Home > Environment > Nuclear, again

Nuclear, again

October 7th, 2010

I’m sure quite a few regular commenters are keen for me to lift my ban on discussions of nuclear power (imposed to prevent the threadjacking effects of this topic). So, I thought I would open it up to all comers with a couple of observations of my own:

(1) Nuclear power isn’t going away any time soon. Nuclear plants generate a lot of power and most of them seem likely to outlive their originally planned operational lifetime. So, there doesn’t seem to be much point in being “anti-nuclear” in the sense of hoping for a world without nuclear energy – that horse bolted decades ago.

(2) Except in China (and maybe India) nuclear power isn’t getting bigger any time soon. Following the failure of Obama’s energy bill and the GFC, the US “nuclear renaissance” is dead in the water, and the same is true in Europe. While residual anti-nuclear sentiment plays a role here, the big problem is economics.

(3) The only plausible path to an Australian nuclear power industry involves the use of modern plant designs and regulatory systems with a proven track record in the US and/or Europe and Japan. Given point (2), that path won’t open up any time soon. So, for the foreseeable future, nuclear isn’t an option for Australia, and there is little or nothing we can, or should, do about it. When there, are, say 50 new plants in the developed world with 5-10 years of operating history behind them, it would make sense for us to take another look. On the most optimistic possible projections, that might happen sometime after 2030.

That’s it from me. I won’t moderate the thread except to delete personal attacks and similar violations of the comment policy.

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  1. October 7th, 2010 at 12:58 | #1

    I won’t repeat previous remarks made on the subject a while back but simply stipulate that for me, these stand.

    More specifically, in a narrowly Australian context, the time has come IMO to have something like the energy equivalent of the IPCC to weigh the feasibility of the various energy options as part of a suite of options in a way that is technologically neutral, and more, to consider this in the light of likely future demand for nucelar power offshore. Even if it turns out that there is no persuasive case for using nucela power here, that doesn’t mean that other states who find such a case ought not to be able to shop hwere for supply. This is especially pertinent given the conserbs some have over NNPT.

    If it really is the case that nuclear power is not yet ready in a technical and commercial sense here let us at least clear the air, identify why that is so and a time or set of events when the matter ought to be resvisited and move on. Is there any use at all in doing R&D into the relevant engineering (or the associated administrative and compliance measures, conceived in the wake of Chernobyl) to identify time and cost savings in the roll out of the facilities?

    Let us also not merely talk of it in conceptual terms but in practical terms. What suite of technologies could feasibly underpin the retirement of Australia’s existing fossil thermal capacity on acceptable timelines and at acceptable cost. If not nuclear power, then what?

    Despite what some have asserted here about my position, my position is not really pro-nuclear. It’s pro-near-zero emissions on a world scale as early as possible.

    I want to see how that can be done and remain unconvinced that there is anything as likely as NPPs to get that job done universally and sustainably. If I am wrong, then I’d be happy for that to be shown.

  2. October 7th, 2010 at 13:10 | #2

    Fran Barlow :I won’t repeat previous remarks made on the subject a while back but simply stipulate that for me, these stand.
    Despite what some have asserted here about my position, my position is not really pro-nuclear. It’s pro-near-zero emissions on a world scale as early as possible.

    That is close to my own position Fran.

    At some point in the next 10 years the debate will become louder, but expect that to be part of a broader conversation on energy and geo-engineering. The right wing-conservative press will lead the charge in screaming for us to “go nuclear”.

    However, as JQ rightly points out we are decades away from seeing NPP construction in Australia. Most likely we’ll trade uranium (U), as other countries look to fast track their NP programs. We’ll switch from supplying dirty coal to “clean” U.

    The debate will be about are willingness to open more mines, trade and how that will benefit our economy. As always it will about what we can dig up and sell.

  3. Mobius Ecko
    October 7th, 2010 at 14:12 | #3

    “…proven track record in the US and/or Europe and Japan.”

    All well and truly good except for the fact that Japan covered up a string of accidents, some quite serious. http://factsanddetails.com/japan.php?itemid=845&catid=23&subcatid=152#09

    Also it is sobering to read from the site the amount and rate of plutonium and other highly radioactive material accumulating in Japan.

    Having highlighted that I have stated many times in the past in other blogs that I am for nuclear energy, but only next generation reactors, which as you state in reality we won’t have here for 30 years even if the decision to go ahead with nuclear is made in the near future.

  4. October 7th, 2010 at 14:26 | #4

    @Watching the deniers

    However, as JQ rightly points out we are decades away from seeing NPP construction in Australia.

    It’s remarks like this that I find troubling. It may well turn out to be right. Yet as it stands it is absolutely pointless because it may turn out to be wrong, and in either case it doesn’t address whether that is the best thing or the worst thing or some place in between.

    IMO, we ought to try, as best we can to settle that question now (specifying why we think as we do) and then get on with doing whatever seems best urgently. We are, by way of comparison, building an NBN the bulk of the benefits of which will be realised decades from now. I regard this as a very fine thing even though I’m not exactly sure how useful exactly it will be, decades from now. My guess is that if we wait until we know for sure what we will use it for, it will be too late to use it for that and get the bulk of the benefits. It’;s the same with nuclear power (or anything we might do instead).

    The other point is that this is not simply about Australia. This is about the fate of the planet. If there is a rough chance that nuclear power could be an effective solution in many jurisdictions for reconciling industrial society with low emissions, then it behooves Australia to be an active player in ensuring that it gets rolled out as safely, cost-effectively and early as possible. And if something else could do the job better, then lets help roll that out. CO2 doesn’t recognise borders. The deniers spend a lot of time arguing that first world countries want to stifle growth in developing countries, but if first world countries help developing countries get early access to clean solutions, then in a sense, it’s as good as abating our own emissions. We should do both of course.

    R&D and engineering in this country has declined seriously over the last 25 years, and especially over the last 15. Whatever mix of solutions turns out to be best for us and the planet if we want “clean jobs” we need to retool now to build the future. It makes sense that we get started on that right now rather than saying “oh, nothing will occur for decades” right?

    One last point. If NPPs replaced coal/gas on a world scale, then demand for Australian coal would decline and demand for DU, and Australian uranium, thorium etc would increase. So it would not simply be an exercise in “what we can dig up and sell”. Large volume and hazardous coal and NG harvest would be replaced by uranium and thorium harvest (along with re-use of existing hazmat in IFRs).

    Alternatively, if we found a way of making solar thermal and wind and tidal or even geothermal useful, and others did too, then we’d be making a lot of concrete, copper, and using lots of silica, steel and petrochemicals and coal (for the steel as well as the input energy) — which would also entail digging up and selling stuff.

  5. Chris Warren
    October 7th, 2010 at 14:31 | #5

    the big problem is economics.

    Hardly – its a waste problem.

    The problem is the high cost of safe storage of waste, and the compounding nature of storing waste.

    So in 10 years we only have to cover the cost of storing waste from years 1 to 10.

    In 20 years we have to cover the cost of storing waste from years 1 to 20 (less a minute quantity) piled-up.

    In 100 years we have to cover all the cost for 100 years of waste all accumulated, and so on. Future generation will condemn the greedy “nucaholics” of today and economists who cannot see over the horizon.

    The economic problem is based on a waste problem, accidents problem, and political problem.

  6. Tim Macknay
    October 7th, 2010 at 14:42 | #6

    Chris, I think Prof Q’s point was that nuclear power is expensive. Nothing in your comment is inconsistent with that point.

  7. Mobius Ecko
    October 7th, 2010 at 14:51 | #7

    That is only true for current generation reactors Chris. Next Gen reactors will see waste form a reactor not only dramatically reduce but the waste produced have half lives within a hundred years not over thousands of years.

  8. jquiggin
    October 7th, 2010 at 14:58 | #8

    (Breaking my vow of silence) Fran, about the only thing we can do is to be a reliable supplier of uranium, and maybe do some work on managing waste. And, internationally, as far as market economies are concerned, there is no point in doing anything until we get a price of carbon high enough to make nuclear cost-competitive (I guess about $50/tonne). Until then, we can watch China and see what lessons are to be learned there.

  9. Chumpai
    October 7th, 2010 at 15:29 | #9

    My thoughts are that we aren’t likely to see any big nuclear plants unless they consume the transuranic waste.

