A new Age for nuclear? Don’t hold your breath

Followers of this blog will be aware that Melbourne’s major newspaper, The Age, has been running something they have called “The Climate Agenda”.  A process of posting and voting on questions related to climate change by the readership has produced ten questions to which The Age will respond.

I encouraged readers to vote for a well posed question about nuclear power, and last week I gave a review of The Age’s response to a question pertaining to the role of renewables in Australia.

Well this week, nuclear’s number was up. Here is the question in full, and a link to the full response from The Age.

QUESTION: ”If the government is so serious about reducing CO2 emissions, why do they keep ignoring the single most effective method for doing so: nuclear energy. Nuclear energy is far cheaper than ‘renewables’ and kills less people per unit of energy produced than even solar or wind. New generation reactors improve safety significantly and render the long-term waste storage issue moot, and thorium fast-breeder reactors cannot melt down accidentally at all. France has shown how easy and effective nuclear is at reducing greenhouse emissions. Why doesn’t the government spend some of it’s enormous ‘clean energy future’ research and advertising budget to help educate Australians about the facts around new forms of clean atomic energy?”

RUSSELL HAMSTEAD

Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/national/for-australia-nuclear-is-the-power-of-last-resort-20111008-1lexm.html#ixzz1aH7LQ6Gq

I have one or two things to say about this…

What the originator of this question may not have realised at the time (and nor did I, by the way) is that he gave The Age an easy out on actually presenting the facts on nuclear. By posing his question “why do they (the Australian Government) keep ignoring…” and “Why doesn’t the government spend some money teaching people…” The Age were actually able to give a pretty honest answer: 1)because it is a political nightmare, since 2) otherwise reputable people seem to delight in obstructing any useful dialogue on nuclear power by creating and propagating myths, nonsensical memes, and uncritical evaluations of the risks and benefits of nuclear. This clouds the issue so much that most Australians, at best, do not know what the hell to think about it all.

That’s pretty much the outcome I would anticipate for any Australian of average knowledge around nuclear power as as result of reading this article by The Age.

Let’s break a few things down.

PRO-NUCLEAR and anti-nuclear advocates agree on one thing and one thing only – that politics in Australia would need to change before we see atomic energy as part of our power mix

I’m with them all the way on that one, and the following paragraphs of the introduction do an excellent job of illustrating the amazing depth of this problem, finishing with this little cracker:

when Treasury modelled the energy options for Australia in 2050, it bluntly stated: ”Nuclear is assumed to remain unavailable.”

Such is the supposed political minefield of nuclear in Australia, we have reached a point that serious energy and climate policy planning that looks ahead to 2050 no less arbitrarily rules from consideration a power source that provides 15% of global electricity. One word springs to mind.

UPDATE: For an outstanding analysis of what this ridiculous decision will cost Australia in terms of both money and efficacy of the plan, see this post by Martin Nicholson.

So on to the issues. The first they tackle is cost. In a classic case of answering the wrong question, we are told that nuclear power would be expensive to build. This is true, perfectly true, and I have never heard a nuclear proponent say otherwise. But I’ll add two points.

Firstly, whatever we build next in Australia for baseload is not going to be what you call “cheap”. We have been lazy in this country, relying on infrastructure that was built two or more generations ago. We seem to have forgotten the necessity of occasionally spending large sums of money to build our nation. We need to get ready for price tags in the billions, regardless of the technology. Which is all the more reason why we need to explore all options to make the right decision.

Secondly, we don’t actually want power plants. What we want is low cost, reliable power. So the right question is “can nuclear power provide low cost, reliable power, with all costs considered?”. Had they done their homework they would have found the answer to this questions is a simple and decisive “yes”.

The levelised cost of electricity (LCOE, basically the price at which power needs to be sold by the generator for the generator to be viable) for nuclear power is reliably low, nearly as low as that of coal generation with the inclusion of a low carbon price. A recent peer reviewed paper in the journal Energy explored just this question with a meta-review of 15 global studies. Not a bad reference I would have thought, but it did not get a look in here.

It’s a different source, but here’s a table illustrating this concept.

