Why nuclear power worked once in France and might work again in China

That’s the question I looked at a while back in this piece in the National Interest, which I was too busy to post about at the time. TNI’s headline, which I didn’t pick, is the more definitive ‘China Can Make Nuclear Power Work‘. The key point is that, when France embarked on a crash program to implement nuclear energy in the early 1970s, all the right ingredients were in place: a centralised state in which a skilled technocratic elite could push projects through without much regard to public opinion, the ability to fix on a single standardised design, low real interest rates and preferential access to capital, and the ability to fix pricing structures that eliminated much of the risk in the enterprise.

Over time, these factors were eroded, with the result that as the program progressed, the cost per megawatt of French nuclear plants tripled in real terms. As the Flamanville fiasco has shown, whatever the secret of French success 40 years ago, it has been well and truly lost now. And the picture is equally bleak for nuclear power in other developed countries. New nuclear power is far more expensive than renewables, even after making every possible allowance for the costs of intermittency, the various subsidies available, and so on. That’s why, despite the vast range of different policy settings and market structures in developed countries, the construction of new nuclear plants has been abandoned almost everywhere.

But China today looks, in many respects, like France in the 1970s, a technocratic state-capitalist society with the capacity to decide on, and implement, large scale projects with little regard to anyone who might object. If nuclear power can be made to work anywhere, it’s probably in China.

Obviously, pro-nuclear commenters like Hermit and Will Boisvert are welcome to have their say on this one.

181 thoughts on “Why nuclear power worked once in France and might work again in China

  1. JQ – the report you link is from 2012, a bit more than a few months ago.

    I think reporting out of China on this is patchy at best and often has errors that confuse different technologies so I’m not sure they are terribly reliable in either direction. I’m sharing them out of interest rather than as part of any argument.

    This one is recent and seems to be the original report on which a lot of other articles were based:-


    I read it as the government adding pressure because they want it sooner. There was no mention of budget cuts but some mention of engineering obstacles.

    Researchers working on the project said they were under unprecedented “war-like” pressure to succeed and some of the technical challenges they faced were difficult, if not impossible to solve in such a short period.

  2. Will Boisvert,

    As you should be well aware the deserts of Europe are across the top of Africa and the Desertec program is the grid solar energy future pipeline for Europe. The entire plan is now stalled due to the instability in all of those countries but it remains the most viable long term solution and not just because it is good for Europe, it is also vital for Northern Africa’ s economic stability.

    What ever Nuclear rractors are built in Europe, these are stop gap measures until Desertec can be put in place.

    I had to do an exercise to look at each Australian’s fossil fuel consumption, and the reality is quite confronting. In this country every single person requires annually

    7.3 by 200 litre drums of liquid fuels
    13.5 cubic metres of coal

    And that does not include the energy content of our imports.

    Buy the really astonishing thing is just how little solar energy conversion material is required to replace that that fossil energy need. We all went through the tedious arguments about how ineffective solar panels are, how they would never produce more energy than the require fir their manufacture, how nobody would install them, how unfair it was for governments to provide incentives for their use, how dangerous they were if a house caught fire, how they don’ produce energy in the dark, ….. the anti solar excuses are endless. The fsct is that solar energy is really effective in real time, it will provide for all if our needs, and we have barely used it to its full potential.

    Have a think about what the real issue is here. A family of 4 requires a stack of petrol drums 26 metres high, that is high density fuel more than 3/4’s of which us wasted, and a pile of coal one metre square 54 metres high 2/3 of which is wasted. That is the reality.

    The solar supply to replace that huge stack of fuel requires some highly processed sand with a total volume of one metre square and 250mm thick and about the same volume of aluminium, and a battery stack that I don’t have the full dimensions for. So we are talking about a one off half cubic metre of material replacing an annual 60 cubic metres of the highest density fossil fuel consumption. Just to put it into a visual perspective. And before you get all excited about how spectacular the Nuclear equivalent looks, in the past I have done some rough calculations on the comparative deployment of material for distributed generation to centralised nuclear generation, and with the higher efficiency solar systems distributed requires less. And then the final consideration is the consumer paying for the subsequent energy.

    But yes, solar is not fully suited for everywhere, then again that is not the thrust of this thread.

  3. By the way I am doing the vertically stacked fossil fuel evaluation as a means to visually appreciate Australia’s front running carbon sequestration program of planting one tree per person (I don’t believe that this is to be an annual planting).

    So the Coalition believe that four saplings are going to absorb the CO2 produced from a 60 cubic metre stack of fossil fuel. At 14 years the saplings have trunks 200 mm in diameter and are up to 40 metres high. But at 14 years the fossil fuel stack is 840 metres high and still one metre square. I’m not betting on the saplings.

    Tony Abbott I suspect thinks that all Australians are Saps and will be impressed by the big 20 million tree number and not think about the comparison, and these trees will be planted in high profile locations.

    Our problem is that the delivery of our energy is entirely “behind the scenes” so we have no real way to appreciate the immense volume of the fuel that we consume. Electricity comes down a thin wire which always looks the same, and petrol flows via a tube from an underground tank to a hidden tank in our car. It is a highly sanitized process. If we had to man handle the fuel we might have a very different appreciation for it.

  4. BilB – direct action is pure politics. It lets the Liberals say “we are doing something” whilst not really doing much. In political terms it seems to work. For the time being anyway. In my mind it’s more expensive than a carbon tax of equivalent efficacy but probably a lot cheaper than the ETS / carbon tax that the Labor Party would implement. I suspect that Direct Action will change name and then disappear over the coming years. Or at least I hope it disappears because it’s fundamentally bad policy.

  5. Hi Terje,

    How do you feel now knowing what the volume of the fuel is required annually to maintain your (‘s and my) life style?

    It is a bit scary isn’t it. So far everyone has said “well I don’t use that much”.

    The fact is that they do. Those figures are averaged out but include all of the energy consumed to provide the our own personal use and for the products and services that we all receive. I think the figure includes departing air travel but not arriving ie only half the fuel of air travel.

    The even scariest thing is that way more than half of that fuel/energy is completely wasted. It makes so many of the other things that we fuss over seem quite trivial.

  6. @TerjeP

    A carbon tax would have been best. It would be very simple to administer. Logically, fuel excise and coal royalties can be regarded as carbon taxes but it would probably be political suicide to admit as much. So logically, we should have renamed them as carbon taxes and increased them as necessary. It’s strange how what is logical and simple is politically impossible.

