running Pressurized Water Reactors. So when we see this period, where the US nuclear civil nuclear fleet enters its like decline phase in the early 80s, late 70s. Manpower issues were their biggest concern. And you clearly say that this, US nuclear Navy was one of their largest source of manpower of qualified labor for them as it kept cranking out still nuclear technicians. And fewer and fewer of the bright people that wanted to go into nuclear went into nuclear as other technologies, like the early computer age was more attractive to many nerds in the US. So this manpower was a limiting issue for the US. And for light water reactors and Pressurized Water Reactors, you have had a had a source of skilled manpower, even though it was limited, it was steady flowing source manpower.

Chris Keefer  19:45  

So that's an interesting history regarding that skilled labor force because, you know, one of the narratives that I'm familiar with in terms of nuclear advocacy is that you know, nuclear is such a great thing for the surrounding communities because you know, with little More than a high school education, you can be upskilled. You know, again, with maybe just a high school degree into becoming a nuclear operator, so that runs contrary to some things I've heard. Can you expand on that a little bit and help me understand a little bit more of the composition of of that nuclear workforce.

Noah Rettberg  20:16  

So I'm most familiar with, of course, the German fleet. So what I can give you is more information of the German fleet. So those enormous 1.4 gigawatts German nuclear reactors, they usually have a workforce of around 300 to 400 people depends if it's a single unit or double unit site. Lemon has a little bit less people it has a little bit less because it has to have the same units on the same side. If you are on a shift in this German nuclear power plant, you have people that are doing security, you have some maintenance technicians, machinists, electricians, microtronix that are doing or they're doing normal word test, I'm doing some upkeep operations, you have people working, basically on standby. So if something breaks, it's very interesting to have something like this happening. At the same time, when we had a demonstration at Pune, one control line broke, and of the four redundant control lines one broke, so that another one would break off those control lines, then the plant had to go offline. So they had it was on a weekend and they had to call an electrician working during the night and keeping and repairing those control line until all four redundant control ends were working. So you have this the the maintenance workforce working during normal work days, you have those standby maintenance workforce, basically that you have just a call to come in, maybe have some maintenance workforce, it is always there as part of the shifts, you have eight guys in the control room to for the cooling towers to for the rector to for the turbine Island, shift supervisor and vice supervisor. So basically that shift supervisor is the only person that would really be required to be an academic, he is leading the plant department, he would need to be enlightened engineer or physicist or chemists or something like natural academic, all the other peoples including the not the shift to forever the second interim man basically, who is doing most of the work keeping running the plant. Actually, the second increment is far more important, basically, from what I've heard from the people working there, then the first increment, or those are not required to really to be damaged. So there are a lot of technicians there that have not went to university but have instead were went to trade school become a good one. It's bedtime, electricians, come pipe fitters, plumbers, whatever. And then, basically, we're further educated to be a nuclear operators. And this is probably also something that could be open to me when I finish with my training as a physics lab technician that I could go to Switzerland and further be trained as a nuclear operator. So this is what probably I could do. And so yes, those people were many of them were not academics, they are not just people who got a high school degree, they definitely need that proper professional training. And were tested to very high standards. They trained on very good simulators for a long time. So those are properly trained people. And they earn a lot of money, when you are on the parking lot of that road nuclear power plant, you will see a lot of very good cars.

Chris Keefer  23:55  

I mean, not so much the car side of things, but just the kind of human flourishing element, people reaching their full potential is I think one of the reasons I'm passionate about nuclear. You know, I did a Myers Briggs Personality Test a little while ago, and the sort of core theme of my personality type, the thing that gives me the greatest satisfaction is, you know, watching and assisting people blossom into their full potential. And, you know, when I go up to Bruce County, which is, you know, it's had a bit of a fishing pass, there's some farming there. But before the nuclear power plant was there, there wasn't much going on economically, the level of skilled trades and engineering and stem and academics wasn't very high. And the way in which that nuclear power plant over a generation has just transformed the human potential of of that region is something that's, you know, I think, truly commendable and astonishing. And, you know, something I talk about my kind of just transition testimony is, you know, the stark differences that we have between wind and solar future of, you know, slapping together, Chinese manufactured have solar panels and wind turbines in a way that's de localized transient, frankly, shitty work, you know, with low paying wages or something like nuclear. Now, there's often a sort of a competing selling point here of well, there's going to be millions of green energy jobs. You know, this is part of the just transition. There's a lot of, you know, public relations and marketing around that, I think, not enough analysis. And I remember reading a Twitter thread of yours recently that was this talking about this very question. In terms of the limitations on the kind of quality or just how well paying a job can be, with this sort of conventional idea,

