Home > Environment > Time to go nuclear ? (repost)

Time to go nuclear ? (repost)

May 28th, 2006

As nuclear energy is getting an extensive discussion in the comments thread, I thought I’d repost this piece I wrote this more than a year ago. The only change since then is that the evidence for human-caused climate change has become even more overwhelming, though there are still plenty of people who combine global warming denialism (or a long track record of denialism, with no admission of error) with the claim that “nuclear power is the only solution to climate change.”

Repost

My column in yesterday’s Fin was about the option of nuclear energy as a solution to the problem of climate change, an issue that’s been discussed a few times here already. One point I didn’t make is that the availability of nuclear-generated electricity as a ‘backstop’ technology puts an upper bound on the costs of a strategy that would reduce CO2 emissions enough to stabilise atmospheric concentrations (this is much more than Kyoto which aims only to stabilise emissions from developed countries, as a first step to a solution).

Nuclear option premature

With the Kyoto protocol in force, and evidence of rapid climate change mounting up day by day, it’s not surprising that there has been renewed interest in nuclear energy as a source of electricity, free of emissions of greenhouse gases. What’s surprising is that so many of the participants in the debate seem to be restating positions that have been frozen in time for twenty years or more.

The debate over uranium mining provides an example. Labor’s ‘three mines’ policy was a grubby internal compromise reached in the early 1980s. It owed a lot to the interaction between geographical and factional alignments and almost nothing to a rational evaluation of the issues. It made no sense even at the time, yet it is still defended by some as an appropriate policy for the future.

The central reasoning underlying the anti-uranium campaign was rendered obsolete by the late 1970s. It was assumed that nuclear power was set for rapid growth, and that restricting the supply of uranium was the best way of constraining that growth. Meanwhile, nuclear proponents were looking at ‘fast-breeder’ reactors that would generate their own plutonium and thereby avoid the uranium shortage.

But the stagnation of nuclear power after the Three Mile Island accident meant that the shortage of uranium never developed. Releases from military stockpiles after the end of the Cold War have ensured a continuing supply. The availability of uranium is not a constraint on nuclear power and is unlikely to become one. Restrictive Australian policy might raise the world price, but that would merely benefit other suppliers at our expense. Similarly, the fast breeder reactor is commercially dead. France pulled the plug on its Superphenix reactor in the late 1990s, and Japan’s Monju has been mothballed for a decade.

If the opponents of nuclear power seem stuck in the 1980s, many of the supporters seem to back in the 1950s, still selling a dream of limitless clean power, ‘too cheap to meter’, and obstructed only by baseless fears. If the experience of the past thirty years has taught us anything, it’s that this dream is illusory.

Nuclear power can be clean (at least compared to the main alternatives), it can be safe and it can be cheap, but it apparently can’t be all three at once. In the aftermath of the Three Mile Island meltdown, it was pointed out by some that no-one had died, and it was suggested that nuclear power was being held to excessively tight safety standards, compared to those prevailing in the Soviet Union, which was forging ahead while nuclear energy stalled in the West. The Chernobyl disaster put paid to that claim.

In the ensuing decades, there have been repeated claims that the problems have been solved and that the stage is set for a renaissance of nuclear power. There has been much less in the way of concrete achievement.

It is hard to assess the costs of nuclear power because of its long stagnation. Large-scale construction has mostly been undertaken in countries where nuclear power attracts government subsidies, usually linked to military objectives, as in France. The main issue relates to capital costs. With the low interest rates prevailing currently, nuclear power looks marginally competitive with fossil fuels, but a complete analysis, including a proper allowance for waste disposal, would almost certainly yield substantially higher costs.

It would be foolish to foreclose any options, but a return to nuclear power looks premature at this stage. There are lots of conservation options, and alternative strategies such as tree planting, that could yield savings in emissions at significantly lower cost. Only when these options are exhausted would an expansion of nuclear power make sense.

In the meantime, it would be helpful if advocates of nuclear power could clarify their own position regarding climate change. While many are happy to score points against environmentalists by pointing to nuclear power as a solution to climate change, a surprisingly large number simultaneously push the claims of the handful of scientists (mostly not experts in the field, and many with glaring conflicts of interest) who deny the reality of human-caused climate change.

Not only does this undermine the case for re-examining the nuclear option, it undermines the credibility of its advocates. If an individual or lobby group disregards the massive body of evidence on climate change, often on the basis of a predetermined political or interest-group agenda, what reliance can be based on their claims about the safety and cost-efficiency of nuclear power?

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  1. Hermit
    May 28th, 2006 at 18:11 | #1

    The point that some nuclear advocates are global warming deniers is a red herring. Some suicide bombers are mothers so that doesn’t automatically make motherhood a bad thing. Recent polling (refer dKos) has found that nuclear supporters tend to be conservative, male or technocratic. Lefties are active opponents while women tend to harbour quiet misgivings.

    Let me put the male technocratic view; how can major (50+%) emissions reductions be achieved otherwise? If your answer involves millions of wind farms and solar panels or pumping coal emissions underground I suggest you do more research. If you think technological fixes are imminent stop sneering at those who believe in the Supernatural. If you think a switch to an Amish economy is inevitable try going without your car.

    Alas I doubt this debate will have progressed much by this time next year.

  2. Dogz
    May 28th, 2006 at 18:48 | #2

    Hermit,

    I don’t think the debate will have progressed much on this blog in a year’s time, but in the wider public arena there are promising signs that rationalism is finally making an appearance.

    Even Tim Flannery – who is well known in South Australia for appearing in government ads advocating ineffective solutions to global warming – and WWF CEO Greg Bourne have conceded that we need to at least reconsider our nuclear options.

  3. zoot
    May 28th, 2006 at 19:01 | #3

    I await with bated breath the announcement from Flannery and Bourne that nuclear is the only option.

  4. jquiggin
    May 28th, 2006 at 19:07 | #4

    If I wasn’t used to it, I’d conclude that my writing was insufficiently clear. Even though I write quite plainly “There are lots of conservation options, and alternative strategies such as tree planting, that could yield savings in emissions at significantly lower cost. Only when these options are exhausted would an expansion of nuclear power make sense”, Hermit jumps straight in with the assumption that I’m promoting “wind farms of solar panels” and Dogz follows suit.

    I know the comment facility is easy to use, but please read the post first.

  5. Dogz
    May 28th, 2006 at 19:20 | #5

    Read my comment JQ. I said nothing about wind farms or solar panels; just a remark about rationality in the nuclear debate, which I believe even you might concede has been sorely lacking.

    Nuclear has the advantage of killing two birds at once: CO2 emissions and increasing global demand for rapidly diminishing fossil fuels. That’s certainly a lot better than wind farms which we all know kill only one bird every 1,000 years :)

  6. Spiros
    May 28th, 2006 at 19:29 | #6

    Where will the nuclear power stations be located? Gippsland? Suburban Brisbane? The Blue Mountains? The Adelaide Hills? Getting agreement to store nuclear waste in the desert thousands of kilometres from anyone is impossible, let alone a nuclear power plant close enough to large population centres to supply them with electricity.

    You can’t even get something as harmless as a windfarm up these days. A nuclear power station? Dream on.

  7. May 28th, 2006 at 19:42 | #7

    “how can major (50+%) emissions reductions be achieved [without nuclear power]”

    A good start is to think about the problem and what the options are. Which is easy to say and awfully hard to to, but thankfully fine minds have applied themselves to some of the problems.

    The California Climate Change Center at UC Berkeley released a report called Managing Greenhouse Gas Emissions in California that looks at the options for returning California to 2000-level emissions by 2010, 1990-level emissions by 2020, and 80% below 1990 by 2050. The researchers have completed a detailed analysis of some of the options under consideration and concluded those options will reach half the goals while increasing the gross state product by $USD5 billion and creating 8,300 new jobs by 2010, and upwards of $60 billion and 20,000 new jobs by 2020.

    There’s an abundance of good, non-nuclear ideas, that are positive and productive to boot. That’s where our attention should be directed, rather than at some half-baked nuclear ‘debate’ designed to distract the Labor Party.

