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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 8th, 2010 at 21:15 | #1

    @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.

    Claims like this are unhelpful. Stripped of the rhetoric they amount to this: Under unspecified circumstances which are theoretically possible but which are imponderable because we have specfied anything about plants yet, some critical incident could occur which could require what some regard as a substantial amount of land somewhere non-specific being closed to public access for an unknowable amount of time for reasons that might or might not be valid in epidemiological terms.

    Going on to buttress this point by pointing to some system with no relationship to nuclear power is intellectually risible.

    @Sam

    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.

    The comparison is fair. Not all enemies of mitigation policy make outlandish claims all the time. Some deliberately frame their claims in ways that are partial to the point of dishonesty. It might be that John really believed his claim as versions of it are commonly made. However that may be, false or misleading claims are not worth “noting” except to refute urban mythology. There’s that trolling slander on DDT and environmentalists too, and I make a point of noting how wrong that is on each occasion it is repeated.

    @Alice

    Alice, the imputation you cast on Professor Brook’s standing is at best fact free ad hominem. Either you have some factual basis for your claim or you are simply swinging recklessly, after the fashion of the notorious senator from Wisconsin all those years ago. If you aren’t aware of any conflict of interest, you should withdraw your suggestion and apologise.

  2. October 8th, 2010 at 22:04 | #2

    Although I would rather stay out of this, I feel compelled to respond to various insinuations, which do no commenters on John’s blog any credit whatsoever.

    I a professor of climate change at the University of Adelaide. Here is my staff website: http://www.adelaide.edu.au/directory/barry.brook

    I am the publisher of BraveNewClimate (BNC). The ‘funding’ for the blog comes from my own back pocket, and is run on a WordPress-facilitated shoestring (i.e. ~$50 per year as a direct cost). I earn no income from it, including nothing from advertising or promotions. I write the posts for the blog outside of my standard work duties, and almost exclusively out of work hours. When I’m at work, I write scientific papers, supervise students, teach, and do other academic duties.

    I’m not funded for nuclear advocacy, either at work or privately, by anyone. Indeed, the State Government of SA, who provided funding for the Sir Hubert Wilkins Chair of Climate Change position for 4 years, has repeated stated that it is not interested in nuclear energy for South Australia (I’m obviously hoping to change such ideas, in the long run).

    For my efforts on the BNC blog, I was fortunate this year to be awarded the “Community Science Educator of the Year” at the SA Science Excellence awards.

    So please cease the slander and stick to facts, evidence and logic, not ad homenims.

  3. wilful
    October 8th, 2010 at 22:10 | #3

    Wow Alice, that’s pretty nasty stuff. You disgree with a person’s well considered views, someone whose intellectual life is really quite in the open, and you start accusing him of having nefarious dealings. Basically dafamation – or is it slander, I mix the two up.

    Really really petty of you.

    (BTW, completely off-beam, because a blog doesn’t cost any money to run anyway).

  4. wilful
    October 8th, 2010 at 22:19 | #4

    Ah well, Pr Brook can speak for himself.

    More generally, I don’t think I’ve ever met a pro-nukes person, in real life or online. All I’ve met are people who are people who think that electricity is good and underpins much of modern society, creates great benefits. So what are the pragmatic ways of keeping electricity supply approaching current levels in a carbon constrained world? Nobody thinks that nukes are good, just that they’re more likely to help maintain our way of life.

    If people object to our way of life, and think that we need renewables as part of some social engineering project, (which I do hear quite a bit, it’s what people mean they talk about microgeneration) that’s a whole different kettle of fish. Not saying I completely disagree with it, it just ought to be admitted upfront.

  5. Scott
    October 9th, 2010 at 00:57 | #5

    Yes, advocating a reactor design that would not require any mining for thousands of years really helps the miners doesn’t it, Alice?

  6. BilB
    October 9th, 2010 at 01:24 | #6

    Peter L

    “Given that renewable energy cannot make any significant reduction in GHG emissions”

    This not a “given” at all. This is simply your view based on your, by my observations, very limited understanding of the available technologies.

    Fran,

    My comment was based on historical events translated to the Australian environment. A very realistic approach.

  7. October 9th, 2010 at 04:57 | #7

    @BilB

    Provide one example of a nation which has managed to use renewable power to cut a significant amount of fossil fuel power.

  8. Ernestine Gross
    October 9th, 2010 at 05:39 | #8

    @Barry Brook

    Thank you for your link to your web-site . I have a question. Are you a nuclear physicist?

    I am asking this question because I like to read blog-sites of people who have primary knowledge in the area in question. For example, I know Professor Quiggin is Professor of Economics and Politics.

  9. jquiggin
    October 9th, 2010 at 05:40 | #9

    Alice, the comment about BNC violated the comments policy of this site, and I require a retraction and apology. As stated by

    @Barry Brook

    this is a personal blog and I entirely agree with Barry that your insinuations were unfounded and inappropriate

  10. BilB
    October 9th, 2010 at 07:02 | #10

    There would quite a few countries, Finrod, but probably to most successful to date with the longest history would be Brazil, and China will be coming strongly right behind them.

