Why has the world started to mine coal again?

With climate change looming, it seems so completely backwards to go back to using it again.

Is it coal miners pushing to keep their jobs? Fear of nuclear power? Is purely politically motivated, or are there genuinely people who believe coal is clean?

Edit, I will admit I was ignorant to the usage of coal nowadays.

Now I’m more depressed than when I posted this


Why “going back to it” have we ever stopped?


No. Among other things it remains the linchpin of energy security for industrial countries like China and Germany that lack adequate domestic oil or natural gas reserves to power their economies with those.

nicktron avatar

Germany had plenty of nuclear energy but decided they wanted to shut them all down. Now they have to use coal and LNG.


Yes. And even before the Russia mess they were going to replace nuclear with LNG, which is still pretty bad.

luk3th3dud3, (edited )

While in hindsight not all the decisions of the German energy policies seem right and it would have been better to keep the nuclear power plants operating for a few years, there was never the plan to replace nuclear with coal. All of the nuclear power generation has been replaced by wind and solar power generation. In fact, the plan was to phase out nuclear and replace the remaining coal generation with natural gas power plants. This definitely got more difficult in the time of LNG. The plan in any case is to phase out coal as well and with 56% renewable generation in 2023 Germany is on track to do so.

@xigoi@lemmy.sdf.org avatar

If only 56% is renewable, what exactly was nuclear replaced with, if not fossil fuels?


I hope this is a serious question, obviously this depends on your baseline. In 2013 Germany had a 56% share of fossil fuels, 27% share of renewables and 17% share of nuclear power generation. In the current year, the shares are: 59% renewables, 39% fossil fuels and 2% nuclear power generation. So in the last ten years there has been a switch in generation from both nuclear and fossil fuels to renewable generation. Could it have been better in the wake of the looming crisis of both climate and energy? Yes, I think it would have been better to keep some newer nuclear power plants running. But Cpt. Hindsight always has it easier.

In the long run every successful economy will generate its major share of electricity from renewables. Some countries will choose to generate a part with nuclear, others will choose to use a mix of hydrogen, batteries etc. to complement renewables. We will see what works best.


Hydrogen isn’t a fuel source. It’s at best an energy storage technology, and you know you generate hydrogen? Electricity so if 56% of your electricity is renewables, then 44% is fossil fuels, and that is still WAY too much.


Yes, of course, hydrogen is not an energy source (neither are batteries). Sorry if I was not clear about that, I thought it was clear from the context. I was talking about hydrogen and batteries as means of balancing fluctuating output from renewables.

I tend to agree that 44% fossil fuels are still too much, the transition could have been faster and needs to faster in the future. Not a lot of countries have done the successful pivot from fossil energy to renewable energy. The only example that comes to mind is Denmark, where they have great policies (and great wind resources). So I guess everything needs to be viewed in context.


Why replace nuclear and not coal though, seems like a pretty stupid choice


While I agree that it would have been better to phase out coal before nuclear power plants, I also think that those decisions have to be viewed in context and are more nuanced than ‘pretty stupid’.

For example, as other in this thread pointed out, nuclear power plants can be pretty safe to operate IF there is a good culture of safety and protocols in place. Which of course need to be followed and supervised by a strong regulatory body. Two of nuclear power plants in Brunsbüttel and Krümmel were missing this kind of safety culture in the opinion of the regulatory body. They were both operated by Vattenfall. If you lose trust in the operator of such critical infrastructure, then a decision to shut down nuclear power plants has to factor in all the arguments at hand.


That’s a fair point


I was going to say, coal remains around 1/3 of our electric generation worldwide (as of 2022): https://www.statista.com/statistics/269811/world-electricity-production-by-energy-source/

Coal can't be reused, created, or otherwise obtained outside of mining. Until we remove our dependency on coal, mining will continue.


Obligatory: we didn’t stop.

There’s also good reasons to have a fistful of generation plants with coal or natural gas.