  8. Simonjm
    May 28th, 2006 at 19:49 | #8

    I welcome the debate but don’t expect an open and honest from a government trying to ‘green wash’ it from the start.

    Include all options nuclear coal -+ sequestration- gas, a mix of renewables with a national energy efficiency drive but make sure all nuclear costs waste, security and decommissioning are included, plus the time it takes to get them online and lets see how it stacks up.

    BTW anyone see that lovely map on insiders of where the reators would go on the eastern coast?

    Hermit no its relevant, its very hard to take seriously any debate from the pro-nuclear advocates when they have ignored the science of AGW for so long but have a change of heart when an industry that has had serious environmental concerns can get a leg up from it.

    In the same way this governments newly expoused concern for AGW is so self evidently disingenuous when there is never even the slightest mention of a national energy efficiency drive, cuts funding to renewable research and rebates for solar heaters.

  9. Michael H.
    May 28th, 2006 at 19:55 | #9

    It’s great to suggest a rational debate on the issue, but that avoids some realities. In theory, nuclear power is an option. It’s far from convincing that it’s a cost-effective or efficacious one compared to other options. That can be decided via further rational exploration of the question, (an area where nuclear proponents don’t score very highly either Dogz).

    But, the art of what’s possible is part of the equation as well.
    Who wants a nuclear power station near them? Sure, it’s a NIMBY situation, but that is a real element in making decisions on concrete action.

    Reason sugests that nuclear power is possible, reality, that it’s not very likely.

  10. May 28th, 2006 at 20:15 | #10

    The only change since then is that the evidence for human-caused climate change has become even more overwhelming

    So in the last 12 months what new evidence in support of the Anthroprogenic Global Warming theory has been unearthed?

  11. observa
    May 28th, 2006 at 20:55 | #11

    Ideological scaredy cats of nuclear, bring up the social cost argument, but as yet don’t seem to be capable of recognising the magnitude of that same argument for fossil fuels. They want to somehow airbrush it away with windmills and solar panels. It may be a tad counterproductive to be smug about not producing nuclear waste with a life of centuries if the alternative is the whole planet going down the toilet in a single one. Tonight on a new ‘techy news’ spot added to our normal news we had a look at a solar panelled household. For an installation cost of $17,000 the household had saved 2/3 of its power bill. You all got that? Yes you may be able to increase the mortgage and save 2/3 of your bill as your panels feed back into the grid (turning the meter backwards) during the day. At 8%pa that will cost your household $1360 pa or $26/week in interest, without any depreciation on your asset. Now I don’t know about your power bill, but that doesn’t go close to stacking up at my joint and what’s more if we all did it, can you imagine what the price of base load generator power would rise to in order to keep us all going after dark? And that’s just our household electricity needs, before we begin the journey to work. There’s an awful lot of sunstruck windy types coming out of the woodwork with global warming. Wait’ll the bastards start freezing or sweating in the dark without their Centrelink payments and we’ll see who’s afraid of nuclear.

  12. SJ
    May 28th, 2006 at 21:01 | #12

    John’s statement doesn’t rely on there being some new overwhelming evidence.

    It’s sufficient to demonstrate that the existing evidence has begun to overwhelm the denialists.

    For example:

    New report shows stronger evidence for climate change
    23 May 2006

    A new report released today by the Australian Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Senator Ian Campbell, reveals that climate change may be occurring at a more rapid rate than scientists previously thought.

    Senator Campbell said the report, Stronger Evidence but New Challenges: Climate Change Science 2001- 2005, analyses the latest international research on climate change, including new evidence that human activities were causing climate change and that its impacts were already being felt…

    Stronger Evidence but New Challenges: Climate Change Science 2001 – 2005

    * The report was written by internationally renowned Australian climate change scientist, Professor Will Steffen, who is currently the Director of the Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies at the Australian National University.

    * The IPCC Third Assessment Report (TAR), released in 2001, provided model-based estimates that global temperatures would warm by between 1.4 and 5.8°C by 2100.

    * ‘Stronger Evidence but New Challenges’ synthesises research since 2001. It confirms the patterns of climate change described in the TAR, but concludes from the new evidence that there is now a much greater risk of reaching or exceeding the upper estimate (5.8°C) by the end of 2100.

    * A better understanding of the severity and rate of climate change over the coming decades is crucial to assessing the potential impacts on societies and ecosystems, and to inform planning for how best to adapt.

    * A copy of Stronger Evidence but New Challenges: Climate Change Science 2001 – 2005, can be accessed at http://www.greenhouse.gov.au.

  13. SJ
    May 28th, 2006 at 21:02 | #13

    The above in response to Terje, not observa, obviously.

  14. SJ
    May 28th, 2006 at 21:09 | #14

    Ideological scaredy cats of nuclear, bring up the social cost argument, but as yet don’t seem to be capable of recognising the magnitude of that same argument for fossil fuels. They want to somehow airbrush it away with windmills and solar panels.

    That doesn’t make any sense at all.

    Who are these scaredy cats who bring up the social cost of nuclear, but who won’t recognise the social cost of fossil fuels? Or are you actually arguing that there’s a positive social cost for fossil fuels?

  15. Hermit
    May 28th, 2006 at 21:12 | #15

    JQ
    I thought your central point was the bona fides of recent converts to nuclear. I agree that we should look at all GW mitigation options that show early returns. That includes carbon trading and increased renewables targets, both of which should encourage conservation. However the nation of Germany is conducting this experiment for us with enormous but often idle windpower generation and enhanced rebates for rooftop solar. In fact I have received a $multi-k solar rebate myself here in Oz. The German finding is that they need imported gas generation to back up renewables in spells of calm, cloudy weather. Since that imported gas is vulnerable or finite then something else needs to be done, the N option perhaps.

    So I agree we should go for other options a.s.a.p. but I predict an unfavourable outcome. If I’m wrong I’ll wear it.

  16. May 28th, 2006 at 21:35 | #16

    If nuclear power is the answer for our greenhouse future then it is an admission that we are not prepared to economise or even share some of the wealth. Embracing nuclear power is just saying “I’m alright Jack to hell with the future as long as I have my Prado and McMansion in the ‘burbs”

    I have asked this on many occasions and never got a coherent answer. What is wrong with Iran having a peaceful nuclear power program. It is a member of the NPT unlike Pakistan or India. If Iran cannot have nuclear power then what is the model for the worldwide expansion of NP required to make a dent in greenhouse emissions. Do only Christian democracies and dodgy friends of superpowers like Pakistan get Nuclear Power? Does anyone get it? Do only members of the NPT get it? If so how do we remove it from Israel, India and Pakistan?

    The enormous advantage of renewable power is that it cannot be used for weapons. Additionally small scale renewable power is uniquely suited for the 3rd world that lack the large scale distribution networks that we have. Concentration on providing nuclear power for 1st world contries could take the wind (no pun intended) out of massive expansion of appropriate renewable power to the 3rd world. Something like a massive 60% of the Earth’s population do not have electricity. To them the problems of ‘backing up the power’ do not exist as an electric light is a bonus. As they are feeling Peak Oil first of all with skyrocketing fuel prices because, of course we get first dibs on their oil to fuel our Prados, the renewable electric light means that they do not have to burn expensive fuel to light their homes.

    The only long term answer for all people of the world is renewable power. 1st world countries should fund a massive expansion of renewables by carbon taxes and energy conservation. This technology will trickle down faster to the 3rd world if the 1st world provides the example. Yes we may have to make big efforts to conserve energy. Yes we may have to take some reponsibility for our energy choices rather than using what ever we like and damn everything else.

  17. Simonjm
    May 28th, 2006 at 21:55 | #17

    A sustainable energy future for Australia

    Our electricity supply systems are predominantly based on coal, the most greenhouse intensive of all fuels. Dr Mark Diesendorf, who teaches sustainable development at the Institute of Environmental Studies at the University of New South Wales, comments on some of the new technologies aimed at giving Australia a clean energy future.

    http://www.abc.net.au/rn/science/ockham/stories/s1625259.htm

    Looks like -at least by this study- a clean renewable energy future for Australia with a mix of renewables, gas and energy efficiency is both technically and economically feasible.

