Home > Environment > The green fields of nuclear power (updated)

The green fields of nuclear power (updated)

May 24th, 2012

Despite Fukushima and the failure of the US “nuclear renaissance”, nuclear power still has plenty of fans in Australia. A question which opponents routinely ask is “where are the nuclear power plants going to go?”.

That’s obviously a difficult question, but there’s a subtly different, and even nastier, question behind it, namely “How should we decide where a nuclear power plant should go”. There are obviously all kinds of issues to be resolved. For example, should it be on the coast, and therefore potentially vulnerable to a tsunami? Should it be near or far from population centres?

If we in Australia made a decision to go for nuclear power, then decided to answer all these questions from scratch, it would take years, maybe a decade or more before we even picked a site (look how long we took over the much easier question of a site for the national capital). And, until we answered the siting question, any estimate of the costs of nuclear power would be a stab in the dark anyway. A plant located in the centre of the Nullarbor would be about as safe as you could get, but hopelessly uneconomic.

So, the obvious answer is; Look at what other developed countries have done when faced with the same problem. But it turns out there is a small difficulty. The answer, according to the US, Britain and every other developed country I’ve looked at, is “put your plant next to an existing one, so there won’t be any more trouble than you already have”.

Of course, it’s logically impossible that they always worked that way. But, as far as I can tell, the last time a new site was picked for a nuclear power plant in a developed country was in the 1970s, before Three Mile Island, let alone Chernobyl and Fukushima. Even supposing that experience were relevant, it’s lost in the mists of time – the decisionmakers involved are long since gone, and any records they left are probably buried in the archives.*

So, unless we can solve a problem that every other developed country in the world has chosen to duck for 30-odd years, we will never even get to the starting gate with nuclear power.

*Update It turns out to be fairly easy to retrieve material from the National Archives, for example, on the proposal, made in the late 60s and abandoned in the early 70s, to build a nuclear power station at Jervis Bay. Thanks to commenter Andrew for picking me up on this.

*Further update Contrary to the claim in the post, a Finnish company has announced a proposed site for a new reactor, though it is not clear that any proper approval process has been undertaken. I doubt that Finnish administrative processes will translate easily to Australia, but it looks like a counterexample to my claim.

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  1. frankis
    May 24th, 2012 at 20:34 | #1

    Well, thinking out loud … perhaps a larger number of smallish nukes sited beside existing coal burners with existing distribution networks. Smaller nuke implies smaller risks, arguably.

    Or speaking of the Nullarbor – sure it’s remote but as you say that appears to be an advantage for a nuke scheme in an era of nuclear hysteria. More interestingly though for us may be that the Nullarbor is also somewhere with plenty of bright sunshine for solar power installations, and it also sits beside the southern ocean with some of the most concentrated wave and wind power available on the planet. So toss them all in to the wash and for the extra price of the long distance to the electricity markets you gain a substantial co-location opportunities to ameliorate your transmission losses and costs. Bearing in mind the present economic viability of things like the Tasman DC link and if we also consider seriously mooted concepts like that enormous Nth African solar project (to feed power to Europe), what would seem at first blush to be an unworkable Nullarbor scheme may not be so inconceivable after all. I picture metropolises of happy power workers blooming like electric Kalgoorlies across our deserts …

  2. May 24th, 2012 at 21:42 | #2

    What’s the status of the site for the planned reactor at Jervis Bay?

  3. rog
    May 24th, 2012 at 21:47 | #3

    Muckaty Station is the best place for a nuclear power station, it’ll bring jobs to the area and give the locals a chance to improve their lot.

  4. John Quiggin
    May 24th, 2012 at 21:56 | #4

    @Tom Davies When I visited it 40 years ago, there was a big hole. But I think it’s been filled in since then.

  5. rog
    May 24th, 2012 at 22:52 | #5

    Those that are pro nuclear should be advocating for a facility close to where they live. Close would be within 30kms, the distance set by both Chernobyl and Fukushima as exclusion zones post meltdowns. The nuclear lobby say that these modern generators are safe and clean so there should be no problem?

    The reality is that they will find a host of other factors to site them somewhere else.

  6. Jim Rose
    May 24th, 2012 at 22:56 | #6

    don’t you need areally big grid with high customer density to make nuclear work? maybe thier a samll reactors now?

    in terms of where it could be built without losing an election or two, a plant located in the centre of the Nullarbor would be about as safe as you could get, but hopelessly uneconomic gets to the nub of the matter

    can’t even build a second airport in sydney these days.

  7. rog
    May 24th, 2012 at 23:19 | #7

    Why would Nullabor be a “more safe” location? Granted the isolation would mean that, in the event of an incident, fewer people would be exposed to radiation. But placing such a plant in an isolated area is an admission that nuclear power is unsafe. The nuclear industry should be promoting nuclear power stations within urban areas.

  8. Ikonoclast
    May 25th, 2012 at 07:50 | #8

    If we take all energy subsidies away (especially all the current subsidies for fossil fuels), make energy sources pay the full cost of negative externalities and allow regulated market forces under the aegis of full democratic decision making to hold sway… then we will make the right decisions. It’s that simple!

  9. May 25th, 2012 at 08:11 | #9

    They’re all very safe now so stick them downtown and be proud of them. Pro-nukies are basically a cowed and boring cardigan-wearing set.

    Make them look spiffy and monumental. Design a Nuclear Realism school of architecture, support this with a Boy-Meets-Nuke film and novel contest for emerging writers. Branding is everything, and with radioactivity one can burn it into you soul without touching your skin. The girly gays ‘ll love it.

    I’d recommend the Domain in Sydney, opposite the NGV in Melbourne, and about 20 of them on Kings Park in Perth.

  10. JB Cairns
    May 25th, 2012 at 08:52 | #10

    Nuclear power needs a ETS/Carbon tax to be viable ( funny how most advocates seem to miss this very point as poor old Rafe constantly does at Catallaxy. He did not even understand the concept in one column he wrote on this very topic at Troppo!) but even if you support that you have to find a site.

    Good luck with that. If Australians are so stupid as to not accept recycled water then placing a nuclear reactor anywhere near people has got no hope at all.

  11. Jim Rose
    May 25th, 2012 at 09:13 | #11

    on Nuclear power needs a ETS/Carbon tax to be viable, is that in Oz or the USA?

  12. May 25th, 2012 at 09:21 | #12

    It has seemed to me for quite a while that small, modular nuclear (but always with passive safety design as a priority) might well be a faster way to more rapidly deploy nuclear power than building the massive plants that have been the standard until now. I would assume that such small units, which are also not reliant on cooling water and therefore do not need to be near major water supplies, are readily able to be plugged into the grid in gradually increasing numbers at existing power stations, which themselves should be readily able to be upgraded in terms of security.

