Home > Economics - General, Environment > No nuclear renaissance

No nuclear renaissance

March 17th, 2011

That’s the title of my piece in today’s Fin, an expanded version of my post here earlier this week

No nuclear renaissance

As the crisis in Japan continues to worsen, advocates of nuclear power have hastened to offer reassurance that their preferred power source is still a viable option in the race to replace carbon-based sources of energy. The earthquake and tsunami represent an extreme worst case, unlike to be observed in less seismically active areas than Japan.

So far at least, the worst case outcomes of a core meltdown and Chernobyl-style release of radioactivity have been avoided. Although some radioactive steam has been omitted, the total health risks remain far below those of coal-fired power, even disregarding CO2 emissions.

As Ziggy Switkowski observed yesterday, “We will learn from the tragic Japanese experience how to build more robust reactors, how to ensure multiple layers of protection work properly, how to better contain radioactive gases,”

All these points are valid, but, unfortunately, irrelevant. The attempt to restart the nuclear industry, sometimes optimistically called the ‘nuclear renaissance’ was already on the edge of failure before this crisis. Even with the best possible outcomes from the current crisis, nuclear power is off the agenda for a decade or more, at least in the developed world.

The nuclear renaissance was launched in the United States by George W Bush with the Nuclear Power 2010 program, unveiled in 2002. This was followed by the Energy Policy Act of 2005 which authorized $18.5 billion in loan guarantees. All of these initiatives were carried on and extended by the Obama Administration, which proposing to triple federal loan guarantees.

The initial reaction was highly positive, with dozens of proposals being announced. By the end of 2008, 26 proposals had been received by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. But by the end of 2010, more than half of these had been abandoned, and ground had been broken on only two sites, with a total of four reactors. In October 2010, Constellation Energy pulled out of a joint venture with French firm EDF, saying that more loan guarantees, with less stringent conditions, were needed. Similar problems have emerged in France, Finland and other developed countries, where construction projects have encountered delays and massive cost over-runs, with the result that plans for expansion have been scaled back sharply.

Even assuming the best possible outcome from the Japanese crisis, the economic case for nuclear power, already fragile, has been severely, and probably fatally, damaged. At least eleven reactors have been taken off line. Three of the reactors at the Fukushima site have already been rendered permanently inoperable by the pumping of seawater into the storage pools and three others may follow. The evacuation of 200 000 people, at a time when the earthquake and tsunami have already stretched resources to the limit, will have massive costs, running into the billions unless the situation is resolved rapidly.

Doubtless, as Switkowski has argued, the failures in cooling and containment systems that gave rise to the present crisis can be overcome and reactor designs modified to improve safety. But safety doesn’t come cheap, and redesigns mean delay. With no prospect of any further increases in subsidies and loan guarantees, it seems likely that most of the proposals for new nuclear power plants in the US will be abandoned. And, if only for reasons of diversification and speed of construction, the lost Japanese reactors will probably be replaced by gas-fired plants, with some renewables.

But why are the economics of nuclear so bad? In part, it is simply a matter of technology. Nuclear power has turned out to be more expensive than its advocates have expected, while alternative sources of energy, particularly gas, have become cheaper. Even solar photovoltaics, long seen as impractical, are now cost competitive with nuclear on some calculations.

But the crucial problem for nuclear power has been fear. Fears about safety have meant that nuclear power plants have been held to much higher safety standards than alternatives like coal, which routinely spew pollutants of all kinds into the atmosphere.

More important than these fears, however, is the fear and ignorance displayed by those who have obstructed the most important single factor needed for nuclear power to become viable – a price on emissions of carbon dioxide. Some claim, like Lord Monckton, that climate science is a plot to restore the fortunes of global communism. Others like Cardinal Pell, who apparently believes that nitrogen is a greenhouse gas, say that, having ‘studied this stuff a lot’, they are qualified to overrule the experts.

Ironically, many opponents of climate science pose as defenders of nuclear power. In reality, they are its deadliest enemies.

Categories: Economics - General, Environment Tags:
  1. iain
    March 18th, 2011 at 21:29 | #1

    @TerjeP

    Terje,

    Fukushima 1 was built just one decade after the 9.5 magnitude Valdivia earthquake, which caused tsunamis over 25 metres. These tsunamis reached Japan at the time. Yet they only designed the Fukushima facility for a much, much lower 8.2 magnitude earthquake rating.

    If you state that “designing and constructing with the inclusion of safety features probably adds little to the cost of nuclear”, why could they not even design this plant to meet an earthquake/tsunami scenario that had occurred just a few years previously? Why did they design such appallingly inadequate contingency cooling systems in the face of this scenario?

