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. gordon
    June 17th, 2006 at 11:46 | #1

    I am driven to repeat myself. From my comment of 2 June (above): “Andrew Reynolds’ simple solution of “raise pricesâ€? implies, I think, the dismantling of a whole raft of subsidies and incentives which exist in our present power generation and distribution systems, which is unlikely to happen. What about the $5b. in perverse subsidies (see my previous comment) [May 31st]? What about State incentives to locate industrial installations? What about cross-subsidies to remote areas? Etc. And I fear there are many ways to rort a permit system (which Andrew Reynolds advocated in an earlier comment) for raising prices.”

    And from June 14th, re: regulation by standards: “Firms that bid for the billions of pounds worth of central or local government contracts say they want to be compelled to recycle more, contribute less to climate change, and avoid trading with suppliers who ignore basic human rights, as long as the same rules apply to their competitors.� [quote from newspaper] To which we can add this article on building regulation also from the UK.

  2. June 17th, 2006 at 13:07 | #2

    Majoram – “I don’t suppose you studied economics. In any case, you should know that ‘efficiency’ is very prominent in the economic cannon to say the least (that the words efficient and economical are practically synonyms should be a tip off).”

    However you are mixing economics with thermodynamics here. I want to know what context you were using the word ‘efficient’. To me you were implying that wind/solar etc was thermodynamically inefficient which is not the case at all. You attempts to demonstrate that nuclear is more economically efficient also failed as practically ALL studies show that nuclear is not more economically efficienct and needs subsidies even larger that renewables. Coal is a mature technology and does not require help because of the vast amount of ‘off the shelf’ parts and services that exist and take advantage of econonomies of scale. Wind is now approaching that. Even the totally biased ANSTO study stated that nuclear will need subsidies to take off in Australia.

    “A fifth nuclear unit is seen as the superior generation choice to limit imports of Russian natural gas, allow Finland to meet Kyoto Protocol commitments, and guarantee cheap electric power to the Finnish industry.”

    Finland is a pretty special case without the vast renewable and fossil power resources that we have. Also Russia is playing politics with its gas. So tell me is the Finland reactor PURELY commercial??????

    “The long and the short of it is wind has many advantages especially as regards emissions and waste, but it is a maintenance nightmare and highly intermittent. It is a part of a solution to reduce carbon emissions, however, a far smaller part than Greens seem willing to accept.”

    Wind and, you seem to be conveniently forgetting, solar thermal, solar PV and biomass can form a system that is not intermittant at all. The main problem is that our 19th century grid based on coal/steam technology from the 1850s is not able to integrate renewable power efficiently. Also consumer mentality that absolutely no effort can be made to be more energy efficient makes demand 40% or 50% higher that it could be. If you think wind is a maintenance nightmare what the hell do you think a nuclear reactor is like???????? Modern variable speed wind turbines, without gearboxes, have 4 or 5 mechanical parts, no fuel supply, are made from advanced composites are are almost maintenance free. There have been 4 accidents at our tiny research reactor in the last week – perhaps the maintenance problems are far larger on the nuclear side.

  3. gordon
    June 17th, 2006 at 18:09 | #3

    And let’s not forget geothermal and wave – Salter’s Duck will live again!

    I might add to my comment of earlier today that a few years ago I, like Majorajam, would have supported a carbon tax or even a permit system (what Maj. calls “cap-and-trade”). But I now think the risks of Govt. simply using such methods as revenue-raising devices or as vehicles for corrupt PPP deals plus the likelihood that the weight of the resulting price increases would fall purely on households have led me to prefer regulatory methods of replacing fossil-fuelled power stations with renewables. This means targets, phased building and transport regulations, import controls (for non-compliant equipment) and, if necessary, rationing.

  4. Majorajam
    June 20th, 2006 at 01:29 | #4

    Gordon,

    Andrew Reynolds’ simple solution of “raise prices� implies, I think, the dismantling of a whole raft of subsidies and incentives which exist in our present power generation and distribution systems, which is unlikely to happen.

    As is typical of economists, I am not speaking to political feasibility. If we go that route we should probably figure out a way to cut the oil industry in on the making of carbon sequestering machinery and go on down the list figuring out who to pay off. Political feasibility is not my area of expertise. Sometimes things get through a legislature that you think never would. Other times, law makers can be craven servants of a paying few (the Republican controlled US legislature comes to mind- not least because of recent firearms legislation that is manic in its insanity). I’m not one to speculate on this especially as people can take very different views on the same policy depending on packaging (typically involving inserting the word ‘children’ in the legislation, e.g. a law to fund development of the next generation of nuclear warheads sold as the ‘protect the children against muslim extremists’ act).

    What I am talking about is the most economical way to implement reductions in carbon emissions- a solution that maximizes societal ‘welfare’. As a first step, obviously it would pay to reexamine existing government policy, including the elimination of perverse incentives which decreases carbon emissions and increases aggregate welfare (i.e. is truly a no-brainer). Once the slate is cleaned however, a carbon tax would still be necessary because of the cost advantages of something like coal produced power, gasoline (only) burning cars, etc.