    (I know modular nuclear advocates have spoken about them being readily installed close to where the power the needed, and that they can be buried underground, but surely people are going to have concerns with water table contamination if one of them break. Seems to me a better idea to keep them close together even if this is a more inefficient.)

    There are several small nuclear designs that have been on the drawing boards for years.

    What seems to be badly lacking is any detailed analysis of their potential economics and how they could be best deployed.

    On a slightly larger scale, I’m not convinced that pebble bed reactors (which would be gas cooled and pretty modular in design) have ever been carefully assessed, especially since South Africa gave up on its program.

    Instead, it seems to me that the nuclear industry has always been assessed on the current big reactor basis that it has operated on since it started. But really, what’s needed is some innovative thinking, and not being stuck on the way the industry has operated until now.

  13. BilB
    May 25th, 2012 at 09:30 | #13

    And don’t forget to put the Waste out!

  14. JB Cairns
    May 25th, 2012 at 09:40 | #14

    we live in Australia Jim!

  15. Jim Rose
    May 25th, 2012 at 09:45 | #15

    is there a scale effect that allow reactors to survive commercially overseas but not in Oz?

  16. wilful
    May 25th, 2012 at 09:47 | #16

    • The La Trobe valley would be more accepting of the idea of a nuclear plant or three than you would be prepared to think. There’s only a small Greens influence, but there would be a lot of complaints from Melbourne Greens (who don’t live there so I can’t see why they would get to speak for valley residents, but I’m quite sure they would presume to do so). The Valley would make sense in a lot of ways, it has the infrastructure and many of the skills there. Unfortunately the water situation is less than ideal.

    Just for the record, I am NOT alone in saying that YES in fact I would be prepared to live near a nuclear power plant, except for the fact that it is heavy industry and visually dominant. I’d far prefer to live near a nuclear power plant than near a coal fired one, and I wouldn’t prefer a large solar plant to a nuclear one.

  17. JB Cairns
    May 25th, 2012 at 09:48 | #17

    I can’t answer that.

    It could have something to do with how cheap our coal is and you need to price carbon to make other energy sources profitable.

  18. John Quiggin
    May 25th, 2012 at 10:03 | #18

    As I mentioned not long ago, small scale reactors are still in the “cute idea” stage. If we wait until they are commercially deployed overseas (mid-2020s at best), then manage to select a suitable site for one in 5 years (v optimistic), they might start generating power around 2040.

    To restate my point, the issue isn’t whether people would be willing to live next to one, it’s that we need a set of well-defined criteria

  19. Ikonoclast
    May 25th, 2012 at 10:10 | #19

    You need to price negative externalities realistically with regard to risks. Coal would not be cheap then and neither would nuclear. The evidence is very much in that solar would win hands down on a level playing field re production costs, negative externality costs and insurance costs.

    It’s funny how the free market nukester-boosters remain blind to this fundamental financial and physical truth.

  20. May 25th, 2012 at 10:17 | #20

    “A question which opponents routinely ask is ‘where are the nuclear power plants going to go?’.”

    Actually, that is a question every right-wing proponent of nuclear power can easily answer: put them where the poor and unemployed live.

    The plant creates jobs and if the whole thing goes KABOOM, it helps solve the poverty problem!

  21. May 25th, 2012 at 10:27 | #21

    Nukes need water.
    Lots and lots of water.
    What’s that thing which Australia is famous for often not having much of?
    Oh that’s it, water.

    Magpie – the Latrobe Valley is perfect for this purpose, being inhabited by many poor and unemployed people with limited education who are vulnerable to anti-Green hatemongering. This pulls the teeth from any potential resistance to “negative externalities” for health or the environment.

    Also, what Ikonoclast said.

  22. wilful
    May 25th, 2012 at 11:01 | #22

    “potential resistance to “negative externalities” for health or the environment”

    you do realise of course that nuclear power plants are incredibly clean and have no health or environmental issues apart from that required for a large industrial facility? Total number of deaths cause by nuclear power in the OECD=0. The air in the La Trobe valley would be far cleaner with nukes than brown coal. Of course you’d be happy to speak patronisingly for valley residents since you know what’s best for them.

  23. Veltyen
    May 25th, 2012 at 11:03 | #23

    An alternative that seems to make sense to me.

    Put a nuclear power station a long way from anywhere (WA between Broome and Perth, Nullabor) then don’t transmit the power.

    Put it near the coast, and use desalination to get the clean water needed. Use the power to either create hydrogen from that same source of water, or use the energy to make hydrocarbons. Effectively you have a nuclear powered oil rig – and oil rigs are notorious for being in out of the way places. Transport the portable energy created by tanker or road.

  24. BilB
    May 25th, 2012 at 11:07 | #24

    “Total number of deaths cause by nuclear power in the OECD=0”

    Not True

  25. May 25th, 2012 at 11:09 | #25

    @John Quiggin
    Sorry for missing your earlier comment.

    I guess my point is that we don’t have time to wait and see what “cute” ideas develop into. We really need some political leadership on pushing forward innovation in the rapid deployment of safe nuclear, and I’m not convinced that the huge, water hungry models currently off the shelf are ever really going to fly in Australia, due in large part to the siting issues your post raises.

  26. bruced
    May 25th, 2012 at 11:38 | #26

    Best place for a medium nuke. Right next to the Port Augusta power station in S.A. There it could feed both power and produce water to the area and allow the closing of the PA station, hence reducing radioactive emissions (Rn). The coal going to PA has significant U which enable the ash disposal area to be “seen” in aerial gamma-ray surveys. And it has cooling water from the gulf. Does that tick all the boxes?

  27. May 25th, 2012 at 11:39 | #27

    Nuclear power plants aren’t going to be built in Australia because they’re not competitive with other low emission sources of electricity. But let’s say I won one in an online contest. Where would I try to put it? Well, probably not in Australia. This is because Australians, not being total doofuses, would almost certainly charge me an approximate market rate for insurance and this would probably cost me more than what I could sell the electricity for. Sure I could reduce the insurance cost by putting the plant in a remote area, but then I’d have to pay for air cooling and transmission. No, I think if I was going to build a nuclear power plant in Australia I’d build it in another country. Preferably one with a doofus based system of government.

    If the only condition on my receiving a free nuclear reactor was that it had to be built in Australia, where would I try to put it? Well obviously, where ever the wholesale electricity price is the highest. This would mean South Australia, except that with South Australia’s. The trouble with that is South Australia doesn’t use that much electricity and has a huge wind capacity, is going to

  28. May 25th, 2012 at 11:40 | #28

    Gosh darnit! I’ve got to stop editing what I post. I keep leaving nonsense paragraphs at the end of my comments as a result. Sorry about that.