Noah Rettberg  25:39  

there's certainly some real pain drops in those newer sectors. I don't want to deny that. But let me be, let me be clear, you're here to pot in points that are constantly being regurgitated from people trying to sell renewable energy to the public, as it is very cheap. And it will bring a lot of it will be a lot of work to our people, we have a lot of workplaces that will be established from the ruble sectors. And basically, if you have any understanding of economics, or basically, primary school math, what you can make from this is if it has to, it will pay a lot of people, but it will be very cheap. That will mean it has to pay a lot of people a very shady salary. That is the consequence of this. And if we put in the quantity of energy generated per human labor input, then we will find that wind and solar are one of the rows sources of energy that there can be. And contemporary modern fossil fuel distractions are one of the best in that matter, and nuclear and hydro and geothermal, they fit somewhere in the middle in a decent middle. So if you really want to believe this, it's true. I mean, it has burned into my mind is my prime example. Like back in the days when, when when Trump was still a thing, and he talked about, we need to bring our miners back to work? How many Melton liberals love to talk about, oh, there are just 80,000 coal miners in our country, but we have millions of people working in renewables. But still, they're cold mates and many, many more times and more energy than the renewables and you don't see the problem that is there. Don't see it. Because the left to do we have we are so stuck in this slide 2008 financial crisis mindset of oh, there are not enough workspaces around here that oh, we will create, we will create workplaces. So so this is an achievement No, when you're when your energy policy is a jobs program, it will fail, it will utterly fail at being an energy policy, because energy policy is not to bring jobs to your people, energy policy is to bring reliable, sustainable, and cheap energy to your people, which will then allow you to have other industries that can thrive off that cheap, reliable and sustainable energy. And that requires you to have the least amount of labor going into the energy sector per unit of energy generated. And that is definitely not the case with wind and solar energy. And if, if if all those renewables pundits, and especially politicians and and media creators, have never spent a day in their life, working in or concerning themselves, with our heavy industry, birds would know anything, they would know how a saying Oh, renewables will meet. So it will create so many jobs does not speak for renewables, it speaks against them, what you want to do is create a small amount of very high paying jobs that provide a lot of energy so that a lot of industry can then thrive off that

Chris Keefer  29:07  

maybe, you know, following through with a German example that you're familiar with, like having lived through the Energiewende. I mean, in terms of this jobs creation program, clearly when you have an energy dilute source that requires a lot more steel, a lot more concrete, a lot more rare earth minerals. If you look at the job supply chain, I mean, there's a whole bunch lack of jobs in China, a bunch of them are essentially forced or slave labor in Xinjiang, for instance. But let's say there's a lot of jobs in China and Vietnam, you know, rolling the metal towers for your wind turbines, etc. In Germany, you said there's some well paying jobs in renewables. Is that more on the kind of finance side is that in the sort of, you know, maintenance of offshore wind turbines, which is pretty dangerous in high skilled work? What does it look like? You know, in Ontario when we had our Green Energy Act, we were promised 50,000 green energy jobs because we were going to become a manufacturing hub for or this wind and solar infrastructure. In the end that didn't pan out there was a World Trade Organization in ruling that said, No, that's protectionism, you can't actually mandate that the stuff is made in province or in country. And obviously right now we're seeing kind of companies like GE, and Vestas. And I think as gamma saw, the three remaining big wind turbine manufacturers outside of China are really in crisis and losing a lot of money right now. But you know, back in the glory days of Energiewende, in what did it look like as a jobs program in Germany, is that part of why the Energiewende had an enduring level of support up until the energy crisis.