    Two other things I would pick up on: first, there is little reason to believe that onerous regulations- which, as anyone who’s ever dealt with a regulator knows, are hugely inefficient- are more politically expedient than dismantling subsidies and instituting a carbon tax. The preference often can depend on national character. In the US, restrictive regulation is not appreciated by the citizenry one iota. The second thing is there is little reason to believe a carbon tax can be more easily manipulated by corrupt legislators than regulations can be manipulated by corrupt regulators- and, as the tax code is witness- legislators.

    Btw, this:

    “Firms that bid for the billions of pounds worth of central or local government contracts say they want to be compelled to recycle more, contribute less to climate change, and avoid trading with suppliers who ignore basic human rights, as long as the same rules apply to their competitors.� [quote from newspaper]

    is really not a counter-example. Two things: First, government contracts are often cost+, so these companies don’t care what their cost structure is so long as they can still win business and not be beaten out because they institute green policies while their competitor does not. In any case, the profitability of such business is always assured- no one ever went bust working for the Gov. Second, carbon taxes accomplish what from the quote it would appear these companies are concerned about- they are applicable to all comers. What is clear is that the quote does not reflect a preference for regulations over taxes.

  5. Majorajam
    June 20th, 2006 at 02:45 | #5

    Ender,

    First the disingenuous:

    However you are mixing economics with thermodynamics here. I want to know what context you were using the word ‘efficient’.

    Really? Then I must have read your comment wrong. Perhaps you can tell me how I should’ve interpreted this:

    Efficiency is usually a measure of the ratio of work in/work out. It really cannot be applied to economics

    Moving forward to the baseless comments, you write

    You attempts to demonstrate that nuclear is more economically efficient also failed as practically ALL studies show that nuclear is not more economically efficienct and needs subsidies even larger that renewables.

    Actually, I cited a study by the UK Royal Academy of Engineering. You cited an MIT study which doesn’t even evaluate the economics of alternatives. Whose attempt at demonstration failed? Saying that, if you can figure out a way to spin the “there is no place in economics for the term efficiency” comment, I figure you can get around just about any deficiency in the supporting facts.

    Coal is a mature technology and does not require help because of the vast amount of ‘off the shelf’ parts and services that exist and take advantage of econonomies of scale. Wind is now approaching that.

    Coal is just plain cheaper is all. And yes, technological innovation is faster at the beginning of the industry life-cycle than it is at the end, meaning that we probably can expect faster improvements in technology from alternatives and nuclear than fossil fuels (although smokestack technology has come a long way). As far as the comment that wind is approaching coal, I would assume you mean by life-cycle standards as it certainly is not by any measure of cost.

    About the Finland decision, it was informed by the commercial implications amongst others. I suppose the Fins aren’t representative though if for no other reason than it suits your argument.

    Wind and, you seem to be conveniently forgetting, solar thermal, solar PV and biomass can form a system that is not intermittant at all.

    With no effect on the cost of wind? Hardly. The point is not that overcoming intermittency is impossible, but that a solution exacerbates what is already a problematically costly option of generating power. The extent to which its cost is exacerbated has not been studied that I’m aware of (outside of having a back-up coal plant), but given the contribution of maintenance costs to the total cost of wind and the prescriptive solution- further decentralizing wind production and probably increasing offshore proportions- it is likely to be non-trivial (to say nothing of the effect of placing wind farms in lower wind areas).

    Modern variable speed wind turbines, without gearboxes, have 4 or 5 mechanical parts, no fuel supply, are made from advanced composites are are almost maintenance free.

    Maintenance free? Over a 15 year horizon? Must explain why most calculate that offshore wind is on the order of 20% more expensive than onshore wind. It’s the installation cost. Speaking of maintenance free, in San Francisco, they recently put a large solar farm on the roof of the Moscone Center. The installation is bolted to the roof which has been punched a few thousand times. Only problem is that over years, grass has a tendency to grow, which obstructs drainage. With standing water, rust can develop. Between the grass and the water, the structural integrity of a roof can deteriorate. Not that any of this has dawned on the brain trust that put that thing together. Nope, far as they’re concerned, they have ticked the box marked electric bill for the next 15 years.

    I point all this out because people’s lack of understanding of the fullness of time can be legendary and this is just one small example. If your position is that these wind machines, which are in constant motion over the course of their useful life, and are exposed to all manner of bad weather (in fact, depend upon it), are going to run like they do when they’re just out of the box the entire time with little or no maintenance, I suggest you wait a while (or expend some futile effort trying to find a representative example).

    There have been 4 accidents at our tiny research reactor in the last week – perhaps the maintenance problems are far larger on the nuclear side.

    Sounds like a definitive study. Perhaps I should wait for the answer that involves more than hypothetical and hand waving. Don’t worry, I won’t hold my breath.

