32 thoughts on “Nuclear power is a stalking horse for gas

  1. Thank you JQ.

    Please consider asking for all prior appointees to be published. Only fair to show real Origin. I emailed to no avail.

    Note: you and others disappeared from;
    https://www.climatechangeauthority.gov.au/about-cca/who-we-are

    No JQ, but sterling ‘trust’ed Assets such as;
    ” Mr John McGee, Member
    “Mr McGee was appointed as a member of the Authority on 9 April 2021 for a term of four years.  He was Managing Director of BNY Mellon Australia Pty Ltd for nine years, heading up the Bank of New York’s corporate trust operation in Australia. ”

    “BNY Mellon was formed from the merger of The Bank of New York and the Mellon Financial Corporation in 2007. It is the world’s largest custodian bank and asset servicing company,[2][3][4] with $2.0 trillion in assets under management and $38.6 trillion in assets under custody as of the second quarter of 2020.[5][1] It is considered asystemically important bank by the Financial Stability Board. BNY Mellon is incorporated in -[you guessed it!]
    Delaware.[6]”
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BNY_Mellon

    JQ said: “I do not believe there is anything useful to be gained by providing objective advice based on science and economic analysis to a government dominated by elements hostile to both science and economics. 

    “I will therefore continue my advocacy for a sustainable response to climate change without the constraints imposed by membership of the Climate Change Authority. I wish the Authority as much success as is possible in its difficult task.”
    https://johnquiggin.com/2017/03/23/my-resignation-from-the-climate-change-authority/

  2. Of Grant King it is reported:

    “Former Business Council of Australia president and energy executive Grant King, who championed the $80 billion LNG export industry in central Queensland, will overhaul the Climate Change Authority to drive Australia’s emissions reduction – only two years after the Morrison government almost scrapped the government body.” – Financial Review.

    It’s a hackneyed metaphor, but putting Grant King in charge of the Climate Change Authority is like putting Dracula in charge of the blood bank. You know a government is not serious about action, any action, when it takes decisions like this. The head of the Climate Change Authority should be exactly that, a climate change authority. This would mean someone who is one of the foremost climate change SCIENTISTS in Australia, who is willing to the job and who has the necessary all-round credentials, including an excellent knowledge of the SCIENCE.

    Appointments so flagrantly and egregiously playing to vested interests and ignoring conflicts of interest are so common in this country that we tend to let them pass without the necessary level of moral outrage. We have outrage fatigue after having been abused and exploited for so long by the capitalist MF-ers who run this country. Sorry, but I feel impelled to use the expletive end of my vocabulary.

    Under a Morrison government nothing will be done by Australia to ameliorate climate change, nor to change our economy, production and consumption patterns in ways necessary to stem climate change. I guess Australia will have to be subjected to stringent sanctions by the EU and USA in the event of a re-election of the Morrison government. I hope all the fools who vote conservative are ready for world pariah nation status and massive losses and privations in their businesses, jobs and lives.

  3. “Stalking horse”? So they will advance nuclear which will prove uneconomic so gas will not seem so bad? I thought most were advocating gas as an alleged “transition” to renewables. Why not just advocate gas? Why be complicated?

  4. China has been experimenting with high temperature gas-cooled reactors.

    The first demonstration modular high-temperature reactor (HTR) in China, called the HTR-10, (modelled on the German HTR-MODUL) began construction in 1995 and first gained criticality in Dec 2000 and operated at full power in Jan 2003.