Noah Rettberg  30:38  

So the thing is that Germany would profit very rapidly from 2008 2009 financial crisis. So basically, in the early 2010s, like, being job training Jobs was not that important anymore. We have basically almost full employment for most of the 2010s. And certainly 20 stand a lot of that came from the renewable sector, which of course was plastered with incredible amounts of subsidies. So of course, they could also pay a lot of people very well. However, a lot of that money, did not just went into the pockets of of tradesmen, it went into the pockets of consultants of bankers, financiers, of lobbyists, and off of lawyers. So that was a huge drain on all that money, and certainly, then you have to pay all those tradesmen. However, one computation that we started running into in the late 2010s, is that Germany is running out of craftsmen and tradesmen right now. And it is really hard to get them in Germany right now, without having to pay a lot of it. Alternatively, you have to pay some, some less well of people from Eastern Europe that might charge less money for their labor. But even those are very well aware right now that they can charge more for their money for their work than they used to be able off. So we are running into scarcity of labor here. And this severely limits our ability to grow our renewable fleet during our peak build out time, we employed like 100,000 people in solar to transfer five gigawatts of solar per year. So you will basically we are employing 20,000 people to install $1 worth of solar. Keep in mind, one leader amount of German solar creates one terawatt hour. That is not a lot much when we talk about country scale, electricity production. As I said, plant like Wonder would have employed three, around 3000, a little bit less in the beginning a little bit less in the end construction workers for around five years, it would then last for around eight years if it was ever fully utilized. And what would make 10 terawatt hours with a workforce of 300 people. So we are good order of magnitude worse off than German nuclear was, although keep in mind German nuclear was most player efficient of many nuclear sectors around the world. And in the wind sector, we have a similar failure. We have like 200,000 people working there. And we deployed similar amounts of installed capacity, but winter has a little bit better as although a significantly better capacity factor than the solar has. So So yes, we have a similar feat with wind and we employ Around 40,000 people to install around gigawatts of wind annually. And the amount of people actually that are working, not installing, but in upkeep is also growing, grow our fleet. So in the beginning when we build a lot of wind employed a lot of people in wind, those were into building a lot of wind and now we are not building a lot of wind anymore but we are still employed a lot of people in wind anymore. Still employ a lot of people in wind. And we're doing that which was the result of upkeep to the wind and solar has less upkeep. But especially in solar since we are talking about a lot of rooftop solar growing online in Germany right now, which is also heavily subsidized not just from like feed in tariffs. But basically if you want to get a loan for your for your house in Germany right now, doing that with without putting some solar on top of it is very hard as there are state sponsored financing programs like Cafe treat Institute feed off ball that will almost refuse any financing of a building. If they're is not some solar on the rooftop or some heat pumps over, or some Zero Energy living. So this is very hard. And this is driving a lot of demand for rooftop solar, which do mountains, which drives a lot of demand for construction workers that are working in transporting moves. So data of people that build roofs are one of the trades in Germany that we are most low on right now. So all those roofing companies have a lot of have a lot of orders, and they don't have enough people building those. And we see the cost of rooftop solar going through the roof. Right now I've seen rooftop solar plants, like 10 kilowatts, 25,000 euros. And if we adjust that for capacity factor that is far more expensive than Votto.

Chris Keefer  35:51  

It's interesting, because, you know, there's, there's an all of the above ism, which is very common within the sort of clean energy sector. And I push back against it, because I think we should set clear goals and then analyze the available technologies based on their ability to meet those goals. And wind and solar have never historically met the goal of deep decarbonisation of an electricity grid. They've not been, to my mind terribly consistent with just transition, they compete for, you know, finite financial, and material resources, but I hadn't really been as cognizant of the fact that they compete for human resources to a degree, you know, we are within the West in general within the developing world dealing with a democratic demographic collapse on the one hand, and also the fact that it's not been sexy for young people to go into the skilled trades when they could go into university or go into coding or, you know, the gig of the computer, computer fields and things like that. So that's an interesting, you know, secondary limitation that I think we need to be more aware of when we decide on, you know, making choices about which technologies to deploy. And I think those numbers you quoted on on German nuclear versus wind and solar are very illustrative of that.

Noah Rettberg  37:04  

Yes, of course, but But I, I don't want to be unreasonably hard on them. Because German nuclear was a prime example how to get labor requirements, right? How to use very few people, there is still people to build a lot of nuclear and run a lot of nuclear and German renewables are severely punished from a low capacity factor that Dremen renewable states, so but even outside of Germany, you have a lot of sun, a lot more wind, and maybe your nuclear power plants are run less efficiently, you will still have this effect going on that you need, like three to four times more people for wind and solar than you need for nuclear. And that doesn't even count in any batteries or backup power plants,

Chris Keefer  37:50  

right? No, I mean, certainly Canadian Nuclear, I'd have to check the numbers. But it's definitely probably 700 to 1000 people per per gigawatt capacity at our candles, because they just tend to be a little more labor intensive with online refueling and things like that

Noah Rettberg  38:02  

still beats still be to the renewables. But yes, you need a lot of people to run them.

