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Options after a double dissolution election

October 6th, 2009

I’ve been thinking a bit about the possibility of a double dissolution. Given the complete incoherence of the Opposition, anything could happen, but it’s hard to see them agreeing on amendments that would be workable in any way. And equally it’s hard to imagine any outcome from a DD election other than a crushing victory for the government. Even so, a Senate majority looks out of reach.

That leaves them with two options after the election. They could use the joint sitting mechanism to pass the ETS bill rejected twice by the Senate. Alternatively (or subsequently), they could sign on to an agreement at Copenhagen and introduce new legislation implementing that agreement, relying on support from the Greens (or, in the event of a post-thrashing change of heart, the Opposition). The latter option looks a lot more appealing in many ways.

  1. matt
    October 6th, 2009 at 15:54 | #1

    Do we really think a DD will happen though? Given the reduced senate quotas in a full senate election, the big winners in a DD will be the Greens, Nationals, and malcontents like Xenophon and Fielding. Do Labour really want to hand a bigger slice of the senate pie to the minor parties?

  2. gerard
    October 6th, 2009 at 16:16 | #2

    a DD is F-wit Fielding’s only chance of staying in the Senate, although hopefully the ALP wont give him their preferences this time around. However even if he did keep his seat, he would quite likely to lose his balance of power position to the Greens and be relegated to the obskurity that he deserves. Kevin should call a DD quick smart. The Liberals as of this moment are in an absolute shambles, popularity as low as any time under Nelson, Turnbull quite obviously looking for a way to get out of his job under the pretense of being principled… when your enemy’s drowning, throw them an anchor – there’s never been a better time for a DD! that is, unless Kevin is more afraid of the Greens than the Tories, which is not impossible.

  3. Alice
    October 6th, 2009 at 16:22 | #3

    The liberals may have well tattooed themselves with the word “workchoices.”

  4. Fran Barlow
    October 6th, 2009 at 17:37 | #4


    SF isn’t getting back in a DD, or if he is, then at the expense of a Liberal, so no loss there. The ALP might end up dealing with more Greens though which they wouldn’t like all that much. They’d get the use of their senators earlier but lose them earlier too.

    My guess is that Rudd would prefer the half-senate while using the DD threat to cause mischief within the coalition. Tactically, this is better for him than a DD.

  5. Freelander
    October 6th, 2009 at 17:50 | #5

    I would like to see a DD with Labor running on the slogan that the “Coalition is unfit to rule”. There are three strings to this. First, how totally wrong the Coalition were on the stimulus package, and where Australia would have been if they had have been in charge in ’08 and ’09. Second, they are a totally disorganised rabble, berefit of ministerial talent. And third, they are packed full of anthropogenic climate change deniers who will fiddle while Australia burns, literally.

    Nicely, it should boot SF back into the twilight zone, and unblock the senate.

  6. Donald Oats
    October 6th, 2009 at 18:00 | #6

    I’d like a double dissolution with Labor starting their campaign with:

    “This election is about trust. Who do you trust to keep interest rates at record lows? Labor will always keep interest rates lower than the Liberal/Nationals/whatever.”

  7. SeanG
    October 6th, 2009 at 18:05 | #7

    Don’t think so. The Liberals will just run with headlines from newspaper crying out RBA putting rates up like in 2008.

  8. October 6th, 2009 at 18:19 | #8

    Donald Oats,
    How about a motto of “In Due Season”?

  9. October 6th, 2009 at 18:24 | #9

    The Southern Cross Climate Coalition has written to politicians calling for there to be a review into the CPRS around the time that the next IPCC report comes out. The CPRS legislation also discusses an administrative review that would report by mid 2014. It would be useful for the minister to avoid setting “gateways” for Australia’s emission targets before the completion of such a review.

  10. Freelander
    October 6th, 2009 at 18:46 | #10

    After a DD this will be the leader of the opposition’s political epitaph:

    “Early in his career, Malcolm achieved fame because he could turn bull into gold; later in life, work choices saw him lose that Midas touch.”

  11. Freelander
    October 6th, 2009 at 19:19 | #11

    In due seasons, I like it.

  12. Michael of Summer Hill
    October 6th, 2009 at 19:58 | #12

    John, given the latest polls the timing seems wright for Rudd to go to an early election ASAP and it would make no sense to delay the inevitable. And as for the numbskulls within the Coalition they can only blame themselves for the oncoming slaughter.