  18. Seeker
    May 28th, 2006 at 22:01 | #18

    And the prize for the most incoherent, off-topic and ideology soaked rant of the day goes to [drumroll]:

    Observa.

    Congratulations, you have just won a gross of hand-reared, free-range, karma-certified, organic artichokes. Would you like fries with that?

  19. Michael H.
    May 28th, 2006 at 22:03 | #19

    Siminjm,

    Who cares about a clean future?

    According to observa-types, if the solution isn’t nuclear, there isn’t a problem.

  20. May 29th, 2006 at 00:17 | #20

    SJ,

    John’s statement doesn’t rely on there being some new overwhelming evidence.

    I agree. He added his comment more as an aside to show that the basis for his earlier article on nuclear power has not changed in any manner that was significant. I was not trying to tear down his main argument and I am not an advocate of nuclear power.

    It’s sufficient to demonstrate that the existing evidence has begun to overwhelm the denialists.

    Not if his claim is that there is new evidence. That may not in fact be his claim however it is what he seemed to be saying and why I highlighted the sentence in question.

    A copy of Stronger Evidence but New Challenges: Climate Change Science 2001 – 2005, can be accessed at http://www.greenhouse.gov.au.

    Following your reference to this report I have read the first 50% and hope to read the rest soon. My initial observation is that it is well written. Mostly it discusses evidence that is not new (ie not written in the last 12 months), however it does cite some more recent papers in support of previous evidence. So thanks for referencing it.

    Regards,
    Terje.

  21. observa
    May 29th, 2006 at 01:05 | #21

    Just that I live in a state that has the most variable (nowadays) demand for electricity in this country(and the Western world?) due to summer airconditioning (no I’m a rare beast without it). I’ve seen a state govt fall on the price of electricity and all hell breaks loose when leafy suburb elites lose their power in overload blackouts. All this in a state that burns brown coal by the trainload and digs up uranium, the latter at record levels this year, yet won’t allow a low level waste dump near its 50s nuclear test sites. Work that little lot out by gum and you’re a better bloke than me. Talk’s cheap until you cut off their mains supply in a heat wave.

  22. observa
    May 29th, 2006 at 01:11 | #22

    “Who are these scaredy cats who bring up the social cost of nuclear, but who won’t recognise the social cost of fossil fuels?”

    Green left twits that think social costs are warm fuzzy things that governments can bear on their behalf.

  23. Katz
    May 29th, 2006 at 09:09 | #23

    Observa,

    I’d like the adjudication a non-green, non-left twit on this one.

    Would the US Price-Anderson Act which condemns the US taxpayer to indemnifying the nuclear industry without limit constitute a “social cost” according to your definition?

    Shouldn’t those mung-bean munching, bong-sucking nuclear power execs and their bead-wearing kombi-living shareholders get out of the Timothy Leary Peace and Freeloading Love Commune and instead compete in the real world of commerce?

  24. May 29th, 2006 at 09:14 | #24

    Are we all in agreement that the mandatory renewable energy target is a dumb way to go about tackling greenhouse emissions?

  25. Ken
    May 29th, 2006 at 09:31 | #25

    I think the notion that our current gov’t wants to make a difference on the global warming front by advocating nuclear is a red herring – I can only see this as advocating more mining and it has nothing to do with reducing reliance on coal or seeing any kind of reduction in how much gets exported and burned clean or dirty anywhere in the world. If it was a case of nuclear or coal, coal would win, but it’s not – our gov’t wants both. The mining industry is a powerful lobby and our gov’ts are their friends. Maximising the profitablity of a relatively small number of very high turnover companies is what this is about. Meanwhile renewables seem to offer no such export income stream (until batteries are good enough to make shipping electricity around feasable) not even in the manufacturing side (not enough cheap educated labour to compete, though they’re working on the cheap part) to compare to the economic boon that high output mining represents. And I suspect that when renewable costs do come down enough to be competitive, stuff you just dig up and ship will have room to come down in price sufficiently to burst any growth bubble. As long as the costs of environmental damage, security of energy supply and climate change are not included in their costs of doing business the coal, oil and uranium mining industries will retain a strong and influential position in Australia.
    On the other hand, given a couple of nuclear power plants worth of R&D funding there might be more rapid and significant improvement in renewable technologies – it’s certain that we are yet to see the last word in such things as photovoltaics and in energy storage systems. If the currently externalised costs of oil, coal and nuclear get included in their bottom line then we might see the balance shift.
    Solar remains the greatest untapped energy resource we have , especially in Australia, and I don’t believe the problems are unsolvable although they won’t get solved if the prevailing attitude is a belief that costs can’t ever come down so don’t try.

  26. May 29th, 2006 at 09:59 | #26

    Ken, conventional batteries will *never* become cheap enough to ship energy around that way; coal is barely economical to ship and batteries contain an order of magnitude less energy.

    Hydrogen is a different matter, though the costs of liquefying it for transport are very high.

    Oh, and with regards to solar, have you looked at just how much the price has to come down to compete with wind, let alone nuclear or coal? It’s orders of magnitude.

    Look, you won’t get any argument from me that the externalities of all energy sources should be priced into their cost (which nuclear mostly does; waste disposal is included, but the cost of insurance in case of a disaster is not fully included), and the market can then do its thing (including investing to conserve energy, as John argues will come first). But, even if you did so, solar is just way too expensive and I haven’t read anything to indicate that it’s going to get cheap compared to alternatives (remember, most of them are decreasing in cost too, so you’ve got a moving target) any time soon.

  27. Dogz
    May 29th, 2006 at 10:07 | #27

    Katz, the US is just one country. France and Sweden have no counterpart to Price-Anderson, yet they have thriving (and safe) nuclear industries. 83% of Swedes believe their nuclear program should be maintained or expanded.

    So, what should an intelligent person conclude about the Price-Anderson act: that the nuclear industry in the US is maintaining a handy rort, or that nuclear industry cannot operate without such protection?

  28. observa
    May 29th, 2006 at 10:18 | #28

    ‘Would the US Price-Anderson Act which condemns the US taxpayer to indemnifying the nuclear industry without limit constitute a “social costâ€? according to your definition?’

    Definitely yes, but the point is noone is suggesting for a moment that our govts indemnify the fossil fuel industry, now and into the future. We have simply accepted that inheritance from the Industrial Revolution. It’s a bit like trying to invent the circular saw or the Victa lawnmower in today’s litigious environment. You couldn’t feasibly do it. The day a class action on emissions looks like succeeding against say a power generator, is the day the govt steps in with legislative indemnity. Certainly they can set tougher universal emission standards for any player to meet, but beyond that there is little point in allowing individuals to sue for any social costs incurred. The victory would simply be a phyrric one for us all as consumers, as it is with the nuclear power industry.

    The point is our standard of living depends directly on our current energy usage. It is a nonsense to suggest that renewables can quickly or cheaply fill the void of fossil fuels and maintain that level. What the left greens need to clearly understand is our capacity to carry large numbers of unproductive members of society(white and black welfare, retirees and students,etc), depends fundamentally at present on privately cheap fossil fuels. The question then is one of how the load will be spread and how some current sacred cows have to be sacrificed. The reduction question will be resolved either by the price mechanism or quantity controls and those of us who prefer the freedom of the price mechanism, know only too well who are licking their lips at getting their hands on the quantity levers.

  29. conrad
    May 29th, 2006 at 10:35 | #29

    I think you are incorrect on France if you think that they developed nuclear power just for military objectives. I think you’ll find that one of the main reasons they developed nuclear power was so that could buy their power from stable democratic countries like Canada and Australia, and not hopeless dictatorships who would mess up their supply every now and then. The second thing that you are confusing is militaristic expenditure with nationalism. Most of the money going to nuclear weapons etc. in France has nothing to do with having a good military but everything to do with nationionalistic sentiment.
    On a completely different topic, if you can dig up some of the electricite de France documents, you might get a decent estimate of storage/decommisioning costs. At one stage, the French government made the commisioning of power plants dependent on depositing a huge bond that would be used to pay for decommissioning the plants etc. (but seems to have got conveniently forgotten). This can give some estimate of what some of the after costs of power generation are.

