Home > Life in General > Three things the US has (just about) seen the last of [Crooked Timber Crosspost]

Three things the US has (just about) seen the last of [Crooked Timber Crosspost]

October 27th, 2014

Here’s an assorted list of things that once seemed archetypally American, but have pretty much reached the end of the line. More precisely, there are no new ones, or hardly any, and the existing examples look increasingly down at heel

    Shopping malls
    Nuclear power stations
    Republican intellectuals

Feel free to discuss, deny, add to the list and so on.

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  1. Ikonoclast
    October 27th, 2014 at 07:00 | #1

    JQ, are you sure you want to do this? You have penned the “Niagara Falls” phrase. Slowly they return… argument by argument… fallacy by fallacy… I mean the supporters of nuclear power of course.

    Shopping malls is an interesting one. Richard D. Wolff has noted the recent collapse in the spending power of the poor and middle class in the USA. While shops that cater to the 1% are expanding the rest are struggling or collapsing. This is a simplistic caricature of Wolff’s position but you get the drift. Many malls that cater to the lower end of the market are struggling. As people cut back on driving they also stop driving to malls and superstores on the edge of nowhere. The predictions of James Howard Kunstler come to fruition.

    Your phrases “there are no new ones, or hardly any, and the existing examples look increasingly down at heel..” can increasingly be applied to nearly the entirety of US infrastructure. North America is turning into a rust belt. In the decade from 2003 and 2013 the figures changed as follows;

    2003 Crude Steel Production as a percentage of world production.

    China 22.9%
    NAFTA 12.8%.

    2013 Crude Steel Production as a percentage of world production.

    China 48.5%
    NAFTA 7.3%

    Apparent steel use as finished steel products closely follows these crude steel numbers. If use of structural steel is not matching or exceeding “infrastructure entropy” then North America is literally rusting away.

    “* According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, more than 25 percent of America’s nearly 600,000 bridges need significant repairs or are burdened with more traffic than they were designed to carry.

    *According to the Federal Highway Administration, approximately a third of America’s major roadways are in substandard condition – a significant factor in a third of the more than 43,000 traffic fatalities in the United States each year.

    *The Texas Transportation Institute estimates that traffic jams caused by insufficient infrastructure waste 4 billion hours of commuters’ time and nearly 3 billion gallons of gasoline a year.

    *The Association of State Dam Safety Officials has found that the number of dams in the United States that could fail has grown 134% since 1999 to 3,346, and more than 1,300 of those are considered “high-hazard” – meaning that their collapse would threaten lives.

    *More than a third of all dam failures or near failures since 1874 have happened in just the last decade.

    *According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, aging sewer systems spill an estimated 1.26 trillion gallons of untreated sewage every single year, resulting in an estimated 50.6 billion dollars in cleanup costs.”

  2. Ikonoclast
    October 27th, 2014 at 07:08 | #2

    I can’t help quoting a bit of Kunstler in full from his post “Omenland”;

    “A day later, I was in Stockholm, being forcefully reminded what an actual city is like, one designed for human activity, not just some abstract political notion of “mobility.” People live in the center of Stockholm, lots of them, in five and six story buildings that display great variety and conscious artistry within strong orders of architectural unity. The motifs are a northern folkish classicism. The effect is both reassuring and powerfully coherent. You feel civilized. Your neurology is constantly nourished as you walk. Unlike Americans, the Swedes don’t go about in their pajamas. Also absent were cholo caps, team sports toggery, and clown sneakers. How refreshing to see young people aspire to act like grownups instead of the other way around. And, of course, almost no one is supersized over there.

    Then, too soon, I landed back in Newark Airport, Lord have mercy. I grabbed a taxi to the Newark train station to get to the Hudson River line out of New York City back upstate. Along the way on Route 21, I passed a graffiti on an overpass. It said “Omenland.” The anonymous genius who sprayed that there sure caught the US zeitgeist. Newark compares to Stockholm as an Ebola victim in the gutter compares to a supermodel at poolside. The scene in the Newark train station was like the barroom from Star Wars, a creature-feature extravaganza, intergalactic Mutt Central, wookies in hoodies with burning coals for eyes, ladies with pierced cheeks, crack-heads, winos, missing body part people, lopsided head people, and the scrofulous physical condition of the station is proof positive that Chris Christie is unqualified to be president. This is a gateway to New York, America’s greatest city, you understand, and it looks like the veritable checkpoint to the rectum of the universe. You know what occurred to me: maybe it is?” – J.H. Kunstler.

  3. kevin1
    October 27th, 2014 at 07:33 | #3

    Is it too simple to see the decline of the first two as due to tech change? ie. internet shopping and fracking.

  4. rog
    October 27th, 2014 at 08:13 | #4

    @kevin1 Yes! People are opting for something different, more personal – malls are inherently bereft of individuality and are usually full of retired and/or elderly who use the relative safety and trip free pavement to meet others for a cheap cup of coffee.

    Paris has a tight control on new developments and is invariably packed – a city museum that is the most visited in the world. And in the SW the salt industry on Ile de Re has been revitalised by those seeking more than just a condiment.

    Did Sydney benefit from the loss of its once grand Georgian architecture? Its trams?

  5. kevin1
    October 27th, 2014 at 08:29 | #5


    I’m intrigued by the salt comment, what’s that all about?

  6. Ikonoclast
    October 27th, 2014 at 09:01 | #6


    Certain forms of heavy industry are going to be necessary for a considerable while yet. I won’t say forever but I think we can confidently say for many decades to come. The steel industry is a key one. I don’t see that a major nation failing at steel production and its use of finished steel relative to its growth and maintenance requirements is going to prosper. Decaying infrastructure, decaying built environments, decaying transport and decaying agriculture (to say nothing of a decaying military) are going to be its future.

    Is the US failing in this sense? I don’t know for sure. I would have to check a lot more numbers. However, I suspect from the general evidence of infrastructure decay that it is failing. We are seeing a nation decaying from a very high base. This decay, if it continues, will take a long time to play out, at least another 50 years. Could the US arrest this decay? Yes, with very enlightened policies the US could arrest this decay. However, the chances of the US adopting enlightened policies now are so close to zero it’s not worth quibbling about the uncertainty… IMO.

  7. jungney
    October 27th, 2014 at 09:08 | #7

    Well, here’s another thing the US has seen the last of: water in the Western states.

  8. Newtownian
    October 27th, 2014 at 09:47 | #8

    One of the biggest areas is water and wastewater provision. Their maintenance is still very much in public domain where there simply isnt the money so what you get is patchup jobs across the country but without spectacular disasters on the scale of the Michigan bridge collapse (But a water supply dam collapse say in California when it finally rains is an interesting one to contemplate).

    But in truth its everything. Its instructive to have a look at LCA literature. Central to LCA calculations are the 1/2 life calculations. Basically everything we construct that isnt overengineered decomposes at a perceptible rate. By overengineering I mean something like the pyramids. For buildings the longest half life I’ve seen is about 75 years.

    An interesting aspect of this is the more you construct the more you need to maintain and this needs energy and resources. Its something that doesnt figure highly that I’ve seen yet in sustainability calculations but its certainly a gorilla in the background and represents another barrier to growth. The much maligned EROEI concept illustrates the issue perfectly or having to put an increasing proportion of resources into maintenance in effect promoting the vested interest of maintenance. (At the risk of being boring) the story of petroleum shown here nicely illustrates the dilemma nicely. MURPHY, D. J. 2014. The implications of the declining energy return on investment of oil production. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences, 372.

    But for me the related issue is all the roads and highways we keep producing without solving the traffic problem within the current paradigm. Talk about wear and tear to just maintain the existing stock.

    A related and perhaps more critical issue is land production of crops and timber – this is where I originally developed a loathing for current neoclassical or Keynesian growth economics and the short term view they promote whereby technology, energy, human brilliance and some mystical equilibrium will sort things out – this empirical cargo cult seems probably embodied in the Jevon’s Paradox now that I think about it.

    By contrast the real story is environmental science 101.

    Basically if you look around the world you seen increasing conversion of ‘pristine’ land to forestry and agriculture subject to local climatic constraints which maintains the illusion of growth but is in reality as Paul Ehrlich nicely puts it a case of living of the capital – party on.