  13. Michael
    October 6th, 2009 at 21:15 | #13

    Unfortunately I wouldn’t trust the fickle Australian electorate not to be misled by another stunt like “children overboard”. Steve Fielding has no credibility left, if he ever had any which I doubt.

  14. Michael
    October 6th, 2009 at 21:17 | #14

    Governments come and go but the media barons remain.

  15. Hermit
    October 7th, 2009 at 06:44 | #15

    If as likely the ALP and the Greens dominate both the Reps and the Senate after a DD election I’m not sure that will help the low carbon cause. The ALP will push its near useless CPRS while the Greens will push fantasies about wind and solar replacing coal. In my opinion the way ahead for Australia is nuclear power which appears to sit well with the Libs/Nats. Therefore I wouldn’t know who to vote for in a DD election.

  16. Fran Barlow
    October 7th, 2009 at 10:27 | #16

    It’s embarrassing to be connected by nationality with the CPRS. So John, here’s my fantasy scenario:

    Hopefully, the Liberals won’t cave, will vote this down, then split allowing Rudd to go early (but without a DD).

    Lots of Greens get elected to the senate and then we get a comprehensive all-in scheme where every permit is auctioned with a minimum price for CO2 of $100 per tonne and a trajectory for at least 40% reduction on 1990 by 2020. Swingeing pollution regs ensure coal for power is phased out by 2025 or 2030 at the latest. All plants older than 40 years are closed by 2020. We make a start on reconfiguring our major population centres for higher density (70-90 persons per Ha) living.

  17. Fran Barlow
    October 7th, 2009 at 10:32 | #17

    oops forgot the metatag …

    In my opinion the way ahead for Australia is nuclear power which appears to sit well with the Libs/Nats.

    In my opinion too, but it won’t happen because it’s too good an issue to wedge the ALP/Green alliance on. That’s its main appeal to the Nats and Libs. They demand something they know that no side will ever offer but which edges the other side more than you … so you can keep b-a-u.

    PrQ please delete previous …

  18. October 7th, 2009 at 12:06 | #18

    One of the the relevant things being that the Libs are not only a shambles but show absolutely no prospect of becoming any less of a shambles over the next year; indeed, I’d say that if Rudd waits the chances are good that he’d get more seats then than he will going now. And if he can hold out against temptation until 1 July 2010 he can go with only a half-senate. Would you be prepared to lay odds on matters being any better for the Libs by then? I’d say it’s a lay down misere.

  19. TerjeP (say tay-a)
    October 7th, 2009 at 13:13 | #19

    I think the liberals should change the topic by offering something radical in other policy areas – John Hewson style. They could offer a radical tax agenda, seek to sign free immigration agreements with Ireland and Spain, talk about constitutional reform, offer to hold a referendum on removing nuclear power prohibition, look to radically reform federal / state relations. In short they should have a purpose beyond opposing stuff. If nothing else it would give the back benchers something better to get their teeth into. Opposition can make you creative or it can make you stale, better to get creative.

  20. David Booth
    October 7th, 2009 at 13:41 | #20

    I would vote for Fran Barlow’s fantasy #16 except for the #17 nuclear metatag. The nuclear option falls down in comparison with other forms of sustainable energy available in abundance here in Australia. In who’s backyard do you locate the 29 reactors, the processing plant and the waste dump? Not mine I hope. Possibly Prof Barry Brooke would put in a bid to have it in his SA backyard for 300 years. I suspect most climate change deniers will soon switch to the do-nothing, business-as-usual camp and become nuclear supporters as also foreshadowed by TerjeP in #19.

  21. Fran Barlow
    October 7th, 2009 at 16:24 | #21

    @David Booth

    Barry Brooke is on record as favouring a nuclear power station in his area, if not in his backyard. I disagree that even in Australia, the nuclear option compares poorly with renewables in any sense apart from political feasibility.

    Of course, the comparison is unfair, because the competition for nuclear is not from renewables, but from coal or to a lesser extent, gas. If you wish to eliminate fossil fuels in stationary energy production, then nuclear is very much the way to go. It simply can’t be done with renewables, because the cost would be prohibitive. At the very least, you’re going to need gas, and lots of it.

