Home > Environment > Nuclear power: the last post

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. Stewart Kelly
    May 6th, 2010 at 18:44 | #1

    I’d pretty much agree with you John. Additional issues such as the morality of storing waste for thousands of years, and it’s impacts on future generations are a bit of a worry. But then so are the future effects of global warming. Nuclear power is yet to prove itself to be the obvious option, despite what some of it’s supporters may say.

  2. Stewart Kelly
    May 6th, 2010 at 18:48 | #2

    Also, there’s the NIMBY issue. Polls seem to show Australians more open to the idea of nuclear power than in previous decades. I suspect that will change dramatically in communities actually faced with nuclear power stations being built nearby. If Sydney can’t get a new airport built for thrirty plus years because governments are too gutless to risk annoying a few electorates, what chance of building ten, twenty, or thirty nuclear power stations?

  3. Chris Warren
    May 6th, 2010 at 18:51 | #3

    If they cannot prevent train wrecks, plane crashes, earthquakes, wars and oil well disasters, why would you want to impose nukes onto future generations.

  4. Alice
    May 6th, 2010 at 18:54 | #4

    Ill comment in one word JQ…and its a no for me.

    The human error factor can never be eliminated and nor can the reliability of either humans or governments be guaranteed to maintain nuclear facilities over time (decades…not the immediate future). We leave our children a dangerous legacy, the safety of which we cannot determine, here and now. We have no knowledge of the future situation of governmental management, political stability or orderly system infrastructure maintenance…and the larger the population grows, the less we can guarantee anything.

    Its an immensely dangerous substance and one that should be left in the ground IMHO.
    We think we have problems with coal and global warming (and we do) but my personal view is that if we turn to nuclear as a solution…”our future generations aint seen nothing yet.” Its premature. Its a knee jerk reaction to AGW that is not hard to fall back on in our time and with our problems of production, but its not the best solution for the future and the long run. We have not found the solution yet but we should not give up looking.

    I, personally, dont want to be responsible for a nuclear energy reliant legacy for my children and their children. I cannot guarantee their safety with such a system even though it may abate our immediate AGW problems.

  5. gregh
    May 6th, 2010 at 18:58 | #5

    past its use-by date – superseded by other technologies with less downside and way better social/scientific/technological upsides

  6. Freelander
    May 6th, 2010 at 19:05 | #6

    I’ll just reiterate the need for Australia having a breeder reactor, for much the same reasons that India, Pakistan, Iran and Israel have one. And of course, as power units for our impressive fleet of not yet nuclear subs. With nuclear power you almost never need to come up for air.

  7. conrad
    May 6th, 2010 at 19:31 | #7

    “why would you want to impose nukes onto future generations.”

    because it might be better than heating up the Earth further, and in most places with limited space (not Australia), the current population doesn’t have to breath in large amounts of particulates etc.

    “what chance of building ten, twenty, or thirty nuclear power stations”

    None, but that’s not how many we need. I’m sure three would do just fine, or 4 if Perth wants one.

    “And of course, as power units for our impressive fleet of not yet nuclear subs”

    Yes, we can go and scare NZ with them. I’m not sure what else we can use them for, so if it costs money to make them nuclear, I’m not sure why you would to switch them over.

  8. May 6th, 2010 at 19:47 | #8

    Yep – putting it simply – nuclear power is not going anywhere fast in Australia in both a political sense (its political poison) and a practical sense (it takes a reasonable amount of time to implement). I’m not convinced that we have yet reached an acceptable consensus on what to do with the waste.

    In other words, it makes sense for action on climate change to be driven – at least in the short to mid-term – by other technologies.

  9. May 6th, 2010 at 20:40 | #9

    No to nuclear! It’s dirty and unsafe and too expensive.

    Unless new technology shows otherwise, we don’t have the water to support it and the toxic byproducts are too dangerous. If we build it near the coast to use seawater (if that’s an option) it will be swamped by the sea level rises. Any inland water we do have will be too hot by the time it’s built (with rising temps). It costs far too much – will need massive govt debt to fund it. The amount of carbon needed to build it offsets the reduction in coal through its use.

    Go for geothermal, solar, wind whatever – all much better than nuclear (and coal).

  10. TerjeP (say Taya)
    May 6th, 2010 at 20:42 | #10

    Most of the threads (not all) that have been derailed into a debate about the virtues of nuclear power have done so following an anti nuclear remark. If you’re going to ban pro nuclear commentary then I think you really ought to ban anti nuclear remarks also.

    Nuclear power is a proven safe technology. Given the benefit it produces it kills far fewer people than a squillion other industries / technologies. Arguments that it is unsafe are based on mythology. We readily tolerate a relatively unregulated flow of nuclear waste from conventional power sources (ie Thorium and Uranium from coal) and we shouldn’t expect a higher benchmark from nuclear power plants.

    The argument that it is expensive are a little more credible but mostly relate to obsessions with safety politics by opponents. We ought to reform the legal environment now even if we don’t intend building plants for 10 years. If we sit on our hands for 5 years we just have the same issues to resolve but we are 5 years later to the game. Anybody serious about CO2 mitigation shouldn’t be taking serious options off the table.

    If you take a tonne of coal there is more energy and less nuclear waste, and no CO2 involved if you extract the uranium and run it through a fast breeder reactor than if you burn the coal. Going nuclear is a no brainer.

  11. May 6th, 2010 at 20:42 | #11

    To add – security-wise it doesn’t compare with a distributed power system comprising different power sources. One terrorist, war or whatever – and whoosh!

  12. Alice
    May 6th, 2010 at 21:07 | #12

    @TerjeP (say Taya)
    Terje
    says “Most of the threads (not all) that have been derailed into a debate about the virtues of nuclear power have done so following an anti nuclear remark. ”

    Evidence for this Terje?. As usual you play lightly with the facts which is becoming very apparent.

  13. Alice
    May 6th, 2010 at 21:18 | #13

    Terje you also have no basis for any of the following sweeping assertations…

    “Nuclear power is a proven safe technology. Given the benefit it produces it kills far fewer people than a squillion other industries / technologies. Arguments that it is unsafe are based on mythology.”

    and “going nuclear is a no brainer.”

    a) Safety is unproven given the many nuclear accidents that have already occured. Safety, on that basis, is not and cannot not be “proven”
    c) Nuclear accidents have killed a lot already and yoyu make no comparison to any “specific industry”. Instead you draw a comparison to “a squillion other industries.” Invalid comparison. Furthermore you have no “count of kills” in either nuclear or squillions of other industries.
    d) The “mythology of safety” you refer to is more closely aligned to your own personal beliefs.
    e) going nuclear on this view is indeed a no brainer. It wouldnt happen.

    Not facts, not evidence.

  14. Ernestine Gross
    May 6th, 2010 at 21:48 | #14

    I take the current government policy as given.

    Terje is sufficiently vague to obfuscate that it was he who first posted a pro-nuclear comment on the CPS thread. His post generated an avalanche of pro-nuclear posts by Fran Barlow, with personal attacks on others, while relying on others to detect Fran’s completely false information regarding the success of Germany to achieve its CO2 reduction target. I am still waiting for Fran Barlow to retract all her false statements and to issue an apology.

    NIBYISM and the Sydney airport. There is sufficient empirical evidence that the population in Sydney objected to the expansion of KSA but not to the construction of a new airport outside the Sydney airbasin.

    A 5 year ban on the topic nuclear power in Australia on this blog is most welcome.

  15. Ernestine Gross
    May 6th, 2010 at 21:51 | #15

    NIBYISM shoudl read NIMBYism.

  16. Alice
    May 6th, 2010 at 21:55 | #16

    @Ernestine Gross
    says “A 5 year ban on the topic nuclear power in Australia on this blog is most welcome.”

    Ill second that.

  17. Monkey’s Uncle
    May 6th, 2010 at 21:57 | #17

    Terje, in all fairness it seems the policy will apply equally to both pro-nuclear and anti-nuclear comments. And I actually have confidence that the policy will be enforced as such.

    At the risk of seeming too cynical, I suspect that part of the reason for ending comments on nuclear energy is simply that much of the irrational anti-nuclear hysteria on the Left directly undermines the alternative narrative that anti-science delusionism is increasingly a monopoly of the Right.