    The HTR-10 has led to the HTR-PM, an industrial scale demonstration power plant with pebble bed modular HTRs, a proposal by INET in 2001 and subsequently approved by the central government in 2006 as one of the sixteen National Science and Technology Major Projects (NSTMPs). The first concrete of the HTR-PM was poured on 9 Dec 2012, and the civil work of the reactor building was completed on 30 Jun 2015.
    https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S246860502100003X

    Tests that simulate the temperatures and pressures which the reactor systems will be subjected to during normal operation were scheduled to be started earlier this year at the demonstration high-temperature gas-cooled reactor plant (HTR-PM) at Shidaowan, in China’s Shandong province. The twin-unit HTR-PM (driving a single 210 MWe turbine) is scheduled to start operations later this year.
    https://world-nuclear-news.org/Articles/Hot-functional-testing-of-HTR-PM-reactors-starts

    My observations include:
    1. Its taken circa 15 years so far to get from initial approval (in 2006) for the HTR-PM to initial commissioning hot tests, and yet it’s still not fully operational – IMO, MUCH TOO SLOW;
    2. The HTR-PM is a “demonstration power plant” that still hasn’t yet DEMONSTRATED it works entirely as claimed;
    3. There’s no indication of costs – good luck with getting accurate costs from China;
    4. The primary cooling circuit coolant medium is helium – the primary source of helium comes as a byproduct of fossil methane gas extraction – see: https://oilprice.com/Energy/Energy-General/A-Global-Helium-Shortage-Is-Now-Looming.html
    5. It doesn’t solve the finite nuclear fuel supply situation;
    6. It doesn’t solve the ultra-long-term storage of high-level nuclear waste problem;
    7. IMO, like all other nuclear facilities, it will be commercially uninsurable.

    IMO, whichever way you look at it, history shows any nuclear technology project has DEMONSTRATED time and again that it takes more than a decade, from initial concept to operational status, and learning rates are in order of decades – far, FAR TOO SLOW to provide any meaningful contribution to rapidly reducing GHG emissions by 2030.

  5. AEMO does a chart of prospective changes in Australian generating capacity:

    All the committed expansion is renewable. The proposed but not committed expansion is overwhelmingly renewable. The possible expansion in gas is still significant, explaining the delayist propaganda. But if built, it will end up burning green hydrogen.

  6. James, many of those open cycle gas turbines (OCGT) will have a capacity factor of a couple of percent. This means they are not very suitable to run off hydrogen which has much higher storage costs than natural gas or kerosene. The good news is, once hydro plus energy storage (plus whatever percentage of wind+solar is considered firm) is enough to meet demand during critical peaks those open cycle gas turbines will become obsolete, except for perhaps emergency use if, say, an interconnector goes down.

  7. Ronald: Your last exception is not a trivial one. The Texas winter fiasco has confirmed the wisdom of the traditional fuddy-duddy policy of keeping a large reserve of capacity against long-tail risks, and the folly of relying on an unregulated market to provide it. There is a quite strong argument for using the legacy gas fleet for this, as the capital costs are sunk and the annual CO2 emissions will be negligible. Spend the savings on electric trucks or ammonia ships, likely better value.

  8. My pet peeves at the moment are:

    1. People who pretend our hydroelectric capacity doesn’t exist and can’t work in conjunction with battery storage.
    2. People who think it will ever make economic sense to burn hydrogen in Australia to generate electricity. Hokkaido — maybe. Here — makes no economic sense. Needs substantial subsidy to work, which will have to get higher as battery costs fall.

  9. As to nuclear power, I am beginning to think Australia will need about 200 nukes, just to say to CCP China, Back off! Just like all authoritarian superpowers, riposte power is the ONLY thing they understand. Just have a look at Xinjiang province.

    China’s Xinjiang a ‘dystopian hellscape’ for Muslims, new Amnesty report says:

    https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-06-11/china-xinjiang-dystopian-hellscape-muslims-uyghurs-amnesty/100202182

    If we don’t stand up to China there will be Chinese boots on the ground in Australia within a decade. Remember, a lot of people said the Nazis weren’t coming either. “Peace for our time,” – Neville Chamberlain. What a joke that was.

  10. Keeping ultra-peaking turbines in operation that only run at a couple of percent capacity factor is also the conclusion of Williams et. al. among others.