    Now personally, given that nuclear is not on the table here and won’t be for at least 15 years, the pragmatic side of me says gas is the lesser evil to coal. So I’m in favour of per capita cutting energy demand as much as possible, building as much pumped storage and whatever other cost-feasible environmentally benign storage we can muster the funds for and using them and the gas to load balance intermittents. Eventually, we might be able to plug in geothermal and tidal as well. Providing we are willing to make the lifestyle adjustments, and I think we should for reasons that have as much to do with resource scarcity and simple good sense as GHG abatement and pay the premiums for renewables and gas (and if we are using less per capita and having smaller dwellings and not owning cars as often then we should be able to afford it) then Australia can very probably do this.

    Other jurisdictions aren’t as luck as us though.

    For the record I didn’t include nuclear in my “fantasy” because there is a difference between fantasy you can entertain and pure pie-in-the-sky stuff.

  22. Donald Oats
    October 7th, 2009 at 16:29 | #22

    @Andrew Reynolds

    Ah, the Chaser. My all-time favourite by them though was the breach of security at the Intercontinental in Sydney.

    As for the DD: Labor ought to drop the ETS bill back in parliament to really liven up the opposition ranks. The health bill could be used for a DD trigger after Copenhagen in any case.

  23. may
    October 7th, 2009 at 16:58 | #23

    something to see.

    a skit of goodly length from the chaser featuring

    frank luntz.

    he has a you beaut machine that measures the emotional response to words and hires himself out to election campaigns.

    he was in Oz before the last federal election.
    I’m not sure who paid for him to come.

  24. Monkey’s Uncle
    October 7th, 2009 at 20:22 | #24

    An early double dissolution election held in the near future would undoubtedly be a disaster for the Coalition and a landslide for Labor. Labor would get at least a two-thirds majority in the lower house (the biggest federal Labor win in modern history). I don’t really see how the Opposition has any other option than to somehow let the ETS legislation through and thereby deny Rudd a double dissolution trigger and at least make it harder for Rudd to justify an early poll without looking opportunistic. Even if it means a split in the Coalition and also the Liberal Party.

    Indeed, the only scenario where the Coalition will gain a respectable result at the next election (as opposed to a crushing defeat) is if the parliament goes its full term and the economy turns for the worse. Losing the next election is not really a problem for the Opposition, as it would actually be easier to be out of office given the grave economic challenges likely to emerge. Losing really badly is a problem for them though, as it would decimate their ranks and make it harder to look like an alternative government further down the track.

    The Rudd government is riding high at the moment, partly helped by the fact that the electorate is still largely complacent and unaware of the extent of many of the government’s more foolish policies. Chief among them is the attempt to prop up the housing market in the short-term, thereby creating an even bigger bubble that must ultimately burst. And boy, when that baby does burst, there are going to be a hell of a lot of unhappy punters out there! Especially those first home buyers bribed and conned by the government into committing financial suicide by taking on mortgages at the peak of the market. Still, at least there will be a lucrative market in ‘Not Happy Kevin’ merchandise. When the full effects of these policies become apparent, this government will be despised.

  25. TerjeP (say tay-a)
    October 7th, 2009 at 20:29 | #25

    In who’s backyard do you locate the 29 reactors, the processing plant and the waste dump?

    I’m using my backyard for other purposes but I’d be happy enough to have nuclear power stations in my suburb so long as they’re not too tall and are built behind a neat hedge of some sort.

    Are you so sh!t scared of reactors that you wouldn’t visit france?


  26. sdfc
    October 7th, 2009 at 21:29 | #26

    We’re Australian Terje, we’re sh!t scared of everything. Don’t you remember the great refo scare of 2001?

  27. TerjeP (say tay-a)
    October 8th, 2009 at 06:03 | #27


  28. Michael of Summer Hill
    October 8th, 2009 at 06:37 | #28

    John, the numbskulls who are hot under the collar and carrying on like a pork chop must take responsibility for the Coalition being higgledy piggledy and like a dog’s breakfeast. And those who think Turnbull has carked it should think twice.

  29. Hermit
    October 8th, 2009 at 07:07 | #29

    A recurring line in a well known play is ‘when Godot gets here he’ll know what to do’. The new version goes like ‘after Copenhagen we’ll all know what to do’. I doubt it. The Libs fail to grasp that as the world’s largest coal exporter and per capita emitter Australia is obliged to be a leader, not a follower. That’s why I think the voters will punish them, for lack of moral fibre if nothing else.

