Home > World Events > The end of the nuclear renaissance

The end of the nuclear renaissance

March 14th, 2011

For the last few weeks, I’ve been planning a Slate-style contrarian post, arguing that the US and maybe other countries should increase the subsidies for nuclear power associated with the attempt to launch a ‘nuclear renaissance’. My argument would have been two-fold. First, the straightforward point that it’s desirable to explore all options for non-carbon based electricity, and that the existing subsidies (combined with the absence of a carbon price) were not sufficient to make this happen (a decade after Bush launched the program, there are only a handful of starters, and most of the early proposals have been abandoned).

The second was political – for a substantial group (mostly on the political right), the desirability of nuclear power is an article of faith, and their (outdated) view that environmentalists resolutely oppose it forms part of the reason for adopting anti-science views and do-nothing policy positions on climate change. More funding for attempts to develop the nuclear option might convert some of them, and embarrass some others into dropping this particular talking point.

But after the disaster in Japan, and the failure of cooling systems at nuclear plants there, it’s most unlikely that anything along these lines will happen.

We have yet to see how bad the outcome will be, but it’s already apparent that two plants have suffered partial meltdowns or something close enough that they will never operate again. As cooling systems continue to fail, more are being affected. It’s likely, based on past experience, that plants in the same complex will be offline for a long period. So, even in the best case, the economic effects will be severe. The worst case could be disastrous.

The economics of building a new nuclear plant in the developed world were marginal at best before this disaster. The political climate was much more favorable than it had been, but still fragile. In the best possible case, the response to the failures will involve new, and expensive safety equipment, and more restrictions on the location of new plants. But that will almost certainly be enough to stop any new projects, and maybe even the handful (two sites in the US, and one in Finland) currently under way in developed countries other than Japan.

In Japan itself, political support for nuclear power has been fairly solid until now, but construction of new plants was already slowing down. In the wake of the disaster, it seems likely (if only because of the need for diversification) that the replacements for the plants destroyed or taken off-line will be non-nuclear, probably either gas-fired or renewable.

That leaves China (and perhaps India) as the only real hope for large-scale construction of new nuclear plants. It remains to be seen how that will play out.

Having said all that, the risks from the nuclear plants are insignificant when compared to the catastrophic loss of life and economic destruction caused by the earthquake and tsunami. It’s hard to know what can be done in the face of such destructive force, other than to help the survivors as best we can.

Categories: World Events Tags:
  1. bill
    March 14th, 2011 at 09:02 | #1

    Completely agree. What ‘renaissance’ there was terminated on the 11th March 2011. If there is a major-melt-down even the existing nuclear industry will be in doubt.

    I’m actually surprised that this is the first post of seen on the subject in the climate/energy blogosphere.

  2. sam
    March 14th, 2011 at 09:15 | #2

    I wouldn’t say the risks themselves are insignificant compared to the loss from the tsunami. So far the costs have been. At the moment though, a Chernobyl level disaster still seems easily possible, irradiating 10 000 square kilometers of a small island for thousands of years and causing tens of thousands of additional cancers. It probably won’t happen, but if it did it would dwarf the current crisis.

    It has been interesting to watch pro-nuclear advocates holding their breath, and knocking on wood, and then when good news is received, saying “There you see, nothing to worry about, it was always perfectly safe.” I suppose in retrospect all chances are either 100% or 0%, the trouble is in predicting which it will be in advance.

  3. Daniel
    March 14th, 2011 at 09:43 | #3

    Its a pity we can’t see some R&D into Liquid-Fluoride Thorium Reactor’s (LFTR) (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8F0tUDJ35So and http://www.theoildrum.com/node/4971) both China and India are building one. Although you cant make nuclear weapons with the waste which is why the idea was not pushed in the 60′s.

    One question about the economics of nuclear: At what Coal price point would nuclear be worth building?
    if peak oil happened in 2005 and we see rising fuel prices from now (with some extreme volatility) then the flow on effect would be that cost of mining coal and the demand would rise. well not sure about demand but liquid fuels are driving all the mining equipment and transport. However if we have a big push to electric cars then base-load power would need to be increased (night time charging) and most of that would be coal, so extra demand.

  4. Ikonoclast
    March 14th, 2011 at 09:56 | #4

    Couldn’t the best options for non-carbon based energy be explored by these steps?

    1. End ALL energy subsidies.
    2. Ensure energy producers insure for full risks without subsidy.
    3. Legislate and enforce rigorous safety sandards on all energy production.
    4. Legislate and enforce rigorous costs on all negative externalities.

    Within this framework, allow the market to determine generation outcomes. (Distribution and retailing are different issues.)

    This would be what I call a guided free market approach. We democratically set the necessary social and environmental parameters within which free enterprise then operates. This approach ensures that both democratic government policy and the free market are confined to their area of specialisation.

  5. Ben
    March 14th, 2011 at 10:03 | #5

    Recently, a couple of US researchers (Blackburn and Cunningham) released a report claiming that solar and nuclear had reached a cross-over point and that, over time, solar will only get cheaper while nuclear will only get more expensive. I’ve not studied the report in detail, but it looks interesting. See http://www.ncwarn.org/?p=2290.

  6. TerjeP
    March 14th, 2011 at 10:11 | #6

    JQ – two questions.

    1. Am I still on a one comment per thread per day restriction?

    2. Is this thread open for discussion of the nuclear option?

  7. Ernestine Gross
    March 14th, 2011 at 10:20 | #7

    It may well be the end of the alleged nuclear renaissance but will it be the end of the spruiking of a nuclear renaissance?

  8. March 14th, 2011 at 10:34 | #8

    The laws of physics have not been altered. Nuclear power is still the best solution to the ongoing problem of providing clean, affordable and safe power.

    Yes, safe. The full results are not yet in, but they would have to be unreasonably negative (ie, far worse than the worst possible projections) to jolt the safety statistics for nuclear power into anything like the ongoing poor outcomes for other major power sources.

  9. Chris D
    March 14th, 2011 at 10:37 | #9

    For someone who works in a discipline that is data based, calculates risk on the known facts, this article is a preemptive strike against nuclear power. Throwing around terms like ‘meltdown’ and ‘disaster’ (ok, you avoided using “Chernobyl”, but the implication is not far away), simply fails to acknowledge that even with an enormous earthquake and tsunami, the nuclear reactors were actually shut down so that catastrophic failure (yes, like Chernobyl) could NOT happen. But hey, why not ignore the facts, speculate about events which were successfully avoided and call up the big bad bogeyman “radiation”.

    Not quite what I’ve expected from Prof Quiggin.

  10. Hermit
    March 14th, 2011 at 10:44 | #10

    Direct tsunami deaths so far 1,000-10,000 nuclear site deaths 1. It’s as well to remind ourselves of some simple factoids
    - crude oil production peaked 2005-2008
    - China the world’s biggest coal now user faces declining coal production
    - not a single coal plant has been retired anywhere due to wind and solar.
    The idea was that nuclear electricity would eventually power transport as well. If you think our aluminium smelters can be run 24/7 on any other form of low carbon energy then explain how it can be done.

  11. rog
    March 14th, 2011 at 10:46 | #11

    There is no denying the desperate state of the Japanese reactors, they had to use seawater to cool them down. Those in the business see this as a sign that they had run out of options as sea water will ruin the reactors. Already, in financial terms, it is a disaster.

  12. Doug
    March 14th, 2011 at 10:47 | #12

    RE Ikonoklast’s proposal: would it be possible to get insurance to cover the cost of the extended periods of storage required for nuclear waste?

  13. Donald Oats
    March 14th, 2011 at 10:58 | #13

    The Japan experience is one in which multiple reactors have been affected; this is a particular scenario, I wonder out loud, that I suspect doesn’t get modelled when thinking about risks in relation to nuclear energy.