  18. Michael of Summer Hill
    May 6th, 2010 at 22:05 | #18

    TerjeP (say Taya), are you aware that as of May 8, 2008, there were some 7357 claimaints under the US Radiation Exposure Compensation Program of which 4819 Uranium Miners and another 2538 other Onsite Participants, Uranium Millers and Ore Transporters were successful in their application for compensation. Nuclear energy is not as safe as what you think it is.

  19. Alice
    May 6th, 2010 at 22:08 | #19

    @Monkey’s Uncle
    MU – I have no doubt the reason JQ has chosen to end the debate (as stated – he is sick of it – as are many others here) is to stop certain posters misusing multiple of JQs threads to “derail” and spruik long winded pro nuclear posts.
    Anti science delusionism is increasingly a monopoly of the right and so is the lack of a measured, sensible response on nuclear which takes into account risks, now and in the future. The right are all for “digging it up now and shipping it out”….ie business as usual, for business as usual, but they also seek “conversion to the cause” here with no substantial evidence in sight.
    The latter is the problem.

  20. Monkey’s Uncle
    May 6th, 2010 at 23:11 | #20

    Alice, indeed you may just as likely be right about the motivation behind the ban. I was merely speculating. But the whole nuclear debate is at best a problematic wedge issue for much of the Left. It is hard to square the demands for urgent action on reducing emissions with such rabid hostility to perhaps the most viable low-emission energy source available. So I’m not surprised that Professor Quiggin would rather dispense with the whole issue.

    Of course any sensible assessment of any policy proposal, including nuclear energy, must include an analysis of the risks as well as benefits. The problem is that much of the fear about nuclear energy is irrational and exaggerated. Does that mean there are zero risks? No. But what is risk-free in this world? And in terms of net cost/benefit, if the planet is going to hell due to excessive carbon emissions would not a moderate risk of nuclear power be an acceptable tradeoff? The lesser of two evils? Or perhaps, do you simply dislike making hard choices and messy compromises, and instead prefer waiting for a neat, perfect solution? As the saying goes, only the impotent are pure.

  21. AndrewD
    May 7th, 2010 at 00:02 | #21

    I have to disagree with Alice on safety.
    Nuclear power plants are very safe. Statistically, they have good records compared with other industrial process plants (in fact case studies on how to “do” safety usually focus on nuclear plants and air traffic control). The much-quoted accidents didn’t affect the stats at all, except for Chernobyl which one side will say killed ten and the other will say killed thousands but is anyway a one-off. Mining is generally another matter especially somewhere like China, but our U mines have good track records (Olympic Dam is really a copper mine which produces U as a byproduct).
    I think there are a lot of good arguments against n-power, but safety isn’t one of them.

  22. TerjeP (say Taya)
    May 7th, 2010 at 00:12 | #22

    Terje is sufficiently vague to obfuscate that it was he who first posted a pro-nuclear comment on the CPS thread.

    Yes it’s true I posted the first pro nuclear comment in that discussion. However I did it after BilB had posted the the first anti nuclear comment. As I said the antis generally start it.

  23. AndrewD
    May 7th, 2010 at 00:14 | #23

    Sou’s arguments are also wrong.
    You go for seawater cooling and build your plant a few meters above high tide level. And global warming will never affect the efficiency of cooling water circuits which are always designed for hottest part of the hottest day anyway.
    We can build these things safely and so that they work – trust me, I’m an enginner.

  24. iain
    May 7th, 2010 at 00:17 | #24

    I’ve made this observation before – the best responses on this topic have come from commentators “Salient Green” and “nanks” who have previously written the following:

    “Personally I’d rather see renewables for a range of reasons – one of which Ernestine touched on in terms of decentralisation and autonomy – another being the expansion of research across a much broader range of disciplines than that required by fossil fuels or nuclear.”

    “Unfortunately, the nuclear vs renewables debate is mostly based on how to continue with business as usual. There is no doubt that either or both could be used by the human race to continue BAU and the cost would be accomodated.
    What most people don’t get is that we can’t have BAU without increasingly bad consequences the further we go into ecological overshoot. Economists the world over need to promote a better way of doing business. Growth as we presently know it is not only unsustainable but destructive.

    Overpopulation and overconsumption are the root problems. Humanity needs to learn to live in balance with the rest of the natural world and debating the best source of energy to continue destroying the natural world is pointless.”

  25. TerjeP (say Taya)
    May 7th, 2010 at 00:19 | #25

    The problem is that much of the fear about nuclear energy is irrational and exaggerated.

    The same is true for AGW.

  26. Socrates
    May 7th, 2010 at 00:21 | #26

    I am in favour of nuclear power, provided it is built to the safety standards of the French/German/Swedish/Finnish cold water reactors (Gen2+/Gen3) or new IFR reactors (Gen 4). Those reactor types have had no major accidents in 30 years. Other reactors (US, UK, USSR) though have been much less safe and some countries have very poorly regulated uranium mining and fuel transport standards. Newer reactors create less waste too. Nuclear proliferation has NEVER occurred from domestic nuclear power reactors, only clandestine weapons programs, because the reactor fuel is far less enriched than weapons grade uranium. Overall then, I don’t pretend nuclear is risk free, but it can be safe if done properly, as the above countries have proven. Coal mining kills far more people than uranium every year.

    So that leaves the question of cost. I agree that is hard to call, because first you have to get honest information and second you need to distinguish capital and operating costs. Overall I think nuclear is more viable to supply base load power than solar and wind, assuming clean coal is a croc and doesn’t really work. That being said, I also agree (sadly) with JQ that there is no prospect of it happening in Australia any time soon – the coal lobby is just too strong.

  27. Joffan
    May 7th, 2010 at 02:30 | #27

    Unless you’re intending to steer clear of energy topics and climate change, I’m not sure how you’ll avoid some discussion of nuclear power.

    It would be fascinating though to come back in five years time and see how opinions have changed, or not. The mythology of magical harm is definitely cracking under the pressure of real information, so hopefully the persuadable majority will come to understand that nuclear power is about helping humanity rather than harming it, even if entrenched interests continue to stoke the baseless fears.

  28. Stewart Kelly
    May 7th, 2010 at 03:30 | #28

    @conrad
    It will be more than four. I’m pretty sure the figure mentioned in the review done under the Howard government was 25 reactors to produce 30% of the countries power. There’s often more than one reactor per power station, but you’d still be looking at 6-8 minimum I’m guessing. And even with four you still have big nimby problems.

  29. BilB
    May 7th, 2010 at 05:21 | #29

    Terje@25,

    Terje, here, has completely solve the world’s problems, and eliminated the need for nuclear power in one sentence.

    Always the arbiter of great wisdom, Terje has pointed out that AGW is not at real, it is about irrational fear. So presumeably that means that AGW is a myth and CO2 build up in the atmosphere is no threat at all. When you think about it how could it be, there is less than half a percent of it in the air we breath. It is barely more than a trace element, almost valuable. Therefore continue burning coal, there is no problem. And also no need for dangerous, contaminating, WOMD inducing, divisive, eternal waste creating, environment damaging, blog swamping, Nuclear power. Nothing more here, folks, move on to the next thread.

  30. Michael of Summer Hill
    May 7th, 2010 at 06:47 | #30

    AndrewD, you claim to be an engineer and yet say safety is not a major concern. Maybe you would like to tell Australians what would happen if for example we had a Chernobyl in let say Wagga, and where would the winds disperse the radiation? Maybe all way up the eastcoast of Australia to Cairns?

  31. TerjeP (say Taya)
    May 7th, 2010 at 07:12 | #31

    BilB – I’m not about denying risk. Just putting them in perspective. AGW is a risk but the fear factor is over cooked.

  32. sHx
    May 7th, 2010 at 07:19 | #32

    What a shame that the Left has descended to actually considering the merits of nuclear energy over other alternative energy sources. 25-30 years ago the Left opposition towards any and all things nuclear was so solid and so unified that a major victory was won against the Right on the issue across the globe. Opposition to nuclear option used to be manifest at every level of the nuclear process. This country once had a Three Mine Uranium policy despite an abundance of uranium ore. The policy once had such a canonical status for the the Left that Labor government would not issue a new permit for a third mine when one of the three mines went out of action. Whole suburbs, towns and cities would welcome visitors with bilboards marking their territory as “nuclear free zones”. New Zealand banned ships that carried any nuclear material aboard from its waters even those belonging to its US ally, and there was always some controversy in Australia when those vessels visited our ports. Safety regulations were so stringent that nuclear option was simply made uncompetitive. Waste used to be whisked through the streets at night and under heavy police guard in order to avoid protesters. A ship carrying nuclear waste across the oceans used to make international news for days on end with media tracking its journey. There was a reason why Homer Simpson worked for a nuclear power station and fished three eyed mutants from nearby river. Such was the anti-nuclear 80s.