  30. Socrates
    October 8th, 2009 at 08:32 | #30

    There has been some discussion of the quotas and maths of the different Senate outcomes for both half-Senate and DD elections recently. Antony Green has posted on this at the Poll Bludger website. Essentially, his conclusion is that Labor is better off with the half-Senate option, and that won’t happen before 2010. With a full (DD) election the Greens would gain more than Labor, due to the smaller quotas. The Liberals and Fielding are gone either way. Of course, if the coalition rejects the ETS, the odds might worsen further.

  31. Socrates
    October 8th, 2009 at 08:34 | #31


    I agree with you o nuclear reactors. I visited my relatives in Finland in 1994 and found they lived about 40Km from their reactor site (Olkiluoto). They were quite unfazed by the thing. There have never been any accidents in it.

  32. derrida derider
    October 8th, 2009 at 09:55 | #32

    I’m with Monkey’s Uncle on the economics; no-one, least of all the RBA, seems to realise just how fragile our prosperity is at the moment. We’ve got by so far with a combination of good luck and (until this week) good management but there’s a real chance the luck could desert us. In particular there’s every chance of a crash in the housing market sometime in the next few years, and if that happens soon enough to coincide with an overseas “double dip” recession (which is now looking quite possible) then we’ll have double-digit unemployment.

    But I don’t agree on the politics – if the shit hits the fan economically it won’t really be felt at the polls for at least another year. Plenty of time for Rudd to get re-elected; the Libs are in diabolic trouble.

  33. jquiggin
    October 8th, 2009 at 12:04 | #33

    I interpret the rate rise quite differently, as an attempt to stop or slow the increase in house prices that is already under way, and thereby mitigate the severity of any future crash. On my view, the RBA is well aware of the risks, but thinks that holding rates down (as was done in the US after 2001) will only exacerbate them.

  34. Fran Barlow
    October 8th, 2009 at 12:09 | #34

    @derrida derider

    Interestingly NewsRadio is running a promo that packages the BBC citing British and US commentators commenting on the positive signal to world markets that Australia’s 25-point RBA OCR increase offers. Australia leads the world out of recession and the Liberals are still calling this the “bill” for Rudd’s reckless spending. So now even interest rate rises help the government …

    Talk about “hoist by one’s own petard …”

    Laughing …

  35. 2 tanners
    October 8th, 2009 at 15:28 | #35

    @ Socrates #30

    Antony Green, on his own site, has updated this. A DD on a good trigger halfway through next year has a lot to recommend it, including the ability to have a joint sitting if necessary and also to get the new Senate immediately. Fielding would be gone and the Greens would probably hold the balance of power, which is better for Labor than Fielding plus Xenophon plus coalition etc.

    See his article here.

  36. Monkey’s Uncle
    October 8th, 2009 at 15:40 | #36

    DD, it is probably true that Labor are safe as far as the next election goes. Any economic downturn will probably only come into play for the election after. And it will take a big downturn for Rudd to lose office.

    So long as the economy appears to be holding up, Labor should romp in. Strong economic indicators tend to help incumbent Labor governments to an even greater extent than incumbent Lib-Nat governments. This is because voters have an inbuilt bias towards believing that Liberal governments are better economic managers while Labor is more trusted to handle issues like health, education, the environment, public services and workers rights. This means that when Labor is in office and the economy is performing strongly, the Liberals effectively have nothing to run on. They cannot assail Labor on the economy, while they cannot win on the other issues. So they are left with nothing. This largely explains why state Labor governments have been so successful during the past decade (due to the strong economy). Whereas strong economic performance does not benefit incumbent Coalition governments quite as much, simply because Labor can still campaign on the other issues and convince people to vote on issues other than economic management.

  37. Michael of Summer Hill
    October 8th, 2009 at 18:12 | #37

    Socrates, are you sure about your facts for as far as I know the nuclear power plant at Olkiluoto has still not been commissioned.

  38. October 9th, 2009 at 00:50 | #38

    There are some horror stories relating to nuclear. In Russia, there are several places that have suffered nuclear contamination, and that’s before one looks at Chernobyl. Of course, France and Finland quite possibly have higher levels of monitoring.