    However, now I am beginning to think a carbon tax might be unnecessary. The increasing competitiveness of solar and wind and the ruinous CAPEX (upstream capital expenditure) costs to find new oil in difficult places may well mean peak oil and then oil decline will do the job for us. I am not sure about coal though. China still seems to be adding more coal burning than is good for the planet. Unconventional oil and fracked gas is also an issue which might solve itself. Oil sands are close to prohibitively expensive to exploit and fracked gas is a flash in the pan (flows well for a year or two then fades to little very quickly).

    There is some evidence that oil majors are giving up the notion of further oil exploration. Remaining oil is just too difficult and expensive to find and extract. The oil majors may well adopt a business model of pumping current reserves out then winding up or attempting to go into other energy areas including renewables.

  7. Interesting times coming up with a possibly pro-carbon senate in July and El Nino expected later in the year. The next time carbon tax abolition is presented the question must be is there something better to replace it? Note both Mexico and Chile are bringing in carbon tax. With 500 environmental public servants being laid off it would seem there is no intention to set the required emission baselines under Direct Action.

    It would seem weird living in a coal addicted country with no carbon mitigation plans at all. like coasting down a steep hill with the engine turned off and no power to the brakes. Absent CO2 constraints and with a rising gas price I’d say coal usage will remain high even in a flat economy.

  8. @Hermit

    I think it is clear the world is not going to take any serious deliberate action to reduce carbon emissions. Everything so far has been a token joke. So, just about the only things that are going to reduce carbon emissions are natural forces, natural scarcities and their impacts on our populations and economies. I am usually no great advocate for market forces but market forces appear to be the only other possible limiting factor. So, to summarise, fossil fuels need to get too scarce and/or too expensive to use. Then we will be forced to reduce their use. Aternatively, using them may induce so much damage to our economies, through climate change and sea-level rise, that our damaged, declining economies naturally use far less fossil fuel.

    The best we can hope for is that scarcity and cost, coupled with competition from clean energy sources, force fossil fuels out of the mix. Admittedly, at some point in this process, the power of the fossil fuel lobby will wane and the power of the clean fuel lobby become dominant. At that point deliberate political action to wind up fossil fuels will become not just possible but politically and socially de rigueur.

  9. I think the negative feedbacks predicted under Limits to Growth could stymy emissions without any input from our dear friends the politicians. When oil gets prohibitive less people and stuff will be moved so there is less need for coal and gas to make that stuff. Q: will people take Sunday afternoon drives when petrol is $2.50/L ? CO2 from all these sources will then decline in sync.

    However even a high welfare economy must have a minimum level of energy consumption akin to a resting metabolic rate. Monstrosities like Hazelwood (16 MtCO2 pa) will still run for another 20 years but at lower capacity due to the moribund economy. I think this process has already begun.

  10. One of the indicators of system level costs of distributed and variable generation is the moves to introduce taxes or levies on self generation for users who available themselves of grid services.

    Germany (yes Germany) is introducing a self-consumption levy of €0.044/kWh on PV users with greater than 10 kW capacity.

    Google: “Germany approves solar self-consumption levy”

    Arizona has introduced a solar net metering charge of $0.07/kWh

    Google: “Arizona sets precedent with solar net metering charge”

    Spain has some sort of self consumption tax on solar.

    Whatever form such charges may take, more of this can be expected in the future. This is not just the big bad energy companies doing nasty things. It reflects real costs.

  11. I just worked out that at a 5% discount rate and Australian installation costs solar panels put vertically on a south facing wall in London will produce electricity at a lower cost than the minimum price of Hinkley C once distribution costs are added in. And south facing walls are a worse choice than west or east facing roofs. So if all roofop solar has to do is compete with electricity from Hinkley C then there is definitely no shortage of space for solar panels in England.

  12. @quokka

    It is a case of the big bad energy companies doing nasty things and being manipulative, coercive and profiteering. But let them go that way if they will. It is a losing business model for them. The way prices are moving on battery back-up it will soon be cost effective to go off-grid with battery back-up if you are only getting paid like 8c/kWh by your utility for your power. Some estimates now put the levellised cost of solar PV at between 12c/kWh and 14c/kWh, meaning that it is half the cost of electricity bought from the grid. So if you can install adequate battery back-up to go off grid at the same levellised cost of 12c/kWh and 14c/kWh or better it is worth going off-grid. These numbers will be reached soon. So let the baseload pirates price themselves out of existence. Good riddance to them.

  13. Quoka,

    I think those sort of charges on self generation are short term adjustment phase devices. We don’t know how the future grid is going to look. Apparently there is a lot of discussion among academics and professionals on micro grids. Eventually the full cost of the revised grid will be reflected in the energy cost, free market fashion, including the cost of substantial redundancy to cover low solar periods.

    In the micro grid model we are likely to see a steady build up of local backup generation from machinery such as the Capstone gas turbines and the cost of managing low solar troughs will be shared out around the distributed grid. The backbone of that will be community micro grids where blocks of dwellings and small businesses of, say 100 to 2000 dwellings merge to provide one wide grid feed in point thereby obtaining the best bulk buying power from grid energy generators and the best return on locally produced rooftop energy and shared storage.

    Where grid suppliers refuse to invest in CSP in favour of gas gas turbines for night time and low solar period demand there will eventually be a blood letting and government intervention will be forced upon them. But this cannot happen until Global Warming is undeniable even by the skeptics. That may take another 20 years.

  14. @ Quokka,

    “Arizona has introduced a solar net metering charge of $0.07/kWh”

    It’s much less than that. The charge is $0.70 per kilowatt installed (not per kilowatt-hour) assessed monthly, which is expected to add about $5 per month to the electric bill for a typical rooftop rig. In Arizona that would work out to about 0.4 to 0.5 cents per kwh.

    The bigger issue is whether the utilities will be allowed to pay wholesale rates instead of retail rates for solar net metering. Currently in Arizona rooftop solar fed into the grid is paid a fixed rate of 15 cents per kwh; by comparison, in 2013 the highest wholesale rate was 13 cents per kwh for a single day, the second highest day was 9 cents, and no other day in the year was higher than 6.5 cents. If utilities are allowed to pay wholesale spot rates for feed-ins, the rooftop solar industry may be wiped out.

