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New nuclear sandpit

May 30th, 2011

Fire away on anything related to nuclear energy.

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  1. PeterM
    May 30th, 2011 at 13:00 | #1

    I’ve just read Robert Pool’s ‘Beyond Engineering: How Society Shapes Technology’ form the Excellent Sloan Technology series.

    In this book the author explores the role of a market failure in the form of ‘Path Dependence’ has played in creating the mess in which the Nuclear Industry now itself.
    Basically Westinghouse in collaboration with the US navel developed a safe and successful small (40Mw) light water reactor for Nuclear Submarines. General Electric fearing it would it would be left behind, created a series of ‘paper’ nuclear generating units orders of magnitude larger (1500mW+) with a price list that assumed economies of scale and a cost structure similar to that for thermal generating units. These units were heavily sold by the GE sales force. The problems only came to the surface once GE attempted to build these plants. But it was all underwritten by the US government so GE was never allowed to become insolvent as a result of their stupidity.

  2. Hermit
    May 30th, 2011 at 13:54 | #2

    Some of that early US government support for nuclear via military budgets gets included in claims of generous subsidies. Perhaps so but civilian nuclear power does not get feed-in tariffs, renewable energy certificates, 20% quotas and so on. Therefore claims of past subsidies are less relevant.

    I wonder if the deliberations of the carbon tax committee will include a repeal of sections of the Commonwealth radiation protection act. That would allow nukes to be built on a case by case approval not a blanket prohibition. The way we’re heading only a severe recession will deliver even the weak 5% CO2 cut by 2020 over 2000. To those who say it’s a piece of cake have your explanations ready year after year as we fall behind.

  3. bill
    May 30th, 2011 at 14:06 | #3

    I wonder if the deliberations of the carbon tax committee will include a repeal of sections of the Commonwealth radiation protection act. That would allow nukes to be built on a case by case approval not a blanket prohibition.

    Why waste time yearning for something that cannot happen? Politics is, after all, the art of the possible.

    And speaking of subsidies, who’s going to be insuring all these never-likely-to-exist nuclear plants?

    Fukishima has finished the dream. But it was already a marginal hope anyway. It’s time to move on. Complaining that everyone else somehow doesn’t ‘get it’ is pointless.

  4. Chris Warren
    May 30th, 2011 at 14:30 | #4

    Hermit

    Those linking nuclear with CO2 are blowing smoke.

    You reduce CO2 by reducing items with a large greenhouse footprint.

    Obviously the government is not doing this – it is merely trying to address public concerns with a toy policy from Garnaut. Meanwhile huge funds are be wasted with joint strike fighters, and huge concrete constructions such as a new parliament house for Canberra’s pollies and massive new concrete express-ways ringing the city.

    If the government is not doing anything real about global warming in these terms any hope that they will adopt nukes “to fix climate change” is even more remote.

    Our present politicians will only do what is required to keep them in Parliament and allow them the $432 million palace they think they are entitled to – irrespective of any ecological or social justice issue that may interfere.

    http://www.canberratimes.com.au/news/local/news/general/ministers-to-walk-on-air-in-new-wing/2178474.aspx

  5. David Allen
    May 30th, 2011 at 16:01 | #5

    The guys over at BraveNewClimate are shameless. After downplaying the problems in Japan and shouting down dissenters they are back in full gear as though nothing happened.

    Apparently radiation is not only natural and good for you in any quantity but it also can’t kill you, ever. Wow.

  6. BilB
    May 30th, 2011 at 16:15 | #6

    Here is an article by a Ugo Bardi called “the return of cold fusion ” at the oil drum.

    A very interesting retake on an old dream which Ugo has examined and says it may well work. Have a read.

  7. BilB
    May 30th, 2011 at 16:15 | #7
  8. Alice
    May 30th, 2011 at 19:04 | #8

    Oh mi god Prof – you actually agreed to open another nuclear sandpit (for the how manyth time ???- why should you feel obliged to host the main denialists and cranks website’s religious devotees views ie BNC on this site – because thats all we get in here arguing pro nuclear now (and a real minority). Political people not sensible people.

    Well I guess thats where the argument belongs. In a sandpit only I would have called it a nuclear cesspit to be more honest.

  9. Alice
    May 30th, 2011 at 19:06 | #9

    And where is Terje now that this cesspit is open for discussion or would Terje rather seep the sludge BNC pro nuke arguments in surreptitiously in other threads?

  10. TerjeP
    May 30th, 2011 at 21:19 | #10

    Apparently radiation is not only natural and good for you in any quantity but it also can’t kill you, ever. Wow.

    Keen to get the strawman up early in the discussion I see.

    Alice – I knew you would miss me but I thought it would take longer. JQ maintains a nuclear sandpit to keep the other threads quite on the topic. However I suspect another reason is that he hasn’t ruled out the nuclear option entirely.

  11. TerjeP
    May 30th, 2011 at 21:20 | #11

    First paragraph above was supposed to be in quotes. Not sure what went wrong.

  12. May 31st, 2011 at 09:44 | #12

    In the meantime… in Germany… http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-13592208

    Germany’s coalition government has announced a reversal of policy that will see all the country’s nuclear power plants phased out by 2022.

  13. TerjeP
    May 31st, 2011 at 09:56 | #13

    Yes but is it a core promise?

  14. wilful
    May 31st, 2011 at 10:02 | #14

    Well if it’s a cesspit Alice, it’s because you’re pissing in it.

    I can argue nukes all day long with a range of people who disagree with me, no problems. I’ve got a long record of that. I’d continue to debate BilB or Chris Warren on this issue (not that any minds are going to be changed).

    However, since you joined the crowd here at Quiggin’s blog in the last year or two, the level of personal abuse and attack, generated mostly by you, has gone up intolerably. I won’t participate in any nuclear cesspit at this blog, mostly because of your presence. You’ll declare me personally to be all sorts of evil and awful things, you’ll project my motives, you’ll think I’m paid for this view, etc etc etc.

    Anyway, that’s my last word on this subject. But I do hope that Pr Q notices, I have made the point before, you need to pull your head in and be civil if you’re to actually communicate with people.

    And here comes the invective…

  15. John Quiggin
    May 31st, 2011 at 11:36 | #15

    Alice, please take a break for a week.

  16. wilful
    May 31st, 2011 at 12:55 | #16

    Ok, coast is clear?

    Sorry, I really don’t mean to single out a person individually, and I’m sure Alice will be reading this, and I don’t mean any ill will to her personally, I agree that nuclear power is an issue that generates strong emotions, and that isn’t all a bad thing. I accept that opponents of nuclear power have their heart in entirely the right place, which is protection of our mother earth. But even so, you can’t have a conversation without some basic norms.

    One small thing I will say, anyone suggesting that Barry Brook is a denialist is a damn fool.

    Anyway, respectfully, people can be wrong about this stuff, without being evil. I don’t love or even particularly like nuclear power. But I do think that the safety risks are grossly, wildly overstated, and poorly if ever grounded in evidence, yes even with Fukushima, while the risks of climate change are understated or not fully grasped. Meanwhile the likelihood of renewable power filling the energy gap in anything like the time necessary is unfortunately far too slim to count on. The only alternative, which at least some people are honest enough to admit to, is turning off the lights. Me personally, no thanks (metaphorically at least – in real life my family of four is using about 2 – 5 kwh/day (summer – winter), so yes we do turn off our lights (oh and we do have grid connected PV and solar hot water so net summer consumption is negative)).

    I regard anti-nuke people to be like Stalin’s “useful idiots”, though this time of Big Coal. Nuclear power is the biggest threat to coal there is, and if there’s any secret payments and astroturfing going on (and no I don’t think there is, at least not in the ausblogosphere) then the finger can be pointed at renewables advocates as readily as it can be at nuke advocates.

    If I could be convinced that renewable power could and was going to be scaled enough to meet Australia’s energy demands at remotely affordable prices, I’d be all for it.

    Against that, we could get the Canadians to build a score or 1.4GW plants with 90%+ uptime for under $2 bn each in less than five years, leaving a very small, very manageable waste problem that will be eaten up quickly when generation IV reactors are commercially running (this is a physically proven technology, not yet a full commercial reality).

    That’s where I stand.

  17. Ernestine Gross
    May 31st, 2011 at 14:34 | #17

    @wilful

    “If I could be convinced that renewable power could and was going to be scaled enough to meet Australia’s energy demands at remotely affordable prices, I’d be all for it.”

    There is good news for you on Prof Q’s latest thread.

  18. wilful
    May 31st, 2011 at 14:46 | #18

    Ernestine Gross :
    @wilful
    “If I could be convinced that renewable power could and was going to be scaled enough to meet Australia’s energy demands at remotely affordable prices, I’d be all for it.”
    There is good news for you on Prof Q’s latest thread.

    I wish!

    (No seriously, I do!)

    But the bad news is far far worse than the good news. I really can’t see how the fact that there are no insurmountable barriers to integrating a bunch of variable output resources means much to this debate at all.

    “Base load” was never a first order argument for nuclear proponents.

    And we still want to charge up our electric cars every night.