    What has happened over a longer period that economics is capable or recognising

    (leaving aside the feeble example of carbon accounting and discount which illustrates how this issue is ignored)

    is you firstly use the nutrients and soil profile/structure built up over millennia maybe adding one or two input subsidies like irrigation water. Things go ok for some decades but slowly you accumulate problems. You may do a bit of token ‘environmental management’ like recycling wastewater but this only compounds the problem e.g. it overloads the sodium content of soils destroying structure and fertility and promoting erosion – and so gold courses start dying several decades after the start. Then things get worse because of the pursuit of short term profit is still the driver and maybe you get more and more erosion and salination.

    Ultimately the inputs become too costly locally or in some other location which was indirectly impacted. The Snowy River is a great example.

    And thus you see the slow degradation of the whole landscape, just like with infrastructure, and successions of exploitation. It happens so slow that the general populace the banks the rest dont notice or see it as trivial. Occasionally government tries to sort things but in the end things get better for a short time and the cycle of bad decisions continues.

    Today you see the cycle repeating itself in North Queensland – build dams, exploit the last frontier – while forgetting the disastrous management of the Murray Darling Basin yet again because our society and its economy is inherently incapable of genuine holistic long term thinking and planning.

    In conclusion what I would add to John’s list is America’s verdant fertile landscape though it will probably take a little longer.

  9. rog
    October 27th, 2014 at 10:04 | #9

    @kevin1 Historically salt production was an important industry on Ile de Re but with the advent of modern production methods, and refrigeration, the salt ponds fell into decline or were converted over to oyster beds. More recently there has been a resurgence in demand for salt produced the traditional way and today the industry is back in business.

  10. Hermit
    October 27th, 2014 at 10:43 | #10

    US nukes on the way out? See Vogtle units 3 and 4 in

    There are several others that have re-commenced construction after a pause. However the big test will come when New York tries to replace 30% of its electricity supply if Indian Point nuclear plant closes. They hope to replace it with renewable energy and storage OK maybe a fair bit of new gas plant. California has already closed its San Onofre plant and is now burning more gas and importing more coal fired electricity from interstate. Way to go.

  11. Campidg
    October 27th, 2014 at 11:38 | #11

    Hi all,

    I may be summarising the above responses but here are my responses to Prof Q in a nutshell. I am against malls but would their decline ba a symptom of a declining middle class? I am against nuclear power but would the lack of capacitiy for new reactors signal a fall in technological ability or the drive to foster innovation? I am against nearly everything that republicans stand for but would their decline in intellectual capacity indicate a general failure of the less visible but vital aspects of democracy?

    When good thongs happen for bad reasons any celebration must be tempered by the need to change the directions of underlying trends.



  12. Fran Barlow
    October 27th, 2014 at 11:43 | #12

    Isn’t the TVA finally going to open Watts Bar 2 in 2015?

    I was discussing this yesterday on twitter with an occasional contributor here, Chrispy_Dog

  13. Nick
    October 27th, 2014 at 11:53 | #13

    Hermit: “However the big test will come when New York tries to replace 30% of its electricity supply if Indian Point nuclear plant closes.”

    Indian Point provides 11.9% of New York’s electricity, not 30%.


  14. Campidg
    October 27th, 2014 at 12:20 | #14

    Hi all,

    I may be summarising the above responses but here are my responses to Prof Q in a nutshell. I am against malls but would their decline ba a symptom of a declining middle class? I am against nuclear power but would the lack of capacitiy for new reactors signal a fall in technological ability or the drive to foster innovation? I am against nearly everything that republicans stand for but would their decline in intellectual capacity indicate a general failure of the less visible but vital aspects of democracy?

    When good things happen for bad reasons any celebration must be tempered by the need to change underlying trends.



  15. Hermit
    October 27th, 2014 at 13:02 | #15

    On gas vs nukes we’re talking 450 direct grams of CO2 per kwh vs 30 lifecycle grams or less. However it now seems Ukraine wants US gas and Old Blighty wants Australian gas. The reason is neither importing country wants to be blackmailed by Russia. It wouldn’t take long for gas fuel prices to escalate dramatically despite the low capex and fast construction time for gas plant. There are already signs of a coal comeback in both the US and Australia to wit closing Swanbank power station and re-opening Tarong.

  16. Nick
    October 27th, 2014 at 14:52 | #16

    Hermit, what percentage of its imported gas does the UK source from Russia?

    And how much are the Vogtle 3 & 4 reactors costing again?

    If instead of building them, you diverted that same money into renewables + gas backup, how much coal-fired generation would you displace?

  17. Charlene MacDonald
    October 27th, 2014 at 14:59 | #17

    I was in Stockholm, being forcefully reminded what an actual city is like, one designed for human activity, not just some abstract political notion of “mobility.” People live in the center of Stockholm, lots of them, in five and six story buildings that display great variety and conscious artistry within strong orders of architectural unity.

    For the purpose of this thread it should be kept in mind that Stockholm is in Sweden, a country that is shall we say, not without nuclear reactors.
    The centre of Stockholm may be nice to live in, but it is something like a 15-year waiting list to get into one of those nice city-centre apartments.

  18. October 27th, 2014 at 16:01 | #18

    @Charlene MacDonald
    Sweden may once again adopt its former phase out nuclear policy following the recent elections, according to an article in World Nuclear News (1 October 2014).

    Also Sweden currently gets almost 50% of its energy from renewables (mainly hydro) and is aiming to increase wind power significantly, according to https: // sweden.se / society / energy-use-in-sweden/

    (Can’t send proper links because will go into moderation)

  19. John Street
    October 27th, 2014 at 16:41 | #19

    No more noisy American tourists. (In fact they no longer want to be identified as Americans abroad.)
    Now the noisy annoying ones are the English.

    No more Americans telling you that they have the finest democracy in the world. (In fact, they want to discuss with you how bad their Government is. ((But are they Republicans or Democrats or what?))

  20. Nick
    October 27th, 2014 at 22:59 | #20


    The major studios (MPAA members) output half the number of cinematic releases they did in 2004.

    And fewer and fewer of those are shot and/or set in California, as they rely more heavily on out-of-state or country subsidies and tax breaks to get them off the ground.

  21. Ikonoclast
    October 28th, 2014 at 06:07 | #21

    The Economic Collapse Blog is a crazy “End Times” site. However, its lists if accurate are quite indicative of the relative and perhaps even absolute decline of the USA. The list is 40 items long so I have culled it a bit.

    #1 According to the World Bank, U.S. GDP accounted for 31.8 percent of all global economic activity in 2001. That number dropped to 21.6 percent in 2011.

    #2 The United States was once ranked #1 in the world in GDP per capita. Today it is #14.

    #3 The United States has fallen in the global economic competitiveness rankings compiled by the World Economic Forum for four years in a row.

    #6 In the year 2000, about 17 million Americans were employed in manufacturing. Today, only about 12 million Americans are employed in manufacturing.

    #7 The United States has lost more than 56,000 manufacturing facilities since 2001.

    #8 The United States has lost32 percent of its manufacturing jobs since the year 2000.

    #10 Back in 1998, the United States had 25 percent of the world’s high-tech export market and China had just 10 percent. Today, China’s high-tech exports are more than twice the size of U.S. high-tech exports.

    #11 In 2002, the United States had a trade deficit in “advanced technology products” of $16 billion with the rest of the world. In 2010, that number skyrocketed to $82 billion.

    #12 The United States has lost more than a quarter of all of its high-tech manufacturing jobs since the year 2000.

    #13 The number of full-time workers in the United States is nearly 6 million below the old record that was set back in 2007.

    #14 The average duration of unemployment in the United States is nearly three times as long as it was back in the year 2000.

    #15 Throughout the year 2000, more than 64 percent of all working age Americans had a job. Today, only 58.7 percent of all working age Americans have a job.

    #16 The official unemployment rate has been at 7.5 percent or higher for 54 months in a row. That is the longest stretch in U.S. history.

    #17 The U.S. government says that the number of Americans “not in the labor force” rose by 17.9 million between 2000 and 2011. During the entire decade of the 1980s, the number of Americans “not in the labor force” rose by only 1.7 million.

    #18 The average number of hours worked per employed person per year has fallen by about 100 since the year 2000.

    #19 The U.S. economy continues to trade good paying jobs for low paying jobs. 60 percent of the jobs lost during the last recession were mid-wage jobs, but 58 percent of the jobs created since then have been low wage jobs.

    #20 The U.S. economy lost more than 220,000 small businesses during the recent recession.

    #21 The percentage of Americans that are self-employed has steadily declined over the past decade and is now at an all-time low.

    #23 In the year 2000, there were only 17 million Americans on food stamps. Today, there are more than 47 million Americans on food stamps.