    There just isn’t anything else that can compete in terms of storage costs when used once a year; the difference is orders of magnitude. This is one good use for expensive/scarce clean fuels (if you think H2 is too expensive to store, NH3 or biofuels) because they need so little.

    https://doi.org/10.1029/2020AV000284

  11. As to nuclear power, I am beginning to think New Zealand will need about 20 nukes, just to say to Austalia, Back off! Just like all authoritarian superpowers, riposte power is the ONLY thing they understand. Just have a look at Nauru Island.

    Australia’s detention centres are a ‘dystopian hellscape’ for Muslims, a not that new Amnesty report says:

    If we don’t stand up to Australia there will be Australian boots on the ground in New Zealand within a decade. Remember, a lot of people said the Nazis weren’t coming either. “Peace for our time,” – Neville Chamberlain. What a joke that was.

  12. Ronald: before joining your household as a pet peeve, I would like to know more details of board, lodging, housekeeping duties, broadband/wifi access, Netflix, elder care, snakes, crocodiles, and so on.

    I don’t see why hydrogen will ever be cheaper in Hokkaido than at Pilbara. Do you have a crystal ball on electrolyser prices five years from now? And the meaning of “economic” changes from “fulfilment of investors’ earlier expectations” to “short-run optimisation, maybe at a loss”, maybe after losses are socialized through bankruptcy. One plausible scenario is that there is a hydrogen glut coming: refugee oil companies over-invest, and have more supply than the two likely markets (fertiliser and steel) can use. Hydrogen vehicles will be a bust. So gas turbine generators will be able to buy the little they will need for a pittance.

    There is another implication of the AEMO chart. Investors in renewables are moving to commitment at a fair rate. Potential investors in gas generators are holding off. They are probably rational and hard-headed, not taken in by their own dishonest PR. The problem for them is that every MW of new renewable generation or storage goes to the top of the merit order for grid despatch, driving the capacity factors of new gas generators ever lower. (See the Indian coal industry for the large-screen version of the the trainwreck.) This is not going to get better for gas unless Scottie forces Australian taxpayers into a costly bailout.

  13. That implicit threat to be able to switch to a military application was always a major explanation of the early nuclear build up, wasn’t it? Nuclear was never competitive pre externalities and the externalities of competing power sources were largely underestimated.

  14. My understanding is the proposed Kurri Kurri gas plant won’t be fit for running on Hydrogen; even to run with mostly gas with a small addition of Hydrogen will require a later refit. It does not appear to be capable of running on high levels of Hydrogen at all, let alone 100%. And for the price we could buy 6 or more SA Big Batteries outright – they will be lower cost now – or, by spreading that money out as subsidies for others to invest in them, maybe 30 or more of them. Several of them could be supporting solar and wind projects to reduce emissions before… was going to say next election, but that time frame is shrinking fast… by this time next year.

    In any case where is the long term committed support for nuclear to come from? Pro coal and gas climate science deniers and opponents of renewable energy like Barnaby Joyce? I suggest that with friends like that…

    I keep encountering the simplistic and misleading notion that the legislative ban on nuclear is stopping nuclear in Australia – yet overturning it would be as much an empty gesture as the ban itself; a simple parliamentary majority would do it. If nuclear energy were a policy and a government got elected with it then overturning that legislation would be the least and simplest of the legislative changes needed.

    This isn’t a genuine push for nuclear by people who sincerely want to use it for reducing dependence on fossil fuels – although there may be such people amongst them; it looks like the same old anti-renewables and anti-environmentalist politicking on behalf of fossil fuel interests. Stalking horse is right. How often do we hear see arguments by pro-nukers about how bad fossil fuels are and how bad for nuclear persistent Doubt, Deny, Delay politics really is? Almost invariably the target of their criticism is renewable energy, not fossil fuels – that hostility being one thing they actually share.

    They may share a dislike of environmentalism with pro-nukers but our 3D’ers are not nuclear’s friends.

  15. James, put the hydrogen in a boat and send it to Hokkaido.

    But if we have the surplus renewable electricity to generate significant amount of hydrogen to put in a boat to send otherwheres, we have no incentive to burn hydrogen to generate electricity. Not with current or projected battery storage costs and large (by developed country standards) existing hydroelectric capacity.