    This also brings up another question: have any of the nuclear waste facitilities been breached and waste released by the earthquake or tsunami, and have any nuclear waste vessels (drums and the like) been washed out to sea? I wonder.

  14. paul walter
    March 14th, 2011 at 11:14 | #14

    As if scientific considerations would stop them.
    Look at Tasmania and Gunns.

  15. dez
    March 14th, 2011 at 11:22 | #15

    According to Barry Brook at BraveNewClimate the Fukushima plant was ~40 yo and due to be decommissioned within months anyway. He also says that it was built for up to an 8.2 earthquake but (despite its age) has withstood the 50% stronger 8.9–it was the tsunami that did the major damage. The one death at nuclear power plants was a crushing accident. His site gives a detailed description of the current state of the damaged nuclear power plants and, while not to be read without a grain of salt, is worth reading.

  16. dez
    March 14th, 2011 at 11:24 | #16

    But it is certainly true that the impression being given by the media is of great risk, perhaps to be only narrowly averted, so this will certainly set nuclear power back.

  17. Johncanb
    March 14th, 2011 at 11:48 | #17

    It will be facinating to see how this issue plays out. The false consiousness fostered by the media may well trump the reality that there is a low risk of death and illness from this accident. Unfortunately also, the fact that the accident occurred because of the tsunami which wreaked enormous death and destruction will emotionally link nuclear power with enormous death and destruction. We are not rational animals most of the time.

  18. Ernestine Gross
    March 14th, 2011 at 12:34 | #18

    @Johncanb

    Evidence, please, in support of your apparent hypothesis that you, as distinct from the public in general, are able to know what emotional links the public forms. (No consumer behaviour literature please.)

    When you say “We are not rational animals most of the time”, I assume you now speak for yourself..

  19. March 14th, 2011 at 12:43 | #19

    @Johncanb

    No matter how low the risk of death and illness from nuclear accidents it is still several orders of magnitude greater than the risk from geothermal, solar thermal, tidal and wave power etc. Isn’t the real attraction of nuclear found in the political and corporate attraction to big things that both boost the managerial ego and centralise control? The attraction certainly can’t be economic because that simply doesn’t add up as JQ notes in his post.

  20. March 14th, 2011 at 12:47 | #20

    As a keen student of media spin and propaganda I’m always on the lookout for themes and common terms used across the MSM (esp: ABC, Fairfax, Murdoch) after disasters.

    The one that caught my attention across most of the reports since Friday was about how “calm” (and similar words) the Japanese people are. Then I worked out why this might be, this is from Murdoch’s WSJ:

    “After a once-in-300-years earthquake, the Japanese have been keeping cool amid the chaos, organizing an enormous relief and rescue operation, and generally earning the world’s admiration. We wish we could say the same for the reaction in the U.S., where the troubles at Japan’s nuclear reactors have produced an overreaction about the risks of modern life and technology.”

  21. quokka
    March 14th, 2011 at 12:48 | #21

    When the dust settles and as it seems likely, no members of the public have died due to a “nuclear” cause and the net effect on public health has been minimal, these events may well come to be seen in more level headed fashion. Especially when the stark realities of reliable low emission electricity generation come to the fore again, as they inevitably must.

    The UK will be an interesting example as having one of the largest projected builds of NPPs in western countries. Just what is it going to do in the event that the NPP build is cancelled? Natural gas is really the only practical alternative but the downsides are all too obvious – emissions, energy security and uncertain future fuel costs. The UK cannot just build a grid based on wind.

    If as also seems likely, the main failure in the safety systems was insufficient protection of backup diesel generators, and the 40 year old reactors themselves performed rather well in what was well in excess of a design basis accident, it is going to be difficult to argue that there is some inherent significant risk of extreme proportions. We will need to wait and see the outcome of investigations but if this is the case, rectification would seem to be neither difficult nor overly expensive.

    In China we may see an increasing preference for the Westinghouse AP1000 design over the domestic CPR1000 due to it’s superior passive safely, but once again energy realities will be foremost and the nuclear build out will most likely be otherwise unaffected.

  22. rog
    March 14th, 2011 at 12:53 | #22

    How the Japanese publicly express themselves is not how you identify cognition.

  23. rog
    March 14th, 2011 at 12:57 | #23

    The dust may takes years, if not decades to settle. Already the Whitehouse have signalled a re examination of the situation despite affirming their intention to proceed with nuclear power. It could take 4 to 5 years to analyse the Japanese reactor.

  24. March 14th, 2011 at 13:00 | #24

    @quokka

    I think you better see this immediately http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2bPi6aHmd88

  25. jquiggin
    March 14th, 2011 at 13:02 | #25

    Terje open slather on this one.

  26. Johncanb
    March 14th, 2011 at 14:07 | #26

    Ernestine Gross. I am putting forward a hypothesis not claiming a certain outcome. As I said I will be fascinated to see how this plays out, because human behaviour and attitudes are hard to predict. I think it reasonable to expect there will be an emotional link made for many people between the death and destruction from the tsunami and nuclear power. But we don’t know how strong that will be. Our attitudes are formed by an interplay of rational and emotional impulses which in turn are influenced by external social, economic and cultural forces. I don’t claim to be immune from any of those forces, but I can only say it as I see it.

    Ian Milliss. The low risk means of energy generation you mention are not large scale and/or economically efficient enough yet. So although the economics of nuclear power is marginal, in some countries it stacks up reasonably well against the economics of the things you mention.

  27. quokka
    March 14th, 2011 at 14:10 | #27

    @Ian Milliss

    Reports are that the containment is still intact. I don’t see any reason to retract what I wrote at this stage and sincerely hope it stays that way.

  28. TerjeP
    March 14th, 2011 at 14:25 | #28

    JQ – firstly thanks for opening up the discussion. I think it’s important.

    I find it odd that you would advocate public spending on nuclear for political reasons. Surely this may be a side benefit but it shouldn’t enter your calculus regarding whether a public subsidy is or was a good idea. Trying to buy off oponents in this way is no doubt often the case but I’m a bit shocked that you would openly advocate it. Taxpayers deserve better from economists such as yourself. If you support or supported nuclear subsidies for reasons of national interest then fair enough but supporting it to “buy” people such as myself seems crass. In my case it wouldn’t work anyway.

    Nuclear needs to pass the economic test on it’s own merits. The most that I would expect from governments would be:-

    i) price CO2 emissions if appropriate. We can debate how appropriate this is, how best to do it, and what the price should be but these are details. The point is that direct subsidies are not a good idea.
    ii) don’t mandate public liability insurance out of proportion to the mandates for other industries. There is clearly room for some debate about what is appropriate but the criteria should not be designed to stop nuclear but to manage the risks.
    iii) do ensure that regime risk isn’t recklessly used to block the industry. Making the plants publicly owned is one means to achieving this but obviously not the one I would support. The decision to allow nuclear plants obviously requires democratic consent but once granted the operators and financiers should be entitled to proceed in confidense that permission won’t be arbitrarily pulled part way through without just compensation.

    The logic in favour of you writing a pro nuclear article does not seem to have changed. What has changed is how your article may be received. Surely you don’t write to be popular. If you were going to support nuclear before the Japan earth quake, and have not substantially changed your view of nuclear I don’t think you should let public sentiment alter your course. Although I can see that it may change your timing.

    Please set me straight as appropriate.

  29. may
    March 14th, 2011 at 14:37 | #29

    today, (coincidentally) at the Perth Town Hall cnr Hay & Barrack Sts is the launch of the

    Zero Carbon Australia Stationary Energy Plan.

    stating

    Solar and wind can supply Australia’s energy needs within 10 years.