    However, I think there is a decent chance of seeing a handful of imported ‘nuclear batteries’ or floating reactors placed offshore. Though these would probably be in the 100 megawatt range.

  10. Hermit
    October 7th, 2010 at 15:35 | #10

    I think the evidence should be clear from Spain, Germany, Denmark and elsewhere that it is very difficult to shake off the need for a substantially controllable energy supply. Ideally that supply should not need ongoing per-unit subsidies, explicit or implicit. That precludes a range of measures ranging from feed-in tariffs to immunity from greenhouse gas pollution. The next 20 years or so will be challenging because not only will global oil production seriously decline but cheap coal will most likely peak. Of the OECD countries only the US and Australia will have substantial natural gas reserves left. During that time the world will have devised ways to better integrate intermittent power from wind and solar such as by charging battery cars.

    Therefore coal has to be replaced AGW or not. Natural gas has a myriad of uses including making nitrogen fertiliser and as a future diesel substitute in trucks. It would be better to burn less gas in power stations, not more, to conserve the resource. Gas fired electricity will not achieve the desired 80% CO2 cuts. That really only leaves nuclear as the 24/7/365 reliable low carbon power source. Current generation reactors ‘burn’ less than 1% of the potential nuclear fuel and by the second half of the century uranium prices may escalate. However many prototypes of high burn reactors have been successfully operated and it should be possible to piggyback these reactors onto current generation designs.

    It seems to me Australia should commence immediately on constructing several current design reactors, perhaps in association with coastal desalination plants. Leave space nearby for next generation reactors. We are the OECD’s biggest per capita GHG emitter and the world’s biggest coal exporter but we also have the biggest uranium reserves and plenty of thorium. Our unchecked carbon dependence will turn into an own goal with the next severe El Nino and we will have failed to pursue the realistic alternative.

  11. Ken Fabos
    October 7th, 2010 at 15:38 | #11

    I don’t oppose nuclear power but can’t see it gaining a foothold in Australia any time soon. From my reading here I think that public opposition isn’t so deeply entrenched as our mainstream media and political parties seem to believe but as long as mainstream politics and their priorities favour downplaying the issue and going slow on reduction of emissions it’s unlikely to gain great traction.

    Most disturbing to me is how many of the nuclear proponents are fiercely anti renewable; so much so that they oppose any kind of regulatory, subsidies or other measures, including a carbon cost that might favour them – not just over nuclear but over coal or gas. I tend to think that a carbon tax would ultimately improve the situation for nuclear much more than singing the praises of hypothetical IFR – which doesn’t seem to be being taken up even in places where nuclear is accepted. It almost seems like it’s rising costs of fossil fuels, not the emissions and climate costs of fossil fuels, that worries some of the most vocal of them and they’re opposing a carbon price – and renewable solutions to emissions on that basis. It seems to be leading some into an alliance of convenience with interests that seek to undermine public will to act on climate.

  12. BilB
    October 7th, 2010 at 15:55 | #12

    And my position has consolidated in the sure knowledge that Nuclear is unnecessary for Australia. The GenIIPV system that my tech group is designing has the ability to supply half of all of Australia’s electricity if installed at a steady rate over 30 years. Where is it at? The first innovations in the electronics have now been tested and proven, and are being installed for production in an unrelated product.

    What GenIIPV means to a family budget, if 2 electric vehicles are charged from the system, is about $8000 per year. And that is before petrol prices start to rise in the next few years. Just so that it is clear, where the system is used to charge electric vehicles the petrol equivalent value is included in the family budget improvement. The minimum that the system adds to the family budget is $4200. So this system once it has been paid for from the redirected energy costs provides free household energy plus free transport if electric vehicles are used.

    The reason why this is significant is because this technology will replace up to half of Australia’s stationary energy infrastructure without any public funding, industry investment or carbon price incentive. The real incentive is that it provides real improvements to the quality and standard of living, essentially for no cost.

    For those who have trouble understanding how that can be free, think of it this way. If there was a device that cost, say $1000, that replaced cigarettes giving the smoker all of the same pleasure and comfort with out the side effects and it could be paid for at the persons current cigarette expenditure rate then having taken up the device and the device was paid for, then that persons smoking habit would be free thereafter improving their personal income position by the amount that they were previously expending for cigarettes.

    This energy system is the same. We are all hooked on a high energy consumption life style with the side effects being a constant drain on our family income and a noisy choking way of getting around. This system is the cure for all of that for the family and small business. Big business and industry are going to have to solve their part of the problem their way.

    The steady flow of energy technologies that I am seeing in development and at startup right now, promise a very different energy future than could be invisaged with the knowledge of just 10 years ago. And the very exciting thing about this all is that this represents not only broadly distributed energy generation, but broadly distributed employment and income from that energy production. This is one of the key factors not recognised in straight per megawatt energy cost comparisons. This is a huge part of the fallacy of centralised energy production and one of the key reasons why I believe that there is no place for nuclear energy in this country. This country with its small population and massive natural renewable energy wealth.

    The future is certain to be very different to the present, and it can also be far better.

  13. paul walter
    October 7th, 2010 at 16:14 | #13

    Well, why haven’t people embraced nuclear.
    Is the answer to be found in the story of Morning Horizon and the Gulf of Mexico, where that industry likewise assured us everything was unkydory and ship shape with deep water offshore drilling (probably knowing it wasnt) and then inflicted the petroleum industries answer to Chernobyl on the CaribbeanPeople reject nuclear on the basisi of the corporate mentality, not because they dont believe nuclear can be useful if done properly.
    Since when, when offered a choice between doing something properly, or the same thing slipshod if the chance arises to save a little money short term, has capitalism ever chosen the first option?
    From ok Teddie, to the aluminium plant disaster in Hungary at the moment, to Tassie forests; you name it…

  14. john
    October 7th, 2010 at 16:21 | #14

    It’s also worth noting that if all the world’s electricity changed to nuclear tomorrow, there is only enough uranium to provide 3 years worth of current demand.

  15. Chumpai
    October 7th, 2010 at 16:23 | #15

    @Ken Fabos
    I think the IFR is seen as a bit of a white knight – and there’s probably frustration that the technology could have come out in the late 90′s. Isn’t toshiba or someone supposed to be bringing out their version ~2020?

    The IFR still produces waste if I’m not mistaken? I imagine that would still be a massive issue for those who are anti-nuclear. On the other hand I can one day see Kevin Rudd lauding an IFR on the basis of being able to burn weapons grade plutonium.

    The pro-nuke/anti-renewable crowd is interesting, maybe its more a case of nuclear being their zero-carbon silver bullet? From their point of view I imagine everything else is more expensive and hence a waste of money.

  16. Ernestine Gross
    October 7th, 2010 at 16:24 | #16

    I would agree that the ‘nuclear renaissance’ is dead in the water for economic reasons (rather than sentiments). But I don’t see the monetary price of carbon to be a crucial factor. In the absence of a method to calculate the monetary value (cost) of negative externalities of nuclear power and the as yet unresolved waste disposal problems, it is essentially not possible to evaluate nuclear power financially.

    I am with BilB on this one.

  17. BilB
    October 7th, 2010 at 16:29 | #17

    By way of talking about technologies here is an example of “stuff” going on that you are all unlikely to be in the information flow to encounter. This is from a eflyer for a technology seminar

    (this may get spat out by the system inwhcih case I will extract the essentials and repost)


    Lithium Mobile Power 2010 & Battery Safety 2010

    Advances in Lithium Ion Battery Technologies
    for Mobile Applications

    November 3-5, 2010 – Boston, MA
    Dr. Steven Visco, Vice President & CTO, PolyPlus Battery Company, to
    Present “Primary and Secondary Lithium-Air Batteries Based on Water-stable
    Lithium Metal Electrodes” at 6th Lithium Mobile Power
    Conference

    This presentation will cover the various approaches to the development of
    rechargeable lithium-air batteries and the benefits and drawbacks of each
    technology. In the 1990s PolyPlus invented the protected lithium electrode
    which enables the practical development of high energy density lithium/aqueous
    battery technologies, including primary and secondary lithium-air. It also
    allows greater flexibility in the development of rechargeable non-aqueous Li-Air
    in that a much larger selection of non-aqueous solvents and electrolytes can be
    used. PolyPlus is developing both aqueous and non-aqueous rechargeable Li-Air
    technology and will discuss the relative merits of these different chemistries.
    Li-O2 chemistry can achieve extremely high energy densities, achieving greater
    than 800 Wh/kg for 2 Ah Li-Air laboratory cells and 1300 Wh/kg for 13 Ah
    Li-Water battery packs.