To put it simply, nuclear is clean, far cleaner than just about anything else we have. If you compare the waste product with the energy produced… It’s just not an argument that nuclear loses versus something like coal. Where coal puts out its waste mainly in the form of smoke, nuclear waste, like discarded nuclear power rods, are a physical and far more immediately dangerous thing. The coal waste kind of blends in, and lobbyists have been throwing around “clean coal” for a while… Although coal use has gotten a lot more efficient and produces less waste than before, it’s still far more than what nuclear could do. “Clean” coal is a myth, it’s just “less bad” coal, with good marketing.

Regardless, coal and natural gas fired plants can ramp up and down far quicker than nuclear possibly could. Where nuclear covers base demand and can usually scale up and down a bit to help with higher load times, to cover peak demand, coal and natural gas can fire up and produce power in a matter of minutes. With nuclear, they have to ramp up slowly to ensure the reaction doesn’t run away from them, and to ensure all the safety measures and safeguards are working as intended as the load increases. It’s just a fat more careful process.

The grid is hugely complex, and I’m simplifying significantly. But from the best of my understanding, nuclear can’t react fast enough to cover spontaneous demand. So either coal or natural gas needs to exist for the grid to work as well as it does.

Wind is unpredictable and solar usually isn’t helping during the hours where the grid would need help with the demand. The only viable option is with grid scale energy storage, which can hold the loads while the nuclear systems have a chance to ramp up.

There’s still far more coal fired plants in the world than we need for this task alone, so there’s still work to be done… But I suspect coal use will diminish, but not be eliminated from grid scale operation for a while.


Aren’t most base-load nuclear plants typically paired with an energy storage solution like a gravity battery to habdle burst loads?


To my knowledge, apart from very new battery-based systems, the most common energy storage used for grid scale applications is pumped hydro, and even that is pretty rare… Either you need geographic features that make it viable, which is relatively rare in proximity to all the geographic features you would need for a nuclear plant, or you need to build such structures which is insanely expensive.

The main issue with grid scale anything, is that until very recently, most energy companies have been living on insanely long timelines, far longer than most industries. Infrastructure, when built, almost always has multiple decades of lifespan if not longer. Most energy storage tech that’s old enough to be considered for the time that many of the nuclear were built, did not have multiple decade lifespans and would need full or at the least the majority of their working material replaced within a decade at best. For an industry where a new facility will last 50+ years, that’s not a good investment. The only long term solution that would last is pumped hydro. This is changing and new grid-scale storage tech is reaching a high level of development, aka, almost ready for large scale production.

Simply put, if you think about the technology that was available when these facilities would have been built, around 50-80 years ago for many, energy storage wasn’t something that people really thought about, you either had live delivery of energy (from generator to device in micro-seconds) or primary cell batteries, like alkaline. Without much in-between, and most of what was there wasn’t grid-scale, not even close.

Sure, there are newer reactors than that, but a remarkable number of nuclear energy facilities are many decades old, most of the viable grid scale energy storage tech has been developed in the past decade or so.

To be clear, nuclear plants usually have conventional generators, often diesel, but that energy isn’t for export (for sale to customers), it’s used to restart the pumps and power the facility for a cold start of the nuclear generation systems. And that’s about it. 50 years ago, you didn’t have viable energy storage for the grid, everything was generated as it was used, when the load increases, fire up more generation capacity. So base load was handled by plants that needed to run 24/7 like nuclear, since it’s difficult or impossible to turn them off, and they would ramp up when demand increased, and any gap would be filled by plants that can go from off to making energy in minutes, like coal and natural gas.

To summarize, with the exception of pumped hydro, nothing is capable of handling that much power for the grid. We’re not talking a few minutes of energy storage, this is more like an hour+ as reactors heat up and more turbines come up to speed. The only energy generation that can meet that demand that quickly is coal/gas-based plants and pumped hydro, with pumped hydro being so difficult to build, coal and gas are used. Of the gas-powered plants, natural gas is the most economically viable.

This is changing, but the infrastructure in use is usually significantly older than the technology you’re mentioning.