  30. Dogz
    May 29th, 2006 at 10:43 | #30

    conrad, on the French decomissioning costs:

    EdF puts aside EUR 0.14 cents/kWh for decommissioning and at the end of 2004 it carried provisions of EUR 9.9 billion for this. By 2010 it will have fully funded the eventual decommissioning of its nuclear power plants (from 2035). Early in 2006 it held EUR 25 billion segregated for this purpose, and is on track for EUR 35 billion in 2010. Areva has dedicated assets already provided at the level of its future liabilities.

  31. Ken
    May 29th, 2006 at 10:44 | #31

    Robert, “Never” is a very absolute word. If your starting position is “Never” then you will end up correct by not doing anything “ever”. What is “Conventional” by definition isn’t going to be different or superior to what is currently available. You won’t get the new technologies that can successfully tap a vast energy source by being content with the conventional or by denying funding to R&D in areas (nano materials with photoelectric properties or suitablilty as cathode or anodes for example – some of which have already shown great potential) that are aimed at bridging that gap between the conventional and something better. As I said, we haven’t heard the last word on solar or on energy storage – that is unless such research goes unfunded.

  32. May 29th, 2006 at 10:52 | #32

    Simonjm: In the Mark Diesendorf (of UNSW) contribution you linked to, he states the following:

    “Within a few decades, low-grade uranium ore will have to be used. Then the CO2 emissions from the mining, milling and enrichment of uranium will become so large that they are comparable with emissions from an equivalent gas-fired power station.”

    This is not the less fallacious for being constantly repeated. First, it is wrong to compare emissions during the construction phase of one plant with emissions during production from another. A gas fired power station also has to be built, and the gas itself if derived from coal (as most will be) will need to be debited accordingly with the emissions arising during mining and transportation. Secondly, only the first nuclear plant would necessarily imply use of fossil fuels in its construction and enrichment phases, the next would not, and not even the first would generate more CO2 in its construction and enrichment phases than it saved during its operation.

  33. Simonjm
    May 29th, 2006 at 11:16 | #33

    Atleast Thanks Michael H at least one person bothered to read the post. You will notice that study didn’t look at any giant leaps in technology or cheap solar wind sources but small improvements well within the capability of the technology.

    The debate isn’t so much a technical debate but political and whether the influence can be wrested away from the fossil and now nuclear lobbies.

    As far as exports it look like we only wish to be dumb resource exporters, the lack of support for a local renewables industry is pretty well forcing business to set up overseas. With sales of renewable technology booming we can calk this done as another one that got away.

    Other countries see the potential but not us.

    I find it ironic that the only political leader to really show support for renewables was Sir Joh with Labor scrapping the funding when it came to office.

    Robert M what is wrong with incentives?

  34. derrida derider
    May 29th, 2006 at 12:06 | #34

    simonjm, there seems to be a lot of comment floating around the blogosphere claiming that the costs of extracting uranium will make nuclear power infeasible. We really oughtta stamp on this “fact”.

    First, if the price of uranium rises then we’ll start looking for more; no-one has bothered seriously looking for new reserves much since the 1960s. Secondly, according to the AAEA extracting uranium from seawater costs less than five times current uranium prices (which is why access to yellowcake will not prevent any country with a coastline from getting nukes). Since the cost of getting uranium is currently only about 2% of the cost of nuclear power, this would add only 8% to the overall cost of this form of energy.

    That said, I think there are other problems with the economics of nuclear power.

  35. Ernestine Gross
    May 29th, 2006 at 12:16 | #35

    Simonjm.

    Thank you for the link to the article by Dr Diesendorf, UNSW. It is yet another instance in support of the importance of mainstream research.

  36. May 29th, 2006 at 12:25 | #36

    Ken, the *best* batteries big batteries you can currently buy store about 0.4 megajoules per kilogram, and cost about $200 per kilogram. To ship those batteries to Japan and back would take roughly the same amount of energy as they can carry. Using affordable but less efficient lead-acid batteries makes the equation even uglier. Black coal can store about 27 times the energy per kilogram, even taking into account the conversion loss when you turn it into electricity.

    While it’s difficult to predict the future course of research, this guy, while saying that battery energy density can still be substantially improving, is talking about a two or threefold increase over the longer term. When you’re so far out of the ballpark, a two or threefold increase isn’t enough.

    That said, I would be very happy if the combination of solar energy and efficient energy storage emerged as the most efficient way of tackling the greenhouse problem. But I don’t see how, even with the most generous assumptions, shipping energy in batteries to places less generously equipped with sun and room for solar cells, can be cost competitive. Hydrogen, maybe. Anything vaguely resembling present-day batteries, no way in hell.

    Simonjm, because they favour one particular means of tackling greenhouse emissions (renewables) when other methods are probably cheaper options (even if you have an objection to geosequestration and nuclear, there’s energy conservation, which makes *everyone* happy). It’s like the CAFE fuel economy laws in the United States; it encourages cars to become more economical (actually, it doesn’t even do that very well, but that’s an argument for another day), but does nothing about tackling the other side of the equation – encouraging more efficient use of vehicle travel.

    And, yes, I’ve read Diesendorf’s study. For one thing, if you look at his numbers the overwhelming majority of electricity comes from gas, not renewables. And, as I read it, he’s making the very, very unsafe assumption that natural gas prices will remain low. If oil prices stay the way they are or go higher (thus making conversion to liquid fuels attractive), and/or the price of natural gas stays high in the United States (thus making it profitable to liquefy the stuff and ship it to the US as LNG), the present low local price of natural gas will not last.

    And his claims about the energy cost of nuclear are wrong. Like Tim says, no matter how many times he repeats that claim, it’s still flat-out wrong.

  37. MichaelH
    May 29th, 2006 at 12:31 | #37

    It seems that the primary attraction of the nuclear option is the promise of not having to alter our energy-hungry lifestyles. It’s an approach that belongs to general idea that whatever problems we’ve created will be solved sometime in the future by someone else.

  38. Katz
    May 29th, 2006 at 12:43 | #38

    “So, what should an intelligent person conclude about the Price-Anderson act: that the nuclear industry in the US is maintaining a handy rort, or that nuclear industry cannot operate without such protection?”

    Fallacy of the excluded middle.

    The middle term concerns the costs of allowing a Swedish of French regime of carrying social costs. I’m not talking about money. I’m talking about something far more important: our right to justice.

    The point is that regulation of nuclear reactors and restitution for wrongs done by that industry fall outside the traditional jurisprudential framework as it has evolved in common law countries over the centuries.

    The British system of justice is a major guarantor of our freedoms, independence and personal liberty. Tort law pays due respect to the integrity of the individual and the importance of private property.

    What Sweden and France and any other country choose to do with these values is up to them.

    But for my part, when it comes to justice, I’m British to the bootstraps.

    To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin: Any person who sacrifices her liberties for an air conditioner deserves neither liberty nor air conditioning.

    And when Dogz and Observa demand cheap air conditioning fueled by nuclear reactors it is essential that the rest of us understand that they intend to keep cool by sacrificing our traditional rights.

  39. Dogz
    May 29th, 2006 at 12:58 | #39

    Katz, it is you who wishes to take my airconditioner away on the basis of your fear of events that have never occurred in the west, despite 50 years of nuclear power. And that doesn’t even begin to touch what you’ll be doing to all the Chinese and Indian peasants who won’t have access to sufficient energy to pull themselves out of third-world status.

    Don’t preach to me about liberty.

  40. Katz
    May 29th, 2006 at 13:02 | #40

    Observa,

    “but beyond that there is little point in allowing individuals to sue for any social costs incurred. The victory would simply be a phyrric one for us all as consumers, as it is with the nuclear power industry.”

    I agree.

    But I think that you may misunderstand the basis of the tort of negligence.

    No individual can successfully claim for “social costs”. Such a litigant has to demonstrate damage to her person or to her property. Price Anderson doesn’t indemnify against “social costs” it indemnifies against private claims for personal or property damage.

    Thus a person may sue for the effects of second-hand smoking. We have all been exposed to second-hand smoke. But unless we can demonstrate an actual harm, then we have no claim.