    #24 In the year 2000, the ratio of social welfare benefits to salaries and wages was approximately 21 percent. Today, the ratio of social welfare benefits to salaries and wages is approximately 35 percent.

    #27 Right now there are 20.2 million Americans that spend more than half of their incomes on housing. That represents a 46 percent increase from 2001.

    #28 The price of ground beef increased by 61 percent between 2002 and 2012.

    #29 According to USA Today, water bills have actually tripled over the past 12 years in some areas of the country.

    #31 Median household income in the United States has fallen for four years in a row.

    #33 Back in the year 2000, the mortgage delinquency rate was about 2 percent. Today, it is nearly 10 percent.

    #35 Back in 2007, about 28 percent of all working families were considered to be among “the working poor”. Today, that number is up to 32 percent even though our politicians tell us that the economy is supposedly recovering.

    #36 According to the Federal Reserve, the median net worth of families in the United States declined “from $126,400 in 2007 to $77,300 in 2010”.

    #37 According to the New York Times, the average debt burden for U.S. households that earn $20,000 a year or less “more than doubled to $26,000 between 2001 and 2010”.

    #40 Today, more than a million public school students in the United States are homeless. That number has risen by 57 percent since the 2006-2007 school year.

  22. Lt. Fred
    October 28th, 2014 at 06:47 | #22

    Out of interest, why is it that Australian and American urban planning is so inferior to European? Is it just the blank slate thing?

  23. David Allen
    October 28th, 2014 at 07:35 | #23

    @Lt. Fred

    Because space is infinite and car is king.

  24. Hermit
    October 28th, 2014 at 08:28 | #24

    There may be little Russian gas in current UK imports but that must increase as other sources dwindle. There’s talk of induction cookers and reverse cycle heaters replacing gas in homes. World Peak Gas is expected by 2030 and eastern Australia is expected to feel the gas pinch as early as 2016. Therefore any long range plans that require gas must be suspect. While Vogtle 3 & 4 are expensive they will probably run glitch free at near full capacity until the 2070s. During that time solar panels and wind turbines will probably need replacing twice. Meantime gas will become prohibitively priced.

  25. Ikonoclast
    October 28th, 2014 at 08:36 | #25


    World uranium peak is about to occur, therefore any long range plans that require uranium must be suspect.

    Look up “The coming nuclear energy crunch” on the Guardian website.

    It’s funny how people accept “peak” realities for many things but never for their pet idee fixe.

  26. Hermit
    October 28th, 2014 at 10:18 | #26

    Funny how they’ve mothballed some mines (eg Honeymoon) because the U308 price was too low.

  27. Fran Barlow
    October 28th, 2014 at 10:40 | #27

    @David Allen

    Because space is infinite and car is king.

    That’s nice rhetoric — great for a rally, but I suspect the drivers (ha! an unintentional pun) lie in the desire of our governments to minimise their exposure to political risk.

    A largely ad hoc transport system supported by roads carries very little political risk, because people tend on the whole to scatter responsibility for traffic crawls amongst the various levels of government, to other drivers and even accept some of it themselves for living too far from their work. If roads are not maintained well, they may be more hostile but the marginal cost of maintaining roads is not something either side makes an issue out of.

    Building a new road is an announceable, and so when someone announces a new road, the critics tend to be outnumbered by the supporters as people served by the road imagine their commuting pain being reduced, as improbable as this is. By contrast, new public transport services are either impracticable (because existing services are near capacity) or would be even more expensive than roads to build (in the short term when governments are accountable). And if the project runs late or over budget, or is delivered but isn’t quite as efficient and reliable as people had hoped, then people are far more likely to blame the government than if they are stuck in a traffic jam.

    As with other public services, privatisation of transport relieves the state of some of its political burdens.

    Public transport, more urban consolidation and better design of suburbs, more dedicated bicycle ways — all of these would be excellent ways to reduce competition for road space and ensure that much more of road space was occupied by those with no feasible alternative. We’d definitely have cleaner more liveable cities and people would spend a lesser proportion of their income on transport costs and spend less of their lives sitting in cars staring blankly at the vehicle in front of them.

    Sadly, our governments prefer the more politically feasible option of choosing the option with the best risk-reward in the short term. That this course also aligns with the interests of other major stakeholders in the system — oil companies, the motor trade, the housing industry is all to the good of the people officially in charge.

  28. wilful
    October 28th, 2014 at 11:11 | #28

    Lt. Fred :
    Out of interest, why is it that Australian and American urban planning is so inferior to European? Is it just the blank slate thing?

    Is it? Why do you say it is? I can’t speak for the USA, or really even for Australia, but I think in Victoria, once you get past the fact that we have a booming population and a financial system that declares new heavy rail to be too expensive, I think we have a pretty decent planning system, I’m not sure what its obvious inadequacies are.

  29. John Goss
    October 28th, 2014 at 11:12 | #29

    Judging from the comments on the Crooked Timber blog on this same post, the other thing going extinct in the USA is interesting, intelligent blog comments.
    Another interesting difference with the Crooked Timber comments is the reaction to John’s comment about the prevalence of run-down shopping malls in the States. John does not literally mean that shopping malls will go extinct in the States. He is speaking in a whimsical way to make a point. But some of the USA posters have gone to town and think if they find one example of a flourishing shopping mall they have disproved John’s point.

  30. Nick
    October 28th, 2014 at 13:09 | #30

    Hermit: “While Vogtle 3 & 4 are expensive they will probably run glitch free at near full capacity until the 2070s. During that time solar panels and wind turbines will probably need replacing twice.”

    Regarding wind turbines, I presume you mean they’ll need new rotor blades, gearbox, and assorted other bits and pieces, slip rings and brushes etc? All up, around 15-20% of the total materials cost of a new wind turbine.

    Not sure why you’d think the entire tower structure would need replacing (by far the bulk of the labour costs).

    Likewise, after 20-30 years Vogtle 3 & 4 will require new 800 tonne heat exchangers

    Nuclear reactors, like everything else in this world, not being magically immune to wear and tear.

  31. Nick
    October 28th, 2014 at 13:10 | #31

    And “glitch free”? That’s really pushing it, Hermit. Check the ‘incidents’ section for the Indian Point reactors you mentioned earlier:


  32. Hermit
    October 28th, 2014 at 13:30 | #32

    Coal it is then
    The article talks of the polar vortex when electricity supply and demand goes haywire. I’m wondering if we have one today in the southern hemisphere.

  33. Ikonoclast
    October 28th, 2014 at 15:05 | #33


    You see, this is exactly what I referred to. You are convinced of the finiteness of oil and gas supplies so a single downward blip in oil or gas prices would not impress you as in any way significant. You would know that short-term price movements have nothing to do with the finiteness of such resource stocks. On the other hand, you cherrypick one factoid about uranium prices as if this counters a peer reviewed scientific paper which demonstrates we are about to run slap-bang into a long term uranium shortage.

    You want to believe that uranium stocks are effectively limitless so you throw out all the standard scientific data demonstrating finiteness which you routinely accept in relation to other fuel stocks. It’s double-think pure and simple.

  34. Hermit
    October 28th, 2014 at 17:52 | #34

    Of course uranium is finite but it has two overwhelming attributes…the energy density as a one pass fission fuel in Gen 3 reactors and the energy density of downstream products in Gen 4 reactors. That means we can either expend a lot of energy either extracting it from dilute sources or re-use it. Yellowcake U308 or equivalent salts is now nudging $A80 per kg. After 3-5% enrichment that original kilogram can produce 570 GJ of primary energy in a light water reactor. Deductions need to be made for mining and enrichment effort and conversion to electricity. However a tonne = 1,000 kg of brown coal is lucky to produce 10 GJ of thermal energy. Like coal it can produce electricity 24/7 unlike coal there’s almost no CO2.

    As for uranium depletion I don’t think we really need to worry about it this side of 2050. We’ll either make it or collapse. After 2050 there’s Gen 4 technology like Russia’s new Beloyarsk plant, abundant thorium power, fusion or maybe we’ll be living in caves.

  35. plaasmatron
    October 28th, 2014 at 19:09 | #35

    @John Street

    Yes, thankfully far less noisy American tourists. Also good to see no more drunkenly destructive Irish tourists. There are already far less English tourists. I’m just waiting for the Australian economy to tank so that there are no more annoying, embarrassing Australian tourists.

  36. Nick
    October 28th, 2014 at 19:30 | #36

    Hermit, you kind of dodged my question back there.

    How much are the Vogtle 3 & 4 reactors costing again?