  15. Those Arizona wholesale electricity prices above are from EIA data on the Palo Verde trading hub, which I’m taking as representative of Arizona as a whole.

  16. Will Boisvert :
    If utilities are allowed to pay wholesale spot rates for feed-ins, the rooftop solar industry may be wiped out.

    The opposite is true.

    The baseload model will fail as communities look for their own microgrid alternatives.

  17. Will Boisvert :
    If utilities are allowed to pay wholesale spot rates for feed-ins, the rooftop solar industry may be wiped out.

    The opposite is true.

    The baseload model will fail as communities look for their own microgrid alternatives.

    (Try again, sorry).

  18. Slight reality check the annual rate of PV installations has plummetted since the 2012 peak.

    Google: Clean Energy Regulator REC-Registry Data-reports

    A small hydro near me is said to power 500 homes. That’s great until the next drought hits when I guess the despised coal fired electricity will keep the lights on.

    Tesla say they hope to make a 60 kwh lithium ion battery for $10k. If that is good for an average 400 cycles of 85% discharge I make that 42c per kwh on top of generation costs. Thus I’d say microgrids and storage are helpers not saviours.

  19. Hermit,

    The first Bank to provide automatic Solar PV property upgrade loans where the increase in the value of the property and the increased ability to repay as a result of the offset electricity costs will have a ready supply of customers. The best product to do this with will be the higher efficiency panels with compound solar thermal and some battery storage as these move the home owner nearer to stable sustainability.

    I have to admit that I have not approached my bank with a proposition, perhaps I should do that sooner rather than later.

  20. A thought for John: Grubler’s layers-of-complexity explanation for nuclear power’s negative learning curve (which even Will B concedes, at a lower rate) extends to finance. Complex derivatives are supposed to spread risk and make the system more stable, but in fact do the opposite as they create new ways for things to go wrong. The difference is that the nuclear engineers are acting in good faith.

  21. @Will Boisvert
    “If utilities are allowed to pay wholesale spot rates for feed-ins, the rooftop solar industry may be wiped out.”

    They won’t. Recent history in the US runs 0-9 against ALEC’s attempts to kill net metering. Solar householders are numerous and vocal, and they now get support from deep-pocketed solar leasing companies. The only country where deterrent grid access fees for solar have been introduced is Spain (where I live), and that was only possible because there was no residential solar to begin with – the boom under Zapatero was all utility.

    Besides, there’s no way that wholesale rates for solar are in any sense fair, as you might argue for wind, even ignoring the true carbon price. Rooftop solar is produced near the point of consumption, so there’s no reason it should pay for more than the local distribution grid as a running cost. Backup, yes. The Minnesota and Austin value-of-solar tariffs include grid integration costs, but they don’t find them significant at current rates of penetration. Germany has mothballed gas generators. The marginal cost of bringing them back online is trivial.

    The “backup” story is a bad-faith argument by utilities whose real objection to renewables is the stranding of their fossil assets, which has already happened on a large scale. Since we can’t rely for long on a grid dependent on bankrupt companies, some solution to funding fossil generation will have to be found. Nationalisation is the obvious one.

  22. @ James Wimberley

    “Recent history in the US runs 0-9 against ALEC’s attempts to kill net metering.”

    But ALEC has just won a metering fee in Arizona, which may be the camel’s nose under the tent.

    “Besides, there’s no way that wholesale rates for solar are in any sense fair, as you might argue for wind, even ignoring the true carbon price. “

    Wait a minute, in Arizona solar power feed-in, mainly from well-off homeowners, get paid 15 cents per kwh on a must-take basis, displacing other generators that, on 363 days of the year, are selling their electricity at less than 6.8 cents per kwh and on average at perhaps 4.5 cents per kwh. Your sense of fairness seems skewed to me, James. You can argue that those prices are justified when solar is displacing fossil-fueled generation, but what about when it’s displacing low-carbon nuclear or hydro? Then it’s pure wasted money. On a true low-carbon grid, with the necessary foundation of low-carbon dispatchable generators, intermittent generation is redundant.

    “Rooftop solar is produced near the point of consumption, so there’s no reason it should pay for more than the local distribution grid as a running cost.”

    Okay, so your argument is that when a household overproduces solar power, we just distribute it to the neighbors with the (supposedly cheap) local distribution grid. That’s not how grids work, but even if it were your analysis fails with any significant penetration of solar. Because if solar is widespread, when your rooftop solar is overproducing then so is the rooftop solar in your neighbors’ houses; they can’t absorb your surplus nor you theirs. The hallmark of wind and solar is common-mode surge and slump— surplus or deficit on not just local but regional, continental and even hemispheric scales. At high penetrations, to avoid simply curtailing solar overproduction and thus wasting much of it, we’ll need massive long-distance transmission capacity to carry surges from sunny places to areas of cloud and darkness.

    So it’s a green myth that wind and solar are “local.” An electricity system reliant on wind and solar entails a much larger, and more redundant and centralized, long-distance grid than the one we have now. That’s why Germany is now spending tens of billions of euros on additional long-distance transmission with a wind and solar penetration of just 15 percent, and why Greenpeace for one is demanding an expanded and integrated continent-wide European grid.

    Those solar homes in Arizona should be paying more than other households for transmission costs, not less.

    “some solution to funding fossil generation will have to be found.”

    Yes, it will be subsidized. In Germany grid regulators have begun refusing utilities’ requests to shutter unprofitable fossil-fueled plants, because they are needed for grid stability. Subsidies for coal while low-carbon nuclear is shut down—that’s what the Energiewende will come to.

    I would rather subsidize nuclear plants than coal and gas plants.

  23. @Will Boisvert
    “An electricity system reliant on wind and solar entails a much larger, and more redundant and centralized, long-distance grid than the one we have now.”

    This fantasy requires a sophistical conflation of wind and solar. There’s no way you need a larger grid for equal consumption by adding distributed solar in the mix. It’s possible with wind, if like the USA you have an enormous resource in the Midwest 1500 miles from coastal cities. How does this work for Australia, France or Britain? Australia needs new long-distance transmission in AEMO’s 100% renewable scenarios because the backup, either geothermal or CSP, would be in the outback. That’s specific and doesn’t generalise to other countries. Your favoured nukes also need high-voltage lines, and you can’t put them near cities in a democracy.