  6. June 20th, 2006 at 10:53 | #6

    Majorajam – “Really? Then I must have read your comment wrong. Perhaps you can tell me how I should’ve interpreted this:”

    You didn’t – I asked you to clarify your use of the word efficient. I conceeded that it can be used in economics however your use of the word was not clear. I asked you whether you think that renewable power is not thermodynamically efficient or economically efficient and support your answer with more that just bluster.

    “you cited an MIT study which doesn’t even evaluate the economics of alternatives”

    Yes it does – it compares nuclear with coal and natural gas both of which are alternatives to nuclear power. What it does not do is compare nuclear with renewables however that was not what I said. I said that the study shows that nuclear is about twice as expensive as coal. As onshore wind power is about even with coal now for cost then the comparison is valid.
    http://www.uniseo.org/windpower.html
    “Some of the lowest prices per kWh are being registered in the UK, with prices down to 0.03 EURO per kWh.”
    http://www.bwea.com/ref/econ.html
    If you look down the page the graph shows onshore wind comparable with coal. Offshore wind in this graph is comparable with nuclear power however wind does not have the hidden charges of decommisioning, insurance and waste disposal.

    “With no effect on the cost of wind? Hardly. The point is not that overcoming intermittency is impossible, but that a solution exacerbates what is already a problematically costly option of generating power.”

    All the technological problems of solar thermal have been long since solved and it is approaching mature technology status.
    http://www.solardev.com/SEIA-makingelec.php
    http://www.enviromission.com.au/index.htm
    Large scale solar thermal/wind power could provide hundreds if not thousands of jobs in rural Australia where they are badly needed. Virtually no parts of a nuclear reactor or the associated power equipment is, or will be, made, for such a small number of reactors, in Australia. Contrast this with the thousands of wind turbines and solar thermal installations that can all be constructed locally because of the scale.

    Are you trying to hold the position that nuclear power does not have problems. What about waste disposal. If you read the ANSTO study the solution is dry aboveground storage and wait for the long term to magically appear sometime. A nuclear reactor is a vast array of pumps, valves and hundreds of kilometers of piping, millions of welds, and a high pressure vessel with superheated steam not to mention a highly radioactive core with its critical moderators and emergency core cooling systems. Are you seriously trying to say that this would have similar problems to a wind farm????? A solar themal plant is quite complicated however nothing approaching a nuclear reactor.

    “Maintenance free? Over a 15 year horizon? Must explain why most calculate that offshore wind is on the order of 20% more expensive than onshore wind. It’s the installation cost.”

    Obviously offshore wind will be more expensive to install and no wind turbine will be 100% maintenance free. However consider that modern wind turbines have sealed bearings and sealed permenant magnet AC alternators they have a very high MTBF:
    http://pepei.pennnet.com/Articles/Article_Display.cfm?Section=Articles&ARTICLE_ID=257024&VERSION_NUM=2&p=17

    http://www.nationalwind.org/publications/wes/wes10.htm
    “No matter how defined, a perfect availability value would be 100 percent. That is, the system would have no outages or malfunctions that prevented the system from generating power. Modern windfarms now routinely achieve availability values of 98 percent or greater, up from 60 percent or (much) less in the early eighties.”

    “Sounds like a definitive study. Perhaps I should wait for the answer that involves more than hypothetical and hand waving. Don’t worry, I won’t hold my breath.”

    No more or less than your one example of grass growing solar panels. You will have to do better and find some examples of unreliable modern wind turbines. Finally how many purely commercial nuclear reactors have been built in the last 30 years????? The answer is NONE.

  7. gordon
    June 20th, 2006 at 11:41 | #7

    Well, Majorajam, we have found a few areas of agreement: plucking the “low-hanging fruit” of conservation and the “no-brainer” of eliminating perverse incentives. I think we are also agreed that these would be the rational first steps towards reducing carbon emissions. And I like your optimism about improbable things sometimes getting through legislatures.

    That’s pretty good progress in terms of these sorts of altercations in the blogosphere.

    After these rational first steps are taken, I think it would be sensible to reassess needs and engineering and economic costs and benefits, because these first steps would put us in a different world. I doubt whether nuclear would appear as a better option then, but I could be wrong. I’m beginning to think that nobody really knows the comparative costs and benefits of nuclear versus the sort of hybrid system which I advocated above (comment of June 5th), any more than anybody really knows how much oil is left in the ground.

    I’m inclined to leave it at that.

  8. peterg
    June 21st, 2006 at 00:06 | #8

    Interesting discussion. I was pro-nuclear, but some earlier comments prompted me to look at natural gas.

    The essential choices for baseload power seem to be nuclear , natural gas, or coal. Australia has abundant coal and natural gas. Presumeably nobody is talking about closing coal plant before its natural retirement. So the question is replacement of this plant as it expires and expansion of electrical generation capacity.

    The main problem with nuclear is the massive investment required. A viable industry would probably need at least five 1 giga-watt powerstations. However natural gas combined-cycle plants can be much smaller, and contribute about 40 percent the co2 that coal does. So we would be reducing carbon emissions a bit if we choose natural gas over coal.