    > designed by a broad coalition of engineers,academics and industry experts.
    >fully costed.
    > uses proven,existing,renewable technologies.
    > can be built within the next decade.
    > zero carbon emmissions.

    Speakers/panelists include

    Mr Matthew Wright.
    exec director,Beyond Zero Emissions.
    Mr Steve Gates.
    Chair, Sustainable Energy Now.
    Sen Scott Ludlum.
    Greens Senator for WA.
    Hon Alannah McTiernan.
    former WA Planning and Infrastructure Minister.
    Mr Andre Garnaut.
    Principal Sustainability Consultant, Worley Parsons.

    Monday 14 March 2011.
    5:45 PM for a 6:00 PM start.

  30. Fran Barlow
    March 14th, 2011 at 14:39 | #30

    @Ian Milliss

    No matter how low the risk of death and illness from nuclear accidents it is still several orders of magnitude greater than the risk from geothermal, solar thermal, tidal and wave power etc.

    Yes but you are not comparing like with like. Assuming cost were no object, to produce enough solar thermal power to produce output comparable to that of any industrial scale nuclear plant at similar availability would entail covering an area orders of magnitude larger than the nuclear plant. You would necessarily be site limited since only very heavily insolated land would be apt. The cost for the requisite storage would also add hugely to the bill and the environmental footprint would be huge. Would you really want to be installing enough molten salt to deliver 2 weeks of capacity. Would you really be wanting to guarantee the inegrity of such a structure for 20 years or more? What would the decommissioning costs be? How would you go about supplying the water?

    In practice, such schemes simply aren’t feasible at commercial scale. They can’t do the job nuclear does. If they could, we would already have seen commercial scale plants displacing fossil hydrocarbon plants. Despite very heavy subsidies and tax relief, they haven’t.

    Geothermal — and in particular the HDR technology we are looking at here (and which is being examined in the Rift Valley in Africa) sound a lot more promising, but here the problem is ubiquity. You don’t get to run geothermal where it is most convenient. You take it where it is. Moreover, because every project is neccessarily a FOAK — site constrained — you will always pay top dollar for it. It’s likely that when one includes transmission costs to the load centre, geothermal will work out to be a lot more expensive than commercial nuclear power and in any event not be available everywhere. So even if it can be made to work at acceptable cost on industrial scale, it is only going to be useful where ready supplies of water and suitable geology exist. So the comparison is not telling.

    Similar objections may be made against tidal power and of course in this case, the environmental cost is borne by estuaries and parts of the marine environment. Again, it is very expensive unless you can operate one close to a load centre or existing connection to a major grid.

    You really do have to compare like with like. Right now, there’s no technical or engineering reason not to put nuclear plants close to the ocean and load centres. And once you choose a design these can be mass manufactured. In places that are geologically active the price will go up as special provision for events such as we have seen will need to be made, but even so, that still makes them a lot more plausible a solution than the options you cite.

  31. Ikonoclast
    March 14th, 2011 at 14:45 | #31

    The serious science indicates that nuclear power is past its zenith already. Nuclear power is a non-renewable or depletable (pun intended) resource. Peak uranium is already in the past just like peak oil.

    I hope this long link works.

    http://www.energywatchgroup.com/fileadmin/global/pdf/EWG_Report_Uranium_3-12-2006ms.pdf

  32. Ikonoclast
    March 14th, 2011 at 14:56 | #32

    Nuclear energy is not a giant, it is a midget. It provides less of the world’s energy needs than biomass plus hydro. In 2005, nuclear energy provided 6% of the world’s total energy needs whereas biomass provided 4% plus hydro 3% equals 7%. It really puts that weak 6% into perspective when you remember that nuclear power is past its peak as we have already passed Peak Uranium.

    Nuclear is already a bad joke decaying in the dustbin of history.

  33. TerjeP
    March 14th, 2011 at 15:00 | #33

    Peak uranium is rubbish in the energy context. You can extract uranium from sea water at reasonable cost for almost an eternity. Not as cheap as current mining but not that prohibitive. Especially given the small cost component associated with fuel and even more so with generation IV.

  34. may
    March 14th, 2011 at 15:03 | #34

    the link works.

    2006?

  35. Fran Barlow
    March 14th, 2011 at 15:03 | #35

    @Ikonoclast

    Couldn’t the best options for non-carbon based energy be explored by these steps?

    1. End ALL energy subsidies.
    2. Ensure energy producers insure for full risks without subsidy.
    3. Legislate and enforce rigorous safety standards on all energy production.
    4. Legislate and enforce rigorous costs on all negative externalities.

    With the exception of #2 I’d agree. The problem with #2 (I’d certainly agree in principle) is what one means by “full risks”. While it is certainly reasonable to require the producer to insure against harms that might arise despite the fact that the the producer is following best practice, one should not require energy producers to insure against outlandish risks of loss. Personally, I find it perverse that my vehicle insurance covers me for up to $20 million in damage — but if I had to insure for damage that would compensate the entire country, I simply couldn’t have a car at all.

    If one applied the maximum damage one could imagine through any contrivance then it’s hard to imagine what industrial or commercial activity could take place at all. As things stand in the US, the Price-Anderson limits have never been approached and with current and projected plant design there’s no reason to think they might be. The recent Gulf of Mexico oil spill showed that even very large sums — (larger than Price Anderson) are not beyond the means of companies to raise and in this case the entire industry would be shouldering the burden.

    It seems to me that the appropriate standard should reflect such harms as is reasonably foreseeable in circumstances where the operator is operating according to the best industry practice. In the case of Fukushima, it was reasonably foreseeable that an earthquake and tsunami might affect plant operations in the way that they did and accordingly any damage that might arise from the failure of defence in depth moderated by the probability that this might occur, should be provided for.

  36. rog
    March 14th, 2011 at 15:24 | #36

    @Fran Barlow
    In talking about solar you say that “in practice, such schemes simply aren’t feasible at commercial scale.”

    In practice nuclear is also having enormous problems.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_Pressurized_Reactor

  37. Socrates
    March 14th, 2011 at 15:25 | #37

    I agree with JQ that this event has obviously damaged the prospect of any nuclear rennaisance. The dishonest concealing of the scale of the problem by Japanese officials cannot be defended. Yet IMO neither can the degree of hysteria of some of the (non-expert) commentators. It is out of all proportion to any actual or potential threat.

    As quokka said, nobody has been harmed by nuclear radiation. They couldn’t be – none of the reactors containment vessels have been breached. Even if there is a meltdown in one, the damage is economic (internal to the reactor), not to any human beings (external). So apart from a small amount of vented gas (not from the reactors) there has been no external threat. The explosions have injured four people on site in an event that has created ten thousand missing. It is almost incidental.

    From an enginering point of view, the fact that a series of 40 year old reactors due for retirement can go through a magnitude 9 earthquake, plus severe tsunami, and still not cause any serious hazard is actually a great achievement. Maybe a month from now people will begin to realise that even after a severe natural disaster reactor containment technology of the 1970s was already good enough to preclude the possibility of another Chernobyl. Of course that won’t stop the hysteria.

    There is still an oil refinery burning in Tokyo that has been on fire for three days. Shall we ban oil too?

    The economic difficulties with nuclear remain. But I think this event proves that the safety fears are groundless. Nevertheless it will be seized upon by ideological opponents to push back nuclear energy another decade. In the mean time I fear we will proudly trumpet building solar plants that generate a few Megawatts of power, and wonder why the earth keeps warming.

  38. Fran Barlow
    March 14th, 2011 at 15:35 | #38

    @rog

    In practice nuclear is also having enormous problems.