  29. Andrew
    May 25th, 2012 at 11:41 | #29

    As a professional digital archivist I kind of resent the implication that stuff in archives is “lost”. If its in an archives its findable and useable. That’s what they are there for – to preserve evidence of activities. You should get out and visit one Professor, how about the National Archives of Australia. They even have an online presence – you’d be surprised at what you can find there. Go on try it: http://www.naa.gov.au

  30. John Quiggin
    May 25th, 2012 at 12:29 | #30

    “Buried” isn’t the same as “lost”, it implies “can only be retrieved with a substantial effort”.

    That said, I’m going to retract on this point, at least in part. A visit to the National Archives website does indeed give easy access to Cabinet documents on the Jervis Bay nuclear power plant proposal, notably including a submission from Treasury (the Treasurer at the time was Billy McMahon) saying that it was uneconomic.

    By the NRC archives produce a different impression. They have a comprehensive electronic database going back to 1999, and an extensive, digitally searchable database going back to 1980. They don’t say anything about the pre-1980 period (the time I was talking about) but it’s clear that records from this period are both more limited and harder to find than those of the more recent past.

    To toss

  31. Uncle Milton
    May 25th, 2012 at 12:34 | #31


    Nuclear power plants can be cooled with sea water, which is why so many of them are located by the sea.

    Australia has plenty of sea water.

  32. David Irving (no relation)
    May 25th, 2012 at 12:58 | #32

    bruced, there are a number of environmental reasons (not directly related to nuclear as such) for not putting a reactor at Port Augusta. The waste heat in the cooling water wouldn’t dissapate, as Spencer Gulf doesn’t flush particularly well. (The water at the head of the Gulf is pretty stagnant. If it were hot as well, that’d be disastrous.) Also, if a desal plant were colocated, the waters would soon become hypersaline for the same reason.

    The money that would be spent building a nuclear reactor at Port Augusta would be much better spent on a solar thermal plant.

  33. Jim Birch
    May 25th, 2012 at 14:22 | #33

    We could hold a bidding war for the placement of the reactor. Bids start at (like) a billion dollars a year and go downwards. All bids are adjusted for other factors like the proximity to the power users, meshing infrastructure, etc (Sorry District Council of Cooper Pedy.) The winning municipality takes the cash which is paid to it’s residents each year for the lifetime of the plant. The users of the power pay the cost of the bribe.

    Once the bidding process completes the resulting cost of power can be calculated so we take a vote on whether to run with it or move to mitigation measures like a carbon tax.

    This idea is not completely mad and it would be very interesting to watch.

  34. derrida derider
    May 25th, 2012 at 16:17 | #34

    I think the obvious places are where there are already big distribution networks – Hunter valley, Latrobe Valley, even next to the Snowies. Actually, the last is good cos its halfway between Melbourne & Sydney, its got cooling water and it’s not overpopulated. Try somewhere beween Tumut and Albury.

    But John’s right – even if nuclear ever became cost-competitive (which it currently is not) the question of where we SHOULD put it is irrelevant. The politics would determine that where we WILL put it is “Nowhere”. That modern nuclear is demonstrably safer than the thermal coal it would replace, and far far safer than things like the Kurnell oil refinery or the old CSR plant at Homebush, is nowhere in the public’s consciousness.

  35. Hermit
    May 25th, 2012 at 16:18 | #35

    Latrobe Valley and Nullarbor coast keep coming up. I agree Pt Augusta is not a good site. Swimmers told me they feel extra buoyant (c.f. Israel’s Dead Sea) and their skin burns on emerging. An advantage of the Nullarbor coast (say Esperance or Ceduna) is that it could tie in with a high voltage direct current cable linking the east Australian and WA grids, currently separate.

    Yes I would have a nuke in the back yard. The first small modular reactor to get US Nuclear Regulatory Commission approval is expected in 2018 then several other models could follow in quick succession. Prototypes will be built at Savannah, Georgia. It would be good if subsequent build times could get down to 2 years via prefabrication and site delivery via ship and truck. Capital cost seems likely to be $6/w or higher. I doubt if Indian or Russian reactors would get a look in.

    Cost and small size could be the problem with SMRs. We need to replace say Hazelwood 1.6 GW, Bayswater 2 GW and Torrens Island 1.2 GW. By comparison combined cycle gas costs $2/w and can be built in 2-3 years with air cooling away from the coast. However Santos tell us the southern Australian gas price will escalate 3.5% a year, that’s around 40% of the running cost of a combined cycle plant which will never reduce CO2 by the desired 80%. Fuel costs for nukes is around 5% I think and we have a lot of uranium, though unenriched.

  36. John Quiggin
  37. Tom
    May 25th, 2012 at 20:49 | #37

    Aside from a solar panel, there really aren’t many forms of power generation I would want to live near. Wind/hydro turbines are noisy and unsightly, whilst all forms of fossil fuel generation are both noisy and produce undesirable emissions – witness the high rates of respiratory illness in the Hunter region for evidence of the impact living near a coal station has, for example.

  38. Mel
    May 25th, 2012 at 21:11 | #38

    @Jim Rose
    “is there a scale effect that allow reactors to survive commercially overseas but not in Oz?”

    Yeah but how do they survive? From Britain: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/apr/20/coalition-u-turn-nuclear-energy-subsidies

  39. rog
    May 25th, 2012 at 22:56 | #39

    @Tom It seems that the issue of noise from wind generators is subjective, in NSW some farmers who live near wind farms were greatly stressed while those who were being paid to host generators are very happy.

  40. rog
    May 26th, 2012 at 06:37 | #40

    …media coverage frequently gives significant attention to legal challenges, political protests, and vocal opponents including ‘Landscape Guardian’ and high profile individuals, but fails to balance this with coverage of middle ground views, or with equivalent attention to the potential benefits of with wind farms.


  41. Ikonoclast
    May 26th, 2012 at 08:12 | #41

    It’s interesting that nuclear power seems to hold the same away over the popular imagination that alchemy once held. It is, after all, the one set of process (fission and fusion) where elements are transmuted into other elements. It is my suspicion that a majority of nuclear advocates are also advocates of a return to the gold standard; gold bugs in other words. That also is a kind of alchemic fascination where the magic of gold will transmute all fiscal and monetary worries into perfect order.

    The other fascination with nuclear power is with the supposed vast amounts of power waiting to be unleashed. Vast amounts of power (relatively) are indeed unleashed when a small amount mass is converted into pure energy. But herein lies the rub. Only a small amount of mass is transformed out of the total uranium or plutonium fuel mass. And only a small amount of uranium (relatively speaking) is avilable on planet earth. Thorium as a practical fuel is still speculative and only some experimental plants have been built with dubious results.