  19. TerjeP
    May 31st, 2011 at 15:16 | #19

    No there isn’t. All JQ has said is that renewables can be made more workable if coupled with gas plants. However this is still a crazy way to proceed relative to gas plants on their own. It is like suggesting that if we had lots of cheap nuclear we could combine it with renewable sources and get an energy mix that was not as bad as pure renewables and so therefor renewables are the way to go. It is a twisted form of logic. Gas only and nuclear only can reduce emissions cheaper than some mix of either with renewables. Renewables bring nothing to the table. They are a green token fantasy. Even if you don’t believe this we can test it out by having a modest carbon tax and scrapping MRET. Then see if a mix with or without wind and solar is the most commercially viable solution. My prediction is that investment in wind and solar would tank pretty much immediately. They add no commercial value.

  20. wilful
    May 31st, 2011 at 15:32 | #20

    Chanign the topic slightly, any South Australians interested in promoting nuclear power could go to my friend Ben’s blog: Decarbonise S.A..

    Yeah if you don’t like BNC you’re not going to learn anything new there. If you want to be fighty, please just stick to BNC or here or something.

  21. Hermit
    May 31st, 2011 at 16:53 | #21

    There’s a lot to be said for building Australia’s first nuke plant in SA, after all they had the Maralinga atomic tests and they have the world’s largest uranium deposit at Olympic Dam. Sure they have a lot of wind turbines but they only give about 10% of rated capacity during the ever present heat waves, just when everybody wants AC. SA’s coal is little more than flammable soil. Now they reckon ‘fracking’ might revive the dwindling gas fields but let’s wait and see.

    I’d tie a South Australian nuke plant in with desalination. The Murray River that supplies a lot of Adelaide’s summer water is sure to dry up again.

  22. wilful
    May 31st, 2011 at 17:28 | #22

    S.A.s infrastructure is mostly very old. 1960s and 70s. A few new medium sized gas plants as well, but otherwise dilapidated.

  23. sam
    May 31st, 2011 at 18:08 | #23

    @wilful
    Why couldn’t you charge your car in the day? Mass electric car usage is a great boon for managing a fickle power supply. The car could be plugged in to a smart grid and only draw power when the price drops below a certain level.

  24. sam
    May 31st, 2011 at 18:16 | #24

    Also, if the swings in spot electricity price are high enough, the car could make money by selling power back to the grid. The presence of so many batteries essentially means a maximum diurnal electricity price.

  25. TerjeP
    May 31st, 2011 at 18:23 | #25

    Sam – fine for the predictable day / night variability associate with solar but what about prolonged periods when the wind doesn’t blow and the sky is full of clouds. The standard renewable answer is to diversify locality but the transmission costs with that approach soon escalate. Why not skip wind and solar and just go with gas.

  26. Ernestine Gross
    May 31st, 2011 at 18:28 | #26

    @wilful

    “But the bad news is far far worse than the good news. I really can’t see how the fact that there are no insurmountable barriers to integrating a bunch of variable output resources means much to this debate at all. ”

    The ‘integration of a bunch of variable output resources’ is an interesting problem from my perspective – pricing – and IMHO, it is crucial to the debate.

    I can only outline why, IMHO, the problem is crucial. (The problem requires joint work between the science-based people from the various ‘output’ resources and economists).

    The way I see it, the theory of the core of an economy is an appropriate framework to start off with for the economic part, rather than the more familiar ‘competitive market’ framework. In this framework, the organisation of ‘producers’ is a parameter (and a function of skills of the people). So one can speak of a particular producer being a ‘coalition’. In this framework, ‘superadditivity’ is defined to capture the notion of the ‘whole’ is greater than the sum of its parts. This is excluded in the competitive market framework (and the accountants have a particularly severe problem with accepting that their numbers aren’t all that relevant for many interesting problems).

    Now, we can’t undo all the organisational realities regarding producers (companies, corporations, individuals, government owned corporations, etc) for the purpose of trying out what I believe is feasible. So, what I am getting at is, the practical problem is to create an agent (say IPART) who looks at all technologically possible productions (ie ‘integrate) and, give the reality of profit maximising producers, redistributes profits among the contributing elements. Easier said than done – but conceivable.

    I know for sure there are plenty of economists in the EU who know (or developed) the theory of the core of an economy and therefore I would not be surprised if there is already work in this area.

  27. sam
    May 31st, 2011 at 18:37 | #27

    @TerjeP
    I was responding to Wilful’s point that they make the problem worse. Look I’m not saying electric cars fix the problem of renewable variability entirely- just that they help.

    As to your point about going to gas, if the carbon price is high enough renewables are cheaper than gas.

  28. sam
    May 31st, 2011 at 18:59 | #28

    Sorry @TerjeP , I see your point now. You mean that if there are several weeks of clouds and low winds, you’ll have to buy your car’s electricity from
    sources from far away and then it will be more expensive. That’s true but so what? Petrol prices now fluctuate in response to changing supply and demand and the world doesn’t end. It simply incentivises both consumers and producers to moderate their behaviour to correct for the imbalance.

  29. wilful
    May 31st, 2011 at 20:22 | #29

    sam, I don’t think there’s any bad news per se in the claim that variability can be dealt with – the bad news is that 2010s emissions are over 30Gt.

    But back to electric cars – most people will, unless there is some radical work done to provide infrastructure able to cahrge cars during the day, charge their cars at night, creating a new requirement at this time. Pr Quiggin has argued, unpersuasively I think, that baseload is a myth fuelled by historic factors. Electric cars are a prime example of where peaks and troughs would be smoothed in our more electric future.

  30. sam
    May 31st, 2011 at 21:05 | #30

    @wilful
    I disagree that we would need a radical infrastructure change. A change in financial infrastructure is all that is really required. If daytime electricity prices were much cheaper and nighttime ones more expensive, home-grown efforts would just spring up. The government wouldn’t need to mandate any particular solution, people would just negotiate with whoever owned the car space their car occupied during the day (which might be themselves if they don’t drive to work) to pay for access to a power point. How exactly they’d do that would be up to them. If it could save them more than a dollar a day, people would do it. After all, bus passengers voluntarily buy smart cards rather than paper tickets because it saves them money.

    Even a truly smart grid, with real-time electricity pricing, would not be prohibitively expensive. All that would be required is to replace the electricity meter in every building with one that engages in realtime two-way communication with the grid (using powerline, cellphone, or some other technology). The IT technology required to do this is so cheap it’s almost free. You could do it progressively over a number of years and induce people to switch with lower average electricity costs. This program might even pay for itself eventually by eliminating the need for a meterman (person). None of this is particularly expensive, and certainly not when compared to the cost of actually rolling out new electricity generators.

  31. Ken Fabos
    May 31st, 2011 at 22:16 | #31

    We will fail to go all out for renewables, not because it’s too expensive – and it is undeniably expensive – but because we are (apologies to Kurt Vonnegut) too cheap.

    Or, it’s more that we still fail to understand the seriousness of the problem and don’t appreciated how horrendously expensive inaction is likely to be. In that light nuclear must look more attractive too but it does come with enough baggage that even then sufficient acceptance has to be hard to secure. Australia just isn’t in a position to lead the way to any nuclear renaissance. In the meantime too many pro-nuclear campaigners will continue to oppose firm policy commitments to renewables – and it’s hard enough to get a commitment without having a portion of voters who do get how serious the problem is voting with those wanting delay. All the while the idea that the answer is (eventually and under under severe fracking duress) a shift to ‘climate friendly’ gas has been quietly been cultivated. Shift to gas, problem solved…. My head hurts.

  32. wilful
    June 1st, 2011 at 09:40 | #32

    sam, I don’t think that a ‘smart grid’ can be conjured up that easily, and the problems at the micro scale are so readily dismissable. I cannot believe that you think “[t]he IT technology required to do this is so cheap it’s almost free.” I’m not sure you’ve ever been involved in any decently large system purchase and integration (I haven’t but I have some seriously geeky friends). And look at the cost of the NBN, which doesn’t go to car parks etc.

    Smart meters (which are not really smart enough to do what you want) are being rolled out in Victoria, at a cost of billions of dollars and significant political angst.

    Don’t get me wrong I would welcome that sort of techno-optimist future, I just don’t think it’s coming soon (enough). And I don’t think it’ll be renewable powered. Even if there are no “insurmountable” problems (merely massive ones) and Pr Quiggin is happy to dismiss the topic.

    Ernestine, I don’t really get your point. I mean I can understand what you’re saying (and agree that cooperative ventures are inadequately dealt with in my limited understanding of modern economics (BTW is this relevant: http://www.cambridge.org/aus/catalogue/catalogue.asp?isbn=9780521306195 ?)) but I haven’t gone “a ha” and worked out its relevance to the topic at hand.

    Anyway, for me it all comes back to the fact that we could buy straight from Canada tomorrow a super safe reactor that produced 1.4GW for more than 90% of the time at a very nominal cost, with trivial waste issues, or we could spend the next twenty years building more gas fired plants waiting for the gas to run out and for a renewable energy miracle.

    Climate change isn’t waiting.

  33. Chris Warren
    June 1st, 2011 at 10:10 | #33

    Those wishing to continue arguing for nuclear power, should at least support the closing of the yellowcake thread of production.

    Surely if there is waste, then the community may accept using this for power IF the amount of waste is thereby reduced.