  16. Ronald: “put the hydrogen in a boat and send it to Hokkaido”. |Hydrogen has a lower boiling point than methane, so the infrastructure will cost as least as much. A 1 mt/yr liquefaction terminal for LNG costs around $1bn, the regasificaton one let’s guess $250m. the tankers cost $250m a pop. Ergo the price of Australian hydrogen in Sapporo has to be much higher than at PiIbara.

    This is why investors are looking at processing the hydrogen at Pilbara, Nouakchott etc into products that are easier to transport. Ammonia is liquid at 20 deg C at a modest 8 bar; at ambient temperature. Sponge iron only needs a blanket of nitrogen to stop its enthusiastic attempts to reoxidise, aka catching fire. The tankers and port terminals must cost a fraction of those for hydrogen.

    mrkenfabian: GE claim – and have no reason to lie – that any old gas turbine, not just theirs, can be converted to run on hydrogen. From their website (https://www.ge.com/gas-power/future-of-energy/hydrogen-fueled-gas-turbines):
    “As gas turbines are inherently fuel-flexible, they can be configured to operate on green hydrogen or similar fuels as a new unit, or be upgraded even after extended service on traditional fuels, i.e. natural gas. The scope of the required modifications to configure a gas turbine to operate on hydrogen depends on the initial configuration of the gas turbine and the overall balance of plant, as well as the desired hydrogen concentration in the fuel.”

  17. James, I don’t get it. In Australia how would someone make money from burning hydrogen to generate electricity if we have a grid that has enough surplus renewable electricity to electrolyze large amounts of hydrogen from water? Options are:

    1. Stop electrolyzing water and use that energy instead.
    2. Use energy stored in battery.
    3. Use energy in hydroelectric dams. (Can be used to charge batteries to allow them meet demand peaks.)
    4. Use legacy NG fleet.
    5. Burn hydrogen in new/upgraded turbine or fuel cells.

    I figure the first 3 would be cheaper and with $1 a kilogram hydrogen and $4 a gigajoule natural gas and a $100 carbon price the 4th is likely to be cheaper too. (It’s not like natural gas is going to be expensive in the future.)

  18. The handout to the proposed Kurri Kurri plant (expected to run at best 1.4% if the time: https://www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/morrison-government-bankrolls-600m-hunter-valley-gas-plant-20210519-p57t2u.html) includes a new species of subsidy: an option one. The main subsidy is to the government’s old cronies in the gas industry. But since gas turbines can be converted to run on hydrogen at a fixed cost, the option has financial value to investors in hydrogen, new green cronies. The option reduces the value of the subsidy to gas by an equivalent amount.

    What with his and the laughable capacity factor, it’s not surprising that no private capitalist will touch the project. The only way it can be built is s through a public corporation, Snowy. Crony socialism at work for Australian taxpayers, known elsewhere as “marks”.

  19. James & Ronald: This is all related to long-running disputes about value-adding, and how Australia can do more of it. I long ago reached the conclusion that it’s all about transport costs. Stuff is processed in Australia up to the point where it’s cheapest to ship to the next stage in the process. So, we export wheat but not bread, for example. This idea doesn’t work perfectly, but it’s the best starting point.

  20. JQ: – “I long ago reached the conclusion that it’s all about transport costs.”

    I’d suggest since WW2, transport costs have been primarily dependent on costs and efficiencies of petroleum-based fuel technologies. That paradigm needs to change ASAP if we want a habitable planet in the coming decades.

    The important question now is whether zero/low GHG emission transport technology alternatives will be economically competitive (compared with fossil fuel technologies), or will it change the transport cost paradigm and fundamentally shift arguments “about value-adding, and how Australia can do more of it.”