    If it wasn’t cost, what other reasons? Blind optimism? Over arrogance in the face of prudent risk analysis? Lack of humility to the possibility of failure, perhaps ? An inability to take on constructive criticism?

    The nuclear industry needs to pull it’s head in.

  2. iain
    March 19th, 2011 at 07:10 | #2

    @iain

    And here is more unhelpful comments from Barry Brook:

    “Why wasn’t the earthquake design basis set high enough?, some people ask. What if the next earthquake is magnitude 10? Magnitude 12? Magnitude 20? But where does it stop? Where do you set the design basis? What if the reactor is attacked by Godzilla?

    No matter where you set the design basis, you will always exceed it one day, eventually. And when you do, the anti-nuclearists will complain that the design basis is not set high enough.

    There is always some really extreme, really catastrophic situation that you can imagine, but what is its probability in any given year?

    It’s all about Probabilistic Risk Assessment.”

    Indeed, Barry.

    Fukushima 1 was built just one decade after the 9.5 magnitude Valdivia earthquake, which caused tsunamis over 25 metres. These tsunamis reached Japan at the time. Yet they only designed the Fukushima facility for a much, much lower 8.2 magnitude earthquake rating.

    This isn’t some fantasy playland with Godzilla running around. This is a reality that the nuclear zealots don’t live in.

  3. Ernestine Gross
    March 19th, 2011 at 07:44 | #3

    Checkmate in 2 moves, Iain.

  4. Alice
    March 19th, 2011 at 07:51 | #4

    @iain
    There is one other reason Iain – regulatory capture and corruption – per todays smh a wikileaks cable suggests the Indian govt made payments to MPs to secure their support for a nuclear deal between India and the US. The cash available for “bribes” was $11million.
    Now where exactly did the money come from – which firms?, with the help of which foreign government??

    You cant even rely on government processes, safety and risk measures when this sort of insidious money stream pollutes all and we know we cant rely on nuclear firms or the nuclear industry to do the right thing so in short despite all the noise ….adequate safety measures and real risk costing and real risk prevention are never going to happen in this industry.

    When Barry Brook talks about Godzillas – he means the ones running the nuclear energy firms.

  5. Ikonoclast
    March 19th, 2011 at 08:01 | #5

    Godzilla functions as a triple allegory for earthquake, tsunami and nuclear destruction. It’s part of a long tradition of cultural response to the “existential instability of their island life”.

    http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/03/14/land_of_disaster?print=yes&hidecomments=yes&page=full

  6. Alice
    March 19th, 2011 at 08:30 | #6

    @Ikonoclast
    Ikono
    The nuclear plant chief has cried following a media conference and they have admitted there may be no alternatives but to bury the reactors under sand and concrete and that they have no idea if their water bombiung techniques are working. The fire is growing so obviously its not. Radiation from this mess has now been detected in places as far away as the UK and the US.

    They may have only rated the disaster as five as at today, but this is a Chernobyl. Enough with the downplaying of the risks by the stream of so called experts, the Japanese government and the media of this disaster.

    Lies, lies and damn pro nuclear liars.

  7. Donald Oats
    March 19th, 2011 at 09:17 | #7

    @iain

    Thanks Iain, for posing the rhetorical question that puts the lie to the “unknown unknowns” argument floating around the ether. Unknown unknowns might be a defence where it is so; hardly a defence when one of the unknowns is known (ah, Rummy-speak, gotta luv it; pity about the original context). It’s a guess but they probably felt that a 9+ earthquake was rarer than a one in a hundred year event so they could ignore it.

  8. iain
    March 19th, 2011 at 10:01 | #8

    @Donald Oats

    A key challenge in the future is the concept of a “one in a hundred year” event. At present it is “past calculated”. Climate change, necessarily, requires that “one in a hundred years” events be recalibrated.

    For example:
    “It’s not your imagination: Disasters keep rising”
    http://www.businessinsider.com/rise-of-natural-disasters-2011-3

  9. iain
    March 19th, 2011 at 10:04 | #9
  10. Ernestine Gross
    March 19th, 2011 at 12:01 | #10

    TerjeP :

    for the irrational positions you accuse JQ of having

    Alice – I did not accuse JQ of being irrational. I accused him of pandering to the irrational fears of others and suggested that he should instead uses his energies to dispell irrational fears rather than accommodating them.

    True, you did not accuse Professor Quiggin of being irrational. However your advice to him that he should use his energies to dispell irrational fears makes no sense to me. A rational person would not spend energy to dispell something which is not there.

    Only you can dispell from your head the belief that there is irrational fear in others.