Chris Keefer  38:07  

There's also a lot of jobs, you know, frankly, like visit it was interesting visiting Hunterston via an advanced gas reactor in the UK. And at first, it was just right, anyway, there was a lot less. You know, there's far fewer health physicists, for instance, the security going in was much more basic. I mean, they had arm security, but it was way lighter. You went through a metal detector, I don't think it was even any radiation screening on the way in or the way out, it was just a way more relaxed environment. I mean, we didn't go into anywhere where we have a real risk of contamination, but certainly at my Canadian Nuclear Plant visits, it's wild. I mean, you spend a third of the visit just going through radiation detectors. But all that aside, I mean, just just to close this conversation on the German renewables, you know, when I talked to the head of the cop, 26, German delegation in Glasgow, you know, it was that interview with Stefan Hall fair that's available, if you want to check the archives, my dear listeners, but you know, one of the things I was I was sort of buttering him up on was, you know, Germany was an early leader on renewables. You know, they had developed quite a manufacturing sector around them. And he was very quick to say, Yeah, but it's really all gone to China. Now. How long did it take for Germany to lose a lot of its, I think, particularly solar manufacturing, and how much is left in terms of companies like Vestas, or the wind, wind turbine manufacturers? How quickly is that moving as as those become less profitable? I've heard of big layoffs.

Noah Rettberg  39:33  

Yes, it's happening in the wind solar is almost already done or so the solar leaving for China is something that happened in the early and mid 2010s. That happened basically, we had a really huge demand increase in solar in the in the early 2010s. As the feed in tariffs were still ridiculously high, but then they were a little bit lowered. And The Chinese were driving the German producers out of the market because as those feed in tariffs were lowered to a level that still actually pretty high for for electricity price time when renewables that feed in tariffs of six to 10 cents per kilowatt hours and electricity prices are at around three to four. So it's still very much subsidized. But as low as feeding tariffs declined, German solar could not keep up with that. And Chinese solar could end. This was around the time when many of those solar makers in Germany died out. And Germany went from, from the leader in solar and PV productions, to a country that has barely any affordable Tate's production anymore.

Chris Keefer  40:57  

And that's interesting, because, you know, with the inflation Reduction Act, with the growing, but somewhat reluctant recognition of the forced labor conditions within Xinjiang, China, and probably more broadly, throughout China, there's this talk of, oh, we're just gonna legislate and subsidize a solar industry back in the US, or back in the West. Do you think that's something that's possible in Europe in Germany, for instance, that solar can be brought back? I mean, is there enough? I guess the whole question is, is there enough subsidy? Is there enough financial capital that could be steered in that direction,

Noah Rettberg  41:31  

we will not we should not delude ourselves that we will be in the future able to throw around those lavish amounts of money at problems anymore, those times are passing. And as we are heading into even more severe shortages of labor, energy resources, this will be even more impossible, those solar manufacturing jobs will not go back. Those solar manufacturing plants will not come back to Germany because we or if they will, only maybe in very small amounts, because we can't throw cash at them anymore, like we did in the past. And we have a significantly reduced workforce, we have already a significantly reduced workforce to what we did in 2010. And by 2030, we will have lost 3 million full time workers for our workforce from other baby boomers, which disproportionately made up our population retiring and those people leaving we can't really fill up and this will make it impossible to really build up those those those manufacturing sectors anymore.

Chris Keefer  42:46  

Not Not to mention the the energy required I mean, it was interesting having BF Randall on in our Diesel Power decoupling episode, he was talking about how we think of aluminum as being incredibly energy intensive and I think in a previous episode, you talked about a German aluminum manufacturer that uses something like one point yeah 1.5% of all German electricity, but he was saying poly silicon is a whole other beast or at least similar in terms of the energy demand required for its I

Noah Rettberg  43:10  

know I know purification I know, that built the Transformers for basically every wind and solar from it not went solo every auto solar policy Ultron manufacturing companies, they modeled themselves after one specific German policy trend production producing company that was Luxembourg housing, and this company used transformers for the polysilicon production from one specific company. So that one specific German company because other Chinese people were copying that company or order the Transformers from them what specific company in Germany, which then headrow It's significantly expanded transformers production so there goes a crap ton of electricity into manufacturing those solar plants. So solar panels, and BF Rendell fought a lot about how diesel will becoming evermore stairs and electricity will becoming ever more scarce. And this is what what will hinder our our ambitions on deploying wind and solar especially solar? Is the shortage of electricity. Additional to the shortage of diesel we will be facing of next decade, possibly even next two decades.