  39. October 10th, 2009 at 13:17 | #39

    THR :
    There are some horror stories relating to nuclear. In Russia, there are several places that have suffered nuclear contamination, and that’s before one looks at Chernobyl. Of course, France and Finland quite possibly have higher levels of monitoring.

    Chernobyl was a RBMK reactor designed back in the 50’s, the newer reactors such as the Us light water reactors are designed such that accidents like Chernobyl are impossible.

  40. Fran Barlow
    October 10th, 2009 at 14:15 | #40


    the newer reactors such as the US light water reactors are designed such that accidents like Chernobyl are impossible.

    … One of the key features being a robust containment structure to contain particulate from fires.

  41. October 12th, 2009 at 16:10 | #41

    @Fran Barlow
    Fran, I also commented at Barry’s site. Nuclear presents many problems: total available uranium will disappear very fast if we crank up usage (currently around 16% of world power generation), uranium enrichment technology can easily be adapted to weapons production, mining is massively destructive of the environment and it’s very expensive.

    The best short-term option is solar thermal with gas backup for when the stored heat is insufficient to cover for a run of cloudy days. Fully renewable solutions will take time to develop because they need an integrated smart grid plus smart switching to hand balancing load with supply. Another thing that will make renewables more viable is if most transport is electric with battery backup. A few million high-capacity batteries around a city can do a lot for spreading around mismatches in load and demand. The classic example is home load, which peaks in the early evening just as the sun is setting. If your home solar system charges large batteries in the family cars that are at home over the day (while you use public transport), these batteries can be used to smooth over the worst of the peak using energy stored when no one was at home.

    Don’t dismiss renewables based on what we can do now.

  42. Fran Barlow
    October 12th, 2009 at 16:30 | #42

    @Philip Machanick

    We’ve been up and down this matter Philip. Uranium prices are dropping — ask the people of Niger for whom this is an export. If they went up a lot we’d go with fast breeders. Right now, they aren’t economical.

    Nor is uranium mining as harmful as coal. Certainly the transport isn’t as harmful either and as others have noted on proliferation, there is already plenty out there to use if you wanted to make weapons and had the technical capacity. You might as well say that because steel is used in guns or fossil fuels can be used to make gun powder that cars leads to more guns and coal will lead to more gunpowder. And we haven’t mentioned Th232 which is even harder to use for that.

    While the build times on solar are good compared with nuclear this is misleading. The back end needed to connect solar thermal to the grid will take a lot longer. The costs will also operate as a huge brake on builds. We are talking orders of magnitude more money here, especially if we can get a modular design up and roll the plants out off an assembly line assembling them on site.

    The fact remains that the world will use nuclear no matter what we here say. We aren’t going to be able to reverse that. So the question is how will we respond? Will we wave our arms about and look silly, or will we climb aboard and benefit ourselves and the planet?

    I’d say the latter.

  43. Michael of Summer Hill
    October 12th, 2009 at 16:42 | #43

    Fran Barlow, new technologies are coming online everyday and there is a project to boost a coal-fired Queensland power station with a solar plant which proves renewable technology is capable of large-scale electricity generation.

  44. Fran Barlow
    October 12th, 2009 at 17:20 | #44

    @Michael of Summer Hill

    Yes but

    a) the extra power avaialble is at enormous extra cost, so the GHGs abated are at a prhibitively high price
    b) it is propping up a retrograde technology — coal

    We need to move on …

  45. October 13th, 2009 at 14:01 | #45

    @Fran Barlow
    Yes, well the price of oil was also dropping until demand started to overtake supply.

    Thorium sounds nice but the practical details are very hard, and the sad thing is that a nuclear technology without a weapons angle does not get the sort of extremely expensive R&D needed to make it viable. Knowing the physics does not get you a viable process.

    Your example of steel etc. is a tad fatuous. Nuclear weapons elevate destructive capacity way beyond other technologies. Oh yes, and Thorium can be used in FBRs to make fissile materials suitable for weapons (if a bit harder to work with that the usual suspects).

  46. Fran Barlow
    October 13th, 2009 at 14:28 | #46

    @Philip Machanick

    Yes, well the price of oil was also dropping until demand started to overtake supply.

    The key difference being that whereas the end usages of oil are highly sensitive to price movements, the relationship of the cost of Th232 or U238 to energy is much weaker.

