Home > Economics - General, Environment > Pandora Post-mortem

Pandora Post-mortem

November 10th, 2013

I have a piece in the Guardian responding to the pro-nuclear film Pandora’s Promise. The core of my argument is that, in most countries, political resistance to nuclear power is no longer the primary problem – the big difficulty is with the economics. The key paras

he fact that the world has not turned to nuclear power as a solution to climate change is a matter of economics. In the absence of a substantial carbon price, nuclear energy can’t compete with coal and other fossil fuels. In the presence of a carbon price, it can’t compete with wind and solar photovoltaics. The only real hope is that, if coal-fired generation is reduced drastically enough, always-on nuclear power will be a more attractive alternative than variable sources like solar and wind power. However, much of the current demand for “baseload” power is an artifact of pricing systems designed for coal, and may disappear as prices become more cost-reflective.

To put the point more sharply, if we are convinced by the arguments of Pandora’s Promise, what would the makers of the film have us do? Stop protesting against nuclear power? Most of us did so decades ago. Abandon restrictions on uranium mining and export? The Australian government has done so already, with barely a peep of protest. The only remaining restrictions on exports to India relate to concerns about nuclear weapons proliferation, not nuclear energy, and seem likely to be dropped in any case. Give nuclear power a level playing field to compete against renewables? In the US at least, nuclear power is already treated more favourably than alternatives, leaving aside the massive subsidies already handed out in the 20th century. The same is true in many other countries that have sought, with limited success, to promote a nuclear renaissance.

Two of the leading environmentalists quoted as supporting nuclear power are Mark Lynas and George Monbiot. They have some interesting reactions to the recent announcement that EDF will build a nuclear reactor, Hinkley C, under a deal with the UK government. Monbiot sees it as a disaster, going for massively expensive Generation III technology when the alternative was to build an Integral Fast Reactor, a design with lots of theoretical advantages but one that has never been built (other breeder reactors have been expensive failures). Lynas, writing before the announcement has a more sanguine view of the cost. Lynas compares the “strike prices” offered by the UK government for various renewables, ranging from 100stg/MWh for onshore wind, to 305stg/MWh for experimental technologies like wave and tidal energy. Offshore wind (the only source without severe supply constraints in the UK context) comes in at 150 and large-scale solar at 125. These are guaranteed for 15 years from 2014. Hinkley has as strike price of 92.50, for 35 years from the estimated start date of 2023.

Depending on your assumptions about technical progress, that makes nuclear look like a reasonable option to place a bet on in the UK context. But the UK is a special case. On the nuclear side it has plenty of brownfield sites where a new reactor can be added, as well as a regulatory setup skilled workforce and so on. More importantly, the UK is densely populated, located at a high latitude (Edinburgh at 55N is on the same latitude as Moscow) and notoriously cloudy, due to the Gulfstream. Add to that a strong contingent of NIMBY denialists in the Tory Party and you’ve got a country with very limited prospects for solar PV or onshore wind.

Conversely, taking Lynas’ numbers and even ignoring the rapid technological progress in solar PV, it’s obvious that nuclear energy is never going to be a goer in Australia, where we have plenty of land, much more sunlight and no established nuclear infrastructure. The calculation will be different in different countries, but there won’t be many where nuclear comes out as the least-cost option, although it might be a good backstop in some cases.

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  1. Hermit
    November 10th, 2013 at 16:32 | #1

    The troubling facts in Australia are that we have very high per capita emissions, 6% nonhydro renewables and reluctance to pay more for electricity or accept reduced reliability. After 2020 several of Australia’s large coal fired baseload plants will need replacing but not by gas unless there is a no export policy. That puts us between a rock and a hard place.

    I suspect that neither CCS nor Gwh scale batteries will become practical in the next decade. Barring some kind of technological breakthrough or public attitude shift (eg another nuclear accident) we could rapidly implement nuclear in the 2020s. Converting coal plant with modern steam boilers to small modular reactors as a heat source could be done at several locations, notably the Latrobe and Hunter Valleys. In the meantime wind and solar could be overbuilt so they help a fair bit even on dull days.

    Can’t be done? I understand some 47 reactors were build in 1983. Germany still has 13% nuclear power, 22% renewables including hydro yet increasing CO2 emissions while the green energy levy raises about $30 bn a year. Time for realism.

  2. November 10th, 2013 at 16:45 | #2

    If anyone has seen the film: What is the film-maker’s solution to the problem of nuclear waste?

    AFAIK there isn’t one yet, and until there is nobody should be building new reactors.

  3. Anthony
    November 10th, 2013 at 19:38 | #3


    Hi Megan, I haven’t seen the film but from my knowledge of the guys who made the film I think they probably advocate Gen IV designs. In theory these reactors are supposed to consume most of the waste. I’m not a physicist but I think the idea is that most waste consists of atoms that are very large and still quite fissile, so they can be further broken down in a more advanced reactor. There is still waste but a lot less and typically decays over hundreds as opposed to millions of years.

  4. conrad
    November 10th, 2013 at 19:46 | #4

    It’s not just the UK that is special — The advantage of nuclear in Asia is that many of the rather large number of people living in the great Asian smog cloud for most of the year would probably like to be able to breath the air without coughing one day (obviously cheaper renewables would be better if they really could be used for everything). Given this, at least with coal and other such dirty stuff, unless you don’t believe in externalities, I don’t see why you shouldn’t add (a) the health costs of smog; (b) the immense cost of lower rainfall and hence poorer crop yields which apparently smog causes; and (c) all the other environmental problems that are currently more or less ignored.

  5. November 10th, 2013 at 19:58 | #5

    The under construction Snowtown II wind farm that will be completed towards the end of 2014 in South Australia looks as though it will produce electricity for under 4.5 cents a kilowatt-hour. That’s pretty darn good compared to the average Australian wholesale price of around 5.6 cents a kilowatt-hour. The low cost of new wind power alone makes nuclear power an economic impossibility here.

  6. ZM
    November 10th, 2013 at 20:18 | #6

    I think that nuclear energy and weapons, as you mentioned before, are very dangerous and ought to be decommissioned. As you can see with certain countries like Iran, there is a connection potentially to be made between the technologies and products of nuclear energy and the production of nuclear weapons. While the UK already has such weapons, it doesn’t mean they should build power plants, they should act as an example and consume less energy and materials and transform their society for the better.

    In terms of the dangers to people sn environments of nuclear energy and weapons, and how powerful groups exploit the ambiguities of the science, I located this article:

    Nuclear denial: From Hiroshima to Fukushima
    Charles Perrow
    Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 69(5) 56–67

    “Today, the scientific community remains divided over the effects of low- level radiation, with a significant minor- ity of experts holding that low levels are essentially harmless, while the majority says that all levels are harmful to some degree (Beyea, 2012). Estimates of how many people will die as a result of radi- ation released from Fukushima range from none (UNSCEAR, 2013) to 1,400 people developing cancer as a result of just the first year of exposure to fallout in the contaminated regions outside the evacuation zone (Rosen, 2012).
    The Fukushima disagreement is only the latest chapter in a 68-year-old story.”

    “Most of these experts no longer contend that there is zero harm in low- level radiation, but rather that the range of uncertainty includes zero: In other words, low-level health effects may exist, but they are too small to measure. This view preserves the status quo, since there is no point in comprehensively measuring low-level radiation effects or taking aggressive steps to prevent harm. Nuclear denial creates scientific ambiguity that provides cover for gov- ernmental and commercial interests and allows nuclear power to continue expanding worldwide.”

    “By exploiting the peaceful uses of the atomÑin medicine, earth removal, and later in nuclear power plantsÑnuclear deniers embarked on an ambitious pro- gram to dissipate fears about things nuclear and gain acceptance for nuclear weapons. One element in the Òfriendly atomÓ program was Project Plowshare, in which atomic explosions would enlarge harbors and the Panama Canal.”

    “. In 1953, an American anthropologist working for the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission showed that Japanese children who were exposed to fallout were not only smaller than their counterparts but also had less resistance to disease in general and were more susceptible to cancer, especially leukemia. The report was censored (Johnston, 2011). But there would be more.”

    ” A study published in 2002 looked at the health effects on children in the two years fol- lowing the closing of eight US nuclear plants in 1987. Strontium-90 levels in local milk declined sharply, as did death rates of infants who lived down- wind and within 40 miles of the plants, suggesting a link between low-dose radi- ation from gases emitted by the plants and early deaths (Mangano et al., 2002).
    The research task is daunting. Chil- dren are the most vulnerable population, and the biggest risk is childhood leuke- mia, so most studies focus on this. But since the disease is rare among children, a doubling of the tiny number of expected deaths is still so small it is hard to detect. In 2007, a German study found increased rates of childhood leu- kemia in the vicinity of all 16 nuclear power plants in Germany. Children who lived less than 5 kilometers (about 3 miles) from a plant were more than twice as likely to develop leukemia as children who lived more than 5 kilo- meters away”

    “The denial that Fukushima has any sig- nificant health impacts echoes the denials of the atomic bomb effects in 1945; the secrecy surrounding Windscale and Chelyabinsk; the studies suggesting that the fallout from Three Mile Island was, in fact, serious; and the multiple denials regarding Chernobyl (that it hap- pened, that it was serious, and that it is still serious).”

    “Ambiguities about radiationÕs effects have at times appeared to be purposeful. Vast investments are at stake in both the weapons and the nuclear power industries, and there is enough ambigu- ity about low-level radiation and its social acceptance to keep government- sponsored grants flowing to scientists.”

    Charles Perrow is an emeritus professor of sociology at Yale University and a visiting pro- fessor at Stanford UniversityÕs Center for Inter- national Security and Cooperation. An organizational theorist, he is the author of six books, including The Next Catastrophe (Prince- ton University Press, 2011) and the award-win- ning Normal Accidents: Living with High-Risk Technologies (Princeton University Press, 1999). His current research focuses on the insti- tutional and organizational aspects of global warming.

  7. PeakVT
    November 11th, 2013 at 03:40 | #7

    I don’t think Republican politicians in the Deep South of the US would have dared structure a deal as favorable to the private sector (state-owned foreign private sector, to make it even more weird) as the one at Hinkley Point. That looks like sheer lunacy apart from the all the other issues surrounding the plant. I’m tempted to conclude that Tory politicians simply loathe British electricity users.

  8. rog
    November 11th, 2013 at 05:27 | #8

    While discussion of nuclear power remains “on the table” the whole energy sector becomes fragmented. Take it off and it becomes a clear choice between renewables and fossil fuels.

    Typical of the discussion amongst chatterers is John Howard who, after reading one book, gave his expert opinion on climate change. He then extolled the virtues of nuclear

    a very clean source of energy

    without reading any book, apparently.

    This is wilful and deliberate ignorance by John Howard for political gain.

  9. rog
    November 11th, 2013 at 05:31 | #9

    @ZM The problem with nuclear weapons are

    1 they exist

    2 decommissioning would have to be simultaneous and on a global scale

    3 they are a cheaper form of deterrence compared with maintaining armed personnel

  10. John Quiggin
    November 11th, 2013 at 05:52 | #10


    These advantages apply equally to renewables and, for that matter, to gas. So, they don’t provide any additional argument in favor of nuclear in countries that don’t have the special constraints of the UK

  11. Hermit
    November 11th, 2013 at 06:10 | #11

    If I recall the Pandora movie showed dry cask storage of nuclear waste. Those steel and cement casks can weigh 35 tonnes and would require a serious effort to move or break open. Ironically having pioneered Gen IV nuclear that ‘eats’ waste America is now losing the commercialisation race to Russia and China. The UK has a lot of plutonium that could have been used in a Gen IV reactor but the expensive French designed Gen III reactors were chosen instead. I think that had a lot to do with the financing arrangements. Still they should produce stable priced power at 90% capacity decades from now. Gas would not be price stable and absent energy storage wind power could not achieve 90% capacity per machine.

  12. Ikonoclast
    November 11th, 2013 at 06:30 | #12

    Nuclear power is old technology; dangerous and uneconomic. It is a proven failure.

  13. November 11th, 2013 at 06:50 | #13

    Solar power has been installed in the soggy English midlands for a pound a watt at the Wymeswold solar farm and at a 5% discount rate produces electricity at a lower cost than the minimum guanteed price for electricity from Hinkley C, so I really don’t know what they were thinking with going ahead with that project. It’s not as if solar power is going to suddenly get more expensive.

    Oh I forgot. I was only going to write in numbered lists and circular diagrams from now on.

    1. No, the sun does not shine at night. (Odd how many people seem shocked by this fact. One would think it would be common knowledge.)
    2. Solar power that is cheaper per kilowatt than nuclear kills the economic case for nuclear by pushing down the average cost of electricity during the day.
    3. Wind that is cheaper than nuclear kills the economic case for nuclear by pushing down the average price of electrity 24/7.
    4. When it comes to making money by selling electricity to consumers, a kilowatt-hour of wind and a kilowatt-hour of nuclear are basically economically the same. The fact that nuclear runs 24/7, or rather 19.68/5.74, does not give its electricity a higher market value than electricity from wind.
    5. Wind power is not good for providing grid stabilisation services or ancillary services as we call them in Australia. The solution for this is simple. Don’t use wind for ancillary services. It’s fine for selling electricity to consumers which is by far the largest part of the electricity market and complaining it’s not good for ancillary services is like complaining that steel wool is not good for polishing your car. It’s not supposed to be!