    The good bit is in the last few sentences. What these people are developing are batteries with up to 1.3 Kwhrs per kilogram storage capacity. I other words 130 Kilowatt hours in a 100 kilogramme battery pack. To appreciate why this is important you must know that there is about 7 Kilowatt hours energy equivalent in standard petrol. however petrol engines are not very efficient at converting that energy. 20% would be average in overall effect. So each litre of petrol gives about 2 kilowatt hours of electric vehicle performance equivalent as electric motors are up to 95% efficient.

    So a vehicle such as the VW Milano having a 300 kilometre range with its 45 Kwh standard battery, with just 100 kilogramm of the Lithium water battery would have an 870 kilometre driving range on a single charge which would cost $28 to charge instead of about $87 for petrol in an equivalent performance vehicle.

    Short message batteries have the potential to offer equivalent energy densities to fossil fuels. That is the technology for the coming decade.

  18. el gordo
    October 7th, 2010 at 16:38 | #18

    Nuclear is uneconomic, so they will push ahead with coal power.

  19. Ikonoclast
    October 7th, 2010 at 17:15 | #19

    Coal power is very dangerous for the environment (and the climate). Nuclear power is also with nuclear accidents and perptual storage of waste as serious risks. If negative exteranalities were costed reasonably accurately they would also be uneconomic. They are non-renewable too and will run out. That’s three strikes against them.

    For (expletive deleted) sake, we must build renewable power NOW and forgot these other dinosaur technologies or else we will soon join the dinos in extinction. The debate is already over amongst those who can think logically and scientifically.

  20. Ikonoclast
    October 7th, 2010 at 17:19 | #20

    Bilb, batteries are not an energy source of course. They are only an energy store with extra energy used up in their manufacture and further energy lost in charging up and then transfer into useful work.

  21. Chumpai
    October 7th, 2010 at 17:40 | #21

    @Ikonoclast

    While nuclear power is a risk I would argue that if you have reactors with a negative temperature coefficient (high passive safety) then nuclear power may well be worth the risk if you assume catastrophic climate change. Most if not all forms of energy generation have some form of risk or cost, I guess its about managing it in a reasonable way.

    As to building renewables (solar in particular) now I totally agree. I’d argue nuclear fission is the best way to supplement them for the time being.

  22. el gordo
    October 7th, 2010 at 17:59 | #22

    Renewables? Can’t carry the base load.

  23. Ken Fabos
    October 7th, 2010 at 18:02 | #23

    @Chumpai
    I think the pro-nukes crowd need to be careful of the company they keep; they may well see any other solutions as too costly but sites like Brave New Climate are now almost exclusively devoted to promoting nuclear and criticising renewables and the task of convincing Australia that climate change is serious and urgent has been largely lost.

    Without winning hearts and minds to the reason why a change to low emissions is desperately needed their message that nuclear is the only solution isn’t going to achieve as much – even for their preferred technological options – as a carbon tax. Their anti renewables message has to be music to the ears of the fossil fuel industry in Australia who will use that to engage in divide and conquer. Any belief that they are true friends of a transition to nuclear power looks dubious; I suggest those interests will prove far better resourced and more implacable opponents of any serious program to make fossil fuels obsolete than green idealists.

  24. October 7th, 2010 at 18:03 | #24

    Leaving aside all the other dangers of nuclear energy (principally, however advanced the technology, the absolute inevitability of human errors) it seems to me in the current context the debate, like the nonsense about “clean coal”, is yet another means of preventing any serious action on renewable energy and any serious action of any kind on climate change. This is a win-win situation for the corporations. Don’t want nuclear power? Well, then, don’t blame us when your planet becomes unlivable. Oh, you will have nuclear power because we have delayed so long it is a last resort? Terrific, now we stand to make gazillions of dollars for building nuclear power plants. I reckon keep the ban John, talking about it suits their purpose either way.

  25. October 7th, 2010 at 18:13 | #25

    @john

    It’s also worth noting that if all the world’s electricity changed to nuclear tomorrow, there is only enough uranium to provide 3 years worth of current demand.

    Well it would be if that were close to being accurate, rather than simply one of those things people wanting a thought free slapdown of nuclear power love to repeat. It’s not only delusional opponents of action on climate change who love to repeat old lines, regardless of how many times they are refuted.

    @Chumpai

    The IFR still produces waste if I’m not mistaken?

    It depends on what you mean by “produce”. An IFR can take once used fuel (which is deemed “waste” at the moment), or weapons-grade Pu further degrading it in the process of producing power and leave hazmat behind. The volume of hazmat will be about the same though its composition will be seriously hazardous for a rather shorter time. If new feedstock is used, it will produce less waste per unit of energy output than an existing Gen II plant.

    @jquiggin

    Fran, about the only thing we can do is to be a reliable supplier of uranium, and maybe do some work on managing waste.

    You will recall I feel sure, that in the 1970s the then ALP government fancied a tilt at the supply of fuel rods caper. In the context of NNPT compliance, that might be something that could also be done.

    As I said, I see no reason why Australia couldn’t become involved in an engineering effort to manufacture components for ready to assemble plants, radically changing the economics of plant construction for the better. If we can build submarines, which are self-evidently never going to be profitable, why wouldn’t we manufacture nuclear plant and equipment? If the installed cost could fall to something like coal-fired, then even without a carbon price, there would be a lot of takers. The initial costs would be high, but with each successive plant, the price falls.

    We could use a well settled design — one like the APR series and simply go with that. We wouldn’t need to settle the local debate to do that. Nor would we need IFRs straight away.

  26. Gaz
    October 7th, 2010 at 18:17 | #26

    @Chris Warren

    “The problem is the high cost of safe storage of waste, and the compounding nature of storing waste.”

    …which is an economic problem. Unless you think it will by ugly as well, in which case it is also an aesthetic problem.

  27. BilB
    October 7th, 2010 at 18:25 | #27

    That is blindingly obvious, Ikonoclast. Batteries are essentially a tank for electricity. But in that frame of thinking they have very different properties. Charging efficiencies are very high for Lithium Iron batteries and similar. Losses are small. Manufacturing energy consumption is relatively small according to a recent study. When these electric vehicles batteries are later recycled for domestic energy storage their volume will be comaparible to the beer stored in a well stocked Aussie beer fridge.

  28. Alice
    October 7th, 2010 at 18:26 | #28

    @Gaz
    There is no winning hearts and minds to nuclear – so I suggest we do as the aboriginies did (and managed to survive far longer than us without damaging the environment) and leave it aloone. If we are not smart enough to come up with something other than nuclear – we desrve the fate that will befall us. Nuclear is todays solution…not tomorrows solution.

  29. Alice
    October 7th, 2010 at 18:32 | #29

    @Fran Barlow
    Fran says “(or the associated administrative and compliance measures, conceived in the wake of Chernobyl) to identify time and cost savings in the roll out of the facilities?”

    You dont get it Fran. Its humans that are the problem with nuclear …not nuclear per se. There will never be a time when administrative or compliance measures are perfect with nuclear. Nuclear is a monster and it doesnt matter how perfect you think humans can manage “its management”. Nuclear has proved time and time again…humans are less than perfect and nothing can be “ironed out as neatly as you imagine”.

    Back to the drawing board for an energy source that doesnt cause the damage nuclear does when humans dont meet their administrative and compliance targets.

  30. Ernestine Gross
    October 7th, 2010 at 18:39 | #30

    “Nuclear is uneconomic, so they will push ahead with coal power.”

    And what can happen if one can count to three? (Couldn’t resist.)

  31. Alice
    October 7th, 2010 at 18:49 | #31

    @Ernestine Gross
    Thats exactly what I am waiting for Ernestine..and 4 and 5.

  32. Alice
    October 7th, 2010 at 19:03 | #32

    At the risk of breaching my post limit (Im off to fresh sands) I have to ask…

    Prof what are you thinking??

    “about the only thing we can do is to be a reliable supplier of uranium, and maybe do some work on managing waste. ”

    This is total subservience to globalisation. We dont want nuclear. We dont need nuclear here in Australia but we feel somehow shoud help the rest of the world’s nuclear industries so we dont miss out on the global market place? We should take the rest of the word’s nuclear filth or we should help supply global nuclear industries?