    This is the genius of British justice.

  41. Hal9000
    May 29th, 2006 at 13:05 | #41

    Terje -

    “So in the last 12 months what new evidence in support of the Anthroprogenic Global Warming theory has been unearthed? ”

    There was extensive discussion on the Science Show last Saturday – repeated Tuesday at 1915 – about a new study showing changes in the chemistry of the oceans caused by rising CO2 levels that will result in the catastrophic collapse of shell-building organisms and corals within the next 50 years. Vale the Barrier Reef, apparently.

  42. Katz
    May 29th, 2006 at 13:13 | #42

    “Katz, it is you who wishes to take my airconditioner away on the basis of your fear of events that have never occurred in the west, despite 50 years of nuclear power.

    “Don’t preach to me about liberty. ”

    That is unusually intemperate, even for you Dogz.

    Please try to understand my position. And please don’t stereotype it.

    I don’t intend to take away your cheap air conditioning at all. All I ask is that the nuclear industry should not expect me to underwrite their costs for doing tortitious nuisance to me or to my property. If the nuclear industry feel they can produce electricity under those conditions, then they are welcome to, so far as I am concerned. However, they must be willing and able to pay the unsubsidised costs of any negligence as determined in a court of law.

    So Dogz, please have the courtesy of addressing my arguments rather than your prejudices.

  43. May 29th, 2006 at 13:19 | #43

    Surely, then, the correct way to go about reducing carbon emissions (if that is what you want to do) is to do the following:
    1. Introduce a legal cap on emissions – perhaps introducing the Kyoto (and future) limits into law.
    2. Sell “rights to pollute” up to this limit, which may change from year to year.
    3. Allow carbon sequesterers to sell rights as well.
    3. Make those rights fungible and tradable.
    4. Enforce them strongly.
    5. Ensure that other externalities are also priced in, including waste disposal.
    6. Let the market sort out the rest.
    Bingo – the cheapest and best ways to reduce carbon emissions will win and it will change from year to year as the economics change.

  44. jquiggin
    May 29th, 2006 at 13:21 | #44

    AR, this is pretty much my view of the appropriate policy response.

  45. gordon
    May 29th, 2006 at 13:23 | #45

    In the Washington Post of 25/5/06 George W. Bush is reported as saying: “‘Nuclear power helps us protect the environment. And nuclear power is safe.” He failed to say: “…but it’s expensive.” In 2005 the US Energy Bill offered an estimated $US12b. to the nuclear industry in subsidies of various kinds, including a tax credit of 1.8 cents per Kw/h of nuclear-generated electricity, Federal loan guarantees for companies building plants, a heap of Government training and R&D infrastructure, etc., etc.

  46. Dogz
    May 29th, 2006 at 13:31 | #46

    Katz, you’re drawing a really long bow with this whole tort issue. We don’t live in an idealized world where every wrong is righted by the free and unfettered application of the almighty tort. For example, take Worker’s Compensation in most Australian States: you get prescribed amounts for certain injuries.

    If society as a whole decides that keeping our airconditioners is worth the tiny chance of a nuclear reactor going haywire, then society will vote for a way to make that happen. If that means capping the liability of nuclear power generators, then that’s what we will do.

    The problem with your tort theory is that it doesn’t take account of the plus side of the balance sheet. If my nuclear power station blows up I can’t tell the judge “yes your honour, I know, a lot of people got hurt. But I calculate that the net benefit people received from being able to run their airconditioners all summer far outweighs the damage caused by the plant exploding”. The judge might well agree with me, but that won’t mitigate the damages bill.

    These kind of global decisions rightly sit outside the law; we have a parliament and elected leaders who’s job it is to balance the overall pluses and minuses of any major changes.

  47. May 29th, 2006 at 13:37 | #47

    Now all we have to do is work out if a limit is appropriate and the correct number of permits to issue. Oh, and get some Federal legislation passed.
    .
    Katz,
    No one has the obligation “…to pay the unsubsidised costs of any negligence as determined in a court of law.” This can only be up to the point of bancruptcy and/or liquidiation once past the insurance limit. All the US act does is to ensure that, for the nuclear industry at least, this limit is raised to the point of bancruptcy of the government.

  48. Dogz
    May 29th, 2006 at 13:39 | #48

    AR, I have two caveats to your proposal: how do you decide what the caps are, given the global climate models have such high variance in their predictions; and how do you ensure the government doesn’t just treat the sale of “rights to pollute” as another way to fleece the public of money – that is, how do you prevent the government continually jacking up the price as a means of bolstering general revenue?

  49. Simonjm
    May 29th, 2006 at 13:47 | #49

    Robert M I had thought setting a target was one way to encourage an industry as just one of a mix of solutions. As far as the gas from my understanding it is a stop gap lesser of evils until the right mix of renewables and energy efficient products/services come online.

    Given the investment in renewables and the great advances technology the prospects of such a mix is quite probable now that it is being taken seriously-look at BP.

    As far as the costs of nuclear I’m more than happy to see it on the table as long tas all the costs are factored in.

    A lot of claims are flying about I’d just life to see the truth come out come what may.

    A side note regarding efficient use of resources with both China and India looking for 1st world living standards unless you have 4 more Earths handy resources efficiency will be a must.

    AR & JQ the most appropriate policy approach, I don’t see energy/resource efficiency included in this do you two think those 6 steps will lead to this automatically?

  50. jquiggin
    May 29th, 2006 at 13:55 | #50

    Automatically is putting it too strongly, and I think there is room for a variety of other policy interventions. But without price incentives, nothing else will make much diffrence.

  51. Katz
    May 29th, 2006 at 14:01 | #51

    AR,

    “No one has the obligation “…to pay the unsubsidised costs of any negligence as determined in a court of law.â€? This can only be up to the point of bancruptcy and/or liquidiation once past the insurance limit.”

    And that’s all I require.

    Dogz,

    “The problem with your tort theory is that it doesn’t take account of the plus side of the balance sheet.”

    Tough.

    The power generators have made their profits. They have no other legitimate expectations in a civil society. What a revelation. Neoliberals bleeding on about social responsibility and social costs.

    Margaret Thatcher would be revolving in her grave, were she composed of organic matter.

    Dogz’s puling compromise will win.

    I don’t doubt that the punters will vote for nuclear power when offered the opportunity. So I can be smug and stay cool at a fraction of the real ammortised price of that refrigerated air.

  52. Dogz
    May 29th, 2006 at 14:10 | #52

    democracy = “puling compromise”

    and I thought I was cynical.

  53. May 29th, 2006 at 14:27 | #53

    Dogz,
    I think I have answered your second question – I do not know the correct limits, or even if there are such limits. I was merely trying to direct the debate to discuss the points that are now being discussed.
    On deciding how to ensure these do not become just another revenue source – perhaps either hypothecation of the revenue from the rights towards their enforcement (just trying to avoid the implicit conflict of interest), or, and probably better, set the income to be zero. Give the rights to current emitters up to the required limit (see above) plus current sequestration rates and then allow the sequesterers to sell the additional volume. Trading could easily be on the SFE (Sydney Futures Exchange), whose platform could cope with such rights with very few modifications.
    The normal corporations tax on the profits the sequesterers make from the sale of the rights may also make the whole scheme revenue neutral from the government’s point of view – but there would need to be some continuing expenditure on monitoring.

  54. May 29th, 2006 at 14:43 | #54

    Simonjm, note that Diesendorf doesn’t give a number for gas in his RN spiel.

    If you go look at some of the more detailed publications, the biggest cuts to greenhouse emissions are basically the replacement of coal with gas, and then energy efficiency. Renewables are the cream on top that aren’t actually projected to make big contributions for decades. Underpinning these projections are an assumption that gas will remain cheap in this period. If a big international trade opens up in gas (as other countries around the world take the same option to reduce the carbon usage) this seems doubtful to me.

  55. stephen
    May 29th, 2006 at 14:44 | #55

    AR, the sad thing is that the steps you outline are the obvious and responsible approach, the government knows this, and yet it has rejected this approach. The issue of what the limit should be is a red herring – nobody knows exactly what it ought to be, so the boundedly rational thing to do is set the limit at a best guess, and adjust in later years in light of experience. Putting in place the mechanism is the first step. If sale of rights to pollute were used to reduce other taxes, it would be unequivocally a net benefit to welfare; if (harking back some weeks) you think governments can actually invest for future welfare, using the funds in this way would likewise be a net benefit.

