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Nuclear power: the last post

May 6th, 2010

I’m getting tired of comments threads being derailed by disputes over nuclear power. So I’m going to give everyone a final chance to state their views on the question, then declare this topic off-limits. Here are my views:

* If there is no better option, I’d prefer an expansion of nuclear power to continued reliance on fossil fuels (particularly coal) to generate electricity

* We don’t have enough information to determine whether nuclear power is more cost-effective than the alternatives (conservation, renewables, CCS) and we have debated this question at excessive length (a fact which itself reflects our lack of info)

* In practical terms, there is no chance of any movement towards nuclear in Australia for at least the next five years.

So, I’m going to ask everyone to have their final say, and come back in five years when we might have something new and relevant to say.

Update I’ve been asked by Fran Barlow in comments to reconsider my policy, and here is my response. If I see anything new and interesting (to me, that is) on the topic, I’ll post on it, and open up discussion. Readers who see something suitable are welcome to email me and tell me. Otherwise, nothing more on this until further notice, please, including in open threads.

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  1. Michael of Summer Hill
    May 13th, 2010 at 21:27 | #1

    Update, Update Update, the latest report indicate Tony Abbott’s credibility is at stake for it involves Treasury secretary Ken Henry saying a drop off in mining as a result of the new tax “is not all bad.” Given Abbott’s habitual false claims the Australian public needs to be reassured that Ken Henry did not make such a statement.

  2. Peter Lang
    May 13th, 2010 at 21:48 | #2
  3. May 13th, 2010 at 23:24 | #3

    @jquiggin

    As you wish PrQ …

    You say they are different people? Curious, but good enough. I won’t be responding to either of these characters again.

    Without mentioning that topic, I do hope that BilB can respond to Peter’s challenge on solar thermal costing.

  4. BilB
    May 14th, 2010 at 07:34 | #4

    A quick point on why it is so important to resolve our energy future right now. Yesterday a visitor to my stand at NMW10 told me that just 2 weeks ago an organisation that he is involved with was paid $30,000 to run their organisation on their standby electricity generators or “the entire grid would go down”. Perhaps a little dramatic conclusion, but it is an indicator that the indecision over that last 6 years has paralysed energy industry investment and left our electricity infrastructure at the point of failure.

    A key rule in gambling is to not include your house in the stakes. But that is just precisely what Kevin Rudd has done on energy and environment. He has gambled with our primary well being in order to obtain a traditional Labour “health/education/work environment” electoral term. This gamble could very well have cost him his job and could leave our future well being in the hands of the “mad monk”.

  5. bill
    May 14th, 2010 at 09:23 | #5

    Ah, much has happened since last I ventured here:

    Anyway – this is interesting: looks like Whyalla will get it’s Solar Baseload trial plant thanks to the feds -

    300-dish outback solar plant moves closer

    Updated Thu May 13, 2010 3:25pm AEST

    The Federal Budget has provided more certainty for a 40-megawatt solar thermal power plant being planned at Whyalla in South Australia.

    Federal funding of $60 million is being provided towards the project, under the Renewable Energy Demonstration Program.

    At a total cost of $230 million, the plant will be made up of 300 huge solar dishes.

    Whyalla Councillor Eddie Hughes says the project has been nearly 15 years in the planning.

    “I think it’s got the capacity to transform the image of Whyalla because this is world-class cutting-edge solar thermal technology,” he said.

    “It addresses one of the major environmental issues and it’s Whyalla in South Australia playing its part.”

    The plant is to be operated by Wizard Power and will supply the city of Whyalla and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 60,000 tonnes per year.

    Good news, surely? (‘Wizard Power’? – that’s a bit of a worry!…)

  6. Fran Barlow
    May 14th, 2010 at 09:31 | #6

    Why don’t we take a look at what someone with real world experience in renewables says about the prospects for “renewable baseload” (and specifically) “solar thermal> Bear in mind this someone who is keen on renewables and doesn’t mention this site’s equivalent of the Scottish play.