  37. Megan
    October 28th, 2014 at 19:42 | #37

    Feel free to … add to the list

    Democracy – in any serious, functional sense.



    Just like Australia.

  38. Ikonoclast
    October 28th, 2014 at 20:00 | #38


    Hmmm, let me try to paraphrase your argument.

    “Of course, uranium is finite but it still won’t run out, until it does, and then we will have something even better or we will be living in caves.”

    I am not sure how I can argue against such dazzling logic so I think I should give up.

  39. jungney
    October 28th, 2014 at 20:20 | #39


    From about ’75 on I’ve been a practitioner/student of the junk, that is, rubbish side of the equation. From then ’till now I have never seen a sensible proposal for dealing with radioactive waste.

    I think the (barking mad) proponents of nuclear power have been lying doggo for this moment: an energy and eco-crisis as a resolution to which crisis they offer more hubris as the resolution to the problem. The modernists! As if human hubris wasn’t the cause of the problem.

  40. Hermit
    October 29th, 2014 at 08:29 | #40

    In my opinion nuclear waste is a beat up issue. When not re-used it can stay in 35 tonne casks in parking lots until the end of time. Some envision Mad Max type goons prising the containers open for nefarious purposes. If they still have the equipment to do that perhaps society didn’t quite collapse after all. Here in Oz landowners in both NT and WA have said they will happily take the ex Lucas Heights material.

    Power from Vogtle 3&4 will cost more than gas (for now) or coal. Perhaps there is some other way of providing gigawatts of low carbon power day and night in all weathers. Let’s see it.

  41. Helen
    October 29th, 2014 at 08:37 | #41

    The centre of Stockholm may be nice to live in, but it is something like a 15-year waiting list to get into one of those nice city-centre apartments.

    That doesn’t sound too bad to me if you’re living in the burbs versus desperate for any accommodation. if you’re on the heteronormative trajectory, put yourself on the waiting list while the kids start school and by the time they’ve finished uni you’re ready to downsize and enjoy inner city life. Sounds pretty sweet to me. If you’re not following the heteronormative thing, then ditto, just without the kids.
    I do agree there are a lot of things wrong with that post, though, Charlene, especially the portrayal of the not-beautiful and disabled people as people who should not be seen in public, and the use of a supermodel as a metaphor for the ideal!

  42. Ootz
    October 29th, 2014 at 08:47 | #42

    Hermit, who can forget the MOX fuel stored on top of reactor 4 at Fukushima?

    Which brings me to the second major failure of nuclear industry after storage, no one is really in charge nor bears any responsibility. Just see the buck passing between Japanese Gov, TEPCO and IAEA after the event or for that matter the proverbial collective eye, ear and mouth shutting before hand and the disastrous consequences there after.

  43. Lt. Fred
    October 29th, 2014 at 08:48 | #43


    The obvious example is our shocking public transport systems, though (in Brisbane) our lasting contempt for heritage buildings, massive uncontrolled urban sprawl and silly waterfront death traps are some other problems.

  44. Hermit
    October 29th, 2014 at 09:37 | #44

    @ Ootz I think blame must go where it belongs. With the Japan 2011 quake we had
    tsunami deaths – about 16,000
    evacuation deaths – about 1,600
    radiation deaths – about 0


  45. Ootz
    October 29th, 2014 at 10:49 | #45

    So hermit … you are blaming the earthquake for the systemic blunders before and after the Fukushima disaster? With such an argument You only further degrade the credibility of the nuclear industry.

    “Fukushima Daiichi unmasked the weaknesses of nuclear power plant design and the long-standing flaws in operations and regulatory oversight,” the authors write. “Although Japan must share the blame, this was not a Japanese nuclear accident; it was a nuclear accident that just happened to have occurred in Japan. The problems that led to the disaster at Fukushima Daiichi exist wherever reactors operate.”

  46. jungney
    October 29th, 2014 at 11:12 | #46


    June 5, 2014:Carlsbad, New Mexico – A vast salt mine under the New Mexico desert was the Department of Energy’s last nuclear waste storage solution. On Valentines night, one of the now suspect 500 waste drums from DOE’s Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) blast open inside DOE’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP). Casks filled with 3.2 million cubic feet of deadly radioactive wastes remain buried at the crippled plant. That huge facility was rendered useless. Investigators believe the waste drums from Los Alamos were incorrectly packed under DOE supervision and one of them exploded.

    Apparently someone decided to store nuclear material in drums with ‘kitty litter’ , which combusted, thereby making unsafe the largest US nuclear storage site unusable.

  47. Hermit
    October 29th, 2014 at 11:40 | #47

    I’m blaming the panic merchants for most of the evacuation deaths. Much of the exclusion zone is less radioactive than natural granite country. A few weeks ago former PM Shinzo Abe visited Ranger NT to urge locals to forgo mining. That plea was as effective as the evacuation. Note that dozens of N plants in Japan were not impaired at all but were closed anyway.. a bonanza for our coal and gas exports. Richter 9 quakes are very rare events.

  48. Fran Barlow
    October 29th, 2014 at 11:48 | #48


    Speaking as someone sympathtic to the inclusion of nuclear power in the dlivery mix, it’s undoubtedly true that disaster was the intersection of an entirely predictable natural event and human malfeasance.

  49. John Street
    October 30th, 2014 at 08:40 | #49

    Here’s a few things that once seemed typically Aussie, but no longer:
    newspaper delivery (milk, bread)
    backyard dunnys
    zacs, dieners
    remembrance driveway
    Holden utes
    bush dances

  50. Ootz
    October 30th, 2014 at 09:05 | #50

    Fran, that is the tragedy of nuclear, it could be a legitimate and viable energy source if only the industry, governments and regulatory bodies would be more responsible, transparent and accountable. It is for exactly that reason the rest of the reactors in Japan were temporarily shut down and other countries are seriously looking at phasing out their reactors. To emphasise jungney’s point, the nuclear industry would regain enourmeous credit for solving the waste problem once and for all, as well as demonstrated its viability with a credible, transparent and accountable regulatory body.

    Hermit, in case you are still missing the point, the first accounts of leaking radiation after the Fukushima incident was provided by a third party, not affiliated to the nuclear industry, which to some extend still has got it’s collective head in the sand. Just because “Richter 9 quakes are rare events” does not excuse the utter lack of preparedness for a critical event to occur, with appropriate evacuation and decontamination plans in place and practiced. It is for this reason nuclear is not considered a save energy source and it is not just me saying so.

  51. Hermit
    October 30th, 2014 at 09:32 | #51

    Ootz your link makes wonder if there’s a Bulletin of Aromatherapists urging us not to visit doctors. We accept risk every time we get in a plane or motor vehicle. One airline lost 537 passengers in 2014. As dramatic as Fukushima was it is unlikely that excess radiation deaths can be statistically determined.

    64% of Australia’s electricity comes from burning coal. Since we like to follow the US that will probably increase as the gas price rises. Those two forms of generation provide power on demand even after a week of rain or becalmed weather. That’s the minimum we need to replace. There’s also the 40% of our primary energy demand met by oil which will be effectively gone by mid century. Whatever can replace fossil fuels must be affordable and it must arrive soon.

  52. Fran Barlow
    October 30th, 2014 at 10:46 | #52


    64% of Australia’s electricity comes from burning coal. Since we like to follow the US that will probably increase as the gas price rises. Those two forms of generation provide power on demand even after a week of rain or becalmed weather.

    That’s what we do now. The question really is though — how much of that 64% (or more if it goes up due to less gas being available) could in practice be supplied by wind, solar, geothermal, hydro, waste biomass, tidal-wave-marine?

    Clearly, if we had a very significant electrical vehicle fleet and a grid capable of using their batteries as storage then all surplus energy created could be stored and used to meet demand at times when insolation and wind are below what is needed.

    Demand management is also possible.

    It would be interesting to see how little FHC we could get away with if we were determined to use/store RE as much as possible and demand manage the rest.

    I’d be very surprised if we weren’t capable in a setting where plug-in EVs were the domninant light road vehicles, rooftop solar was ubiquitous (including at public car parks, warehouses, shopping centres), where waste biomass gas was used as backup where pumped storage was sharply increased and where we took demand management seriously, if we couldn’t get FHC inputs below 10%.

  53. Ikonoclast
    October 30th, 2014 at 10:54 | #53


    Renewables can replace fossil fuels and they are arriving now. The accelerating pace of this arrival would be far better is the huge subsidies for fossil fuels and fission fuels were removed now.