  14. ZM
    November 11th, 2013 at 06:59 | #14

    This scientific article is freely available for anyone who is interested in whether a global 100% renewable energy is possible.

    One of The authors (Jacobson) went on Letterman to try to build support, you should google it and watch the YouTube, it’s funny and good.

    “Providing all global energy with wind, water, and solar power, Part I: Technologies, energy resources, quantities and areas of infrastructure, and materials”
    Mark Z. Jacobson a,n, Mark A. Delucchi b,1
    a Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305-4020, USA
    b Institute of Transportation Studies, University of California at Davis, Davis, CA 95616, USA

  15. Ken Fabian
    November 11th, 2013 at 07:36 | #15

    The trouble is that nuclear politics is that it’s not about what works best, it’s a kind of political football to kick around and most players are not that interested in shooting for goals.

    For the climate obstructionist Right it’s been a means to distract and divert attention from the realities of here and now and making it about could be’s, should be’s and maybe’s. A lot like Carbon Capture and Storage. Or soil carbon and tree planting; it’s about the creation of excuses for failure to commit to action on emissions, allowing them to appear to be acting but without actually doing anything. In the hands of climate obstructionists – our government for example – it’s gratuitous greenie bashing. “If Greens think climate matters that much they would be pushing nuclear” is a look-over-there distraction and diversion from “We aren’t pushing for nuclear because we don’t think climate matters”.

    But it’s not simply point scoring on greenies, it’s a clever way to diffuse the rumblings in the ranks of the Right, a kind of “We would push for nuclear except the greenies are stopping us” argument, that has built into it an implicit suggestion of “If climate change really is real and we can’t avoid having to address it we can always build nuclear“, which, like the suggestion of CCS, opens the way for business as usual without constraints until then. No actual persistent effort to pave the way for that is intended but it may be intentionally implied.

    That nuclear requires actual and long running bipartisan commitment based on foresight and planning seems a given but for the LNP the nuclear football game isn’t about building a strong commitment to address emissions using nuclear, it’s about undermining the commitment of others to address climate by others by any means.

    Climate science denial and obstructionism remains the biggest political obstacle for nuclear, undermining support for it in ways that anti-nuclear activism could never do; by offering a cheaper do nothing option the most influential voices that would push for nuclear – commerce and industry – are diverted and muted and subsumed into a broader obstructionist agenda. No amount of anti-nuclear rhetoric could get them to shut up about it if a commitment to act on climate was bipartisan. But the LNP keeps offfering a do the least at lowest cost option. It’s dismaying to know that Australian Business can be bought off from doing what’s needed at some cost by an offer to do nothing for cheaper.

    As much as it’s about scoring points on the Greens, gratuitous mention of nuclear is a way for Abbott’s climate science deniers to mute the voices of those who think the problem is real within their own ranks. Those on the Right who do accept the reality and seriousness of climate change are reassured that there is always something that can be done if it comes down to having to do something, but, conveniently, it’s those pesky greenies that are stopping them. Which makes the Abbott clique far more machiavellian than most people imagine.

    Well, they can’t even bring themselves to say what they really think and intend – sticking consistently to being contradictory at every utterance, whilst remaining absolutely clear and obvious in every action and decision. They can and do blame greenies for that too; they can encourage the hard core deniers that debate is too toxic to allow them to speak their minds, that it is green political correctness forces them to say they don’t dispute the science and prevents them presenting views – I suspect views that are along the lines of mentor John Howard.

    In other words they won’t say what they think and where they stand – as a political tactic to avoid having to justify and defend their position in open debate. In other words they are treating Australian democracy and Australian voters with patenalistic contempt.

  16. ZM
    November 11th, 2013 at 07:48 | #16


    “Add to that a strong contingent of NIMBY denialists in the Tory Party and you’ve got a country with very limited prospects for solar PV or onshore wind.”

    I think it would be better to say the Conservative Party, which, I’ve been schooled to know, were Burke-ian liberals, rather than Tory traditionalists.

    The term Tory was an expression used for the Irish who ad had their relaigion outlawed and land confiscated and often turned to crime to live. The UK Conservative party do not deserve that term in my view.

  17. Fran Barlow
    November 11th, 2013 at 10:44 | #17

    @Ken Fabian

    I wouldn’t disagree much with what you put above. It really is a kind of ‘unicorn’ argument because it would be utterly astonishing for anyone to claim that the opposition of Green parties to the rollout of nuclear power made a snowflake-in-hell‘s bit of difference to energy policy. Why would nuclear power be the only thing that we get a veto over? Has our opposition ever prevented a single nuclear power plant in any nuclear power-using country from being built? I don’t recall it if so.

    Nuclear power is controversial because lots of non-Greens are troubled by it and also because those with fossil hydorcarbon power assets aren’t all that keen either.

    As people know, I happen to believe that most of the problems with nuclear power could be managed sufficiently well to make nuclear power a plausible contender for a place in the energy mix in most countries — including here. Accordingly, I believe that my party’s position is at once wrong in principle and tactically unwise. We’d be better off demanding a complete review of all the options for low-footprint energy infrastructure and decalre that we will support the mix that best meats the important feasibility criteria — environmental, financial, schedule and mission feasibility. I suspect that in Australia, a properly conducted review would reveal that the rate at which nuclear power plants could be rolled out, and the constraints in forcibly retiring existing fossil HC capacity would in practice rule it out on schedule feasibility grounds.

    It would probably fail mission feasibility too — since plainly, a whole security appratus around the plants and their hinterlands would have to be set up, local planning and approval processes would need to be over-ridden and this cultural cost would be unacceptable. Then there’s the relative financial cost of the initial plants and the current concern on the right with “debt”. Also, who is going to force cliosure of the coal plants to make the space needed for commercially viable nuclear plants — or will the state risk ‘crowding out’ business?

    Right now, the opposition of my party while genuine, is moot, and yet as you say it’s seen as a way of implying that we aren’t serious about abatement, or are anti-technological (which is rich coming from folk who favour coal plants and oppose FTTP). If we simply adopted a technology-neutral position, the defenders of coal and gas would have to argue the case for nuclear themselves explaining why and how that could happen.

  18. ZM
    November 11th, 2013 at 11:00 | #18

    As I have written, there is no need for nuclear, people need to reduce their energy usage and acquire needed energy via renewable technology. Nuclear is very dangerous – this is how the energy is produced in the first place. If fusion is ever possible in a scalable way that *might* be safer, but it might not, I don’t know.

    This is a link to a Ted talk debating nuclear v renewables.

    The participants are mark Jacobson, the Stanford professor I mentioned earlier, and Stewart Brand, who I had to partly study at uni for a masters studio subject called The Architecture of Wishful Thinking, looking at the idea of utopia in western thought, and western architectures responses to utopia, nature and technology. Stewart Brand is a fairly loopy 60s libertarian systems thinking sort of bloke in my view, so I would recommend taking his contributions with several grains of salt. You can google him if you don’t think he can be that bad.


  19. Fran Barlow
    November 11th, 2013 at 11:11 | #19

    oh dear:

    We’d be better off demanding a complete review of all the options for low-footprint energy infrastructure and decalre {declare} that we will support the mix that best meats {meets! and from a vegetarian too!} the important feasibility criteria

  20. Ikonoclast
    November 11th, 2013 at 11:47 | #20

    What amazes me (though it shouldn’t) is how our culture cannot achieve anything now except BAU with fossils and the now standard corporate oligarchic domination of everything. Our entire socio-political system is complely ossified and cannot do or even imagine anything different.

    Given this complete ossification in a BAU mode which is destroying the biosphere, all natural capital and much social capital, it is clear that our culture and civilization (Western Capitalism and maybe Eastern too) is destined for extinction in every sense. When you can’t adapt to reality you die out.

  21. ZM
    November 11th, 2013 at 11:59 | #21

    Ikonoclast, there are lots of people who are trying to think and do differently. In my town there’s a sustainability group, a local food production and community cooking etc group, a transitions town group and so forth.

    Is there much like that happening in your area?

  22. Hermit
    November 11th, 2013 at 12:43 | #22

    BREE’s Energy in Australia 2013 tells us (p114) that transport accounts for 38% of final energy use. Their preferred energy unit is the petajoule where 1 PJ = 278 Gwh noting that thermal to electrical energy conversion is generally less than 40% efficient.

    Even if we can decarbonise electricity production there is still the thorny problem of petroleum dependence. If I recall other websites Australia was about 70% self sufficient in oil about year 2000 and some (Aleklett et al) speculate world oil production could be down perhaps 30% by 2030 with Australia’s output proportionally worse. Others including reports under the auspices of Harvard University say oil production will be higher due to fracking, tar sands etc. The plug-in hybrid car (example the pricey Holden Volt) could enable battery powered car travel for short journeys so expensive liquid fuel is only needed for longer trips.

    Low carbon electricity could charge those batteries particularly away from peak demand times. It could also help make synthetic fuels like methanol using hydrogen from water electrolysis in conjunction with organic carbon. Prima facie it means a huge 60% increase in electricity consumption since our 62% vs 38% stationary vs transport energy split now becomes subsumed under 100% electricity. Can battlers afford electric cars? Again how this can be done without nuclear is a puzzle.

  23. Hermit
    November 11th, 2013 at 12:50 | #23

    BTW I understand some of Australia’s energy czars will be quizzed on ABC Q&A tonight. If they don’t squirm the questions won’t have been hard enough.

  24. JamesH
    November 11th, 2013 at 14:45 | #24

    “Conversely, taking Lynas’ numbers and even ignoring the rapid technological progress in solar PV, it’s obvious that nuclear energy is never going to be a goer in Australia, where we have plenty of land, much more sunlight and no established nuclear infrastructure. The calculation will be different in different countries, but there won’t be many where nuclear comes out as the least-cost option, although it might be a good backstop in some cases”.

    This. Australia should be exporting uranium to places where nuclear is a genuine low cost, low risk, low greenhouse gas option, i.e. densely populated northern europe, and not planning on using it here where it will never be cost competitive (or accepted by the community).

  25. Ikonoclast
    November 11th, 2013 at 15:33 | #25


    Not that I am aware of. In any case, community groups are largely the haven of the marginalised and ignored. Most community groups are pretty much powerless unless linked to the Liberal Party, Labor Party (our two right wing parties) or to corporate business power. I view the whole situation of modern civilisation to be totally hopeless and unsalvageable. I know that to be the objective reality from simple quantitative analysis. I never resile from ackowledging objective reality even if it is hopeless. I know few agree with me.

  26. ZM
    November 11th, 2013 at 15:46 | #26

    @Ikonoclast, I think it is less salvageable if people who are concerned give up altogether. Community protest has made quite some difference here over the last couple of years in terms of planning issues, the council ad put forwards a plan for a gym/aquatic centre on green space near town and wide community anger stopped that going ahead, a group from another town tried to get planning permission for a new pokies venue and community protest and council support took the matter to VCAT and won, a new building was being built that didn’t meet the heritage requirements and a group of objectors took it to VCAT and forced alterations on the design, and so forth. There’s a lot of bad news, but not only bad news, at least at the community level.

  27. rog
    November 11th, 2013 at 16:59 | #27

    Both Tesla, with their Supercharger Network and Toyota, with their hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, will rattle the cages.

  28. rog
    November 11th, 2013 at 17:03 | #28

    Nuclear, gas, coal are all well out of date because they are part of the energy-from-boiling-water technology. The age of steam has well and truly passed its use by date.

  29. quokka
    November 11th, 2013 at 18:15 | #29


    “The age of steam has well and truly passed its use by date”

    So solar thermal and geothermal and various bio* technologies are off the agenda then?

    In the real world in all real electricity grids, spinning turbines perform an essential function of stabilizing frequency and dealing with transients. You don’t need to believe me – read the AEMO all renewables study.

    This is not going to change any time soon. If those turbines are not made to spin by hydro, they will be made to spin by steam (or possibly super critical CO2 in the future from high temperature heat sources) and in the vast majority of locations around the world that means fossil fuels or nuclear. Take your pick.

    It is completely unrealistic to expect to do away with thermal generators any time soon.

  30. John Quiggin
    November 11th, 2013 at 19:42 | #30

    ” I view the whole situation of modern civilisation to be totally hopeless and unsalvageable.”

    If you really think this, why do you waste time commenting here? Shouldn’t you just focus your attention on your own personal projects, family and so on?

    To be clear, I’m not saying you should stop. I’m saying that the fact that you keep commenting implies a contradiction in your attitudes that you need to confront.

  31. Collin Street
    November 11th, 2013 at 23:03 | #31

    Actually, I understand that water has compelling advantages as a working fluid in heat engines, acct high specific heat capacity, fairly low molar mass, decent stability, easy handling, and negligible toxicity. The fact that it’s literally cheaper than dirt turns out not to be a huge benefit: it’s not significantly cheaper for these purposes than pentane, say, or ammonia.

  32. Will Boisvert
    November 12th, 2013 at 05:30 | #32

    @ John Quiggin, on nuclear in the US.