    Germany plans to build new long-distance transmission entirely because of a bizarre political decision to invest in high-cost offshore wind in the North Sea, Germany’s less costly equivalent of Hinkley C. Germany doesn’t have a NIMBY problem with onshore wind – instead it has overenthusiastic village coops all over the country. Berlin’s idea is that offshore has a higher capacity factor, but it’s still a long way from 24/7, so it will still need despatchable backup somewhere else.

    DESERTEC would have needed huge new lines across the Mediterranean, which is why it isn’t happening.

  24. @Will Boisvert

    Quoting from Dr Mark Diesendorf, Energy Science Coalition:

    “The refutation of the (baseload) fallacy has the following key logical steps;

    1. With or without renewable energy, there is no such thing as a perfectly reliable power
    station or electricity generating system. Both coal and nuclear power are only partially

    2. Electricity grids are already designed to handle variability in both demand and supply. To do
    this, they have different types of power station (base-load, intermediate-load and peak-load)
    and reserve power stations.

    3. Wind power and solar power without storage provide additional sources of variability to be
    integrated into a system that already has to balance a variable conventional supply against a
    variable demand.

    4. The variability of small amounts of wind and solar power in a grid is indistinguishable from
    variations in demand. Therefore, existing peak-load plant and reserve plant can handle small
    amounts of wind and solar power at negligible extra cost.

    5. Some renewable electricity sources (e.g. bioenergy, solar thermal electricity with thermal
    storage and geothermal) have similar patterns of variability to coal-fired power stations and
    so they can be operated as base-load. They can be integrated without any additional back-
    up, as can efficient energy use.

    6. Other renewable electricity sources (e.g. wind, solar without storage, and run-of-river hydro)
    have different kinds of variability from coal-fired power stations and so have to be considered separately.

    7. Single wind turbines cut-in and cut-out suddenly in low wind speeds and so can be described
    as ‘intermittent’.

    8. But, for large amounts of wind power connected to the grid from several wind farms that are
    geographically dispersed in different wind regimes, total wind power generally varies smoothly and therefore cannot be described accurately as ‘intermittent’. Like coal and nuclear power, wind power is a partially reliable source of power (Sinden 2007). However, its statistics are different from those of coal and nuclear power.

    9. As the penetration into the grid of wind energy increases substantially, so do the additional
    costs of reserve plant and fuel used for balancing wind power variations. However,
    when wind power supplies up to 20% of electricity generation, these additional costs are relatively small.

    * * *

    “A study published in 2004 showed that renewable energy could supply over half of Australia’s
    electricity by 2040, reducing CO2 emissions from electricity generation by nearly 80 per cent
    (Saddler, Diesendorf & Denniss 2004; Diesendorf 2007a & b). This 2004 study only considered
    renewable electricity technologies that were commercially available at that time. However, with
    the rapid growth since 2004 in Spain and the USA of solar thermal power with thermal storage,
    there is no technical reason impeding renewable energy from supplying 100 per cent of grid
    electricity in Australia by 2040 or possibly even 2030. Recent global scenarios for 100%
    renewable energy include Sørensen & Meibom (2000) and Jacobson & Delucchi (2009).”

    * * *

    “Appendix: Refuting other fallacies spread by renewable energy deniers

    While climate change deniers and their arguments and tactics have come under public scrutiny,
    renewable energy deniers have so far escaped. Yet the latter and their fallacious arguments are
    delaying effective climate action. They come mainly from the coal, oil and nuclear industries,
    electricity generators, other big greenhouse polluters such as the aluminium and cement
    industries, and the supporters of these industries. With the exception of nuclear power
    proponents, renewable energy deniers are generally also climate change deniers.

    The tactics of renewable energy deniers are almost identical to those of climate change deniers.
    Unlike genuine sceptics, deniers are not open to rational argument. They repeat claims that have
    previously been refuted, time and time again, by renewable energy scientists and engineers, as if
    repetition of a false statement somehow makes it true. They look for molehills in renewable
    energy systems and blow them up to mountains. If they cannot refute a particular observation by rational argument, they try to cast doubt on the result by introducing irrelevant material that
    obfuscates the issue. They insinuate arguments rather than state them clearly and unambiguously.

    Then, when questioned incisively about their insinuations, they back off and shift ground. They
    are masters of the 10% truths: taking a few facts and then spinning them into stories that convey the opposite impression from the logical implications of those facts. Examples are given below.

    Fallacy 1:Wind power has negligible reliability

    Miskelly and Quirk (2010) have attempted to refute the statement in the present article that wind
    power is partially reliable. Their method is to select 11 wind farms in south-east Australia and
    only one month of their power output. Their result is that the outputs of 10 of the 11 wind farms
    are highly correlated. Hence their conclusion is that ‘wind farms in South East Australia are not
    likely to supply any significant base load power that can be relied upon, and hence system
    operators will have to schedule generators as if there were no wind power at all.’

    This conclusion follows directly from their two initial selection processes. Although the chosen
    wind farms span a long distance, 10 of the 11 sites lie along the southern coasts of South
    Australia and Victoria, or are close to the coast. They are spread out approximately perpendicular
    to the prevailing wind in this coastal region, which comes from the south to south-west. The
    particular month chosen for the study, June 2009, was characterised by the prevailing wind
    direction. The 11th site, which is not highly correlated with the other 10, is at Cullerin in southern
    NSW. It is the only site chosen from NSW. The study ignores the more distant wind farms at
    Blayney and Hampden NSW, and fails to take into account that major wind farms are also
    planned for Silverton NSW and the northern tablelands of NSW. All these neglected NSW sites
    are likely to have very different wind regimes from the South Australian and Victorian coasts
    and hence low correlations with wind at these sites. In short, Miskelly and Quirk have cherry-picked their data.

    Although they published their paper in an international journal (one favoured by climate change
    deniers), they ignored the international literature on the spatial correlations of wind speed, mo
    st notably the paper by Sinden (2007), which analysed wind data spanning 30 years from 66 sites in the UK, finding that wind power from multiple sites has a high degree of reliability in the UK. They also ignored all the international literature on the capacity credit of wind power, including
    mathematical and numerical studies for wind power at a single site by Martin and Diesendorf
    (1980) and Haslett and Diesendorf (1981), and the studies at multiple sites such as Martin and
    Carlin (1983) and van Wijk et al. (1992).

    Thus the paper by Miskelly and Quirk (2009) has very low academic credibility, but that is of
    little importance to the renewable energy deniers who use it.