    Today, a Leftist can declare himself pro-nuclear without the slightest trace of cognitive dissonance. The long and successful political and on-street battle waged by the left to keep those dirty, nasty and long-lasting radioactive materials out of favour across the globe now looks like it could make a good, historical case study in agnotology. The coalminers, the great working class heros of the 80s, must now bow to Mr Montgomery Burnses of ‘safe’ atomic energy.

    This irrational AGW scare campaign has truly distorted the Leftist (and Environmentalist, needless to say) agenda. Coal is dirtier than Uranium? What a tosh! One could be tarred and feathered for holding such a view in the 1980s. The pre-cautionary principle and worst-case scenarios now magically favour nuclear. The rock hard anti-nuclear policy has softened to a mild pro-nuke stance with more mellowing to come. No matter that perhaps the main reason the world did not experience a major nuclear catastrophe and face even greater challenges of the higher volume radioactive waste in the last 30 years was because of the success of the anti-nuclear movement in curtailing the growth.

    The fact is that by late 1980s CO2-caused global warming scare had gained a momentum of its own, yet uranium remained as the greater evil for another decade. Not so today. And the fact is that the Left and the environmentalist movement either preached ignorance then or it is preaching ignorance now.

    As a leftist and an AGW sceptic (sorry, the science isn’t ‘in’), my view with regard to nuclear option is undistorted and my opposition unbroken. My loyalty to old environmentalist values remains unblemished. I am proud to say so.

  33. conrad
    May 7th, 2010 at 07:35 | #33

    “There’s often more than one reactor per power station, but you’d still be looking at 6-8 minimum I’m guessing. And even with four you still have big nimby problems.”

    I don’t think the public differentiates between number of reactors and number of sites (and I don’t see why you wouldn’t just have as many reactors as needed once you have the site), although I agree with the nimby problems. However, once you actually have the reactors, people forget quickly (and attitudes change quickly — the French are generally positive about their plants). It seems to me that at least in Aus where we have lots of space, the real consideration should be price given that alternative technologies are getting cheaper quickly. Perhaps we could split our bets and develop some now and wait and see for the rest.

  34. May 7th, 2010 at 07:42 | #34

    The idea of nuclear power as a a better alternative than coal – sounds good. But it is a short term view. Even if Australia did not actually get nuclear power for several years, the advance planning would in itself do damage to Australia.
    By this, I mean, that the move to nuclear power would divert attention, energy, and money from programs for energy efficiency and renewable energy, and even – dare I suggest it – reduced consumption.
    More importantly, the necessary secrecy involved, for security reasons, in nuclear energy, would usher in the secret State – loss of civil liberties, suppression of dissent, and increased surveillance of us all. It’s an insidious process, which should be cut off before it starts.

  35. May 7th, 2010 at 07:44 | #35

    Please correct details on my previous comment
    The idea of nuclear power as a a better alternative than coal – sounds good. But it is a short term view. Even if Australia did not actually get nuclear power for several years, the advance planning would in itself do damage to Australia.
    By this, I mean, that the move to nuclear power would divert attention, energy, and money from programs for energy efficiency and renewable energy, and even – dare I suggest it – reduced consumption.
    More importantly, the necessary secrecy involved, for security reasons, in nuclear energy, would usher in the secret State – loss of civil liberties, suppression of dissent, and increased surveillance of us all. It’s an insidious process, which should be cut off before it starts.

  36. May 7th, 2010 at 07:52 | #36

    Here is a dose of reality for people such as TerjeP (say Taya) and their claims about the safety of “third generation” nuclear plants.
    On October 13, 2009, the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission affirmed the “proximity presumption” which recognises that persons living within a 50-mile (80 kilometre) radius of a proposed new “third-generation” US Evolutionary Power Reactor (EPR) face a realistic threat of harm if a release of radioactive material were to occur from the facility.
    The decision of the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission is in Docket No. 52-016-COL and is in the Matter of Calvert Cliffs 3 Nuclear Project, LLC, and Unistar Nuclear Operating Services, LLC (Combinbed License Application for Calvert Cliffs, Unit 3). The Commisisioners hearing the matter were Gregory B Jaczko, Chairman, Dale E. Kleim and Kristine L. Svinicki.
    The hearing involved an appeal by by Calvert Cliffs 3 nuclear project and Unistar Nuclear Operating Services against the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board granting limited standing to joint intervenors – Nuclear Information and Resource Service, Beyond Nuclear, Public Citizen Energy Program and Southern Maryland Citizens’ Alliance for Renewable Energy Solution – in the hearing of an application for a combined licence (COL) for one EPR to be placed at the existing Calvert Cliffs site in Lusby, Calvert County, Maryland.
    Those seeking to build an EPR in Maryland unsuccessfully asked the NRC to abandon the “proximity presumption” which they claimed was “no longer valid under modern standing jurisprudence”.
    The three Commissioners said they saw no conflict between the basic requirements for standing, as applied in the federal courts, and the NRC proximity presumption.
    They further said that the applicants had not provided any information to refute the basis of the presumption, such as evidence to show that the effects of an accidental release from the planned reactor would be limited to a shorter distance from the facility.
    The failure to provide such information says a lot about the safety of “third-generation” nuclear reactors.

  37. BilB
    May 7th, 2010 at 07:56 | #37

    Terje,

    I doubt that people are sleepless or arising each morning fearful that everything has changed due to Global Warming. But it is either real or it is not. If it is real then decisive action must be taken. So which is it?

    There are only two ways that animal life on earth can be eliminated in a short period of time. One is a massive meteor from space slamming into the earth, as has happened a number of times in the past. The other is with Nuclear Energy. Only one of those two armageddons is within our power to control. Discontinuing the widespread use of nuclear materials is the only safe way of eliminating the risk of human misuse of nuclear energy.

  38. May 7th, 2010 at 08:28 | #38

    Uranium that costs a dollar replaces natgas that costs $20. $2.50 to $3.33 of that is royalties, and sometimes there are excise taxes on top of the $20. So I believe just about every lie that is told about nuclear energy is told by persons who receive natgas money through the tax man.

    So, John Quiggin, if you’re not going to let us compulsive defenders of the unjustly accused rise to the bait as we tend to do, are you going to require the baiters to declare their real names and government money connections?

    So, John, if you’re not going to

  39. BilB
    May 7th, 2010 at 09:13 | #39

    It is not about what it costs, GRLC, it is about what it can be used for. Nuclear was used for evil first and formost. It was used for good after that but was never good enough to be really good. You could say that the failings of nuclear have brought us to this point of environmental degradation where coal has been necessary to fill the gap until Solar was fully viable, which it is now. It is vital that we do not allow for nuclear to be the end game as it could very well be the end of us all.

    By the way, GRLC, who do you think has government money connections?

  40. Chris Warren
    May 7th, 2010 at 09:21 | #40

    At least some here recognise:

    Overpopulation and overconsumption are the root problems. Humanity needs to learn to live in balance with the rest of the natural world and debating the best source of energy to continue destroying the natural world is pointless.

    No matter how low the risk, over time, if you multiply it by the number of facilities (generators, reactors, reprocessing, transport, waste storage, ships, submarines) the risk increases.

    Unlike renewables, the consequences of a nuclear accident are catastrophic.

    The only argument for nuclear power is a nasty economic argument that discounts the rights of future generations to live in safety.

    However those who claim “overpopulation and overconsumption” also need to recognise that these are also driven by economics.

    So we have to deal with the economic monster as well.

  41. StanR
    May 7th, 2010 at 09:26 | #41

    Haven’t followed the debate in previous threads that lead to this post, but with nuclear being such a ridiculously touchy issue, I’ve found the quality of debate can usually be judged by whether there’s discussion of how alternatives stack up with basic power infrastructure needs, because that shows that people at least care about the problem, and not just who is on what side. The comments thus far seem pretty polarized.

    Baseload power is the first issue that filters out power generation options, and it frames the scope of the debate over power infrastructure single-handedly. Most baseload power is generated from coal, nuclear, and hydro. If we ignore hydro, nuclear is the only power source that can–and that HAS–significantly take(n) baseload power share away from fossil fuels. There is no better, viable option, because baseload power generation requires constancy and efficiency that no alternatives can provide.