    John, I’m afraid your Guardian piece grossly mischaracterized the political and financial support for nuclear power in the U. S., especially by suggesting that it receives more support than does wind and solar. The facts show just the opposite.

    Your Guardian piece:

    “The really big developments were in the US. The Energy Policy Act of 2005, passed with bipartisan support and building on earlier initiatives of the Bush Administration, offered the nuclear power industry a range of incentives and subsidies that the developers of wind and solar power could only dream of. It includes authorising cost-overrun support of up to $2bn total for up to six new nuclear power plants, the extension of the Price-Anderson Nuclear Industries Indemnity Act through 2025, and huge loan guarantees.

    –The cost overrun support you refer to (for the first six reactors, not plants) applies only to overruns that are caused by 1) a failure by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to comply with the scheduled timetable of regulatory actions needed for the project to proceed, or 2) lawsuits that prevent the plant from commencing operations. It explicity does not cover overruns caused by the operator’s failure to comply with regulations, or by any event within the operator’s control, or by “normal business risks.” So the projects only get a (partial) reimbursement of cost overruns if the overruns stem from delays in government regulatory or judicial proceedings

    –The Price-Anderson act has been around for 50 years. While it’s true that Price Anderson caps the nuclear industry’s liability in civil court actions at about $12 billion, it also explicitly empowers Congress to go back and assess the industry as much money as it wants to, after the fact, to pay for nuclear accidents. So Price Anderson explicity does not cap the total payout the nuclear industry may be liable for in the case of a nuclear accident.

    –So far not a dime of nuclear loan guarantees has been finalized. The Vogtle project has been negotiating for a loan guarantee, but may not get it. The V. C. Summer plant isn’t even negotiating for a loan guarantee. Nonetheless, both projects are going forward, without loan guarantees but with billions of dollars of privately-raised funds already having been spent. Wind and solar generators are also eligible and have so far received $25 billion in loan guarantees and direct loans from the government, so the loan guarantee program benefits wind and solar far more than it does nuclear. (http://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/cbofiles/attachments/03-12-EnergyTechnologies.pdf)

    –The Enegy Policy Act of 2005 provides for new nuclear generation to get a (currently) 2.3 cent per kilowatt-hour tax credit for its first eight years of operation. That tax credit is limited to the first 6 GW of new nuclear build. All wind and solar generators are also eligible for the tax credit, with no limit on the gigawatts, so the tax credit benefits wind and solar far more than it does nuclear.

    –In the last few years federal government support for renewables dwarfs that for nuclear. (http://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/cbofiles/attachments/03-12-EnergyTechnologies.pdf) In fiscal 2013 renewables and efficiency got 51 percent of DOE direct spending, compared to nuclear’s 22 percent. Renewables got 45 percent of tax preferments from the federal government, while nuclear got just 7 percent.

    –There are lavish subsidies and tax credits for renewables at the state level, which nuclear does not get. Dozens of states have renewable portfolio standards legally requiring utilities to buy and build wind and solar, but only one state, Ohio, includes nuclear in these standards. Wind and solar are being built in the US only because the law requires it and federal and state subsidies fund them.

    –At the same time there is indeed a pronounced hostility to nuclear power at many levels of government. Senate Majority leader Harry Reid engineered the closure of the Yucca Mountain waste repository, in violation of the law authorizing it; as a result of that and a court order regarding waste confidence strictures, the NRC’s licensing proceedings have been indefinitely halted. Several state governments legally ban new nuclear, and several governors are actively campaigning to shutter nuclear plants in their states.

    So John, you’ve gotten things exactly backwards: in the US, wind and solar get political and financial support from government that nuclear can only dream of.

  33. Will Boisvert
    November 12th, 2013 at 05:31 | #33

    @ John Quiggin, on the global nuclear build.

    “The UK is a special case”

    From your Guardian piece, “the fact that the world has not turned to nuclear power as a solution to climate change is a matter of economics.”

    John, there are currently 68 reactors under construction in Finland, France, the United States (5, not 4 as you mistakenly stated in your Guardian piece), Brazil, South Korea, Taiwan, China, India, the United Arab Emirates, Russia, and some others, with dozens more in planning for 2020 and further hundreds by 2030. That’s a lot of special cases!

    The greater reliability and productivity of nuclear power compared to renewables means these new reactors will have an outsized impact on decarbonization. Those 68 reactors now under construction, with a capacity of about 70 gigawatts and an average capacity factor of 85 percent, will produce 521 terrawatt-hours of low-carbon electricity per year—as much as the world’s entire fleet of wind turbines did last year.

    Wait, this just in—in the last two months China and Belarus started construction on another 4 new reactors with a capacity of 4.4 Gigawatts, so add those to the tally. These 4 reactors all by themselves will produce as much low-carbon electricity as Germany’s entire current stock of solar panels.

    So John, much of the world is indeed turning to nuclear power, and that new nuclear capacity is making enormous contributions to the fight against global warming. But we need to speed up the nuclear build even further. Environmentalists can help by 1) Speaking out against the political bans and phaseouts of nuclear power in Austria, Italy, Switzerland, Germany and, ahem, Australia; 2) Calling for the reopening of shuttered nuclear power plants in Germany, Japan and the United States. Maybe you could add your voice to the pro-nuclear chorus, on platforms as prominent as the Guardian.

  34. Will Boisvert
    November 12th, 2013 at 05:32 | #34

    @John Quiggin, on the costs of nuclear versus wind and solar:

    John, it’s just not true that nuclear can’t compete with wind and solar. China is an excellent test case, because it has big systematic rollouts of nuclear, wind and solar. There, new nuclear get’s an official price of 0.43 yuan (6-7 cents) per kwh, while wind gets 0.51 to 0.61 yuan and solar gets 0.75 to 1.15 yuan. And those prices don’t count the costs of extra transmission from distant places, or of backup for the long periods when wind and solar knock off.

    Even the Hinkley C deal, which I agree is a terrible rip-off, is still fetching a cheaper price than wind and solar.

    When nuclear is deployed systematically on a large scale, economies of scale and experience make it pretty cheap.

    Even though nuclear doesn’t cost more, it really ought to because it delivers a much better quality of power. It’s the most reliable electricity in the business—24/7, night and day, calm or windy, frequently running flat out with no interruptions for a year or more. Electrons aren’t all the same, it really matters whether you can get them when you want them. Power on demand is why people happily paid extra for steamboats that could travel when sailboats could not. Is it your contention that a superbly reliable generator should enjoy no cost premium whatsoever over a chaotically intermittent generator that will frequently cease to function for hours to days on end?

  35. Will Boisvert
    November 12th, 2013 at 07:49 | #35

    @John Quiggin, on Chernobyl casualties.

    John, your Guardian piece cited figures from 4000 to 500,000 as “conservative” estimates of Chernobyl deaths. The 500,000 figure is a ludicrous overestimate and you should not have included it.

    I tracked the figure through your Guardian citation and thence to a 2006 statement by the National Commission for Radiation Protection of Ukraine, a quasi-governmental source. Unfortunately, the orginal Guardian article on this figure misstated the Ukrainian findings, which were themselves a grossly misleading interpretation of the actual data. Here’s the original Guardian article from 2006 http://www.commondreams.org/headlines06/0325-05.htm and the full Ukrainian report from 2006 http://chernobyl.undp.org/english/docs/ukr_report_2006.pdf

    In 2006, the Guardian’s take on the NCRPU findings was, “up to 500,000 people may have already died as a result of the world’s worst environmental catastrophe [Chernobyl],” which in 2010 the Guardian reprised as “the Ukrainian national commission for radiation protection calculates 500,000 deaths so far”, implying that 500,000 people had already been killed by the Chernobyl radiation, a figure you then reiterated in your piece. But that’s not what NCRPU actually said. What they said was “”At least 500,000 people – perhaps more – have already died out of the 2 million people who were officially classed as victims of Chernobyl in Ukraine,” said Nikolai Omelyanets, deputy head of the National Commission for Radiation Protection in Ukraine.”

    What Omelyanets is subtly and misleadingly saying is not that 500,000 people died of radiation, but that, out of a group of 2 million plus people categorized as “victims of Chernobyl”, 500,000 had died of all causes. His statement does not mean that all those 500,000 died from radiation, or that most of them died from radiation, or that any of them died from radiation. All it means is that out of 2 million people, 500,000 died over the course of 20 years.

    If we drill into the full report we see just how misleading these formulations are. The 2 million people are those registered in the Ukrainian government’s registry of Chernoby “sufferers,” who include 230,000 liquidators, 50,000 people evacuated from the exclusion zone, 1.6 million people living in contaminated areas, and 428,000 children of all the groups above. To get into that group of “sufferers” you don’t have to be dying, or sick, or to have ever been anywhere near Chernobyl in your lifetime, or to have ever been exposed to fallout.

    So that’s a group of 2.3 million people, overweighted with liquidators, mainly blue-collar men who by 2006 were on average in their late 50s. Is it surprising that hundreds of thousands had died over the course of 20 years? No, not at all; if you gather any group of 2.3 million people with a demographic distribution skewed towards aging blue-collar men, hundreds of thousands of them will certainly die over the course of 20 years, no fallout necessary. So you see, contrary to the Guardian’s misinterpretation, the NCRPU formulation does not in any way show an effect of radiation.

    When we look at some of the particulars of the Ukrainian report, we see how weak any imputations of radiation effects are. For example, the data in the report show that the liquidators have an elevated risk of cancer compared to the general population. But the data also show that civilian evacuees from Chernobyl (who got the highest radiation doses) and people still living in highly contaminated areas have much lower cancer rates than does the general Ukrainian population living in uncontaminated areas.

    The report makes much of a rise in infant mortality, including stillbirth after Chernobyl. But that rise didn’t commence until 1990, five years after the accident. In the period 1985 to 1990, infant mortality rates actually fell, according to their data. The thing is, pre-natal radiation exposures were much higher in 1986-1990 than they were after 1990; that’s because natural radioactive decay and weathering would have drastically lowered ambient radiation levels from fallout. (In Fukushima, ambient radiation levels have fallen by two thirds in the two year since the period right after the accident.) The report suggests that the rise in infant mortality was linked to Chernobyl radiation, but prenatal radiation exposures were high in 1986-90, when infant mortality was falling, but much lower after 1990, when infant mortality was rising; the proposed link between radiation and infant mortality therefore makes no sense.

    The report also highlights a rise in total death rates per capita in Ukraine after Chernobyl. Is that a sign of Chernobyl mortality? No, it’s far more likely due to the social and economic upheavals of the period, and even more so to sheer demographics. Over the same period the birth rate in Ukraine was falling precipitately, which means that the average age of the population was increasing. An aging population is automatically going to show an increasing per-capita mortality rate, all other things being equal, even if mortality risks don’t change at all.

    So you can see why the Ukrainian figure of 500,000 deaths is dismissed by the scientific consensus, even on the (semi) responsible wing of the anti-nuclear movement. Lisbeth Gronlund of The Union of Concerned Scientists, for example, puts the total Chernobyl death toll at an eventual 27,000. But her estimate, like all estimates in that range, is a conjecture based on imputing cancer risk factors derived at high doses to millions of people who received tiny doses. How tiny? The Ukrainian report puts the average dose from Chernobyl fallout at 2.5 millisieverts over 20 years; that’s as much as the extra radiation as you would get living in Denver for 6 months. It’s just not plausible that such tiny doses would cause any perceivable health effect.

    That’s why the most authoritative report on Chernobyl, by the UN Scientific Committee on the Effects of Airborn Radiation, refuses on prinicipal to calculate vast unmeasurable casualty estimates. They stick to what empirical data actually shows about elevated cancer rates and other health effects. And their comprehensive study indicates that, aside from a thyroid cancer epidemic that killed perhaps fifteen people, there’s no clear evidence of any health effect at all among the general population from Chernobyl. I wish you had seen fit to discuss this report, which really embodies the scientific consensus, but you did not.

    John, I know that the 500,000 figure is just one number in your piece, but it’s a very important number. With that one number you inject into the debate, and implicitly endorse, a grossly exaggerated assessment of Chernobyl’s damage, based on a garbled journalistic misstatement of a faulty report that’s drastically out of step with the scientific consensus. And it doesn’t help that you’ve included a low-ball estimate of 4,000 in the same sentence as cover. If I were to write, “conservative estimates of anthropogenic global warming range from several degrees centigrade this century to none whatsoever,” you would rightly cry foul, because the former number is the scientific consensus while the latter is nonsense from ideologues.

    You can see why the Pandora’s Promise folks get testy when they see environmentalists repeating these nonsensical scare-statistics in the newspapers.

  36. ZM
    November 12th, 2013 at 07:52 | #36

    @Will Boisvert

    “At the same time there is indeed a pronounced hostility to nuclear power at many levels of government. Senate Majority leader Harry Reid engineered the closure of the Yucca Mountain waste repository, in violation of the law authorizing it; as a result of that and a court order regarding waste confidence strictures, the NRC’s licensing proceedings have been indefinitely halted”

    This is about the effects of nuclear weapons testing and nuclear waste storage on real living people, not just as an abstract argument.

