Of forests, fences and foxes: A South Australian reflection on George Monbiot’s “Feral”

Your regular nuclear advocacy programming will resume shortly. As a (disputed!) environmentalist I like to keep thinking and learning outside my direct area, and in other spaces that engage my passion. Hence I have been sitting on a copy of Feral since the day of release which I finally managed to read recently while flying to-and-from Spain (yes, when you live in Australia that’s more than enough time to read a book!). This is not a book review. You will find plenty of those for Feral if you want one. Suffice to say, I think the book has serious merit. I hope you will read on.

Australia remains a wild place. This is a country where the crocodiles eat the people, and the pythons eat the crocodiles. This sparsely inhabited continent is home to the oldest continuing human cultures on earth and an extraordinary collection of world-famous wildlife. We have a bird that can disable a large dog, the most poisonous snakes on the planet, and kangaroos that get pretty aggressive if you walk through their lie on the golf course. So the concept of “rewilding”, as raised by George Monbiot in his most recent book Feral, might, at first consideration, seem inapplicable. If George is as determined to experience death-by-nature as some of his exploits suggest, he could do worse than to emigrate and settle down-under. Continue reading

Worlds Without Nuclear

Many of you will be aware I recently attended the International Youth Nuclear Congress 2014 in Burgos, Spain. I had an outstanding week of learning and meeting wonderful people and I will provide a fuller write-up in coming weeks.

Burgos Group









I was honoured to be recognised by the judging panel for the Best Oral Presentation of the congress for Worlds Without Nuclear: A systematic review of the literature exploring 100 per cent renewable electricity.

The presentation was not recorded so I have attached a shareable PDF of the slides. Continue reading

Solar thermal, Alinta, Port Augusta… what does this all mean?

One would be hard pressed not to have picked up on the decision announced by Alinta to progress the option of stand-alone solar-thermal power for commercial feasibility study. There seems to be a certain “dancing in the streets” vibe from much of the early commentary.

What does this announcement really mean?

It pays to recall where this all began. Back in 2011 Beyond Zero Emissions put forward a proposal in a report called Repower Port Augusta to replace the coal-fired generation (760 MW) with a hybrid renewable option of solar thermal (760 MW) and wind (712.5 MW) to produce 4650 GWh per year.

Concerned as I and others were at how this proposal sought to limit our decarbonisation options, I, along with James Brown, produced Zero Carbon Options to compare the BZE proposal to a reference nuclear option against thirteen criteria. Our overriding point then was this: if decarbonisation through the permanent closure of large fossil fuel generators is the imperative, we are unlikely to reach it by a process of attempting to corral community and political stakeholder support for only one option that lies at the very highest level of cost and other impacts. We have a much better chance by focusing on the outcome and impartially considering our options.

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The fact is, stakeholders and particularly market forces simply cannot be corralled in this way if the cost difference is too great, the uncertainties too high and particularly if it is pulling hard against given ideological bents. Outcome-driven processes that are less specific about the solution stand a much better chance.

So, how has the process proceeded to now?

Alinta has announced that it will progress a 50 MW stand-alone solar thermal power tower with energy storage for commercial feasibility. This decision comes from the findings of the first part of the $2.3 million dollar feasibility study which is half publicly funded (Aside: James Brown and I worked hard, unpaid, for about 6 months to produced Zero Carbon Options and then crowd funded $10,000 to print and launch it. End aside).

RePower Port Augusta wanted 1472 MW of new capacity in 2011. Come mid-2014 the process is now down to 50 MW.

The preliminary costs for this option are $15,926 kW-1 installed with electricity priced at $258 MWh-1. This is around double the capital costs of the most famous global nuclear cost overrun at Olkiluoto in Finland and the electricity price is bang-on the range James Brown wrote up for Zero Carbon Options.

Way over budget and way cheaper than solar thermal with storage

Way over budget and way cheaper than solar thermal with storage










Alinta Energy states in the report that commercial development would require “long-term offtake agreements with one-or-more customers to purchase the electricity generated from the CSP” (Alinta Energy 2014, p 19). At $258 MWh-1 that simply won’t happen unless the customer is the Government in the form of a subsidy of greater than 50 %. The volume-weighted average price of electricity for South Australia was $74 MWh-1 in 2012-2013 (Australian Energy Regulator 2013).

Alinta Energy has been upfront in stating that these costs are prohibitive (Alinta Energy 2014, Media Release). Alinta says the commercial feasibility of this option will be studied further “with the due diligence it warrants” to provide information for potential investors “should the cost of technology or regulatory environment change” (Alinta Energy 2014 Media Release).