    Codswallop. Its like saying we need Macmansions when all we really need is a hobbit house. Id rather see the tariff walls go up and to hell with the rest of the worlds nuclear use – we know the ugliest nuclear weapons have been built near nuclear power plants all across Europe already. In nuclear we do not need to participate. The damn stuff is likely to reach us on the wind anyway when other countries stuff up.

  33. Ben
    October 7th, 2010 at 20:00 | #33

    @Hermit
    Nuclear power, 24/7/365 reliable? Hardly. Capacity factors for nuclear plants are typically in the range of 85-90%. When these big plants go offline, they tend to be offline for some time.

  34. el gordo
    October 7th, 2010 at 20:20 | #34

    ‘And what can happen if one can count to three?’

  35. wilful
    October 7th, 2010 at 20:50 | #35

    Nuclear’s perfectly safe, and the waste problem is grossly overstated, but it does seem quite expensive, and Australia clearly doesn’t give a rat’s arse about climate change, so yeah, no nukes for Australia, not until we buy them off the chinese.

    ‘Course, it’ll be a 3 – 4 degree world by then.

  36. paul walter
    October 7th, 2010 at 22:11 | #36

    Trust Alice to nail it, at 32!

  37. Chris Warren
    October 7th, 2010 at 22:35 | #37

    Gaz :
    @Chris Warren
    “The problem is the high cost of safe storage of waste, and the compounding nature of storing waste.”
    …which is an economic problem. Unless you think it will by ugly as well, in which case it is also an aesthetic problem.

    Economics cannot resolve any compounding obligation problem, whether it is debt, waste, CO2, or population.

    Capitalism is the only economic system in history that is based on compounding profits.

    So like every other compounding problem – it must lead to its own disaster.

    So do you want a debt, food, population, climate, nuclear, and economic disaster all at the same time?

    This is where the world may be heading.

    I suppose Quiggin needs to come clean – did he support or oppose the ALP’s famous 1984 resolution at their National Conference at the Lakeside in Canberra that brought in the so-called 3-mines policy?

    Now our capitalists are probably lusting for 30 mines – to feed the world with its suicide pill.

  38. Chris O’Neill
    October 8th, 2010 at 02:53 | #38

    Renewables plus pumped hydro or other storage can carry the base load.

  39. Mobius Ecko
    October 8th, 2010 at 06:25 | #39

    @john
    Utter myth. There’s enough high grade uranium for more than half a century and low grade uranium for many hundreds of years, and that’s on current reactor technology whereas future reactors are far more efficient and reuse radioactive material.

    That’s even before we look at extracting uranium from sea water.

  40. Hermit
    October 8th, 2010 at 06:27 | #40

    A major beef with renewable energy is its seemingly permanent dependence on subsidies and quotas, in Australia implemented via the REC mechanism. If they could stand on their own feet a simple CO2 cap should suffice. Ironically non-hydro renewables may not reduce emissions that much because of the need for standby power, notably expensive open cycle gas generators that cut in when the wind dies or the sun goes down. Claims that energy storage (eg pumped hydro) or increased high capacity transmission will improve this may be true to some extent but the cost could be triple that of nuclear. That is to get a sufficiently robust grid to meet demand peaks and to supply round the clock users like aluminium smelters.

    Thus I fear that we are headed for a worst-of-both-worlds scenario- we’ll throw billions at renewables but the coal stations will keep puffing away undiminished. We’ll pay twice, firstly for expensive tokenism and secondly with a buggered climate. Since the problem is too hard to confront directly we’ll kid ourselves that feeble policies are making a difference.

  41. Ikonoclast
    October 8th, 2010 at 06:56 | #41

    el gordo :Renewables? Can’t carry the base load.

    As I have said before, giant thermal convection towers can carry base load. These towers can produce power 24 hours a day. A hollow tower up to 1,000 m high can be built with a glass covered tarmac apron of several hectares around it. In the day, the tarmac heats and all heated air is funnelled up the tower. The temperature differential between base and top generates a thermal convection current. Wind turbines around the base intakes generate the power. At night, the ground cools but the atmosphere 1,000 meters up cools faster. So these installations actually make MORE power at night.

    These towers are completely feasible with today’s technology. The current world’s tallest building Burj Khalifa is over 700 m tall not counting its communciation tower. A hollow concrete tower of 1,000 m is easily possible.

    Australia has ample hot barren areas to build these towers. It is estimated that one 1,000 m tower would provide power for 250,000 homes. I suspect such towers would be economic even now. With carbon properly priced they would be very economically viable.

    In addition, baseload demand, while not a total myth, is partially an artefact of pricing systems. Demand could be smoothed with pricing changes.

  42. BilB
    October 8th, 2010 at 06:59 | #42

    You could be forgiven for having that view, Hermit, based on some of the actions taken in Australia. I suggest that you read and absorb my comment @12. Then read some of the opinions coming from an increasing chorus of industrial business heavyweights who are all coming to the opinion that the future is electric and solar. The head of Renault Nissan, the solar design initiatives of Boeing, the head of ABB, the recent comments from the head of BHP Billiton, change of business focus for Shell, the US DOE, and endless others.

    There is a massive rethink of positions towards solar as the sustainable future. And for good reason.

  43. el gordo
    October 8th, 2010 at 07:26 | #43

    Looks like pie in the sky, Ikon. Ultimately, the free market will determine the outcome.

    If there is no political consensus on the way forward, then state Labor governments will fall and take the Greens with them. This idea of organizing a price on carbon without the Coalition is simply a ‘no brainer’ and illustrates why the left are on a hiding to nothing.

    http://www.smh.com.au/environment/energy-smart/carbon-price-is-back-on-the-table-20101007-169vy.html

  44. Chris Warren
    October 8th, 2010 at 09:20 | #44

    @el gordo

    Geez, how come there is a sand-fly here?

  45. quokka
    October 8th, 2010 at 09:56 | #45

    So many issues. Where to start?

    Lets try the cost of nuclear power. The IEA gives it’s estimates in the Projected Costs of Electricity Generation – 2010 Edition. The executive summary is available here for free: http://www.iea.org/Textbase/npsum/ElecCost2010SUM.pdf

    The bottom line is that costs do vary by region and discount rate, but overall and with a $30 per ton carbon price, nuclear is competitive in all regions, and easily the cheapest in Asia Pacific region. The project costs for nuclear include costs for refurbishment, waste treatment and decommissioning after a 60 year lifetime.

  46. jquiggin
    October 8th, 2010 at 09:59 | #46

    El Gordo, take it to the sandpit please.

  47. peterm
    October 8th, 2010 at 10:34 | #47

    For those of you who who aren’t that informed on the current state of the nuclear industry and would like a good laymans overview I can recommend the following article from IEEE’s August 2010 Spectrum:

    http://spectrum.ieee.org/energy/nuclear/nuclear-reactor-renaissance

    It seem that the GenIV designs have the potential to redefine the economics of the industry if anyone ever gets around to building them.

    BTW: A read of the comments to the article is worth your time. I particular liked the comment that TeraPower, which is promoting a very innovative traveling wave design, is funded by Microsoft types and that the “Blue Screen of Death” could take on a whole new meaning if thing go wrong.

  48. October 8th, 2010 at 10:43 | #48

    @Alice

    Alice raises an interesting point here. If the 6.8 billion people on the planet can adopt lifestyles analogous to Australia’s indigenes pre-European invasion and occupation, then they will be able to survive about as well as they did.

    Mathematically though, the relationships between the food and water bearing land per indigenous person and that for each of the world’s 6.8 billion people (or even Australia’s 22,000,000 don’t suggest that this choice would be remotely plausible, even if humans were, by and large, willing to accept the levels of service that such choices implied. Estimates of the number of indigenous people on the Australian land mass in 1788 are pure guesswork but a figure of 2,000,000 is almost certainly at the upper end.