    I only recently had to briefly research this for an argument at Crooked Timber about utilitarianism. A commenter complained that students who were repelled by utilitarianism by reading an Ursula Le Guin story called Omelas but inconsistently then were in favour of Yucca mountain waste repository on utilitarian grounds.

    In briefly researching it I found this information, which you may or may not care enough about to let it affect your advocacy of nuclear power, it would depend on your conscience.

    It is called “A Wetern Shohone Perspective on Yucca Mountain”

    “The Western Shoshone Native American tribe is asking, “How did the US obtain ownership of Yucca Mountain from the Western Shoshone Nation?” The Western Shoshone people have been asking similar questions of the US since they signed the Treaty of Ruby Valley in 1863. The Department of Energy pattern of argument in addressing Western Shoshone concerns seeks to minimize any assertion or assumption of existing ongoing rights. To the contrary, historical evidence provides fact of lawful ownership to Yucca Mountain by the Western Shoshone Nation.”

    “Still, more abuse of the Western Shoshone people and land are the result of negligence by the US in the development and testing of weapons of mass destruction. In the 1950?s the US occupied a vast expanse of Western Shoshone lands that now comprise the Nevada Test Site 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas for use as America’s nuclear proving ground. During the period of nuclear weapons testing from 1951-1994, the US detonated 904 full-scale nuclear weapons tests, 24 in collaboration with the United Kingdom. The Western Shoshone Nation with the help of American supporters engaged in active protest against nuclear weapons testing and the MX inter-continental ballistic missile system planned for the Great Basin. The MX missile system was cancelled and full-scale nuclear weapons testing ended at the Nevada Test Site.”

    “Collaborating with researchers from Marsh Institute at Clarke University, funded by the Center for Disease Control and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the Nuclear Risk Management for Native Communities project reviewed the Department of Energy, Off-site Radiation Exposure Review Program. What they found was that the Department of Energy study used a shepherd lifestyle to model Native Americans, but that the shepherd lifestyle did not accurately replicate the Western Shoshone or Southern Paiute people’s lifestyle. Based upon lifestyle differences alone the Nuclear Risk Management for Native Communities project found that Western Shoshone and Southern Paiute people were exposed to radiation through unique exposure pathways that included diet, shelter and mobility. Radiation exposure risk for adults are as much as 15 times greater than non-Native American communities downwind, as much as 30 times greater risk for children, and as much as 60 time greater risk for inutero exposure.

    Politically weak, socially and economically isolated the Western Shoshone people are vulnerable to exploitation. For the Western Shoshone Nation the stakes are mortal. The abuse continues as the Western Shoshone Nation is targeted for the disposal of nuclear waste from 115 nuclear reactors at 75 sites in 30 states. From the Western Shoshone perspective, nuclear waste streams from the reactor communities would become a river as they enter the Western Shoshone country, placing a disproportionate burden of risk upon the land and people of the Western Shoshone Nation.”

  37. Will Boisvert
    November 12th, 2013 at 07:54 | #37

    @ Ronald Brak, on Wymeswold vs. Hinkley C.

    Ronald, you don’t cite any source for Wymewold’s electricty price. I looked up your estimate of Wymeswold costs at Clean Technica. You arrive at your low estimate by assuming a cost-of-capital of 5 percent for the solar plant. (You also amortize the costs over 36 years, although the BBC puts the plant’s lifetime at 25 years.)

    The low interest rate assumption really makes the difference between Wymewold’s cost and Hinkley C, which I agree is a rip off. The Hinkley C terms guarantee EDF a return on capital of about 10 percent a year. If its cost of capital were 5 percent per year Hinkley C would be substantially cheaper than your Wymewold estimate.

    Another problem with the Hinkley deal is that the EPR currently has a monopoly on the UK reactor market—that’s because none of its American or Japanese competitors are licensed in the UK. That’s deeply stupid—American and Japanese models have already passed exacting licensing procedures in their home countries and should be licensed immediately in the UK; the balkanization of nuclear regulation is a terrible and costly hindrance. The American and Japanese models all have current or recently completed builds at much lower prices than the EPR.

    There are other reasons why Hinkley might be better for Britain than Wymeswold. With a 34 MW capacity and 12 percent capacity factor, Wymswold produces on average 4 MW of power from a land footprint of 150 acres, according to the BBC. Hinkley, with 3200 GW operating at 90 percent capacity factor will produce an average power of 2880 MW, from a constructed land footprint of less than one square mile. For a Wymeswold to produce as much electricity as a Hinkley C, it would have to cover 108,000 acres, or 168 square miles of farmland.

    You can see why the British, especially environmentalists concerned about food production and wildlife habitat, might not relish the prospect of having so much of their green and pleasant land paved with solar panels—especially since they will need the nuclear plants anyway for those extended periods of simultaneous cloud and calm that Britain experiences.

  38. Will Boisvert
    November 12th, 2013 at 08:04 | #38

    @ ZM, on the risks of nuclear power.

    The Charles Perrow article you quote on the risks of nuclear power is very misleading.

    –CP cites Alex Rosen’s estimate of 1400 Fukushima deaths among contaminated populations outside the evacuation zone, based on just one years radiation exposure. I read Rosen’s paper and it’s a fiasco of errors and cherry-picking. But to stick to the 1400 figure, it’s based on a guesstimate from the French nuclear safety agency that was done in May of 2011, when the crisis was still in full swing and no systematic dosage surveys had been done.

    The May, 2011 French estimate that Rosen cites posited 200 millisievert average doses among 70,000 people. But since then, really systematic dosage surveys have been done by the Japanese authorities and the World Health Organization. The results are drastically smaller than Rosen’s estimate.

    WHO estimates that the highest dose in all Japan was 25 mSv over the first four months after the accident. Extrapolating to the whole year, that would be 75 msv, but that’s still much too high, because the bulk of the dose occurred in the first few weeks of the spew, radiation exposures would have dropped markedly over the rest of the year. And that highest dose category of 12-25 msv was incurred by just a few thousand people, not 70,000. Going by WHO’s careful dosage estimates, the 1400 figure is too high by an order of magnitude and probably much more. All of this information was available to Perrow when he wrote the article, but he apparently ignored it.

    –CP cites the KiKK study purporting to show a doubling of leukemia rates in German children near nuclear plants.

    Unfortunately, he doesn’t tell us that the KiKK authors explicitly stated that linking the leukemia to radiation exposure was “implausible,” because the radiation exposures from the plants were one one-thousandth of the natural background radiation. In a follow-up paper they noted that analyzing the data with a different statistical technique—standardized incidence ratios instead of odds ratios—made the leukemia increase statistically insignificant. There was an association only for leukemia, not for all cancer.

    What’s going on with the KiKK study is simple—they pared away the study population until it was so tiny that statistical flukes threw up a spurious correlation. They narrowed down from all children, where there was no association between nuke proximity and leukemia, to children under five years of age, and narrowed down the study area from 70 km from the plants, a radius where there was no association, to just 5 kilometers. That brought the number of leukemia cases down enough that it could be seriously affected by a statistical fluke, which amounted to all of 10 extra leukemia cases over a period of 23 years. But when you look at a larger area with a larger and more statistically stable study population, that correlation evaporates. For example, when you broaden the area to 30 km from the plants, there are no excess cases of leukemia at all according to the KiKK data. Pretty scary, huh?

    If CP had discussed the Kikk study in detail and context he couldn’t have used it to frighten people, but he chose not to do that.

    –CP cites a Joseph Mangano study purporting to show declines in infant death rates after US nuclear plant closures. Mangano does reams of these studies, always by the same method of data-mining: he enters huge amounts of data on health stats into a spreadsheet, then pares away and rearranges and cherry-picks the stats until he hits on a spurious correlation.

    You can see him doing it in this study. Why those eight plants? Is a forty-mile study radius justified on theoretical grounds, and is the study category of “downwind” really precise and stable, or just an excuse to cherry-pick the counties with the highest cancer rates? Why 1987—could it be because strontium-90 levels were declining anyway because of the tapering off of exposures from the Chernobyl deposition (easy to measure but far too small to matter)?

    It’s all just data-mining for spurious correlations. We know that’s how Mangano operates because he’s been caught several times fraudulently manipulating his data sets—Scientific American caught him doing it here. (http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/2011/06/21/are-babies-dying-in-the-pacific-northwest-due-to-fukushima-a-look-at-the-numbers/)
    It says a lot about Charles Perrow’s integrity that he would cite a known fraud like Mangano.

    Charles Perrow is a sociologist who made his name dilating on silly disaster scenarios. He doesn’t understand radiation science or statistics. He’s just scare-mongering in the Bulletin piece by citing dubious and fraudulent evidence, misrepresenting his sources and concealing crucial details and context, as well as ignoring consensus scientific findings that refute his claims—because the scientific consensus is all part of the conspiracy, you see.

    That’s how anti-nuclear alarmists bamboozle people.

  39. ZM
    November 12th, 2013 at 08:10 | #39

    @Will Boisvert,

    Are you the same fellow who published this ten or so years ago?

    “So if we believe that genes outweigh environment, it’s because we’ve grown disenchanted with the environment. We used to meet people, learn new ideas and gain practical experience, all from interacting with the environment. Nowadays the environment is for suckers. We’re told that everything we learn today will be obsolete tomorrow. Entrance into college is based on your scholastic “aptitude,” which is unaffected by whether you grew up in Beverly Hills or South Central. We live in a “winner-take-all society,” so there’s no longer a payoff to solidarity or mutual aid. When you reach your benefits cutoff, or your portfolio tanks, you have only your personal responsibility to back you up. Genes didn’t matter so much when we thought the environment provided skills and friends and social institutions we could count on to transform our life circumstances. Now we know better. The environment passeth away. Genes abide.

    One wishes Fukuyama would probe these attitudes, instead of tacitly endorsing them and wringing his hands over the consequences. He ends his book with a sensible call for thoroughgoing government regulation of biotechnology. But he should go further and look at the failure of Davos-stage liberal democracy to live up to the ideals he claims it embodies. Biotechnology hype simply mirrors a world that aggrandizes a Nietzschean few and humiliates millions. Unless we learn to treat people as ends and not means, the posthuman future will follow from an inhuman present.”

  40. ZM
    November 12th, 2013 at 08:21 | #40

    “Charles Perrow is a sociologist who made his name dilating on silly disaster scenarios. He doesn’t understand radiation science or statistics. He’s just scare-mongering in the Bulletin piece by citing dubious and fraudulent evidence, misrepresenting his sources and concealing crucial details and context, as well as ignoring consensus scientific findings that refute his claims—because the scientific consensus is all part of the conspiracy, you see.
    That’s how anti-nuclear alarmists bamboozle people.”

    According to a linked in profile for a fellow with your name, he is not a scientist but a self employed writer seeking business deals, consulting opportunities etc.

    Are you that Will Boisvert or one who is a trained nuclear scientist?

    You have not quoted your sources nor cited the reports from where you take your claims and their authors. This in not sufficient in my opinion, to encourage trust in your great advicacy of nuclear power. Charles Perrow wrote a proper article with citations etc, published in a reputable publication (unless you have a reason to think the publication is not reputable?).

    “Data-mining for spurious”…

  41. John Quiggin
    November 12th, 2013 at 08:25 | #41

    (5, not 4 as you mistakenly stated in your Guardian piece)

    You’re calling Watts Bar a new power plant? That’s pretty desperate isn’t it? It was 80 per cent finished in 1988. By that standard, George Bush Sr is a rising star in politics.

    If you want me to take you seriously, this kind of silly nitpick doesn’t help.

  42. John Quiggin
    November 12th, 2013 at 08:28 | #42

    FWIW, I think it would make sense, for purely rhetorical reasons, to remove Australia’s ban on nuclear power – obviously this would have no practical effect.

    More practically, I agree that the rapid phaseout of nuclear power in Germany and other European countries is a dumb idea. However, I do enough complaining about German policy in other areas, so I’m not going to waste my breath on it.

  43. John Quiggin
    November 12th, 2013 at 08:33 | #43

    You can work out the cost premium for renewable electricity in Australia by looking at the value of Renewable Energy Certificates. IIRC, they currently go for around $40-$50/MWh (=4-5c/KWh). The long run average pool price is, from memory around $60/MWh, so you’re looking at around $A100/MWh

    That’s about 60 pounds sterling at current (high) exchange rate, which means we’d need to a lot better than Hinkley C. In fact of course, we’d face much higher costs on every front.

  44. November 12th, 2013 at 08:36 | #44

    Will Boisvert: With regard to, “Even the Hinkley C deal, which I agree is a terrible rip-off, is still fetching a cheaper price than wind and solar.”

    1. I don’t know what it costs to install rooftop solar in the UK at the moment but at Australian costs, a 5% discount rate, and a 10% load factor, point of use solar provides electricity at a lower cost than Hinkley C’s minimum price plus distribution charges.

    2. German installation costs are even lower.

    3. It’s not really the cost of solar now that is relevant for comparison but what it will be around 2023 or when ever it will be when Hinley C comes on line. There are no reasons why the UK cannot soon match and then beat Germany’s current solar installation costs.