    Everyone seems to be in favor of reducing the contribution coal makes. What about all the towns built around coal mines and power stations? Mayby we could drill for coal gas there to keep these towns viable? Or build nuclear plants?

    It’s interesting that the uranium information centre site (http://www.uic.com.au/)
    regards it as unethical to use natural gas for baseload power production. They seem to think it should be reserved for peak power generation, or perhaps transport. Its a point to consider perhaps.

    If the nuclear fuel cycle is cheaper than non-coal fossil fuel, then I think the majority of people will accept it. If it isnt, then political opposition will only deepen, as opposition to wind is increasing. So perhaps we should expand our generation capacity with combined-cycle natural gas until nuclear is demonstratably cheaper from overseas experience.

    I’m OK with the transient alternatives such as wind/solar provided we dont have to burn extra carbon to stabilize their power contributions. Though I’m happy with a reasonable subsidy, it seems fanciful to imagine these sources will provide baseload power, no matter how much investment is made.

    So while I am poles apart philosophically from the entrenched anti-nuclear side, I dont think my immediate preferred program differs much.

  9. Majorajam
    June 21st, 2006 at 08:44 | #9

    Ender,

    This is pretty sad. You started by saying that efficiency doesn’t apply to economics. I’ve quoted that back to you now twice and I’m not going to bother with a third. You made that comment in response to this comment which- by being as clear as it is humanly possible to be- removed any ambiguity as to the context of my assertions about efficiency. Now I have to read yet another attempt to deny any of this happened. It’s always a red flag when someone obsessively denies saying things that can be copy and pasted with a few clicks of a mouse. Why bother? It hardly makes you look better. This by the way helps to explain another part of your, for lack of a better word, reply:

    Yes it does – it compares nuclear with coal and natural gas both of which are alternatives to nuclear power. What it does not do is compare nuclear with renewables however that was not what I said. I said that the study shows that nuclear is about twice as expensive as coal.

    Actually, that is not what you said. Now, I hate to use the scroll bar especially when it comes to exposing someone’s woeful lack of intellectual honesty, (which is to say, lack of integrity), but what you actually wrote is:

    What study are you basing this claim on? I posted a study by MIT that showed that nuclear power is at least twice as expensive as coal and 20% more expensive than wind in 2003 which has since improved.

    Which, in case you can’t read blockquote, plainly shows your assertion was that the MIT study evaluated the cost of wind produced electricity. I’m reminded of the movie Fugitive- the part where the guard gets caught in an unconscionable lie and someone asks him- “care to revise your bullsh*t statement?”. Care to?

    Actually, scratch that. I am happy to argue with the loony bins and the dim witted. I don’t mind having a go with those that are more informed or intelligent than I. I don’t even care if people call me names. What I don’t do is argue with people who manage to lie three times- including lying about a study and then lying that you didn’t lie about a study- in whatever it’s been, five posts, because that is manifestly pointless even to an unreconstructed keyboard warrior like myself. Go troll elsewhere. We’re all stocked up here.

  10. Hal9000
    June 21st, 2006 at 09:25 | #10

    Majorajam, you’ve clearly made a study of the John Howard method of avoiding debate on actual issues: always keep the focus on details and never look at the big picture. Kep looking at the door handle and you can not notice the elephant right there in the room.

    Here we have entirely confected rage at Ender’s ‘lying’. Ender quite clearly stated the connexion between the MIT figures he cites and his statements about the economics of wind power. Whatever he’s doing, it’s not lying ['To present false information with the intention of deceiving' - dictionary.com - cf G W Bush and WMD]. Ender cited a study of comparative economics between nuclear and coal/natural gas. He states the comparative economics between coal/natural gas and wind are well known, and that he made his assessment based on these well known data. If you want to engage in debate, you’ll need to debate the calculations, not over-act the role of wronged heroine.

    Your accusation about trolling is most droll. It immediately brings to mind three words: pot, kettle, and black.

  11. Majorajam
    June 21st, 2006 at 10:45 | #11

    Oh brother. Thanks for this characteristically meaningful contribution Hal. While you’re hot, I know that you’re eager to respond to this. Hurry though because I think Serbia’s gettin the tanks warmed up.

    Understood that the economics of power generation is minutia to a big picture guy like yourself. And, I’m sure you can figure out a way to explain how the sentence, “I posted a study by MIT that showed that nuclear power is at least twice as expensive as coal and 20% more expensive than wind…” means that the MIT study referred to the cost of coal, (a conclusion which, just fyi, the study did not come to) while some other unnamed study led to the estimate of the relative cost of wind (btw, not that you’d have the gumption to check this, but whatever ‘other study’ led to Ender’s assertion remains a mystery. Perhaps the answer lies in that most fruitful source of knowledge, your colon). While you’re at it, you can explain how the sentences, “Efficiency is usually a measure of the ratio of work in/work out. It really cannot be applied to economics” mean that Ender is confused about the context of which I’m using the word efficiency.