    The more general point is this. As far as we can tell, humans are the only species on the planet who are aware of their mortality. We can’t say for sure when the first arguably human creatures appeared in the planet but from that day forward humans have been traders in risk, uncertainty and reward. For all of that time humans have done that in varying states of ignorance and within the constraints imposed by their social structures. It is a simple matter to point to tragically ill-advised exercises in risk trading by humans past that had disastrous results and some that were, even with hindsight, fair enough that went badly awry. Yet as much as we would today love to have the technology to return to those past moments and urge different choices, in all cases, for good or ill, we have at worst learned things that are, for these examples, irrefutable and worth knowing. We now have not only a much stronger idea of what works and what doesn’t but more importantly why some stuff works and why some doesn’t. Not only are we the only species who knows of its mortality; we are the only species that can serially learn from its ancestors. It is this latter, far more than the former, which has enabled our species to dominate the planet. We owe our ancestors a great debt and we owe our descendants a chance at a better future. Our species is part of a grand journey from barbarism to empowerment and autonomy, and we individuals are the bearers of the artefacts of that journey.

    We are faced now with an existential threat, which is, as we now know, initially a product of ignorant trading in biospheric risk, uncertainty and reward but is now principally the result of the constraints of privileges embedded in our social arrangements — the desire of a small section of our species to preserve its power and privileges over the unempowered by the protection of the value of its personal assets. This privileged elite cares not a jot for the wellbeing of the species as a whole nor barely does it care even for the bulk of its individual flagbearers. They care only for their own comfortable mortal existence. Left to do as they please, they will certainly force humanity as a whole into an abyss from which civilisation and the possibility of universal well being may never emerge.

    That risk and uncertainty is simply unacceptable for most of us. We cannot abide it and we certainly can’t stop trading in risk, uncertainty and reward, whatever choice we make. By commission or omission, we will trade one quality of risk, uncertainty and reward and for another. Rather than trying to duckshove the question, we must do as our ancestors did: learning from those who have gone before us, we must trade as judiciously as we can, with the interests of common utility in the front of our minds, not merely to serve ourselves but to lay the foundation for those who come after us to learn what works and what doesn’t and most importantly, why the stuff we tried worked or failed to work. We can repay that debt to our ancestors by ensuring that progress is sustained.

    We know that all technologies, including of course, nuclear power, come with risk, uncertainty and reward. It would be reckless for us to ignore the lessons learned from past mistakes. Yet we cannot respond to this by throwing up our hands and saying it is all too uncertain when we face risk and uncertainty orders of magnitude larger in seriousness than the knowable risks associated with nuclear power technology, and when we know that this suite of technologies may hold the answer to abating the risk not only of catastrophic climate change, but of the more prosaic risks associated with the harvest of fossil fuels, their role in human economic systems, and the emission to the biosphere of fossil fuel effluent.

    To simply take nuclear power off the table because it is all too scary, or because as Alice would have it, we humans often screw up, would be to spit on possibly 2 million years of human practice. Life must surely have been very scary for homo habilis, or for cro magnon or those early humans picking their way along the cost of Yemen, building the first water craft and wondering if this or that plant might be eaten with advantage. Yet they went ahead and did it anyway and here we are, certain that we live better than they did, yet faced with the same intellectual challenges.

    Dare we shrink for progress? I’d say not.

  49. October 8th, 2010 at 10:54 | #49

    Ikonoclast :

    el gordo :Renewables? Can’t carry the base load.

    As I have said before, giant thermal convection towers can carry base load. .

    It doesn’t really matter how many times you say it, Ike. It might become true through repetition in the minds of some, but not in the real world where it counts.

  50. Ikonoclast
    October 8th, 2010 at 10:55 | #50

    Referring to my previous post, the expensive solar tower may even be replaceable by a vortex as a virtual tower thus reducing costs markedly. The need for a greenhouse apron around the tower is also obviated.

    http://vortexengine.ca/index.shtml

    Instead of the tired old circular coal/uranium debate, why can we not explore some more imaginative possibilities? I would take coal and nuclear off the table because they are as I said;

    1. Proven to be highly dangerous to the environment.
    2. Expensive if neagative externalities are properly costed.
    3. Non-renewable.

    All our efforts ought to be directed at energy generation innovation in the renewables sector. My particular obsession just happens to be solar towers and solar vortex. Maybe these will not more cost effective than other renewables but they do promise 24 hour generation on an industrial scale. They will have environmental and safety issues too which must be explored.

    However, the case is clear. Coal and nuclear are dead end in fact an extinction end for humans in all likellihood. We must go 100% renewables as there is no other course.

  51. BilB
    October 8th, 2010 at 11:02 | #51

    Sloganism there, Fran. Apart from being unnecessary nuclear is the only energy system capable of requiring huge chunks of Australia being fenced off as unaccessible if someone really stuffs up. With toxic waste reaching the Danude, I think that human stuff ups are very much on most European minds right now. “I checked the dam just last week and it was safe”.

    That is very Abbottesque to suggest that what happened in the past is in the past, it can’t happen again.

  52. Ikonoclast
    October 8th, 2010 at 11:07 | #52

    OK Finrod, what’s your plan for the time when coal, oil and uranium run out and have wreck the climate in the process? In the real world, about 5 billion out of 6 billion will then die. The simple physical fact is that without adequate clean, sustainable energy our whole system collapses; agriculture, transport and manufacture.

    We have racheted population up with enormous energy use by historical standards. This population will die back without new energy sources to sustain it. This is the real world physical fact.

    People use the phrase “real world” glibly and they often mean the market or the business world. In fact, that is not the real world at all. It’s a very artificial world in many ways. The real world is the physical environment of material and energy which underpins our economic system.

  53. Alice
    October 8th, 2010 at 11:11 | #53

    @Fran Barlow
    Fran – nuclear is not “progress”. It is a short term extremely blinkered extremely high risk material. None of its risks can be costed effectively. My point is we can do better than that. Thats real progress. If as JQ says the best we can do is to supply materials to other countries or act as a nuclear waste dump here then this thinking is flawed also but not as flawed as yours.

    Many a poor outcome has been conceived as a series of incremental steps to a disastrous outcome in the history of man. First we say no to nuclear, then we accept digging it up and shipping it out to some other country, then we agree to accept other countries shipping their radio active waste here, then, then then…and before we know it some bright spark says “well we are already participating and producing the materials for supply to other countries…why shouldnt we add value here. Its a logical economic step… to an illogical outcome. People forget completely along the way why we didnt want it in the first place and before you know it, its here.

    Why you keep pushing this ugly barrow of pro nuke arguments Fran is beyond me. There is only one answer to nuclear use and thats to say no loudly and clearly to start with and to leave it in the ground. Anything less is just irresponsible in the extreme. The people who fought hard for 40 and 50 years to get rid of this stuff after Hiroshima and Nagasaki didnt do it for nothing. They didnt do it so that half a century later, people with short term memories could idly blog on its entirely spurious economic costings and ponder its economic benefits. World leaders are not now trying to reduce the worlds arsenal of nuclear weapons so that others can blog on mindlessly about the benefits of nuclear use either. There is an obvious and direct link between nuclear use and misuse and no amount of human care or compliance can predict who will own power in the future (and whether they will misuse nuclear) and nor can they predict mistakes, accidents and failures.The costs and risks of these accidents is just too high for it to ever make it on to the cost benefit analysis table.

    In fact I will bet most if not all costings on nuclear do not even count these risks which is just stubbornly myopic and verging on insane. There are deep black holes in your pro nuke costings.

  54. October 8th, 2010 at 11:45 | #54

    Ikonoclast :OK Finrod, what’s your plan for the time when coal, oil and uranium run out and have wreck the climate in the process?

    Your purported concern over a uranium shortage is nonsense.

    http://channellingthestrongforce.blogspot.com/2010/03/is-nuclear-power-sustainable.html

  55. October 8th, 2010 at 12:03 | #55

    BilB :Sloganism there, Fran. Apart from being unnecessary nuclear is the only energy system capable of requiring huge chunks of Australia being fenced off as unaccessible if someone really stuffs up.

    Please outline a credible scenario whereby this might happen.

  56. October 8th, 2010 at 12:13 | #56

    Alice :@Fran Barlow no amount of human care or compliance can predict who will own power in the future (and whether they will misuse nuclear) and nor can they predict mistakes, accidents and failures.The costs and risks of these accidents is just too high for it to ever make it on to the cost benefit analysis table.
    In fact I will bet most if not all costings on nuclear do not even count these risks which is just stubbornly myopic and verging on insane. There are deep black holes in your pro nuke costings.