    Fallacy 2: Renewable energy cannot provide sufficient power to run an industrial society.

    This is the second most popular fallacy in the armoury of renewable energy deniers. It is easily
    refuted. In Australia, a square 30 km by 30 km, filled with solar collectors and installed on
    marginal land, could provide all of current electricity. Of course, in practice there would be a
    mix of different renewable electricity sources – wind, sun, biomass, etc – and part of the solar
    contribution would be installed on existing roofs rather than in the Outback. In the long term,
    Australia could export vast quantities of solar energy generated on marginal land and stored as
    hydrogen, methanol or ammonia. Similarly, a tiny percentage of US land area could generated all its electricity. Although Europe doesn’t have sufficient land to provide all its projected energy demand from local renewable energy (MacKay 2009), there is now a proposal, backed by major corporations, to feed solar thermal and wind power from North Africa to Europe by underwater cables (Desertec website). Globally, there is ample renewable energy available for demands projected to 2050 (Sorensen & Meibom 2000; Jacobson & Delucchi 2009). However, like fossil fuels and uranium, renewable energy resources are not distributed equitably across the earth, and so trade will be necessary, by transmission line, pipeline and ship.

    Fallacy 3: Wind power in Denmark is not the great success story it is portrayed to be, because
    (the renewable energy deniers claim) most Danish wind power is exported and because Danish
    wind power is very costly to Danish taxpayers and electricity consumers. These and other fallacies have been published in a study published by a Danish ‘think tank’ called CEPOS (Center for Politiske Studier), funded by fossil fuel interests. The fallacies have been disseminated by many renewable energy deniers, including advocates of the non-existent Integral Fast Reactor.
    A detailed refutation has been published by group of 14 Danish energy experts (Lund et al.
    2010). These authors show that:

    Only about 1% of Danish wind power is exported and wind power meets about 20% of
    Danish electricity consumption. From a market perspective, it is generally electricity from
    power stations with the highest operating cost that is exported, rather than wind, which has
    the lowest operating cost.

    No taxes are recycled to support established wind turbines; however, R&D funding comes
    from taxes.

    The price of Danish residential electricity, excluding taxes and VAT, is actually only the 10
    th highest of the 27 EU countries. The high price of Danish residential electricity is actually the result of high taxes and VAT which are not used to support existing wind power.

    The price of Danish industrial electricity, excluding taxes and VAT, is actually the 7th lowest
    of the 27 EU countries.

    On average Danish electricity consumers pay on average an additional 0.54€ c/kWh for feed-in tariffs for CO2-free electricity. On the other hand, with its very low operating costs,
    wind power reduces electricity prices in the Nord Pool market by 0.27 € c/kWh on average. Therefore, the net average price impact of wind power is the (0.54 – 0.27)€ c/kWh = 0.27€ c/kWh, which is negligible, considering that wind supplies 20% of Danish electricity.”

    End of quotes.

    Ikon’s endnote: Thus we see renewable energy deniers exposed for the unscientifc liars and cherry-pickers that they are. Always these deniers expect us to accept dubious, biased studies usually from non-scientists or a few emeritus (and sometimes senile) scientists commenting outside their field of expertise. They expect us to ignore the valid, peer-reviewed work of many thousands of scientific experts working at the broad peak of their intellectual abilities in their metier. Go figure!

    This drivel pedalled by renewable energy deniers is dangerous rubbish. It is delaying necessary change. I myself was very sceptical of renewable energy’s potential when I was influenced by some of this denialism. However, I kept arguing and looking at all the reputable scientific studies I could find. When the overwhelming data suggested that I needed to change my views I slowly but surely changed them.

  25. @Ikonoclast
    Epic information. The popular belief is that Denmark has the developed world’s highest retail electricity prices. A couple of months ago Amory Lovins said while the power price was about 30 eurocents per kwh of that 20 eurocents was tax so the ‘real’ price was quite low. That seems to be the thrust here.

    I’ve mentioned before I don’t pay for electricity (PV, wood cooking) or car fuel (biodiesel) due to what is called renewable energy but I can clearly see its limitations. I guess it’s like a religion that appeals to some not others.

  26. @WB “tens of billions of euros” sounds scary, but given that new nuclear plants routinely cost ten billion euros apiece, it’s scarcely a knockdown argument against renewables linked by upgraded transmission networks

    Here is a source you ought to like, the World Nuclear Association, arguing that Europe should spend more than 100 billion euros on upgrading transmission, for a variety of reasons including integrating renewables


    As with onshore wind in Britain, the biggest obstacles seem to be NIMBYism and disputes over who should pay, rather than the actual cost-benefit ratio.

  27. @Hermit,

    The Denmark story is not quite as epic as Diesendorf’s spin. Wind power in Denmark is subsidized and the subsidy arrangements are complex as they have changed a number of times over the years. According to the IEA, under the current arrangements

    Onshore grid-connected wind power (not for owners consumption), connected as of 21 February 2008 benefits from a feed-in premium of DKK 0.25 [~ USD 0.046) per kWh for electricity production for the first 22,000 hours at the installed output (peak-load hours) of the wind turbine, after connection to the grid.

    The use of market price as a proxy for cost of electricity generation by subsidized generators (frequently accompanied by mutterings about merit order effect) is deplorably dishonest.

  28. @Hermit

    All power generation methods have limitations in both the narrow and the broad sense of the word. The concern must be with insuperable limitations including unacceptable negative externalities. Non-renewable resources have an insuperable limitation in that they will run out. Fossil fuels also generate at least one unacceptable negative externality. They will substantially damage our climate and thus the biosphere’s habitability if all accessible fossil fuels are burnt.

    Nuclear fission also presents the problem of limited fuel. These limits are surprising close and I have posted the links to the relevant data many times before. Peak uranium production has already passed. Nuclear weapons cores are a second substitute source for the time being. Breeder reactors would very substantially extend fuel supplies but would still not make them inexhaustible. Commercial breeder reactors are mostly still on the drawing board and J.Q. has shown time and again that commercial application is at least 20 years away. Nuclear accidents and nuclear weapons proliferation are valid and very serious concerns.

    That leaves renewable power as being the only safe source without insuperable mid-term and long-term limits other than ultimate flow levels and the gathering infrastructures’ limits. This is true unless other limits exist such as an EROEI (energy return on energy invested) that is too low to sustain advanced civilization. Without commercial scale harnessable fusion power (at least 50 years away at a good guess) or higly improbable “vacuum energy mining” there are no other energy sources in view.