    Incidentally, you wrote a lot in favour of “freedom”, I recall. It seems to me the defence of individuals’ freedom from the imposition of further significant negative externalities in the production of electricity is left to those who feel more comfortable with a social-democratic perspective than with a libertarian.

  11. Alice
    March 19th, 2011 at 15:28 | #11

    @Ernestine Gross
    Like me Ernestine?
    Ive had enough of the freedom of the firm (freedom from taxes, freedom from regulation, freedom to abuse) to last me a lifetime.
    Make no mistake the position pof pro nuclear activists is a distinctly political one and its another denialist position and its a conservative right position and its a pro vested interest position and its a pro paltry inadequate regulation position and its just plain wrong and every bastard who gets in here spouting the dear Professor Barry Brooks (Dr Evil) makes my blood boil – just like the spent fuel rods cooling pool has boiled away.

    Not only that those spent fuel rods were blown to smithereens in the explosion – its not even a matter of the fact that their water boiled dry and they are all nicely sitting in a circle in place waithing for more cooling water to be connected – they were blown up and could be anywhere in the mess releasing plutonium

    – not that Barry bloody Brooks would tell the truth.

  12. Alice
    March 19th, 2011 at 17:40 | #12

    Here is the last post I can find on bravenewclimate on the nuclear catastrophe in Japan – while Barry is hawking himself all over town to get television interviews..does he get paid for that?

    “Womensplaywow, on 19 March 2011 at 5:30 PM said:

    LAST POST! Clearly no straight talking here, I’m going back to WOW. BTW the kids are asking questions and they will remember if they are lied to.”

    Not pretty Barry. (Dont ever make me be polite to this so called learned academic ever again Prof. I have my dignity. He has not one ounce of credibility or integrity left).

  13. quokka
    March 19th, 2011 at 21:18 | #13

    @Alice

    If you have evidence that “spent fuel rods were blown to smithereens in the explosion” why don’t you produce it instead of engaging in personal attacks?

    I think fact free scare mongering is bloody irresponsible. There are a substantial number of people worldwide who have absolutely no idea of what health risks they or the population of Japan may or may not face. Fueling wild speculation just pointlessly adds to their distress.

  14. March 19th, 2011 at 23:44 | #14

    this seems to be the most comprehensive but brief historical summary I have seen so far of the risk involved in the nuclear industry. http://english.aljazeera.net/indepth/opinion/2011/03/2011317104344324144.html#

  15. Alice
    March 20th, 2011 at 06:46 | #15

    @quokka
    google it Quokka

  16. rog
    March 20th, 2011 at 06:49 | #16

    Now that it has been established that all designs have the potential to fail I guess the question will be, what would be a safe exclusion zone for existing and proposed nuclear powered facilities?

  17. Alice
    March 20th, 2011 at 07:40 | #17

    For anyone interested in discovering too late that the nuclear industry is completely unsustainable and cannot even handle or deal with its own waste – let alone fix this mess – see the below – There are safety concerns here there and everywhere (huge ugly blatant safety concerns) and you dont have to be a nuclear scientist to realise the industry, like most industries is about short term profits and not safety.

    http://maddowblog.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2011/03/16/6281333-whats-the-deal-with-spent-nuclear-fuel?pc=25&sp=25

  18. Hermit
    March 20th, 2011 at 09:25 | #18

    If new baseload generators are gas fired it means even higher electricity bills and very little prospect of ever cutting CO2 by 80%. Australia courtesy of coal seam gas and the US courtesy of ‘fracking’ of shale both believe they have decades of assured gas supply. Several factors could derail this including aquifer damage compensation, rapid depletion of ‘fracked’ wells and a massive shift to compressed natural gas as a diesel substitute in heavy vehicles. Therefore the price of gas must escalate rapidly.

    As it stands a $25 carbon tax is just enough to favour gas over coal for new baseload in NSW. The next question is whether the administrative CO2 price will rise faster than the market based gas price. However in Victoria the cheapness of brown coal ($6 a tonne) enables it to afford a higher carbon tax burden and still work out cheaper than gas for many years to come. On its own a politically affordable carbon tax will lead to some short term belt tightening eg Victorians will still burn brown coal but use less electricity. After that I suggest the early gains will peter out if there is no large scale technology switch.

  19. Ernestine Gross
    March 20th, 2011 at 09:40 | #19

    @Hermit

    Well, you are making a good case for the further development and deployment of renewables – solar, wind, geothermal, biomass … , depending on the local conditions. This program, together with an application of insights from the second fundamental welfare theorem (the Federal Governments proposals are consistent with this) makes the future look much less worrisome than what you paint. I would go as far as saying the future looks much more promising and interesting than the present.