    Nuclear power currently produces about 6% of the world’s total energy use (not just electricity production). This is about the same amount of power as produced from renewables and renewables are growing much faster despite not attracting anywhere near as many subsidies as nuclear and fossil fuels have historically enjoyed. These facts speak for themselves. Nuclear power is a technological dead end. This is not to say other nuclear technologies are a dead end. For example, nuclear medicine will have a continuing role.

  42. Fran Barlow
    May 26th, 2012 at 08:25 | #42

    I pretty much agree with Derrida_Derider. Given that in structural terms, nuclear plants are similar to the thermal coal and gas plants they’d replace, then they ought to go in similar locations. I’d favour putting them where, all things considered they were most thermally efficient and produced the smallest environmental foot print. DI(NR) suggests that Port Augusta mightn’t be the best place for one to go as warm water discharges mightn’t dissipate quickly enough. If so, then that would IMO, be a good enough reason to pick an alternative location. (Not sure though why a solar thermal plant of the same capacity would work better there — a heat sink is a heat sink, surely?

    Subject to practical considerations of this kind though — proximity to load centres and connectivity, ecofootprint, thermal efficiency — I’d have no problem putting one anywhere on the Eastern weatern or southern seaboards. I can’t recall the last tsunami of plant-threatening size to hit the coast. I’ve not read anywhere that a tsunami has hit any of these places in the time since there have been humans on the Earth. I like the odds of Australia avoiding a plant-destroying tsunami a lot better than me getting a share of a large lotto payout from the faculty syndicate I’m in. I also like it a lot better than the odds of epidemiology or environmental footprint from coal and gas plants in Australia or anywhere else falling to near zero in my lifetime. There are potential advantages of seabaord placement — desalination is an obvious usage and not drawing freshwater in a place like Australia does reduce the call on ecosystem services. There are also some valuable minerals in seawater that at the margins, might be useful post-desal.

    That all said, I’d have no problem putting a plant almost entirely underground with just the cooling towers visible. If that’s what it would take to reassure the more emotionally fragile amongst us then IMO, it would be a price well worth paying. Unlike Fukushima, we would have the emergency power backup secured separately from the plant complex, and thus able to operate even under the most extraordinary of local circumstances. Really though, if we are factoring in tsunamis, virtually nothing should be on the coast, since, self-evidently, lots of people could be killed whether there are nuclear plants there or not. Yet people continue to pay a serious premium for property with absolute ocean frontage. Hmmm. (That’s an observation rather than a criticism — I’d pay if I could afford such a place as I also like ocean frontage, and no, being the proverbial stone’s throw from either a nuclear plant or a wind farm wouldn’t bother me).

    I don’t share PrQ’s view of the earliest timetable for nuclear in this country. While there can be no denying that Fukushima has been a body blow to the standing of nuclear power around the world, it might well be that a decade from now, with the climate emergency being even more salient in the minds of most, and further developments in the technology around GenIV plants we could in theory see the first nuclear powered output in Australia by about 2025 or a little later. Ultimately of course, what Australia does about nuclear power will make little difference to the global picture. As long as Australia deals with robustly with emissions, how we manage that in practice is neither here nor there from the point of view of global climate policy. That’s the most important issue here, IMO: to what extent does Australian action underpin policies aimed at reducing global human emissions?

  43. rog
    May 26th, 2012 at 09:03 | #43

    Placing a nuclear plant underground opens up a new set of variables – possible contamination of groundwater and aquifers.

    Seismic activity would also need to be considered.

    Ideally it would be placed in an impervious bedrock, like granite, which would be the source of additional cost.

    Another consideration would be the consequences of a melt down of a facility that is essentialled encased in rock.

  44. Fran Barlow
    May 26th, 2012 at 09:14 | #44


    Placing a nuclear plant underground opens up a new set of variables – possible contamination of groundwater and aquifers.

    That’s true, and foreclosure of that possibility would be a site and engineering question and then go to cost. That said, nuclear incidents in which there are uncontrolled releases are very rare, and likely, post-Fukushima, to become rarer still. Assuming the back-up power to operate the cooling system remains unaffected, and (along with the cooling system) is regularly tested to ensure critical availability, there ought to be no such incident.

    Fairly unremarkable measures could be taken to foreclose potential contact between plant-produced actinides and groundwater, so I don’t agree that the requirements you suggest would be needed.

  45. rog
    May 26th, 2012 at 09:28 | #45

    @derrida derider Regarding the older industrial facilities around Homebush, I would suggest that would never gain approval today. As part of the Olympic process existing contaminants were identified and some were treated – often by encasement. There remains significant pollution by chemicals such as dioxin and heavy metals, particularly in the river bed.

    I don’t think that nuclear is being especially targeted, any activity that creates potentially harmful elements is subject to control.

  46. BilB
    May 26th, 2012 at 10:03 | #46

    This thread is about hurdles which must be passed for Nuclear in Australia to have even the vaguest chance for implementation. This topic is the issue of placement and public acceptance, both major barriers each one.

    These issues preface a long list of massive obstacles which for my thinking include safety/security, waste disposal, guarantees, economic viability, and most significantly future economic viability.

    As a civilisation we are sitting at the precipice of environmental pesetilence, the only adaptive protection from which is energy intensive but consecutively we are equally on the precipice of energy starvation. And while we tetter here we are squabbling over energy futures. Nuclear versus Solar. I think that we really need a new way of looking at this.

    In the background though I can here the pressure building.

    Oil availability is causing ever increasing economic stress. Petrol in the UK is now so expensive that London and the UK motorways are no longer gridlocked. The Indian economy, along with so many others, is stressed by its petrol subsidies and can no longer afford to maintain flat petrol pricing.

    Why is the oil issue so important to the electrical energy source issue?

    It is simply this. There is only enough oil left at economically acceptable prices to have one energy infrastructure and climate adaption rebuild before the full force of climate change coupled with energy starvation leave global economies in tatters, free global markets shut down, food security vanishes, and population relocation wars set in.

    We are talking about the next twenty to thirty years. For some here that tends to sound like the rest of their lives, but for my kids it is when their lives should be prospering.

    In 1992 when I ran for election in NZ proposing a Carbon Tax the worlds population was 5.4 billion and oil was around $20 per barrel.

    Twenty years later the population is 1.6 billion higher at 7 billion and oil is around $100 per barrel. Oil reserves are dwindling while globally peoples desire to use energy has consolidated to a solid expectation.

    So as they say…………….You Do the Maths.

