Rethinking nuclear

Apparently, in order to placate Barnaby Joyce and others, there will be a Parliamentary inquiry into nuclear power. I was thinking of putting a boring submission restating all the reasons why nuclear power will never happen in Australia, but that seemed pretty pointless.

Given that the entire exercise is founded in fantasy, I’m thinking it would be better to suspend disbelief and ask what we need if nuclear power is to have a chance here. The answer is in two parts:

  • Repeal the existing ban on nuclear power
  • Impose a carbon price high enough to make new nuclear power cheaper than existing coal (and, ideally gas) fired power stations

My initial estimate, based on the Hinkley C contract in the UK (price of $A160/MWh) is that the required price is at least $100/tonne of CO2. Rough aritmetic follows: Black coal emits about 1 tonne/MWh, and costs around $40/MWh to generate, so it would be slightly cheaper in the short run. Similarly for brown coal, which has higher emissions, but is cheaper to run.. But at those prices, it would be uneconomic to do the repairs necessary to keep existing coal-fired plants in operation past, say, 2030.

If such a policy were adopted, perhaps to be phased in over a decade or so, the immediate impact would be a massive expansion of renewables and big incentives for energy efficiency. But, if the arguments of nuclear fans about the need for baseload energy turn out to be right, there would be some room for nuclear to enter the mix after about 2040.

Of course, nothing remotely like this will happen. It’s rather more likely that Barnaby and the committee will discover a working technology for cold fusion, based on harnessing unicorns.

41 thoughts on “Rethinking nuclear

  1. hey just a second – nuclear is not low carbon !!!

    Mining, enrichment, construction, decommissioning, waste storage and every hundredth reactor goes pop and costs trillions for the damages and the attempted clean ups.

  2. I can only conclude that nuclear power is lower carbon than coal power is. . So the “authorities” therefore conclude that nuclear is “low carbon” – ignoring the fact that wind and solar power (not to mention simple energy conservation) are much lower carbon still.…/nuclear-powers-carbon…/

  3. “But, if the arguments of nuclear fans about the need for baseload energy turn out to be right, there would be some room for nuclear to enter the mix after about 2040.”
    Let us allow this as a possibility and investigate the options. What harm will this do, unless it is used to delay/prevent the installation of renewables? Maybe, by 2040, there will be a Thorium cycle technology that is viable and useful. Why rule it out now? We need all the options we can get to avoid a climate catastrophe for my grandchildren.

  4. “But, if the arguments of nuclear fans about the need for baseload energy turn out to be right, there would be some room for nuclear to enter the mix after about 2040.”

    I see this as highly optimistic and actually a little bit rushed. If you take my way of doing things maybe we don’t get the first one until 2050. Maybe not the second until 2055. But they start falling like raindrops after that. Things can go wrong. But things can go right also. And if you take my approach you might get lucky. If you get lucky you get the first one in by 2040 and it gets easy after that. But get it done right, and cheaply, no matter when the completion date is of the first one.

    The way I would do things it guarantees low costs no matter what. It just doesn’t guarantee completion of the first one anytime soon. Same for Thorium. And the thing about thorium is that the bad results of natural disaster, and or espionage, is not significantly worse than either the espionage or the natural disaster with thorium than without it. So if Thorium is 20 years more remote than plutonium or uranium, its still a good thing and it could come online when the more safe sites for uranium are used up. By safe sites I mean ones where the core can be dropped into freezing cold deep seawater to avoid meltdown.

  5. Imagine us being carpet-bombed right? Or subject to artificial tidal waves. Or subject to nuclear attack? If any of our nuclear power stations makes an event like this substantially worse thats definitely a nuclear power station THAT MUST NEVER BE BUILT IN THE FIRST PLACE.

    This is serious stuff. This is business. And sometimes we have to hardline it. Thats why we need good men inside the tent, rather than outside the tent, even if only to slow things down and get things right. Not looking at anyone in particular.

  6. “No investment appetite for nuclear- says Ziggy Switkowski. ”

    Ziggy played guitar. Making love with his ego. Ziggy really played. Jiving us we were voodoo. And the spiders from Mars. Come on man. Lets take the subject seriously. We need serious people infiltrated into the tent to slow this down until all tees are crossed and all I’s dotted. Dudes called Ziggy Goldstein can show up if they aren’t bankers. But we don’t need to take these cats seriously.

    I haven’t been watching the TV. Inviting a TV into the house is like putting a rabbi in your sitting room but lets see who Ziggy is?