Chris Keefer  44:24  

Okay, so now I've been meaning to chat with you about this guy just discovered. Nate Hagens, I believe is his name podcast is the great simplification. I think he runs into called the post carbon Institute and I've been listening to his podcasts. He's a future guest. We're gonna get him on as soon as possible because he has a really interesting background, I think with an MBA background in economics, also an energy analyst and expert. And he talks a lot about energy return on energy invested and just within the fossil fuel sector how, you know, used to be you could go to somewhere in Saudi Arabia or Texas and just stick a straw on the ground in the oil would come out you'd get you know, yarrowia eyes like the amount of the barrel of Oil in versus the barrel of oil out of 100 to one or even 500 to one in terms of some of the great gushers in Texas, for instance, and how we're having to use more and more energy, you know, to get offshore oil or or with fracking. And when you extend that example, to renewable energy, the way that we're getting around that is often with, you know, ultra low interest rates, trying to make capital as cheap as possible subsidies, you know, and that this is going to burn itself out. This sort of financial trickery and chicanery, that's being employed to, to sort of make the party last a bit longer. When it comes to fossil fuels, you know, the depletion elements of oil fields, the difficulties getting energy out, I mean, that's still a source of energy, which has a high energy return on energy invested. But when you look at the renewables and what we've been discussing, and the subsidies that drove the German solar boom, and disappeared and killed it, to me the stands as as a concept, that's, I think, very, very important in terms of the long term economic viability of you know, trying to live off the fumes of the energy that's that's created by these resources, the value given back versus, you know, what we're putting in, does that does that ring true for you, or

Noah Rettberg  46:18  

so I'm not. Those claims that basically, the fossil fuels that we will be extracted in the future will have a significantly lower e ROI than the ones that we were extracting in the past. certainly true in the fact that it's based on the deposits of fossil fuel, it's been harder to reach. I think it kind of ignores the technological progress that we are achieving in being able to it's in to extract them in extracting resources that we were not been able to utilize in the past that hydraulic fracturing, which certainly requires a lot of energy, I think Emmet Penney hips had once a desk to talk about how much especially electrical energy goes into, which then is derived from diesel, as it's pointed out, goes into running those hydraulic fracturing facilities. But I would not overstate it to the fact that the that the ROI of fossil fuels will very soon become so low that we can't sustain our civilization on them anymore. But it will that will happen to effect and this is false. One thing that I'm kind of worried about, in addition to that, is that as we are not being able to retire urbanize, with the tools that we are allowed to use to decarbonize, we will need to fall back on fossil fuels and need to keep burning fossil fuels. It's not just for the next 50 Or the next 100, but maybe even for the next 200 years if we don't take another path. And if we do that if we keep unleashing evermore mountains of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, we will also have to do increasing amounts of climate change adaption. And that's certainly possible, and certainly necessary. But one thing that I think is never really brought up in this discussion where it's like, oh, we can just evidence it's science, four degrees of warming nothing and oh, no, any any amount of adaption is heretical, and only prevention will be allowed and the the one half degree goal has to be tapped, and nothing else will make it basically, the the harder you push it, the hotter the planets, that's more adaption you will have to make and the more adaption we will have to need more energy, we will be burning on making that adaption. And if we don't decarbonize our electricity, our energy supply, our total energy supply, that means that we will do that adaption on fossil fuels while we need to still burn fossil fuels on running our societies. Keeping running on fossil fuels is like financing your livelihood on debt, and as you keep paying the bills with debt that you take, you have to pay an ever increasing amount on abroad sites, I forgot the word interest of course, since an interest you have to pay an ever increasing amount of interest, while you still keep need to keep borrowing money. And this this this wind and solar is basically the delusion that you will soon take off as a musician and that will pay all the money that you have borrowed and nuclear setting your getting your shit together and applying for a job and going to trade school and actually doing something with your life.