    Baseload power must be produced by something that meets the criteria for baseload power generation, which tends to be forgotten when figures are quoted for solar or wind or whatever, and costs per kWh are thrown around.

    The reasonable question that follows is “Why can’t other methods of energy generation provide baseload power?” That’s a really good question.

    The short answer: they can’t because of how they work (fuel, process, constancy, output, etc). The long answer requires a lot of detail (e.g. the difference between the kWp rating of a solar panel, and what it actually produces when used) surrounding each source considered, a lot of fact-checking, and some arithmetic, but there’s really no point to all that if people aren’t willing to engage in the work required to puzzle it out, to keep debate civil and objective, and to suspend their own beliefs.

    There are plenty of places alternative energy can be (and is) used to great effect, but unfortunately baseload generation isn’t one of those places.

    As for safety, it’s an incredibly important issue, but “what if there was another Chernobyl?” is a canard because it assumes all reactors are the same, work the same way, and have the same set of possible disaster outcomes. Those are very suspicious assumptions. For a reasonable discussion, one must to look at possibilities for failure and actual track records across all reactor types, and compare that to similar analysis for other options (coal).

  42. Salient Green
    May 7th, 2010 at 09:33 | #42

    I see nuclear power as a dangerous enabler for bankrupting the Human race in debt to Mother Nature.

    Overpopulation and continued population growth are far more dangerous to our civilization’s survival than nuclear power. Mother Nature has only issued a few threats against the Human Plague so far, bent a few fingers back, but I believe it will start to make us pay badly before 2020.

    Burning fossil fuels and especially coal are also far worse for the survival of civilization than nuclear power. As well as being dangerous enablers for our destruction of the natural world, on which we depend, they are also destructive to the natural world of themselves.

    When Mother Nature forces the political will to address AGW, but before there is the political will to become a sustainable civilization, governments will take control and build nuclear power capacity anyway in a final desperate attempt at continuing BAU.

    This will take us further into ecological overshoot, destoying vital forest and marine ecosystems and Mother Nature will be punishing us big time. This, and living with the problems associated with many thousands of nuclear reactors across the planet will finally induce the Human race to start doing things a hell of a lot better, hopefully before a catastrophic collapse of civilization.

  43. Chris Warren
    May 7th, 2010 at 09:37 | #43

    @StanR

    Baseload, baseload, baseload ……

    Yes this is a familiar story. However it is not clear why hot rocks, tidal, and fresh/salt water osmosis, plus pumped hydro cannot provide baseload.

    The only argument is economic, but we are wasting billions on submarines, frigates, joint strike fighters, etc.

    If an economy can find the funds to invade Vietnam, then surely it can find the funds to develop baseload renewables.

    NO Nukes Thanks

  44. BilB
    May 7th, 2010 at 10:00 | #44

    StanR,

    It is a shame that you have not been following the discussion. Had you had the opportunity to do so you would have had access to a Solarpaces document made available to FranB which layed out the CSP total baseload solution which came in at 4.3 billion Euros/dollars per giggawatt. For a country such as Australia this is the perfect solution. The beauty of CSP (Concentrating Solarthermal Power) is that is is fully reactive with demand ie it can ramp up and down as demand dictates with out loss. Neither coal nor Nuclear can do this. The solution is there and shovel ready as they say and it is affordable.

    The other change that is taking place is that Solar PV systems are on the verge of a price collapse. The distributed electricity system is beginning to get underway. This is by far the most significant energy development in history. Its impact will be immense. The combination of CSP and distributed Gen II Solar PV is a perfect marriage of technological energy solutions. Wind, Wave, Biomass, and Geothermal sources are overcapacity providing absolute stability of the renewable energy system. I am happy to elaborate if this all comes as a surprise to your.

    So I suggest that you clear your head of the Howard propaganda and prepare yourself for an energy future that will be cheaper than anything ever experienced.

  45. BilB
    May 7th, 2010 at 10:01 | #45

    StanR,

    It is a shame that you have not been following the discussion. Had you had the opportunity to do so you would have had access to a Solarpaces document made available to FranB which layed out the CSP total baseload solution which came in at 4.3 billion Euros/dollars per giggawatt. For a country such as Australia this is the perfect solution. The beauty of CSP (Concentrating Solarthermal Power) is that is is fully reactive with demand ie it can ramp up and down as demand dictates with out loss. Neither coal nor Nuclear can do this. The solution is there and shovel ready as they say and it is affordable.

    The other change that is taking place is that Solar PV systems are on the verge of a price collapse. The distributed electricity system is beginning to get underway. This is by far the most significant energy development in history. Its impact will be immense. The combination of CSP and distributed Gen II Solar PV is a perfect marriage of technological energy solutions. Wind, Wave, Biomass, and Geothermal sources are overcapacity providing absolute stability of the renewable energy system. I am happy to elaborate if this all comes as a surprise to your.

    So I suggest that you clear your head of the Howard propaganda and prepare yourself for an energy future that will be cheaper than anything ever experienced.

  46. conrad
    May 7th, 2010 at 10:12 | #46

    “which recognises that persons living within a 50-mile (80 kilometre) radius of a proposed new “third-generation” US Evolutionary Power Reactor (EPR) face a realistic threat of harm if a release of radioactive material were to occur from the facility.”

    Big deal. We face a realistic threat everyday from particulates and so on released by other types of power generation. I don’t see why dieing of lung cancer (or whatever) is worse than dieing some other way.

  47. Tim Macknay
    May 7th, 2010 at 10:35 | #47

    Prof Q, I’d agree with your points, and add the point that, for countries with a significant existing investment in nuclear energy (who have therefore also taken on the risks associated with the technology), given the need to reduce emissions, it makes sense to maintain that investment. As for the long run, I suspect that the current trajectory of renewable energy (constant technical improvement and reduction in cost, exponential expansion of capacity) compared with nuclear (very slow rate of installation, gradual reduction in its proportion of the total energy mix) points to the probable outcome. But time will tell.

  48. rdb
    May 7th, 2010 at 10:36 | #48

    What about lead time? My impression is that a power reactor takes 10 or so years to come online – between the legal and engineering issues. Enrich the U here?

  49. May 7th, 2010 at 10:40 | #49

    The Untermeyer and Weill equation –

     

    P/P_0 = 0.1*{
    (t+10)^(-0.2)
    – (t + T_0 + 10)^(-0.2)
    -0.87*[
    (t + 2e7)^(-0.2)
    - (t + 2e7 + T_0)^(-0.2)
    ]
    }

     

    tells how much power — watts — is in fission fragments, which are one component of nuclear waste, ‘t’ seconds after a fission reactor has finished a ‘T_0′-second run at ‘P_0′ thermal watts. For cooling times less than ~20 years, ‘t’=632 million seconds, it’s fairly close to the total power, because man-made radioisotopes such as plutonium-239 and -240 and americium-241, isotopes produced when fuel nuclei capture neutrons but do not fission, do only a small fraction of the radiating in these early years. Collectively these minor-in-early-years activation products are called “actinides”.

     

    The U&W equation’s failure to account for them makes it quite inaccurate a century out, when a retired fuel rod’s residual power is down to a hundred-thousandth of its in-service power, down seven-thousand-fold from the moment after its last shutdown. But if you put in infinity for ‘T_0′ and a few-years value for ‘t’, it gives you quite an accurate value for the limit towards which the buried radioactivity due to a ‘P’-watt nuclear power establishment will tend if all man-made radioactivity is kept aboveground for cooling time ‘t’ and then buried. (Were it to reach this limit, of course, radioactive nuclei would be getting buried exactly as fast as previously buried ones were becoming stable.)

     

    This is the formula for that asymptote:

     

    P/P_0 = 0.1*((t+10)^(-0.2) -0.87*(t + 20000000)^(-0.2))

     

    For ten years that’s 0.00028, and for 100, 0.00017.

     

    We have plenty of experience, none of it sad, with nuclear waste aged ten years or less. The above lets us know how that will play out in the much longer run. So for instance if the planet has, per square metre of land or sea surface, 0.1 watts of nuclear power — don’t forget, this is thermal, so with current reactors that’s only 0.03 W/m^2 of electricity — and the leftovers are buried after ten years, we know they’ll never exceed, never quite reach, 0.000028 W/m^2.