    “Zygmunt Edward “Ziggy” Switkowski, AO FAA FTSE (born 1948), is a Polish Australian business executive and nuclear physicist. His most public role was as the chief executive officer of Australia’s largest telecommunications company Telstra from 1999 to 2004. During his tenure, he oversaw the privatisation of the then government-owned corporation through a series of public tranche sales (known as the T1, T2 and T3 sales). Currently, he is the chairman of both NBN Co and Suncorp, a director of Healthscope, Oil Search and Tabcorp and the Chancellor of the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT University).[2]”

    So as far as the Australian public is concerned this guy is a serial failure. ZIGGY IS A SERIAL LOSER. Ziggy cannot get even the easy stuff right. So why do we care what he says about investment? What has private investment got to do with a clearly communist undertaking?
    Oh Please.
    Ziggy says no investment appetite for nuclear? You were too old at 20 Ziggy. People like you just get in the way. You are a proven multi-decadal loser. Shut up for once in your life.

  7. EnergyAustralia have just posted a loss of >$1B, they cite a number of reasons including supply problems at Mt Piper, maintenance spending at Yallourn and derivatives.

    In retrospect it seems to have been a good idea to shift the economic burden of coal fired power stations to the private sector.

    Nuclear is even more expensive than coal.

  8. GMB

    “No investment appetite for nuclear- says Ziggy Switkowski. ”

    Despite your clumsy and somewhat ham fisted attempt at character assassination the facts are overwhelmingly against you and in support of Ziggy Switkowski, there just is no money for the old style of generation.

    This might not serve your hypothesis but that’s how things are, you may have to make some adjustments.

  9. Checking for support for nuclear power is basically an accounting intelligence test for politicians. If they are in favor of it or think it should be considered then they don’t understand the concept of more expensive and less expensive and at all costs should be prevented from having anything to do with money.

  10. As the below graph shows, the obviously negative campaign from the conservative side of politics has not prevented renewables from making a significant effect on the energy market and it is obvious that the transition away from fossil fuels is well underway. Clearly nuclear has missed the boat on this one.

  11. Are you in the position to redraw the graph for non-subsidised renewables rog? I don’t think so. And of course nuclear has missed the boat. Its the most complicated potential element in a non-free-enterprise arrangement. Supposing you show up at your local grid with the perfect battery or the cheapest energy source? Unless the political pressure is on these guys, you aren’t going to be greeted with flowers here. Your judgements on nuclear are unfair because you are not taking into account the problematic nature of the grid.

    There are many reasons for the almost super-natural reputation that Tesla has had. One of them is part of the behaviour of the oligarchy in controlled science is to take electricity and put it in a theoretical box in the corner. That the leading authority on electricity is still Steinmetz is a testimony to this oligarchical tendency, and to the reality that Tesla’s notes are now a state secret, having been rounded up by President Trumps uncle (I am not kidding).

    Now the thing is Tesla was almost TOO GOOD. Because what came out of the Tesla-Westinghouse collaboration was the alternating currency grid. Edison may have been playing silly-buggers when he fought against this grid, and this grid is probably behind population explosion and the high standard of living the West (and Japan) were able to put together from the end of the war and up until the 70’s. I think we sailed along on Tesla-Westinghouse, the fellow who invented container shipping, and the maturation of the oil industry for that long at least. This perfect storm probably gave us our short-run success.

    But its looking like this grid is becoming a problem. Because unless your energy source is a political priority, its devilishly hard to become a part of this grid. The grid is a monster in some ways, because its neither free enterprise nor communist. Neither Cliff Richard nor Judas Priest. Its a mess that means that no-one can really know where they stand within it. Nuclear, being the most complicated alternative, can only do well under this system if there is no usury involved, if it is politically favoured, and if a host of other factors are in its favour. So the test you are inventing for it cannot be valid, or at least cannot be 100% perfectly fair.

    Maybe sooner or later we need to at least start encouraging the smaller towns to go the way Edison would have wanted it. Maybe we should start breaking off small towns from the grid with local direct energy. But for now we have to stop being energy bigots and try and facilitate all comers into this grid. Because “winter is coming” and our options aren’t that great in the medium term.

    Here is a fellow who wants to go local and with direct energy:

  12. “It’s rather more likely that Barnaby and the committee will discover a working technology for cold fusion, based on harnessing unicorns.”

    But Barnaby said he would keep my idea for a startup a secret!

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