Tf you mean stopped

  • a German

Because of the war against nuclear plants. Our green party shut down nuclear plants in favor for renewable energy. But as predicted, renewables don’t meet our demands. So the green party started building gas plants to compensate instead of keeping nuclear running.

So why? Because of green idiocracry that demand the impossible of green energy (at this moment) and nuclear = evil


People will do everything that givesthem an advantage in anykind of way. If coal is an affordable resource to fulfill a need it will be mined and put to use.

You may change the view on a thing for a few persons, but never of all of them.


I blame the release of both Factorio and Victoria 3.

@wtypstanaccount04@hexbear.net avatar

When did they stop?

aaaaaaadjsf, (edited )
@aaaaaaadjsf@hexbear.net avatar

It’s a cheap, non intermittent, easily scalable, and highly available source of energy compatible with existing infrastructure. When the choice becomes rolling electricity blackouts/shutting down factories, or coal powered electricity due to extremely poor planning for the future, coal will win every time. I wish we just started getting renewables running decades ago. Most of the limited electricity in South Africa is produced from coal power plants or diesel generators.

I’m typing this during a rolling electricity blackout. Really not looking forward to my cold shower in the next few minutes


Again? Did we stop?

It doesn’t look like anyone has mentioned metallurgical coal yet. Even if you don’t burn it for energy, the carbon in steel has to come from somewhere and that’s usually coke, which is coal that has been further pyrolised into a fairly pure carbon producing a byproduct of coal tar.


So that’s where the name coke comes from! TIL!


Coal is just Cola with the letters swapped around.

@Gsus4@feddit.nl avatar

How much of that carbon is emitted Vs embedded in the steel matrix? 50%?


I’m not actually sure. I imagine it depends on how exactly it’s mixed in.

The green alternative would be to go back to charcoal (or “biochar” if you want to sound fancy), but it might be a bit more expensive.


Metallurgical coal only makes up for rather small part of coal mining, around 7% of all coal production goes towards it, and while the process produces more GHG than just burning it for power it has a less profound impact because it’s just smaller. It’s also one of the places where we can’t really find an alternative, to produce steel you need to use bitumen coal because they have more carbon and less volatiles than charcoal.

On top of that steel is extremely recyclable meaning that any steel produced can be reused pretty much 1:1 with only a small amount of energy needed.


You can make really pure charcoal if you use plant fiber, like waste coconut husks. I guess it’s just a cost issue?


More than likely it’s a cost issue, coal is artificially cheap thanks to several countries subsidizing the coal industry like Germany, USA and Australia.

There’s also I guess the practical question of how much plant fiber per ton of metallurgical coal is needed, i.e. how land would be dedicated towards ‘producing plant fiber’ for the steel industry.


Coconut husks are free with the coconuts, which is why I mentioned them. Without explicitly breaking out my highschool chemistry, I’m guessing you get about a third the mass of carbon from cellulose.

If it’s a whole 7% of the coal mined, though, that is a pretty significant amount. I assume we’ll have to find less agricultural ways of fixing CO2 at some point, because it is kind of a shame to use prime agricultural land to make industrial feedstock. NASA already has a device that can turn it into CO electrically, I guess.


Why do we still do stuff like fracking, just to get the last bit of C out in the air?

Rhetorical question, please don’t answer.


There are concerns outside of the list you wrote. For example:

  • people need energy and coal is a source of energy

And they’re going for coal in some places because the political situation has made other reliable energy sources unavailable:

  • the Russia-Ukraine war has destroyed natural gas supply lines to Europe
  • anti-nuclear activism has resulted in lack of nuclear investment

Outside of coal, nuclear, and natural gas, there aren’t many options for reliable sources of electricity.


Why are people so against nuclear? It doesn't make any sense.


Back then, it was scared of what you don’t understand. Nuclear was bombs and radiation, bad stuff right. Then it was Chernobyl. And having talked with some of them online, they are scared that it’s not 10,000% safe.


Nuclear is probably the safest form of power when proper protocols are put in place but it’s hard to do that when the largest country in Europe (Russia, both by size and population) is currently in a war


Russian war has little to do with it. For example Germany had already decided to scrap nuclear for gas, which actually bit them in the ass when the war started.