    Similarly the community may accept thorium or fusion or some new technology, depending on contemporary risks and cost impacts on future generations.

    Ending uranium mining should be acceptable to all. That will provide incentive for the nuclear industry to help solves its own waste problem.

  34. wilful
    June 1st, 2011 at 11:38 | #34

    support the closing of the yellowcake thread of production.

    I don’t have any shares in BHP and don’t live in South Australia, so I don’t have a particular viewpoint on this, but I can readily agree that as soon as Generation IV moves from first build (they are being built right now) to full commercial production across the world, then yes, of course everyone wants less mining, it’s strictly a means to an end, not an end in itself, and it generates negative externalities so should be restricted where feasible.

    But, pointedly compared to the externalities generated by fossil fuel extraction, I’m not sure I see the point of any blanket statement about banning uranium mining right here and now. If conducted well (not always the case I grant you) I don’t see the issue. If the options are third generation nuclear power with its associated waste versus coal fired generation with its associated waste, I certainly know which I’d prefer.

    There are crappy iron, silicon, rare earths and copper mines as well (all used in the production of renewable energy infrastructure).

  35. Ernestine Gross
    June 1st, 2011 at 11:50 | #35

    @wilful

    The notion of the core of an economy goes back to Edgeworth. The reference you have given is relevant. Other authors in this area are V. Boehm, H. Wiesmeth – for example.

    You ignore the balance of payments effect of your proposal to buy nuclear power plants from Canada. By contrast, the development of renewables generates jobs in Australia and, most importantly, technological know-how.

    Note, the Germans pay twice as much for electricity as the French, but this does not hurt their ‘economy’. Incidentally, in the south of Germany the unemployment rate is lower than in Australia. The trick with maintaining good living standards is to do technological development rather than buy old technology. Furthermore, the technological development should be in the area which addresses contemporary problems, applying basic research. The big contemporary problems are ghG emissions and nuclear pullution.

  36. Tim Macknay
    June 1st, 2011 at 12:34 | #36

    as soon as Generation IV moves from first build (they are being built right now)

    Huh? There are no Generation IV reactors being built. The reactors currently under construction are Generation III/III+. Generation IV reactors are conceptual only.

  37. wilful
    June 1st, 2011 at 13:02 | #37

    ignore the balance of payments effect of your proposal to buy nuclear power plants from Canada. By contrast, the development of renewables generates jobs in Australia and, most importantly, technological know-how.

    You and I wish! You don’t seriously think we’re going to be genuine innovators in renewable technologies? No, we’re dumb miners and price takers I’m afraid. Anyone with a good idea these days goes O.S.

  38. wilful
    June 1st, 2011 at 13:04 | #38
  39. Tim Macknay
    June 1st, 2011 at 13:15 | #39

    That is not a Generation IV reactor. It is a liquid metal fast breeder reactor, of a type similar to experimental fast breeders that have been constructed since the 1960s.

  40. sam
    June 1st, 2011 at 13:17 | #40

    @wilful
    I’ll admit I haven’t been involved in the large scale purchase of IT technology, but I have played around with very cheap, reliable devices that interact with computers over rs232 and usb. Perhaps I was a little too dismissive of the logistical difficulties in running a smart grid. For the sake of conciseness, let me break up the argument into parts and have you respond to each component on its merits.

    1) At the stroke of a pen, authorities can reverse the day/night price differential. This would almost immediately eliminate much current routine night-time demand, and shift it to day time.

    2)If the differential is high enough, electric car owners will arrange by various means to charge mostly during the day. If electric car ownership is high enough to cause large scale electricity supply problems (and if these problems are visible to the consumer in the form of higher nighttime prices) it will be high enough to generate commercial solutions in privately owned car parks.

    3)A smart grid can be rolled out slowly, generating benefits at every level of “intelligence.” If 1% of meters are smart, 1% of buildings face an incentive to moderate peaks and troughs. There need be no coercion to get people to switch, just a slight premium on the accounts of “smart” customers.

    4)Since the grid’s supply “fickleness” will increase slowly, as coal generators are gradually replaced with solar and wind, the grid’s intelligence only needs to increase slowly.

    5) Electric cars with their responsively varying demand substantially increase the stability of a smart grid.

    6)Although the cost of replacing a “dumb” meter even with another dumb meter is quite high, the underlying technology in a smart meter does not have to be much more expensive. All you need is two way machine to machine communication (a well established technology), and a primitive $50 computer. At minimum, the grid would have to tell the meter current price, and the meter would have to tell the grid it’s current demand. A more fancy system would see the grid giving the meter an updating forecast of future prices, and the meter giving the grid an updating forecast of future demand. You could have the meter’s computer acting as a local server on the house’s LAN interacting with any smart appliances. Once again, this technology generates benefits at every level of “intelligence.” If only one appliance is smart and interacting with the meter, the household saves a little money on the electricity bill.

    7)In fact a lot of household load could vary responsively. Say the weather bureau tracks a bank of clouds moving towards a clump of solar panels that will arrive in 15 minutes. The grid could warn households of an imminent price spike, and all fridges could immediately switch on, chilling the food to the minimum temperature. As soon as the clouds hit the panels, the fridges would all switch off until either their internal thermostat hit the maximum, or the clouds passed. A similar thing could happen with a washing machine or dryer left on during the day. Note the fridges wouldn’t have to be told about the clouds, just the price forecast.

    7)Although the underlying technology is very cheap, I admit the government does often seem to overpay for these things, and stuff up deployment. The Queensland health computerised payroll system debacle is still ongoing. I remember Paul Lucas trying to justify why they had to move from a perfectly good computerised system to another one that worked 1/10 as well for 10 times the cost. He explained that the previous system was “old.” I think it would be very useful to have some new people in government who actually understand how IT works, and how much things ought to cost.

  41. sam
    June 1st, 2011 at 13:19 | #41

    Clearly the last should be an 8)

  42. Tim Macknay
    June 1st, 2011 at 13:32 | #42

    Hmm, I take it back – the wikipedia information does say that the Indian PFBR is based on a sodium-cooled fast reactor design, which is identified as a Generation IV design. I seem to have been misled by this article published by the World Nuclear Association, which states that no Gen IV reactors will be operational before 2020 (and does discuss the Kalpakkam PFBR).
    It does appear that the PFBR is a first-of-a-kind Generation IV reactor.

    A minor anecdote – 20 years ago I swam at a beach 20km south of the Kalpakkam power station – the closest I’ve ever been to a nuclear reactor.

  43. sam
    June 1st, 2011 at 13:39 | #43

    @Tim Macknay
    I think you’ve been closer than that. Are you sure you’ve never been to Western Sydney?

  44. Tim Macknay
    June 1st, 2011 at 13:46 | #44

    Actually, I was thinking about that just as I posted the comment, Sam. Perhaps I should have said it was the closest I’ve ever consciously been to a nuclear reactor.

  45. wilful
    June 1st, 2011 at 13:54 | #45

    Tim, I make zero claims to technical expertise regarding nuclear engineering matters (my background is biological sciences). But in all the reading I’ve done about Gen IV, the worst claims made about it is that it’s still too far away and we don’t know how much it will cost. Nobody says it’s not feasible or viable. In fact I understand proper Gen IV prototypes have run for many years.

    I accept that “first of a kind” and pretty much all big engineering products cost way too much these days (seen the price of melbourne’s desal plant?) and this is a big issue. That’s why I’m more sceptical fo this technology than those people over at BraveNewClimate. However I’ve been given no reason to believe this isn’t a medium term goer, and this Indian plant seems to be proving up the technology rapidly.

    Now I agree with Ernestine Gross that this would do bad things for our BoP, but I’m afraid that that seems inevitable, I don’t think we’re going to get a better deal on any renewable technology sold to us either.

  46. wilful
    June 1st, 2011 at 14:06 | #46

    1) At the stroke of a pen, authorities can reverse the day/night price differential. This would almost immediately eliminate much current routine night-time demand, and shift it to day time.

    yes administrative fiat could do this. Wouldn’t want to own a night rate water heater though, or be a pollie on the end of their outrage. Lower night time prices are an artifact of baseload’s need to keep producing. Though the total load is still there, we’d get higher peaks in daytime to compensate.

    2)If the differential is high enough, electric car owners will arrange by various means to charge mostly during the day. If electric car ownership is high enough to cause large scale electricity supply problems (and if these problems are visible to the consumer in the form of higher nighttime prices) it will be high enough to generate commercial solutions in privately owned car parks.

    What differential? Cheaper electricity due to daytime solar generation? You are talking about massive changes and disruption here. But sure, creative destruction

    3)A smart grid can be rolled out slowly, generating benefits at every level of “intelligence.” If 1% of meters are smart, 1% of buildings face an incentive to moderate peaks and troughs. There need be no coercion to get people to switch, just a slight premium on the accounts of “smart” customers.

    Major cultural change from the current culture of convenience. It is coercian lets not shy away from the fact. But yes that’s the intent of the Vic government program, and industrial customers are already supposed to feel that pressure. Others of course will simply have to lump increased prices, they can’t moderate their activity. A shop for example has the lights on, the air conditioning on whatever happens.

    4)Since the grid’s supply “fickleness” will increase slowly, as coal generators are gradually replaced with solar and wind, the grid’s intelligence only needs to increase slowly.