    Wouldn’t you know it, I lament about trolls and along comes the mother of them all. Smell you later Pal.

  12. Majorajam
    June 21st, 2006 at 10:52 | #12

    MOA Trolls-

    The link that didn’t want to link for you to less than artfully dodge is:

    http://johnquiggin.com/index.php/archives/2006/03/25/which-saddam/#comment-48062

    Enjoy.

  13. Simojm
    June 21st, 2006 at 12:10 | #13

    Majorjam
    Trolls here?

    “About personal comments, it’s difficult to stomach the lecture given that you set the tone of our exchange here, which was none to pleasantly worded, even though I should have to excuse myself for not thanking you for educating me. Kettle pot black much?”

    Well for an individual coming out and saying what I had to say was comical you quite clearly set the tone & is a standard troll tactic to get a rise.

    As far as links yes I should have worded better that you questioning my linking when you have a tendency not to bother with links.

    “1st- the Afghanistan remark which shows carelessness and lack of judgment�

    1st minor correction oil in Iraq and security in Afghanistan to secure oil in Iraq but this isn’t the only reason so still stands. Careless that it could have been worded better but the fundamental if there were no oil in the REGION the US wouldn’t be there.

    You could have bombed the crap out of them and sent support to the other side like you have done in the past. No I don’t think the US the paragon of international virtue if that makes me a an ideologue in your so be it.

    �2nd- the reduction in power consumption is massively tilted toward households which gives the impression that the assumptions are likely to be extreme.�

    Given that household consumption makes up a large amount of UK energy use and alternatives of expensive nuc power plants and Lower Carbon Futures
    The 40% House Project http://www.eci.ox.ac.uk/pdfdownload/energy/40house/execsummary.pdf even at just 60% reduction of target appear quite achievable and reasonable so best practice with other measures lifestyle changes could do even better.

    Also given that research has show that at this level of simple energy efficiency measures for every dollar spent you get more than that back so I these measures would add not subtract to economic growth.

    “Note by the way that none of these three are “shots� and none attack the author for a political view point-“
    “So far you have offered only links to tragically poor work by ideologues with nary a reference to economics.�

    So you weren’t attacking Tyndall and Dr Mark Diesendorf as ideologues? Not an unreasonable to think this with a very sloppy generalization with not much to back it up.

    The facts will speak for themselves but lets get it straight when it comes to tone & trolling you cast the first stone.

  14. June 21st, 2006 at 13:03 | #14

    Majorajam – “This is pretty sad. You started by saying that efficiency doesn’t apply to economics. I’ve quoted that back to you now twice and I’m not going to bother with a third.”

    No I have conceeded that that efficiency can be applied to economics. I was asking for your interpretation of the word efficiency not repeating what I may have been mistaken about.

    “Which, in case you can’t read blockquote, plainly shows your assertion was that the MIT study evaluated the cost of wind produced electricity”

    Sorry mate – that was your interpretation only and a mistaken one. I was asseting that the MIT study showed that nuclear power was about twice as expensive as coal or gas. Wind is comparable or a bit more expensive that coal as my other posts show. Therefore the logical leap I made is justified. My only omission is that I should have said “The MIT and other studies showed ….. ” I am sure that you can forgive me for this lapse.

    “Actually, scratch that. I am happy to argue with the loony bins and the dim witted. ”

    And as to the mistakes I made is nothing compared to this one. You sir have failed to provide any futher information that would advance your pretty thin case. Restorting to ad-hom attacks on my personality and intelligence I will take as proof that you have nothing else worthy of reading to submit.

  15. Majorajam
    June 21st, 2006 at 13:45 | #15

    How about resorting to falsehood? Before I get to that, it behooves you to read what I did write. In particular, “the loony bins and the dim witted” was not a reference to you. Please reread as that much is crystal clear (as is my reference in the following sentence to people who are more informed or intelligent than I). As regards

    You sir have failed to provide any futher information that would advance your pretty thin case.

    if you say so. Really. I have only pointed out to you on two occasions not including this one a UK Royal Academy of Engineering study that actually projected costs for both nuclear and wind, finding the former to be more than twice as efficient before taking into account the cost of dealing with intermittency. Maybe you can tell me what the magic number of times is before it sinks in that I’ve made the reference. You, by contrast, have not cited a single study that documents your assertions about the cost of wind. I’ll leave it to the independent reader to determine who’s case is thin.

    As regards the quote that made me throw in the towel on this one- although, in disbelief, I am still typing- you should understand that your now notorious statement: “I posted a study by MIT that showed that nuclear power is at least twice as expensive as coal and 20% more expensive than wind…” is totally unambiguous in the English language. It means that you are asserting that an MIT study showed both conclusions. Now, if this last accusatory post is your way of saying I should excuse you for passing off a falsehood because of your lack of understanding of the English language, than I guess you should say so. Otherwise, the truth is always a decent option. Either way, I certainly don’t give a damn if I don’t hear from you any time soon.