You’re right with Germany’s decision.

The reason why Russia is mentioned might be that Russia (and one of their close allies Kazakhstan) are the source of a good chunk of the Uranium that’s used in Europe’s nuclear power plants.


Sweden has large stores of uranium but the green party has opposed any new mines (uranium or not) on environmental grounds. Ignoring the fact that we then have to import resources from other countries that don’t have regulations which could minimize pollution


This. Nuclear safety requires active habit keeping and protocols, hence is dependent on social stability.


Safer than wind and solar?


I believe so because of construction injuries but idk how well that scales


Oddly enough, it’s safer than wind.

Solar’s a little better in that regard, but all three are so much safer than any high-carbon sources of energy that any of them are great options.


I can’t look at their sources, so I’m going to believe them, buuut that is death per energy units. And I can’t argue that nuclear isn’t more efficient and generally safe. Presumably though, those injuries from wind are from construction primarily? Nuclear power plants have been out of fashion since the 80s for some reason, so there aren’t really equal opportunities for construction incidents to compare that while wind construction has been on the rise. And I can only assume that after construction, the chance incidents only go down for wind while they can really only go up for nuclear.

None of that is to say that nuclear is bad and we shouldn’t use it. Statistics like this just always bug me. Globally we receive more energy from wind than nuclear. It stands to reason that there’s more opportunity for deaths. It’s a 1 dimensional stat that can easily be manipulated. it’s per thousand terawatt per hour, including deaths from pollution. So I got curious and did some Googling.

After sorting through a bunch of sites without quite the information I was looking for, I found some interesting facts. I was wrong in my assertion that wind deaths don’t go up after being built. Turns out, most of those deaths come from maintenance. It does seem to vary by country, and I can’t find it broken down by country like I wanted. It’s possible that safety protections for workers could shift it. But surprisingly, maintenance deaths from nuclear power are virtually non existent from what I can tell. It seems like the main thing putting nuclear on that list at all is including major incidents like Chernobyl and Fukushima. Well, Fukushima has really only been attributed for 4 deaths total. And Chernobyl was obviously preventable. So it looks like you’re right! Statistically, when including context, is definitely the least deadly energy source (if we ignore solar).

@jakob@lemmy.schuerz.at avatar

What is safe on Nuckear Power Plants?

It’s enough for hundredthousand of years, if only one time happens a SuperGAU. Only once is enough.

And the nuclear waste is dangerous as fuck for also hundredthousand of years.

And you can produce 30, 40 or maybe 50 years electric energy, and it needs the same time to decontaminate and dismantle a nuclear powerplant. And before it takes 20, 30 or mor years, to build such a plant… This is not cheap, not safe and not sustainable.


Nuclear waste is not dangerous when handled correctly. I’d recommend checking out Kyle Hill on YouTube about this, but when mixed with cement/sand in large amounts it becomes safe much more quickly than that. A lot of the dangers of nuclear power are actually misconceptions


I don’t trust the US Federal government to properly dispose of it. The waste from the Manhattan Project is buried in a landfill, a landfill that’s on fire.


The problem isn’t fire, it’s that the waste at Hanford has leached into the soil and a plume of it is headed towards the Hanford Reach on the Columbia River. There’s a mitigation plan in place and it looks like it’s ultimately going to work, but it’s very expensive and not something that anyone wants to see happen again.


I was referring to the Westlake Superfund site in St Louis right next to the Missouri river


Fair play. That said, please do look up Hanford. It’s way bigger than Westlake and is potentially a much bigger problem, though granted, Westlake is problematic as well.


it’s not about the power but about the waste. no one wants that in their backyard.


Real talk, why can’t we just launch that shit into the sun? Obviously, I understand the risk of a rocket filled with spent fuel rods exploding is low Earth orbit and the weight to cost ratio, but are there other reasons?


It’s literally easier to launch something outside the solar system than launching it into the sun.