    True.

    5) Electric cars with their responsively varying demand substantially increase the stability of a smart grid.

    In your hypothetical world. I’m very dubious about the practicality of me driving into a commercial car park, plugging in, discovering it’s a grey cold still day, the price of electricity is high, my car is told not to accept a charge greater than x c/kwh, I go out at the end of the day and I can’t get home in my car.

    I am completely setting aside the scales at which solar and wind would have to be overbuilt in order to get system reliability. It’s a simple fact that for days on end the entire SE coast of Australia has still periods. I’ve seen the graphs, the turbines from Tassie to NSW are not turning.

    6)Although the cost of replacing a “dumb” meter even with another dumb meter is quite high, the underlying technology in a smart meter does not have to be much more expensive. All you need is two way machine to machine communication (a well established technology), and a primitive $50 computer. At minimum, the grid would have to tell the meter current price, and the meter would have to tell the grid it’s current demand. A more fancy system would see the grid giving the meter an updating forecast of future prices, and the meter giving the grid an updating forecast of future demand. You could have the meter’s computer acting as a local server on the house’s LAN interacting with any smart appliances. Once again, this technology generates benefits at every level of “intelligence.” If only one appliance is smart and interacting with the meter, the household saves a little money on the electricity bill.

    It’s not the individual units I’m dubious about, it’s the network interactive aspects. How coplex? And a server crash, everyone’s got a flat car, good grief what a disaster.

    7)In fact a lot of household load could vary responsively. Say the weather bureau tracks a bank of clouds moving towards a clump of solar panels that will arrive in 15 minutes. The grid could warn households of an imminent price spike, and all fridges could immediately switch on, chilling the food to the minimum temperature. As soon as the clouds hit the panels, the fridges would all switch off until either their internal thermostat hit the maximum, or the clouds passed. A similar thing could happen with a washing machine or dryer left on during the day. Note the fridges wouldn’t have to be told about the clouds, just the price forecast.

    This starts getting star trekky by now. Sure, this can happen, but when?

    7)Although the underlying technology is very cheap, I admit the government does often seem to overpay for these things, and stuff up deployment. The Queensland health computerised payroll system debacle is still ongoing. I remember Paul Lucas trying to justify why they had to move from a perfectly good computerised system to another one that worked 1/10 as well for 10 times the cost. He explained that the previous system was “old.” I think it would be very useful to have some new people in government who actually understand how IT works, and how much things ought to cost.

    Myki?

  47. sam
    June 1st, 2011 at 14:52 | #47

    “Wouldn’t want to own a night rate water heater”

    No, and if I did, I’d change it to heat during the day.

    “Major cultural change from the current culture of convenience. It is coercian lets not shy away from the fact.”

    Not so coercive. If you want to stick with a dumb meter, fine, don’t sign up. You’ll just pay a higher average price that’s all.

    “I’m very dubious about the practicality of me driving into a commercial car park, plugging in, discovering it’s a grey cold still day, the price of electricity is high, my car is told not to accept a charge greater than x c/kwh, I go out at the end of the day and I can’t get home in my car.”
    I would think you would tell your car to charge up whatever the price after say, 2-3pm if the price has been high all day. You don’t want to get stuck with a flat battery for the sake of saving a few dollars. That’s not too difficult to arrange, and it would still mean a lot of responsive demand.

    “I am completely setting aside the scales at which solar and wind would have to be overbuilt in order to get system reliability.”

    I’m interested in that. What sort of overbuild numbers are we talking here, and how do they compare to current overbuild numbers? Do you know? I imagine the overbuild ratio would slowly increase with supply fickleness.

    “How coplex? And a server crash, everyone’s got a flat car, good grief what a disaster.”

    The servers could be multiply redundant. Sure unforseen circumstances can upset the best laid plans, but that can happen in a nuclear reactor too, with much worse results. Also, a server crash doesn’t mean the grid crashes. It just becomes dumb again, like it is now. What does “coplex” mean?

    “This starts getting star trekky by now.”

    Not so star trekky. It would be very useful, but needn’t be difficult to do.

  48. wilful
    June 1st, 2011 at 15:11 | #48

    sorry for typos. Coplex = complex. And coercian WTF?

    The thing about overbuild is that people more qualified than me still pull their numbers out of their arse, so I wont get into that game and look foolish. I don’t think anyone really knows. Which is why it’s not “insurmountable” but pretty damn big. With wind, sometimes it’s all spinning and they’re producing their rated capacity, across the whole country. A beautiful sight if you like that thing (which I do but unfortunately lots dont).

    Unfortunately at other times none of them are moving for days on end. Do we have back up storage for this? Not currently. Maybe compressed air reservoirs, pumped hydro? Colour me sceptical. If that happens in winter (quite possible) so there’s limited solar output, then not only does the economy grind to a halt but our gas fired stations roar into life. But of course, those gas fired stations, if they’re new and clean enough (CCGT), are too expensive to be built to operate for a few months a year, they have to operate more than that to make a dollar. Our electricity bills have now gone through the roof (sure I realise I’m sounding like News Ltd at this point) while our emissions are still fundamentally underpinned by a fossil fuel, one that incidentally is runnign out?

    And why? Because we don’t think Australians are up with every other OECD country and can’t handle modern nuclear power, with its very limited set of risks. It’s a bloody big workaround.

  49. sam
    June 1st, 2011 at 15:31 | #49

    The problem here Wilful, is that neither of us have numbers. I can make all sorts of qualitative objections to you. I can say that prices would be high enough to *make* CCGT (or whatever) profitable running only a few months a year. You could say back “This would cause intolerably high price fluctuations.” I could say “No they would not be intolerable, they would be manageable.” We really need someone more knowledgeable than us to give us some hard figures.

    What I will say though, is that there is no prospect of increasing the renewable share of the grid to the point of instability for at least a decade. So let’s not worry till then.

  50. wilful
    June 1st, 2011 at 15:33 | #50

    agreed! In the meantime, we need a carbon price.

  51. sam
    June 1st, 2011 at 15:39 | #51

    Agreed

  52. PeakVT
    June 3rd, 2011 at 02:10 | #52

    @Tim Macknay The “generation” designations are really not all that meaningful apart from marketing. Both the PFBR in India and the HTR-PM in China are derivatives of designs first built as prototypes in the 1960s. And they are just demonstration plants. There are no commercial “Gen-IV” plants being built.

  53. wilful
    June 3rd, 2011 at 09:50 | #53

    erm, PeakVT, could you be more confused?

    The “generation” designations are really not all that meaningful apart from marketing.

    There are no commercial “Gen-IV” plants being built.

    Which is it?

    And if you think a 500MW plant is pure demonstration, you’re hard to impress. I don’t think there’s a single wind farm (and certainly not a solar plant) beyond demonstration level if that’s your criterion.

  54. PeakVT
    June 3rd, 2011 at 14:34 | #54

    @wilful So what if the Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor is rated at 500MWe? The Indians admit that it’s a prototype, right there in the name. And Roscoe Wind Farm is rated at 781MW, followed by Horse Hollow at 735MW, Tehachapi at 690MW, Capricorn Ridge at 662MW, etc., so you got that bit wrong as well. Finally, if you look harder at the second sentence of mine in your comment, you’ll notice the use of quotation marks around the term Gen-IV, which are there to indicate I am using the term as others use it.

    Thanks for playing, though. Better luck next time.

  55. wilful
    June 3rd, 2011 at 16:40 | #55

    Nah mate, you can shove your dismissive clichés where they fit, some place dark.

    Those windfarms you cite are the largest in the world. Yet their nameplate capacity will be what, five times their actual? So really they’re in the ~200MW range, half that of the indian reactor.

    The power generated by the PFBR will be sold, and will be used. That meets a pretty basic definition of commercial.

    Of course, this is all a distraction in a meta sense, the arguments for nuclear power don’t rest on future or prototype tech, we’d do well just with 1980s and 90s designed reactors such as CANDU-6.

  56. Tim Macknay
    June 3rd, 2011 at 17:38 | #56

    wilful, I’m not really sure you can honestly claim that an experimental prototype reactor is ‘commercial’, even if the power is sold. To be genuinely commercial it needs to be profitable, which first-of-a-kind prototypes rarely (never?) are. Also, the capacity factor argument is a bit of a furphy – as an experimental reactor, the PFBR is unlikely to spend most of its time generating and selling power so probably won’t have a very high capacity factor itself. It will need to overcome the significant problems that have plagued similar liquid metal fast reactor designs in the past (which I assume is the point of the sodium-cooled fast reactor concept). I agree that it’s a side issue, though.

    One thing I just don’t get about this debate is the way each advocates on side are simultaneously very optimistic about the future prospects for their preferred technology and simultaneously convinced that the technologies they don’t like just “can’t” work. I find arguments based on the insistence that something “can’t” be done to be pretty dubious. It reminds a little of the way so many climate inactivists insist (without evidence) that it will be easy and cheap to adapt to global warming, but expensive and difficult to mitigate it, or that human ingenuity and enterprise can achieve anything – except reducing emissions.

    I also find the notion, apparently held by most participants in this debate, that only “one” type of energy technology can be the solution, pretty bizarre.