  20. Fran Barlow
    March 20th, 2011 at 09:56 | #20

    @Hermit

    As it stands a $25 carbon tax is just enough to favour gas over coal for new baseload in NSW

    It may well be enough to ensure that more CO2-efficient coal plants displace capacity supplied by older and less efficient ones. If this occurs it could lead to an accelerated program of closures of this old capacity, since many of these were/are approaching the end of their useful life. It could make super-critical coal more viable. It might also push down the value of plants like Hazelwood and make it possible to close this plant at relatively modest cost.

    Another interesting possibility is resort to geothermal technologies in areas where there are significant seams of lignite. AIUI, some feasibility work has been put into this and while the heat is not as abundant as in the Cooper Basin HDR project the fact that it is relatively shallow and of course in areas handy to the grid improves its potential utility. I’m not sure exactly how much this stands to contribute to capacity, but last I heard, the installed costs for 50MW (yes it’s not much) being bandied about put it at least in the ballpark — about $5m per MW. If this is close to being right, and we could get to a price closer to about $50 per tonne on CO2, this would surely be in the frame.

    Has anyone heard anything more recent than mid-last year about this?

  21. Ernestine Gross
    March 20th, 2011 at 10:23 | #21

    @Hermit

    There is another positive development in progress, which our host addresses in his latest post, titled “Howled-down-in-a-pomo world” and filed under the category name ‘boneheaded stupidity’.

    http://johnquiggin.com/index.php/archives/2011/03/19/howled-down-in-a-pomo-world/

    Professor Quiggin uses the term ‘vulgar post-modernism’, a quite meaningful characterisation as far as I am concerned and a term that might become even more popular than ‘spin’. Imagine how pleasant life will be when this pomo nuisance is gone.

  22. BlueRock
    March 21st, 2011 at 00:58 | #22

    Good analysis. Thanks, John.

    ~~~

    Alice :
    Barry Brook is a dangerous zealot.

    I presume Brook is a good climate scientist – but he really should have stuck to his area of expertise. He’s an ideologue when it comes to energy and incites a lot of flawed, dangerous beliefs – both pro-nuke and anti-renewable. We clearly see it with some of the regular commenters on this blog, regurgitating the nonsense.

    ~~~

    Chris Warren :
    BNC – bloody nuclear censorship.

    That’s my experience. They need to control the message, because facts and reality spoil it.

    ~~~

    iain :
    It is the blind optimism tinged with what can (quite fairly) be described as a slight touch of arrogance, that is the main problem with the nuclear industry.

    Hubris, arrogance, imperviousness to evidence. And all underpinned by a belief that everyone outside the Nuke Fan Club is an anti-science, anti-progress, hysterical Luddite. It’s a curious and dangerous affliction.

  23. BlueRock
    March 21st, 2011 at 01:48 | #23

    Ironically, many opponents of climate science pose as defenders of nuclear power. In reality, they are its deadliest enemies.

    I’ve argued for quite a while that nuclear is a kind of Trojan Horse for ACC deniers / fossil defenders. As long as we bicker over nukes – or attempt to deploy them (come back in a decade, maybe we’ll have one completed!) – then fossil fuels continue to be burnt.

  24. Fran Barlow
    March 21st, 2011 at 06:03 | #24

    @BlueRock

    As long as we bicker over nukes – or attempt to deploy them (come back in a decade, maybe we’ll have one completed!) – then fossil fuels continue to be burnt.

    That’s almost the complete opposite of the truth. Renewables are largely a sandbag for fossil HC here, since they can pretend to a job they can’t actually do.

  25. Hermit
    March 21st, 2011 at 07:40 | #25

    I doubt the combination of a $25 carbon tax and an aspirational 20% renewables target can deliver the required CO2 cuts. Population growth 2000-2020 means that even a 5% CO2 cut is a huge task. When we get extreme weather events some will say it is not enough. Despite the generous REC mechanism and State feed-in tariffs wind and solar remain show ponies, not work horses. It’s hard to see that changing around anytime soon. Serious geothermal and biomass energy appear to be wishful thinking at this stage.

    Some energy belt tightening may do us good but beyond a certain point it will be apparent others without carbon constraints (hint: China, India) are forging ahead. We will be paying more for energy, green or not, without the commensurate CO2 cuts. Thus apart from market based price increases the additional taxes and subsidies could mean we are paying say 25% more for energy while getting less than 5% CO2 cuts. Obviously a major way to achieve real CO2 cuts would be to require that new baseload generation using known technology is not fossil fuel based.

  26. Ken Fabos
    March 21st, 2011 at 08:07 | #26

    I’ve pretty much avoided this debate; I think we need to get to the aftermath stage to get a clear picture and I admit to considerable ambivalence. But I don’t think this marks the end of nuclear – not in Japan and not in China or India where the most new construction appears to be. Maybe it will be enough to prevent nuclear in Australia for the foreseeable future but it won’t be renewables that are the winners, it will be fossil fuels.