  54. Ikonoclast
    October 30th, 2014 at 11:19 | #54

    @Fran Barlow

    One hundred percent of all our energy needs can come from renewables. This has been demonstrated by Stanford scientists. Search for “Stanford scientist unveils 50-state plan to transform U.S. to renewable energy”.

    I think this transition will be quite difficult. But “difficult” does not equal impossible. The reasons I think the transition will be difficult are;

    (a) entrenched corporate and political opposition to renewable power.
    (b) entrenched subsidies for fossil and fission fuels.
    (c) public disinformation campaigns by fossil and fission fuel interests.
    (d) general limits to growth acting as a drag on meeting transition costs.
    (e) quite difficult psychological, social, political and economic adjusments for the new style of society and economy required.

    There is even a possibility that our very maladaptive and sclerotic political economy will fail to make the necessary adaptations and transitions in time. The main danger now is the destruction of democracy by corporate power and our rapid drift towards corporate dictatorship. If genuine democracy is not reinstituted and is not made the guiding force for our decisions I doubt very much that we will make the necessary transitions.

    We need to find a way again to make mass demands effective. For example, it is clear in Australia that the majority want less privatisation and more government control of public utitilities and natural monopolies. Until this kind of mass democratic demand is made effective once again, we are in great danger of not being able to make the necessary decisions and not taking the necessary actions.

    It is clear we need to break corporate power and reinstitute genuine democracy. Representative democarcy as it stands is too subvertible by monied and corporate interests. We do indeed need a democratic revolution. The most likely triggering factor in the West, IMO, is the coming collapse of the middle class. The middle class is collapsing rapidly in the US and rapidly losing wealth and security. At some stage, most of the middle class will realise it is desperate trouble. I expect rapid political changes at that stage. The entire system will get very unstable, chaotic and possibly even dangerous at that point. It’s very difficult to predict the outcome.

  55. Hermit
    October 30th, 2014 at 14:33 | #55

    Lots of noble sentiments perhaps not so much hard headed realism. In 2013 Australia got 13.1% of its electricity from renewables about half of that from decades old hydro, now hard to expand. Newer wind power contributed 2.9% and solar 1.5%. Apart from a sip of biofuel and some pooled input to electric trains renewables contributed very little to transport.

    Personally I think you’d be mug to buy a $90k electric car when you could thrash several buzzboxes for that price. I think you’d be an even bigger mug to let the grid shorten the battery life by sucking out charge. Could be why nobody is keen on the idea in the real world.

  56. Nick
    October 30th, 2014 at 14:49 | #56
  57. Nick
    October 30th, 2014 at 14:53 | #57

    Hermit: “Lots of noble sentiments perhaps not so much hard headed realism.”

    Hermit, how much are Vogtle 3 & 4 costing again? Is there some reason you can’t provide a figure for us?

  58. Nick
    October 30th, 2014 at 14:54 | #58

    “In 2013 Australia got 13.1% of its electricity from renewables”

    The US is the world’s largest commercial supplier of nuclear reactors.

    In 2013, the US got 19% of its electricity from nuclear.

  59. Fran Barlow
    October 30th, 2014 at 15:10 | #59


    I’m not suggesting that it could be done by 2013 (your reference point), but we could absolutely get 60% of stationary power decarbonised by 2030.

    It is possible to build new hydro in a closed loop using inland terrain and of course there are places where we could build littoral hydro. Yes, it wouldn’t be cheap but it could be done. Those facilities’ costs could be amortised over the remainder of the century.

    PEVs are already obtainable at under $40k and assuming battery prices track where the Tesla folk say retrofitting would be viable. Most of your old barinas and festivas could be converted for well short of about $15k. Once you’ve done 200k in the vehicle, the sunk cost of your old ICE and diff/gearbox and water pump/timing chain is going to be zero. You’d be lucky to get $1000 for the beast. Effectively, you’re getting a new car with substantial resale value which will be very cheap to run, and more mechanically reliable. If you can use it to trade in RE why wouldn’t you?

  60. Hermit
    October 30th, 2014 at 16:04 | #60

    Nick kudos to the US they have 13X our population. Why not compare us to France?

    Fran if they can do a BEV for $20k with decent range say 300km that changes everything. I’ll believe it when I see it. I think Franklin Dam veterans and nimbies will prevent any pumped hydro. There’s a few possible sites

  61. Nick
    October 30th, 2014 at 17:49 | #61

    “Nick kudos to the US they have 13X our population. Why not compare us to France?”

    Hermit, 1) I’m not sure what your point is. So what if the US has a larger population? 2) If you search the archives, I’m pretty sure you’ll find we’ve trod these boards before.

    What took place in France in the 1970s was, for all intents and purposes, a lifetime ago. You may as well ask ‘why don’t 10 million people go marching off to war these days’?

    If you think it can be easily repeated, why isn’t it being repeated? Anywhere.

    What matters is the present cost (Vogtle 3 & 4 being a perfect example), and currently achievable rates of installation.

    As was made clear at the time, we’d need something like 50 countries installing nuclear at the rate of France in the 70s, to make any difference whatsoever to climate change.

    What was also made clear was that, even accounting for capacity factor, the current rate of renewables installation around the world is greater than anything France, and in fact every nuclear country in the world put together, ever achieved.

  62. Nick
    October 30th, 2014 at 17:51 | #62

    FWIW, btw:

    – the estimated cost of Vogtle 3 & 4 is currently up around USD$16 billion

    – the population of Georgia is smaller than Victoria

    – Vogtle 3 & 4 when completed will supply approx. 13% of Georgia’s power

    – therefore, it would cost 1/2 the price of our National Broadband Network to bring power to roughly 10% of Victoria

    And you think this somehow represents a feasible solution for the future.

  63. Fran Barlow
    October 30th, 2014 at 18:09 | #63


    Thanks for the link. The costs cited in this report though high in some cases aren’t extravagant and in other cases, quite low — assuming 8% CF anywhere from $14.30 MWh to $143MWh depending on the site. They’ve assumed a lead time of about ten years to build each facility.

    The Franklin Dam case was fairly unique and in any event took place when even amongst conservationists, the challenges of climate change were still very much a secondary issue.

  64. jungney
    October 30th, 2014 at 20:39 | #64

    @Fran Barlow
    If you think this sort of terra-forming madness is any sort of way forward then all I can say is that your view is so far out of step with forces on the ground, how they they think and feel, as to be worthy of consideration as a type of delusion.

  65. Ken Fabian
    October 30th, 2014 at 20:52 | #65

    I’m always a bit dubious about oversimplistic radiation exposure vs risk calculations. I expect the contamination issues are less about exposure to non specific low level ionising radiation than about long term risks from exposure and ingestion of things like Iodine 131, Cesium 137 and Strotium 90 which do raise long term cancer risks. Likewise the risks from living around granite are not strictly about exposure to radiation per se but exposure to something more specific, ie Radon. Whether these cancer risks are overstated or not I do think they are real and any ‘no deaths’ claim is premature.

    Nuclear is struggling to gain traction even in nations with long and relatively safe history of use. It’s certainly in a PR hole that it seems unable to dig itself out of. Climbing it’s way out by pulling renewables and ‘green’ politics down doesn’t seem to be working too well so far. I think it’s unfortunate that too many proponents seem to be overly taken with targeting renewable energy and ‘green’ politics for criticism whilst seeming unwilling to address climate science denial within mainstream politics or within their own ranks. Until it’s absolutely clear that a transition to low emissions is the goal of nuclear advocacy – rather than being another form of ‘greenie’ bashing by allegedly nuclear ‘friendly’ conservatives who hate environmental regulation and who, in the absence of ‘green’ politics would not lift a regulatory finger against fossil fuels – it is tainted and suspect. I haven’t followed BraveNewClimate closely of late but it was an unhealthy obsession is with ‘green’ and ‘left’ politics whilst remaining remarkably quiet and uncritical of the ‘right’s’ entrenched climate science denial and obstructionism turned me off. It’s apparently enough to express a liking for nuclear to be ‘better than greenies’ at confronting the climate problem – which looks to me more like desperate unwillingness to alienate anyone who likes nuclear. But that is not true; an actual commitment to the goal of a transition to low emissions is required and that is more true of nuclear even than of renewables; where renewables can incrementally intrude into the energy game, nuclear needs a strong, long running cross partisan mainstream political commitment, including planned intervention in the energy sector on nuclear’s behalf. It ain’t anti nuclear greenies that are preventing that; rather, they are the convenient, ever present excuse for the real spoilers of action on climate to fail to commit to anything beyond keeping the fossil fueled status quo.