    It seems pretty obvious to me that both renewable and nuclear technologies could potentially provide a large-scale power source for society. However, both require further development. If I was to put money on it, at this juncture I’d be more inclined to go with renewables, because the safety problems of nuclear energy (notwithstanding that they can potentially be overcome) seem likely to stall its development (again), at least for a while, whereas renewable energy capacity continues to increase exponentially, and costs continue to come down. In any case, I seriously doubt either technology is going to disappear any time soon.

  57. Tim Macknay
    June 3rd, 2011 at 17:55 | #57

    I meant “advocates on each side” rather than “each advocates on side”, obviously.

  58. Alice
    June 3rd, 2011 at 21:13 | #58

    @wilful
    Get over it Wilful and Prof anyone who tells other people to shove their arguments somewhere dark (Wilful) needs a weeks ban as well.

    Wilful complains about my calling the nuclear sandpit a cesspit (for which I get banned) but it was his foul language (worse than cesspit – he said I was p****** in it). You know what? Wilful is just rude but he thinks he can get away with it.

    Come on Prof – fair is fair. Ban Wilful for a week.

    Oh and Wilful? Your deity Barry Brook is worse than a denialist – he hosts fishing boat trawler operators for twenty years who somehow now posit themselves as nuclear experts. Let me assure you Barry Brook is a denialist. He denies the quality of his own self promoted “experts” who he digs up from some hippy lifestyle somewhere who now dream they want “mass nuclear” (who paud the poor bastards?). Yes and the “expert: Barry and his industyry mates think they can market as long as he grows an academic goatee and dons a coat jacket for the photos, probably spent twenty years smoking too much dope on the high seas.

    You think people are fooled by BNC Wilful? Not at all.

  59. PeakVT
    June 4th, 2011 at 02:15 | #59

    Nah mate, you can shove your dismissive clichés where they fit, some place dark.

    An stunning opening that establishes your intelligence and depth of knowledge.

    So really they’re in the ~200MW range, half that of the indian reactor.

    Impressive goalpost-shifting, but foolish. The capacity factors of other large sodium-cooled fast reactors are/were: 78% for the BN-600, 40% for Phénix, and 8% for Superphénix. (I don’t have the numbers for Fermi 1 or Monju handy, but let’s just say they are less than impressive.) Using an average of 42% suggests the entirely unproven PFBR will have a net capacity of 210MWe. Existing wind farms in the state of Texas have an average capacity factor of over 30%, so Roscoe has a net capacity of at least … 234MW.

    That meets a pretty basic definition of commercial.

    No, not really. Just because the Indian government will force a state-owned power company to transfer money in exchange for the electricity doesn’t make it commercial. Even if it was an arms-length transaction, that wouldn’t mean the plant is economically viable, either.

    blah blah CANDU-6

    The last CANDU-6 reactor purchased was in China in 1998. It has since switched to PWR designs. The only two models of that reactor under construction are in Romania, and those were started in 1984 and 1985. They appear to be trying to recover sunk costs, so that’s hardly a ringing endorsement of the design. The bids for two ACR-1000s in Ontario came in at over CAD10,000/MW, and Bruce Power has shelved the project.

    Your luck hasn’t improved.

  60. John Quiggin
    June 4th, 2011 at 06:20 | #60

    Alice and Wilful, you are both banned for a week. I was sloppy about enforcing it last time, but this time any breach will result in a permanent ban.

  61. quokka
    June 6th, 2011 at 09:48 | #61

    @Alice

    To set the record straight Barry Brook and Tom Blees are members of a group called the Science Council for Global Initiatives http://www.thesciencecouncil.com/

    This team is not short of scientific and nuclear engineering expertise including one Dr James Hansen, Dr Evgeny Velikhov – a leading figure in the Russian scientific establishment and a number of the leading nuclear engineers and scientists from the US Argonne National Labs who were key figures in the Integral Fast Reactor development.

    I recognize that the Argonne people have their own stake in seeing their life’s work, which they see as critically important, come to fruition. But that does not stop me from evaluating what they are saying on it’s own merits and it should not deter others from doing so.

  62. quokka
    June 6th, 2011 at 10:25 | #62

    @PeakVT

    The capacity factors of other large sodium-cooled fast reactors are/were: 78% for the BN-600, 40% for Phénix, and 8% for Superphénix. (I don’t have the numbers for Fermi 1 or Monju handy, but let’s just say they are less than impressive.) Using an average of 42% suggests the entirely unproven PFBR will have a net capacity of 210MWe. Existing wind farms in the state of Texas have an average capacity factor of over 30%, so Roscoe has a net capacity of at least … 234MW.
    That meets a pretty basic definition of commercial.

    That’s right, they were not really commercial with the possible exception of Superphénix which had it’s share of problems and was finally shut down for non-engineering reasons when the problems were largely resolved. They were experimental and a high capacity factor was not really the primary objective. They were used for lots of experiments such as fuel testing and materials science in the hostile environment of the reactor cores. The operation of these fast reactors and the experiments conducted with them has gone into the accumulated body of engineering knowledge. Lessons are learned in nuclear engineering just as in any other branch of engineering.

    Probably the main reason fast reactors haven’t received more attention is that uranium has proved to be more plentiful than was previously thought and it is cheap. This is almost certainly the reason there has never been any attempt to deploy fast reactors at scale.

    If you want to play this silly game, we could compare wind turbines, PV panels, gas turbines or any generation technology of 30 or 40 years ago with old fast reactor design. But it would be a waste of everyone’s time. As are these threads because participants seldom have an interest in getting at something resembling the truth and treat them as a game of debating points – no matter how weak those points may be.

  63. Ernestine Gross
    June 6th, 2011 at 22:55 | #63

    quokka, you are addressing a post to Alice 2 days after the date when the owner of this blog-site, Prof Quiggin, banned Alice and wilful for one week. I don’t think this is fair.

  64. quokka
    June 6th, 2011 at 23:13 | #64

    @Ernestine Gross

    I am not engaging in some worthless exchange about “fairness” with you. Others can read the original post and my response and make their own judgement on whether it was justified.

  65. John Quiggin
    June 7th, 2011 at 05:45 | #65

    I went to a very interesting BrisScience talk by Aidan Byrne, Dean of Science at ANU on the topic “Chernobyl 25 years on: Is there a future for nuclear power after Fukushima?”
    http://brisscience.wordpress.com/

    Very informative about how the accidents took place, likely consequences and so on. Some key points from the talk and subsequent discussion

    * If the reactors had been stabilised within a week, it would have been seen as a big win for nuclear power. As things happened, it wasn’t
    * One likely response will be resistance to multiple reactors being built on the same site
    * Casts doubt on life extension for 1970-vintage plants
    * Thorium plants require a reprocessing step and therefore will never happen
    * Claims that “all contingencies have been foreseen” won’t be believed in future
    * Nevertheless, rapidly growing poor countries like China and India need energy and won’t forgo nuclear

    The bottom line was that the number of nuclear plants in 2050 will probably be about the same as now, but they will mostly be in China and India.

  66. Chris Warren
    June 7th, 2011 at 08:41 | #66

    Statements such as:

    “Thorium plants require a reprocessing step and therefore will never happen”

    are rather cavalier for an ANU Dean.

    The point about taking public funding is to work on such problems – not bury ones head in the sand.

  67. Hermit
    June 7th, 2011 at 10:08 | #67

    Interesting point about most new nukes being built in China and India. I wonder if there is such a thing as cultural evolution whereby a society changes some basic attitudes, for example towards animal cruelty. One of those more evolved attitudes could be distaste for nuclear power. Thus we have ‘evolved’ Germany, Scotland and Switzerland all saying they will phase out nukes. If that affects per capita GDP it could be regarded as kind of voluntary simplicity movement, at least for a while. At the moment China and India say they want more growth and more nukes. Perhaps when they get to Western standards of affluence they might say no.

    Of course it may not pan out that way. Asia’s population may simply be too large and the West may not enjoy seeing their affluence decline in relative terms. Some strange things could happen; for example roving Chinese construction crews building cut price or prefabricated reactors in quick time for customers in the West.

  68. quokka
    June 7th, 2011 at 10:50 | #68

    @Chris Warren

    I think the claim of reprocessing requirement preventing the development of thorium reactors is pretty ridiculous. China has initiated a serious R&D program for molten salt reactors which will almost certainly cover thorium fueled types such as LFTR and that means reprocessing.

    If recycling is held to be the issue, then there have been lots of noises from Russia recently about a move to fast spectrum liquid metal cooled reactors as the strategic goal. That means recycling of spent fuel. It seems the US is prepared to cooperate: http://www.interfax.com/newsinf.asp?id=240082

    South Korea has very similar strategic goals and is actively pursuing them with program for engineering scale pyroprocessing pilot by 2015.

    Claims that recycling is an intrinsic barrier are really a bit odd to say the least.

  69. quokka
    June 7th, 2011 at 13:35 | #69

    Before anybody gets too excited about dancing on a purported nuclear grave, some sobering figures – In OECD countries nuclear provides 22% of generated electricity and solar/wind/geothermal/other just 4%. Shutting down nuclear would be a disaster for emissions. (Source IEA Monthly Electricity Statistics Feb 2011).