It’s insanely more expensive than any of the other options, even the long-term storage deep down underground with further burial and complete abandonment of the location in a way that would make the location as unremarkable as possible, preventing future generations developing interest to potential markings.

Tom Scott has a great, rather concise video about that. It’s not really just ground, but rock, making it even more secure and unaffected, especially given that the waste is first sealen into special containers.


The waste is vitrified, meaning that it’s encased in what’s basically solid glass.


Basically to put something in the sun you’ve got to bring it to a near-standstill relative to the sun. You have to slow it down from the speed Earth is orbiting at (2 * Pi AU/year) to almost zero. It takes a ton of rocket fuel to do that.

That plus the danger you mentioned makes burying it the cheaper and safer option.

@riley0@lemmy.dbzer0.com avatar


TheHalc, (edited )

It’s been long established that coal produces more radioactive waste than nuclear power, and largely dumps it straight into the environment.

Somehow people think it’s worse if you keep it contained rather than massively diluted. If we thought of it like we do radiation in coal waste, we’d be happy to just dump it in the ocean.

Living in Finland, I’m proud of the fact that we’ve got one of the first long-term/final storage sites for nuclear waste in the world. YIMBY.


You guys have that super deep underground storage site right?

@riley0@lemmy.dbzer0.com avatar
  • Fukushima
  • Chernobyl
  • 3-Mile Island to name a few
@urshanabi@lemmygrad.ml avatar

I want to add, it also take a while to get it going and the upfront costs are several billions of dollars. There also needs to be some kind of training or something to get the right personnel.


And it’s a long project that will span multiple administrations, leading to low certainty of project completion. As long as it’s a political wedge issue the support can’t be relied upon throughout the project.


Yes yes, we know people don’t understand statistics.

@riley0@lemmy.dbzer0.com avatar

If you’re referring to the nukes-are-statistically-safe argument, then to be fair, you also have to take into account the scale of their failures.


Right it would be something involving number of people harmed, for number of joules or watt-hours of energy produced. How much injury, death, etc is there on a per-unit basis. That would be how you’d get a probability of harm. Then you could compare it numerically with other forms of energy to see which is the safest, statistically speaking.


Time to start dismantling wind turbines then? statista.com/…/death-rate-worldwide-by-energy-sou…


I’m looking forward to seeing your Instagram snaps once you move back to pripyat permanently. Statistics never tell the full story.


Ah yes, the clusterfuck of the 20th century is the lode stone

Also Pripyat isn’t that bad.


Because of Godzilla is my best guess. CGI is so good these days people think it’s real.


3 Mile Island occurred while “The China Syndrome” was in theaters.

That’s mostly it. A hit-job sensationalist film came out right before a minor incident that resulted in ZERO injuries, damage to the environment, or loss of containment, but was major news largely because of the film.


I agree that it shouldn’t be a matter of being for or against nuclear.

The best mix of renewable energy supply of any country is going to be very context dependent. Geothermal, hydro, solar, wind all perform best when they’re used in the right location. Nuclear energy is much more expensive per Megawatthour than renewable energy sources, but it’s highly predictable.

In addition to the high cost, the construction time of a nuclear power plant tends to be somewhere between 10-20 years. Therefore, it makes sense to find solutions first in grid balancing solutions like mega batteries (for balancing, not long term storage), smart EV chargers, and matching demand better with supply through variable pricing. These are all relatively affordable solutions that would reduce the need for a predictable energy supply like nuclear.

But, if the measures above are not enough or if there are concerns about the feasibility of such measures in a particular context, then analyses might point towards nuclear as a solution as the most cost effective solution.

It’s pointless to make nuclear power a polical issue while we’re rapidly approaching an irreversible climate crisis. We don’t have the luxury to act based on preferences. Policymakers shouldn’t view nuclear power as a taboo, but also shouldn’t opt to construct one simply to attract voters.


Fukushima and Chernobyl kinda stick out. Nuclear is safe until something goes catastrophically wrong. When that happens it’s 100s and 1000s of years before you can move back in and have a stable genome.