    The Finnish government got much too cute and instead of letting Areva run their own show, they wanted to impose local employment rules and intensive (local) bureaucratic oversight. Delays ensued. Costs escalated. The Finnish government however isn’t that bothered because in the end, it will still be worth it on energy independence and environmental grounds.

  39. rog
    March 14th, 2011 at 15:48 | #39

    @Fran Barlow

    What concerns me is that in both Finland and France structural defects were common and quality assurance was an ongoing issue.

    Will they have the same issues in China and India?

  40. March 14th, 2011 at 16:11 | #40

    The problem with nuclear power has been highlighted in Japan whatever the final outcome of these particular reactors is (and I hope it is good) – there is, in any human endeavour, the risk of accidents. Either accidents caused by human error, or, as in this case, accidents caused by the vagaries of natural events. While we accept this in all other aspects of technology – train crashes, sinking ships, fires, cyclones, floods, plane crashes, computer glitches – we can’t accept it in the nuclear power industry. The problem is that while a single accident anywhere else in our infrastructure may well cause a lot of death and destruction, that will be limited in extent, confined in geographic area, restricted in time span. An accident in nuclear infrastructure, as we saw in Chernobyl (25 years later farm animals in some parts of Europe are still picking up radiation), is not limited in any of those things. I really hope we don’t discover that awful truth in northern Japan but we may do. This is why the likes of Switkowski was able to rush a major article into Murdoch’s rag within a short time of the tsunami, and why he was on tv this morning. People like Switkowski, nuclear boosters, must not allow the public to be aware of the real risks, or the huge amount of money potentially to be made from pushing nuclear power in Australia may be lost. The hypocrisy of Murdoch using climate change to push nuclear power is breathtaking.

  41. Hermit
    March 14th, 2011 at 16:11 | #41

    @Ikonoclast
    So where in Australia will we put the new hydro? Note the biomass generators like the bagasse mills say the generous REC subsidy of 5c per kwh isn’t enough. Nuclear doesn’t want any subsidies, just a carbon price.

  42. Ikonoclast
    March 14th, 2011 at 16:45 | #42

    @TerjeP

    Extracting uranium from sea water is pure rubbish. Please read the document I linked to which mentions the costs of extraction of uranium from low grade solid ores. It reaches the point where the EROI (energy return on energy invested) is negative. Extraction of uranium from seawater is bound to be a negative EROEI proposition. No person who understands basic physics would be fooled by this absurd fallacy. I’ll post the facts as soon as I can.

  43. Alice
    March 14th, 2011 at 16:50 | #43

    @Socrates
    A summary of comments made by you on the Japanese nuclear emergency which bear little resemblance to evidence and are simply an uninformed personal opinion yet you complain re other uniformed experts.

    1. nobody has been harmed by nuclear radiation
    2. They couldn’t be – none of the reactors containment vessels have been breached.
    3. Even if there is a meltdown in one, the damage is economic (internal to the reactor), not to any human beings (external).
    4. The safety fears are groundless.

    Maybe you should closely examine your own preemptive conclusions Socrates. Then again maybe you should wait for real evidence. Imagine a quarter of a million people being evacuated – I cant imagine what for if there werent genuine safety concerns.

  44. Chris Warren
    March 14th, 2011 at 17:07 | #44

    Socrates :

    Once you have your blinkers on, reality cannot sink in.

    FACT:

    At least 15 people have been admitted to hospital with symptoms of radiation poisoning after a devastating earthquake damaged Japan’s Fukushima nuclear.

    DOGMA:

    As quokka said, nobody has been harmed by nuclear radiation.

    MORE DOGMA:

    So apart from a small amount of vented gas (not from the reactors) there has been no external threat.

    FACT:

    American warship USS “Ronald Regean” tries to dodge a radiation plume from broken Japanese nuclear reactors.

    Iodine is distributed to thousands precisely because of the threat Socrates and quokka have denied.

    Our nucloholics are truly inveterate, slow learners – impervious to all facts, even as they hit them from all sides.

    Denialists always crop-up, don’t they.

    Lets hope that any future comments from these two are somewhat better informed.

    The explosions have injured four people on site in an event that has created ten thousand missing. It is almost incidental.
    From an enginering point of view, the fact that a series of 40 year old reactors due for retirement can go through a magnitude 9 earthquake, plus severe tsunami, and still not cause any serious hazard is actually a great achievement. Maybe a month from now people will begin to realise that even after a severe natural disaster reactor containment technology of the 1970s was already good enough to preclude the possibility of another Chernobyl. Of course that won’t stop the hysteria.
    There is still an oil refinery burning in Tokyo that has been on fire for three days. Shall we ban oil too?
    The economic difficulties with nuclear remain. But I think this event proves that the safety fears are groundless. Nevertheless it will be seized upon by ideological opponents to push back nuclear energy another decade. In the mean time I fear we will proudly trumpet building solar plants that generate a few Megawatts of power, and wonder why the earth keeps warming.

  45. Sam
    March 14th, 2011 at 17:24 | #45

    @Ikonoclast
    That’s true for a once-through reactor design, only able to use about half of the U235 in natural uranium (so about 0.35% of total uranium). Terje is talking about a breeder reactor, which uses all the fuel, by converting the majority of u238 into fissile Pu239. The EROI of the latter approach is positive.

  46. Ken Fabos
    March 14th, 2011 at 17:38 | #46

    That the reactors have gone through a worst case scenario without catastrophic release of radioactive materials is something in their favour but having to use sea water as coolant seems to indicate it’s been a very close call. I have no doubt it will set back the ‘nuclear renaissance’; we only have to look to the whole climate issue to see how powerful and pervasive misinformation can be when wielded by those with gigadollars at staike. In this case the battle lines are already drawn between those who want action on emissions using nuclear and those who want action without using nuclear; the real winners are likely to be the fossil fuel interests just by default. I would note that it does seem that not all pro-nuclear activist are motivated by climate change; they were pro-nuclear before climate was an issue and politically some are staunchly opposed to environmentalism in it’s most visible forms. Resistance to carbon pricing – that IMO would be the most effective way to weaken popular anti-nuclear sentiment – is (sorry Hermit) almost as firm amongst the pro-nuclear commenters at BNC – as their hostility to investment in renewables.

    And all the while the fossil fuel industry has been the beneficiary of every bit of delayed commitment to a makeover of our energy sector and they are ‘friendly’ to nuclear only so long as it’s in addition to, not a replacement for, their products. As opponents to a widespread replacement of fossil fuels by nuclear go, the fossil fuel industry remains a far better positioned and more implacable force than anti-nuclear environmentalism – without need to show their hand. Even entrenched anti-nuclear sentiment is being used to their advantage.

  47. Sam
    March 14th, 2011 at 17:41 | #47

    @TerjeP You write
    i) price CO2 emissions if appropriate. We can debate how appropriate this is, how best to do it, and what the price should be but these are details. The point is that direct subsidies are not a good idea.

    Agreed

    ii) don’t mandate public liability insurance out of proportion to the mandates for other industries. There is clearly room for some debate about what is appropriate but the criteria should not be designed to stop nuclear but to manage the risks.

    Agreed. We should ensure that both solar and nuclear have the resources necessary to compensate citizens in the event of massive nuclear contamination caused by them. If I was a private insurer, I would be willing to cover the world’s solar industry against this risk for approximately $10.

  48. Fran Barlow
    March 14th, 2011 at 19:47 | #48

    @Sam

    An alternative option would be to offer a benchmark price for new capacity — $4.1bn per GW with 85% availability at full capacity and LOLP at the standards established by existing baseload supply. Assuming bidders meet due diligence, you then take the capacity that has the lowest CO2 lifecycle footprint by offering the winning bidder(s) loan guarantees to build allowing them to borrow with government backing.