    Unlike Bluerock I think the fossil fuel industry is happy to have heated battles between pro and anti nuclear advocates because ultimately they feel more threatened by nuclear than by renewables as they hold views closer to those on BNC and can see nuclear slotting straight into the existing electricity grids, able to deliver 24/7 power in quantities equal to coal. Having strong anti-nuclear advocates and sentiments independent of fossil fuel business as usual advocacy is allowing them to put off having to engage in anti-nuclear advocacy themselves; as long as nuclear is as-well-as and not instead-of, fossil fuel interests can pretend they share a free market low regulation ideology. Anti-environmental pro-nuclear advocacy predates the climate issue and that crossover of ideology is why IMO we see so many pro-nuclear opponents of carbon pricing despite it being the most effective way to undermine public opposition to nuclear energy.

    Now, I want to say I’d prefer not to go the mass nuclear route to limit emissions and, if ever governments are brave and sensible enough to implement carbon pricing at levels that are effective it would advantage of nuclear, but less so if this crisis results in more regulated and costlier nuclear. There are other reasons besides emissions to think that excessive consumption as a human right cannot be sustained and some of the pro-nuclear arguments seem to studiously avoid consideration of the consequences of unrestrained growth of energy use, preferring not to examine the ways it links to other global problems and instead link to a cornucopian view of the future.

    Nuclear is going to be part of the world’s energy mix, like it or not and should not be prevented from ongoing R&D to develop better and ever safer technologies but it needs strong international regulation and oversight that I’m not sure an absolute anti-nuclear stance can deliver a positive contribution – an absolute opposition to long term waste storage facilities for example will not give us better safer waste disposal facilities. I don’t think nuclear should get the lion’s share of R&D either – large scale energy storage and distribution to support renewables are worth pursuing, way ahead of Carbon Capture and Storage which is the worst example of greenwash I’ve seen. And Renewables have shown a strong trend of improvement in efficiency and cost, enough to make me doubt the ‘renewables can’t do it line and have earned their place as genuine alternatives to fossil fuels.

  27. jakerman
    March 21st, 2011 at 12:01 | #27

    Giving renewables orders of magnitude lower subsidies than nuclear or fossil fuels is sand bagging fossil fuel. Despite these lower cumulative subsidies, renewables still produce more energy than nuclear.

    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

  28. BlueRock
    March 21st, 2011 at 12:50 | #28

    Fran Barlow :
    That’s almost the complete opposite of the truth. Renewables are largely a sandbag for fossil HC here, since they can pretend to a job they can’t actually do.

    Wrong. It’s exactly as I said.

    Want a nuke? Find billions of dollars in capital – good luck with that because no private investors will risk their money. Spend years on the *necessary* planning, safety, licensing process. Start building. Hope there aren’t massive delays and cost overruns – but it’s very likely there will be. If you’re lucky you’ll have one new nuke in 10 years. If you’re lucky.

    Want a wind farm? Arrange finance – easy to do because there’s lots of private capital available. Get the necessary surveys and licensing done. Build your wind farm – easily and reliably done in *months*.

    Want solar? Phone a firm and they can have it on your roof in a day or two.

    This not a complicated concept to grasp.

    * Nuclear Power Cannot Solve Climate Change. Nuclear power plants cannot be built quickly enough and in a safe and secure manner to be a major global solution for climate change. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=nuclear-cannot-solve-climate-change

    Anyway, it’s all a moot debate – nukes can’t compete economically with renewables and the public have just had another excellent demonstration of the horror they can unleash when things go wrong. You should find a new obsession – nukes are dead.

  29. BlueRock
    March 21st, 2011 at 13:05 | #29

    Ken Fabos :
    …it won’t be renewables that are the winners, it will be fossil fuels.

    If the public remain confused, ignorant and mute about the terrible urgency of climate change. How bad will the floods get or the droughts or killer heatwaves before enough people wake up?

    Unlike Bluerock I think the fossil fuel industry is happy to have heated battles between pro and anti nuclear advocates because ultimately they feel more threatened by nuclear than by renewables…

    Have you actually looked at what the fossil industry puts out? You should. Koch Industries’ network of propaganda mills are strongly pro-nuclear, anti-renewable. Why? Because they know nukes cannot be deployed quickly enough to offer any threat to their toxic industry. But they support nukes because they know they will impede deployment of renewables.