    Nuclear weapons elevate destructive capacity way beyond other technologies.

    The relevance though was ubiquity. It’s much easier to turn used car parts into some sort of explosive device than it is to refine fuel rods to get the 7-10% Pu239 necessary to make an effective nuclear device. And in any event, there’s already plenty about. They don’t need any more. That’s not an important constraint. And you wouldn’t do it this way. Youd take existing U238 and design a specific reactor to refine it to Pu as this would be far cheaper and easier to do and easier to conceal and yield more materiel. That’s how Israel and Pakistan did it. Libya tried and failed. And in any event we are talking in most cases about countries that already have reactors — the “nuclear club” or countries where proliferation is not an issue — Japan, Germany, Australia for example. Is there any reason to beleive that if we set up Thorium or U238 LWR plants here that we would use Lucas Heights to make weaponizable materiel?

    Of course not.

  47. October 13th, 2009 at 16:30 | #47

    Fran Barlow :
    Is there any reason to beleive that if we set up Thorium or U238 LWR plants here that we would use Lucas Heights to make weaponizable materiel?
    Of course not.

    If we elevate nuclear technology to the mainstream, what is to stop any other country from wanting to do likewise? This is exactly the argument being used in Iran. Can we be sure that no one else will stick to plants that don’t have weapons-grade by-product? All of this is much more expensive and higher risk than making renewables practical. Solar thermal with biogas backup for example is not an exotic technolgy and can be built with today’s know-how and no risk of creating unwanted spin-off technologies. Likewise for hot rocks geothermal (slightly more on the engineering risks side, since no major plant is yet in operation, but we are getting there).

  48. Alice
    October 13th, 2009 at 16:55 | #48

    @Philip Machanick
    Thanks Phillip…for your common sense ideas on why we shouldnt be going down Nuclear highway (for it will become a freeway – just one small de-regulation at a time..). Once met a man who worked for Bechtel. He knew too much and after two decades couldnt wrestle with his conscience any longer and resigned. Its the stuff you dont hear about, the leaks, the accidents, the construction over fault lines, the insiders knowledege of hazards.

    I dont give a damn about the cost. The cost is like CDOs. It cant include the risks. Its a massive negative externality for future generations.

    I just cant understand Fran’s views on this issue.

    Lets look at just one incident

    “San Onofre, California, has a 950-ton radioactive problem: a nuclear reactor built by Bechtel that nobody wants. The unit was shut down over a decade ago in 1992 by its owners, Southern California Edison, who preferred not to spend $125 million in required safety upgrades.”

    Note!!!!!!!!! (firm preferred not to spend on safety upgrades and nothing to compel same obviously)

    “The only place that will accept the reactor is a dump in South Carolina but railway officials refused to transport the cargo across the country. The next suggestion was to ship it via the Panama Canal but the canal operators said no. So did the government of Chile when the power plant owners asked for permission to take it around the Cape of Good Hope.The only option left is to ship it all the way around the world, although even that is looking unlikely as harbor officials in Charleston, South Carolina, are already suggesting that they may deny the reactor entry. Edison officials are currently desperately looking for a port that might accept the toxic cargo before the dump shuts its doors in 2008.””

    So, I suggest they will probably dump the toxic cargo on some country too poor to object to a pittance that the locals wont see anyway.

    Moral putrescence – it comes with the idea of digging it up and selling it.

  49. Alice
    October 13th, 2009 at 17:07 | #49

    The State of California which is now broke is still paying the cost of Bectels nuclear plant.. “The local environmental costs continue to mount every day as the plant sucks in huge quantities of plankton, fish and even seals with the water to cool the reactors. It is destroying miles of kelp on the seabed by discharging water that is 25 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than ocean temperature, according to Mark Massara, director of the Sierra Club’s coastal program.” Thats the tip of the iceberg. Bechtel hasnt cleaned the site properly or reduced contaminants down to safe drinki8ng water levels, the deaths from cancer inside the firm and outside are high (Bechtel wont acknowledge)

    It just goes on. It seems BS, lies, denial and short term immediate grossly inadequate costing (plus an inane assumption that firms actually dont seek to avoid costs and will “do the right thing” when the project is completed) is entirely a part of the pro nuclear argument. Its denial land – here we go again.