    Except that renewables are making enough of an impact that the incumbents are seeking to encourage regulatory interventions to prevent their further uptake. Globally they are making up a bigger portion of new energy than ever before, certainly exceeding nuclear. Given that 2013 was probably about when renewables crossed the cost threshold that makes them periodically lower in cost than coal or gas or nuclear I think writing them off on their pre 2013 performance is misleading. I think storage is the new frontier and presuming it must fail is as shortsighted as presuming wind and PV could never deliver low cost power, even intermittently. Whether it’s improved LiIon or quinone based organic flow batteries or Pumped Heat Energy Storage or just investment in solar thermal with molten salt, the last word has not been heard yet.

  66. Fran Barlow
    October 30th, 2014 at 22:02 | #66


    I’m not sure how exactly to quantify ‘terra forming madness’. I’m also uncertain how far out of step with forces on the ground one has to be before one is worthy of being dubbed delusional, or if being out of step with ‘forces on the ground’ is one of the criteria for delusional. I’m mostly out of step with ‘forces on the ground’ (and quite possibly forces in the atmosphere or in or on the water) but I’m OK with that.

    I’d say you need to be a little more specific. Then again, if you believe I’m delusional, maybe it’s not worth the effort. Maybe do it for the benefit of the not quite delusionals on this page. High dudgeon is a sentiment, not an argument.

  67. Ikonoclast
    October 31st, 2014 at 06:50 | #67


    The population of Georgia, USA, is close to 10 million. The population of Victoria is about 5.8 million. This doesn’t affect your point but still we need to get basic facts right.

  68. Hermit
    October 31st, 2014 at 06:55 | #68

    dismantling nukes Germany – flat or negative GDP
    building nukes UK – steady economic growth hence $3bn ‘donation’ to EU

  69. Nick
    October 31st, 2014 at 07:08 | #69

    Thanks, Hermit. I went to bed thinking that can’t be right…Victoria doesn’t have 25GW of electrical capacity installed. Read the wrong google result for the wrong Georgia!

  70. Nick
    October 31st, 2014 at 07:08 | #70

    Sorry, thanks Ikon! 😉

  71. Fran Barlow
    October 31st, 2014 at 07:15 | #71


    At last they have a nice anthem!


  72. Ikonoclast
    October 31st, 2014 at 07:20 | #72

    @Ken Fabian

    I agree. You sum up the nuclear lobby and program very well.

    Almost all entrenched capitalist interests in the energy field (fossil fuels and nuclear power) have waged a long campaign against renewable energy. They have spread disinformation and propaganda continuously. They have lobbied governments to keep their own MASSIVE subsidies and to stop or roll back new and modest subsidies for renewable energy. Despite all this, despite having the playing field outrageously tilted against it, renewable energy has still made rapid, indeed exponential progress. I think this tells us something about the on-coming viability of renewable power.

    This is not to say the transition to renewables will be easy. Some aspects will be relatively easy (replacing stationary generation) but some aspects will be quite difficult (replacing our petroleum powered transport fleet). Then there are industrial processes which release a lot of CO2 like cement making and steel making. These too will have to be dealt with in the long run. However, the early big ticket items are thermal coal power stations and the personal internal combustion engine automobile. These must both disappear by 2030 at the latest.

  73. Ikonoclast
    October 31st, 2014 at 07:27 | #73

    @Fran Barlow

    I hope you are being ironic. It’s schmaltz.

    “In American English, via Yiddish, schmaltz (adj. schmaltzy) has an informal meaning of “excessively sentimental or florid music or art” or “maudlin sentimentality”, similar to one of the uses of the words “corn” or “corny”. Its earliest usage in this sense dates to the mid-1930s. In German, schmalzig is also used in the same sense.” – Wikipedia.

  74. Nick
    October 31st, 2014 at 07:49 | #74

    Ikon! Sure it’s a tad schmaltzy, but it’s a lovely old number.

    My daughter’s 16 months now…when she was a few weeks old I used to play her Willie Nelson’s Stardust to get her to sleep.

    Another to add to the thread list: The Great American Popular Song

  75. Nick
    October 31st, 2014 at 07:49 | #75

  76. Fran Barlow
    October 31st, 2014 at 08:04 | #76


    It is schmaltzy — maudlin even — but still rather nice, in small doses. It’s on one of my playlists in Pandora.

  77. Fran Barlow
    October 31st, 2014 at 08:08 | #77


    I’m hopeful that the more difficult usages to avoid can be covered by drawdown and biosequestration of atmospheric inventories of CO2, since plainly, we are going to need to do that for the already released emissions if we are going to return rapidly to, or slightly below pre-industrial concentrations to allow the heat already stored in the deep oceans to be released to the atmosphere and thereafter, out of the atmosphere.

  78. Ikonoclast
    October 31st, 2014 at 08:28 | #78

    @Fran Barlow

    Some are talking about sequestering carbon in building materials as carbon fibre reinforcing and so on. However, the source of the carbon for carbon fibre is the issue.

    “About 90% of the carbon fibers produced are made from polyacrylonitrile (PAN). The remaining 10% are made from rayon or petroleum pitch. All of these materials are organic polymers, characterized by long strings of molecules bound together by carbon atoms.”

    Clearly, carbon in petroleum pitch (for example) is already sequestered. Moving it to carbon fibre (using energy) has no sequestration gain. Polyacrylonitrile is made from acrylonitrile which in turn is is produced by catalytic ammoxidation of propylene also known as propene. Propene is produced from fossil fuels—petroleum, natural gas, and, to a much lesser extent, coal. Propene is a byproduct of oil refining and natural gas processing.

    Once again, there is no gain in sequestration terms. To change to say a sustainable process of wood to charcoal to… eventually to carbon fibre would be feasible in chemical terms but not in economic terms. The whole business of sequestration is very difficult. It’s better to not emit in the first place but the thorny issue is what to do about our CO2 emissions overshoot to date. I can’t see any options here except long term ones like massive reforestation. Such corrections will take centuries if not millenia to have an impact. The damage we have done is not easily undone.

  79. Fran Barlow
    October 31st, 2014 at 08:39 | #79


    I’m still hopeful that algae can do at high speed the work you hope re-afforestation will only take centuries to do — and better in another way too, because once the carbon has been taken up by the algae in lipid and carbodydrate form, we can dry it, compress it, perhaps coating it in some innert and abundant material — like salt and then dump it at depth in the ocean where lack of light, ocygen and high pressure should sequester it for much longer than anyone alive now need trouble about.

    Algae grows far faster than any other plant and requires far less nutrient input, and the nutrients it does use tend to be organic wastes that would be outgasssing/oxidising in any event. It’s easier to manage than lignins and requires less space, so it seems a plausible candidate.

  80. Fran Barlow
    October 31st, 2014 at 08:40 | #80

    oops … oxygen on ocygen …

  81. Fran Barlow
    October 31st, 2014 at 08:40 | #81

    typing too quickly oxygen not oxygen. Please delete last PrQ.

  82. Ikonoclast
    October 31st, 2014 at 09:01 | #82

    In reply to Fran.

    They are working on it and give more research dollars to them I say.


    However, some words of sober caution are needed.

    (a) If algal products are turned into biofuel (as often envisaged) they have no sequestration value. They do have a zero-net-emissions value which is good in itself but it does not address sequestration.

    (b) If algal products are to be dumped for sequestration purposes someone has to subsidise it. There is no product for sale except the indirect, long-term product of a better climate. We know the standard free market will not support this so a tax or another carbon price would have to support it.

    (c) Sequestration in infrastructure and built environment would be good if it could be made to pay. It would be better to incorporate the algal derived carbon in a permanent product. This presumes that it would remain in rubble even after demolition and dumping.

    I actually like (a) if it can economically replace petroleum and (c) if it can be made economically viable. The option (b) I think has the least going for it. The economics, logistics and environmental impacts of this sort of ocean dumping would have me worried at a number of levels. But for sure, people have to brainstorm, research, test and pilot all these possibilities to sort the viable from the non-viable.

  83. Fran Barlow
    October 31st, 2014 at 09:10 | #83


    I’d say b) has the most going for it, since it involves the least handling, the lowest energy inputs, is the most scaleable, requires the least novel technology and is the least reversible.

    Biofuels require far more energy inputs and are much more complex exercises in engineering from the initial stock through transformation. There are some niche products — polymer seals, pharmaceutical bases and even possibly some foods and packaging materials. We might get some wood substitutes in conjunction with other waste biomass.