     

    We can usefully ask, how deep must one dig a square-metre hole to have removed 0.000028 watts of natural radioactivity? Averaging over land and sea, 56 metres.

     

    This lets us judge the merits of the hand-waving assertions throughout the above thread that nuclear waste represents a long-term legacy. It does, but the assertions are deceptive, because it’s too small of a legacy. If buried 560 metres deep, in this instance, it always — no matter how long the burying continues — is exceeded at least tenfold by the natural radioactivity of the overlying ground.

     

    It can be in sturdy containers down there, but even if it isn’t, it can never threaten future generations as much as regions whose natural radioactivity exceeds the average by 20 percent threaten the generations who live in them now.

  50. Fran Barlow
    May 7th, 2010 at 10:53 | #50

    PrQ … it goes without saying that you can administer this policy as you see fit. This is your blog, and I respect your contribution to public discourse, even if I don’t agree with you 100%. I would politely suggest the following rules

    1. All commentary on the costs, benefits & risks of using nuclear power and the ethics and standing of opponents and proponents of including it in the mix, or of its prospects for realisation or development in a major jurisdiction shall be excised from posts without warning or the posts themselves deleted unless:

    a) An article has appeared on the ABC, or within a major daily print or online journal within Australia concerning the costs, benefits and risks of nuclear power within the preceding two weeks

    AND

    b) the article in (a) if relied upon, would probably alter the perception of the costs, benefits and risks of nuclear power or the prospects of its realisation or development in a major jurisdiction.

    Opening the Door rule: I’d also propose a right of reply in all circumstances where an exclusionary claim about the composition of an energy system is made: eg. “we can have a 100% renewable economy by …” which are by implication a commentary on (a) above and open the door to counter claims. less ambitious claims — such as “wind energy could be rolled out at $X per Kw including storage” would not open the door.

    I will observe that ShX s commentary above gets honourable mention as an Oregon Petition-like claim, when it includes the following:

    This irrational AGW scare campaign has truly distorted the Leftist (and Environmentalist, needless to say) agenda. Coal is dirtier than Uranium? What a tosh!

    .

    Whatever one makes of the challenges of handling radioactive hazmat from nuclear plants, it is very clear that coal is orders of magnitude dirtier than coal, even if, as Shx does, one insists that CO2 ought not to qualify as a dangerous pollutant. Far more quality life years per GwHe of coal sourced power have been lost than the equivalent for nuclear. The footprint of coal on the ecosystem in terms of acid rain, toxicity of sea-based fish stock, contamination of aquifers and much else is far greater than with nuclear. Throw in CO2 and the comparison goes from dreadful and absurd to a descriptor that probably shouldn’t be repeated here.

    I regard it as apt however that someone opposed to the science on climate change should also resist the science of energy systems and the biosphere more generally.

  51. BilB
    May 7th, 2010 at 10:56 | #51

    The beautiful thing about Solar GRLC is that the sun takes care of all of those messy nuclear waste matters 93 million miles from here, regardless of the size of the industry.

    The real issues with nuclear waste are the varying decay performance, water considerations, and accessibility. Influx of water can completely remove isolation. Just as pyramid treasure has been picked through over the thousands of years, so also can nuclear waste be reaccessed for nefarious purposes.

  52. May 7th, 2010 at 11:00 | #52

    ‘rdb’ says

    What about lead time? My impression is that a power reactor takes 10 or so years to come online – between the legal and engineering issues. Enrich the U here?

    As a beneficiary of power from CANDU reactors, I recommend you build those, and run them on unenriched uranium.

    If you can get the public servants who must approve this construction to live near natural gas pipelines until the reactors are in service, and then live in the reactors’ vicinity, you’ll find licensing and construction timelines can be quite remarkably shortened.

  53. Fran Barlow
    May 7th, 2010 at 11:01 | #53

    I should add that exceptions under the above would be confined to open threads.

    I do agree with PrQ that the first GwH of nuclear power in this country is unlikely to appear within the next five or even ten years. Even if (utterly improbably) one of the major parties adopted this policy at the next election, and won, the process of discussion and specification, site selection, EIS/DA and build time probably would not permit anything before 2020 and given the improbability of a proper debate any time soon, 2025 is probably the earliest one could imagine the first nuclear plant selling energy.

    Hopefully though, Australian engineers can at least be involved in developing such solutions off-shore in PNG, Indonesia, China and so forth. That way, if and when the time comes, we can hit the ground running.

  54. Chris Warren
    May 7th, 2010 at 11:12 | #54

    @Fran Barlow

    I understand that a site at Jervis Bay has already been selected on Defence land. ACT Chief Minister put out an ambivalent Media Release, maybe, 4 years ago. A future Liberal ACT government will probably fast-track the necessary changes.

    I have heard that work on either obtaining quotes, or getting design work for a concrete slab, was considered, by the Commonwealth in the 1980′s.

    Luckily, the strength of common-sense in the 1980′s (eg Nuclear Disarmament Party) meant that such moves went nowhere.

    We now have a beefed up ‘research’ reactor, so the nuke-pundits at least pushed the issue this far.

  55. Chris Warren
    May 7th, 2010 at 11:24 | #55

    @G.R.L. Cowan

    How does this relate to the levels of radioactivity already posted on earlier threads?

    See |Long-term Radiation|

    What is the cost of digging a 1 metre hole 56 metres down?

  56. Tim Macknay
    May 7th, 2010 at 11:27 | #56

    Chris Warren, concrete footings for a reactor were put down at Jervis Bay at the end of the 1960′s (I think) when Gorton was PM. I understand Gorton also created controversy at the time by refusing to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. One of the specs for the reactor was that it would be able to produce weapons-grade plutonium.

  57. Chris Warren
    May 7th, 2010 at 11:34 | #57

    @Tim Macknay

    This is probably right.

    I worked in Office for NDP Senator in Canberra in 1987/88 on all nuke issues including the then Inquiry into Visits by Nuclear Powered Ships, and this fact came to my attention.

    If the Liberals are relected, expect a nuclear reactor in the next following Budget.

  58. Hal9000
    May 7th, 2010 at 11:40 | #58

    A timely point to respond to Socrates’s assertion that

    “Nuclear proliferation has NEVER occurred from domestic nuclear power reactors, only clandestine weapons programs, because the reactor fuel is far less enriched than weapons grade uranium.”

    This is disingenuous. Most nuclear power programs, like Australia’s own ANSTO, exist primarily to maintain the skills and capacity to credibly threaten potential enemies with a nuclear weapons response. There is a good reason why states lavishly subsidise nuclear so as to pretend that it’s all about ‘atoms for peace’, and it’s not because nuclear will ever be a commercial bonanza. It should be noted that the current confected kerfuffle about Iran’s nuclear program is all about stuff Iran has done in compliance with the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, under which it is entitled to enrich uranium to power-station grade. The fact that the US, Britain, Australia and Israel don’t believe a word of it should tell you all you need to know about the role the civil nuclear industry continues to play in those countries’ nuclear weapons programs.

  59. Fran Barlow
    May 7th, 2010 at 11:46 | #59

    @Stewart Kelly

    There’s often more than one reactor per power station, but you’d still be looking at 6-8 minimum I’m guessing. And even with four you still have big nimby problems.

    If you were aiming for about 25GW of capacity you’d need about 25 reactors (although obviously, as you note, these could be on 4-8 sites). I’d say the way to go would be to put them on or very near the sites of existing coal or other heavy industrial plants. That way the local environmental impact is at worst neutral (but where it replaces coal) positive.

  60. TerjeP (say Taya)
    May 7th, 2010 at 11:47 | #60

    15% of the worlds electricity is produced by Nuclear. It is a mature technology. It works.

  61. Fran Barlow
    May 7th, 2010 at 12:34 | #61

    As a matter of practice of course, Australia’s emissions will contribute hardly at all to near surface insolation. And of course if we continue to trash our own envioronment with coal and gas that’s our problem.

    The real problem is the scope a policy of weak or no emissions targets sends to the rest of the world. If we cop out — which we certainly will if we have a renewables and CCS centred strategy for managing emissions — then everyone else gets to free ride by poointing to the fact that we are doing just that.

    The reality is that we can’t reduce emissions substantially or cheaply without nuclear power. Our choices come down to reducing them hardly at all and at high cost, or talking people into paying far more than they seem willing to get there with renewables, and that over a very long period of time spanning perhaps 15 governments and reaching towards the end of the century.