  21. JQ: No argument there, taking a wide view of transport costs, including infrastructure like liquefaction plants. Also, DRI and electrolysers (plus plasma ammonia reactors maybe) are changing the cost equations in favour of adding value domestically. Any serious global efforts on shipping emissions like a bunker fuel tax will reinforce the case.
    Ronald: Australia is a big country with low wind/solar production costs. So internal transport costs will become increasingly important in comparing overall costs. The NEM grid only covers the eastern third of the country; the gas pipeline network is just as patchy. Your roundaboutness argument has merit, but it’s not conclusive for backup electricity generation – though it is for cars.

  22. Electric vehicles are a great opportunity for energy storage. There are about 20 million vehicles in Australia. If 10% of them were electric with an average battery capacity of 50 kilowatt-hours and half were connected to the grid at any one time that would be 50 gigawatt-hours of storage capacity. If the cars were connected to single phase chargers they could draw 7 gigawatts of power from the grid or export that much. With 3 phase chargers that would be 21 gigawatts. With 10 million electric vehicles and single phase chargers that would be 70 gigawatts of power which is more than twice Australia’s peak electricity demand. With 3 phase chargers that would be around 210 gigawatts of power.

  23. Ronald: Entirely agree on V2G. Since Australia is determined to ignore the EV revolution as long as possible, let me try to update any readers still following this

    – Since the Virginia monopoly utility Dominion launched a programme in 2019 to subsidise the purchase of electric school buses in exchange for V2G rights when the buses are idle, the technology can be considered technically mature and often feasible financially.
    – VW and Hyundai have announced that from next year their BEV lines will have V2G.
    – In the USA, Ford have launched a mass-market electric pickup, the F-150 Lightning, with a V2H option (vehicle-to-home).
    – It is likely that other carmakers will be forced to follow suit, including Tesla, which has held off probably to protect its overpriced Powerwall domestic battery business.

    Uncertainties:
    1. The ISO standard is still work in progress, but essentially appears fixed: https://v2g-clarity.com/knowledgebase/what-is-iso-15118/ . We can expect rapidly growing numbers of vehicles equipped for it.
    2. Carmakers still have to define quite how much V2G is compatible with long battery warranties. The three leading ones are unlikely to be taking silly risks on battery life. Most V2G or V2H for cars will be done at home through slow chargers so the power draw is automatically limited.
    3. Utilities still have to define control systems for accessing V2G batteries when they need them, within the limits established under point 2, and contracts that give reasonable incentives to both parties. This is no doubt why Ford are starting with the less tricky V2H, while VW are thinking of getting into the electricity supply business. The modelling of V2G markets is no doubt a fascinatingly complex systems problem.

  24. Value adding is also about storage and financing costs of unprocessed commodities, intermediate and final products. A good way to think about value adding is to ask the question which economic factors favours processing close to the point of production and which factors favour processing close to the point of consumption? Different answers emerge according to product and consumer characteristics. A litany of failures by governments, especially in the 1980s, make policymaking in this area a good example of John Quiggin’s Lesson One.

  25. “any old gas turbine, not just theirs, can be converted to run on hydrogen.”

    The reporting I saw claimed a future upgrade would be required for the Kurri Kurri plant to run with 5% Hydrogen. No word of that upgrade being capable of supporting Hydrogen at high proportions, let alone 100% but it could be so and my reading a misreading – not a technical limitation but the limits of Morrison government ambition.

  26. Thanks for the V2G update, James. I hope it’s massive potential to assist in the elimination of fossil fuel generation is rapidly realized.

    I think the only sensible way to run V2G would be for a government run a VPP (Virtual Power Plant) agency to accept offers of energy storage capacity and then auction it iff for as much as possible, then deliver all the return to the battery owners after only skimming off enough to pay for the agency’s own operation. At the moment VPPs in Australia are just a game of seeing how much benefit electricity retailers can keep for themselves.

  27. LOL, everyone wants to get fancy about the high-hanging fruit. The low-hanging fruit is to close all coal power stations and coal mines as quickly as possible, meaning by 2030, own many fewer cars, drive much less and take fewer plane flights and sea cruises. Also, we should just plain consume less. Of course nobody wants to do that. Nobody wants to voluntarily consume less to save the planet. Oh well, you know what that means..We won’t save the planet. We are all channeling St. Augustine: “Lord make me virtuous, but not yet,”

    This “wait for markets and tech to solve everything” approach seems very unlikely to work. It hasn’t worked yet.