@captain_aggravated@sh.itjust.works avatar

Nuclear power is a bit like aviation. Statistically, traveling by airliner is the safest way to travel; it’s been over a decade since the last fatal crash of an American-registered airliner. But when a plane does crash, SHEEW BUDDY does it make the evening news.

Nuclear power has that same effect. Statistically, nuclear power has a fucking amazing safety record. Very, very few people are hurt or killed in the nuclear power industry, especially compared to the fossil fuel industry, and the second hand smoke factor is non-existent as long as the plant is operating correctly. But as soon as it does go wrong, SHEEW BUDDY does it make the evening news. And it has gone wrong, multiple times, in spectacular fashion.

A major concern I have about building new nuclear power plants is my government is trying as hard as it can to steer into the hard right anti-science anti-regulation of industry space, and successful, safe operation of nuclear power plants requires strong understanding of science and heavy government oversight. The fact that we have no plan whatsoever for the nuclear waste we’re already generating, and that no serious solution is on the horizon indicates to me that we are already not in a place where we should be doing this.

There’s also the concern that nuclear power programs are often related to manufacturing fuel for nuclear weapons. That that’s what the megalomaniacal assholes that are somehow “in charge” actually want nuclear power plants for, and megawatts of electricity to run civilization with is a cute bonus I guess.


What an excellent explanation you've written here. I love it. SHEEW BUDDY!

@aaaaaaadjsf@hexbear.net avatar

the Russia-Ukraine war has destroyed natural gas supply lines to Europe.

Didn’t the US bomb them, tried to blame Russia at first, and are now trying to blame Ukraine? With friends like that, who needs enemies?

The big problem with nuclear is scalability and infrastructure. The power plants take long to construct and require huge investment. Even if that’s solved and the whole world goes nuclear tomorrow, there’s huge doubts about there even being enough easily minable Uranium. Honestly solar and wind should be the way to go, but then there’s the intermittency issue. Which is an issue fossil fuels don’t have. At this point degrowth is desperately needed to avert the worst effects of global warming.

@riley0@lemmy.dbzer0.com avatar

now trying to blame Ukraine

Blaming Russia was either stupid b/c putting the Nord Stream out of commission hurt Russia, or cynical b/c they thought we’d be stupid enough to buy that story. Blaming Ukraine has a basis in reality. reuters.com/…/us-had-intelligence-ukrainian-plan-… We may well have done it, as Biden promised, in concert with Ukraine or without them. wsj.com/…/B5942F2D-E4E5-4BD1-8CB3-8816A2ECAF19.ht…

@Thordros@hexbear.net avatar

Look up the stuff Alex Hirsch has been putting out over the last decade.

It’s Gravity Falls, and a background role producing The Owl House. Great shows! The LGBT representation in the latter goes hard, and I love everybody involved pushing back hard on Disney to make it happen.

Anyways, I actually meant Seymour Hersh. I just typed it wrong at first, but I felt compelled to gush about some incredible kids shows with great messages.

The US did it and Norway helped.


Ukraine war plays a big part of it


Because it got cheaper than natural gas.

Nobody thinks it’s clean, they just don’t care.


Because the ecofanatics focused on fighting nuclear power for 50 years instead of fighting fossile fuels.

Fast forward to now, renewable are not ready at all and they need fossile fuels anyway to provide steady energy. But geopolitics is making oil too expensive, so countries are mining coal again.

In brief, ecofanatics were stupid (and still are) and war in Ukraine.


I’m an eco-fanatic and I am extremely pro-nuclear.


Yeah but that wasn’t the case in previous decades. Environmentalists have protested just about every nuclear power plant opening for the last 60 years. It might even still happen if we bothered to open more plants.


While environmental concerns, primarily regarding nuclear waste management, are probably the more public face of nuclear opposition, it is the economic burdens that have shut down nuclear plants before they even produce waste, as is the case with a number of canceled nuclear projects around the US at least.


Were they stupid or deliberately misled, propagandized and manipulated by the fossil fuel industry? Sure some of them were stupid, but I don’t think that’s the whole story.

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