    Once the capacity is built it is put into commercial operation for one year to establish that the plant can meet the standards of the specification. If it does, the state buys the plant from the developer at the offer price and tenders for operation of the facility. If it fails to meet the spec, government backing for the loan is withdrawn and the developers can please themselves. They own the plant. The state may choose to purchase it at a cost commensurate with its performance.

  49. Alice
    March 14th, 2011 at 19:50 | #49

    Nuclear kills but people also kill. 5 executives of Tepco, the Plant operator of Fukushima (it appears formed by an alliance of some of Japans largest and most recognisable firms that own it) TEPCO has had “a rocky past in an industry plagued by scandal”. In 2002, the president of the country’s largest power utility was forced to resign along with four other senior executives, taking responsibility for suspected falsification of nuclear plant safety records…..at the plants we discuss now.
    The problem with nuclear management comes back to the ethics of corporations who design, build and manage these things and there are plenty of examples of unethical, dangerous and unsustainable business practices in many industries especially in the past few decades (a plague of them)…but we cant afford that in nuclear. Its not a train wreck. Its not even a Tsunami or an earthquake which in time a country can recover from. Nuclear when wrecked has the potential for far worse and far more lasting consequences.

    Business cost concerns trump safety concerns far too often. If they didnt those nuclear reactors would NOT be situated on the very coastline that has a history of earthquakes and Tsunamis but unless a government is strong enough to regulate and even over regulate safety in, people will not trust nuclear, because you cannot trust the market to regulate itself. It is not efficient. In many instances you also cant trust the governments regulatory apparatus in the modern business world, hijacked as it has been by corporate interests in too many ugly examples.

    If Tepco didnt try to claw a bit more profit from an ageing plant (just another five year plan? then another??) – Fuskushima would have been decommissioned a month ago like it was supposed to be. Now its decommissioned anyway whether the owners like it or not. They arent pouring in seawater and boron because they hope to salvage the plant. They are doing that because they hope to prevent massive lawsuits.

    The market is punishing nuclear now and from the view of some in here, isnt the free market the best judge?

  50. hc
    March 14th, 2011 at 20:08 | #50

    Should we not be rational about the costs of the Japanese nuclear problem and wait and see what (if anything) the costs are? It is far too early to make a judgement now but probably accurate to foresee a wave of emotion-ridden debate arising. The point is not to ride the crest of irrationalism’s wave buqt to promote rational debate.

    Unmitigated climate change is very costly. The coal industry operating under conditions as normal produces 1000s of times the deaths of the nuclear industry. The tsunami is a terrible event with costs that utterly dominate – so far – the costs of the nuclear accidents in Japan

    Wait. Learn.

  51. jakerman
    March 14th, 2011 at 20:12 | #51

    You can extract uranium from sea water at reasonable cost for almost an eternity.

    Rubbish, its extraordinarily expensive, and is a net loss in energy to produced uranium form such low grade sources for nuclear power.

  52. jakerman
    March 14th, 2011 at 20:53 | #52

    Terje is talking about a breeder reactor, which uses all the fuel, by converting the majority of u238 into fissile Pu239. The EROI of the latter approach is positive.

    Sam, show me the data demonstrating net energy gain from uranium from sea water grade ore.

    Current nuclear power would take more than 10 years for a positive energy return on investment (quarter of design life), that is using our ore at 0.01% grade.

    http://www.isa.org.usyd.edu.au/publications/documents/ISA_Nuclear_Report.pdf

    Sea water is 3 parts per billion uranium, or 0.000,000,003%, that is7 order of magnitude less concentrate than the poorest economic ores currently used.

  53. jakerman
    March 14th, 2011 at 21:16 | #53

    Make that 0.000,000,3% or 5 order of magnitude lower grade.

    (Its been a long weekend).

  54. Ernestine Gross
    March 14th, 2011 at 21:44 | #54

    @jakerman

    Thank you for the reference – great break from the talking points.

  55. March 14th, 2011 at 23:20 | #55

    Maybe it’s Paul Sheehan’s ‘Magic Water’?

  56. March 14th, 2011 at 23:25 | #56

    While I partially agree with hc, this has to be a huge step back for uranium powered reactors. The cost of evacuating 200,000 people alone is likely to run into the billions, even if there’s no major damage, and that’s going to have to be factored into costings for future stations.

    It would be interesting to see an analysis of whether something like this at a thorium powered reactor would create the same sorts of problems. If a convincing case can be made that it wouldn’t thorium might have a future, but I very much doubt uranium does. Fusion of course wouldn’t be affected by this, but I don’t see any evidence that’s going to happen.

  57. sam
    March 15th, 2011 at 01:30 | #57

    @jakerman
    Long weekend for me too. Back of the envelope calculations and assumptions as follows.
    First, a small correction. EROEI is a fraction, energy out divided by energy in NOT energy out minus energy in. This means break even is at EROEI=1

    Energy required to extract uranium from seawater varies widely from 1 study to another.
    This paper argues the energy costs of uranium extraction should be similar to desal by reverse osmosis. Taking that at face value, and using
    2.5 Kwh / m^3 of seawater for reverse osmosis and
    3.3 *10^(-3) g uranium / m^3 seawater, I get
    2.9 *10^12 J to extract 1kg of uranium (check my arithmetic, it’s very late).

    This compares to energy yield from U235 and Pu239 fissions which are about the same – 83 *10^12 J / Kg (wikipedia, yeah I’m using it as a source, sue me). These are the isotopes used in a breeder reactor.

    So you put 2.9 TJ in and get 83 TJ out, EROEI= 28>1.

    The paper at this this site has lower estimates of the energy to produce 1 kilogram of uranium. There are other proposed methods more energy efficient than desal (algae for one). I couldn’t get energy estimates for them so I didn’t use them.

    It should be noted that both papers are against the idea for practical reasons, as am I. I’m a solar and wind kind of guy. For intellectual honesty’s sake however, I am compelled to say the EROEI for this endeavour is greater than 1.

  58. sam
    March 15th, 2011 at 01:41 | #58

    I should have also talked about the inefficiencies in converting fissile energy into electricity, and other things. Oh well, dividing things by 10 still gives you EROEI=2.8>1

  59. hc
    March 15th, 2011 at 02:27 | #59

    It still seems to me that the discussion of the nuclear issue in Japan, is to this point, hysteria:

    http://www.theaustralian.com.au/fearmongers-go-into-their-own-meltdown/story-fn84naht-1226021345281

  60. rog
    March 15th, 2011 at 05:58 | #60

    That is not fear Harry, it is a natural desire to avoid a situation that has a potential for harm.

    What has transpired is that naturally occurring events has placed the facility in what has been described as uncharted territory. Put simply, despite decades of research nuclear power advocates are unable to identify all of the risks so there will always be a risk of a release of radioactive material.

    In all the debates about the pros and cons – who would be happy to have a nuclear power generator in their town?

  61. March 15th, 2011 at 06:53 | #61

    Ah yes hc, those “fearmongers”, who could possibly be concerned about the risks of nuclear reactors eh? “Japan on meltdown alert” http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2011/03/15/3163913.htm?section=justin. Still, I guess The Australian knows best. Your regular source of information and opinion is it?

  62. paul walter
    March 15th, 2011 at 07:28 | #62

    Thanks Alice, Chris Warren, et al.
    Why people keep trying push solutions when they know full well that these are not yet scientifically and technically safe, continues to baffle me, unless they are paid shills for vested interests.

  63. jakerman
    March 15th, 2011 at 07:54 | #63

    Sam,

    Could you repost you first link (it didn’t work).