Chris Keefer  50:01  

So I love talking to you. No, no, but that that is I think I've attempted to develop that talking point. And you just did it in a much more sophisticated way. But in terms of communicating climate concern, because, you know, it's interesting, I think, I have not shied away from having people that are climate complacent on the podcast, because they're often brilliant engineers or brilliant analysts on energy more broadly. But, you know, in terms of communicating climate urgency, I think I think what you just said is so key, I've sort of in the past, use this analogy of, you know, a boat that sailing across the ocean. And as we add more carbon to the atmosphere, we're kind of throwing anchors overboard and impeding our progress forward, we're dragging these heavy anchors of adaptation, which will be required. And I want to see that boat sail freely and go and explore foreign lands and have a kick ass time. It's not as strong of analogy, I think, as you just used, but I don't want to restate what you've just made obvious. But I really do like that, that idea of interest. And that was a good a good riff off of kind of what I had been talking about previously. Let's, in the time we have left, let's imagine that, you know, the world comes to its senses, policymakers comes come to their senses. They recognize that we need to do a massive nuclear deployment. I mean, maybe we can, I'm not sure how informed you are about countries like China that are actually doing a fairly aggressive deployment. But and being

Noah Rettberg  51:26  

limited by their ability to train a nuclear technician that is their main limiting factor, they tend, they tend to deploy shitty coal power plants, and indefinitely in China basically, they are not as limited as they are with nuclear power plants regarding the technicians that requires and then, if I agree recently talked to a technician working in a German lignite power plant. And I don't want to belittle that man I learned a lot of from him about Germany. But those the plant he works in, it's certainly sophisticated, but many of the plans that we will be seen going online in China and in India will not be as sophisticated and will not require workforce trained to that degree to run them. And that is the main driver, why they will be able to build those coal power plants, it will not be able to build nuclear power plants in a large enough to extend the day 10 void within all those nuclear power era Autosport power plants, if they if they want to build all those renewable or nuclear power plants, in order to not just not expand coal, but actually declined coal usage, we will need to find a crap ton of very skilled nuclear technicians.

Chris Keefer  52:49  

It's interesting, I'm gonna be interviewing His Excellency, Mohammed Al Hammadi, the head of the Emirati nuclear energy Corp Corporation, as well as the New World Association of nuclear operators President really honored to have him on I think it's gonna be a very interesting discussion. But, you know, we had a little premonition of that discussion with Seth Gray, who was talking about our cop 27 experiences, but I think it's going to be interesting chatting with someone, you know, who basically was the driving force directing a new nuclear program, and not not a not a trivial one, right? I mean, 25%, of the United Arab Emirates, electricity will be coming from this Baraka nuclear power station. And, you know, they chose I think, a model which wasn't, you know, for Korea to build, own and operate, but very much to transfer rapidly. And it's, you know, some of the, the research I've done to prepare for that interview is just, you know, the degree to which they have developed those human factors. And obviously, this is a very rich country with a lot of foreign reserves. What do you think about the challenges of places like Poland, and other countries that are maybe not as well resourced, that are talking about doing really ambitious nuclear buildup? So we've seen a lot of countries over and over again, say like South Africa was going to do like 16 gigawatts at some point, in collaboration with the Russians. In terms of the Human Factors limitation of that, like, I don't just want to be dissing renewables. And in this kind of glowy eyed optimism about nuclear, like, I'm quite pessimistic about nuclear, unfortunately, I want to see it succeed. I think there's a lot of barriers to that. So I guess kind of in closing, let's just chat a little bit about what you see as those human factors limitations to expanding nuclear, especially for new countries. And, you know, ideas around how we can get around that or meet that challenge.

Noah Rettberg  54:47  

And assume Germany close all its nuclear power plants. And Poland doesn't have any and those two countries at the same time, start planning for nuclear new worlds. Who will be the first one to have nuclear robots on the grid? Germany, Poland, keep in mind, we have our closed or own the port of Amsterdam Alderaan. But restart at the same time, Germany was political will be no plans. There's political will in both countries when it will stand which country will be the first?

Chris Keefer  55:19  

That has, I would imagine Germany given you know, it's experiencing workforce. Yes,