  28. Markets cannot adequately deal with existential risks.

    Published by Futures of Sustainability, Universität Hamburg on Feb 24, at YouTube is a video titled David Spratt: “Existential climate risk, markets and the state”, duration 0:24:09, featuring David Spratt contributing to a talk session “Prospects: Crisis vs. Collapse”. From time interval 00:35, David Spratt says:

    “So, it’s from this perspective that I’ll make some comments on climate risk, markets, and the state. And I, I guess my essential point is that when risks are existential, markets fail, because they cannot adequately deal with such risks. They cannot mitigate the threat to society as a whole. Ah, this is true for, for weapons of mass destruction, it’s true for pandemics, and it’s true for ecological collapse, where the primary risk management responsibility lies with the state. It’s also true for climate disruption, where markets have failed to heed the high-end risks, especially non-linear impacts and ‘tipping’, and ‘tipping points’ which are difficult if not impossible to model, when the costs may be infinite. When damages are beyond calculation – that is when the damages are infinite, which is what we are facing – then cost-benefit analysis, conventional risk analysis, and learning from failure, are approaches which do not work. Um, let me give, er… some examples. The current Paris Agreement commitments, the current commitments, if achieved, would likely result in the warming of 3 to 5 degrees, by 2100. Three degrees of warming is, is described in the literature as catastrophic, and four degrees is likely to be incompatible with the maintenance of human civilisation. And yet, despite this evidence, the market response has been to grow emissions, year-on-year. Three to five degrees is clearly an existential threat to human civilisation – that is: a permanent and drastic curtailing of modern society’s future development, and perhaps even its existence.”

    From time interval 03:19, David Spratt says:

    “Let me give you one example. Climate policy-makers regularly accept as reasonable, a 33 to 50 per cent risk of failure – we hear it all the time – a carbon budget – a 50 to 67 per cent chance of success. When that failure represents a planetary level systems disruption, I think this is ethically indefensible. I mean, we, none of us here, would accept a one per cent risk of failure if we were to fly in a commercial aeroplane, yet policy-makers regularly accept risks of one-third to one-half. The IPCC assessments bear a large responsibility for underplaying the risk, with their project… with their, their preference for conservative projections and scholarly reticence.”

  29. CNN is reporting a leak at the nuclear power plant at Taishan, Guangdong, about 75 miles west of Hong Kong.
    https://edition.cnn.com/2021/06/14/politics/china-nuclear-reactor-leak-us-monitoring/index.html

    EDF issued a press release dated 14 June 2021, indicating it had been informed of “the increase in the concentration of certain noble gases in the primary circuit of reactor n°1 of the Taishan nuclear power plant…”

    “The presence of certain noble gases in the primary circuit is a known phenomenon, studied and provided for in the reactor operating procedures.”
    https://www.edf.fr/en/the-edf-group/dedicated-sections/journalists/all-press-releases/information-relating-to-reactor-ndeg1-of-taishan-nuclear-power-plant

    The units at Taishan are of the EPR type. Unit 1 became operational on 14 December 2018, and unit 2 became operational on 7 September 2019.

  30. The good news is the Taishan reactor will probably be fine. They’ll see how many pieces the fuels are in after they get more of their money’s worth out of them and then make some adjustments to prevent the problem happening so much in the future.

    Of course “probably” is a word you probably don’t want involved with nuclear power in any way.

  31. Old ground this stuff about nuclear power. Yep, a lot of the opposition to it has been FUD, ultimately driven by its origins in nuclear annihilation. It’s proven pretty safe (even taking into account Chernobyl etc) and not very environmentally damaging at either a local or global scale (certainly compared with fossil fuels). It’s also a bloody expensive way to boil water; other renewables do it cheaper and better and with even less environmental damage.

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