    From my perspective there is only one energy source that is available everywhere in the world, is delivered as a raw resource absolutely free to every location, and will steadily become cheaper to utilise even in the short term.

  47. Ikonoclast
    May 26th, 2012 at 11:13 | #47

    Nuclear power supporters from all they write clearly belong to that group of people who are any or all of the following;

    1. Impervious to well documented empirical facts no matter how often presented.
    2. Scientifically illiterate in general.
    3. Unaware of many of the basic facts and laws of physics.
    4. Cavalier towards the known and documented dangers of nuclear accidents.
    5. Unaware of the unviability of nuclear power financially.
    6. Strangely and unhealthily fascinated by nuclear power to the point of attrituting to it promethean and mythical powers for solving all mankinds ills; and
    7. Sometimes even of the belief they could share their bed with 1kg of U235 and eat plutonium sprinkles on their breakfast every day without harm.

  48. Fran Barlow
    May 26th, 2012 at 11:40 | #48

    Could we have a new sandpit? I wanted to post something longish but it wasn’t germane to an open thread here.

  49. Hermit
    May 26th, 2012 at 11:41 | #49

    I’d say it is matter of choosing the less worse option. Oil has peaked, gas has maybe 20 good years and coal is unknown. However the accumulated CO2 lingers on so warming is locked in. Our modern industrial society has come to depend on demand matched inexpensive energy supply. That may leave us the power of E = mc^2 as our only affordable round the clock fossil replacement. I agree it’s hard to see 10,000 reactors worldwide making all the electricity and synthetic fuel. That means we’re going to take an economic hit regardless. Like I say less worse.

  50. Sam
    May 26th, 2012 at 12:42 | #50

    @Fran Barlow
    Molten salt solar thermal plants don’t use water anywhere in their cooling cycle, so no water is ever discharged. They do use some for cleaning mirrors, but that all evaporates.

  51. Donald Oats
    May 26th, 2012 at 12:52 | #51

    Pick the waste depot first, and factor in transport risks. Once that’s settled, consider sites high enough to avoid tsunamis, and off we go.

  52. Sam
    May 26th, 2012 at 13:38 | #52

    “That may leave us the power of E = mc^2 as our only affordable round the clock fossil replacement.”

    This annoys me as a physicist. The equation E=mc^2 has no more to do with nuclear power than with any other means of liberating stored potential energy. It’s putting the cart before the horse. The mass change occurs because of energy release, not the other way around. A U235 atom does weigh more than its decay products, but equally, a wound up spring weighs more than a relaxed one. You should have said;

    “That may leave us the power of V ~ g psibar phi psi’ as our only affordable round the clock fossil replacement.”

  53. Fran Barlow
    May 26th, 2012 at 14:23 | #53


    Molten salt solar thermal plants don’t use water anywhere in their cooling cycle, so no water is ever discharged. They do use some for cleaning mirrors, but that all evaporates.

    Fair enough. If there’s no heat sink then DI(NR)’s comment makes more sense. It was a genuine question.

  54. Chris Warren
    May 26th, 2012 at 14:41 | #54


    but equally, a wound up spring weighs more than a relaxed one.


  55. Happy Heyoka
    May 26th, 2012 at 15:19 | #55

    Given their cynical astroturfing around the deployment of wind turbines, I suggest somewhere in the same street as the “Landscape Guardians” or their mates at the IPA… :-^

  56. Sam
    May 26th, 2012 at 15:33 | #56

    @Chris Warren
    Yeah, but only a tiny amount more. If there’s 1J stored in the spring, it’s about 10^(-17) Kg heavier than when it’s relaxed.

  57. Mel
    May 26th, 2012 at 15:39 | #57

    Thanks PrQ. You’ve convinced the Nuke power is an option that really isn’t on the table in the short to medium term.

  58. Chris Warren
    May 26th, 2012 at 16:44 | #58


    But putting 1J in will emit more frictional heat than any mass-energy addition?

    If heat (and sound) comes out, mass must have gone down somewhere?

    So due to the different magnitudes of the two effects, I reckon a wound-up spring will weigh less than before?

  59. Sam
    May 26th, 2012 at 17:07 | #59

    Why a question mark? You’re making a statement? Winding a spring up means putting net energy in. This means the spring weighs more. The human doing the winding weighs less (and unless the winding is perfectly efficient, weighs less by more than the spring weighs more), but we’re considering just the spring here.

    Equally, a charged battery has more mass than a flat one, and a cup of hot tea is heavier than a cold one.

  60. Chris Warren
    May 26th, 2012 at 18:35 | #60


    You are ignoring the large energy loss through heat and sound. This ensures that mechanical work can never increase mass.

    Your “mass increase” is a partial concept and is refuted by full analysis – just like a Keynesian who thinks that more paper can resurrect capitalist growth.

    If you really want to increase the mass of a spring – just shine a torch on it.

  61. Sam
    May 26th, 2012 at 21:35 | #61

    @Chris Warren
    You’re embarrassing yourself. I’m done here.

  62. Ikonoclast
    May 27th, 2012 at 07:22 | #62

    Well, as I more or less said earlier, let us;

    (1) Fully cost ( as well as possible) negative externalities,
    (2) Fully cost life cycle costs including decomissioning and waste storage/removal,
    (3) Remove all subsidies for all energy sources including subsidies for insurance costs, and
    (4) Make democratic decisions as well as financial decisions about siting energy infrastructure.

    Can’t say fairer than that. I am confident solar power (and other renewables to some extent) will win hands down in the long run. If I am wrong, the nukester-boosters can tell me that in 20 years time if I (and this blog) are still around.

  63. rog
    May 27th, 2012 at 09:17 | #63

    The coal/solar hybrid has potential; solar can be retrofitted to existing power stations and the need for lengthy consultative approval process appears to be diminished. Importantly it has both sides of the table talking to each other with a common purpose, to reduce carbon emissions.

  64. Salient Green
    May 27th, 2012 at 10:52 | #64

    BilB pretty much mapped it out as I see things. Nuclear power will not get any cheaper while extaordinary things are in the pipeline for solar PV and storage technologies. The majority of homes will be able to generate most of their transport energy requirements as well as their household energy from rooftop PV.

    Both Japan and Germany are getting on to their Geothermal potential and we know what happens when these two nations mean business. Australian geothermal has done some groundbreaking work but it could have progressed much further with more government support.

    Most nuclear advocates seem to me to want BAU forever, not you Fran I know, but most of them fail to see that our highly industrialised society cannot continue and that plenty of cheap energy will not overcome the other limits to growth.