    Please understand that in the long run (once fossil fuels are depleted beyond the point of usefulness, we will have either a nuclear powered world, or we will have reverted to a pre-industrial civilisation, most likely with great woe along the way. There is no third path. ‘Renewables’, as they are called, will not cut it. They cannot, by their very nature. Intermattency, variability and low energy density are killers for any ‘renewables’ scenario. If this were not the case, we would already be achieving success with them, and they would be either taking over significant chunks of energy generation without any need for fossil fuel backup, or the FF industries would be fighting a tooth-and-nail public campaign against them to preserve FF market share, rather than hailing them as the way of the future.

  57. Chris O’Neill
    October 8th, 2010 at 12:14 | #57

    Hermit:

    Claims that energy storage (eg pumped hydro) or increased high capacity transmission will improve this may be true to some extent but the cost could be triple that of nuclear.

    Could be. But we don’t really know the cost of nuclear.

    That is to get a sufficiently robust grid to meet demand peaks

    The cost of the grid is not the main cost issue.

    and to supply round the clock users like aluminium smelters.

    One of the stupidest ideas of all time is burning coal, especially brown coal, to smelt Aluminium. And if the proposition is to smelt Aluminium using nuclear energy then there is absolutely no way that Australia will be able to compete at doing this with more technically-capable countries, even if they get their Uranium from Australia.

  58. October 8th, 2010 at 12:22 | #58

    @Chris O’Neill

    This seems a bit defeatist. What’s really needed to smelt Al is lots of cheap electrical power. Nuclear can provide this. We can avail ourselves of the technical expertise of NPP exporters such as S Korea to assist us in that. We certainly have an excellent carrot in the form of U reserves to incentivise them.

  59. Rapid Rabbit
    October 8th, 2010 at 12:26 | #59

    @peterm

    The Travelling Wave Reactor is an interesting idea, but it seems unnecessary. Read a very interesting critique of it here:

    TerraPower’s Travelling Wave Reactor – why not use an IFR?

  60. Sam
    October 8th, 2010 at 13:22 | #60

    @Fran Barlow

    Well it would be if that were close to being accurate, rather than simply one of those things people wanting a thought free slapdown of nuclear power love to repeat. It’s not only delusional opponents of action on climate change who love to repeat old lines, regardless of how many times they are refuted.

    Actually Fran, it’s quite true. If we only used “once through” thermal reactors without breeding, and if this kind of reactor supplied 100% of the world’s electricity , we would indeed burn through all the known reserves of uranium, recoverable at the current market price in less than 10 years.

    Of course I understand that we could use breed reactors instead and there are plenty of unconventional uranium sources we could extract at prices higher than we pay now, but the point stands. It’s not false, it just doesn’t tell the whole story. Equating this to a climate change denial position is just silly.

    I wish I could say you are better than this normally. How about you be a little less oppositional and a little more constructive?

  61. October 8th, 2010 at 13:25 | #61

    Sam :@Fran Barlow
    Well it would be if that were close to being accurate, rather than simply one of those things people wanting a thought free slapdown of nuclear power love to repeat. It’s not only delusional opponents of action on climate change who love to repeat old lines, regardless of how many times they are refuted.
    Actually Fran, it’s quite true. If we only used “once through” thermal reactors without breeding, and if this kind of reactor supplied 100% of the world’s electricity , we would indeed burn through all the known reserves of uranium, recoverable at the current market price in less than 10 years.
    Of course I understand that we could use breed reactors instead and there are plenty of unconventional uranium sources we could extract at prices higher than we pay now, but the point stands. It’s not false, it just doesn’t tell the whole story. Equating this to a climate change denial position is just silly.
    I wish I could say you are better than this normally. How about you be a little less oppositional and a little more constructive?

    This is a comeback? You’ve just proven Fran’s point.

  62. Sam
    October 8th, 2010 at 13:41 | #62

    @Finrod

    What do you mean? What’s false about what I wrote?

  63. BilB
    October 8th, 2010 at 13:49 | #63

    Finrod,

    If we can anticipate plausible failure scenarios then we can prevent them. It is the scenarios that we do not anticipate that are the problem, and there seems to be a steady stream of such.

    From comments at another Blog it seems that the Queensland government have done a deal with the Papua New Guinea government to obtain cheap green energy for the smelter up there so that smelter stable energy supply problem is solved.

  64. October 8th, 2010 at 13:57 | #64

    Sam :@Finrod
    What do you mean? What’s false about what I wrote?

    Nothing, Sam. It’s simply that your reply supports Fran’s position, not yours.

  65. Chris Warren
    October 8th, 2010 at 13:59 | #65

    If Scotland can go nuclear free and carbon free? Why are we even discussing nukophilia in this trumped-up thread?

    see:

    http://www.energyefficiencynews.com/i/3423/

  66. October 8th, 2010 at 14:03 | #66

    BilB :Finrod,
    If we can anticipate plausible failure scenarios then we can prevent them. It is the scenarios that we do not anticipate that are the problem, and there seems to be a steady stream of such.

    What do you mean? Do you have examples of the problems you are referring to?

    BilB :</strongFrom comments at another Blog it seems that the Queensland government have done a deal with the Papua New Guinea government to obtain cheap green energy for the smelter up there so that smelter stable energy supply problem is solved.

    You’re talking about a proposed hydroelectric project. I know hydro power is cheap, and a very good candidate for Al smelting. I also know that hydro resources are in limited supply compared to the present and future levels of demand for power worldwide. I’m also aware that ‘renewables’ advocates love to conflate hydro with wind and solar to disguise the pathetic performance of the latter two.

  67. Chumpai
    October 8th, 2010 at 14:04 | #67

    @Sam

    I think you’ve made an interesting point about recoverable reserves at current prices. It makes you wonder about how much more uranium would be discovered in Australia if the price went up. As an aside, using the once through system would not be a bad idea in terms of nuclear weapons proliferation… as the supply of mined uranium decreased the temptation to use fissile material in weapons would increase – potentially reducing the number of nuclear weapons.

  68. October 8th, 2010 at 14:07 | #68

    Chris Warren :If Scotland can go nuclear free and carbon free? Why are we even discussing nukophilia in this trumped-up thread?
    see:
    http://www.energyefficiencynews.com/i/3423/

    You should learn to distinguish between serious engineering proposals and the press releases of politicians.

  69. Sam
    October 8th, 2010 at 14:10 | #69

    @Finrod

    No it doesn’t support Fran’s position. Fran was telling John that what he said was not worth noting, because it isn’t true.

    I say that in fact it is true, and it is also worth noting. John’s argument is not a smackdown against nuclear power, it’s too weak a point for that, but it does deserve to be raised. It means that if the world were to go nuclear it would be forced to use a different, currently un-commercial technology. I’ve no doubt we could do that, and that humans are clever enough to make it work, but is this a point worth raising? Absolutely.

  70. October 8th, 2010 at 14:18 | #70

    @Sam

    OK Sam. You don’t need to agree with me for the practical results of your comment to be as I have described.

  71. Sam
    October 8th, 2010 at 14:23 | #71

    @Finrod

    OK Sam. You don’t need to agree with me for the practical results of your comment to be as I have described.

    That’s strictly true, but in addition the practical results of my comment are not as you described.

  72. October 8th, 2010 at 14:27 | #72

    @Sam

    Well then, we can go our respective ways each content with the results we suppose have been achieved.

  73. BilB
    October 8th, 2010 at 15:04 | #73

    Start with a toxic radioactive chemical sludge pooring into the Danude, Finrod. Safe one day, broken the next. This is the way that disasters happen. And everyone is surprised. And the responsible operators are tracked down and punished. And it will never happen again. But it does. Who would want to live in India within a weeks wind distance from their new reactors after we have seen the performance of their engineering works at their showcase sporting facilities.

    Of coarse that would never happen in Australia!!

  74. October 8th, 2010 at 15:15 | #74

    BilB :Start with a toxic radioactive chemical sludge pooring into the Danude, Finrod.

    Deary me. It shouldn’t have to be specified that I was referring to issues within the nuclear power industry, but I guess with you the specification is necessary.

  75. Chris Warren
    October 8th, 2010 at 15:37 | #75

    Finrod :

    You should learn to distinguish between serious engineering proposals and the press releases of politicians.