  16. June 21st, 2006 at 15:19 | #16

    Majorajam – Fair enough – I don’t think anyone is getting anything out of this exchange.

  17. Simojm
    June 21st, 2006 at 15:29 | #17

    I think we would all like to see an independent indepth study that puts everything on the table.

    When someone finds one maybe we could constrain ourselves to that as it is clear we don’t think much of each others sources or the arguments based on them.

  18. Hal9000
    June 21st, 2006 at 16:42 | #18

    Goodness gracious, Majorajam, so I’m the ‘mother of all trolls’? All because I dared disagree with your yelled assertions that the US doesn’t do torture and that the NATO intervention in Yugoslavia was a victim-free triumph motivated entirely by saintly good intentions. You really should try meditation, yoga, or anger management. I worry about your blood pressure. You’d better have the last word, though – you ‘always right’ types just gotta.

  19. Simonjm
    June 21st, 2006 at 21:18 | #19

    Ok what gives?

    On what grounds was I moderated and posts deleted?

    Esp my last post??

  20. Simonjm
    June 21st, 2006 at 21:22 | #20

    Well thats strange, they weren’t there now they are. A bug perhaps.

  21. June 22nd, 2006 at 12:43 | #21

    Majorajam – “One such is that cited on Wikipedia (A 2004 UK Royal Academy of Engineering report)- which by the way you will find under the heading “economicsâ€?- having nukes better than twice as efficient as the average of off- and on-shore wind not even counting the requirement for back-up generation capacity to overcome intermittency. Not exactly a bridge-too-far.”
    This is the link to what I think you meant:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_power#References

    Ok I had another read of this. The report, which is not linked to, so I can check it according to the Wikpedia article is counting wind INCLUDING backup power not excluding it. Only my falsely including ‘backup power’ is renewable power less efficient than nuclear power.

    Here is the relevant part:
    “A UK Royal Academy of Engineering report in 2004 looked at electricity generation costs from new plants in the UK. In particular it aimed to develop “a robust approach to compare directly the costs of intermittent generation with more dependable sources of generation”. This meant adding the cost of standby capacity for wind, as well as carbon values up to £30 (€45.44) per tonne CO2 for coal and gas. Wind power was calculated to be more than twice as expensive as nuclear power. Without a carbon tax, the cost of production through coal, nuclear and gas ranged £0.022-0.026/kWh and coal gasification was £0.032/kWh. When carbon tax was added (up to £0.025) coal came close to onshore wind (including back-up power) at £0.054/kWh – offshore wind is £0.072/kWh.”

    Again this is a very dishonest way of nobbling renewables to make fossil fuels and nuclear appear more economically viable. There are many ways to overcome the intermittant nature of renewables and they do not all involve building the same amount of installed renewable power in fossil fuel power plants.

    I acknowledge my errors that were misleading in what I said about the MIT study. The MIT study did not mention wind power as you said. I made a logical connection that was not apparent from what I wrote. I also was wrong about economics and have looked and researched the definition of economic efficiency and have learnt what it is.

    Having said that I have not seen anything from you backing up your assertion that wind turbines are unreliable. I posted 2 links with articles that (1) asserted that newer variable speed wind turbines have a higher MTBF and (2) confirm this by stating that modern wind turbines have a greater than 98% availability.

    I also have not seen another study confirming what the study you cited, but not linked to, says. You where also wrong saying that nuclear is more economically efficient than wind “not even counting the requirement for back-up generation capacity to overcome intermittency” as the wikpedia entry that mentions this citation specifically says that “This meant adding the cost of standby capacity for wind, as well as carbon values up to £30 (€45.44) per tonne CO2 for coal and gas.”

    So perhaps you need to clarify your postion.

  22. Majorajam
    June 24th, 2006 at 05:31 | #22

    Ender,

    A bit rich to be incredulous, given that getting a retraction from you was harder than getting Bill to admit to Monica with less ambiguous evidence (random DNA matches coming in at around one in 10 million or something) and furthermore given that your claim that nuclear was at least 2 times the cost of coal according to the MIT study was also false.

    In any case, glad that you made the effort to check my citation, but I stand by my summary of its findings. By way of explanation, I anticipated that the use of back-up power to surmount the intermittency issue would be controversial, so I subtracted their assumption of the cost of that back-up generation per/kWh from the headline cost (there is a chart that denotes these figures). This is why I continually mentioned that the study’s estimate of cost of wind, (which is actually an average of two costs, that of on- and off-shore wind) is roughly twice the cost of nuclear not including the cost of handling intermittency, i.e. my assertion all along (just fyi, a cursory check reveals that including their estimate of the cost of intermittency it is about three times as efficient on the same basis). So, no clarification required, just some extra diligence on your part.

    All of that said, if you ignore the cost of intermittency, you’re kidding yourself, because no matter how it is done, surmounting it requires substantial back-up power generation capacity and hence cost (whether that is in the form of conventional or nuclear power, or in the form of broad displacement of wind turbines, meaning that they will function below capacity, i.e. that there will be excess capacity).