    This really means we all better hope that renewables work. They are going to be the last possible bridge to long term survival of global civilization. If they work or partly work then we “just” have all the other LTG (Limits to Growth) problems to deal with. It’s they don’t work then it’s game over. We have no choice but to pursue renewable energy for the long term. Supplementary and interim nuclear fission energy might be necessary in some cases and places if it can be done with acceptable safety. But nuclear fission is not a long term solution (if we think in centuries). Fusion needs pursuing as pure research and for possible applications but it is a long way off.

    So renewables is not a religion. It is actually supported by all the empirical data as the only possible way forward for the next 50 years or so. I tend to think concerns about renewables EROEI are exaggerated. Wind has a good EROEI getting up to 20:1 now. Solar appears to be getting up to 10:1 now albeit with up to 2 or 3 years break-even point. Since Canada deems oil-sands oil worth pursuing at an EROEI of just 3:1 it would seem that 10:1 and 20:1 are darn good particularly when you factor in reductions in fincancial and energy costs of environmental remediation and repair.

    What I find a bit puzzling, Hermit, is that you never come up with any countering empirical evidence at all and certianly not from scientifically reputable sources. You just assume and assert that nuclear is the only way to go. It’s like a religious belief with you: dogma asserted without evidence or anlysis. Will Boisvert is a bit different. He cherry-picks data and appeals to denialist “research” easily refuted by reputable, peer reviewed scientific and economic studies and papers.

  29. @ JQ,

    ““tens of billions of euros” sounds scary, but given that new nuclear plants routinely cost ten billion euros apiece, it’s scarcely a knockdown argument against renewables linked by upgraded transmission networks”

    John, according to the source you cited Germany is planning to spend EU 27.5-42.5 billion by 2030 “to cope with increased renewables share of supply.” That’s a lot! At Hinkley C prices the lower figure would buy you 4.5 GW of nuclear power, which would generate about 44 % of the low-carbon electricity that Germany’s entire wind and solar fleets combined generated last year. At the higher figure, Hinkley C prices would buy you 7 GW of nuclear, generating 69 % of Germany’s combined solar and wind power.

    At VC Summer prices, that transmission budget would buy you 7-11 GW of nuclear, the latter figure producing more low-carbon electricity than Germany’s combined solar and wind last year. At South Korean prices you could build 14-22 GW, the latter enough to decarbonize thirty percent of Germany’s electricity consumption.

    So those transmission upgrades for intermittents are a major cost that would have a serious climate impact if spent on low-carbon generation instead. They really must be weighed when we consider the cost-effectiveness of wind and solar.

    When you look at all the system costs, there’s a strong case to be made that a well-planned nuclear buildout designed to hold down expenses, which has worked pretty well in France, South Korea and China, is a much cheaper decarbonization strategy than one dominated by intermittents.

  30. Will B, you’re using the wrong denominator. The correct one is the projected renewables output for 2030, 50 per cent of a (presumably) higher planned total, compared to about 25 per cent now. So all your figures need to be cut in half, or more. So, at (projected) Hinkley C prices, the transmission investment would buy nuclear equal to 20-30 per cent of the projected renewables capacity. Even with existing technology, that wouldn’t offset the cost advantage of renewables. Projecting forward, the outlook for nuclear only gets worse.

    I agree that the story looks different for China and S Korea, or for a hypothetical recreation of France in the 1970s. But China is also doing very well with renewables.

  31. LOL, I notice neither Hermit nor Will want to take on Dr Mark Diesendorf. “He currently teaches Environmental Studies at the University of New South Wales, Australia. He was formerly Professor of Environmental Science at the University of Technology, Sydney and a principal research scientist with CSIRO where he was involved in early research on integrating wind power into electricity grids.” – Wikepedia.

    These are impressive credentials so I understand why Hermit and Will have gone on AWOL when it comes to debating on a scientific basis.

  32. John, you misread my post. I compared the prospective nuclear output to the actual wind and solar generation last year, not to total renewables targeted for 2030. My math is correct.

    (The Energiewende plan calls for reducing electricity consumption, not expanding it.)

    The comparison was simply to show that a lot of low-carbon nuclear generation can be purchased, at real-world prices, with the budget that’s being spent on extra transmission for wind and solar. (Not for all renewable power, much of which is dispatchable and does not require transmission upgrades.) At South Korean prices, you could decarbonize roughly 30 percent of the German grid for the cost of those transmission upgrades, which don’t generate any clean energy at all.

    The issue isn’t with dispatchable renewables like hydro and geo. It’s intermittent wind and solar that impose large system costs on the grid, which greens seldom take account of.

    How much is the “cost advantage” for renewables that you mentioned?

  33. In Australia solar reduces demand on electricity grids, freeing up transmission capacity and this capacity can be used to move electricity from sources with low fuel costs considerable distances as transmission losses aren’t of great concern if the marginal cost of electricity is zero or close to zero. And wind has a very low marginal cost, so point of use solar and wind are complimentary in more ways than one. Point of use solar also decreases loads on transmission capacity in Europe. Even if there are large amounts of clouds over Europe rooftop solar will still be producing some power and easing the demand for grid electricity and so making it easier to transmit electricity over exisiting power lines from where ever it may be sunny or windy or where there is plenty of hydroelectric or other power available. As the cost of point of use solar continues to fall more Europeans will invest in it which will result in more demand shifting to the day to take advantage of lower daytime electricity prices, which will further ease the load on transmission infrastructure. So while Europe may continue to improve its transmission capacity I think the need for improvement is considerably lower than some people think is required. When solar costs a euro a watt it’s easier to install two watts in Brussels than one watt in North Africa and then build extra transmission capacity. This doesn’t mean North Africa won’t be able to make money exporting electricity to Europe, but it does mean the amount of solar electricity exported from North Africa probably won’t be huge thanks to the spread of point of use PV in Europe and the high cost of building transmission infrastructure. And I think some Europeans may even appreciate the independance their local solar capacity will give them.

  34. @Ikonoclast
    In fact I have a lot of respect for a UNSW academic, Ted Trainer, whose writings avoid implausible assumptions and numerical stretching. Diesendorf wants us to burn hay bales like Denmark (google Avedore unit 2) when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing. I guess cows can eat gum leaves.