    Where did you get the factor of 10 for inefficiencies in conversion of theoretical energy to heat, to kinetic to electric energy?

  64. Alice
    March 15th, 2011 at 08:16 | #64

    @paul walter
    Shills it is Paul. If they spent half as much time shilling for some energy source that was truly sustainable Id be happy but that they wont even turn to any consideration of alternatives whatsoever – except to denounce things like solar and wind and water energy sources just makes them true shills to me. “Their evidence” is tainted, mass produced and obviously not objectively sourced throughout the bloosphere yet they just keep copying and pasting… its enough for me. They can have their renaissance here in this thread – all few of them. The rest of the world isnt so easily fooled.

  65. hc
    March 15th, 2011 at 08:20 | #65

    Rog, I am not concerned with the possibility of fear – I am fearful too – but I am concerned with getting the facts and not jumping on a hysterical bandwagon. The nuclear reactor costs might prove to be large but, on the basis of past experience, they are more likely to be massively exaggerated in the media. I think too the nuclear costs should be put into perspective in the current situation – significant areas in Japan have been wiped out and maybe tens of thousands have been killed.

    Why the narky comment David Horton?

  66. March 15th, 2011 at 08:34 | #66

    Why “hysteria” hc?

  67. Hermit
    March 15th, 2011 at 08:46 | #67

    Shills vs. the under-informed. I’d say Spain and Germany have given wind and solar a pretty good go. The result is Spain is cutting subsidies and Germany is building more coal fired power stations. Australia can afford more gas fired power stations for now but they’re not that clean and other demands for gas are looming. There is no physical possibility that non-hydro renewables can take us up to 20% energy supply by 2020, just 9 years away. Therefore if wind and solar cannot fill the gap then the reign of King Coal will have to be extended.

    It would be a bugger if there was no let up in coal use by the time the next El Nino arrives, some say in 2013. I’d suggest by then we’ll be paying over $2 a litre for petrol like the Brits though it will due to the high price of crude, not fuel taxes. Think of it …. overwhelming evidence of peak oil, climate change, high food prices , high electricity prices and little if any cuts to CO2 emissions. The shills are at least suggesting a partial solution.

  68. Ben
    March 15th, 2011 at 09:06 | #68

    @hc

    More denial. If this rag of a newspaper wants to say:

    many observers are now fantasising about a possible meltdown at a nuclear energy station that was badly shaken by the quake,

    then this is a direct denial of explosions, gas release, meltdowns and spreading radioactivity.

    If you spread this nonsense then you are a denialist.

    The science of nuclear power stations indicated that a meltdown was likely. Denialists deny this even as a possiblility.

    The meltdown has now occurred (fact) – so what does ‘hc’ say? Will it regurgitate the next inanity from this rag?

    The question now is how to ensure the melting nuclear reactors (plural) do not breech their containment vessels.

    As nuclear reactors go into meltdown, the denialists say the next generation is safer. When this ‘next generation’ goes into meltdown, the denialists still say, the next generation will be safer…ad nauseam.

    There are possibilities for perfectly renewable base-load power generation that need further research and development – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Osmotic_power

    If the resources being used for uranium mining, processing, power generation, maintenance, research and development, disaster relief, cleanup, decommissioning, waste storage, were used to develop baseload renewables, we would that much closer to reducing carbon emissions.

    But our capitalist investors are misdirecting investment down destructive pathways – happy in the expectation that the harm they cause to the environment will be visited on far-off generations.

    Why do folks like hc exist? What is the level of membrane research in Australia?

  69. Chris Warren
    March 15th, 2011 at 09:07 | #69

    Not Ben – just stupid software.

  70. Freelander
    March 15th, 2011 at 09:09 | #70

    What’s a little irradiation between friends?

  71. hc
    March 15th, 2011 at 09:16 | #71

    Arrrr….

  72. Alice
    March 15th, 2011 at 09:27 | #72

    There has been a third explosion heard – this time from the no two plant and workers have been evacuated.

    No one is fantasising here – Companies are sending their foreign employees home from their Tokyo postings because of it, the japanes have evactuated a quarter of a million people – its only the rag newspapers in Australia and the true denialist faithful who are imaging there is a problem.

    Thank goodness the denialists dont run the SES here.

  73. Alice
    March 15th, 2011 at 09:28 | #73

    should read “imagining there isnt a problem”

  74. bill
    March 15th, 2011 at 10:00 | #74

    Those who are indeed ‘imagining there isn’t a problem’ might want to spend some time here – http://jibtv.com/program/?page=0.

    TEPCO press conference: ‘We apologise for causing inconvenience and concerns among the public’; the politeness and restraint of much of this discussion is remarkable for those more used to the western ‘media circus’ model!

  75. Ernestine Gross
    March 15th, 2011 at 10:01 | #75

    Oh dear or dear, there is a communications war in the making and, I see, to my delight, Freelander is using his clever survival strategy in this war of words to good effect.

    I don’t have much time at present. But it looks to me as if the spruikers of ‘clean’, ‘cheap’, ‘safe’ ‘reliable base load energy’, supplied by standardised nuclear power plants located close to where the demand is and operated along ‘best practice’ methods, have a hell of a job to calm down the assumed hysteria. But it gets worse in each round. For example, there are pictures of Tokyo with the lights off. Has anybody said the hysteria is due to people’s fear of the dark? Not to my knowledge.

    It looks to me it is fear of irradiation that is the postulated source of the assumed hysteria and this will have to be shown to be irrational or, a little less stupidly, due to people’s unsatisfied demand for information. But this communication strategy doesn’t work very well either. For example, the smh contains the following:

    “Still, it did happen and even though the media are running giant headlines about radiation leakage, in fact the amount that has leaked out has affected people in the area considerably less than a typical chest X-ray.”
    Source: http://www.smh.com.au/environment/new-era-of-honesty-in-a-time-of-crisis-20110314-1bujy.html

    Where is the information on time of exposure?

    And so forth.

    Our Prime Minister conveyed all the relevant information in a line : “We don’t need nuclear power.” (Why? Because Australia, in contrast to Japan, is not an energy poor, densely populated country. No hysteria required; the information obtained makes sense.)

  76. sam
    March 15th, 2011 at 10:18 | #76

    @jakerman
    Apologies Jakerman. Here is the link to the first paper http://ideas.repec.org/a/gam/jsusta/v2y2010i4p980-992d7855.html
    Apparently I can’t hyperlink anymore.

    I admit I plucked the “divide by 10″ fudge factor out of the air last night as a conservative best guess. The conversion of heat to work in a steam power plant operating with a reactor temperature of say 700K and ambient temperature of 300 K gives a maximum theoretical efficiency of 57%. That’s to kinetic, not electric. Dynamo efficiency is around 80%, so total max theoretical efficiency is 45%.
    For the real world, this news article
    http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2006/reactors-0920.html
    quotes typical efficiencies of PWR and BWR reactor types of 33%. Ignore the “news” of a sudden increase in efficiency reported in the story, it’s the bog standard “old” efficiency rate I’m interested in. So we have 33% as a reasonable figure. I said 10% initially, let’s keep that lower number to account for other miscellaneous energy costs like processing.

    Remember, my goal is not to cheerlead for the nuclear industry (far from it), but only to debunk the too-strong claim that EROEI here must be less than one as a matter of “basic physics.”

  77. sam
    March 15th, 2011 at 10:22 | #77

    @jakerman
    I did reply, but the links I put in have set off the automatic moderator. Hopefully it should only take a couple of hours.

  78. Chris Warren
    March 15th, 2011 at 10:25 | #78

    3rd explosion….

    Of course the nuclear industry and subverted officials are lying through their teeth, (until the awful truth comes out that is), see: UK Telegraph .