  56. Dogz
    May 29th, 2006 at 15:31 | #56

    Some of the big existing emitters represent very long-term investments with big political implications. Eg, the Port Agusta power station in SA: burns what is charitably described as “brown coal” from Leigh Creek (more like vaguely carboniferous mud). The power station is about the only reason Port Agusta continues to exist.

    Under any rational CO2 reduction scheme the power station will have to disappear. There may be a hundred stories like Port Agusta across the country. I can’t see any governmeent willingly submitting to the kind of political fallout you’d get from destroying those towns.

    So, while I buy the general approach as a steady-state solution, the hard problem is how to get there from here?

  57. May 29th, 2006 at 16:07 | #57

    stephen,
    The government is, IMHO, not an evil thing (although I would like to see a lot less of it). I do not feel they have thought something in the order of “Ha ha! we can stuff up the environment to make more money regardless of the consequences.”
    From a national point of view the science on whether client change is going to be bad for Australia and whether any expenditure should be committed to reducing its effects or stopping it or some combination of the two is still an open question. My job is in risk management and the first principal of managing risks is first to understand it, second to quantify it and then to look at whether the risk should be eliminated (normally very costly) or managed to reduce its impact and / or frequency.
    In this case if we accept that climate change is both happening and anthropogenic (the science on both is, IMHO, increasingly persuasive) we then need to look at a process of managing that change. This may be by attempting to stop or slow it by reducing the incidence of the cause (GHG emission reduction), it may be by attempting to reduce the effects by amelioration or it may be by simply saying that the change is likely to be good and accepting it. You may also take 2 of these 3 views in combination (1 and 3 are contradictory).
    As this government tends to do, it is probably erring on the conservative side of the argument and doing little or nothing while the science is not unequivocal and the outcomes are uncertain. Perhaps they should do more; reasoned argument is the way to persuade them to do it.

  58. Ernestine Gross
    May 29th, 2006 at 16:33 | #58

    “Andrew Reynolds Says:

    May 25th, 2006 at 11:55 am
    On the nuclear waste issue – there is a clear solution. Politicians just know that they would be slaughtered by the political left if they proposed it in Australia. The Swedes (beloved of those who tend to regard themselves as the Left) are amongst the largest users of nuclear power in the world and they are building a permanent storage facility for high level waste. If a similar facility were built in Australia we could take all of our own waste and (for an appropriate fee) all of just about everyone else’s. A facility like the Swede’s could be built just about anywhere, but political reality means that it would probably need to be built far from a major city. Outback WA, NT SA or QLD would be ideal, with some sites in NSW being possible.
    We have some of the most geologically stable rocks on the planet, we produce much of the uranium, why not get the double whammy and get paid to bury the waste.
    BTW – I know this will not be popular on this blog, but instead of abuse, please try to use reasoned argument. Here’s hoping. “

  59. May 29th, 2006 at 16:47 | #59

    Thanks for the repost Ernestine – did you miss adding a comment?

  60. Ernestine Gross
    May 29th, 2006 at 17:06 | #60

    No, Andrew, I did not miss adding a comment.

  61. Simonjm
    May 29th, 2006 at 17:46 | #61

    Robert M I’ve asked Diesendorf to drop in and answer some questions.

    He said he might be able to later in the week. If so have some specific questions ready :)

    With the high price of oil likely to stay with us that makes tar sands, shale oil and coal to oil economically viable anyone want to say what they may do to the price of gas?

    That of course means business as usual and more CO2, if we pass a climate tipping point that forces our hand to drastically limit fossil fuel use it would appear we’re screwed.

  62. MichaelH
    May 29th, 2006 at 18:04 | #62

    AR,

    I was totally opposed to nuclear energy, but my position has shifted a little to somewhat like your proposition.

    I still don’t think it’s a particular clever idea, but if it’s doing to be done, it might as well be all or nothing. So on the basis of the rational arguments, if it’s OK to sell the stuff, then it must be OK to have our own nuclear power plants, and naturally we’d then store our own high-level waste. If we do that, why not charge others a fortune (?) to store theirs, owing to our relative geological stability. Though I suspect the proclaimed economic benefits fo this may not be as significant as some suggest. The supporters of the waste facility in the NT used the ‘job creation’ argument to help make the case; in the end it was revealed that the number of permanent jobs created would be around 6.

    And that’s as far as most of the proponents take it, in the name of reason. The basic principle is fair – you can’t really seperate out the mining, from use, from waste storage. And so neither can the other uses of uranium. If you go this far, than reason must accept profileration as a logical consequence. Yet, mad-keen supporters of nuclear power are regularly seen to be in a flap about Iran’s enrichment activities. But it’s no use decrying what Iran might eventually do with the products of enrichment as, reason suggests, nuclear weapons are also part of that same fuel cycle that proponents of nuclear energy tell us makes things such as the 3 mines policy illogical artifacts.

    This is an outcome that makes me suspect my former complete opposition was quite reasonable. Can’t we make civillian use dependant on a strict no-nukes policy? Maybe, but look what the NNPT has achieved so far.

    Again it leads me back to the unreasonable position. I could really only fully support such an idea if we were really in a no-other-choice position. But I think it’s pretty clear we aren’t. Why take a punt on an option that won’t light the first bulb for 10-20 years from now, when other options exist today and tomorrow. Maybe that isn’t too unreasonable.

  63. May 29th, 2006 at 18:12 | #63

    Simonjm,
    I personally doubt that the current oil price will continue in the medium term. To me at least the current problem stems from little exploration and development expenditure when oil was approaching USD10 per barrel only a few years ago. More exploration and development will bring the price down – but I do not propose that we re-open the peak oil discussion here.
    If the current scientific view of the climate is correct then the problem is the carbon emissions, not (IMHO) the lack of oil.
    The problem on the carbon is pricing the externalities correctly – as it is with nuclear, as, with Ernestine’s helpful repost above, there is no real technical reason why nuclear cannot be used. The price is likely to be a problem, along with the politics.

  64. just another mug
    May 29th, 2006 at 18:19 | #64

    I wonder if this might be regarded as an approaching tipping point, or evidence that we might be past it? If so, then as you say, we’re quite possibly screwed.

    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2006/05/more-on-the-arctic/

    The comments thread on this article is worth reading.

  65. Katz
    May 29th, 2006 at 19:53 | #65

    “democracy = “puling compromiseâ€?

    “and I thought I was cynical.”

    Dogz, you smooth talker you!

  66. Jill Rush
    May 29th, 2006 at 22:20 | #66

    The posts on this thread have illustrated the ability to argue whilst ignoring the elephant in the corner.

    Nuclear costs must include the ongoing costs of both dealing with waste as well as the security of ensuring that that other scourge of modern day life the terrorist doesn’t nuke any facility. The ease with which Lucas Heights was proven to be insecure last year makes me think that it would be far better to spend the money on almost any other kind of energy rather than nuclear. Gas, water and geothermal have many possibilities. Where is the debate and funding for these alternatives? Our windy places provide us with power and tourist attractions.

    Nuclear supporters should remember it’s not a messiah just a way to make a heap of money for powerful people uninterested in the future as they won’t be there. Religious fervour will not change its negatives. No wonder people don’t want it in their backyard.

  67. SJ
    May 29th, 2006 at 23:05 | #67

    Jill,

    I don’t think many people are ignoring the elephant in the corner. Some people are pointing directly at it and saying “look at the bloody elephant”, and some are saying “there is no elephant”. ;)

    Contrast this report from last Friday

    Nuclear consultant’s report backs nuclear power

    May 26, 2006 – 6:48PM

    New research shows the latest type of nuclear power station is economically competitive with new coal fired power stations, Science Minister Julie Bishop says.

    Mrs Bishop, who today inspected the new research reactor at Lucas Heights in Sydney, said the research was conducted by Professor John Gittus, an independent consultant to the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO).