    There is an unfortunate habit of grouping hydro with the wind/solar team with the intent of conveying the impression that renewables alone are going to do the job. But hydro is limited and if renewables are to do the job, it MUST be the solar/wind group that has to scale. That is a huge ask and if these technologies do not perform and are not deployed on large scale in the next decade, there will be not be just a swing back to nuclear, but a rush to nuclear as the climate problem becomes ever more urgent.

  70. Chris Warren
    June 7th, 2011 at 14:52 | #70

    I have done some looking at thorium. Here is one example of thorium advocates going full-bore.

    http://energyfromthorium.com/category/reprocessing/

    Reprocessing does not worry me – if all uranium mines are closed with no loss in jobs.

  71. Ernestine Gross
    June 7th, 2011 at 15:38 | #71

    @quokka

    “In OECD countries nuclear provides 22% of generated electricity and solar/wind/geothermal/other just 4%. Shutting down nuclear would be a disaster for emissions. (Source IEA Monthly Electricity Statistics Feb 2011).”

    Like TerjeP, you publish pre Fukushima nuclear accident (ie pre March 2011) data.

  72. quokka
    June 7th, 2011 at 18:42 | #72

    @Ernestine Gross

    If you have any data from an authoritative source that is more recent then lets see it. You are drawing a long bow if you are claiming it’s going to make any real substantive difference. OECD nuclear capacity is currently about 296 GWe. If say 20GWe total is shutdown in Japan and Germany, that is less than 7% and some of that is likely to be compensated for by France’s reserved capacity.

    But lets say, for argument sake that post Fukushima, nuclear drops from 22% to 20% of OECD electricity generation. That is still five times the production from the solar/wind/etc group. Should all nuclear in the OECD be shutdown by 2022 mimicking Germany, solar/wind would have to expand by 500% just to cover the nuclear and that without allowing for any increase in demand. There would be no net CO2 gain.

    Recall that the EU target is 20% renewables not 20% solar/wind by 2020.

    Are we serious about climate change or not?

  73. Chris Warren
    June 7th, 2011 at 19:12 | #73

    BNC = Bloody Nuclear Catastrophe

    See: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-13678627

    or is it, BNC = Bloody No Comment?

  74. John Quiggin
    June 7th, 2011 at 19:35 | #74

    People should bear in mind that I was giving a dot point summary. To spell out what was said (from memory):

    The US is opposed to reprocessing because of the risk of plutonium proliferatio, and has advocated a “once-through” approach where fuel is burnt then disposed of as waste. The US view is likely to be shared by other developed countries, and pressed on developing countries. Hence, thorium processes are unlikely to happen as long as the US has any say in the matter (ie for quite a long time to come).

    He didn’t spell out the story wrt China, but my impression is that they are standardising on the AP-1000 and have little interest in more exotic approaches.

  75. quokka
    June 7th, 2011 at 20:42 | #75

    @John Quiggin

    Some points:

    1. Thorium-232 – Uranium-233 fuel cycle does not produce plutonium in any quantity. There seems to be a bit of discussion of whether U-233 bred in molten salt reactor could or couldn’t be used for a bomb but the bottom line is that in worst case it would be much more difficult than the well trodden route of making Pu in a “research” reactor or enriching uranium. Proliferation seems seems to be a non-issue at this time for Thorium.

    2. In the US, if the MIT Future of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle report is influential (and the MIT bunch seem to be) the preferred option is once-though with retrievable storage – not permanent geologic disposal. This leaves open the option of future recycling. They seem to be unable to decide if spent fuel is a liability or an asset and whether future generations might curse us for throwing a huge source of energy down holes in the ground. Interestingly they pose the question of inter-generational equity in terms of conservation of fissile resources and not so much in terms of waste disposal. Overall, they conclude that any decision about recycling is not urgent – which unfortunately also seems to have been the official attitude to spent fuel management in general for some time.

    3. There is no doubt that China has initiated a serious R&D program for molten salt thorium reactors with a long term perspective. They also have experimental fast sodium cooled reactor, pebble bed HTR and apparently are going to build a couple of Russian BN-800 fast reactors. There is also little doubt that PWRs will be their main game for at least 15-20 years. It is hard to accept that anybody (including the Chinese) believes that PWRs are going to wholly replace coal in China and they must surely be looking at all the long term options. Breeder reactors in general must look attractive from a long term point of view of energy security as compared to a huge fleet of PWRs with heavy dependence on imported uranium.

    I would post links, but the comment them gets caught in moderation.

  76. Ernestine Gross
    June 8th, 2011 at 10:34 | #76

    @quokka

    1. You acknowledge that the February 2011 data you published is out of date. Good.

    Like TerjeP you try to find an excuse by trying to argue about the extent of the error. Not good.

    2. You try to suggest that ‘reserve nuclear power’ from France could substitute for the closed down nuclear plants in Germany and Japan. The latter (Japan) suggestion is extremely silly. As for the former, buying nuclear power generated electricity from France for German consumption is a function of profit maximising behaviour of only partially regulated utilities in Germany and not necessarily due to renewable energy supply constraints. Incidentally, the French population has never been asked whether they want nuclear power. There have been (and possibly still are) public demonstrations against nuclear power in France. Switzerland has dropped out of your list.

    3. You write: “Recall that the EU target is 20% renewables not 20% solar/wind by 2020″

    Do you usually argue with yourself?

    4. You write: “Are we serious about climate change or not?” I can’t answer this question on your behalf. But it seems to me the nuclear proponents are serious about climate change if and only if they can sell their old technology.

    5. In an earlier post, you provide a link to the Science Council for Global Initiatives. Yes, Barry Brook is a member but this does not make the council a body to talk about ‘global initiatives’. It is a USA organisation and the governance of this ‘council’ is dominated by people who have a background in the nuclear industry.

    I find it strange that the USA and other countries are arguing vehemently against nuclear power in Iran while you and your Science Council for Global Initiatives tries to promote nuclear power globally. I suppose this contradiction is not obvious to you.

    6. Have you not noticed you switched from OECD countries to the EU without pointing out that the USA has a much bigger weight in the OECD than it has in the EU!!

    7. I can understand those who say that the circumstances in some countries are such that nuclear power is – at least in the short term – a lesser evil than material poverty for large numbers of their populations. I can’t understand you (surely, you are not suggesting the USA is so far down the path of extreme unequal income distribution to fall into this category. Whatever your idea on this point may be, the population of other OECD countries seem to have different objectives.)

  77. quokka
    June 8th, 2011 at 12:08 | #77

    @Ernestine Gross

    1. You acknowledge that the February 2011 data you published is out of date. Good.
    Like TerjeP you try to find an excuse by trying to argue about the extent of the error. Not good.

    All data is always “out of date” because it takes time to gather, process and publish. If using data to support an assertion, it is good practice and good manners because it exhibits a degree of respect to the reader, to source the most recent data from an authoritative source. This is not an error.

    You raised the issue of how the Fukushima accident would impact the electricity production from nuclear power in OECD countries and I provided you with an “off the cuff” estimate. Implicit in such estimates is an open invitation to anybody who can provide a more accurate figures or figures more from a more authoritative to do so. Such dialog can be an iterative process that converges to something approach the truth as can best be determined. I have a firm belief that “by the numbers” is critically important to the staggeringly difficult problem of climate/energy.

    I will point out that you have produced no figures at all, which hardly puts you in a position to pontificate on errors you accuse others of. Unless you can produce something, what I wrote on the contribution of nuclear power to OECD electricity production stands uncontested. And by logical deduction the consequences for CO2 emissions of closing down OECD nuclear also stand uncontested.

  78. quokka
    June 8th, 2011 at 13:29 | #78

    @Ernestine Gross

    5. In an earlier post, you provide a link to the Science Council for Global Initiatives. Yes, Barry Brook is a member but this does not make the council a body to talk about ‘global initiatives’. It is a USA organisation and the governance of this ‘council’ is dominated by people who have a background in the nuclear industry.

    Is “background in the nuclear industry” some sort of mark of moral degeneracy that accords respectability to summarily dismissing what that have to say? Strictly speaking it’s not even true if you are inferring that their background is in the commercial nuclear business and have either some financial or ideological stake in it. It isn’t. The SCGI “nuclear people” are mostly very senior researchers in nuclear science and engineering from US government labs and their mission is not to promote the nuclear industry in it’s current form, but to transform it to a condition of long term sustainability including the minimization of environmental impact. This is no fig leaf for ulterior motives – it was both their vision and their life’s work.

    If you wish to pursue this “mouth piece for the nuclear industry” stuff, it should also be pointed out that James Hansen, who has just recently in NZ has once again reaffirmed his support for nuclear power is also an SCGI member.

    Now, can we get on with matters of substance? If they are wrong, then let’s hear why they are wrong.

    I find it strange that the USA and other countries are arguing vehemently against nuclear power in Iran while you and your Science Council for Global Initiatives tries to promote nuclear power globally. I suppose this contradiction is not obvious to you.

    There is no contradiction because you have your facts wrong. Even Clinton does not consider the Bushehr nuclear power plant a proliferation risk. Because commercial light water reactors are very poor tools for making bombs – which is why they are not used for that purpose anywhere. Especially when Russia is supplying the fuel and taking back the spent fuel. Any rational analysis of PWRs will show they pose little proliferation risk.