    That’s not realistic. If we went ahead today and rolled out 25GW or so by 2035 on a phaseout of coal we would have removed the lion’s share of our emissions from the mix and could argue for really ambitious targets at subsequent conferneces. No government could backslide once the architecture had been laid down and a strong cap would favour Australia.

  62. Tim Macknay
    May 7th, 2010 at 12:58 | #62

    Fran, I think you need to look up the meaning of “insolation”. It doesn’t mean “temperature”.

  63. BilB
    May 7th, 2010 at 13:28 | #63

    Terje #10,

    Now you see, Terje, that is the problem. If Nuclear worked that well, considering the time that it has had available to penetrate the market, Nuclear would have been producing all of the world’s electricty now. The fact is that it does not work that well. Nor can it improve sufficiently to satisfy government and community concerns.

    Renewables on the other hand are improving every day in leaps and bounds. Just today’s announcements a California company has achieved 19% efficiency with low cost solar panels, and 2 German Institutes have produced a process to use electricity (from wind) to generate natural gas as an energy storage strategy. Every day there are improvements because there are millions of people working on better solar solutions in thousands of ways.

    This is energy democracy at work. Nuclear represents energy autocracy. Given the choice of energy independence I know which way most individuals will go. Big business will go the other way.

  64. John H.
    May 7th, 2010 at 13:54 | #64

    @Fran Barlow

    Nuclear is the lesser evil. If we had more time we could wait for fusion power generation, there are currently a number of research projects underway there but the technology is too far away to address AGW issues. Same is true of renewables, these technologies will not scale up to address all our energy needs. We would prefer not to go nuclear, just as the cancer patient would prefer not to be irradiated because that in itself increases later cancer risk. No choice, take the poison or die.

  65. BilB
    May 7th, 2010 at 14:02 | #65

    You are wrong about the scaleability of renewables, JohnH. Do you have any real information or are you just goin on what you have heard?

  66. Chris Warren
    May 7th, 2010 at 14:37 | #66

    @John H.

    You are way off. So far renewables can be scaled up to 1,600 Twh globally. See Osmosis Blue Energy

    And there is no problem with:

    - baseload
    - waste
    - catastrophe
    - intergenerational equity
    - monopolisation
    - mining

    Future membrane research may improve matters further.

    Clearly we do not need fossil or nuclear. If Blue Energy develops, the nuclear argument is finished.

  67. John H.
    May 7th, 2010 at 14:41 | #67

    @BilB

    The problem with so many renewables is that the power supply becomes environmentally contingent. Nuclear power will work no matter what the weather is and given climate change that seems like a good thing.

    If renewables are fully scalable then please explain why so many countries that have invested heavily in the same are also planning to increase their nuclear capacity. That this is happening suggests analyses conducted in various countries put forward a picture of renewables as a valuable source of power but insufficient in themselves.

    http://www.voxeu.org/index.php?q=node/4138
    http://www.energyportal.eu/research/37-all-research/8632-can-renewable-energy-save-the-world.html
    http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf16.html

  68. Fran Barlow
    May 7th, 2010 at 15:03 | #68

    @Tim Macknay

    I know that it doesn’t mean temperature Tim. What inclined you to think that I thought it did?

  69. Fran Barlow
    May 7th, 2010 at 15:09 | #69

    @John H.

    We would prefer not to go nuclear, just as the cancer patient would prefer not to be irradiated because that in itself increases later cancer risk. No choice, take the poison or die.

    Even were AGW not a problem, there would be a persuasive case for replacing fossil fuels with nuclear power on the grounds of

    a) resource depletion
    b) environmental pollution
    c) human safety

    As you say though we face a crisis that must be dealt with very rapidly. The expense of renewables will delay the scale up needed to address this problem. The world’s industrial and industrialising economies simply could not build at the rate needed to accomplish this and would require orders of magnitude more steel, copper and concrete to do it.

  70. Tim Macknay
    May 7th, 2010 at 15:17 | #70

    Fran @18: the fact that you used it in a completely nonsensical context, which made it obvious you don;t understand its meaning. I was actually trying to be helpful, but unfortunately you’re doing your usual trick of using a technical term you don’t understand and then trying to cover it up. I could just explain it to you, but that would be letting you off the hook. So instead I’ll ask you: Fran, what do you think insolation means, and how do you think CO2 and other greenhouse gases affect insolation?

  71. Fran Barlow
    May 7th, 2010 at 15:25 | #71

    @Tim Macknay

    The solar radiation at the surface of the planet …

  72. Tim Macknay
    May 7th, 2010 at 15:27 | #72

    And the second part of my question (which is relevant, because of the context in which you used the word)?

  73. BilB
    May 7th, 2010 at 15:28 | #73

    All 3 of your examples there JohnH suffer from a different form of incompleteness. The first isolates renewables into small areas. The second isolates renewables in to types, and the third leaves out one key load balancing renewable type. As Europe knows and is proving, it is the combined force of the renewable system that provides supply stability. And even in Europe the system is not complete yet. The closer is CSP which has the capacity to provide energy at varying rates throughout the day and night. Europe needs the Desertec system to fully balance its renewable system. But Europe is doing very well as is to date. To look for one global solution technology is to follow the death path of all past civilisations. And that is exactly the path that the Nuclear lobby wants the world to travel.

    For Australia, the sunburnt country, Nuclear has no place.

  74. Fran Barlow
    May 7th, 2010 at 15:34 | #74

    @Tim Macknay

    Incoming solar radiation is absorbed and reradiated by CO2 and other GHGs, increasing the quantity of solar radiation at or near the surface over what it would be if these GHGs were less concentrated in the atmosphere and in the upper clines of the oceans and other bodies of water.

    This shows up in the Earth’s radiative “budget”.

  75. John H.
    May 7th, 2010 at 15:37 | #75

    @BilB

    And yet Britain has announced the construction of 10 nuke plants, Germany is forestalling the decommissioning of some plants, France is 80% nuclear powered. What Europe is proving is that despite the huge investment in renewables European countries recognise the limitations of their utility and are responding accordingly.

    I never said to look to one solution. I asserted a mix so please don’t misquote me.

  76. Tim Macknay
    May 7th, 2010 at 15:48 | #76

    Oh, now I see where you’ve gone wrong, Fran. GHG’s don’t work by absorbing solar radiation (to which they’re largely transparent), they absorb and re-radiate infrared radiation emitted from the Earth’s surface or from lower levels of the atmosphere. This increases the temperature, but doesn’t affect the level of insolation, which refers to incident solar radiation only. IR radiation emitted by atmospheric particles isn’t solar radiation. On the other hand, pollutants like atmospheric aerosols can affect near-surface insolation (negatively) by reflecting solar radiation back into space.
    I’m not trying to be argumentative, BTW – I just couldn’t figure out why you used the word in that context.

  77. paul walter
    May 7th, 2010 at 15:53 | #77

    I’d want to know that a) nuclear technology is now demonstrably safer than it was at the the time of Three Mile island and Chernobyl, both at the reactor level and in disposal/storage: no more suburban reactors; no dumping of waste in zones where water tables and the like can proliferate waste.
    b) an open and transperant legal frame work to ensure compliance and accountability, in place BEFOREHAND ( eg, no chance of further stunts like Gunns and Lennon subverting commissions of inquiry trying to assess a project on ecological and economic grounds, as happened with the Launceston pulp mill).
    c) In short, the thing is economical compared to alternative sources and where improvements are needed, some sense that solutions are within the grasp of modern science and technology.
    d) Some sort of international regulatory agreement is in place to ensure safety and security.

  78. BilB
    May 7th, 2010 at 15:55 | #78

    I wasn’t necessarily saying you personally, John. The general thrust of the Nuclear enthusiasm is “nuclear first then amuse youself with your solar magnifyer in the lunch break”. Brittain only has an option if it invested in the Desertec system. But they have notr done so and now have run out of time. If they build 10 new plants nuclear plants it will be a decision that will haunt them. Brittain has nothing of the flexibility of Australia with its energy options. Germany is still committed to decommissioniong its Nuclear plants, and they will. France built its nuclear industry on the back of national pride and an aggressive nuclear armaments programme which included demolisihing an Island in our hemisphere with nuclear bomb tests, and all reinforced by Frances second experiences of devastation in two world wars. It is highly unlikely that they could achieve the same effect starting from now.

  79. Fran Barlow
    May 7th, 2010 at 15:58 | #79

    @BilB

    For Australia, the sunburnt country, Nuclear has no place.