    4. I am aware that the sun doesn’t shine at night. I am only making the case that the cost of solar power alone makes nuclear power uneconomic, not that the UK should be 100% solar powered.

    5. In case you don’t think rooftop solar at a 5% discount rate and 10% load factor is an appropriate comparison to make I will compare an existing UK solar farm using a 5% discount rate to Hinkley C using a 5% discount rate.

    6. Wymeswold solar farm in the English Midlands cost one pound a watt and operates at a load factor of 11.8%. Its lifespan is expected to be 36 years. Using a 5% discount rate and an estimated annual operating cost of 1% of the total capital cost gives a cost per kilowatt-hour of about 6.8 pence.

    7. Hinkley C will cost 18 billion pounds for 3,200 megawatts and apparently has an expected lifespan of 60 years. I will assume its load factor will be 90%. I will assume one pence per kilowatt-hour for operating costs and half a pence for waste disposal. I will assume that at the end of its lifespan the plant will be magiced away by Harry Potter and ignore decommissiong costs. I will also ignore the costs off security and government oversight and inspections. I will ignore the large difference in capital costs caused by solar capital becoming operational within months as opposed to being tied up for a decade or more during the construction of Hinkley C. I will ignore insurance costs for now, but I will come back to that later. I will ignore any other costs. Wiith a 5% discount rate this gives electricity from Hinkley C a cost of about 6.5 pence.

    8. Since I gave Hinkley C so many breaks the actual price may well be above Wymeswold’s 6.8 pence, but I won’t worry about that and will go with the 6.5 pence figure.

    9. Insurance for nuclear power is expensive. A study on the actual cost of insurance for Germany’s nuclear power ranged from a minimum of about 12 pence a kilowatt-hour to much higher.

    10. The costs of insurance do not go away if you ignore them.

    11. If it is assumed that because Hinkley C is modern its insurance cost will be half the German minimum the cost of its electricity will come to 12.5 pence per kilowatt-hour.

    11. Perhaps you may argue that Hinkley C could be insured for less than half the German minimum estimate. But what is absolutely certain is that the cost of insurance will not be less than 0.3 pence per kilowatt-hour.

    12. Therefore solar power in the UK is currently cheaper than electricity from Hinkley C.

    13. As solar power is continuing to fall in cost it will be much cheaper than electricity from Hinkley C by the time it comes online.

    14. If you can see any errors I have made, please point them out.

    15. If you can’t find any errors, please acknowledge that you were wrong. Something along the lines of, “Whoops! I was clearly wrong to think that nuclear power from Hinkley C was cheaper than solar power. I will let everyone know that I was wrong about this,” will be fine.

  45. John Quiggin
    November 12th, 2013 at 08:47 | #45

    As regards Chernobyl fatality estimates, the Guardian sub-editor changed my text without consulting me. I suggested a range from 4000 (WHO) to 30 000 (UCS, rounded) as plausible.

  46. Ken Fabian
    November 12th, 2013 at 08:58 | #46

    Nuclear won’t even get onto the table as a possibility in Australia until the LNP drops it’s BS position on climate and puts it there themselves. Arguing the relative costs of nuclear compared to renewables is a pointless exercise for Australians who seek adequate action on emissions – but it looks like a valuable exercise if delay of commitment to emissions reductions is your goal.

    Nuclear advocacy continues to be deeply damaged by it’s history of squaring off against environmentalists. Now it finds it needs environmentalists on side – but it seems to be trying to do so by being relentlessly critical of green politics and renewables! Like that’ll win them over and convince them!

    During the recent election I tried to take a few nuclear advocates to task for failing to address climate policy obstructionism as something that is inherently anti-nuclear. I did see a couple of articles critical of Abbott on climate after that but somehow they seemed to inevitably transmute into criticism of The Greens. Sigh. They seem to be treating the Right’s climate science denial as so rock solid that it’s impervious to criticism and therefore attacking it is pointless – more or less the reason I got for why they go all out to attack The Greens over opposition to nuclear but were not attacking the LNP over climate policy obstructionism. The biggest impediment to nuclear is not worth the effort?

    But I suspect that pro-nukers’ unwillingness to go after the deniers actually has more to do with so many advocates of nuclear being climate science deniers themselves; making it about climate science and climate politics would alienate too many rusted on, staunchly anti-environmentalist supporters of nuclear. I think that siding with that kind of pro-nukers – or tip toeing around them – can only damage the nuclear cause; it raises questions about their sound judgement for one thing.

    The political reality is that the allegedly nuclear friendly political Right cannot bring itself to commit to nuclear because that will be antithetical to it’s position on climate and emissions and nuclear advocates remain reluctant to call them out on it. Business voices, that could and would advocate strongly for nuclear still prefer to not deal with the climate problem at all so they will not rock the LNP boat. But when the LNP no longer offers a do nothing option those voices will start getting louder.

    I think the golden moment for nuclear was a decade ago and it was lost when the the corporatist Right chose lies about climate to defend fossil fuels whilst being unwilling to use the truth about climate to promote nuclear.

  47. ZM
    November 12th, 2013 at 09:12 | #47

    @John Quiggin @45

    AFAICT the UCS estimate was 50,000 deaths by cancer, why round down from that to 30,000 overall deaths (the article did not specify cancer deaths).

    The Guardian editor linked the replaced estimate to an article looking at how numbers of deaths related to the Chernobyl calamity vary greatly depending on who is doing the studies, and because there has been no co-ordination to synthesise different numbers collected by different agencies under different jurisdictions.

    That actually sounds reasonably sensible doesn’t it?

  48. quokka
    November 12th, 2013 at 10:01 | #48

    The UCS estimates of cancer deaths from the Chernobyl accident appear to be based on the notion of collective very low radiation dose to very large populations. UNSCEAR and ICRP both reject this as invalid methodology.

    The onus is on UCS (and others) persisting with such methods to provide a convincing account of why they reject the UNSEAR and ICRP positions. They don’t.

    The problem is that the bodies are proving remarkably difficult to find. A 2012 study Radiation and the Risk of Chronic Lymphocytic and Other Leukemias among Chornobyl Cleanup Workers published in Environmental Health Perspectives claimed to have identified 19 excess Leukemia cases among 110,645 cleanup workers. The “liquidators” incurred a much higher radiation dose than the general population.

  49. ZM
    November 12th, 2013 at 10:17 | #49

    @ quokka, The Guardian linked the difficulties in finding “bodies” to the state of turmoil in the areas affected following the breakdown of the Soviet Union

  50. Ikonoclast
    November 12th, 2013 at 10:26 | #50

    @John Quiggin

    People who are terminal, in one sense or another, do not stop talking and communicating, at least not until they slip into a coma. A view of ultimate existential hoplessness is not incompatible with a view of immediate existential action, be it private projects and public comments. It creates a painful tension for sure but I still engage in both as that is my instrinsic nature. I think people who are living with too many fond illusions need to confront their prediliction for fanciful and unrealistic hopes. It is that prediliction as much as anything which has led us too far down the blind alley of late stage capitalism, corporatism and endless growth ideology.

  51. quokka
    November 12th, 2013 at 10:32 | #51

    @ZM The Guardian is not a reliable source on radiation risk. Period.

  52. John Quiggin
    November 12th, 2013 at 10:44 | #52

    Just to restate the obvious, my article was not about health risks. Whatever the risks of nuclear, it’s clear that coal is far worse. That said, the health risks are real and not negligible. So, if nuclear fails against renewables on a first pass economic assessment, it’s unlikely to do better on a comprehensive analysis.

  53. Ikonoclast
    November 12th, 2013 at 10:45 | #53

    That last post came across as confrontational. My apologies. I will try to cut down and find some new topics.

  54. quokka
    November 12th, 2013 at 10:47 | #54

    Wrt claims that the UK is a special case, from a recent media report:

    Luis Echavarri, director general of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Nuclear Energy Agency, told the World Energy Congress that a survey by the intergovernmental organisation of industrialised nations found that 25 of its 34 member nations planned to build more nuclear power plants.

    and also interesting comments from the CEO of Westinghouse:

    Danny Roderick, chief executive of US-based nuclear technology and equipment provider Westinghouse Electric, said the company had eight units under construction and its order backlog suggested the figure would increase to more than 30 in five years.

    “In the past six months, we have seen more interest in new plants globally than in the past three to four years,” he said.

    At lot of those will be in China, but crystal ball gazing suggests that the UK and Czech Republic at least will be in the list.

    Google: “Nuclear power popular despite Fukushima: OECD boss Luis Echavarri”

  55. Hermit
    November 12th, 2013 at 12:07 | #55

    The reason the Brits chose the expensive and slow to build EPR design I think is because the governments of France and China are essentially underwriting it. I believe via middle men in practice Electricite de France operates all British nukes. The Westinghouse large AP 1400 reactor appears to have better passive safety features and assembles faster. No financing deal I suspect. However at some stage the Brits must do something with their large plutonium stockpile which most likely means a General Electric fourth generation reactor, not yet a reproducible design. When available that reactor would operate on a fee basis with no upfront cost to the Brits.

    Abbott and his cohort of young fogeys probably see nothing wrong with coal. Therefore unlike Howard they are unlikely to endorse nuclear. However if I can read thoughts there may have been a lightbulb moment when the Philippines cyclone relief was increased from $0.45m to $10m. The thought being there might be something in this climate change business after all.

  56. John Quiggin
    November 12th, 2013 at 12:14 | #56


    I agree there’s probably an implicit subsidy from the French government. But obviously, that means

    (1) The true cost of the EPR is even greater than the agreed strike price
    (2) The cost of the AP1000/1400 is greater than the strike price, though probably less than the unsubsidised cost of the EPR

  57. John Quiggin
    November 12th, 2013 at 12:23 | #57

    And, since no one else has bitten, I’ll make the point that it would have been really silly for the UK government to take on the risk of building a full-size Gen IV reactor as a central element of its climate change response.

    These range from concepts to partial designs. As far as I know, none has even been submitted for approval to the US NRC or its counterparts.

    The most popular contender, the Integral Fast Reactor is based on a 50-year old prototype that generated 20 MW and shut down nearly 20 years ago. It would take at least a decade before a full-scale plant design could be completed and approved, let alone constructed.

  58. ZM
    November 12th, 2013 at 12:53 | #58

    @John Quiggin ” So, if nuclear fails against renewables on a first pass economic assessment, it’s unlikely to do better on a comprehensive analysis.”
    I agree that nuclear is a wholy undesirable option, but health and environmental risks are very important to any analysis and i think more important than the economic case, because prices are relative human constructions put in place by coercive force, whereas physical damage is not relative except at the tiny quantum level, at least that is what i’ve heard.

  59. quokka
    November 12th, 2013 at 13:20 | #59

    @John Quiggin

    And, since no one else has bitten, I’ll make the point that it would have been really silly for the UK government to take on the risk of building a full-size Gen IV reactor as a central element of its climate change response.

    Energy research, development and demonstration deployment IS a central element of climate change response. And one that is badly neglected.

    Gen IV reactors are currently NOT an option for meeting UK low emission electricity requirements for projects starting in around the next decade or so. George Monbiot seems to have lost the plot on this in railing against Hinkley. The possible limited exception to this is the deployment of two GEH PRISM reactors at Sellafield (about 600 MWe total) for plutonium disposal. They would also generate grid electricity. This is still under consideration by the UK government. GEH is reportedly offering very attractive terms including some component of payment per kg of Pu disposed. This has all the appearances of a free lunch as the UK is going to pay for Pu disposal anyway no matter what method is used.

    The most popular contender, the Integral Fast Reactor is based on a 50-year old prototype that generated 20 MW and shut down nearly 20 years ago. It would take at least a decade before a full-scale plant design could be completed and approved, let alone constructed.

    General Electric – Hitachi PRISM is a complete commercial engineering design based on the Argonne research. PRISM is the reactor component of IFR. Passively safe in the event of complete station blackout without operator intervention indefinitely. It has already been reviewed by the US NRC in a preliminary assessment. The NRC found no fundamental impediments to licencing. Licencing will be an issue but probably not an impossibly greater issue than Generic Design Assessment for any new reactor design.

  60. quokka
    November 12th, 2013 at 13:41 | #60

    GEH FAQ on PRISM for UK Plutonium disposal:

  61. quokka
    November 12th, 2013 at 13:43 | #61

    Try again gehitachiprism dot com/faqs/

  62. rog
    November 12th, 2013 at 13:57 | #62

    The problem with climate change/energy policy is the lack of coordinated and effective communication, particularly at a social level, according to this article The comparison with tobacco use is pertinent, decades of gruesome details and images has been effective in changing public perception. ATM climate change is about to be thrown into the bin and it’s not because the deniers have been so effective, it’s because the promoters have been so ineffective.

  63. Will Boisvert
    November 12th, 2013 at 14:35 | #63

    @ John Quiggin

    OK, I apologize for insinuating that you were responsible for the 500,000 Chernobyl deaths figure. I know editors can do things like that. But again, you can also see that the Pandora’s Promise people have a point when they complain that outlandishly high casualty figures are bandied about by greenish anti-nuclear outlets like the Guardian. When those things happen, even against the author’s will, it tacitly turns an economic critique of nuclear power into an alarmist disaster scenario.