Noah Rettberg  55:24  

there will always be. Even though we have decimated this nuclear workforce that we have, it will always be there to an extent and we will be able to regrow out of there, especially once some foreign experience that comes to aid us. It's even from this position of a severely decimated nuclear workforce, it's easier to recover than from a standing start. And many nuclear startups that I don't hold into in the highest regards, see this standing start as an advantage as it as they theorized that it could allow them to basically not worry about all the rules and regulations they would have to face in a country which has a nuclear sector. I doubt that will be the case. First reason will be many of those countries desperate for energy, will definitely ask themselves, what the tried and true technology that really helps them avoid the next energy, energy crisis. Or will they be setting their sights on untested, untried, untrue techno new technology, which might promise to solve the current energy crisis sooner and cheaper, but might punch them right into the next energy crisis. As that new technology, one by an untrained staff will run into a lot of pain issues very soon. And we'll have a lot of downtime in the first years, maybe even its first decades, maybe even its first two decades s or nuclear reactors, hat. Even the good ones like candles, LW ours, British Gas reactors and sodium fast reactors all had those teething issues. And I doubt that this will and those were built in countries with much more or less regulations, similar to maybe a country that wants to start from a standstill. So this is what I am expecting, if any of those countries that doesn't have any nuclear sector whatsoever, we'll go with those less trustworthy nuclear vendors and use their questionable technology and tries to do this on their very unorthodox way. I feel this will lead to certainly some reactors throwing online very soon, maybe very cheaply, and then they will have a lot of teething problems that will ruin the reputation of the nuclear sector worldwide. This has happened in Germany with our line of very high temperature reactors, where we have two of them all thrash at them, they didn't wait long enough for enough data to return from the first one to design the second one, and the second one was terrible. At a time when nuclear went light water reactors were very well established and very, very fine. In the 80s. The task will reactor was terrible, was hilariously over budget it was far more expensive than bituminous coal, which was far more expensive than lignite, which was far more expensive than Light Water Reactor nuclear. It had 3d capacity factor. It's broad on several occasions. It's supposedly unbreakable fuel elements due to overheating issues. When Chernobyl happened, it advanced its radioactivity in the surrounding area, try to cover it up and then failed at covering it up. Because unlike Chernobyl, that reactor was fully fueled with fuel containing thorium. So the isotopes released by that went in were completely different from any isotopes released from Chernobyl, so they could be proven that they because they were the only reactor around that had thorium in it. So it could be proven that it was slim and this reactor very much ruined the reputation of the German nuclear industry because too many politicians and too many journalists and 20 normal people, they couldn't not under differentiate between this reactor and the standard line of light water reactors at the proper German nuclear industry was building at the time. To them it was all the same um And so this reactor ruined the reputation of German nuclear. And among other things, also the smearing campaigns of the greens and their polar we certainly played a role. But for that small endeavor that failed desperately to line and Germany did a lot of damage to nuclear reputation. And I certainly fear that nuclear that failures in the nuclear sector grown from similar idiocy will hurt the industry and will significantly curtail our most important tool in our transitioning from fossil fuels to sustainable energy.

Chris Keefer  1:00:49  

That's a such an important cautionary tale. And I've definitely shared that perspective. You know, and even with the technology, as you know, proven today, as our, you know, lightwater and heavy water fleets, in the excellent capacity factors were getting, you know, used to only be 50 60%. And the missing element and all that it's not that the design changes that the humans running, it got a lot better, and their standards and practices and procedures improved. And that's the missing link. And the only time I find myself nodding along when I read some of the antis literature is when they say, you know, for instance, with molten salt reactors, at the Idaho National Labs, they had something like 200, unplanned outages in four years of that reactor running. So when you know, the startup companies say this is a proven technology it ran at, you know, this national lab, they're not mentioning the dismal capacity factors achieved. And nuclear just has such a narrow tolerance, for things not going perfectly for it not being ultra economical for it not being ultra reliable. It just seems like a lot of these new vendors have to prove it first. Like they need to have a, I keep saying this, and it's maybe naive, I mean, I'm an outsider, I don't really understand this stuff terribly well. But you know, we have the eater plant to look at the top of Mac and really try and troubleshoot it, build it, let's see how it runs learn on it. It just seems that these technologies are premature, they need more time in development, you talked about how the submarine reactor fleet was so decisive in leading to us, you know, having a pressurized water fleet, and not just because of the design, but because of the people's

Noah Rettberg  1:02:25  

boiling water reactors that the US Army championed, were abandoned by the US Army, the US Army didn't never crank out a lot of technicians trained on boiling water reactors, because they stopped trying to run their bases all around the world with boiling water reactors, it was abandoned as oil. Coal did the trick. But not having a nuclear Navy was not an option for the US. So they needed to have nuclear Navy. And as that needed that to them cranking out PWM technicians.