    This and similar slogans about “autocracy” versus “energy democracy” locate the central foundation for your anti-nuclear pleading in culture. Really it’s an aesthetic preference that is in search of a technical solution that seems plausible.

    That renewables simply aren’t techncially feasible at a cost which any democratic government could sell is something you decline to acknowledge, but whether you do or you don’t, others will draw conclusions. Excluding hydro, it is hard to imagine that renewables in this country will deliver as much as 20% of total stationary energy within the next 25 years, which, absent nuclear power means 80% being delivered by gas and coal.

    If they do, much of it will have to come from geothermal, but it is very clear that that 20%, if we get there, will cost us a good deal more per unit of power delivered than it would if we included nuclear power.

    I’d love to see a cost comparison of the cost per tonne of CO2 abated for each of the energy options at penetrations of 10%, 20%, 30% etc. The full costs per Kwh delivered of the major renewable options (including connection and backup costs) would surely be embarrassing if published.

  80. Chris Warren
    May 7th, 2010 at 16:02 | #80

    @John H.

    Unfortunately your references represent sloppy thinking.

    The first 2 are essentially the same points by the same author, who seems totally unaware of Blue Energy Osmosis power.

    The third is from industry lobbyists who do not discuss waste amangement or inter-generational equity. Their presentation is a nicotine presentation covering one side only. For example they state;

    …it is evident that if renewables fail to grow as much as hoped it means that other non-carbon sources will need to play a larger role. Thus nuclear power’s contribution could triple or perhaps quadruple to more than 30% of the global generation mix in 2030 – around 10,000 TWh.

    However any intelligent reader would also consider the other side ie:

    … if renewables grow as much as hoped it means that other non-carbon sources will not need to play a larger role. Thus nuclear power’s contribution will not triple nor quadruple to more than 30% of the global generation mix in 2030 – around 10,000 TWh.

    But then there is another possibility:

    … if renewables grow further than as hoped it means that other non-carbon sources will play a larger role. Thus nuclear power’s contribution could fall or perhaps contract to less than 30% of the global generation mix in 2030.

    I put my faith in renewables that can grow to provide base-load power (wave, tidal, osmosis, geothermal, pumped-hydro). This is not solar or wind. So comparing nuclear to just these problematic renewables is a false, biased, politicised argument.

  81. jquiggin
    May 7th, 2010 at 16:47 | #81

    @Chris Warren

    You’re out by a couple of decades. I remember visiting Jervis Bay around 1970 and being taken to see the excavation – the project had already been abandoned then. It never got as far as pouring concrete.

  82. BilB
    May 7th, 2010 at 16:48 | #82

    Fran,

    Where do you get

    “That renewables simply aren’t techncially feasible at a cost which any democratic government could sell is something you decline to acknowledge”

    from? I’ve gone through the costings of various renewables technologies at length with you from a first hand point of view and by direct connection with industry players, but you refuse to acknowledge reality. Your only approach is to hunt around the internet for someone, anyone, who is talking about nuclear with a number attached to it, the lower the better. The latest very real figure on Nuclear which I supplied for you came highly qualified as the figure being quoted for the next US nuclear reactor which was requiring US federal government guarantees and was well above the US$10 billion mark. Franz Trieb gave you a highly dependable figure of 4.3 billion dollars per gigawatt for continuous name plate delivery. That is reality.

    You are just throwing words around with gay abandon hoping that the profusion will cause confusion, and people will asume that you know what you are talking about.

    What ever do you base

    “it is hard to imagine that renewables in this country will deliver as much as 20%”

    that on?? That has already been achieved in one state and they are looking towards 40%. Unless you are sporting a post doctoral degree in energy research, or the results of some one who has such a degree, or a highly detailed original research piece of your own, statements such as that are laughable. This blog-go-round thing does not qualify as authoritative research, as quite a few people have attempted to point out to you.

  83. John H.
    May 7th, 2010 at 17:14 | #83

    @Chris Warren

    But Chris we are still left with the problem that given so many countries are now going down the nuclear path and many of these countries are also heavily investing in non-renewables then surely this multiple types of analysis are suggesting that most governments and experts have very high doubts about the ability of renewables to meet our energy demands.

    It is not a matter of renewables growing as hoped for. Expert analyses take such growth into account and they still find an energy deficiency. Now if you want to suggest that so many countries are engaging in sloppy thinking go right ahead but after that demonstrate the paucity of their analysis.

    The technologies you mention are to be developed and explored but given the urgency of the situation I do not think it is wise to hope that renewables can solve our problems. It may well be the case that nuclear energy will be transitional and we can move onto other sources of energy.

    In my younger years I heard any number of greenies(I used to be involved in green groups) argue that renewables will solve all our energy needs. History has not supported that faith. I would love nothing more than to avoid the nuclear issue but waiting for all these technologies to be developed and come on stream is waiting too long.

    I’ll accept the argument that renewables can solve our energy problems when I can find one developed country in the world that has most of its power generated by renewables. There has been plenty of time for that happen so please explain why it hasn’t happened.

    If you can point me to modeling that demonstrates the potential of renewables to address all our energy needs I would appreciate that. If we can now see a way to address this issue without resort to nuclear fine, but I want that analysis predicated not on some faith in the potential power generation but on well established facts about power generation today.

  84. May 7th, 2010 at 17:27 | #84

    @BilB

    Which state have they done that in (apart perhaps from Tasmania where they have hydro)

    SA has nothing like that even as installed capacity. Their capacity credit counts wind as 72MW

  85. May 7th, 2010 at 17:40 | #85

    @BilB

    Moreover BilB Trieb’s cost doesn’t include storage for 24/7 or connection cost …

  86. Chris Warren
    May 7th, 2010 at 17:40 | #86

    jquiggin :
    @Chris Warren
    You’re out by a couple of decades. I remember visiting Jervis Bay around 1970 and being taken to see the excavation – the project had already been abandoned then. It never got as far as pouring concrete.

    John

    Please re-read the discussion.

    1) I never mentioned concrete pourings – just planning. Another author introduced this.

    2) I am not hung up about which decade as I heard about it in the 1987 or 88 informally without dates attached. I make no comment as to which decade.

    3) I was not aware that there were actual excavations in the 70′s. Are you able to post a Google map showing the site?

  87. BilB
    May 7th, 2010 at 17:44 | #87

    This

    I heard any number of greenies……argue that renewables will solve all our energy needs”

    Is not a fair statement.

    In that time the world with a population less than half of today’s population the world was awash with cheap oil, nuclear got the nod and got only to fail, and cheap coal then grew further to become the energy of choice and Hydro where it was available really added significantly. Also in that time in Australia it became illegal to generate ones own electricity. And that is not to mention that the technological age had not really begun. There wer a lot of good reasons why renewables other than hydro did not get fully entrenched. As there is today there was intense lobbying against renewables. Here is an article from 1937 which clearly demonstrates early bias against biofuels

    http://www.eaa.org/experimenter/articles/0906_AlcoholMixtures.pdf

    As for modelling that demonstrates the potential of renewables here is one to start with

    http://www.trec-uk.org.uk/

    specific to Europe and Brittain. There is plenty of researched and published (not blogged) material. You just have to ask google the right questions.

  88. Tim Macknay
    May 7th, 2010 at 17:53 | #88

    Prof Q @31 and Chris Warren @36 – I plead guilty to mentioning concrete footings being installed in the late ’60s. I saw an ABC doco a few years ago on the history of the nuclear industry in Australia, and it included a piece on the abandoned Jervis Bay reactor project and showed footage of the site. I seem to recall that the footage did show some old concrete footings, but I suppose they could have been old WWII gun emplacements or something – the doco wasn’t specific. FWIW, the wikipedia entry on the Jervis bay site also mentions concrete footings having been put in. That project was definitely abandoned at the beginning of the ’70s, after Gorton was deposed, but Jervis Bay does seem to have come up as a site of choice whenever nuclear energy proposals have subsequently been raised (such as in 2007), no doubt because it’s Federal territory, coastal, and relatively close to major centres of electricity demand.

  89. BilB
    May 7th, 2010 at 17:56 | #89

    Fran, the document from Franz Trieb did include 24/7 power in the model 3 system which incorporated storage, which is why it was the 8000 to 9000 hours per year alternative (there being only 8700 hours per year. You just did not read it properly. It did not include connection costs but neither does any thing published on Nuclear.