    This from an AGW quibbling website

  35. How do you feel now knowing what the volume of the fuel is required annually to maintain your (‘s and my) life style?
    It is a bit scary isn’t it. So far everyone has said “well I don’t use that much”.

    I think such analogies are useful to help people get a sense of scale about challenges and problems. The one I quite like is that your entire personal lifetimes supply of energy for electricity, consumption of consumer goods and travel by car, rail, airplane etc could all be supplied carbon free from a piece of Thorium the size of a golf ball. I find that rather inspirational. Although commercialising a Liquid Flouride Thorium Reactor (LFTR) is still far from trivial, and the economics uncertain, the vision is compelling.

  36. My entire personal lifetime supply of energy for electricity, consumption of consumer goods and travel by car, rail, airplane etc. could all be supplied carbon free from my roof. I find that to be a rather mudane given.

  37. @Ronald Brak

    My entire personal lifetime supply of energy for electricity, consumption of consumer goods and travel by car, rail, airplane etc. could all be supplied carbon free from my roof.

    I’d be surprised if that were so Ronald. Perhaps you are exceptionally frugal or have an enormous roof, but the energy required to raise, process and transport food and clothing is very considerable. Your share of the other services you use would need also to be accounted for.

    I’m not sure I could even do that calculation for my own life. I suppose if one were really keen, once could divide the GDP of the world by its citizens, work out world energy conspumption, determine one’s own share of that GDP, try guessing how much over a lifetime one’s energy call would be based on one’s own income and come up with a rough comparison between that and what was coming off one’s roof.

    Maybe you wouldn’t be far off. Complex though.

    I have seen the golfball over at BNC, but IIRC, that’s simply about energy used in Australia and doesn’t consider imports.

  38. @Hermit

    I’ve been arguing with Ted for the better part of 20 years. As with you, the numbers change but his conclusions don’t. I’ve been meaning to post on this some time.

    Also on the German coal plants. It’s worth remembering that these plants were commissioned around 2005 and raised (IIRC) no objection at all at the time. The change in attitudes to coal over the past ten years is startling, but it has happened slowly enough that many people haven’t really noticed.

  39. @Hermit

    Gum leaves, and gums for that matter, have a higher oil content than hay, so it would make more sense to burn them and feed the cattle the hay.

    Then again, we don’t really need cattle.

  40. Fran, Australians use about 90,000,000,000 joules a year per capita. I use less than half that. A 10 kilowatt solar system will produce about 65,000,000,000 joules a year. Done. But wait, it gets better. Electrified transport, which is what would be required if we are getting all our energy from either solar power or nuclear power is far more efficient than internal combustion engines which would allow me to use even less energy. For the average Australian electrified transport might reduce energy use by about a third to 60,000,000,000 joules a year. So with about 30+ square meters of residential roofspace per person and 30% efficient commercially available concentrating solar panels, Australia could get about half its primary energy from residential roofs. If commercial, industrial, and agricultural buildings double the roof space per person we could get our entire primary energy supply from roofs alone. Since we can also use north facing walls as well it should be doable and if we were to drop our energy consumption down to that of a poverty stricken country like France or Denmark we could definitely do it. And meeting just our total electricity demand from rooftops rather than total energy use would be far easier.

    Now let’s see if anyone takes this seriously and starts complaining about how it isn’t practical. Extra points if they imply that since getting all energy from rooftops is impractical it’s impractical to get any energy from rooftops.

  41. Ronald at #39 is right Fran except for the travel by rail and air (less practical). I otherwise 100% endorse Ronald B’s comment and can demonstrate that it is easily achievable today, in Australia. The only variation is that I think that gas for cooking is more practical while providing a small measure of energy storage flexibility.

    Hermit has been living this way for years, though as an early adopter, way before any of this became topical he started with much lower efficiency panels, and possibly a very low budget. As he said above he has been cooking on a wood stove all of that time, some thing that I am very impressed by.

    The numbers stack up where all of the technologies, PV/Thermal/Absorptive Chilling/Bio fuel (firewood) are deployed.

  42. The recent release of the final UNSCEAR 2013 report on the Fukushima accident appears to have been met with deafening silence despite it being the most important, comprehensive and up to date assessment available. It appears not to rate a mention on the ABC or in the Guardian, for example. Why is this?

    A quick synopsis:

    1. No deterministic adverse health effects among the general population.

    2. No stochastic adverse health effects expected to be detectable among the general population.

    3. No deterministic adverse health effects among the plant workers (other than a couple of workers with beta burns to their lower legs)

    4. No stochastic adverse health effects expected to be detectable among plant workers. (This should open some eyes that are prepared to be opened).

    5. A limited number of plant workers with the highest dose to be the subject of on-going health monitoring.

    5. Very limited and transitory effect on the biota of Fukushima.

    6. Absolutely no non-local effects of any significance whatsoever. (no, the Fukushima accident is not making the Pacific radioactive in any meaningful sense radioactive)

    If cost (real or claimed) is the main objection to nuclear power, one has to wonder why supposed environmentalists do not want to seriously address the question “How might nuclear costs be reduced?” We have had years and years of a barrage of this for renewables.

    What is on offer with nuclear power is an energy technology that is actually (as opposed to wild imaginings) very safe, and has the lowest environmental impact principally due to it’s high energy density. As a reality check, to generate the same amount of electricity as did the damaged Fukushima Daiichii plant from PV farms would require the entire evacuation area around the damaged plant. The forested and agricultural areas all sacrificed for effectively all time or all least until something more sensible was adopted. And then you would have the rather considerable problem of rehabilitation. The effect on local biodiversity would be catastrophic and orders of magnitude more than any harm from the nuclear accident.

    Until I hear a satisfactory answer to the question of why supposed environmentalists are objecting to the energy technology with the smallest environmental impact on the grounds on, of all things, cost without even exploring avenues for cost reduction, I will consider the continuing active opposition to nuclear power as ideologically driven and lacking much in the way of intellectual integrity.

  43. Fran, that’s supposed to be total energy use by Australia including electricity, transportation, cooking, heating, industry, agriculture, energy embodied in imports, etc. But I just grabbed that figure off the internet and looking at it seems a bit high. I would have thought it would be closer to about 80,000,000,000 joules per person rather than 90,000,000,000 joules, but what’s 10,000,000,000 joules between friends?