  65. Fran Barlow
    May 27th, 2012 at 12:54 | #65


    I broadly agree Ikonoclast, but

    a) “subsidy” is a very broad term. Construed too broadly, you’d have to axe R & D for not only for nuclear but also renewables. That would be retrograde. I’d narrow the “no-subsidy” rule to operating costs. General research from which an industry benefits ought to remain. Of course, whether one funds a specific piece of general research and how one goes about controlling the IP arising out of it are other questions.

    b) Price-Anderson is not a subsidy. To date, no operator benefiting from it has gone within two orders or magnitude of the threshold. Price-Anderson requires the industry as a whole to look after its players, giving every plant operator an incentive to see that others don’t cut corners. It also means that the public is not exposed to risk of loss as a result of a plant operator declaring bankruptcy after an incident. The industry steps in to cover, and only in the case of truly catastrophic losses does the state step in. Of course, that’s always when the state steps in anyway.

    It’s worth noting that the absence of a Price-Anderson style scheme for coal and gas and other harmful industries represents favourable treatment for those industries, and means that if one of them goes belly up after a mishap, that the state has to step in straight away, and there is no chance of recovery.

  66. BilB
    May 27th, 2012 at 14:31 | #66

    Price Anderson?

    There are so many aspects to this.

    For starters an Australian Nuclear Industry is unlikely to reach such a size for the cost of an accident to be absorbed by the small number of players. Even for Japan’s industry such an impost could be sufficient to sink the entire industry if the public does not step in


    Another aspect is that by bringing the government into the liability loop introduces a conflict of interest from a disclosure point of view. Three Mile Island should have triggered a world wide program of containment building venting due to its hydrogen explosion, but as the US nuclear industry and the US government did everything possible to cover up the hydrogen event the world dig not get the message of the risk. Japan could well sue the US government over this deliberate coverup IMO.

    Another issue is the changing face of insurance due to Climate Change. The changing cost of insurance alone could well move the economic viability dial from marginal to very bad for the Nuclear Industry within the development timeframe.

    Comparisons to the coal and gas industry are indeed relevent, Homebush Bay being a good example

    http ://www .rhodesremediation.nsw.gov.au/areahistory.html

    But the costs appear to be nowhere near comparable, with Homebush Bay site cleanup costing $91 million on the face of it, but that may not be the full cost. A friend who is in the business was talking of a completely different figure at the time, but I don’t know the details of how that was made up.

  67. Ernestine Gross
    May 27th, 2012 at 17:14 | #67

    “I’d narrow the “no-subsidy” rule to operating costs.”

    Good, Fran, because this includes disposal costs, which in the case in point have a very long time horizon. The time horzison (decay period) is so long that any attempt to assign a monetary value in US$, UKPounds Euro, DM, SF, etc is not credible.

  68. Fran Barlow
    May 27th, 2012 at 17:33 | #68

    @Ernestine Gross

    Good, Fran, because this includes disposal costs, which in the case in point have a very long time horizon. The time horzison (decay period) is so long that any attempt to assign a monetary value in US$, UKPounds Euro, DM, SF, etc is not credible.

    Not really. The material (if reprocessed in a “Fast” reactor) poses a measurable hazard for about 300 years. At that point, if not earlier, whoever was there might well have some better way of sequestering or dealing with the material. An escrow trust could easily take care of the maintenance costs in the interim. The US government has been collecting money for years from Westinghouse and has, as yet, left them to look after the material because they’ve failed to devise a facility.

  69. Hermit
    May 27th, 2012 at 17:43 | #69

    I think the number of concessions to low carbon energy should be small but their impact should be blunt. Advocates of wind and solar sometimes say the carbon tax needs to be $40 not $23 hence the supplementary RET is justified. Coincidentally the gas lobby also say they need $40 to neutralise brown coal. I favour a floating CO2 price provided the distortions are removed, notably free permits and questionable offsets. In that regard Australia seems to have learned nothing from the EU’s mistakes.

    If the distortions including RET were removed perhaps the need for loan guarantees and insurance indemnities would be less. The energy customers would be out there except this time the annual CO2 quota would be seriously tough with no freebies. Finance for wind and solar would not carry the risk premium of nuclear but they have the intermittency hurdle to overcome. It could work out better than some think with a tough umpire. Gillard wants to be everybody’s best mate with generous concessions on many levels that undermine the whole exercise.

    I should point out Australia already had a Price Anderson type precedent when they said the Gorgon project was off the hook if any CO2 escaped from under Barrow Island.

  70. Fran Barlow
    May 27th, 2012 at 21:05 | #70


    Advocates of wind and solar sometimes say the carbon tax {price} needs to be $40 not $23 hence the supplementary RET is justified.

    I think the effective price (not necessarily the explicit one though this is tidier) should be around $(AUD2011)100 by 2020. If we had a clear trajectory to get to that, I don’t think the modest entry price would make all that much difference.

    I don’t have a problem in principle with credits (off-shore or otherwise) — providing there is a sound methodology that doesn’t subvert the price of permits earned abating CO2e by other means. I’d like to keep protecting forests out of the trading system because that is something that should be done regardless of our action on abatement. Forests are for biodiversity, not carbon sinks. If a jurisdiction does protect the integrity of a forest, then great — presumably their overall net emissions will be lower and they can count that and boast about it at conferences. On the other hand if someone wants to raise a carbon farm with a new forest on land that had a commercial purpose and can account the whole exercise in tCO2 years sequestered, then that’s another thing. People could get an offset that reflected the amount sequestered by time. One tCO2e might be worth 1% of what one ton abated forever was.

    should point out Australia already had a Price Anderson type precedent when they said the Gorgon project was off the hook if any CO2 escaped from under Barrow Island.

    Not a Price-Anderson — just a straight indemnity. The other gas producers or APPEA folks aren’t stepping up first. I’d be holding Gorgon or any successor company 100% responsible. I’d be levying them per litre of gas money to cover foreseeable releases at $100tCO2 — (or $10 on each ton actually extracted) paid into an account that would be reserved to pay for remediation.

  71. Ernestine Gross
    May 27th, 2012 at 22:47 | #71

    @Fran Barlow

    “An escrow trust could easily take care of the maintenance costs in the interim.”

    I don’t think the actual problem can be solved by a piece of paper containing the terms of a contract with as yet unborn people.

    As I said, the operating costs include the disposal costs and these involve a very long time horizon. The time horizon (decay period) is so long that no monetary value can be assigned to them at present. This implies that the maintenance costs ‘in the interim’ (ie the very long period) can also not be calculated.

    The current greenhouse gas emission problem from a technology that isn’t all that old should make the problem easier to understand.

  72. Fran Barlow
    May 27th, 2012 at 23:19 | #72

    @Ernestine Gross

    Either the time window is fairly short, in the grand scheme of things or the facts on the ground on which we base our negative externality also become less certain. Either way the calculus against becomes less impressive.