    A synopsis of his report will be released on Sunday.

    With this one from today (after the synopsis was released):

    Nuclear risk cost ‘falls to taxpayers’

    By Misha Schubert
    May 29, 2006

    TAXPAYERS would be forced to underwrite part of the insurance risk and contribute hundreds of millions of dollars to build and operate a nuclear power plant if Australia wanted nuclear electricity within a decade, government advice suggests.

    But by waiting until nine of the nuclear reactors had been built overseas, letting other nations incur the cost of trial and error, the private sector may be able to produce cost-competitive nuclear power without operational subsidies. That option is still likely to require taxpayers to shoulder some of the insurance risk…

    But the level of public aid required would drop dramatically if Australia waited to build the world’s 10th AP1000 reactor two decades or more from now.

    There’s the Howard argument in a nutshell. If we don’t do anything for 20 years, it’ll be cheaper.

  68. Ernestine Gross
    May 29th, 2006 at 23:05 | #68

    “The problem on the carbon is pricing the externalities correctly – as it is with nuclear, as, with Ernestine’s helpful repost above, there is no real technical reason why nuclear cannot be used.”

    In Andrew’s opinion.

    Other opinions have been extensively discussed in an ealier thread.

  69. SJ
    May 29th, 2006 at 23:13 | #69

    (Unless of course, it involves giving loads of money to money to coal miners and/or users).

    Published on 17 Jun 2004 by Taipei Times. Archived on 17 Jun 2004.
    Coal is the future, Howard tells Australians

    The Australian government has turned its back on global efforts to reduce the greenhouse gases that drive climate change and announced plans to meet its electricity needs by burning coal and oil.

    The 10-year energy blueprint Prime Minister John Howard presented to parliament this week was cheered by the captains of industry but deplored by environmentalists.

    Rather than embrace solar and other renewable energy sources, Howard put forward a national energy plan that offered the coal industry an enormous subsidy to tinker with untested and uncosted technology for turning carbon dioxide from coal-fired power plants into a liquid and then pumping it into holes in the ground.

    At the same time, it hammered the commercial prospects of companies established to develop and sell technologies for harnessing the energy of the wind and sun.

    “The reality is that the older fuels, of which we have large supplies, are going to contribute the bulk of our energy needs,” Howard said. “The energy advantage provided by our resources is something that Australia must not throw away.”

    The coal industry employs 120,000 Australians and its exports bring in A$24 billion (US$16 billion) a year. It will be the biggest benefactor of a A$500 million (US$350 million) fund to spur technologies to reduce emissions.

    The renewable energy sector, its luminaries attest, will go to the wall because the policy caps at 1 percent the amount that electricity retailers must source from generators of solar and wind power. In Europe and in California, the target has been set at 10 percent or more.

  70. SJ
    May 29th, 2006 at 23:16 | #70

    (The above was a correction to my own post, not a response to Ernestine’s post.)

  71. May 30th, 2006 at 02:17 | #71

    Jill, Ernestine – let me make my position on nuclear clear. I believe that there is no technical reason why it could not provide the baseload power that any system like ours needs. The waste can be dealt with and security is a problem, but not an insoluble one. I am not convinced that it is the best cost option, however. In fact, it may well be one of the more expensive options.
    If we believe that we need to reduce carbon emissions there are many possibilities for the production of transient power (wind, solar, wave, tidal etc.) and a few for the production of baseload power (gas, coal with some form of sequestration, nuclear, geothermal, biomass etc.). Whichever we use, a diversity of sources is likely to prove wise and possibly necessary. As I outlined above, all that is needed is to decide what the target needs to be and set up a market based mechanism to get there, without attempting to mandate a means or overstate the problem. I cannot see how it is more complicated than that.

  72. Ernestine Gross
    May 30th, 2006 at 08:40 | #72

    Andrew Reynolds,

    Which ‘market based mechanism’ are you going to set up to price the potentially intergenerational and international externalities (waste, accidents) of nuclear power?

    What ‘targets’ are you going to set, for Australia and the rest of the world, and how are you going to ensure that these targets are met (I assume the former S.U. did not set as target the actual nuclear fall-out from Chernobyl)?

  73. Dogz
    May 30th, 2006 at 10:22 | #73

    Which ‘market based mechanism’ are you going to set up to price the potentially intergenerational and international externalities (waste, accidents) of nuclear power?

    The same mechanism that determines whether people are willing to sacrifice their air-conditioners or their potential to climb out of third-world status: the market of public opinion and the ballot box.

  74. Ernestine Gross
    May 30th, 2006 at 10:56 | #74

    “The same mechanism that determines whether people are willing to sacrifice their air-conditioners or their potential to climb out of third-world status: the market of public opinion and the ballot box. ”

    How many dollars do you put into the ballot box? What is the current market price for a public opinion of type xyz?

  75. gordon
    May 30th, 2006 at 11:12 | #75

    My reference above to the US Energy Bill signed last August somehow failed. the URL is
    http://www.citizen.org/cmep/energy_enviro_nuclear/electricity/energybill/2005/articles.cfm?ID=13980

  76. Dogz
    May 30th, 2006 at 11:25 | #76

    EG, precisely my point. You want complete insurance, or equivalently, to price the unpricable. The market cannot do that, by definition, so we do it through the ballot box.

  77. Ernestine Gross
    May 30th, 2006 at 11:28 | #77

    gordon, thanks for the link. I only glanced through it but I’ll take time to read it in detail. It is interesting.

  78. May 30th, 2006 at 12:16 | #78

    Ernestine,

    I would have thought that a professional economist would have been able to look at this problem. Good subject matter for a PhD.
    The waste has, I believe, been dealt with – the Swedish storage option, applied in ancient Australian rock, should (if my understanding is correct) provide a permanent solution. Put it a mile or so down in 2 to 3 billion year old rock and progressively seal it and it should be OK until it is not likely to be a problem to the human race – or many other animals.
    Pricing the externalities, though, would be fun to look at. But then, isn’t this whole debate about pricing the externalities of carbon emissions?

  79. Katz
    May 30th, 2006 at 13:14 | #79

    “You want complete insurance, or equivalently, to price the unpricable. The market cannot do that, by definition, so we do it through the ballot box.”

    Incorrect Dogz.

    The above is an example of lexicographical legerdemain.

    The exercise of the ballot puts a price on nothing, certainly not the price of a nuclear accident.

    Correct is that the exercise of the ballot is an indemnification against the responsible parties paying the price. This indemnification is granted under the cover of the responsible parties paying part of the price.

    The rest of the price is abandoned to be paid by someone who hasn’t been born yet.

    Tradition, says Chesterton, is the democracy of the dead.

    Democracy, says Dogz, is the bill that the present tenders to the unborn.

  80. Ernestine Gross
    May 30th, 2006 at 13:44 | #80

    “Pricing the externalities, though, would be fun to look at. But then, isn’t this whole debate about pricing the externalities of carbon emissions?”

    No, Andrew, the heading of this thread is “Time to go nuclear?”

  81. Ernestine Gross
    May 30th, 2006 at 13:47 | #81

    “You want complete insurance, or equivalently, to price the unpricable. The market cannot do that, by definition, so we do it through the ballot box.â€?

    Only an astute reader picks correctly that ‘you’ in the foregoing is Dogz.

  82. Dogz
    May 30th, 2006 at 14:17 | #82

    Katz, EG, I have children. I don’t want to bequeath them a planet vastly inferior to the one I inherited.

    I believe progress is best served by having access to cheap and abundant sources of energy. If that can be provided by fossil fuels or renewables, then so be it. If not, then a nuclear industry that has paid out less than $150M in insurance over 50 years seems like a good option, particularly in a country with vast Uranium and Thorium reserves and vast geologically stable areas in which the waste can be stored.

    So yes, I think it is time to go nuclear. For the children.

  83. Ernestine Gross
    May 30th, 2006 at 14:37 | #83

    Dogz, there is nothing I would respect more than your right to voice your personal opinions.

    I also respect your privelege to select whatever information you wish for the purpose of forming your personal opinions (ie insurance pay-outs data).