    Reliable base-load sustainable energy sources still long way off

    Professor David Cahen is a solar researcher, and the scientific director of the Alternative Sustainable Energy Research Initiative at the Weizmann Institute in Israel.

    [...]

    ASHLEY HALL: The argument that we often hear here in Australia is that renewable energy is not up to the job of delivering base-load power; that the only thing that we could use is coal or gas. Are renewable energy sources up to the job of base-load power?

    DAVID CAHEN: Today no. Unequivocally no, today. {my emphasis}

    ASHLEY HALL: How long before they will be?

    DAVID CAHEN: How long I don’t know, I left my crystal ball at home so I cannot predict the future.

    [...]

    DAVID CAHEN: But in the long run you don’t want to stick with solar cells and solar thermal plants and wind farms, you want to go to artificial fuels. You want to be able to make a liquid fuel that will store energy and allow you to use that energy when you need it. And that will therefore obviate part of the problem of the variability of wind and sunlight.

    ASHLEY HALL: So why not wind and solar then? There’s an abundance of both in Australia.

    DAVID CAHEN: The problem is their variability. And so since you cannot really tell when there will be sun and when there will be wind with sufficient accuracy for the electricity companies to use it, you are left with the problem that you have to have a back-up.

    In Australia by the way you’re better off than many other places because you are a continent, so you can a little bit level out the variability. But the only way you can really do that in a reliable fashion is when that was suggested by the famous architect Buckminster Fuller back in the ’70s I think; if you would be able to have a grid spanning the world, then you have your solar and wind farms wherever you want along that grid, so if one was not getting sun or wind, the other one would

    Cahen goes on to say the the country that is doing best on renewables is … China … a country that one pro-renewables poster would surely be forced to describe as having a “dictatorial resource allocation system”. That gives the lie to the linkage between democracy and renewables.

    Of course, the Chinese dictatorial resource allocation system is also supporting that other energy production technology, which we shall not name.

  7. bill
    May 14th, 2010 at 09:53 | #7

    Hmmm, one also notes:

    ASHLEY HALL: You’re talking about the need for us to develop some form of artificial fuel; that I imagine is going to take a fair bit of time and a fair bit of money. Given the reluctance of the global community to put a price on carbon, how difficult is it going to be to muster the resources to make that happen?

    DAVID CAHEN: Okay, if you had asked me this question in 2007 or the beginning of 2008 I would have said well you have a very valid point this is going to be very expensive. After the bailout, my proportions of what is expensive have changed completely [emphasis mine] and recently we heard what is going to be the bailout in Europe. If governments can put together plans of $1 trillion or £1 trillion; we’re not talking about that here, we’re talking about much smaller.

    So, this from a guy who wants us to massively subisidise the development of synthetic fuels? Who’s inspired by the unreal financing of the bail-out to figure that perhaps we can have a go at it after all?

    (I note Bucky Fuller gets a guernsey, too!)

    Surely the Chinese are ahead on renewable because they’re rolling in cash and can see where we’re heading? And a centralised high-investment technology whose name we are apparently not speaking is a very comfortable fit with a ‘dictatorial resource allocation system’, so that argument appears to be a nil-all draw.

    Anyway, I figured the reason we’d all be glad to see this news is if we build the facility we can actually see if it does work, rather than endlessly speculating…

  8. Chris Warren
    May 14th, 2010 at 10:44 | #8

    @Peter Lang

    I will read that.

    I have finished reading Colin Keys (which you cited earlier).

    But I won’t comment further here, as this thread is dead.

  9. jquiggin
    May 14th, 2010 at 11:27 | #9

    Definitely nothing more on this thread please.

  10. May 14th, 2010 at 11:52 | #10

    Oh. Sorry. JQ posted while I was writing my previous post. I’m stopping now. Nobody post after me.

  11. jquiggin
    May 14th, 2010 at 18:27 | #11

    I’ve deleted a bunch of comments and will now close them.

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