    We probably should assue 300 years but in practice, we might well get off with 100 or even fewer.

    OTOH, GHGs are really forever, this side of fab new technology.

  73. Ernestine Gross
    May 28th, 2012 at 10:48 | #73

    @Fran Barlow
    Your argument amounts to saying that the disposal costs for nuclear waste are to be carried by future societies (ie socialize these costs).

    GhG emissions also have a long decay rate, hence the accumulation of GhG emissions over generations. This was my point.

  74. Ernestine Gross
  75. Fran Barlow
    May 28th, 2012 at 11:56 | #75

    @Ernestine Gross

    Your argument amounts to saying that the disposal costs for nuclear waste are to be carried by future societies (ie socialize these costs).

    The problem we have here is not one of principle but one of practice. We are ethically obliged, IMO, to refrain from benefiting ourselves by prejudicing the interests of the yet to be born, in ways that would create intergenerational inequity. I take that to mean that we should not knowingly hand over the biosphere in worse condition than we found it, and, subject to feasibility, ought to see what we can do to remedy past maladministration.

    What hapens though when we must choose between competing claims? Certainly, based on what we now know, we may safely conclude both that sequestering radioactive hazmat, or emitting greenhouse gases meet the test of “prejudicing the biosphere”. If we are obliged to choose between these two things, which poses the greater hazard? Which is more likely to be amenable to remedy? When is the earliest time this remedy could conceivably arrive? Can the remedy be entirely effective in both cases? What costs would be involved?

    The reality is that we have now something like 450 operating nuclear plants, all of which prodyuce hazmat. We could build FBRs which would reduce our emissions of GHGs without augmenting the full stock of hazmat — and indeed, these would reduce the length of time when the hazmat would need to be sequestered.

    While we may think that there is little probablility that either cheap and effective sequestration of hazmat will arise in the next 100 years, or that the hazmat will be much less hazardous, that confidence will decay in something like a linear relationship with the hazmat and in an unknowable way with technological advance. Undoing damage to the atmosphere and all that relies on it however, is not so easy.

  76. Ernestine Gross
    May 28th, 2012 at 12:21 | #76

    @Fran Barlow

    Thank you for the lengthy reply. It does not disprove my argument.

    You only consider ‘coal’ vs ‘nuclear’. I don’t.

    Please read the article on the latest news from Japan, referenced above, to get information on what happens ‘in practice’. Not good.

  77. Happy Heyoka
    May 28th, 2012 at 13:34 | #77

    The problem with the nuclear fuel cycle is that the time scale involved is ten times a human lifetime – going to the moon is trivial in comparison to dealing with political and social problems around dealing with the waste of fission power plants…

    Inconveniently, the long time scale of the GHG issues are, IMHO, also at the core of our failure to deal with them so far.

    So, back to topic – I recall from sometime in the mid 80’s or early 90’s there was an advertising campaign in local papers that was (very) faintly boosting the idea of a fission power plant in the western districts of Victoria (Ballarat?)

    It was not a government driven thing – I remember looking up the name of the group doing the advertising and thinking it was mining related?
    I may even have kept a clipping but half a dozen house moves later I have no hope of finding it 🙂

  78. May 28th, 2012 at 23:34 | #78

    While perhaps not directly related to the topic at hand, I will mention that on Friday Germany’s solar PV had a peak output of over 22 gigawatts. Yesterday at noon the whole of Australia used 22 gigawatts. Germany’s PV could power our entire continent. Or at least it could on a sunny weekend.

  79. May 28th, 2012 at 23:52 | #79

    Hi Happy Heyoka. I don’t know who would want to build a nuclear power plant in Western Victoria, but they’d have to be kind of nutty to think they could compete with Victoria’s coal power which is very cheap by world standards, if you don’t count externalities such as it killing people.

    One thing I sometimes wonder about when I hear claims of how nuclear power is cheap, is why no company has ever made a serious offer to build a nuclear power plant in South Australia which has always had Australia’s highest electricity prices. After all, if a company could build a nuclear power plant that could produce electricity at an all up cost of under 7 cents a kilowatt-hour they should be willing to pay to build one in SA, but for some reason, as far as I’m aware, no nuclear power company has ever made South Australia such an offer.

  80. Jim Birch
    May 29th, 2012 at 14:12 | #80

    I just read an piece in Nature on Fukushima that parallels this discussion or at least the point of John’s original post that safe or not, reactors have to be placed in a real location to work.

    Two independent assessments of the radiation risk both to the workers who battled to contain the reactor failure, and to the general public conclude that few people will develop cancer as a consequence and those who do will never know for sure what caused their disease. 167 workers received radiation doses that slightly increases their cancer risk, and the public was largely protected by quick evacuations. However,

    A far greater health risk may come from the psychological stress created by the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster. After Chernobyl, evacuees were more likely to experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than the population as a whole, according to Evelyn Bromet, a psychiatric epidemiologist at the State University of New York, Stony Brook. The risk may be even greater at Fukushima. “I’ve never seen PTSD questionnaires like this,” she says of a survey being conducted by Fukushima Medical University. People are “utterly fearful and deeply angry. There’s nobody that they trust any more for information.”


  81. TerjeP
    May 29th, 2012 at 16:53 | #81

    Ernestine – in principle some fourth generation nuclear reactors could be net consumers of nuclear waste rather than net producers. If you really hate the prospect of long lived nuclear waste then you ought to be keen on a technology that can get rid of it. As far as I know there are no solar or wind technologies that produce negative nuclear waste. If fact there isn’t really anything that can do it other than fourth generation reactors. And the current stockpiles of nuclear waste have several hundred years of energy that could be used as the waste stream is reduced.

  82. Ernestine Gross
    May 29th, 2012 at 20:11 | #82

    TerjeP, I am quite happy with: “So, unless we can solve a problem that every other developed country in the world has chosen to duck for 30-odd years, we will never even get to the starting gate with nuclear power.”

  83. Fredrik
    May 29th, 2012 at 20:19 | #83

    >The answer, according to the US, Britain and every other developed country I’ve looked at, is
    > “put your plant next to an existing one, so there won’t be any more trouble than you already

    Last year, a new nuclear site was chosen here in Finland:

  84. TerjeP
    May 29th, 2012 at 20:48 | #84

    Ernestine – if nuclear waste isn’t one of your concerns then I don’t know why you were making an argument on the basis of nuclear waste. However if it was one of your concerns then surely you would have to give a very big bright positive green tick under the heading “long term nuclear waste issue” for forth generation nuclear reactors and a meek weak puny depressing disappointing grey tick under that heading for solar and wind generators. Under the heading “clarity on where to build it” you might put something different. I wouldn’t but you might.