  50. Donald Oats
    October 13th, 2009 at 17:42 | #50

    The list of nuclear events is a long one…and the list of completely decommissioned, decontaminated, and repatriated sites is incredibly short. Rhetorical question: just how short a list is it?

    While nuclear power has its place, in Australia I wouldn’t want to see it except on a one-to-one shutdown of the dirtiest coal-fired power stations, so that a real reduction in coal fired power CO2 emissions occurs.

    Having seen the way in which the coalition played fast and loose with the politics of AGW for 12 years, I no longer would even remotely trust a coalition member to honour any undertaking of a transition from coal to nuclear – they would most likely simply add nuclear without reducing coal; indeed if WA is an example they would increase coal fired stations anyway. State Labor is just as bad, at least in NSW.

  51. Michael of Summer Hill
    October 13th, 2009 at 20:05 | #51

    Fran Barlow, the use of solar thermal technology which can power steam turbines in coal power stations has potential and may well be the answer Australia is looking for.

  52. Fran Barlow
    October 13th, 2009 at 20:50 | #52



    Your comments on San Onofre are not accurate. One of the units was shut down but the site is still a working site. see here

    I should say that $125 million is not a huge sum of money in this context — about 75MW of wind at whatever capacity factor you can get. The unit decommissioned in 1992 was abour seven times that capacity.

    The broader point Elise is this. You may well be willing to spend “whatever it takes” to decarbonise without resort to nuclear (and so would I if it came to that) but that attitude is not shared in practice by much of the population. I doubt that even very many of the 10% or so who support the Greens would back that if they knew the full extent of that commitment. Having met them at many demonstrations and at polling booths there is a strong perception that renewables plus energy parsimony can replace what we do with coal and gas at comparable cost with “no regrets” measures that won’t bother them much — not having a plasma TV, having a solar panel on your roof, using public transport and riding your bike to the shops and making sure your appliances are turned off. Maybe we’ll all hacve to pay an extra $1000 each year in taxes or charges … that sort of thing.

    That is simply wrong. If decarbonising were that easy it would have been done years ago. There’d be no denier lobby. It would not have occurred to anyone that a cost on emissions was necessary. People don’t love burining coal because of the colour or out of patriotism — they do it because it’s still the cheapest way to extract useable energy at industrial scale from the Earth if you don’t have to bear the cost of cleaning up the mess or think the cost of the mess to humanity doesn’t matter. As a matter of practice, if costs matter — and they do, the more it costs to decarbonise, the less of it we are going to get people to do in a hurry — and we need them to do it in a hurry.

    With nuclear power we have something roughly six orders of magnitude more energy intensive than coal or oil. Its effective footprint is much less than 1% of that of coal per unit of energy output. The volume of the waste per person is uttely tiny compared with coal, the waste of which extends over the entire planet. The full life cycle kills and harms a tiny fraction per unit of output of that of coal or oil. We would be nuts not to replace as much carbon-based energy recovery with nuclear as we could.

    So here Alice is where it gets real. You like economics. How keen are you to decarbonise and how much do you think the populace is willing to pay for 1 ton of carbon dioxide abatement or 1GW of near zero emissions? Put a figure on it and let’s see what we can buy with it.

  53. Fran Barlow
    October 13th, 2009 at 20:51 | #53

    oops … my apologies Alice … I called you Elise at one point … Freudian slip …

  54. October 14th, 2009 at 14:46 | #54

    Fran Barlow :
    That is simply wrong. If decarbonising were that easy it would have been done years ago.

    It is being done and on a much larger scale than we routinely hear about here. Denmark is at 20% renewables with a target of 30% by 2020. 600MW of solar thermal is up and running with 400 MW under construction and 14,000 MW at various stages of planning. Most of Europe is way ahead of Australia, which recently overtook the US as the leading per capita emitter.

    If decarbonising is so hard and renewables so unlikely to succeed, why would the fossil fuel companies be working so hard to undermine political consensus? It’s important to understand that their cash flow model is threatened by renewables. Consumables as a major fraction of the cost disappear. If you are selling a product by the billions of tonnes that has to be a concern. The World Coal Institute estimates coal use will increase 60% over the next 20 years. They certainly aren’t committed to decarbonising.

  55. Fran Barlow
    October 14th, 2009 at 15:55 | #55

    @Philip Machanick

    It is being done and on a much larger scale than we routinely hear about here. Denmark is at 20% renewables with a target of 30% by 2020.