Chris Keefer  1:02:58  

Well, I think that's a great way to bring this interview back to where it started. No, this was a fabulous conversation. I you know, I feel like, you know, we have to kind of hang up the phone because we're at an hour. But looking forward to, you know, a future episode. You know, you're a huge nerd. And I mean, that in the most endearing sense possible. You spent a lot of time in this area for your youth, you have quite the encyclopedia stored in your, in your cranium. And I'm looking forward to geeking out a little bit about your opinions on various reactor technologies, and expanding upon this closing conversation that we've had because again, just so important that we don't squander a potential nuclear, Renaissance or nuclear renewal. And they're not hubristic and thinking, yeah, we can just try all this stuff. And you know, if some of it fails, not a big deal, there's no tolerance for failure with a nuclear. And in my mind, again, these these novel designs need to prove themselves, they need to have their kinks worked out, they need to be developed, I think, as Russia is doing. But you know, there's there's a lot of kinks and, and, you know, talking with BF Randall, we're gonna have cow Abel on soon who's doing some really big picture thinking on using high temperature reactors and I believe coal pyrolysis, coal gasification as a tool to develop syn fuels and partially decarbonize. I mean, I think these are really important big picture topics for the future of nuclear. Closing the fuel cycle is important if we do have, you know, 100 years of uranium reserves that's vital for our long term viability of the sector, but we have to really think carefully through how we do the next 1020 30 years in order for that to be viable,

Noah Rettberg  1:04:42  

you know, that's society if mean, I think there's a slight bit of society of trust in the 80s when the the the German nuclear industry, the one that was building, boiling and Pressurized Water Reactors wasn't in how to close the fuel cycle, they didn't look into sodium fast reactors, they looked into closing the fuel cycle with pressurized reactors. And what they wanted to do is basically reducing the amount of water in their core of Pressurized Water Reactors, this would have led to the neutrons in their core, while still being thermal neutrons been significantly faster than in usual Pressurized Water Reactors. And in such a new in such a neutron spectrum, a reactor could run much more efficiently on plutonium fuel. So, even though they couldn't really breed with such a reactor, they could get very close to that. That one to one for every one atom use splits to breed one. And even though he could not fully close it, establishing such such a reactor would have allowed them to basically increase the amount of energy, they put it straight from a kilogram of mine uranium by a factor of 10 to 15. And that coupled, especially with the French people were at the time perfecting reprocessing and mass production where the French are still leading. Globally, no one does that as well as the French do. It's one thing where they are not the leading light and nuclear is reprocessing and not fuel production. And I think this German line of heart spectrum marks high converting PW RS not being built is one of the biggest missed opportunities that that we had in in Germany because this would have allowed us to not close but very close to closing the nuclear fuel cycle, it would have extended our supply of fissile material by an order of magnitude. And doing that without having to use any new reactor technology as much as I liked the sodium fast reactor. And as far as advance as far as already developed far more than any salt or high temperature gas reactor. Still, it's a lot of work to do to get the sodium fast reactor up to them to the level of pressurized water being able to run your country on basically autoneum Without sodium fast reactor without any fuss right with a just a pressurized water reactor. This would have been known as achievement. And I think we should try that again. I certainly I have now looked at many actors all around the world. I have not find anyone that I would love to see as much blooming as basically those outlines of German Pressurized Water Reactors. They were perfect. They were expensive plants, but not as expensive as Italy. Cheap, not as cheap as German and French built them. They were significantly more expensive than that. But they were built to last and they put last for an eternity with very low maintenance going on with very high capacity factors that would be turned into almost breeder reactors. And I think this is something where I would like to see us going back again, also trying those those MOX fuel hydro inverters and generally put in a lot of more of our x into the pressure wastewater reactor bastard be the light water reactors or be they candles? I think this is a reactor that severely under under estimated not just for electricity production but also for hydrogen and for processes.

Chris Keefer  1:09:04  

Interesting. Okay, well there you have it, folks, a teaser of our upcoming show where we are going to geek out hard on different reactor technologies are going to, you know, what is its term again, something about take no prisoners, you know, straight talk. That's what I enjoy about chatting with you know, your free agent. You don't have a party line to toe. And it's always fascinating chatting with you. So thank you for coming back.

Noah Rettberg  1:09:30  

I'm matrial lot of frenemies among my own kind.

Chris Keefer  1:09:34  

Hmm You all say that you've gained like 100 followers and lost 20 or something. It's on Twitter. It's always always interesting with you but I think that's again what makes you an entertaining guest here. So the people will decide you know whether you get back in the top five here, but I enjoyed this conversation immensely. Thanks again for coming.

Noah Rettberg  1:09:53  

I've been surprised every time that I'm apparently so highly valued by your listeners. Okay keep in mind I'm I'm I'm a 22 lab technician in training that makes money by machining laser pots

Chris Keefer  1:10:10  

that sounds pretty cool to me okay no we'll talk soon

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