    I will check on the other item.

    But tell me again how much nuclear is up and running in Australia?

  90. bill
    May 7th, 2010 at 18:08 | #90

    To quote from Wikipedia, and this fits my own South Australian perceptions -

    As of February 2010, South Australia has eleven completed wind farms, with an installed capacity of 868 megawatts (MW). More wind power is generated in South Australia than in all the other Australian states combined and wind farms provide about 20% of the state’s power. The South Australian wind farm industry is expected to reach a capacity of 1,500-2,000 MW by 2015 [emphases mine]

    There’s a list of all the farms there. Travel into our Mid North and be amazed at the transformation on the ridgetops.

    Of course, we may well soon have an enormous jump in electricity consumption for the state if the Roxby expansion goes ahead (it proposes to consume nearly half the state’s power). Most of that will come from burning coal – and that’s a generous way to describe it – open-cut mined from Leigh Creek. To try to lend some air of ‘green’ to the whole exercise a solar-baseload plant was mooted for Whyalla, but that was mostly aimed to drive the giant Desal operation required to provide Roxby’s galactic demand for water. (The GAB simply can’t handle any more extraction for the mine.) Haven’t heard much of this plant recently.

    I haven’t seen much discussion of the environmental impact of the mines themselves, not to mention the huge carbon budget involved. This is hardly an abstract question, because the bulk of the world’s currently identified reserves are in Australia, and the overwhelming bulk of that is in SA (We’re ‘the Saudi Arabia of uranium’ according to Mike Rann).

    When the carbon budget from all of this turns positive – if ever – is anyone’s guess. But I doubt it’ll be anytime soon.

    To put in a plug for my own campaigning, you might like to see an example of what all this might mean on the ground, take the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary in the far-northern Flinders Ranges.

    And the rig that just failed disastrously off Louisiana was also a chunk of a ‘state-of-the-art’ ‘mature’ technology that could not reasonably be expected to fall over, was it not?

  91. Chris Warren
    May 7th, 2010 at 18:22 | #91

    @Tim Macknay

    Not to worry.

    I suspect, that separate to the 1970′s, there was additional bureaucratic work within the Commonwealth Public Service.

    This is what I heard and seems to match whatever prompted Stanhope’s (ACT Chief Min) more recent press release.

    With all these issues areas of doubt will always exist as nuclear issues always breeds secrecy and governmental dissimulation. Remember the nuclear fallout shelter kerfuffle for parliamentarians in new Parliament House.

  92. joel hanes
    May 7th, 2010 at 18:34 | #92

    The highest-leverage energy technology is birth control.

  93. Salient Green
    May 7th, 2010 at 18:54 | #93

    Fran @ #19 said “As you say though we face a crisis that must be dealt with very rapidly. The expense of renewables will delay the scale up needed to address this problem. The world’s industrial and industrialising economies simply could not build at the rate needed to accomplish this and would require orders of magnitude more steel, copper and concrete to do it.”

    But it will not be dealt with very rapidly. Clearly the world’s business and political leaders are playing chicken with the consequences of AGW and will accept major environmental damage and human misery in their attempts to continue BAU.

    If or when they really accepted a need for urgent reduction of GHG’s, it would be done by a mix of all technologies. We have seen recently how governments in panic mode will throw ridiculous amounts of unregulated money at solutions, and the perceived differences of cost between renewables and nuclear in today’s terms will count for nothing when the exalted ‘world economy’ is in real danger of collapsing and millions are starving.

    When governments around the world end their addiction to population growth and economic growth there will be an immediate freeing up of industrial capacity as well as the other resources required for a major build up of renewables and/or nuclear power generation.

    If world governments require an urgent change to nuclear and renewables it is more likely to be in response to a worsening of the EROEI of fossil fuels than the threat of rising sea levels, species extinction and mass starvation in the third world, unless the rising sea levels threaten the wealthy residents of Marinas.

  94. Alice
    May 7th, 2010 at 21:03 | #94

    @Tim Macknay
    Tim, you are not the first to discover that Fran doesnt answer questions…because she doesnt know or cannot answer your questions…hence is what I would class as a pro nuclear advertiser…not anyone with any scientific or knowledgeable credibility on the subject at hand whatsoever. You may however…try “bravenewclimate”, a primarily political propaganda website, as the source of Fran’s quo vadis “comments” on nuclear. She is going to Rome to be crucified.

  95. Ernestine Gross
    May 7th, 2010 at 21:05 | #95

    @sHx

    Yes, I remember the time when ‘nuclear free zone’ signs were displayed in some suburbs and there were pictures of people in various cities around the globe marching with these signs.

    I am not sure, though, your point about “The Left” is quite as clear-cut. Our host, Prof Quiggin, and some commentors are in a better position than I on the complex histories, particularly globally. Here, I just wish to mention a paper I read today by Mycle Schneider, Nuclear Power in France – Beyond the Myth, commissioned by the Greens-EFA Group in the EU Parliament, dated December 2008. According to this paper, one has to go back further than 20 or 30 years in French history, back to around 1946, to discover support for the nuclear program from ‘The Left’. But ‘that Left’ was associated with the French Communist party. At that time, immediately after WWII, the French government nationalised the electricity and gas industries and these state owned companies were required to give 1% of revenue (not profit) to a social activity fund that, under the control of some union network (details are in the paper). Furthermore, local acceptance of nuclear plants was apparently sweatened by offering cheaper tariffs to the population. Later on, ‘The other Left’ objected to some aspects of the nucler program.

    The natural energy endowments of France should not be forgotten either, nor the geo-political drama, remembered as the cold war.

  96. Alice
    May 7th, 2010 at 21:11 | #96

    @BilB
    And Bilb…Fran wont answer your questions either just as she ignored Ernestine’s questions on the subject. Evasion and avoidance is the only answer you will get from Fran. She is over her head on the technical aspects of her own posts yet purports to be “technology aware” on the matter of nuclear energy. Come now. There is a time to call a halt to the nuclear discussion when it is taken over by blatant falsehoods and nuclear spruikers with no substance whatsoever. Im sure its good advertising for the potential nuclear industry entrepreneurs…but thats all it is…advertising.

  97. BilB
    May 7th, 2010 at 21:12 | #97

    Thanks for that excellent feedback, Bill, and great website. I will start following.

    Some great points there Salient Green. I don’t necessarily agree with your conclusions, but high probability possibilities.

  98. Ernestine Gross
    May 7th, 2010 at 21:20 | #98

    @sHx

    Corrections: Please deleate “that” in 6 from the bottom and replace sweatened with sweetened in the subsequent sentence.

    I forgot to mention, I don’t think it is a good idea to confuse the need to reduce ghg emissions to counter human induced AGW with the need for nuclear energy. There is scientific justification only for the former.

  99. May 7th, 2010 at 21:34 | #99

    @Salient Green

    If or when they really accepted a need for urgent reduction of GHG’s, it would be done by a mix of all technologies.

    Most likely, they will use the cheapest technolgies — ones that are reliable and proven. That won’t be renewables — at least, not at industrial scale.

    and the perceived differences of cost between renewables and nuclear in today’s terms will count for nothing when the exalted ‘world economy’ is in real danger of collapsing and millions are starving.

    Yes cost will be an issue and reliability. They are not going to spend ten or twenty times as much as is needed.

    When governments around the world end their addiction to population growth and economic growth there will be an immediate freeing up of industrial capacity as well as the other resources required for a major build up of renewables and/or nuclear power generation.

    This makes no sense at all. To begin with, government are not “addicted to population growth”. In each of the advanced countries, population growth has slowed as economic growth has taken place. In so far as there has been population growth in advanced countries, it has been through migration or in higher birth rates amongst new communities. “Addiction” to population growth is a reckless claim.

    Your claim that renewables will some how be the rsult of declining growth is simply bizarre. Unless there is growth, there will be no renewables. You’d just use what you already had. That would be far cheaper. And if you needed to augment, you would choose the cheapest — i.e nuclear.

  100. Chris Warren
    May 7th, 2010 at 21:42 | #100

    @Fran Barlow

    Fran

    Simply contradicting other people doesn’t really help. You just get dueling opinions.

    Most likely they’ll use a mix of technologies

    They will be renewables on an industrial scale

    Governments are addicted on population growth

    renewables are not based on growth

    nuclear is not the cheapest

    etc

    So what – you are just contradicting, instead of thinking.

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