    As to the maintenance links that you sent I will have a look. I haven’t yet. Wind is a tough nut to crack on the maintenance side, but I’ll keep my mind open as regards the effectiveness of the current set of solutions. In any case, the cost of power is a very dynamic animal, and that holds true for all sources, including nuclear. Even the cost of their externalities fluctuate (e.g. carbon, but even wind. In California they’ve placed restrictions on the use of wind turbines at certain times because they apparently chop up migrating birds). As the MIT study pointed out- to its credit- differing assumptions can drive massively different estimates of cost. This is another way of saying there is a tremendous amount of subjectivity in economic analysis. No big insight, but it has implications.

    So, are we through with this thread or not?

  23. Majorajam
    June 24th, 2006 at 07:06 | #23

    Simonjm,

    Well for an individual coming out and saying what I had to say was comical you quite clearly set the tone & is a standard troll tactic to get a rise.

    Ok, fair enough. Comical was a poor choice of words and there is probably room for me to refine the tone. Then again, it was just one sentence, which you proceeded to respond to with an orgy of insults. It is a bit curious to call someone out on name-calling after you’ve gone all the way up the escalating chain yourself. In any case, I am happy to refrain going forward if you are.

    As far as links yes I should have worded better that you questioning my linking when you have a tendency not to bother with links.

    The point was what is being linked to, not whether or not the hand is held to get there.

    1st minor correction oil in Iraq and security in Afghanistan to secure oil in Iraq but this isn’t the only reason so still stands. Careless that it could have been worded better but the fundamental if there were no oil in the REGION the US wouldn’t be there.

    You could have bombed the crap out of them and sent support to the other side like you have done in the past. No I don’t think the US the paragon of international virtue if that makes me a an ideologue in your so be it.

    Don’t know if it makes you an ideologue, but it does make you patently wrong (not that it vindicates you of being an ideologue either). You’ll notice that the Ruskies are still in Chechnya, btw. Reducing all global conflict into an issue of piracy is a dreadfully simplistic way of viewing the world. In particular, if the US had withdrawn after bombing the country, Afghanistan would go straight back into the arms of the Taliban and Al Qaeda, a combination which, as has been demonstrated, is not good for our security.

    All of which is to say the author is both careless about his credibility which is a huge flashing red light and given to an ideological viewpoint. Based on my experience, these two things typically indicate the guy is more than likely to be unreasonable (I don’t claim that pre-judgment to be proof of anything btw, nor am I reluctant to change it if I feel I’m wrong).

    PS As far as we’re talking about paragons of virtue, you Australians are no slouches yourselves.

    Given that household consumption makes up a large amount of UK energy use and alternatives of expensive nuc power plants and Lower Carbon Futures
    The 40% House Project http://www.eci.ox.ac.uk/pdfdownload/energy/40house/execsummary.pdf even at just 60% reduction of target appear quite achievable and reasonable so best practice with other measures lifestyle changes could do even better.

    First of all, the graph pictured in the BBC article looks more like an 80% reduction than a 60% reduction. By contrast, other uses have orders of magnitude smaller reduction on a % basis (all of which is trying to read a bar chart without gridlines, but roughly speaking), to the point where nearly all the reduction of demand is coming out of household use. That’s what I mean when I say radically tilted. Second of all the study does assume that the entire UK housing stock will have to be either retrofitted or destroyed. Don’t know about you, but when you put those two things together it looks more than a trifle drastic.

    So you weren’t attacking Tyndall and Dr Mark Diesendorf as ideologues?

    Yes, but not in the post from whence you took that quote. That was taken out of context wherein I was responding to your sweeping generalizations, “Let me know when you find one not connected to the lobby that says its economically feasible” in kind. Long after that settled down I laid out the entirely reasonable case for skepticism.

  24. Majorajam
    June 24th, 2006 at 07:24 | #24

    Hal, that was even less artful than predicted. Good show. As an aside, you may want to consider how trolls approach inconvenient posts or alternatively reread your signoff. Probably you can’t become a troll without reconciling yourself to such things, but if Luke could bring Vader back I suppose there’s always hope a blogger can be brought back from the dark side.

  25. June 24th, 2006 at 09:36 | #25

    Majorajam – sure – however you might find the article I found on Wind power informative. It has a bit of both our arguments and is quite balanced. I propose that the missing storage can be electric transport and really there is not need for nuclear in Australia.

    Anyway if you are interested I linked to it on this blog entry of mine.
    http://stevegloor.typepad.com/sgloor/2006/06/a_really_good_a.html

  26. Hal9000
    June 24th, 2006 at 11:33 | #26

    “Hal, that was even less artful than predicted.” Majorajam, it’s a basic rule of the prediction game that people tend to take you more seriously if you let them know what you’re predicting before it happens. I’m sure you also predicted the Boxing Day tsunami, but sadly you told noone. I, however, correctly predicted you wouldn’t be able to resist responding. “You’d better have the last word, though – you ‘always right’ types just gotta.” You really should try being less, well, predictable.