    But these are very market dependent.

    The carbon offset market could pay for biosequestration.

  84. Ikonoclast
    October 31st, 2014 at 10:24 | #84

    @Fran Barlow

    Well option (a) is not a sequestration option as I mentioned.

    Option (b) involves making, handling and transporting a product with no other use. Option (c) could kill two birds with one stone. The sequestration costs are already paid for in the standard building, lifecycle, demolition and dumpung costs. There is no separate and especial cost for handling the sequestered carbon.

    But I have learnt that once we disagree further argument is fruitless from both sides. 🙂

    Time will tell. Presuming we do start doing something effective about both CO2 emissions and carbon sequestration then the most effective and economical approaches discovered and piloted will get utilised.

  85. Fran Barlow
    October 31st, 2014 at 12:20 | #85


    It also doesn’t excuse the poor design of the plant at Fukushima, which had no redundant power back up for its SCRAM and which rejected a proposal to install one based on the fact that the plant was considered to be end of life and slated for closure. Even earlier, it doesn’t excuse the original plant builders in 1964 from excavating to build it at sea level only four years after the tsunami that had begun at ValVerde (a 9.0 quake) had crossed the Pacific and reached Fukushima 22 hours later.

    They kept rolling the dice and eventually lost.

  86. Hermit
    October 31st, 2014 at 14:27 | #86

    Don’t expect electric cars for battlers anytime soon

    Hmmn wind and solar produced 4.4% of Australia’s electricity in 2013. Wow that’s nearly 5%!

  87. Ootz
    October 31st, 2014 at 15:21 | #87

    Fran, I gave up debating Hermit when he slurred me with the Aromatherapy analogy, while demonstrating his utter lack of comprehension on differences in radiation between Radon and caesium et al. Thanks to Ken Fabian for clearing that up with his critique on “oversimplistic radiation exposure vs risk calculations”. Further, I’ll add to that public risk perceptions. Again Hermit is shooting into his, by now glowing green in the dark, foot, by quoting people injured or death in the evacuation process. Well, as I pointed out previously, the earliest data and accurate information was offered by third parties, not TEPCO, not Japanese Government, not IAEA! The relevant authorities lost all credibility as well as had no clear plan how to manage the incident and risk thereof. It was everyone for her/his own!!!

    As to the regulatory failures leading upto the event, I looked at these issues shortly after the incident and commented on the relevant threads on LP at the time. All I can remember how surprised I was at how slap dash that industry operated and was regulated from the planning stage right up to the last inspection of the Japanese nuclear fleet.

    To me nuclear energy now is a big white elephant in developed countries, because of the public risk perception and monolithic inability to adapt to the fundanetal changes we are undergoing. People, even the most rusted on deniers, buy renewables because it gives them independence from the gold plating and price gouging monopolies. And most importantly they are cheaper and instant off the shelf. Bring on affordable storage and it will be a stampede. Although we may lose some Super in stranded assets, hence I suggest draw on your super and become energy independent.
    Apropo big white elephants, that applies to shopping centres and right wing intellectuals too for different reasons.

  88. Nick
    October 31st, 2014 at 15:36 | #88

    Hermit, you really do confirm Ken’s point above.

    Unless you have a nuclear-powered car waiting in the wings for us, what on earth do you have against *electric cars*?

    I would have thought you’d welcome them, and simply prefer they be charged from nuclear power…

    Instead, you talk them down at every opportunity.

  89. jungney
    October 31st, 2014 at 16:02 | #89

    Yep. The nuke industry doesn’t understand the concept of social licence. Therefore, it doesn’t understand how a long history of coverups, lies, duplicity and outright technological failure has given it a ‘social licence’ well below the gas frackin’ cowboys. That’s real low.

  90. jungney
    October 31st, 2014 at 16:22 | #90

    @Fran Barlow
    You’ve heard of the anthropocene, yes? When we finally realise that we are a bio-force on the planet; one without the self reflexive capacity to organize along ‘do no harm principles’ no more sophisticated than ‘don’t sh*t in your own nest’?

    So, to me:

    It is possible to build new hydro in a closed loop using inland terrain and of course there are places where we could build littoral hydro. Yes, it wouldn’t be cheap but it could be done. Those facilities’ costs could be amortised over the remainder of the century.

    …looks like exactly the sort of engineering hubris that has trashed Lake Baikal and environs forever.

    So, if you want to advocate hydro in Australia, you’ll need to provide some sort of evidence as to its availability, and one that includes a realistic ecological accounting, of the costs. You could start with the disaster of the Snowy Hydro and the Snowy River.

    As a greenie, it is clear that you believe in, as a matter of faith, that the ‘technological fix’ will somehow solve all of our problems when our problems are as much derived from a perverted type of human inte-rsubjecivity that flourishes within neo-liberalism. Short: you can’t fix a sick system with sick people or it’s all up for grabs.

    The land itself will no longer be the plaything of imaginative technocrats. The land itself now has a new breed of protectors who have and are learning from Aboriginal people how to defend land with nothing on your side but love of country.

    And you’re proposing to dam a river or two and bulldoze habitat at the stroke of an administerial pen?

    Have a look at “front line action on coal” to observe meaningful and realistic behaviour.

  91. Ikonoclast
    October 31st, 2014 at 16:26 | #91


    Hmmmn, hydro power alone (only one form of renewable energy) produced 16.2% of the world’s electricity whereas pitiful old nuclear produced only 13.4% (in 2008). This shows how wimpy nuclear power really is and it’s going backwards. Generation from nuclear power in TWh peaked in 2006 and has declined every year since apart from a slight blip up in 2010. This is data up to 2012. The nuclear share in the world’s power generation declined steadily from a historic peak of 17 percent in 1993 to about 10 percent in 2012. Thus, the clear signs are that nuclear power is in long run decline.

    These facts come from the World Nuclear Association site. The facts are theirs. The slighting but fully deserved comments are mine. No matter which way you slice it, nuclear fission power is FAILING to deliver and going BACKWARDS.

    Hermit, you ought to start wondering why nuclear power is going backwards when it has had enormous subsidies for over 50 years, still gets enormous subsidies and is heavily supported by the military-industrial complex and rent-seeking corporate capital. Why, when it has all these things in its favour, is it still going backwards?

    The answer resides in empirical reality. It is highly expensive, highly dangerous, highly difficult technically and highly inflexible. Add in the fact that its fuel is running out (peak uranium) and you have the answers.

    Hint: Read the World Nuclear Industry Status Report.

  92. Ken Fabian
    November 1st, 2014 at 07:19 | #92

    Nearly 5% of our energy supply is not a small or insignificant amount, especially given it was mostly done before anything like price parity for wind or solar had been achieved, within a framework that the most generous reading would describe as deeply flawed, compromised and lacking the necessary depth of commitment. Is there anywhere that has had a continuing commitment to a low energy transition before or after 2013 that was and is not deeply compromised? Whether it’s broad exemptions for commerce and industry from clean energy surcharges, specific exemptions for the highest emissions industries, including fossil fuel generators, dodgy permits under various emissions trading schemes, unhelpful concessions to populism and policy flip flopping, a firm and clear and long running commitment to the minimum that is necessary is almost universally lacking.

    I suggest that Australia did not and still does not have a genuine commitment to much more than keeping up appearances and the current crop of mainstream politicians are putting more effort into justifying giving up on even that much. Achieving near to 5% of supply from new renewable under these circumstances actually looks very encouraging; how much better could we do with genuine, cross partisan commitment and the application of forethought and planning?

  93. Hermit
    November 1st, 2014 at 07:50 | #93

    I agree that overnight nuclear baseload would sync with charging electric cars. However the Carnegie Mellon study raises doubts whether the low paid will ever be able to afford practical electric cars. FWIW I make biodiesel from used cooking oil, a triglyceride like algae oil. Combining all different sources like waste veg oil, palm oil, algae etc it will simply never make a serious replacement for petroleum. It also requires major fossil fuel inputs at various stages.

    To be ‘on track’ for 80% decarbonisation 2000-2050 we should should be on about 22% new (21st century) low carbon sources by now. We’re way behind. However local oil and gas depletion will sneak up on us before 2020. It seems we’ll be short of most forms of on-tap energy except coal fired electricity. Then when we’re down the big coal fired plants (eg in the Hunter and Latrobe valleys) will need to be replaced. We’re definitely not on track.