    After insisting for three days that the situation was under control, Japan urgently appealed to US and UN nuclear experts for technical help on preventing white-hot fuel rods melting.

    But the real problem is: if we allow Japan and America to develop an unfair competitive advantage by using cheap nuke power, what happens when every other nation expects to do the same: Nigeria, Colombia, Fiji, Sri Lanka. So in a few generations the globe could well have to suffer around 100 partial meltdowns and associated emergency releases of radioactivity in any number of poorly regulated states, and the entire earth’s atmosphere will become nothing less than cancer-causing muck.

    Why would any moral agent accede to this development? when base-load renewables can be developed?

  79. March 15th, 2011 at 10:33 | #79

    No amount of argument along the lines of Fran’s “it may be a slightly dangerous but it’s very efficient” line can overcome most people’s gut reaction that “it may be slightly efficient but it’s very dangerous”. If that seems irrational to an economist it simply exposes how divorced economic thinking can be from the way humans actually behave. Like it or not, things that can explode are never make popular neighbours no matter how much an economist may love them.

    Incidentally there are now high radiation level readings half way between the plants and Tokyo according to ABC Japan Earthquake Live.

  80. Ernestine Gross
    March 15th, 2011 at 10:42 | #80

    @Chris Warren

    1. As you probably know from the literature on economic development, uneven development (Hymer’s term) persists because there is a tendency to intensify (physical) capital usage through technological inventions and innovatons rather than spreading an existing technology throughout the world. I understand you are hinting at that.

    2. I understand your second point deals with a negative externality which, over time can be global just like AGW. If I understand correctly, then you would agree with those who say a pollution price of nuclear power has to be determined now to avoid a repetition of the ghg emission problem, largely due to fossil fuel burning.

  81. Ernestine Gross
    March 15th, 2011 at 10:45 | #81

    @Ian Milliss

    There may be some economists who are as divorced from reality as you say. Fortunately not all of them and hopefully only a tiny minority.

  82. Ernestine Gross
    March 15th, 2011 at 10:46 | #82

    @Ernestine Gross
    Ask Fran whether she is an economist.

  83. Ernestine Gross
    March 15th, 2011 at 10:47 | #83

    The foregoing post, #31, p 2, was meant to be addressed to Ian Milliss.

  84. March 15th, 2011 at 10:57 | #84

    @Ernestine Gross
    Fair point, it was more a comment on those who still think economic self interest is (or perhaps should be) the major determinant of human behaviour. I realise I’m parodying that position and anyway it’s not predominant around here. I thought Fran wasn’t an economist, is that true Fran?

  85. sam
    March 15th, 2011 at 11:24 | #85

    @Fran Barlow
    That sounds too complicated for me. What’s wrong with the carbon price?

  86. derrida derider
    March 15th, 2011 at 12:12 | #86

    According to the World Nuclear Organisation, at current prices and rates of usage we have well over a century’s worth of uranium ore in known deposits. At higher prices, we have several century’s worth. At about ten times current prices (which, since uranium extraction is only a small part of the cost of nuclear power, doesn’t change the overall economics much) we can indeed extract uranium from seawater. And all that is without thinking about breeder reactors.

    “Peak Uranium” is a very long way off. It’s just more disinformation spread by the anti-nukes. This propensity for someone just making **** up and then having it repeated uncritically all over the net really **** me off; when it comes to nuclear power you have to endlessly verify every statement by both sides.

  87. Ikonoclast
    March 15th, 2011 at 12:24 | #87

    As the dimensions of the Japanese nuclear crisis grow, I notice the proponents of nuclear power getting quieter and quieter. It is well they should. They were too quick to pronounce it a “minor incident” and then to pronounce two “minor incidents” and then three “minor incidents”. And so it goes… as Kurt Vonnegut said.

    It now also appears that these incidents are not minor, not under control, hundreds of people have been exposed already and meltdowns or multiple meltdowns are still possible. Even if a category 7 incident is avoided it will have been a close run thing. The risk-benefit analysis of nuclear power is overwhelmingly negative.

    It has also become more prominent with more publicity of the public records, that those in charge of the Japanese nuclear industry have a proven track record of lying, cheating, covering up and minimising scores of nuclear incidents in the past. The performance of nuclear reactors, those who run them and those who promote them can inspire no confidence at all.

    Let’s hope one general good to come out of this is the ultimate global de-commissioning of this entire blighted, decaying and dead end industry. Nuclear power is an environmental crime.

  88. Fran Barlow
    March 15th, 2011 at 12:44 | #88

    @sam

    What’s wrong with the carbon price?

    There’s nothing wrong with a carbon price. I am, as you know, a strong advocate of an explicit price, ideally through an ETS-like mechanism.

    That said, while one part of the challenge involves levelling the playing field so that the unreasonable competitive advantage of those sources of energy able to profit from an externality provided by the commons (in this case the right to treat the biosphere as a free industrial sewer) is destroyed by putting a price on this dumping that is fully internalised, the other part involves offering those willing to pay the “no dump-adjusted” price indirect and direct access to technologies that meet this standard. In NSW, for example, generation capacity is owned by the state, and changing from coal to some low-lifecycle CO2e-emissions source will involve some expensive restructuring. I favour public ownership but if a CO2e price is imposed, it will be imposed upon the state in this case. This starts to blur the lines between a “market mechanism” and simple state policy. If the funds raised by a CO2e price go to the Feds the distinction between private and public can be rendered moot since any generators — whether state owned or private can contract, or subcontract as suits them with the state backing the loans using funds from the price.

  89. Socrates
    March 15th, 2011 at 12:55 | #89

    Despite being a proponent of nuclear power, I have to agree that the Daiichi reactor problems are now very serious. The Japanese PM has just said signifcant radioactivity (>100 mSv per hour) has been detected external to the reactors. That is dangerous. It sounds like at least one of the reactor containment vessels has been breached. If so, this is now worse than Three Mile Island.

  90. Sam
    March 15th, 2011 at 13:07 | #90

    @Fran Barlow
    Fran, perhaps I’m being obtuse. When I asked “What’s wrong with a carbon price?” I meant, “What’s wrong with using only a carbon price to determine which kind of generators to use, and allowing prospective owners to simply use the cheapest financing they can access?” Your reply mentioned public versus private ownership but did not make clear to me why this would make a difference.

  91. Fran Barlow
    March 15th, 2011 at 13:09 | #91

    @Ikonoclast

    Let’s hope one general good to come out of this is the ultimate global de-commissioning of this entire blighted, decaying and dead end industry. Nuclear power is an environmental crime.

    That would be a massive own goal. You cannot support highly urbanised and densely populated urban societies without reliable energy. As things stand, that energy comes in the form of coal, gas, hydro, oil or nuclear, the last of which represents about 16% of stationary generation. Remove that and you either have to get that 16% from the others or contrive and roll out some new source of similar heft. For reasons that are simply obvious, that cannot occur any time soon. Indeed, one of the arguments raised against nuclear power is that its capacity to replace fossil hydrocarbons cannot match the speed at which we should replace them. Renewables cannot be rolled out at the scale required at a speed more rapid than nuclear either and if nuclear were to be removed the gap would be larger yet.

    What your proposal really entails therefore is a demand for reductions in stationary energy available to humans of about 16%, concentrated in large part in countries that are developing their industry. I am going to go out on a limb and suggest that this will hold very little appeal for them and that even if they were somewhat chastened by the events at Fukushima, they would simply turn more sharply to coal and gas, with results far more pernicious to humanity in general and to their own populations in particular than nuclear power.