  84. Katz
    May 30th, 2006 at 15:06 | #84

    “So yes, I think it is time to go nuclear. For the children. [And to show how much I love them I'm paying the bill with their money.]“

  85. Tom Davies
    May 30th, 2006 at 15:54 | #85

    Ernestine, whether it is time to go nuclear depends partly on the externalities of carbon emissions, i.e. if they were zero we wouldn’t even be having this conversation.

    Of course it also depends on the externalities of nuclear power, and the externalities (and direct costs) of other means of generating power.

    Presumably there’s some (hypothetical) combination of the above which would make even you support nuclear power?

  86. Dogz
    May 30th, 2006 at 15:56 | #86

    Which is the greater inter-generational inequity: bequeathing to our children a life of overly-restrictive energy consumption on the basis of our own irrational fears, or saddling them with the very small risk of paying for some nuclear clean-up?

  87. May 30th, 2006 at 16:05 | #87

    Ernestine,
    I stand corrected – it is about nuclear. But why are we debating nuclear? Certainly not because it is financially cheaper than gas or coal. It is the externalities of the carbon emissions that do not seem to be adequately priced.

  88. Ernestine Gross
    May 30th, 2006 at 17:16 | #88

    Tom Davies,

    “whether it is time to go nuclear depends partly on the externalities of carbon emissions, i.e. if they were zero we wouldn’t even be having this conversation.”

    Fair enough if this is your perception. Of course it does not exclude other possible reasons. For example, actual or anticipated difficulties in getting oil supplies is conceivable to be another plausible reason for the timing. I simply don’t know and I like to keep an open mind on these matters.

    “Of course it also depends on the externalities of nuclear power, and the externalities (and direct costs) of other means of generating power.”

    There is an extensive discussion on earlier threads. The only point I can think of at present in addition to those covered on earlier threads is that IMHO the externalities generated by a windmill are not comparable to the potential negative intergenerational and international externalities of nuclear power. As Dogz noted on a preceding thread, the possibility of a nuclear disaster of the Chernobyl type cannot be excluded.

    One way of looking at the problem is to say if there would have been an intervention in markets for the energy in the past, then the problem with carbon emissions would not be as urgent now. The carbon emission problem built up slowly. So, it seems the learning from the past could be expressed by saying some precautionary intervention in nuclear energy markets should be built into the decision making process. Whether such an intervention takes the form of taxes, quantity constraints or some other mechanism is yet another topic.

    “Presumably there’s some (hypothetical) combination of the above which would make even you support nuclear power? ”

    I must stress that my personal preferences are irrelevant. Otherwise, this statement looks to me like yet another application of Markowitz’ portfolio theory. If so, then the ‘pricing’ (by one means or another) of various types of externalities becomes even more important.

  89. Katz
    May 30th, 2006 at 17:21 | #89

    “Which is the greater inter-generational inequity: bequeathing to our children a life of overly-restrictive energy consumption on the basis of our own irrational fears, or saddling them with the very small risk of paying for some nuclear clean-up?”

    Tsk tsk.

    Begging the question AND fallacy of the excluded middle.

  90. Ernestine Gross
    May 30th, 2006 at 17:26 | #90

    “I stand corrected – it is about nuclear. But why are we debating nuclear? Certainly not because it is financially cheaper than gas or coal. It is the externalities of the carbon emissions that do not seem to be adequately priced.”

    We are debating ‘nuclear’ on this thread because the ‘nuclear solution’ was introduced by you and a few others on a previous thread which dealt with ‘the last sceptics’ (about global warming) and JQ (rightly) closed the ‘last sceptics thread’ and opened one for this debate.

  91. May 30th, 2006 at 18:30 | #91

    Ernestine,
    At no stage have I said nuclear is a solution (if one is needed) – merely an option. Personally I would prefer that no solution be mandated and that a way be found to price the externalities better. Once that is done the solution(s) should find themselves and change over time.

  92. Dogz
    May 30th, 2006 at 20:08 | #92

    “Begging the question AND fallacy of the excluded middle.”

    I think most will find it a very real choice. I know what I’ll be voting for, assuming I’m still a resident that is. Honestly, Australia’s rapid descent into nanny-statehood is starting to make me wish I lived elsewhere. Albrechtson sums it up best.

  93. Ernestine Gross
    May 30th, 2006 at 20:50 | #93

    Andrew,

    I don’t think I have misrepresented you. I have quoted your post of 25 May on this thread. Fair enough?

  94. May 30th, 2006 at 22:08 | #94

    If you claim I have supported the use of nuclear for Australian power then I believe you have misrepresented me. I have said that there may be a good case for us to bury the waste of other’s reactors.

  95. Jill Rush
    May 30th, 2006 at 22:14 | #95

    Dogz,
    “Honestly, Australia’s rapid descent into nanny-statehood is starting to make me wish I lived elsewhere. Albrechtson sums it up best. ”

    Nanny statehood is hardly what is happening in the real Australia. We may be getting tied up in red tape courtesy of the Howard government but this is bureaucracy not nanny statehood. In fact we have a dog eat dog industrial relations system, a dog eat dog refugee policy and a proposal for nuclear power which fails to recognise the rights of people to have a safe environment. There is no point in having abundant energy for wasteful and polluting activities to cope with green house gases. DDT had many environmental advantages too but we are still living with its legacy.

    Energy is important – but it is not worth mortgaging the future of many generations to come. Voting is not necessarily going to come up with the best solutions for the earth as a whole or even our own backyard.

  96. Seeker
    May 31st, 2006 at 06:43 | #96

    “Australia’s rapid descent into nanny-statehood is starting to make me wish I lived elsewhere”

    Australia is no nanny state, Dogz, and never has been, that is just foolish ideological rhetoric. You have as much freedom and opportunity here as anywhere on earth.

    I am no teary-eyed flag-waving patriot, but one of the biggest breaks anyone could get in life is to hold an Aussie passport.

    However, if you really think Australia is so terrible overall, well you are certainly free to go see if you can find somewhere else better. But I don’t like your chances.

  97. Dogz
    May 31st, 2006 at 07:50 | #97

    Seeker, I don’t wish to denigrate Australia as a whole. It has some great aspects to it. And I certainly plan to hang onto my passport. But it is not true that you have as much freedom and opportunity here as in the US.

    The culture here is very government-oriented; people look to the government to solve every problem. We have a welfare system under which families on over $120,000 a year still receive government handouts. Here in South Australia you cannot move without running into government influence and control.

    The US is very different: people don’t expect anything of their government (unfortunately, they also get what they expect to a certain extent). But consequently, people expect to rely on their own resources a lot more. And people are more comfortable with success – there is far less of the “tall poppy” over there.

    I don’t claim one system is better than the other: whatever floats your boat. The nanny-state don’t float mine, that’s all.

  98. May 31st, 2006 at 07:59 | #98

    “In the aftermath of the Three Mile Island meltdown,”

    Tsk, JQ, Tsk.

    There was as you know, no meltdown at TMI. There was an “emotional” meltdown as a result of the gas release….but this is what you mean, correct? Not the use of one engineering term to conflate it with a highly emotional one?

  99. jquiggin
    May 31st, 2006 at 08:25 | #99

    I was writing from memory, Tim, but the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission backs me up

    Although the TMI-2 plant suffered a severe core meltdown, the most dangerous kind of nuclear power accident, it did not produce the worst-case consequences that reactor experts had long feared.

    Are you sure this isn’t one of those blogospheric factoids, like on DDT and climate change?

  100. Majorajam
    May 31st, 2006 at 09:02 | #100

    There are important economic considerations that have been omitted from this discussion. For one, nuclear is not subject to input price shocks in the same way as fossil fuel plants are. This is a major impetus for the interest in nuclear power in countries like France, as it furnishes substantial economic value in the form of energy security (quite possibly offsetting its subsidization).

    Also, energy price per MWH or KWH is not an appropriate measure for the economics of a power source. Solar, for example, looks extremely unfavorable in that context, but when you consider that solar produces power during the day when it is demanded and not through the night where it’s value is negligible by contrast, and further consider the massive cost of transporting electricity which is eliminated in rooftop solar produced power, it’s looks far more economically justifiable.

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