    Denmark is a special case because it not only has good resources of wind, but the massive and cheap hydro resources of Norway backed in turn by Swedish nuclear and German coal behind it. It can trade its surplus wind to the grid and if the wind falls, Norway can switch its hydro in within seconds knowing that it can never run out because before it does Swediah and German baseload will come to the rescue. So intermittency isn’t the problem it would be but for the hydro “buffer” and thermal baseload.

    If decarbonising is so hard and renewables so unlikely to succeed, why would the fossil fuel companies be working so hard to undermine political consensus?

    Because it would prejudice the value of their assets — principally coal and crude oil — in markets where nuclear is not barred. Also, cheap coal underpins the aluminium and steel smelting business here. The gas people are pretty keen on wind though because absent nuclear, they are next in line and will be essential if wind and solar are taken up with any seriousness.

    The threat to coal is never going to be from renewables, except in some limited cases similar to Norway or maybe the Rift Valley in East Africa or in South Australia where there is geothermal. Small beer in the global scheme of things.

  56. October 14th, 2009 at 16:25 | #56

    Fran, try reading David McKay on the potential for renewables in the UK: not good without major changes in attitudes; doable if you buy in solar energy from North Africa. In Australia, we don’t have the problem of too little land for solar resources. We also have pretty good geothermal.

    In any case whatever we do there is going to be a major energy shortage in a few decades if we insist on fuel-based solutions. Unless we can get thorium, FBRs or other more prolific nuclear fuels going in time, we will run out of uranium in less time than you can amortise new power plants is we scale nuclear up fast. Even if you solve nuclear’s problems, you can’t run a jet plane on nuclear.

    Stationary power is not the hardest problem; fuelling jet planes when oil runs low enough to be too expensive is much harder. If we burn up all the coal generating electricity we can’t use that to make hydrocarbons (and even if we do, the environmental cost is very high). Tar sands, oil shale etc. are all very environmentally expensive.

    Nuclear is a narrow solution with a broad range of problems. If that’s the best we can do, we are in deep trouble.

  57. Fran Barlow
    October 14th, 2009 at 17:50 | #57

    @Philip Machanick

    try reading David McKay on the potential for renewables in the UK

    One of my favourites. I am sure I’ve linked it here. ANd yes, I am in favour of fast breeders and IFR and any other combination of solutions that would work. As Mackay points out, it is only nuclear that meets the sustainable test on a world scale.

    Stationary power is not the hardest problem; fuelling jet planes when oil runs low enough to be too expensive is much harder.

    Of course, which is why we need to get going with nuclear right now. We could use small nuclear to power cargo ships and trains instead of diesel too. And we can certainly use nuclear to do the hydrocarbon reformation we need for liquid fuels from waste biomass or NG.

    Ultimately though, even if we have to get by with less air travel, who cares? It’s not as if, in a world of digital interconnection, the world of mass air travel contributes anything indispensible to human civilisation.

  58. October 15th, 2009 at 11:20 | #58

    Fran Barlow :
    @Philip Machanick

    try reading David McKay on the potential for renewables in the UK

    One of my favourites. I am sure I’ve linked it here. ANd yes, I am in favour of fast breeders and IFR and any other combination of solutions that would work. As Mackay points out, it is only nuclear that meets the sustainable test on a world scale.

    Fascinating. Whenever I point pro-nuclear people at this book, they stop reading when they find justification for their position. This is what McKay ends up with:

    We have a clear conclusion: the non-solar renewables may be “huge,” but they are not huge enough. To complete a plan that adds up, we must rely on one or more forms of solar power. Or use nuclear power. Or both.

    Show me where he says “only nuclear”.

  59. Fran Barlow
    October 15th, 2009 at 12:55 | #59

    @Philip Machanick

    What Professor Mackay did not do was specify the cost of this plan. His was a purely engineering-based analysis — what could on in theory do to meet the demands for energy in perpetuity. This was a perfectly reasonbale thing to do but the costs are germane, either because nobody will fund them or they will fund them but not on the timeline neded to make the difference we need.

    What do you suppose it would cost to connect build enough Solar Thermal in North Africa to feed Europe and Britain’s grid with enough to supplant coal and gas and to connect it via HVDC? How would this compare with the cost of building nuclear plants?

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