    Nuclear is going to be part of the world’s energy mix…

    How much? Even the pro-nuke IEA predicts they are going nowhere fast: “The share of nuclear power increases from 6% in 2008 to 8% in 2035.” http://www.iea.org/publications/free_new_Desc.asp?PUBS_ID=2308

    Nukes are and will remain a niche power source. Given the cost and technology trajectory for renewables and the increasing costs for nuclear, it will become increasingly difficult to justify nukes – no matter how much a government tilts the playing field in its favour (as is happening in the UK right now).

  30. jakerman
    March 21st, 2011 at 13:27 | #30

    no private investors will risk their money.

    I just watched ‘Inside Job” and highly recommend it: http://www.sonyclassics.com/insidejob/

    One of the key points were the perverse incentives behind the Ponzi scheme finance bubble. Traders and investment bankers were taking huge risks knowing that the upside for them was on one scale while their downside risk were socialized.

    It struck me that this was similar to the problem with nuclear financing. Nuclear investors also get to privatize profits but socialize losses with loan guarantees and public picking up the insurance costs for disasters that can have reached hundreds of billions of dollars in the case of Chernobyl.

  31. BlueRock
    March 21st, 2011 at 14:01 | #31

    jakerman,

    I watched that last week – most of it with my mouth half open. I’m still stunned at how brazen these ****ers are and still walking free and still paying themselves multi-million bonuses.

    It reminded me of the Eddie Izzard skit: “You kill one person, they lock you up and throw away the key. You kill ten people, they lock you in a padded room and doctors spend time talking to you. You kill 100,000 people, you receive a state invite and have dinner with the Queen!”

    But, yeah – very similar to the nuke game. They take the profits, we take the losses – and those losses can be huge… as the Japanese are now finding out.

  32. Hermit
    March 21st, 2011 at 16:25 | #32

    While the PM is rejigging the income tax and social welfare system to accommodate carbon tax I think it is an opportunity to sort out fossil fuel subsidies. That can include fuel excise indexation, the diesel fuel rebate, FBT on company cars and coal infrastructure capital assistance. However some ‘subsidies’ such as low electricity prices to aluminium smelters go back to State rivalries to attract new jobs. Both the Commonwealth and State need to get their heads together on this eg if Big Al has to pay more for electricity maybe a Federal customs tariff is needed.

    I don’t buy the line that two wrongs make a right i.e. because fossil gets help then renewables should get it also. How about feed-in tariffs and 20% quotas for nuclear power? As Garnaut says just have CO2 limits in place and let the market sort it out. Nuclear critics complain of loan guarantees and damages indemnity but these have now been extended to commercial solar and carbon capture projects as well. Whatever kind of ‘help’ is on offer (additional to CO2 constraints) I suggest everybody gets the same deal. For starters nobody gets subsidies or quotas.

  33. Ken Fabos
    March 21st, 2011 at 17:17 | #33

    Bluerock, I see the support by those like Kochs for nuclear as fairweather friends; any genuine program to phase out fossil fuels in favour of nuclear will see them turn on nuclear as strongly as they currently oppose a carbon price. Except they don’t have to as long as opposition to nuclear is strong enough that such a program is politically impossible. Currently both the fossil fuel and nuclear industries see environmentalism as their main enemy and an enemy of their enemy is their friend which is why I think we are seeing this alliance of convenience. Why pro-nuclear advocates appear to be strongly opposed to a carbon tax, which would favour it over fossil fuels seems to reflect the primarily anti-environmentalist ideology they share. So, for now “…they support nukes because they know they will impede deployment of renewables.” Fossil fuels are, in spite of what’s known about climate, booming both in production and in profitability; they can afford to give the nod to nuclear for as long as it remains a niche energy source and the groundwork is not laid for their phase out.
    Meanwhile renewables are making up ground and I sincerely hope they can step up and do they job.

  34. Alice
    March 21st, 2011 at 17:27 | #34

    @jakerman
    Inside job – the movie – comes highly recommended. I just dont know how to see it ie where ? when?

  35. jakerman
    March 21st, 2011 at 18:00 | #35

    Alice I can point you to a venue in Adelaide: http://www.google.com.au/movies?hl=en&sort=1&ei=5ASHTYKzHIHGvQOj5sXTCA&near=adelaide,+sa,+aus&mid=362c7b320625e90a

    otherwise, you can find in as a torrent file.

  36. Freelander
    March 21st, 2011 at 18:03 | #36

    I think I wouldn’t mind have an Andrew Bolt type column and getting lots of money for talking nonsense…. Maybe I should audition?