  94. Ikonoclast
    November 1st, 2014 at 08:54 | #94


    I agree we are not on track. However, the facts are that nuclear fission power is contributing all it can to our power mix. Nuclear fission power cannot do any more and even if it could (which it can’t) it could not come on-stream fast enough to get us on track. Please answer these questions for yourself and for us. Put yourself through the discipline of answering or attempting to answer the substantive questions.

    1. The peer-reviewed study, published in the journal Science of the Total Environment, “The end of cheap uranium” by Michael Dittmar concludes: “… a global uranium mining peak of at most 58 ± 4 ktons around the year 2015 is obtained. Thereafter we predict that uranium mine production will decline to at most 54 ± 5 ktons by 2025 and, with the decline steepening, to at most 41 ± 5 ktons around 2030. This amount will not be sufficient to fuel the existing and planned nuclear power plants during the next 10–20 years. In fact, we find that it will be difficult to avoid supply shortages even under a slow 1%/year worldwide nuclear energy phase-out scenario up to 2025.”

    What alternative data do you have that uranium supplies will not be constrained? Please cite peer-reviewed scientific papers not business management or pro-nuclear industry papers.

    2. With respect to the “World Nuclear Industry Status Report”, have you read it yet? What do you say to the incontrovertable facts presented in the report? Namely that;

    “The nuclear industry is in decline: The 388 operating reactors are 50 fewer than the peak in 2002, while the total installed capacity peaked in 2010 at 367 GW before declining to the
    current level, which is comparable to levels last seen two decades ago. Annual nuclear electricity generation reached a maximum of 2,660 TWh in 2006 and dropped to 2,359 TWh
    in 2013, which represents however a stabilization (+0.6 percent) after two consecutive years of significant decline (-4 percent in 2011, -7 percent in 2012), corresponding to a level
    previously seen in 1999.

    The nuclear share of the world’s power generation declined steadily from a historic peak of 17.6 percent in 19966 to 10.8 percent in 20137. Nuclear power’s share of global commercial primary energy production declined from the 2012 low of 4.5 percent, a level last seen in
    19848, to a new low of 4.4 percent.”

    The “Economics and Finances” of nuclear power are becoming untenable. See page 8 of the report.

    “Installed Capacity.

    Globally, since 2000, the annual growth rates for wind power have averaged 25 percent and for solar photovoltaics 43 percent. This has resulted in 2013 alone in 32 GW of
    wind and 37 GW of solar being added. Nuclear generating capacity declined by 19 GW compared to the 2000 level.14 In the European Union, in the same time frame, wind increased by 105 GW outpacing natural gas plants with 103 GW and solar with 80 GW, while nuclear decreased by 13 GW.

    In 2013, wind and solar added 11 GW each to the European grids, while all fossil fuels decreased and nuclear remained stable. By the end of 2013, China had a total of 91 GW of operating wind power capacity. China’s 18 GW of installed solar capacity for the first
    time exceeded operating nuclear capacity. China added a new world record of at least 12 GW of solar in just one year (vs. 3 GW of nuclear), overtaking Germany’s previous 7.6 GW record and
    exceeding cumulative U.S. additions since it invented photovoltaics in the 1950s. China now aims at 40 GW solar and will probably exceed the 100 GW wind power target for 2015.”

    To sum up, how do you answer these facts? How can maintain that renewable energy is not increasing rapidly (albeit still not rapidly enough for AGW ameleioration)? How can you maintain that nuclear fission power can be expanded in the face of the fuel problems and finance, economic and cost problems so clearly delineated in the above reports? What credible, reputable, scientific peer-reviwed data can you point to in an effort to refute the above reports and data?

    The plain facts are that nuclear fission power is failing and declining. Renewable energy is succeeding and growing very rapidly. The fact that renewable energy needs to grow even faster is not a strike against it, it is a strike against all the perverse policies, especially subsidies for fossil and fissile fuels, which are holding renewable power back.

    You need to deal in verifiable scientific and economic facts instead of simply having a blind belief in the efficacy of nuclear power to meet all our needs; a belief which, I might add, runs counter to all the real evidence.

  95. John Quiggin
    November 1st, 2014 at 09:00 | #95

    Hermit can always find a market segment to suit his case.

    Shorter Hermit: Until we have a complete renewable solution for every conceivable need, we should leave the whole idea well and truly alone.

  96. Ikonoclast
    November 1st, 2014 at 09:55 | #96

    @John Quiggin

    I would be interested if you could make a specific (hopefully long and a bit wonkish) post on agriculture, cultivation and irrigation from the perspective of taking fossil fuels out of it. How, in the long term, could we run industrial agriculture in an electrical economy?

    I ask not to put you on the spot, as I believe it can be done, but it will be one of these transitions which I think will be challenging but far from impossible.

    After all, electrically powered heavy machinery is feasible, real and has been with us for a long time. We can note electric railways and open-cut draglines for a start. Electrically powered heavy machinery tends to need transmission wires or rails (railways, subways or trolley-buses) or it needs to be “tethered” i.e plugged in with a giant power cord to a heavy mains power system.

    Vehicles up to light tractors (for towing and light hay cutting but probably not plowing and full harvesting) can and will use battery packs. Some are on the market now.

    All the heavier agricultural work will require tethered electrical machinery. This seems much, much more likely than aerial paddock wires, LOL. The logical approach would be “radial cultivation” using centre pivot power on the model of center pivot irrigation.

    Any thoughts? Any interest in writing an entry or even a paper on this? Or maybe you or a colleague has already done so.

    I suppose another area is hydroponics which might prove very adaptable to the full electrical economy.

  97. ZM
    November 1st, 2014 at 10:24 | #97


    Beyond Zero Emissions just released their land use report discussion paper.

    I haven’t had time to read it properly , but was a bit disappointed initially glancing through it because I think they only have accounted for reforestation drawing down land use related emissions not other emissions. So, for example, if in my shire people wanted to still have some cows and sheep – then we would reforest enough land to offset these local cow and sheep emissions. So the amount of reforestation is not as much as I think we need, and maybe too many ghg emissions are included as able to continue through this mechanism.

    The report is here http://media.bze.org.au/lur/BZE%20Zero%20Carbon%20Australia%20Land%20Use%20report.pdf

  98. Nick
    November 1st, 2014 at 10:27 | #98

    Here ya go, Hermit:


    Ignore for the moment that price from several months ago is already less than your report authors’ *most optimistic* predictions for the future.

    And consider: when an electric vehicle has a price tag of $35,000, and the battery pack only costs $5,500 (or 15% of the total cost)…

    It’s not actually the batteries that need to come down significantly in price to make it affordable to the masses.

    It’s the cost of the *vehicle* itself which needs to come down.

    Feel free to link to any modelling you can find which suggests – given equivalent production numbers and economies of scale – an electric vehicle with 10x less moving parts can’t be manufactured for the same or less cost than a vehicle with a petrol combustion engine.

  99. November 1st, 2014 at 11:09 | #99

    Thanks ZM, I’ve been looking forward to seeing that report, which was discussed at the recent Climate Action Summit in Brisbane. I will read it at leisure, but just want to draw your (and others’) attention to the case study of Colin Seis at Winona on p 148. I saw Colin’s presentation at an Oceania Ecohealth forum last year, and was able to talk briefly to him about his farm.

    What Colin is doing is so interesting, and innovative, that the authors of the report obviously feel they can’t yet fully bring it into their accounting, however I’d really like to commend it. Just the degree of knowledge that he has about native grasses is impressive. I will try to put some more info about this on my blog when I have time.

    Just a bit tangential to your request, but I’m thinking about the recent debate we had here over how much land would you need to grow your own food. I’m thinking of putting my money where my mouth is, so to speak ( although it’s actually a bad metaphor because I’d save money) and doing an experiment to see if I can live for a week off what I grow on a rather small amount of land, plus what I can forage or swap.

    It’s not really an experiment in could I? – I’m pretty sure I could – but more an experiment in could I stand it? What would it be like to give up all the little everyday luxuries (I’m talking very low level luxury here, things like commercially produced oats, yoghurt, bread and tea!)? It would be challenging and require a bit of thought, but it would be interesting to document it.

    You do see people claiming to live off what they grow – as we saw on the previous thread – and of course lots of people have to do it, in poorer parts of the world (and in the Second World War many people had to) but I haven’t seen anyone carefully documenting what’s involved in doing this in Australia. (I think it’s possible or likely people have documented it, but it’s not well known). So will let you know if I can get up the enthusiasm to do this.

  100. November 1st, 2014 at 11:10 | #100

    ZM and Ikon, I just replied to your comments, but my comment has gone into moderation, I’m not sure why.

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