So, as someone who really likes technology and really wants decarbonisation, what would I be hoping for from here?

I would be hoping that the commercial feasibility delivers a radically improved assessment of the costs. I would be hoping the cost gap closes sufficiently that the required subsidy is a much politically easier challenge. I would be hoping the mechanisms to support renewable energy all make it through this political period unscathed. I would be hoping that somehow the 50 MW build can go ahead, that it exceeds expectations, identifies multiple cost-saving improvements for subsequent expansion and the process gets easier and easier from there.

Hope, however, is not and will never be a plan. All of the above may happen. However I doubt that it will and if it doesn’t? Where does that leave us in the decarbonisation challenge from late 2015?

If, as stated earlier, the goal is decarbonisation, not simply the promotion of some technologies, then the forces marshalled behind this solution for Pt Augusta are making terrible strategic and commercial errors by insisting on limiting our options in this way. It is entirely possible that every bit of effort from every single person (and dollar) behind this campaign will produce little more than studies of one option that won’t get up.

I (and nearly all those I have regular dealings with) am not anti-renewable technology. But the technology must be subservient to the outcome. The outcome stands a much greater chance of surviving the process if we keep our options open. Most especially we need to be open to the only technology South Australia can deploy that is proven to decarbonise large, developed-economy electricity supply.

Like what you see here? Please subscribe to the blog, Like Decarbonise SA on Facebook and follow @BenThinkClimate on Twitter. Read more about the potential for nuclear power in Australia at Zero Carbon Options

Another climate scientist joins calls for nuclear

Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg of the Global Change Institute has become the latest climate scientist to make an open call for the use of nuclear power to combat climate change.

OveHoegh-Guldberg, a well-known Australian marine scientist who will be remembered by many for his confrontations with climate change denier Andrew Bolt, has made a direct call for the use of nuclear energy in Australia and globally to improve our chances of preserving the Great Barrier Reef.

In a lengthy column in today’s issue of The Australian , co-authors Hoegh-Guldberg and Eric McFarland of the Dow Centre for Sutainable Engineering, take aim at both the misinformation that has slowed the uptake of nuclear energy and lack of transparency from within the nuclear industry itself.

“Our understanding and control of nuclear reactions is among the greatest intellectual triumphs of human beings and it provides us today with the one real option to significantly reduce global carbon emissions”

“Unfortunately, public focus has been only on risks to human populations highlighted by tragic incidents at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima, rather than the hundreds of reactors that have been operating safely for decades. Nuclear power can provide low-cost, carbon free electricity improving the lives of billions of people. For too long this has been the butt of scaremongering and misinformation that has all but stopped widespread deployment”.

In a separate article, Hoegh-Guldberg was frank about the challenge in changing his position on nuclear energy.

“I have definitely changed my position on this. In all these debates it’s really important that one gets guided not by the position you have taken and stick to it- it’s about looking at the evidence and really thinking the issue through”.

Hoegh-Guldberg joins a growing list of scientists, environmentalists, experts and progressives calling for the deployment of nuclear power to meet the clean energy challenge this century.

Both articles can be found in today’s issue of The Australian

Like what you see here? Please subscribe to the blog, Like Decarbonise SA on Facebook and follow @BenThinkClimate on Twitter. Read more about the potential for nuclear power in Australia at Zero Carbon Options

Am I an environmentalist?

This morning the ABC received “intelligence” as it were that I am not really an environmentalist.

This is predictable. Discrediting the messenger is a well-worn tactic that has been leveled against, notably, Barry Brook over several years (ironically in his case, by both climate deniers saying he’s not a credible climate scientist and by anti-nuclear voices saying he’s not a credible environmentalist), James Hansen and basically everyone featured in Pandora’s Promise.

Well, am I?

Truthfully, what other people say and think about me is none of my business. My very first post to this blog was a wholly transparent bit of background on the journey that brought me here. I would never have presumed to advocate on this issue without first explaining who I am.

There is a lot about what I do in the environmental space that gets a lot less air time than the nuclear discussion. For me, that’s called “my job”. I don’t talk about it much here, in the same way that I don’t chew the ears of my clients about nuclear power.

So again, whether I am an environmentalist or not in the eyes of someone or someone else is not that big a deal to me. Below is some simple, objective information and, where available, links to publicly available material, that describe some of my other activities. I know what I do, I know what I believe in, I know what I am passionate about and I know what I want for our world. Others are welcome to form their own judgments.