    Now the Japanese nuclear power plant ‘accident’ scare is over, and the hysteria has died down to only fever pitch, lets reassess the situation. Seems, the nuclear power experts had things under control all along, despite the media beat-up about risks, the drama of a massive exclusion zone, thousands fleeing Tokyo and its surrounds, a few hot bits of metal, a bit of steam, and slightly raised levels here and there. The only casualties seem to be a few glow in the dark spinach plants and some drinking water with an extra bit of sparkle. If the locals have any qualms about drinking the water, they can use it to wash their clothes. I am sure they will come out extra bright.

  37. Alice
    March 21st, 2011 at 18:09 | #37

    @Freelander
    Glowing in the dark even Freelander

  38. BlueRock
    March 21st, 2011 at 23:30 | #38

    Ken Fabos :
    Bluerock, I see the support by those like Kochs for nuclear as fairweather friends; any genuine program to phase out fossil fuels in favour of nuclear will see them turn on nuclear…

    But that’s the point. They know full well that a “genuine program” to make nukes a reality would mean effectively socialising them – a la France. They know that could never happen in the US so they know that support for nukes is support for doing nothing except continuing to burn fossil fuels.

    Whereas, they know very well that renewables can be deployed very quickly and erode their market share.

    Meanwhile renewables are making up ground and I sincerely hope they can step up and do they job.

    To say they are “making up ground” really underplays the reality:

    * Renewables Global Status Report: Renewables accounted for 60% of new power capacity in Europe in 2009; China added 37 GW of renewable power capacity, more than any other country in the world; Globally, nearly 80 GW of renewable capacity was added, including 31 GW of hydro and 48 GW of non-hydro capacity; Solar PV additions reached a record high of 7 GW; 83+ countries have policies to promote renewable power. “China’s wind power capacity surpassed the country’s installed nuclear capacity in 2009, with just over 13.8 GW added to reach a total of 25.8 GW.” http://www.ren21.net/globalstatusreport/g2010.asp

    Renewables are being deployed at a massive rate. New nukes are barely keeping up with old ones going offline – and it’s really only China, India that are responsible for that because the governments have decided to bankroll them.

  39. BlueRock
    March 21st, 2011 at 23:37 | #39

    Freelander :
    Seems, the nuclear power experts had things under control all along…

    Yeah, they intended for the containment buildings to explode, for radioactive material to vent in to the atmosphere and to write-off multi-billion power plants.

    The level of denial from the nuke fan club is always a thing of wonder….

  40. Ken Fabos
    March 22nd, 2011 at 10:40 | #40

    Bluerock, it’s the 24/7 on demand thing that’s the issue for solar and wind. During the past summer we saw weeks in a row when most of Eastern Australia was cloudy, including inland regions. I don’t recall it being that windy either. Thus solar would have struggled without input from much further west ie a very large redundancy, which, of course, makes it much more expensive. Large scale energy storage is effectively non-existent – hydro is geographically constrained and is there primarily to make efficient use of relatively smaller amounts of high elevation water storage for it’s own purposes, not provide large scale storage of energy. If any area of energy technology deserves serious R&D efforts it’s energy storage but we’ve seen the lions share go to fossil fuel companies for Carbon Capture and Storage. And it’s gotten us zero CCS capacity whilst depriving more promising and deserving programs like geothermal of funding.

    In Australia the carbon price Labor is trying to get through is effectively intended to give certainty to investment in Gas fired power plants in place of Coal, not investment in renewables ie give certainty to the same fossil fuel companies to produce coal seam gas whilst they keep digging up more coal to be exported. I’ve heard that ‘low emissions climate friendly gas plants’ line again and again recently. Yet Gas can only achieve the easy initial emissions targets like the pitiful 5% governments are struggling to get through. ie we will get a lot of investment, with government support, for a kind of fossil fuel infrastructure that can’t achieve longer term necessary emissions reductions and, once built, will not get ready support for early replacement or closure. Yet even this inadequate policy response is being vigorously opposed and will probably lead to it’s failure to get up. And Australia is abundantly endowed with renewable energy options! We are going to fail to make any inroads on this issue for the foreseeable future. Fossil fuel interests are winning, big time and I think they’ve still barely shown the extreme lengths they are prepared to go to to prevent the necessary decline of their profitability.

    In spite of this crisis in Japan I think nuclear will have a major role around the world in reducing emissions and the risks of nuclear accidents having to be weighed against the certainty of climate change. I don’t think it’s as readily expandable and safe as the proponents claim but nor do I think it’s risks are as extreme and unmanageable as it’s opponents want me to believe. And I don’t think renewables, as they currently exist and with our existing usage patterns, are able, yet, to reliably do the job required.

  41. Ernestine Gross
    March 22nd, 2011 at 14:10 | #41

    @Ken Fabos

    Not convincing, Ken.

    The nuclear power plant in Fukushima 1 wasn’t even able to produce power for itself when a bit of water splashed at it. Someone forgot to put a windmill on top, it seems.

