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James Fleay: “What’s The Deal with Nuclear Energy?”

June 7, 2023

Show Summary

On this episode energy systems expert James Fleay joins Nate to talk about the current state of nuclear energy and its potential applications in the future. Out of all the potential ‘replacements’ for the subsidy of the fossil labor force we’ve grown used to, nuclear energy is one of the most frequently suggested as being the savior of our modern lifestyles. What is the reality of the benefits and costs of nuclear energy? How does it fit into our current mix and our financial situation? Does it have the ability to support ‘human flourishing’ for millenia to come? Will the expansion of it result in a toxic waste situation that we can’t come back from? Or is nuclear energy simply one more piece to the puzzle for complex societies to support – and eventually reduce – their energy demands?

About James Fleay

James Fleay is an Australian engineer and energy project manager with two decades of experience in design, delivery, operation, and carbon sequestration in the power, oil, and natural gas sectors. Ten years ago, he joined the oil and gas sector to work on the design, delivery and operation of some of Australia’s largest complex energy (LNG) projects. This included 2 years work on one of the largest carbon capture and sequestration projects in the world and another 3 years on a ground-breaking deep-water subsea compression gas project in Australia’s North West. He is the founder and manager of DUNE, Down Under Nuclear Energy, with the purpose of studying the investment case for nuclear energy in Australia and understanding the parameters for its success.

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Show Notes & Links to Learn More:

00:30 – James Fleay

04:19 – Energy Portfolio of Australia

05:17 – Fischer-Tropsch Synthesis

06:30 – Advantages and Challenges of Nuclear Energy

07:20 – What are the costs of nuclear energy?

08:00 – Long-term asset

08:40 – Hinkley Point Project**

10:47 – How many nuclear plants exist and how many are being built

11:12 – Uranium vs plutonium reactors

11:46 – Joseph Tainter, Dennis Meadows

17:03 – Short term vs long term nuclear waste disposal

17:04 – Long term waste disposal options

17:20 – Political barriers to long term waste disposal

20:59 – Manhattan Project

21:05 – Market’s short sighted decision making

21:48 – Nuclear programs in south korea, japan, china, UAE

22:51 – Uranium is non-renewable, just like any other fuel

23:16 – World Nuclear Association

23:26 – Estimates of known uranium reserves are ~90 yr supply based on today’s plants

24:12 – Improvements in efficiency of extraction of energy from uranium

24:10 – 1980-2008 electricity generated from nuclear plants globally increased 3.6 times (Figure 5), but the amount of uranium used only increased by 2.5x (Figure 2.8)

24:30 – Uranium in the seas

24:45 – Receding Horizons

25:25 – Uranium as a byproduct

26:10 – Uranium 235 vs Uranium 238

27:14 – Thorium

28:49 – Molten Salt Reactors

29:29 – Fast Neutron Reactor

29:45 – IAEA advantages of thorium

30:03 – Uranium 233 and Uranium 232

31:05 – Chinese experimental thorium reactor

32:18 – Fusion

32:46 – Gamma Radiation

36:00 – Human demand interaction with energy availability

38:15 – Sharpe Ratio

38:47 – Hydrocarbon global distribution

41:30 – Nuclear energy and industrial heating processes

42:20 – The challenge of replacing liquid fuels

48:45 – Throw away culture and cars

49:03 – Rise of air cargo over the last few decades

50:35 – Long history of environmentalism in australia

51:50 – Australia’s political issues with nuclear energy

54:45 – Success and affordability of recent construction of nuclear power plants 

55:44 – Labor costs in Japan and around the world

56:45 – The US’s lack of careful planning for infrastructure and overlooking of replacement plans

1:06:00 – EROI


Teaser photo credit: Bruce Nuclear Generating Station (Canada), one of the largest operational nuclear power facility in the world. By Chuck Szmurlo – Own work, CC BY 2.5,

Nate Hagens

Nate Hagens

Nate Hagens is the Director of The Institute for the Study of Energy & Our Future (ISEOF) an organization focused on educating and preparing society for the coming cultural transition. Allied with leading ecologists, energy experts, politicians and systems thinkers ISEOF assembles road-maps and off-ramps for how human societies can adapt to lower throughput lifestyles. Nate holds a Masters Degree in Finance with Honors from the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. in Natural Resources from the University of Vermont. He teaches an Honors course, Reality 101, at the University of Minnesota.

Tags: environmental effects of nuclear energy, nuclear energy