    Your figure of 30,000 as an upper bound for Chernobyl deaths is within the consensus range, though still arguably much too high, in my opinion, since those estimates are calculated conjectures rather than observed casualties. All such estimates concede that deaths on that scale over many decades are too few to discern empirically in elevated cancer and mortality rates; we just have to take them on faith. That’s why, as Quokka points out, some (though not all) establishment radiological bodies like UNSCEAR and ICRP reject such methodologies.

  64. Will Boisvert
    November 12th, 2013 at 14:41 | #64

    @ Ronald Brak on nuclear vs. solar costs.

    Ronald, a couple of misstatements in your reckonings:

    –Hinkley C’s price tage is set at 16 Billion pounds, not 18 billion pounds. That’s 5000 pounds per kilowatt. Those are “all-in costs” including financing costs, that is the interest accrued on capital tied up during construction, which is added to the principal that has to be paid back during operations.

    –You say Wymeswold will last 36 years but the BBC says 25 years. No matter, let’s go with 36.

    –Ronald, no, the cost of nuclear insurance is not 12.5 pence per kwh. No nuclear plant on earth pays anything like that; actual insurance costs are perhaps one percent of that. Anti-nuclear polemics, I mean “studies,” get to those figures with the usual “They could have a $10 trillion dollar accident! Insure against that!” nonsense, in complete disregard of the actual costs of nuclear accidents, even those inflated by panicky government overreaction.

    **So let’s do the math using the public LCOE calculator at the US National Renewable electricity laboratory, which is easy and fun to use if people want to play along. http://www.nrel.gov/analysis/tech_lcoe.html
    All figures in sterling.

    (The tweet if you don’t want to wade through the calculation—yes, nuclear at 5 % discount comes in at 6.5 pence per kwh, with all expenses very much included. Solar comes in a shade higher at 6.8 pence per kwh, but that leaves out substantial costs.)

    –So, for Wymeswold, lets use your figures of 1000 per kw capital costs, 5 % interest, 11.8 % capacity factor, 36-year amortization 1 % capital costs per kw fixed O and M, (which I take to be about 10.3 pounds per kw). And yes indeed, the LCOE comes out at 6.8 pence per kwh, as you reckoned.

    –Now for Hinkley C. First I’ll calculate capital costs (which means zeroing out O and M and fuel costs in the calculator.) Capital costs are 5000 pounds per kw, at 5 % discount, 90 percent capacity factor amortized over 36 years. The calculator returns a total capital expense portion of the LCOE as 3.8 pence per kwh.

    And for the non-capital costs of first-of-a-kind nuclear, from the UK Department of Energy and Energy and Climate Change 2013 estimates, per kwh: “pre-development costs” (?) of 0.6 pence; Fixed O and M (including insurance), 1.1p; variable O and M, 0.3p; fuel costs, 0.5p; decommisioning and waste disposal fund, 0.2p. Total non-capital costs of 2.7 pence

    –Here’s the Result: For nuclear, adding the 3.8 pence capital costs to the 2.7p non-capital costs gives 6.5 pence per kwh, insurance decommissioning and waste costs included. That’s a shade under solar’s 6.8 pence per kwh.

    –We could shake and call it even—except that you may have seriously underestimated solar costs.

    For example, Wymewold is on an old RAF base—are they paying for the land it takes up, or did the government donate it?

    –DECC’s estimates of solar’s fixed O and M costs are 2.4 to 2.7 pence per kwh, not the 1p per kwh we budgeted.

    –Solar will likely not outlive its’ 36 year amortization period, while nuclear is rated to last 60 years and maybe more. So nuclear will spend decades after the mortgage is paid off generating at its low marginal costs; averaging that in will lower nuclear’s lifetime LCOE.

    –Solar requires more transmission capacity than nuclear does. It also requires complete dispatchible backup for when the sun doesn’t shine. None of these system costs are budgeted in the LCOE.

    –We haven’t accounted for the diminishing returns as intermittent penetration increases—more and more curtailment leads to plummeting capacity factors and soaring LCOEs. Solar doesn’t scale well, as the Germans are finding out.

    –There’s the unbudgeted intangible aesthetic and environmental costs of solar gobbling up huge swathes of land.

    –And there’s the fact that nuclear and solar electricity are not in fact commensurable and interchangeable. Nuclear electricity is rock-solid reliable, while solar is chaotically unreliable; nuclear should therefore command a hefty wholesale price premium over solar. But it’s actually cheaper.

  65. Will Boisvert
    November 12th, 2013 at 14:47 | #65

    @ John Quiggin and Hermit on some other reactor beside EPR.

    Gentlemen, no, the UK could not legally build any other reactor besides the EPR, because none are licensed in the UK. The licensing process for all the others will be dragging on for many years, so if Britain wants to build now it has to be the EPR.

    Also, there is no such thing as a “Westinghouse AP1400.” The Chinese are designing a 1400 GW reactor based on the Westinghouse AP1000, but that could not possibly be licensed by the UK for many years.

    The Chinese company joined in the Hinkley deal because it has already almost finished its own EPRs, in half the time and half the cost as the Hinkley deal. They therefore know perfectly well that the Hinkley deal can be done on time and on budget. The Chinese would be happy to finance an AP1000 plant in Britain, because they have also almost finished their own very cheap, very fast AP1000 builds—but they can’t, because the AP1000 is not licensed in Britain. The EPR is the only game in town in Britain—by law. That’s a big reason why EDF could extort such a high price.

    John, the EPR “an implicit subsidy from the French government”?!! What are you talking about?

  66. ZM
    November 12th, 2013 at 15:25 | #66

    Hmmm, Will Boisvert – you did not reply to my question to you earlier, are you the same Will Boisvert that write that article several years ago, and of the profile seeking business opportunities?

    Because what I see as a contradiction between your earlier position and this position makes me wonder if you are writing from your own dearly held personal perspective or from the perspective of someone who may have offered you a business opportunity.

    My apologies if you are not the same Will Boisvert as the other Will Boisverts, I would just like clarification, I do not mean to besmirch your name, if you are a different Will Boisvert.

  67. TerjeP
    November 12th, 2013 at 15:26 | #67

    Megan :
    If anyone has seen the film: What is the film-maker’s solution to the problem of nuclear waste?
    AFAIK there isn’t one yet, and until there is nobody should be building new reactors.

    I haven’t seen the film yet. I broadly agree with John Quiggin that cost is the issue but I’m more optimistic that innovative designs can deal with that.

    As for waste one option being touted is that the waste be used as fuel in generation IV reactors where it can be vastly reduced in quantity and the final end product will be down to natural levels of radiation after a few hundred years. Such waste, given it’s relatively short life and tiny volume, is suitable for encasing in glass which will readily last more than a thousand years.

    In fact the so called waste in the right reactor could provide US power needs for about a thousand years so given we are stuck with it anyway we may as well be getting something out of it if it’s affordable to do so. As such the notion that we should do nothing until this problem is fully solved doesn’t ring true for me.

    Both the IFR and the LFTR reactors are technically proven and would be suitable (I prefer the LFTR). They have not been commercialised and there in lies the challenge.

  68. quokka
    November 12th, 2013 at 15:37 | #68


    Please lets get this right. LFTRs are NOT technically “proven” at this time. There is NO possibility of building a commercial molten salt reactor at this time let alone a full blown LFTR. The initial Chinese work is for laboratory scale (something like 2MW) solid fueled molten salt reactor. Fuel will be TRISO “pebbles” because it will be available from the high temperature gas cooled reactor project. Fuel is uranium.

    PRISM has vastly more claim to be technically proven, because in fact it is.

  69. November 12th, 2013 at 17:03 | #69

    Will Boisvert, thank you for responding to my comment. You raised a number of issues and I may address some of them at a later point, but for now I’d like to concentrate on just one issue, the cost of insuring nuclear power. But before I go into that, I’d like you to first do a quick back of the envelope estimate of the how much Japan’s nuclear power plants would have to pay per kilowatt-hour in order to completely cover the cost of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. I believe you’ll find it is considerably more than one or two hundredths of a pence. And please note that even if you are completely certain that costs are ‘inflated by panicky government overreaction’, that’s still a risk that needs to be insured against. And I’ll just repeat point number 10 from my previous comment because I think it is something that’s particularly important to keep in mind when it comes to nuclear power:

    10. The costs of insurance do not go away if you ignore them.

  70. November 12th, 2013 at 17:13 | #70

    One the subject of nuclear insurance, I have an amusing story. The Fukushima Dai Ichi reactor was insured for ‘tens of millions of euros’ with the German Nuclear Reactor Insurance Association. This is a bit short of the hundreds of billions of dollars that are required to cover the cost of the disaster, but at least it is better than nothing. However, the German Nuclear Reactor Insurance Association didn’t have to pay up on account of how the policy didn’t cover damage from earthquakes, tsunamis, or volcanos.

  71. rog
    November 12th, 2013 at 17:21 | #71

    @Ronald Brak Was that insurance for the plant or public liability?

  72. Hermit
    November 12th, 2013 at 17:27 | #72

    On the question of limited nuclear liability it could be pointed out we now have a comparable precedent in Australia. If any of the eventual 120 Mt of CO2 pumped below Barrow Island subsequently leaks (say as a result of an earthquake) then the WA and federal governments pay the bills. See the section on indemnity in
    Many places in Australia have higher background radiation than all but a small part of the Fukushima evacuation zone. Google Geosciences Australia + radiometrics. A lot of people were freaked out unnecessarily by Japanese government’s overreaction. My guess is the new designs of reactors would have pulled through the tsunami and quake unscathed. Hopefully in future low risk will be combined with a measured reaction if anything goes amiss.

  73. rog
    November 12th, 2013 at 17:28 | #73

    property insurance and liability insurance policies exclude damages from earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions,” DKVG chief executive Dirk Harbrücker told Deutsche Welle.

    So while there is “insurance” the taxpayer picks up the tab – for both the policy premium and damage.


  74. November 12th, 2013 at 17:39 | #74

    Rog, I’m afraid I don’t know the details of the policy.

  75. rog
    November 12th, 2013 at 18:03 | #75

    @Ronald Brak Check my link above.

  76. November 12th, 2013 at 18:13 | #76

    Sorry, Rog, I replied to your question before reading what you had posted further down.

  77. ZM
    November 12th, 2013 at 20:01 | #77

    quokka, “@ZM The Guardian is not a reliable source on radiation risk. Period.”

    Sigh. Of course there would be not much harm caused by Chernobyl even though it will go on having effects for a very very long time into the future. And because interested parties are always honest in their analysis and conclusions. Like tobacco company men for instance – gentlemen and scholars all of them. Or Greg Hunt, a man who truly Ministers to the environment.

    I will fetch a source for you to contemplate.

    “7. Mortality after the Chernobyl Catastrophe”
    Alexey V. Yablokov
    Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences . Nov2009, Vol. 1181 Issue 1, p192-216. 25p. 11 Charts, 24 Graphs.

    “A detailed study reveals that 3.8–4.0% of all deaths in the contaminated territories of Ukraine and Russia from 1990 to 2004 were caused by the Chernobyl catastrophe. The lack of evidence of increased mortality in other affected countries is not proof of the absence of effects from the radioactive fallout. Since 1990, mortality among liquida- tors has exceeded the mortality rate in corresponding population groups. From 112,000 to 125,000 liquidators died before 2005—that is, some 15% of the 830,000 members of the Chernobyl cleanup teams. The calculations suggest that the Chernobyl catastro- phe has already killed several hundred thousand human beings in a population of several hundred million that was unfortunate enough to live in territories affected by the fallout. The number of Chernobyl victims will continue to grow over many future generations.”

    “Thus the overall mortality for the period from April 1986 to the end of 2004 from the Chernobyl catastrophe was estimated at 985,000 additional deaths. This estimate of the number of additional deaths is similar to those of Gofman (1994a) and Bertell (2006). A projec- tion for a much longer period—for many future generations—is very difficult.”

    “7.8. Conclusion
    There are many findings of increased ante- natal, childhood, and general mortality in the highly contaminated territories that are most probably associated with irradiation from the Chernobyl fallout. Significant increases in can- cer mortality were observed for all irradiated groups.
    A detailed study reveals that some 4% of all deaths from 1990 to 2004 in the contaminated territories of Ukraine and Russia were caused by the Chernobyl catastrophe. The lack of ev- idence of increased mortality in other affected countries is not proof of the absence of adverse effects of radiation.

    The calculations in this chapter suggest that the Chernobyl catastrophe has already killed several hundred thousand human beings in a population of several hundred million that was unfortunate enough to live in territories af- fected by the Chernobyl fallout. The number of Chernobyl victims will continue to grow in the next several generations.”

    If you would beg to differ I would be happy to quote from the article more extensively?