    You probably do not know that such government announcements are written on the basis of substantial input by engineers and others (co-ordinating staff and finance offices etc).

    If you think there is some point to distinguish the announcement from the engineering – then identify it.

    Otherwise please post your propaganda somewhere else.

    Do you want to end up as the future victim of Scottish laughter?

  76. jquiggin
    October 8th, 2010 at 15:40 | #76

    Finrod, you seem to be focusing more on snark than on positive contributions to the discussion. If you want to continue in this vein, please take it to one of the sandpit posts.

  77. October 8th, 2010 at 16:01 | #77

    jquiggin :If you want to continue in this vein, please take it to one of the sandpit posts.

    I’m not sure what you mean by that. Sandpit posts?

  78. October 8th, 2010 at 16:14 | #78

    Chris Warren :

    Finrod :
    You should learn to distinguish between serious engineering proposals and the press releases of politicians.

    If you think there is some point to distinguish the announcement from the engineering – then identify it

    I understand that Scotland has quite a bit in the way of hydro resources. This puts Scotland in a good position to offset the negative effects of trying to integrate wind into their grid, although it also means that the hydro resources in question are then no longer available to the same ectent for peak power and for export. Ultimately the proposed new ‘renewable’ source (offshore wind) will prove far too expensive, and in the end the intermittency issue will extract its pound of flesh.

    It may be possible for a particularly windy geographical location with a relatively low population and superb hydro resources to obtain a dignificant fraftion of their power from wind at great expense, especially id they haveneighbours who are willing to trade electrical power with them, but this is not a solution the bulk of humanity is in a position to employ. I suspect that if this foolish project actually goes ahead, it will fie out when the wind farms readh their ~20 year useby date, and the public backlash will keep it off the agenda from then on.

    Proposing that wind is OK because the Scots think they can do it based on their favourable wind resources is like saying the rest of the world should go geothermal because Iceland has lots of volcanoes.

  79. Alice
    October 8th, 2010 at 16:36 | #79

    @Finrod
    Let me explain Finrod – the meaning of fresh sand – Im regularly confined there (Im part of the rude left). Its the Profs way of saying if you are guilty of the following crimes
    1. swamping the threads (offputting to others).
    2. Non evidential posts that incline towards sarcasm or put downs of others beliefs.
    3. The sand pit is a part of this blog where you can have a rip roaring argument without bothering about lwering the general tone of an otherwise intelligent blog (some like the space for the former given economics can get people quite heated but others get frightened away by too much heat).
    Anything Ive forgotten someone else can add.
    Anything with the word sand in it means you have free reignb which is very nice of the Prof. Otherwise keep it polite. Posts dripping with sarcasm and put downs arent polite.

  80. BilB
    October 8th, 2010 at 16:48 | #80

    And ditto, Finrod,

    “is like saying the rest of the world should go geothermal because Iceland has lots of volcanoes”

    to say that Australia should go Nuclear just because we have uranium and the US uses Nuclear.

    The resource that Australia has the most of, by a massive margin, is solar energy in at least 6 forms. We also have the resources to utilise that energy abundance. Economically the most beneficial and dynamic energy resource to utilise is solar energy, not necessarily because it is the most economic but because it creates the most economic activity throughout the economy. As many commenters have demonstrated intermittancy of any ons part of the energy generation mix in a broadly renewable energy system does not amount total intermittency. Quite the contrary. It does however mean that there needs to be a greater level of redundancy. Some see this as a bad thing when it is in fact a good thing as it means that the overall system is less stressed and contains greater overall reliability.

    With renewables it is all good.

  81. quokka
    October 8th, 2010 at 17:05 | #81

    Lets look at the realities of CO2 avoidance in European electricity generation. These charts of electricity generation by fuel source speak a thousand words:

    France: http://www.iea.org/stats/pdf_graphs/FRELEC.pdf

    Germany: http://www.iea.org/stats/pdf_graphs/DEELEC.pdf

    UK: http://www.iea.org/stats/pdf_graphs/GBELEC.pdf

    Denmark: http://www.iea.org/stats/pdf_graphs/DKELEC.pdf

    And how do the per capita CO2 emissions stack up:

    CO2 emissions per capita: Denmark, France, Germany, UK

    A number of observations spring to mind:

    1. It is abundantly clear that nuclear power has contributed vastly more to CO2 emissions abatement than wind or solar and will do so for the foreseeable future.

    2. Nuclear power is capable of completely displacing fossil fuels for electricity generation. The same is true of hydro where there are sufficient resources. But there is no indication that solar and wind can do so in the real world.

    2. Denmark the poster child of wind power still relies on fossil fuels as it’s principal source of electricity. The most noteworthy change is replacement of some coal by gas.

    I invite readers to also look at the per capita CO2 emissions for Sweden and Switzerland. Both have a mix of hydro and nuclear supplying the bulk of their power.

    At the end of the day we need to ask ourselves how interested are we in abatement of CO2 emissions as opposed to wishful thinking.

  82. quokka
  83. Alice
    October 8th, 2010 at 17:13 | #83

    @Finrod
    Id also like to say I always thought I was part of the middle until everyone else moved to the right and is now threatening to sink the ship economus…hence Im moving to the left until those on the right threatening to crash/sink the ship get more balanced and get the plot again.

  84. Chris Warren
    October 8th, 2010 at 17:43 | #84

    @Finrod

    Who on earth is proposing that:

    wind is OK because the Scots think they can do it based on their favourable wind resources.

    This is your fabrication. So why lampoon it?

    Everyone else probably knows that the mix of sustainable energy sources will vary region to region.

    So I hope you have, at least, learnt this.

  85. Chris O’Neill
    October 8th, 2010 at 17:48 | #85

    @Finrod

    This seems a bit defeatist. What’s really needed to smelt Al is lots of cheap electrical power. Nuclear can provide this.

    If that’s true then why isn’t someone else doing this? I doubt that nuclear could beat hydro anytime in the near future and of course, a Carbon price is not going to change this.

  86. October 8th, 2010 at 17:49 | #86

    @BilB

    Uranium and thorium can by dug up and moved around. Volcanoes and wind currents cannot.

    I’m aware that renewables advocates claim that technology to harvest power from wind and solar on the scale necessary to sustain our civilisation is in hand, but it is simply not true. No major industrial country on earth has achieved it, and without effective power storage technology (not currently available and not in sight), none ever will. To understand the details of why this is so, I advise people to check out various articles and threads on BNC. To start with, check out one of the critiques of the ZCA2020 plan:

    http://bravenewclimate.com/2010/08/12/zca2020-critique/

    A resource is only a resource if it can actually be used to advantage.

    Needing greater redundancy than other options to have a hope of being effective is not a positive. The energy sector, more so than any other, cannot be treated as a jobs program, or a corporate welfare program. It’s just too vital. Everything else fundamentally depends on it. It must underpin the wealth of all. A civilisation can, if it so chooses, manage some sectors of the economy as parasitic, loss-making activities supported by productive sectors, but it can’t do it with the energy sector and hope to survive.

  87. October 8th, 2010 at 17:56 | #87

    Chris Warren :@Finrod
    Who on earth is proposing that:

    wind is OK because the Scots think they can do it based on their favourable wind resources.

    This is your fabrication. So why lampoon it?
    Everyone else probably knows that the mix of sustainable energy sources will vary region to region.
    So I hope you have, at least, learnt this.

    Isn’t the supposed favourability of Scottish offshore wind the basis of the assumption that Scotland can become 100% renewable-powered?

  88. Alice
    October 8th, 2010 at 17:59 | #88

    @Finrod
    says “Please understand that in the long run (once fossil fuels are depleted beyond the point of usefulness, we will have either a nuclear powered world, or we will have reverted to a pre-industrial civilisation”

    Another one who is Ernestines words cannot count beyond two . Its either fossil fuels or nuclear. I object to this comment on the grounds that Fin cant really have any true knowledge of the pre industrial age and I also add that the post industrial age has not eradicated poverty nor has it eradicated difficult lives. Who are you to say “post industrial” is superior to “pre industrial”. You simply dont know Fin. Maybe the burden of post industrial is self defeating to the longevity of man whereas pre industrial saw little change for millenia. My point is …that much of the crap the post industrial age has delivered in real terms we dont really need. We buy “stuff” because we are educated my MSM to think we want it but in reality it is totally unnecessary and often has a high environmental cost.