    Civilised Debate 101. But since you skipped that course, here’s another prediction – your response will be in the form of personal abuse. Hope I’m wrong.

  27. Simonjm
    June 24th, 2006 at 13:13 | #27

    . Majorajam yes the study was for 60% & yes that is a different study as I said I would have gone for a number of scenarios & %’s including best practice and other policies to decrease the need to change the total housing stock.

    The 60% looked quite feasible 100% could be made to work-don’t forget that was a 2050 target- with the right policy mix.

    Basically the overall point the author was making given the options and the make up of energy use it would be easier -given what he thought the costs of doing nothing- of targeting household energy use -than relying totally on nuclear (his figure 50 new plants + the huge cost included with decommissioning) or renewables by themselves.

    Technically its feasible, policy wise within the 2050 timeline that would be feasible esp with incremental targets, this sort of investment pays back positively for every $ invested.

    I would of course like the details of the costing but I would imagine the cost of new nuclear plants needed + the cost of decommissioning would be astronomical let alone concerns about having 50 new plants on your doorstep.

    As far as pirates I don’t think it has to be framed in those terms that ancient Greek said Might makes right I’d only change it to might enforces the rights it feels like. I don’t think the US as any better or worse than any other great power – or small fry like us-in history rather it like them were/are fair weather moralists playing power politics and framing it in moral language for their own national self interest.

    It doesn’t mean that don’t do what could truly be considered moral actions I would just say there is ethical bias/rationalizations to see your own national interest and actions in a positive light. Australia is currently no different as Howard is clearly showing with the Papuan asylum seekers.

    I don’t know about being patently wrong I think there would have been many policy alternatives including hard ball with Pakistan since it is them that supported the Taliban in the first place. After all the use of military force in Iraq can been seen as a total policy failure as far as eliminating terrorist/insurgents or their training. In fact you are beginning to see knowledge gained from Iraq turning up Afghanistan.

    Lastly with all sincerity I’m still open to any independent energy consultant or academic study that shows in the context of lowering emissions that our current and future energy needs can cost effectively be meet by nuclear power in comparison to a renewables mix and say interim gas. I truly have not come across someone independent of the nuc lobby who supports your case. I wouldn’t offer anything say from Green Peace of the WWF but think say Tyndall, Uni Sydney or say the Rocky Mountain Institute are respectable enough to be included.

    All options on the table let the facts speak for themselves.

  28. Majorajam
    June 27th, 2006 at 08:36 | #28

    MOAT, the faux-reverse psychology isn’t fooling anyone. If there weren’t any bloggers out there willing to humor your frivolity you’d be one forlorn troll. Speaking of, the response to your latest sterling rebuttal requires a record minimum of effort. Have a read of this, then read that, and after, have a think about what you just excreted onto the thread. Perhaps you can deduce what’s amiss. Hurry though, I may lose interest in this parody yet.

  29. Majorajam
    June 27th, 2006 at 09:02 | #29

    Ender,

    I’ll have a look for the next time the wheel goes round.

    Simonjm,

    I totally agree with this sentiment, “I would just say there is ethical bias/rationalizations to see your own national interest and actions in a positive light.”. More generally, if less insightful, I think it is fine and proper to be skeptical about any of the motives or actions of the US government or any organization for that matter. That is of course the problem with this damn place- you can’t trust people. And even if you could, you can’t trust them to be able to see through their own cultural bias/chauvinism, and certainly not their own self-interest (as in watching two different groups of fans interpret a referee’s call). You can’t even trust the data as Thomas Kuhn has demonstrated and Robert McNamara has lived. It’s a beguiling place for beings that prefer to have it sussed.

    All I am saying is that, knowing the extent to which the popular will matters in this country, and knowing how it gets articulated in the media and eventually into public policy, I know that the invasion of Afghanistan had nothing to do with securing fossil fuel deposits or regional stability toward the same end. If there were ways for the oil interested powerful to leverage or tilt that freight train of a policy toward their goals, I have no doubt they took the liberty. But attempting to explain the policy via those interests is foolhardy. In any case, this is a long digression.

    Getting back to nuclear, I would not lose sleep if it was to go the way of the Dodo. I just have a problem with people who evaluate it from an ideological viewpoint. My opinion at the moment is that all non-fossil fuel methods of generating power will have to play a part in a climate change friendly future, but that is based on less than definitive/comprehensive studies on the full range of issues, as certainly are the dissenting points of view (and worse). Nevertheless, I will be the first to defer when experts start building that to the extent the integrity of the work is reasonable.

  30. rob
    August 13th, 2008 at 09:44 | #30

    Going nuclear is a very problematic solution to the global warming phenomena. For starters it is quite possibly creating more problems than solutions and then there is also a significant cost involved in all stages of production and waste storage. If that isnt enough there is also the very major risks concerned with nuclear meltdown.

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