  78. ZM
    November 12th, 2013 at 20:16 | #78

    The author of the above mentioned article also wrote a book on the subject, which was reviewed by Ian Fairlie (Radiation Protection Dosimetry (2010), Vol. 141, No. 1, pp. 97–104)

    The conclusion to the review of the book is:

    “Clearly, there is a continuing and profound differ- ence of views over Chernobyl’s health effects. Some readers will disagree with the discussion presented in this volume and will consider its authors to be too polemical in their views. On the other hand, others will concur with the book’s findings. The author’s view is that there is much valuable information here, notwithstanding western criticisms of eastern science’s protocols. This does not necessarily mean every detailed point in these summaries is accepted without question. For example, as shown above, more attention needs to be paid to the large recent decrease in average male life spans in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine in all areas not just contami- nated ones. Also greater efforts should be made in reconstructing doses (and resources be made avail- able for this), and in estimating individual and col- lective doses and discussing their implications for both eastern and western Europe.

    Nevertheless, the publication of summaries of hundreds of research reports on the health and environmental consequences of Chernobyl originally published in Russian and Ukrainian is a welcome addition to the literature in English. The New York Academy of Sciences, which states that it ‘ . . . has a responsibility to provide an open forum for discus- sion of scientific questions’, is therefore to be con- gratulated for publishing this volume. The English translations will certainly permit more informed dia- logue to take place.

    In the opinion of the reviewer, this volume makes it clear that international nuclear agencies and some national authorities remain in denial about the scale of the health disasters in their countries due to Chernobyl’s fallout. This is shown by their reluc- tance to acknowledge contamination and health out- comes data, their ascribing observed morbidity/ mortality increases to non-radiation causes, and their refusal to devote resources to rehabilitation and disaster management.”

    Ian Fairlie’s website reads:

    “I’m an independent consultant on radioactivity in the environment living in London UK. I’ve studied radiation and radioactivity at least since the Chernobyl accident in 1986. I’ve a degree in radiation biology from Bart’s Hospital in London and my doctoral studies at Imperial College in London and (briefly) Princeton University in the US concerned the radiological hazards of nuclear fuel reprocessing. I formerly worked as a civil servant on the regulation of radiation risks from nuclear power stations. From 2000 to 2004, I was head of the Secretariat of the UK Government’s CERRIE Committee on internal radiation risks. Since retiring from Government service, I have been a consultant on radiation matters to the European Parliament, local and regional governments, environmental NGOs, and private individuals. My areas of interest are the radiation doses and risks arising from the radioactive releases at nuclear facilities.”

  79. TerjeP
    November 12th, 2013 at 20:44 | #79

    quokka :
    Please lets get this right. LFTRs are NOT technically “proven” at this time. There is NO possibility of building a commercial molten salt reactor at this time let alone a full blown LFTR. The initial Chinese work is for laboratory scale (something like 2MW) solid fueled molten salt reactor. Fuel will be TRISO “pebbles” because it will be available from the high temperature gas cooled reactor project. Fuel is uranium.
    PRISM has vastly more claim to be technically proven, because in fact it is.

    I’ll agree that a true LFTR is not technically proven but the core molten salt reactor side of things essentially is.


  80. TerjeP
    November 12th, 2013 at 20:46 | #80

    p.s. Although as indicated earlier technically proven is a far cry from commercially ready.

  81. rog
    November 12th, 2013 at 21:15 | #81

    Those wishing to draw a definitive line over or around Chernobyl should remember that there is little epidemiological data then or now that can be safely relied on

    After the Chernobyl disaster, millions living on previously prime farmland found that no one would import their “contaminated” produce. The high cost of cleanup from the accident, which cost Belarus alone well over $200 billion, is thought to have contributed to the breakup of the Soviet Union and further crippled affected region’s economy.


  82. TerjeP
    November 12th, 2013 at 23:01 | #82

    Apparently there are 200 people still living full time in the exclusion zone along side the Chernobyl reactors.


  83. quokka
    November 12th, 2013 at 23:11 | #83


    Here is some recent indication of Chinese time lines from the Weinberg Foundation website:

    One of two timelines (see below) that Hu included in his presentation showed that he expects to complete a 2-megawatt pilot for the solid fuel version by around 2015, and a 100-MW demonstrator model of the same by 2024, before readying it for live use in 2035 in “small modular” form (general industry nomenclature would call the solid fuel version an “FHR”, or fluoride salt-cooled high temperature reactor).

    That timeline did not show a target date for a 2-MW liquid-fueled pilot reactor, which a year ago appeared to have slipped from 2017 to 2020. It did, however, show a 10-MW liquid-fueled pilot at around 2024, and a demonstrator version by 2035. It did not include a commercialization date. “For liquid, we still need the financial support from the government,” Hongjie said (story continues below chart).

    So that’s 2035 for a “live” (ie commercially deployble) small modular solid fueled reactor. 20 years away.

    Xongjie explained that the liquid version requires more complicated development than the solid version, such as “reprocessing of highly radioactive fuel salts.”

    Yes, indeed there will be some “interesting” engineering involved. The materials involved will be extremely radiologically “hot” – comparable to what you would find in a reactor core. There will be no time to allow them to “cool off” as with PRISM (IFR) solid fuel recycling. Also absent is the first layer of defence in dept of the fuel cladding in solid fuel that very effectively contains fission products. A spill in on-line recycling of hot salts from a liquid fueled MSR would likely be quite serious. All this is very challenging and has not been technologically proved.

    A second timeline showed plans for developing larger TMSRs, with a 1-gigawatt capacity. It showed “commercialization” for the solid fuel version by around 2040, when the liquid 1-GW machine would reach a “demonstrator” state. The timeline does not show commercialization plans for the 1-GW liquid version

    So that’s sometime post 2040 for a commercially deployable large true molten fuel molten salt reactor.

    Now, these timelines are not reasons not to get on with the R&D as we can have very high confidence that there will be plenty of CO2 emission to abate for the foreseeable future. And some serious R&D funding could very well give them a big hurry up. But it is perfectly obvious that this is decades behind the GE-H PRISM, which you can begin building right now (of course after appropriate approvals are sought and received). There is no equivalence.

    I am not trying to “talk down” thorium. I’m just asking for some realism. Otherwise you end up in a fog of nonsense that just obscures what needs to be done.

  84. John Quiggin
    November 13th, 2013 at 05:49 | #84

    Here’s the info I could find on the NRC site regarding PRISM.

    The most recent step was a letter of intent in 2011, indicating the possibility of seeking approval for a prototype.

    This 2012 review of possible future applications lists a number of possibilities for the next 5 years, not including PRISM. PRISM is listed as a possibility in the 10-year time frame.


    So, while PRISM is well ahead of molten salt, it’s a long way from being “ready to build”.

  85. conrad
    November 13th, 2013 at 06:22 | #85

    So, while PRISM is well ahead of molten salt, it’s a long way from being “ready to build”.

    Just saying that nuclear is far away is rather biased — I don’t see any close timeline for cities the size of Beijing having even a moderate part of their energy being delivered from renewables, and just saying it could be done doesn’t seem a whole lot different to the people saying newer versions of nuclear could be done also.

  86. John Quiggin
    November 13th, 2013 at 07:09 | #86

    We’re talking very different timeframes here. China is planning to install 12GW of solar PV next year (target was raised again this week) and increase steadily after that. Comparable amounts for wind. You can place your own values on “moderate”, but I suspect that you are relying on out-of-date assumptions here.

    At this stage, the contribution of renewables and of Gen III nuclear looks to be around equal, though with a trend of upward revisions for renewables and downwards for nuclear. By comparison with these facts on the ground, Gen IV nuclear is far away.

  87. conrad
    November 13th, 2013 at 07:27 | #87

    I’m really thinking about how China is going to replace its current mess. If this isn’t done, we may as well forget about containing global warming — It’s great, for example, that they are the world leaders in renewables, and I can’t see why that’s not going to increase through the roof in the coming decades — it will, and their government massively subsidizes it which is why we get such cheap solar panels now. But so is every other type of power source available to them also.

    For example, this graph: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Electricity_Production_in_China.svg, even if slightly correct shows that magnitude of the problem.

    What you’re talking about is decades of dirty power that needs to be replaced, and somehow this includes base-load power for mega-cities. Maybe that can be done for huge cities, but I can’t see why that is any more likely than even relatively poorly designed nuclear (it’s not like they have the sort of constraints democracies have). I imagine they will rely on both (or indeed, every renewable source possible). The alternative to this is they just keep burning gas and coal and this is surely worse.

  88. November 13th, 2013 at 07:35 | #88

    Will Boisvert assumes a 90 percent capacity factor for Hinkley C, so it’s baseload in the sense that John Q has pointed out is obsolescent. It will have no function as a despatchable backup for wind and solar. In fact EDF are going to be paid for any curtailment.
    I draw your attention to John Toke’s argument (realfeed-intariffs.blogspot.com.es/2013/10/hinkley-c-to-be-paid-more-than-twice-as.html) that the deal is illegal state aid under EU law. The Brussels investigation means up to a year’s delay, after which it will be caught up in Cameron’s fraught “renegotiation” of EU membership. My take here: http://www.samefacts.com/2013/11/climate-change/pass-the-popkern/

  89. John Quiggin
    November 13th, 2013 at 08:45 | #89


    It is certainly a big challenge (though understanding is not helped by a focus on spurious concepts like “baseload”). But it’s not impossible.

    Roughly speaking, solar PV generates 2 000 hrs/year, so each GW installed implies 2 TWH/year, wind is about the same, nuclear typically 3-4 times as much. Observed growth in demand over the first decade of C20 was 200 TWh . To meet that demand with no additional fossil fuel, you might hope that energy efficiency efforts could offset 50TWh, with the rest being met by a combination of solar, wind and nuclear. 40 GW of renewables (80 TWh/year( and 10 GW of nuclear each year (also about 80) would get pretty close to that.

    Of course, that’s just getting to peak coal in electricity. To reduce emissions from electricity, displace oil in transport and offset industrial use of coal, you’d need a lot more. But, we are still talking difficult, not impossible.

  90. Will Boisvert
    November 13th, 2013 at 10:56 | #90

    @ ZM: On documentation of my claims against Charles Perrow.

    –On Perrows claim of 1400 Fukushima cancers, you can read Alex Rosen’s paper here, using the May 2011 French guesstimate of 200 msv first-year dose for 70,000 people as a basis for calculating 1400 cancer cases (just cases, not deaths) here. http://www.ippnw.de/commonFiles/pdfs/Atomenergie/FukushimaBackgroundPaper.pdf

    You can read the 2013 WHO study estimating maximum radiation exposures at 12-25 msv during the first four months after the spew, for a few thousand people, here http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/78218/1/9789241505130_eng.pdf

    Together they show that Rosen’s estimate is based on a sketchy, wildly offbase guestimate from early in the crisis. Perrow had access to the WHO study, so he should have known that, and therefore discarded Rosen’s obsolete and biased guesstimate.

    –On the Kikk study:

    You can read the Kikk follow-up study here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2696975/

    Please note the following sentence in the abstract:

    “Based on the available information about radiation emissions from German nuclear power plants, a direct relation to radiation seems implausible. Many factors may conceivably cause leukemia, possibly operating in combination, and these factors may be present to a greater extent in the vicinity of German nuclear power plants.”

    Also note Table 5, showing that the excess leukemias in the 5 km radius over 23 years amount to 10 case, while the excess leukemia cases within the 30 km zone are zero and there is a deficit of 4 leukemia cases in the 70 km zone.

    Perrow would have known all this had he read the Kikk followup, published in 2008. By not discussing the Kikk disclaimer of radiation linkage or the kikk data showing no leukemia excess whatever within the larger environs of nukes, he drastically misrepresented the Kikk findings.

    –On the Mangano citation, I already gave you a link to a Scientific American study exposing a Mangano fraud.

  91. Will Boisvert
    November 13th, 2013 at 10:59 | #91

    @ ZM on the Yablokov study suggesting a million Chernobyl deaths.

    ZM, the Yablokov study you quote has been roundly criticized and dismissed by the radiation science consensus, and even by the semi-responsible wing of the anti-nuclear movement. (Ian Fairlie likes it because he is an antinuclear activist. Note that Yablokov’s study grossly contradicts Fairlie’s own TORCH study, which estimates 30-60,000 Chernobyl deaths, but anti-nuclear activists are always happy to have their own alarmism one-upped.)

    Here’s Lisbeth Gronlund of the anti-nuke Union of Concerned Scientists discounting the conclusions of Yablokov, because he rejects “Western scientific protocols.” http://allthingsnuclear.org/how-many-cancers-did-chernobyl-really-cause-updated/ You can also read a scathing review at Radiation Protection Dosimetry (2010) vol 1 issue 1 pp. 97-101 (sorry I don’t have a link for that.)

    Many of Yablokov’s assembled studies are just anecdotal reports from doctors who think they are seeing increases in illnesses and deaths after Chernobyl. Larger-scale statistical studies that he reports tend not to properly control for confounding variables. They assume that any increase in death or illness after Chernobyl was caused by Chernobyl, without controlling for the effects of age, alcohol and tobacco use, demographic shifts, changes in medical monitoring—if doctors start looking harder for Chernobyl-related cancers they will find more cancers, even if there is no increase in underlying cancer rates—and other variables, in addition to the medical effects of the collapse of communism, with its socio-economic upheavals and profound changes in health-care systems. All of these factors can affect the health outcomes that are ascribed to Chernobyl, so they have to be carefully controlled. Yablokov doesn’t do this.