    The stated objective of the US is to stop uranium enrichment in Iran. I am not going to go into the rights and wrongs of that here, because it is just a distraction. This is a separate issue from the use of nuclear power for electricity generation no matter what attempts are made to conflate them for political reasons.

    The US is party to (in fact the initiator of) the GNEP – Global Nuclear Energy Partnership – which has the explicit aim of promoting the use of nuclear power world wide by the use of light water reactors whose fuel is supplied by “supplier” countries and spent fuel is returned to a supplier country. This is exactly the relationship Iran has with Russia for Bushehr.

    What does all this have to do with SCGI? Well, you tell me because you are claiming “contradictions” exit?

  79. Ernestine Gross
    June 8th, 2011 at 14:26 | #79

    @quokka

    Regarding your #28, p 2:

    While your comment that all data is out of date due to the time lag of data collection is true in general, it is not true that therefore it applies to the consequences of a specific catastrophic even. Specifcally, your argument is relevant for the data published in February 2011, which you referenced, but it is not relevant for the question on how does the catastrophic nuclear accident event of Fukushima in March 2011 affects people’s assessment of the future of nuclear power.

    Your statement : “You raised the issue of how the Fukushima accident would impact the electricity production from nuclear power in OECD countries.” is false. (There are too many people who produce answers to questions which are not asked – particularly in various branches of the consulting and promoting industry.)

    I don’t have to play your game regarding what type of data should be produced.. I produced information on actual events, namely Germany’s reaction to the Fukushima accident. Other commenters added information regarding other countries. You have produced no data to invalidate the data. No, you choose to talk about the OECD! – A boring game.

  80. John Quiggin
    June 8th, 2011 at 14:31 | #80

    I should stay out of this, but I’ll toss in the opinion that the only serious nuclear contender for the next couple of decades is the AP-1000. The Chinese have standardised on it, and if the US nuclear renaissance doesn’t fail completely, this will be the dominant choice there as well.

    As for the remaining (actually existing, not drawing board ideas like the IFR) contenders the idea that Russia in its current and likely state of decay can ever live down Chernobyl is laughable, Areva has fallen in a heap in Finland, the Canadians are out of the game as Peak-VT has said, and the odds against home-grown Indian products seem long to me.

    To lay down some ground rules, I’d suggest that, any existing design that doesn’t have at least 25 reactors operational or near-completion by 2020 is unlikely to survive. Anybody have any alternative contenders?

  81. Ernestine Gross
    June 8th, 2011 at 14:33 | #81

    @quokka

    Re your #28, p2.

    Amazsing how much you write in reply to 1 paragraph from me. Two points.

    1. Much of your long post consists of a conversation you have with yourself (ie hypothesising about what I think or might think and then arguing against it). This is entirely your problem.

    2. You are telling us some interesting things about the policy objectives of the USA. I don’t know whether I should or should not believe you. I have a simple question: Assuming what you say about the USA’s policy of promoting nuclear power generation globally is true, is this because the USA hasn’t got much else to sell globally except nuclear power plants?

  82. Hermit
    June 8th, 2011 at 14:49 | #82

    Pr Q a lot of people like the Candu 6 design http://www.aecl.ca/Reactors/CANDU6.htm
    which at 600 MW has less output than the AP 1000. It’s a bit difficult to say just how much it would really cost built in Australia, $6 a watt maybe or say $4bn per unit. We’d get 9 of them for the cost of the NBN. I believe it requires ‘lightly enriched’ uranium which may spare Australia the indignity of buying back its own uranium after foreign processing.

  83. Chris Warren
    June 8th, 2011 at 15:06 | #83

    AP-1000′s have concrete containment shells only 90 cm thick than span some 30 metres.

    This containment can be easily breached by a determined terrorist.

    In the past America has usually provided suitable weapons to terrorists it was supporting.

    The AP-1000′s also run on uranium, with all the future problems this imposes.

    Whether there are any other contenders by 2020, depends on the amount of research and development dollars that goes into alternatives.

  84. sam
    June 8th, 2011 at 15:35 | #84

    I don’t have much technical to add, but I thought I’d throw in an opinion anyway. I think people are being far too pessimistic about the long term prospects of breeder reactors. Not every breeder requires off-site, or even out-of-core reprocessing. Proliferation concerns aside, the main reason they haven’t taken off is just that they are a bit more expensive than once-through designs at current uranium prices. Serious work will begin on them as soon as we run out of cheaply extractable ore.

    In fact, much of america’s electricity is already provided by breeder reactors, albeit via an extremely inefficient process. I read somewhere that 10% of its power is provided by down-blended plutonium extracted from the primaries of decommissioned soviet missiles as part of the Megatons to Megawatts program. American citizens are consuming energy kindly prepared for them in the nuclear furnaces of the Soviet Union in the 1960′s. These suppliers always intended for the energy they were storing to be released in american cities – it’s just that envisaged a release time of 30 nanoseconds, not 30 years. It’s all very ironic.

  85. Ernestine Gross
    June 8th, 2011 at 16:38 | #85

    “Whether there are any other contenders by 2020, depends on the amount of research and development dollars that goes into alternatives.”

    Good point. But who is to pay for this research and development? There is a lot of research on the behaviour of multinational firms which points to a ‘product cycle’ where old technology, developed in ‘the home country’, is sold (licensed) or deployed (direct investment) in foreign countries and the proceeds are used to develop new technologies. Perhaps quokka’s answer to my question will throw some light on the present queston.

  86. John Quiggin
    June 8th, 2011 at 17:58 | #86

    @Hermit
    As your link shows, no one has liked them enough to order one for at least a decade (though I think the Indians have made their own after Canada cut them off in 1974)

  87. quokka
    June 9th, 2011 at 10:11 | #87

    @John Quiggin

    The reality of the Olkiluoto 3 EPR cost and time overruns it that the LCOE is still very likely comparable to that of on-shore wind in Europe. Hard to find decent figures, but I used the NREL simplified on-line LCOE calculator to get an estimate and it sure looked that way.

    The Olkiluoto overruns surely haven’t helped Areva, but it unrealistic to claim that those FOAK costs are truly representative of either new nuclear build costs in general or EPR costs in particular. Just as it would be unrealistic to claim that the costs of new nuclear build in Sth Korea which is well under half that at Olkiluoto is universally representative. The Royal Academy of Engineering report “Engineering the Future: Nuclear Lessons Learned” sheds much light on the issues and is a “must read”. It also covers Sizewell B (on time and on budget) AP-1000 in China and EPR in China. Among other things it reports that base concrete pour on the Chinese EPRs was achieved in half the time of Olkiluoto and Flamanville and other significant improvements.

    New EPRs will be built in India and a Saudi official has recently been spruiking 16 reactors by 2030 and EPRs will be a prime candidate. UK plans also revolve around EPR and AP-1000. Far to early to pronounce EPR dead.

    Another reactor design that will definitely see 2020 is the Russian VVER-1200 (Gen III+) with new builds in Russia, Turkey, Vietnam, India and probably Bangladesh at least.

  88. Chris Warren
    June 9th, 2011 at 10:46 | #88

    @quokka

    Sigh….

    It looks like we have to send donations to Greenpeace (or similar) in; Russia, Turkey, Vietnam, India and probably Bangladesh.

    That is the problem with globalisation, once one rancid regime achieves a short-term competitive advantage, others soon follow suit.

    So all social norms collapse to a common denominator which is well below present standards.

    So a rising tide sinks all ships.

  89. quokka
    June 9th, 2011 at 11:59 | #89

    @Ernestine Gross

    In reply to your question, two points:

    1. You don’t have to believe or disbelieve me about US policy. You can find out something about GNEP yourself. I’m not agreeing or disagreeing with GNEP – it has both good and not so good aspects. But it is a reality.

    2. If you want to make some contorted argument about “US pushing nuclear power because it has nothing much else to export” then go right ahead, but the onus is on you to provide something more than sound bites and not on me to respond to silly assertions.

    As for the tired old “old technology” stuff about nuclear, all energy options for the next fifty years have be available in plain sight for decades. It takes a long long time to fully develop the technology and engineering of energy. Even the venerable internal combustion engine is still undergoing significant improvement, the photo electric effect was discovered decades before the neutron, windmills have been around for centuries and the age of steam is still very much alive and kicking.

  90. Ikonoclast
    June 9th, 2011 at 12:15 | #90

    I wonder if obsessive belief in the efficacy of nuclear power is a generational thing? Many people who were school children in the 1960s (like me) would have seen and heard all the “Friendly Atom” propaganda at that time. Impressed by the awesome, relatively new power of nuclear weapons, people thought that nuclear energy promised an endless supply of energy. The truth has turned out to be rather different.

    Nuclear plants currently supply about 6% of the world’s TOTAL energy needs. (It is misleading to just talk about electricity production.) Hydro still supplies more than that, at about 6.3% of world total energy. So nuclear energy is a midget, not a giant. What’s more, nuclear energy will always remain a midget becuase uranium supplies are limited and quite finite. Thorium reactors are so technically difficult and Gen IV so innately unstable that they will never be successfully built. They are only a drawing board dream and will remain such for ever like harnessing fusion power. Some things are beyond the technical capacity of man because of two issues, excessive system complexity and difficulty and the limits imposed by the laws of physics . Belief that science is quasi-magical and can do anything sooner or later is quite misplaced. What science can achieve is limited to a set of possibilities within the laws of physics and within the system complexity limits that can be achieved by human ingenuity and practical construction.