    No government, not even a dictatorship, is going to impose deliberately, the kind of austerity your hope implies for their population. OK — Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime was a bizarre exception — fascinated as it was by the idea of returning to mediaeval ecstacies of Angkor Wat — but its democidal rule was thankfully shortlived. The Chinese regime seems happy enough to accept the terrible health consequences of coal and gas, and to mess with the environment using projects like Three Gorges, but they know that if the people in the cities start becoming poor, they won’t hang onto power. They plan, AIUI to ensure that by 2020 as much as 20% of their stationary energy will come from nuclear power. South Korea has just built and brought online a nuclear plant in 4.5 years and that’s a good thing.

    It would be better if advocates of “renewables” spent less time attacking nuclear power and more time showing how “renewables” can step up and shoulder the burdens now borne by coal and gas and oil at a price, an environmental cost and on a timeline that is viable. Know this: right now, Australia’s fleet of coal-fired power stations is mostly within 15 years or less of having operated for long enough to amortise their sunk costs. Soon they will start being replaced and if renewables aren’t ready — and they won’t be — we will get some new gas plants or perhaps some ultra supercritical coal with subsidised CC&S and then we will have to wait another 40 years before pushing them offline.

    While I don’t doubt your sincerity, in practice, that is the most likely consequence of the hopes of people such as you.

  92. Ernestine Gross
    March 15th, 2011 at 13:21 | #92

    Ikonoclast, I canot recall one instance where you said anything for which the statement: “You cannot support highly urbanised and densely populated urban societies without reliable energy.” would be a rejoinder. Is my aging memory letting me down?

    I recall one person (there may be others) promoting high density urban development. But I am still sure it was not you.

  93. jakerman
    March 15th, 2011 at 13:51 | #93

    Between $US43-46 billion of subsidies were granted to renewables and biofuels in 2009, either through direct grants or market-based mechanisms such as feed-in tariffs, renewable energy credits or certificates, tax credits, and other direct subsidies.

    Hundreds of Billions is the estimated Economic cost of the Chernobyl accident. Add this to the super subsidees of Military spending that have pushed developmont of nuclear research for 6 decades.

    http://www.earthtrack.net/files/uploaded_files/nuclear%20subsidies_report.pdf

    The recent International Energy Agency estimate of $US557 billion that world governments spent on subsidising fossil fuels in 2008. The G20 group has pledged, but not yet acted, to reduce those subsidies.

    http://www.climatespectator.com.au/commentary/energy-subsidies-funding-renewables-cleantech-oil

  94. Fran Barlow
    March 15th, 2011 at 13:52 | #94

    @Sam

    Fran, perhaps I’m being obtuse. When I asked “What’s wrong with a carbon price?” I meant, “What’s wrong with using only a carbon price to determine which kind of generators to use, and allowing prospective owners to simply use the cheapest financing they can access?

    I’m all for using the CO2 price as a guidepost for investment and for abatement programs. Nevertheless, one thing states are especially good at doing relative to private business is securing longterm infrastructure finance and it makes sense that they should use this advantage and then pass it on to end users. This in turn gives the state good leverage over the parameters (rather than the specific suites of technologies) with which public policy should concern itself. We get a technologically neutral process in which the outcomes reflect the demands of public policy.

    I should add that while I am very much in favour of a CO2e price — and a strong ($80-$150 per tonne) and a ubiquitous no loopholes one at that, not everyone who supports active mitigation (and not even all on the left) likke the idea of an explicit price on CO2e. Some prefer a direct state investment and regulation model but whichever method one uses, one will still need some vehicle for implementing the new LETs. The threshhold for private investors to become involved needs to be as close to the adjusted CO2 price as possible, without the exposure to longterm loan prices becoming a factor.

    We certainly do want scaleable, high potential, low-emissions technology to be rolled out as cheaply as possible, ASAP and before new old-technology plants start to come on line.

  95. Ernestine Gross
    March 15th, 2011 at 13:54 | #95

    Talking about electricity prices, the domestic electricity price has gone up locally for many self-funded retired people because the value of the ASX All Ord (broad share price index in Australia has declined by almost 10% over the past few days (with uranium miners down, down, down).

  96. Fran Barlow
    March 15th, 2011 at 13:55 | #96

    @Ian Milliss

    FTR, I am not an economist. I’m not sure why that is relevant though.

  97. Chris Warren
    March 15th, 2011 at 14:02 | #97

    @Fran Barlow

    Fran has mis-spoke.

    It would be a saving grace – particularly if the resources were directed to developing baseload renewables and high capacity storage.

    After Three-mile Island, after Chernobyl, after Japan, and after the next catastrophe, maybe then, even the slow-learners will catch up.

    The science appears to show that the current levels of greenhouse gas induce ongoing climate warming, so as the public will now be more adverse to nuclear, we must push for more development of renewable baseload sources.

    We can also buy time, and reduce the task, by restricting population growth, so I see no sense in Fran’s opportunistic quip about Pol Pot. This just shows she has no control over her own arguments.

  98. jakerman
    March 15th, 2011 at 14:10 | #98

    The figure for renewable subsidees is about $US38-39 billion if we leave out the perverse US ethanol subsides with is a backhander to biotech like Monsanto.

    http://www.globalsubsidies.org/en/research/biofuel-subsidies-united-states/

  99. Chris Warren
    March 15th, 2011 at 14:12 | #99

    @Ernestine Gross

    re 1.

    I tentatively see politics and gaming as being greater determinants of capital intensification and technology spread, than developmental economics.

    Development economists should take their proper place – either as clerks and managers developing and administering UN programs (clean water, schooling and health facilities, anti-malaria programs etc) or as part of the commentariat on the sidelines.

    This is too complex to progress much further here.

  100. Fran Barlow
    March 15th, 2011 at 14:16 | #100

    @Ian Milliss

    No amount of argument along the lines of Fran’s “it may be a slightly dangerous but it’s very efficient” line can overcome most people’s gut reaction that “it may be slightly efficient but it’s very dangerous”. If that seems irrational to an economist it simply exposes how divorced economic thinking can be from the way humans actually behave.

    Gut reactions are a bad way of determining public policy, as a survey of recent policy in “defence”, immigration, social security, indigenous policy, drug policy and especially AGW etc would easily show.

    The populist counter-position of “economists’ thinking” and “the way humans actually behave” is surely out of place here. I’m also not sure humans are by and large consistent in working out what to do. Sometimes an attempt is made to evaluate things using apparently reliable, salient data and good modelling, and on other occasions, it’s a lucky dip. A recent survey in the US, apparently conducted on acceptance of AGW, showed that people’s tendencies to accept the science were positively correlated with how warm the setting they did the survey was. Hmmm …

    As has been pointed out often enough, people say they are bothered by the idea of getting cancer from exposure to radiation, but in Sydney one won’t have to drive more than 5kms to find a place offering people the chance to lie in ultra-violet light and on any warm day, public health warnings notwithstanding, otherwise rational people can be found sunbaking on beaches and in parks. People buy granite benchtops, and take long distance flights without being in the least bit troubled about their exposure to radiation.

    Even today, one sees advertisements appealing to those who want their house hygeinic and pleasant smelling inviting people to “defend” their homes from pathogens, embarrassing small fauna and evil odours by dousing their residences in toxic chemicals likely to be orders of magnitude more dangerous than the things they are repelling/extinguishing.

    Fear not based on something like an informed and careful appreciation of the risks and benefits of this or that action is purely cultural, and in the case of nuclear power, this is what one hears. Many adults who laugh generously when small children say they fear the dark or that there is a monster under the bed, respond viscerally when someone mentions “terrorism”, “boats”, “taxes”, “p*dophiles”, “drugs” or “nuclear plant”.

    It would be amusing if it weren’t such a shame.

Comment pages
1 2 3 9586
Comments are closed.