  • 2001 Graduate of Occupational Therapy from the University of South Australia. Worked in aged domiciliary care and vocational rehabilitation
  • March 2007 Completion of Masters of Corporate Environmental and Sustainability Management, Monash University
  • 2008 Greenhouse gas assessment/emissions reduction strategy/offsetting strategy for Tahbilk Winery (as part of the team with Maunsell)
  • June 2009 City of Melbourne Climate Change Adaptation Strategy (as part of the team with Maunsell)
  • 2009-2013 Annual mandatory reporting of greenhouse emissions, energy production and energy consumption under the National Greenhouse Energy Reporting System for Heathgate Resources
  • 2010 Greenhouse gas assessment, energy efficiency and emissions reduction strategy for the Botanic Gardens of Adelaide. A major outcome from the work is discussed here 
  • 2011 Organisation wide greenhouse gas assessment and sustainability strategy and workshop for Minda Inc. covering waste, water, energy and greenhouse emissions
  • 2011 Development of comprehensive modelling of attaining carbon neutrality for the City of Onkparinga, largest local Government in South Australia, with write up in conference proceedings 
  • May 2011 Report to the Campbelltown City Council on the design and development of a rolling energy efficiency fund
  • August 2011 Dealing with Denialism presentation for RiAus Adelaide on strategies for dealing with climate change denial
  • 2011/2012 Greenhouse gas assessments, calculators and emission reductions strategies for the following local Governments: Alexandrina, Grant, Coorong, Tatiara, Robe
  • 2012 Review of potential carbon offsetting strategies for a large new infrastructure development
  • 2012 Development of a greenhouse gas calculator for assessing garbage collection options, Waste Management Association of Australia
  • 2012/2013 South Australian Freight Council Report Green Freight: Investigations and recommendations for moving towards sustainable freight in South Australia, summary write up here 
  • 2012/2013 Lecturer, tutor and course coordinator for the following units at University of Adelaide: Thinking critically about global warming; Climate change: Past, present and future; Sustainable Development: Concepts and Applications.
  • 2012-2013 Identification of opportunities and economic modelling for the attainment of a 10 % or 20 % energy reduction target by the City of Adelaide. This work supported a program of borrowing for investment in energy efficiency across Council assets.
  • 2013 Successful grant preparation for installation of three 99 kW solar power systems on three commercial premises
  • 2013 Research and editorial assistance for the production of a children’s learning book The Environmental Cycle by Amalia Sosrodiredjo

Currently I am focused on my PhD, responding to many and growing requests relating to nuclear issues, caring for my family and responding to other consulting requests when they arise.

Exploring Khao Yai National Park, Thailand. Anti-nuclear, and cherishing nature

With colleague and supervisor, a young occupational therapist teaching correct positioning of children with cerebral palsy. Most were injured in births in poor rural settings. The parents were largely illiterate so we made a guide with minimal text and maximal illustrations. Anti-nuclear and learning about the realities of poverty.

With colleague and supervisor, a young occupational therapist teaching correct positioning of children with cerebral palsy. Most were injured in births in poor rural settings. We surveyed the mothers to identify the need. They often held their children close in protective postures which hindered their development of motor skills. This child had low tone in his torso but was quite good with his hands, if he could use them! Support around the hips gave him the freedom to explore and develop around his weakness. The parents were largely illiterate so we made a guide with minimal text and maximal illustrations that they could keep when they had to return home. Anti-nuclear, and learning about the realities of poverty, lessons I would never forget.

“This is urgent”. A nuclear chat for ABC Country Hour

I enjoyed meeting ABC Radio journalist Babs McHugh on my last visit to Perth.

Babs McHugh

Babs McHugh

We spent about a half hour in a pretty far reaching chat. This edited version of our discussion went to air today.

Babs tells me a longer feature is in production. I will be sure to let you know when this goes to air.

High Energy, Low Pollution: Why we must bring forward the Actinide Age

This morning I delivered my key note address to the International Uranium Conference in Perth, Western Australia.

The address was very well received, and built on directions laid by Barry Brook yesterday and Dan Zavatierro this morning.

The keynote encouraged this industry to completely reassess their goals and approach based on the urgent demands for large clean energy this century. Based on several conversations before and after, I have a strong sense that this industry will be increasingly receptive to this message, and will be thinking hard about the need to put forward a compelling case for a nuclear powered world.

Here is the presentation.

High Energy, Low Pollution v3

Here is the accompanying script

Presentation script