    Neither the elimination of profits of the nuclear industry’s competing energy providers, nor zero ghg emissions, nor polluting air, water, soil with radioactive elements are the policy objectives.

    In Australia and in many places in Europe, there is a ghg emission reduction policy objective and there is a renewable energy development policy. Makes sense to me.

  42. Ken Fabos
    March 22nd, 2011 at 16:01 | #42

    The most we can seriously expect from Japan is that they’ll try and do nuclear better in future and will maybe take older, vulnerable to tsunami coastal plants offline sooner. And I have no doubt this disaster will see older fossil fuel plants kept going longer. They may, if anti-nuclear sentiment is strong enough, build more fossil fuel plants. Australia will be pleased to sell them more coal or gas to do so. What we won’t see is either nuclear or fossil fuels replaced by renewables there any time soon, not to replace the lost nuclear capacity. Nor to provide a backbone of future capacity.
    Australia’s ghg reduction policy? The Coalition is going all out to kill it and there’s a strong likilihood they’ll succeed; the shock jocks are on their side, promoting Carter and Plimer and attacking the scientific basis for climate change. They will entrench climate science denial for another few electoral cycles; the apparent popularity of their current campaign will reduce any chance of a shift towards being rational about it.
    Right now the fossil fuel industry is winning hands down. And they’ve barely begun the fight for the future of their industry.

  43. jakerman
    March 22nd, 2011 at 16:15 | #43

    @Ken Fabos

    Right now the fossil fuel industry is winning hands down. And they’ve barely begun the fight for the future of their industry.

    Its a serious worry. I hope that their pattern of opperations,exposed somewhat during the mineral rents tax debate, will waken people to their tactics and false claims of ruenation.

  44. rog
    March 22nd, 2011 at 16:24 | #44

    The (only) argument in nuclear’s favour is that they are essentially zero carbon emissions during operation. There is some opinion that this is negated by the energy required to dig up and process the uranium as the ore is being more difficult to access and the quality is diminishing. The energy required during construction is also considerable and the energy required with the disposal of waste has yet to be defined (the onsite storage of nuclear waste was one of the problems at Fukushima)

    For the nuclear industry to establish confidence they will have to make available independent analysis of GHG emissions from all parts of the nuclear chain. Blanket statements about being clean and green wont cut the mustard, anymore.

  45. Ken Fabos
    March 23rd, 2011 at 11:48 | #45

    Rog, the ghg emission for all aspects of the energy supply chain is needed. Like with the whole climate issue, what the experts say depends very much on the experts you trust. With nuclear the scientific community itself appears to be far more divided than it is over the reality and seriousness of climate change.

    There are other issues than emissions and Energy Return On Investment, including reliability of supply, toxic waste disposal, decommissioning and, of course, costs. They apply across the board. Better cheaper batteries for example, could be a great boon but if they involve large quantities of long lived toxic materials spread across the world we could regret their widespread deployment.

    I say again that I am ambivalent about nuclear, that I think it’s problems are greater than vocal proponents admit but that they are not so unmanageable as it’s vocal opponents want me to believe. I would prefer that we not be forced to rely upon it, yet I have concerns that renewables still have significant issues (intermittency mostly) that are not easily resolved without a truly integrated program on a scale that looks politically unobtainable. That kind of large scale makeover of infrastructure will be strongly opposed by powerful interests and will actually get harder as the economic costs of climate change eat away at the economic discretion to take bold actions.

    I am not going to get drawn into protracted arguments about nuclear versus renewables but continue to believe that it’s a fight that primarily benefits fossil fuel interests, and that fossil fuel interests are, behind closed doors, happy to see it continue.

    I’ve expressed my opinions (and don’t think they are unreasonable even if sometimes speculative) and I do take note of the variety of views and arguments encountered here. I am deeply grateful for Pr Quiggin for providing the opportunity for people like myself to do so.

  46. Alice
    March 23rd, 2011 at 21:48 | #46

    @rog
    Rog says “For the nuclear industry to establish confidence they will have to make available independent analysis of GHG emissions from all parts of the nuclear chain.”

    Rog its clear they need to do more than that. The nuclear industry needs to stop lying about a) costs and b) risks. They dont have much credibility around here right now (around a lot of people right now – the entire industry has become suspect. Just one example in how many?????
    see below

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/26315908/vp/42222780#42222780

  47. Freelander
    March 23rd, 2011 at 22:17 | #47

    Nuclear power is the way to go. Who’s attacked North Korea since they’ve been a nuclear power?

  48. Freelander
    March 24th, 2011 at 00:09 | #48

    But for electricity? F’get about it!

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