    As an example, take this passage that you quoted:

    Since 1990, mortality among liquida- tors has exceeded the mortality rate in corresponding population groups. From 112,000 to 125,000 liquidators died before 2005—that is, some 15% of the 830,000 members of the Chernobyl cleanup teams.

    The key fact that’s trumpeted here, that 112-125,000 “liquidators” died between 1986 and 2005, sounds scary, but it is utterly meaningless. The statistic doesn’t mean that all of those people died from radiation, or that any of them died from radiation.

    The liquidators were mainly blue-collar men, hence relatively poor and more likely to drink and smoke than the general population, especially if they were anxious because they thought the Chernobyl radiation would hurt them. Their average age in 1986 was in the mid-30s, so by 2005 they would have been on average in their mid-50s. So just from their demographics—middle-aged, male, blue-collar, poor, prone to excessive drinking and smoking—we would expect the liquidators to have a higher than average death rate, no Chernobyl radiation required.

    But it’s not clear that the liquidators really do have an elevated death rate. If a population, including children, has a life expectancy of 80 years for example, we would expect that over any 19 year period more than 20 percent of that population will die. But Yablokov says only 15 percent of the liquidators died over a 19-year period, even though they were an unusual demographic heavily weighted towards unhealthy middle-aged males. In fact, it’s quite likely that the liquidator death rates are abnormally low, if you factor in age, socio-economics, smoking and drinking habits.

    Yablokov says the mortality rate is higher than “corresponding population groups.” Maybe, but given his casual dismissal of epidemiological canons it’s unlikely that the comparison groups really were carefully matched to control for confounding variables.

    This kind of thing is typical of Yablokov—dribbling out factoids that misleadingly insinuate that people are dying of radiation even though the stats prove absolutely nothing.

  92. Will Boisvert
    November 13th, 2013 at 11:01 | #92

    @ Ronald Brak, on the costs of Fukushima and the implications for nuclear insurance costs.

    –“Even if you are completely certain that costs are ‘inflated by panicky government overreaction,’ that’s still a risk that needs to be insured against.”

    No Ronald, the notion that the government should force nuclear plants to insure against the government’s own panicky overreaction is a bit of sophistry I won’t accept.

    –Fukushima is a “disaster” with no observable public health consequences and no damage to property off the plant site. How much should that cost?

    High-end consensus estimates are that the Fukushima spew might cause a thousand or so cancer fatalities around the world for all time—that’s the toll assuming no cleanup or evacuations, and far too small to measure in epidemiological studies. So how many billions of dollars is it right to spend on cleanup and compensation costs concerning that number of conjectural deaths that will never actually be measurable?

    Most of the expenses are due not to any objective harm caused by the radiation, which is tiny to nil, but to a hysterical overreaction by the government to political panic driven by antinuclear alarmism. The billions being spent are not actually paying for much that’s necessary or even identifiable; it’s just political theater to convince people that the government feels their panic.

    The bulk of the identifiable costs are from the disruption of the evacuation. But even if there had been no evacuations the uptick in cancer rates, if any, would have been too small to measure. The evacuations, and certainly the long-term relocations, were probably unnecessary and even counterproductive since hundreds of sick people died from the stress of relocation. Without the forced relocations, the costs would be very low.

    Here are some other ways the costs are pointlessly inflated:

    *The radiation cleanup standards are as low as 1 millisievert yearly exposure, which is one fifth of the 5 mSv per year excess radiation you get living in Denver, Colorado. Does it make sense to spend billions of dollars trying to lower exposures from the normal Denver level down to 1 mSv?

    *Cleanup efforts will just slightly hurry along the natural cleanup processes of radioactive decay and weathering. Radiocesium clears quickly from the land because of both radioactive decay and the action of rainfall that percolates it down into the ground or washes it into the sea or river bottoms, where it no longer irradiates people. The Japanese government set a goal of lowering radiation levels by 50 percent in 2 years, while estimating that they would decrease by 40 percent on their own anyway, which means the cleanup effort will accomplish as much in 2 years as doing nothing would in 3 years. Why spend billions on that? In any case, radiation levels in the evacuation zone have already fallen by two thirds, largely without cleanup.

    *That cleanup largely consists of gathering up mildly radioactive leaves, grass and dirt. Much of that material will be sequestered in leak-proof containment structures that cost billions. The material could instead by loaded on barges and dumped at sea for a small fraction of the cost, with no environmental damage and no meaningful increment to the already stupendous natural radioactivity of the sea. (Billions of tons of naturally radioactive dirt, grass and leaves wash into the Pacific every year.)

    *There are economic losses from the closure of the local fishery, but that’s entirely unjustified because the average radioactivity of the seafood is below very conservative safety standards; the fishery should be reopened (and should never have been closed.) Likewise with losses on Fukushima farm products. Eating fish caught right offshore from the nuclear plant is probably healthier than eating an equivalent quantity of cheeseburgers.

    *Costs of the plant site cleanup are anybody’s guess, but much that’s being done there is a patent waste of money. Huge amounts of slightly radioactive water are being stored that could be dumped straight into the ocean with no harm to man or fish. The number 5 and 6 reactors are undamaged and could be started up immediately, thus generating billions of dollars worth of electricity to defray other cleanup costs. (The undamaged reactors at TMI and Chernobyl remained in service after those accidents.) Only hysterical dudgeon requires their shutdown.

    –Ronald, you brought up the subject of high insurance costs, so it’s up to you to demonstrate that those costs are real and not imaginary. Come up with a serious, justified estimate of the Fukushima accident costs. It should be not just a global sum, but an itemized breakdown of the particular efforts that the money is to be spent on. And it should justify those expenses; it should explain how much radiation exposure each item will actually abate, and how much health risk—how many deaths and cancers—will actually be prevented by the expenditure. And it should also put those expenses and risks in context: do we normally spend as much money preventing risks that are objectively as tiny as the risks the Fukushima cleanup is meant to abate?

    Anti-nukes casually talk of hundreds of billions and trillions of dollars in accident costs—the figures always go up. What’s never offered is an itemized explanation of why we actually need to spend the money, what the risks are and how much harm is actually being alleviated by those gargantuan expenditures. No one does that, not even the government authorities who are spending the money or the alarmist think tanks who cook up estimates. That’s because there is no rational way to justify spending enormous amounts on a Fukushima cleanup—the risks are too small to measure, and therefore too small to worry about in any rational accounting.

  93. ZM
    November 13th, 2013 at 11:05 | #93

    I’m resorting to cut and paste, if that’s all right. Because Will Boisvert replies to my comments to others, but not to my comments with questions of him.

    “Hmmm, Will Boisvert – you did not reply to my question to you earlier, are you the same Will Boisvert that write that article several years ago, and of the profile seeking business opportunities?

    Because what I see as a contradiction between your earlier position and this position makes me wonder if you are writing from your own dearly held personal perspective or from the perspective of someone who may have offered you a business opportunity.

    My apologies if you are not the same Will Boisvert as the other Will Boisverts, I would just like clarification, I do not mean to besmirch your name, if you are a different Will Boisvert.”

  94. Will Boisvert
    November 13th, 2013 at 11:15 | #94

    @ John Quiggin, on the productivity of Chinese wind and solar.

    Your estimate that a gigawatt of PV can produce 2 terawatt-hours of electricity per year implies a capacity factor of 23 percent. That’s way too high. The figures I’ve seen for Chinese PV capacity factors are about 14 %, which works out to 1.23 TWh per year. Wind will also be hard-pressed to produce 2 TWh per year. Last year Chinese wind had a capacity factor of about 21 %, if you don’t count the installed turbines that lacked grid capacity; counting those it’s down to about 17 %. China will get much less electricity from its new wind and solar capacity than you’ve reckoned.

  95. ZM
    November 13th, 2013 at 11:17 | #95

    More quotes from a certain Will Boisvert

    “But it would be a mistake to revive the cult of insiderism. All of Bush’s misdeeds are done in the glare of press coverage, with the informed consent of Congress. And they are in no way a departure from our national culture of heedless, oil-addicted crony capitalism. Bush comes from Texas; Texas doesn’t come from Bush. What we need is not secret information, but a revolution in consciousness that will, as in the ’60s, challenge the national consensus in far-reaching ways.”

    “Perhaps. But maybe Detroit’s past is more up-to-date than its future. After all, the world will not return to Arcadia, nor advance to Information, nor ascend into Art; it will stick with Industry, with its promise of prosperity and consumerism and cars, and its crassness and drudgery and bitter conflicts over the spoils. As much as the creative classes might like to banish it, industry is flourishing as never before”

  96. November 13th, 2013 at 12:06 | #96

    Will Boisvert, are you living in a magical world where insurers don’t look at what they may have to pay out before setting premiums? Because that’s not the way it works among muggles. Even if the entire cost of the Fukushima nuclear disaster was due to ‘government overreaction’ how are you going to convince insurers that such an overreaction will never happen again?

  97. quokka
    November 13th, 2013 at 14:16 | #97

    @John Quiggin

    Roughly speaking, solar PV generates 2 000 hrs/year, so each GW installed implies 2 TWH/year

    According to IEA “PVPS Report A Snapshot of Global PV 1992-2012”, global installed PV capacity at the end of 2012 was a little over 96 GWp. Reports suggest that in excess of 30 GWp will be installed worldwide in 2013 so lets call projected PV capacity at end of this year to be 130 GWp.

    The IEA report projects 110 TWh to be produced from PV in 2013. That amounts to no more than 1 TWh per year per GW capacity even allowing for some new capacity not operating for the full year.

    2 TWh/yr per GW appears unrealistically optimistic and about double the current figure.

  98. Will Boisvert
    November 13th, 2013 at 15:38 | #98

    @ James Wimberley, on nuclear baseload obsolescence and backup for wind and solar:

    “Hinkley C [is] baseload in the sense that John Q has pointed out is obsolescent. It will have no function as a despatchable backup for wind and solar. In fact EDF are going to be paid for any curtailment”

    –The notion that “baseload” is obsolescent is incoherent.

    “Baseload” is just the ordinary minimum electricity demand—“load”—that a grid has to supply. Generators are said to be in baseload mode if they are left on all the time to help supply that minimum load; load-following and peaker plants are added when electricity demand rises transiently above the baseload. John Quiggin has the idea, correct me if I’m wrong, that smart metering can force demand as low as needs be to accommodate wildly varying wind and solar, but that won’t happen (thank God).

    –Why should Hinkley C function as backup for wind and solar? Why can’t it just trundle along supplying 7 % of Britain’s electricity hour after hour, day in day out? Why should it have to curtail whenever a chaotic surge of wind and solar come along? Why not curtail wind and solar when their chaotic surges overload the grid?

    The model for wind and solar presumes that every time we get a chaotic surge the dispatchibles have to power down to make way; without that preferred access to the grid, the lousy economics of wind and solar look grim indeed. That makes some sense when they are displacing fossil-fueled electricity, because we get carbon abatement. But it’s utterly pointless when they are displacing low-carbon nuclear or geo or hydro in spate.

    In fact, wind and solar are only useful for decarbonization if we presuppose a fleet of fossil-fueled dispatchables for their surges to curtail.

    We will need a fleet of dispatchables big enough to power the whole grid during those inevitable periods when wind and solar conk out together for days on end. But if that dispatchable fleet is low-carbon—hydro, geo and nuclear—then wind and solar are entirely superfluous, since we will already have enough low-carbon capacity to service the grid without them.

    So the logic of a comprehensively decarbonized grid means that unreliable wind and solar have no useful place in it. They are redundant.

    The distinction between and dispatchable and intermittent is the really important concept to grasp—and it implies that wind and solar are dead ends.

  99. Will Boisvert
    November 13th, 2013 at 15:44 | #99

    @ Ronald Brak, on nuclear insurance costs.

    –“Even if the entire cost of the Fukushima nuclear disaster was due to ‘government overreaction’ how are you going to convince insurers that such an overreaction will never happen again?”

    Ronald what are you arguing here? If your point is that it’s possible for crazy government overreactions to drive nuclear plants out of business with high insurance costs, I guess I have to agree.

    Me, I think government policy should reflect the actual risks and harms from nuclear accidents, which are modest to nil. Under such policies nuclear insurance costs would be small.

    –“Will Boisvert, are you living in a magical world where insurers don’t look at what they may have to pay out before setting premiums?”

    Ronald, no, utilities can buy limited policies, that is, insuring themselves for $xxx damages and no more; it’s up to the utility to decide how much they want to insure for. The insurer then simply looks at the probability of an accident with a payout of $xxx and decides the premium, not worrying at all about the possibility of an $xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx accident.

    If the utility is underinsured, then it just goes bankrupt.

    Remember, from the standpoint of the nuclear utility, their maximum risk in an accident is simply bankruptcy, not $10 trillion or whatever the alarmist number du jour is. But all companies face the notional risk of bankruptcy. A utility could go bankrupt from a nuclear accident, or from a bad bet on natural gas futures. All the prospect of a nuclear accident does is add a tiny amount to the utility’s already existing bankruptcy risk; it does not and cannot add trillions of dollars of liability risk that has to be insured against.

  100. John Quiggin
    November 13th, 2013 at 16:05 | #100

    There is some truly impressive derp in this thread.

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