    Nuclear energy is too dangerous, too expensive, too uninsurable and too limited ever to be the answer to our energy needs. Logical research and analysis of scientifically reputable sources on this matter is quite conclusive. People could save themselves from these endless pointless arguements if they would do a bit of personal research instead of just voicing unsupported opinions.

  91. Ikonoclast
    June 9th, 2011 at 13:18 | #91

    It is enlightening to do a few back of the envelope calculations for solar power. Solar hot water systems (for S.E. Qld) have an energy collection area of about 2 to 2.5 square meters. Water heating accounts for about 25% of household energy use. This tells us that about 10 square meters of solar energy collection area per house will suffice. We will build in some allowance for conversion inefficiency further below.

    Albany Creek (a suburb near me) has about 16,000 people in it and about 5,000 occupied dwellings. Therefore, a solar collection area of 50,000 square meters is needed. Let us assume thay all get solar hot water systems plus a 50,000 sq m suburban solar facility sited on vacant land in nearby Brendale, Eatons Hill or Warner. This bulk facility contains theextra 25% as allowance for inefficiencies, maintenance and a bit of growth in power useage.

    Let us double the area of the facility from 50,000 sq m to 100,000 sq m to allow for access roads, maintenance paths, facility buildings and a sub-station. This equals 10 hectares or about 25 acres in the old measure. The current large shopping centre at Chermside including carpark covers about 30 acres so this facility even with a buffer zone would be no larger than Chermside shopping centre. This seems feasible, however every suburb would need a facility like this.

    One hundred such facilities would supply power for households (not industry) adding up to 1.6 million people. Feasible or not? What do people think?

  92. quokka
    June 9th, 2011 at 13:18 | #92

    One issue of energy that receives rather little attention is “energy sprawl”. It is absolutely shocking for growing feed stock for biofuel, but it is a consideration in all energy production. It is a serious consideration in issues of land use and conservation of habitat and it is also serious for public acceptance of various technologies.

    Following the Fukushima accident, pundits have been quick to chastise Japan for not availing itself of all the “abundant” geothermal resources. As usual reality bats last. Bloomberg has a piece on potential geothermal resources in Japan. They reckon there is 23GW but the kicker is this – 82% lies within national parks. My view is that industrializing national parks is too high a price. Wild places are precious and disappearing at a frightening rate. It would be ironic if those condemning rain forest destruction for palm oil plantations would back this development.

    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-06-06/japan-may-tap-geothermal-power-to-offset-atomic-loss-bnef-says.html

  93. Chris Warren
    June 9th, 2011 at 13:32 | #93

    Why would anyone mention growing feed for biofuel, land use, conservation, national parks, and rain forest destruction, without mentioning the problem of population growth?

  94. Ernestine Gross
    June 9th, 2011 at 13:59 | #94

    @quokka

    Finally we get to a conclusion. Your replies ignore that you had raised the issues but you don’t answer questions arising from these. Instead you want me to explore your suggestions. No thank you, quokka. You, of course are wellcome to go on a goose chase on your own.

  95. quokka
    June 9th, 2011 at 14:11 | #95

    @Ikonoclast

    Nuclear plants currently supply about 6% of the world’s TOTAL energy needs. (It is misleading to just talk about electricity production.) Hydro still supplies more than that, at about 6.3% of world total energy.

    Yup. That’s about the size of it. Which just goes to show how challenging the climate/energy problem is. If nuclear is a “midget”, then what is solar currently – a single celled organism? The icon of current green fashion is Germany where solar PV is a whole 3% of electricity supply. It will take ALL forms of low emission electricity generation to have any chance.

    You are just making up nonsense about complexities of physics etc etc and Gen IV nuclear power. Typical of Gen IV designs is near atmospheric pressure operation of the core coolant. This is much safer, easier and cheaper, and far less subject to the possibility of catastrophic failure than then many multiples of atmospheric pressure in water cooled and moderated thermal reactors. Also typical Gen IV such as IFR and LFTR is high negative temperature coefficient of reactivity. ie getting hotter slows down the reaction and makes a “power excursion” like Chernobyl well neigh impossible. This is not due to complex external controls fighting with the physics of the reactor core but because of the physics of the reactor core. The aim is “walk away” safe. It is not a dream, it is reality demonstrated at Argonne where they turned of primary coolant pumps on EBR-II and let ‘er rip. There is a video somewhere on youtube showing the scene in control room for this experiment.

  96. Ikonoclast
    June 9th, 2011 at 19:59 | #96

    @quokka

    “Generation IV reactors are a set of theoretical nuclear reactor designs currently being researched. These designs are generally not expected to be available for commercial construction before 2030.” – Wkipedia.

    The IFR (Integral Fast Reactor) is a breeder reactor (the most dangerous kind as they produce plutonium which could aid weapons proliferation) which is cooled by liquid sodium. If this liquid sodium comes into contact with air or turbine steam the potential for a very serious incident is high.

    The liquid fluoride thorium reactor (LFTR), is another experimental design with no proof of viability. Again the words, “these designs are generally not expected to be available for commercial construction before 2030″ are applicable.

    EBR-II is now defueled. The EBR-II shutdown activity also includes the treatment of its discharged spent fuel using an electrometallurgical fuel treatment process in the Fuel Conditioning Facility located next to the EBR-II.

    “The clean-up process for EBR-II includes the removal and processing of the sodium coolant, cleaning of the EBR-II sodium systems, removal and passivating of other chemical hazards and placing the deactivated components and structure in a safe condition.”- Wikpedia.

    “The EBR-II has served as prototype of the Integral Fast Reactor (IFR), which was the intended successor to the EBR-II. The IFR program was started in 1983, but funding was withdrawn by U.S. Congress in 1994, three years before the indended completion of the program. “- Wikpedia.

    If it was such a raging success, why has the whole prooram been shut down?

  97. Hermit
    June 9th, 2011 at 21:29 | #97

    @Ikonoclast
    These calcs can be checked with some more data or assumptions. How many kwh will each house need apart from water heating? Are they charging an electric car for example? What form of overnight electric energy storage is proposed? Battery banks for example. Will there be a buffer for a week of cloud and rain? What is the difference between median summer and winter insolation for the proposed area? Will the PV panels get capital subsidies, federal RECs or State feed-in tariffs? What capital cost per watt is assumed? What interest rate will be paid? Will this ‘electricity island’ be synchronised with a wider grid?

    People who have done this exercise before find that the cost would be tens of thousands per household with a payback period spanning two decades. The cost advantage to centralised generation and distribution is currently overwhelming.

  98. John Quiggin
    June 9th, 2011 at 21:41 | #98

    @quokka I don’t doubt that VVER’s will still be around for a while. But my point about the Russian nuclear industry remains – given their history and the current state of Russia, there’s no way they are going to be acceptable globally for decades to come.

    On EPR, when would you say the death notice can be pronounced? Say, if the number of plants in operation or construction is still in single digits by 2015?

  99. quokka
    June 9th, 2011 at 23:33 | #99

    @Ikonoclast

    Agreed, we may not see LFTRs until 2030. Their advocates put forward a quite convincing case that they are easier and cheaper to design and build than solid fueled reactors because of the inherent simplicity. They may well be right but there will still be a lot of engineering development do do. So skeptical (in the proper sense) might be an appropriate attitude until things move a bit further. China obviously thinks they are very promising hence the commencement of a serious R&D program.

    IFR is a different matter. The Argonne IFR program was stopped by Clinton admin for political reasons and not for reasons of project failure. The project was highly successful including development of pyroprocessing for recycling and such things as solid metal fuel (rather than oxide). IFR lives on in the GE-Hitachi PRISM reactor and Advanced Recycling Center. If somebody wished to stomp up the cash, then a demo PRISM could built starting right now. It is at a far more advanced stage than LFTRs. There is a “memorandum of understanding” to build a demo PRISM at the US DOE Savannah River site. It remains to be seen if anything comes of this.

    Here is a GE presentation on PRISM/ARC. In particular, notice the timeline.
    http://local.ans.org/virginia/meetings/2007/2007RIC.GE.NRC.PRISM.pdf

    Crystal ball gazing, I suspect that the first PRISM or something derived from PRISM technology will be built in Russia. Russia has been making a lot of noises about fast reactor development lately.

  100. quokka
    June 9th, 2011 at 23:51 | #100

    @John Quiggin
    I dunno. I think the future of EPR (other than in France) in Europe possibly depends on what the UK does. Best case for EPR is UK to build maybe 8 or more. Who can say at the moment but if the UK does take their 50% emissions cut target by 2027 seriously they MUST do this. The Climate Change Committee “The Renewables Report” makes it abundantly clear that nuclear+wind is the only realistic course they can see for the electricity sector. If they do go down this road, it will be very interesting to compare with Germany.

    As for Russia, we also have to wait and see, but it does seems pertinent that Siemens dropped it’s relationship with AREVA with a view to partnering with Rosatom. Post Fukushimam the Russians are still keen, but perhaps Siemens less so.

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