  85. TerjeP
    May 29th, 2012 at 20:58 | #85

    “So, unless we can solve a problem that every other developed country in the world has chosen to duck for 30-odd years, we will never even get to the starting gate with nuclear power.”

    One might claim that they have also failed to decide on what colour to paint new nuclear power plants. However I doubt whether location or colour has been the decisive issue.

    That said the logical place to build a nuclear plant in Australia, if we were to do so, would be Jarvis bay. There is federal territory set aside for it already so there would only be one layer of government concerned. It isn’t far from existing transmission corridors. And it’s proximity to Canberra makes a bold political statement. In terms of how to decide that this is where it should happen the usually mechanism for such decision making is parliament. I’m not sure why we would use any other mechanism.

    Nuclear as it stands is however probably not a good investment. It still generally costs too much. We need to open up to the possibilities but also be realistic in terms of expenditure. That said it would be less stupid than some of the current crop of green initiatives.

  86. Michael
    May 29th, 2012 at 21:19 | #86

    Based on the principle laid out in JQs post, surely it’s obvious that our NPP is going to be in Sydney – @ Lucas Heights.

    Enjoy Sydney-ites!

  87. TerjeP
    May 29th, 2012 at 21:36 | #87

    There is plenty of space for a nuclear power plant near Lucas Heights. It’s not a bad option but politically more tricky.

  88. Hermit
    May 30th, 2012 at 08:33 | #88

    @Ronald Brak
    I think SA’s resistance to nuclear can be attributed to the eminence grise effect of former premier Mike Rann and the fact the gas lobby seems to have got at Weatherill, Redmond and Koutsantonis. Now the gas lobby has succeeded the public has little choice but to pay hefty power price increases. SA is unique in that in not only had the Maralinga A-bomb tests but also has the world’s largest uranium deposit at Olympic Dam. That mine needs another 650 MW of reliable power to expand which is beyond SA’s capacity under the current generation mix.

    I expect SA to undergo an economic slowdown due to high energy prices, a dry summer and car subsidy/defence funding fatigue by Canberra. Therefore if the SA public shuns nuclear power they will have a subdued economy by choice.

  89. Ikonoclast
    May 30th, 2012 at 08:46 | #89


    (a) large quantities of highly dangerous, reactive and unstable materials need to be assembled in one spot for any engineering, technological or commercial purpose; and
    (b) this purpose could be achieved by another method requiring a lesser or no concentration of highly dangerous, reactive and unstable materials; then
    (c) the second method is invariably preferable on safety, cost and system robustness grounds.

    The fixation various parties have with nuclear power cannot be explained logically.

  90. TerjeP
    May 30th, 2012 at 09:01 | #90

    Speaking of logic how did you make the leap to your statement at (c).

  91. rog
    May 30th, 2012 at 09:11 | #91


    If nuclear power is “probably not a good investment” why would sighting a plant at Lucas Heights be “not a bad option”?

    Using your criteria a better option would be to not build a plant at Lucas Heights.

  92. Salient Green
    May 30th, 2012 at 09:16 | #92

    Hermit, it only takes three years to build a combined cycle gas power station of that size. There are also agreements between BHPB and the geothermal companies to buy that power when it become available and onsidering the time it’s going to take to remove the overburden I think there is a good chance of that happening.

    There’s nothing to stop BHPB installing it’s own solar array and wind turbines either.

  93. Ernestine Gross
    May 30th, 2012 at 09:43 | #93

    TerjeP, your argument, addressed to me, is irrelevant to my initial point on disposal costs. My second reply indicates that I do not wish to derail the thread and I made it quite clear that I have nothing to add.

  94. Hermit
    May 30th, 2012 at 09:56 | #94

    @Salient Green
    BHP’s plan was to build a gas pipe to Roxby Downs and a 250 MW power station, the other 400 MW coming from the SA grid. However gas prices will rise rapidly in southern Australia and can expect to double perhaps in a decade. Now BHP are saying the Olympic Dam expansion may go on hold. Evidently they don’t think onsite wind and solar can power a 24/7 industrial operation. The mine expansion was the one bright star on the SA economic horizon.

    Hot dry rock geothermal was supposed to be feeding the SA grid as long ago as 2009. So far zilch. Arguably the uranium mines and the geothermal prospects are all based on the same large slab of granite, radioactive decay being the source of heat for geothermal. SA is facing a very sobering reality check in the next year or so, particularly if the desal plant has to work hard.

  95. May 30th, 2012 at 13:17 | #95

    Let’s see, in one reality South Australia’s electricity outlook is all doom and gloom, and in another South Australia’s wholesale electricity prices have dropped, CO2 emissions have dropped, Solar PV is being installed because it’s cheaper than grid electricity, and its two coal power plants are being put in mothballs. Two reasonably large mothballed power plants are things that make it kind of impossible for a state of 1.7 million to be hard up for electricity. I guess I’m just lucky to be living in the second reality and not the first one. I don’t know what they’re doing in the first reality, but what ever it is, they’re obviously doing it wrong.

  96. TerjeP
    May 30th, 2012 at 13:20 | #96

    Rog – a good location in purely technical terms if you were going to build one. On the economics a coal fired plant close to a coal field, such as the Bayswater plant, makes much more sense. Sorry I thought my position was pretty clear but perhaps not.

  97. rog
    May 30th, 2012 at 15:38 | #97

    @TerjeP Thanks Terje. My point was that the location of this bad investment (nuclear power) is irrelevant.

  98. Salient Green
    May 30th, 2012 at 19:43 | #98

    Well argued Ronald. Wind and solar provide a third of SA’s power and installations of both are still going ahead full steam.

    The outlook for world resource demand is far more important than electricity prices for BHPB.

  99. May 30th, 2012 at 20:47 | #99

    So South Australia got 34.5% of electricity from wind and solar in the March quarter. I didn’t realise it would be so high so soon, Salient Green. Thanks for the info.

  100. Ikonoclast
    May 30th, 2012 at 21:00 | #100


    There is no leap to point c. If you think logically you can deduce that;

    (1) If there are two ways of doing something (as in my points a and b); and
    (2) One way (b) involves materials and methods that are safer and more stable then clearly the system will be safer and more robust. That is essentially a truism.
    (3) Any complex structure or system with a good score on safety and robustness will generate lower maintenance, lifecycle and insurance costs. Up front costs will also be lower in most cases presuming it is not over-engineered and does not use very “exotic” materials and methods. In fact, the need for (relative) over-engineering and expensively “exotic” materials and methods usually goes hand in hand with the use of highly dangerous, reactive and unstable materials.

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