    My contribution to this debate and this problem is #12 on page 1. As a product designer, developer and manufacturer, having studied the global warming problem, having researched all of the available technologies, that is my conclusion, that is what I have committed to undertake in support of my partners and associates. There are a number of other products that will be manufactured in time to add effect to the main project. These will include a unique powered door operating system (what Star Trek promised but never delivered for energy conservation), an innovative greenhouse system, a water tank system that has the potential to on develop into an efficient modular building system (this is being prototyped now by another operator), and I am a lifelong supporter of the ideas, work, and initiatives of Malcolm B Wells ( http://www.malcolmwells.com ). I am confident that this cluster of initiatives in conjunction with new communication, energy storage and transport technologies will provide a sustainable life style into the future in the Australian context. That is a much as I can hope to achieve, and that is as far as I am prepared to go with this debate.

    What I would say though is that I feel that Barry Brookes and BraveNewClimate have taken an extremely arrogant position with regards renewable energy. Somewhere along the line I think is fair to deduce Barry has decided that Nuclear energy is the best solution to achieve his goals in meeting the challenges of global warming. In the process though the deciples of his blog, BNC, by my observations, have decided that nothing else will work. Everything else is a waste of time and resources. And by inference this position arrogantly says to all of the thousands of scientists, researchers and product developers around the globe to not bother, they are wasting their time, solar energy cannot supply or energy needs.

    Well we will just have to agree to disagree.

  11. Chris Warren
    October 9th, 2010 at 07:53 | #11

    Finrod :
    @BilB
    Provide one example of a nation which has managed to use renewable power to cut a significant amount of fossil fuel power.

    You obviously do not understand.

    The world is trying to move from an old way of doing things to a new way of doing things.

    Replacing fossil with renewables is a end goal.

    You do not get end goals in the middle of a game.

  12. Chris Warren
    October 9th, 2010 at 08:07 | #12

    @Barry Brook

    I think questions about covert funding can arise in the context of huge profiteering potentials flowing from public policy changes.

    Anyone half-familiar with the National Endowment for Democracy from the United States, and the antics of Bishop Mannix in Australia, plus revelations from the US Church Commission all require democrats to be very vigilante in this regard.

    Tobacco companies funded their own lobby groups.

    So raising this issue is not creating any insinuation. It arises from the past behaviour of companies.

    All that is required is a relevant clarification, which appears to have been provided.

  13. Alice
    October 9th, 2010 at 08:30 | #13

    @jquiggin
    Professor Quiggin – I did not make any deliberate insinuations re ‘bravenewclimate’ other than those that also apply to all sites that disseminate research in the public domain. I did qualify at the start ‘I wouldnt mind digging deeper into Bravenew climate’s funding source Finrod – if you have any info?.’

    In this day and age, unfortunately, it is reasonable to ask about funding sources for publicly disseminated research.
    Other such publicly available research sites have had questions over their funding sources.

    However, Professor Barry Brook has answered the question at post 2 of this page. If any offense was taken and it appears to be the case, by my post at 45, I apologise and retract.

    No offense was intended.

  14. October 9th, 2010 at 08:58 | #14

    @Alice

    Personally, as someone whom you also falsely implied was being paid to post pro-nuclear information here, I’d like you to undertake to make no further such allusions in the absence of clear and compelling proof that we are failing to disclose such conflicts of interest.

    BilB above, has a clear business interest in renewables. There’s nothing wrong with that of course and good luck to him, though as I recall, that wasn’t something he acknowledged up front. Yet I saw nobody, and certainly not you, jumping up and down on transparency there.

    I have no problem with people making points of contention robustly — I do it all the time, but we should stick to making claims that we are very confident are true. Professor Brook gives every impression of a person of great integrity and it is quite wrong to raise nefarious insinsuations in the absence of clear evidence warranting them.

  15. Alice
    October 9th, 2010 at 09:16 | #15

    @Fran Barlow
    Given that I do not agree with either yours or Professor Brooks pro nuclear views and given that access to minerals in the ground has been and continues to be one source of the most intense lobbying industries – then the problem of self interested industry lobbying is more likely in nuclear than in renewables. Diversification by well resourced existing mining firms into nuclear mineral extraction would be presumably relatively easy and perhaps highly profitable.

    It is not an insinuation to ask Fran B.

    I am also not going to complain that Bil B is getting funding from possible renewable energy solutions which I consider much less dangerous to the environment than nuclear use.
    In fact I certainly hope Bil B does have access to funding to persuade others to seek non nuclear renewable and environmentally friendly solutions to energy use.

  16. jquiggin
    October 9th, 2010 at 09:20 | #16

    I think I’ll have to call a halt here, unfortunately. It was probably a mistake to raise the topic at all.

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