  44. Ronald B,

    I am hot to trot for the new VW GTE (petrol hybride) to be released in Europe this year. This vehicle has an electric only range of 50 klms at speeds up to 130 kph. That range will do all of my local driving electric only. The battery is 8kwhr which can be easily charged from the roof at home or at work. In the future when there is a diesel version I can power that from bio-diesel for all out of area travel (very little) which would fit very well within Australia’s ability to supply for much of the commuter fleet if it were all such vehicles used in a similar way. I’m sure it will come out that way eventually for the small car fleet.

    On ICE efficiency the figures speak for themselves. 50k on petrol would require 4 litres of petrol or 36kwhrs . So the battery all electric uses 8 kwhrs to do what the petrol power would require 36kwhrs, or 78% less energy (22%).

  45. @Ronald Brak

    I guess my question goes to the import of goods (eg food, clothing, durables by you or others on your behalf) Shouldn’t that be counted in your consumption, less anything produced here and consumed elsewhere of course.

  46. I’ve seen numbers which suggest an electric car like a Nissan Leaf could be driven about 100 km a day on the power from a 5.5 kW (nominal) solar pv array from about 6 hours of good sunlight (in a place like Qld. or Southern California).

    If you have a 5.5 kW (nominal) array it might output 20 kWh to 25 kWh on an average day summer day in the climes mentioned. So the question is could that push a car about 100 km? The Nissan Leaf has a 24 kWh lithium ion battery with claimed range (2011/12 models) of 117 km (EPA est.).

    So basically, a 5.5 kW array could more or less do it. Maybe assume it would give you 80 km a day all-year average. With most household use, an existing 5.5 kW array plus solar evacuated tube hot water will give you more household power than you ever need for a profligate family of four. So, upgrade to a 10 kW (nominal) solar pV system and you could power house and car easily.

    Of course, this assumes the car is connected at home for all or most daylight hours to charge OR that you feed a home battery kit and charge the car at night from that OR that you can feed the grid by day and get it back at least at break-even return cost at night to charge the car.

    The ideal set-up, if the power companies would permit it or be forced to permit it by regulation, would be the last option above.

  47. @quokka

    Well , it turns out that that report is highly questionable according to:

    “Press advisory – October 17th, 2013
    Physicians for Social Responsibility and the German chapter of IPPNW
    Doctors: UNSCEAR 2013 report systematically underestimates
    health impact of Fukushima catastrophe

    As physicians concerned with the effects of radioactive fallout on human health and the ecosystem, we have reviewed the upcoming United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) report to the UN General Assembly. We appreciate the effort made by UNSCEAR committee members to evaluate the extensive and complex data concerning the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe. While parts of the UNSCEAR report will be useful in the
    future to assess the consequences of the nuclear meltdowns on public health and the environment, we believe the 2013 UNSCEAR report systematically underestimates the true extent of the catastrophe. Many of the assumptions are based on the two WHO/IAEA reports published in May 2012 and February 2013, which did not accurately portray the
    true extent of radiation exposure, followed faulty assumptions, ignored the ongoing radioactive emissions over the past 2½ years and excluded non-cancer effects of radiation.

    Regarding UNSCEAR’s current report to the UN General Assembly, we find the following 10 issues to be most critical:
    1) It was mainly the direction of the wind that prevented a larger catastrophe in Japan
    2) The nuclear catastrophe is ongoing and continues to be a source of radioactive emissions
    3) Estimates of radiation emissions and exposure should be based on neutral sources
    4) The endorsement of Fukushima produce increases the risk of radioactive exposure
    5) Whole Body Counters underestimate the extent of radioactive exposure
    6) TEPCO’s employee dose assessments cannot be relied upon
    7) The special vulnerability of the embryo has to be taken into account in regards to radiation
    8) Thyroid malignancies and other cancers have to be monitored for several decades
    9) Monitoring should also occur for non-cancer diseases and genetic radiation effects
    10) Comparisons between nuclear fallout and background radiation are misleading

    As of August 20, 2013, 18 children in Fukushima were confirmed to have thyroid cancer, and 25 more have suspect biopsies, indicating possible malignancies. Although it is not possible to determine whether or not these cancers are radiation-induced, Japanese cancer statistics suggest an incidence of less than 1 case of thyroid cancer in this population per year. Moreover, the number of cases is likely to increase, as about 2/5 of the 369,813 Fukushima children have yet to receive their first thyroid ultrasound examination and about half of the children with suspect results are still awaiting their follow-up exams. The government failed to protect children by refusing to distribute stable iodine and by raising the permissible annual exposure limits to 20 mSv, thus effectively forcing many children to live in radioactively contaminated areas. School officials are ignoring radiation hot spots just a few feet outside of school premises and are reintroducing Fukushima rice to school lunches. As the government urges people to return to their homes in the evacuated zones, the decontamination efforts have failed to deliver the expected results.

    Reducing the medical effects of the Fukushima nuclear disaster to a statistical problem by stating that “no discernible increased incidence of radiation-related health effects are expected among exposed members” is cynical and dismisses the individual stories of suffering of thousands of families. Predictions can only be as good as the presumptions and data they are based on, and studies designed to obscure measurable effects in averages serve only the interest of the nuclear industry. Instead, UNSCEAR should utilize neutral sets of data, acknowledge and name
    inherent uncertainties in dose estimates, consider the increased vulnerability of certain population groups, cite the full range of possible exposure rates, analyze effects of radiation on the non-human biota and incorporate the latest information about ongoing radioactive emissions in their report. This would allow UNSCEAR to present a realistic picture of the effects people can expect from the radioactive fallout in the coming decades, including predictions about
    thyroid cancer, leukemia, solid tumors, non-cancer diseases and genetic defects, all of which have been found in the populations affected by the Chernobyl nuclear catastrophe.

    The events in Fukushima were not the worst-case scenario, but could have turned for the worse if the wind had blown in a different direction. This is an important factor to consider for future nuclear safety guidelines and recommendations. It is critical that physicians and medical personnel understand the true consequences of radiation exposure so that proper monitoring is conducted in all those who were exposed to radioactive fallout. Ultimately, what is at stake is not only the principle of independent scientific research, which does not bow to the influence of powerful lobby-groups, but also the universal right of every human being to a standard of living adequate for health and well-being. This should be the guiding principle in evaluating the health effects of the nuclear catastrophe in Fukushima.”

    This is very damning of the report and exposes all the usual cherry-picking, bad science LIES of the pro-nuclear lobby.

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