    I dont really know Fin. Is the post industrial life better? For whom and where? That is the question. Its certainly not globally better when you think of the nastiness that post industrial weaponry has delivered…and thats just one example. Global poverty hasnt been reduced, resources are endangered, the environment is under threat.

    Maybe just maybe industrialisation brought as many problems as it did benefits. Please dont tell me “where would we be without remote control TVs or Ipods”.

    On the grand scheme of things every age has its fads.

  89. Chris O’Neill
    October 8th, 2010 at 18:01 | #89

    I doubt that nuclear could beat hydro anytime in the near future and of course, a Carbon price is not going to change this.

    Also, a Carbon price, if it’s genuine, will get rid of coal-burning to smelt Aluminium in Australia. So there won’t be any non-hydro Aluminium smelting in Australia. Nuclear just can’t compete.

  90. Alice
    October 8th, 2010 at 18:03 | #90

    and Finrod bravenewclimate is one space that has been linked to death here (and I mean to death) and we know they are pushy pro nukers …and dont have a lot of credibility. We have all heard all that “bravenewclimate” has to offer before (which isnt much)…and I wonder who stumps up their money. The miners Ill bet.

  91. October 8th, 2010 at 18:04 | #91

    Chris O’Neill :@Finrod

    This seems a bit defeatist. What’s really needed to smelt Al is lots of cheap electrical power. Nuclear can provide this.

    If that’s true then why isn’t someone else doing this? I doubt that nuclear could beat hydro anytime in the near future and of course, a Carbon price is not going to change this.

    The Russians seem enthusiastic:

    http://www.powertecrussia.com/blog/technology-developments-russian-nuclear-power/

    Here is the text of the relevent passage:

    Aluminium and nuclear power
    Since 2007 Rosatom and RUSAL, now the world’s largest aluminium and alumina producer, have been undertaking a feasibility study on a nuclear power generation and aluminium smelter at Primorye in Russia’s far east. This proposal is taking shape as a US$ 10 billion project involving four 1000 MWe reactors and a 600,000 t/yr smelter with Atomstroyexport having a controlling share in the nuclear side. The smelter will require about one third of the output from 4 GWe, and electricity exports to China and North and South Korea are envisaged.

    In October 2007 a $7 billion project was announced for the world’s biggest aluminium smelter in the Saratov region, complete with two new nuclear reactors to power it. The 1.05 million tonne per year aluminium smelter is to be built by RUSAL at Balakovo, and would require about 15 billion kWh/yr. The initial plan was for the existing Balakovo nuclear power plant of four 950 MWe reactors to be expanded with two more – the smelter would require a little over one third of the output of the expanded power plant. However, in February 2010 it was reported that RUSAL proposed to build its own 2000 MWe nuclear power station, with construction to start in 2011.

  92. October 8th, 2010 at 18:20 | #92

    @Alice

    It’s true that I haven’t experienced a completely pre-industrial lifestyle firsthand, I did spend the first six years of my life in a small house in the bush with no electricity connected. This probably gives me a bit more direct experience of some aspects of pre-industrial life than a lot of others. When people have been in that situation for a long time, they generally leap at the chance to adopt something more modern.

    I don’t know about ‘post-industrial. I think I’ll stick with ‘industrial’.

    I’m a bit more concerned about having enough power to run Haber-Bosch than I am about the telly remote.

  93. October 8th, 2010 at 18:26 | #93

    Alice :and Finrod bravenewclimate is one space that has been linked to death here (and I mean to death) and we know they are pushy pro nukers …and dont have a lot of credibility. We have all heard all that “bravenewclimate” has to offer before (which isnt much)…and I wonder who stumps up their money. The miners Ill bet.

    It’s run By Prof. Brook, who started it out as a climate change and low carbon power advocacy blog. The gradual change in its emphasis stemmed from his own conversion to the nuclear cause over a number of months of looking into the case for various power sources. I guess the funding comes from his institute, therefore unlimately from the government. I’d be suprised to learn that there’s some secret pro-nuclear conspiricy in government circles to set such a thing up as a front for the pro-nuke movement. Pleasantly suprised, but suprised nonetheless.

  94. October 8th, 2010 at 18:38 | #94

    Chris O’Neill :

    I doubt that nuclear could beat hydro anytime in the near future and of course, a Carbon price is not going to change this.

    Also, a Carbon price, if it’s genuine, will get rid of coal-burning to smelt Aluminium in Australia. So there won’t be any non-hydro Aluminium smelting in Australia. Nuclear just can’t compete.

    Don’t be too sure about that. As demand grows, utilities running hydroelectric stations will be able to charge premium bucks for peaking power, and hydro is in short supply in Australia. Nuclear may be competative after all, especially after the NPP has been amortised.

  95. Alice
    October 8th, 2010 at 18:42 | #95

    @Finrod
    I wouldnt mind digging deeper into Bravenew climate’s funding source Finrod – if you have any info?. I didnt say there was any conspiracy from government circles to fund pro nuclear initiatives (but that cannot be discounted seeing as many industrialised nations operate their governments ever more closely aligned to the oligarchies of powerful industry lobbying groups). More likely the funding conspiracy would arise from those with a vested interest in digging up uranium and shipping into global markets…as I suggested mining companies more likely.
    Any government conspiracy usually entails the peanuts of kickbacks to their political party donations and aside from that… the self interest enrichment of politically involved individuals not particularly obvious to their party.

  96. jquiggin
    October 8th, 2010 at 18:50 | #96

    Finrod, you’re swamping the thread. Nothing more in this thread please. The sandpit is open.

  97. October 8th, 2010 at 19:00 | #97

    @Alice

    I have no more details than can be found in the About page of BNC. The information given there strongly suggests that the funding is coming from The Environment Institute, which is in turn presumably funded by the University of Adelaide. Unless Barry’s paying for it himself.

  98. October 8th, 2010 at 19:03 | #98

    jquiggin :Finrod, you’re swamping the thread. Nothing more in this thread please. The sandpit is open.

    Very well. From now on I’ll post in the sandpit.

    What’s the point of setting up a thread about a specific topic, then getting upset when it turns out people have lots to say about it?

  99. Hermit
    October 8th, 2010 at 20:15 | #99

    @BilB
    This may surprise you BilB that I’ve been using solar and other forms of renewable energy for years. I have not paid an electricity bill since 2008 and I make most of my own car fuel. Somehow I’ve gotten a different perspective from the industrial heavyweights of whom you speak. I can only see things from ground level. My inescapable conclusion is that solar is not the technology of the future but merely a niche application. It is just too expensive and intermittent but I’m sure you have an answer to that. I await your link to the breakthrough solar technology and an explanation as to why we are still stuck with these pesky coal plants.

    I almost long for the day when coal, oil and gas are not longer there to keep the lights on and put food in our bellies. Then we’ll know who is living in the real world.

  100. Peter Lang
    October 8th, 2010 at 21:12 | #100

    John Quiggan,

    I am surprised by your opening comments, especially point 3. You say:

    “The only plausible path to an Australian nuclear power industry involves the use of modern plant designs and regulatory systems with a proven track record in the US and/or Europe and Japan.”

    I offer an alternative approach. If we accept that even the old nuclear plants are already 10 to 100 times safer than coal, why do we need the US and EU type nuclear regulatory systems? These are what are making nuclear more expensive than they need to be (but still much cheaper than wind, solar or any other non-hydro renewable). Why don’t we argue to remove all the impediments to nuclear and implement least cost nuclear power? If all the impediments were removed, nuclear would, eventually, be cheaper than fossil fuels. It is only more expensive now because of the impeiments society has imposed on it over the past 50 years.

    “So, for the foreseeable future, nuclear isn’t an option for Australia, and there is little or nothing we can, or should, do about it.”

    If the government wanted to take a lead, and explain the options and the costs, public perceptions could change quickly (for all except the totally entrenched, anti-nuclear fringe).

    Given that renewable energy cannot make any significant reduction in GHG emissions, and nor can energy efficiency improvements, are you suggesting that we should give up on setting fourth on a direction to make significant cuts to our GHG emissions? Without nuclear, where are the cuts going to come from? It seems that the IPCC, OECD and all the other G20 nations recognise that little progress can be made unless we replace fossil fuels with nuclear. It needs to be low cost so it will more quickly substitute for fossil fuels for heat and land transport.

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