For the counter argument to this, we hear from Dr Mark Diesendorf of the University of New South Wales (if you are seeing a pattern forming with The Climate Agenda, so am I; I had a few words to say about Mark in my previous review). From Mark we hear this:

He says that, where they operate, nuclear power stations benefit from large hidden subsidies, including taxpayers taking on the burden of insuring and decommissioning power stations and of liability for their breakdowns.”There would never have been a nuclear power station built in the world without limited liability on accidents, so the public and taxpayers suffer the risks of rare but devastating accidents,” Diesendorf said.

I was moderate in my criticism of Mark last time, but this is just ridiculous, deliberately uncritical thinking from a blatant nuclear obstructionist, designed to create false “knowledge” about the nuclear industry.

If people including Mark are concerned with energy subsidies, there are three areas toward which I might direct attention. Firstly, there is the Government simply handing over around 30% of the capital cost of the technology, then subsidising every drop of electricity with Renewable Energy Certificates, as will be occurring for two solar  projects under the Solar Flagships Program. Secondly, there is State Governments legislating feed-in tariffs for rooftop solar panels of up to 60c per kWh, as well as these panels being subsidised with Renewable Energy Certificates when a nuclear power station can produce electricity for around 6c per kWh.  I rather suspect that in those two cases, subsidies are just tickety-boo in Diesendorf land. Thirdly, there is the little matter of our global fossil fuel addiction being subsidised annually to the tune of over $400 bn, according to those raving lefties, the International Energy Agency. In Australia we seem poised to buy out the closure of 2,000 MW of fossil generation. Nice little earner for simply going away.

Next to that, the so called “nuclear subsidy” we are told to fear is not upfront cash handouts, not cash bonuses above the market rate for the electricity produced, not certificates from the mandated purchase of expensive power by electricity retailers, but… limited liability on accidents.

Now, insurance of the nuclear power industry is a deeply misunderstood issue, so I’ll divert into it a little.Plenty of people believe that nuclear power plants “don’t have” or “can’t get” insurance for their operations. Until just earlier this year, I was not clear on this issue myself. However this is incorrect. Straight up and down, no ifs or buts, incorrect.

For example, here is the group of 20 insuring organisations that make up an insurance pool for the United Kingdom. Here is the basic equivalent organisation in the United States, a nation where every single plant carries $250m of insurance, with an industry pool of around $13bn available if needed. As Luke Weston put in in a great post first published to Brave New Climate:

If the commercial insurance industry will not provide any coverage for the commercial nuclear energy industry, as anti-nuclearists often claim, then would they care to explain what it is exactly that these nuclear-specialist insurance corporations actually do?

So this notion of limited liability and Governments picking up the tab for nuclear is a bit of a nonsense. It is a reality that Governments all over the world serve as the insurer of last resort to all sorts of horrible situations. The rebuilding of Christchurch and Japan after their respective natural disasters  is going to be an exercise involving plenty of public expenditure for all sorts of industries and infrastructure that ought to have had their own insurance.  Most notoriously, global Governments found themselves as insurers of last resort for their collapsing banking systems. The nuclear industry by contrast has a very good record of covering its own costs from its own insurance, and will continue to do so. Because they are adequately insured.

The discussion moves on to safety. Here, again, nuclear wins on the facts. The Age quotes a very clear finding in favour of nuclear and some renewables , against coal, oil and biomass. They note, quite astutely, that excellent finding is not taking pollution related deaths or greenhouse gas related harm into account, which would worsen the case for those other sources dramatically. So far, so accurate.

They then sow confusion and a false sense of uncertainty in the Chernobyl discussion by looking everywhere except to the peak body for investigating and reporting on this incident, the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation. In short, these people represent the peak of knowledge on this issue, reviewing and making determinations on all available evidence. They are the IPCC of radiation if you like. I have discussed their findings on Chernobyl at quite some length for an earlier post, but the headline finding is this:

  • 28 deaths from acute radiation sickness
  • 15 excess deaths from thyroid cancer, from around 5,000 excess cases
  • No other detectable radialogical impact.

Now, the World Health Organisation leaves the door ajar for a higher attribution of mortality from radiation. I am guessing that it is from this source that The Age has got the figure of “as low as 9,000″. But you really have to read what WHO says in full to realise just how guarded they are at making even that determination. You should know me well enough by now for what comes next… here is the source, repeated in full, link supplied. Sorry it’s a bit long, but I wouldn’t want you to think I was being misleading on something as important as this.  After all, I’m not a big newspaper.

An increased number of cancer deaths can be expected during the lifetime of persons exposed to radiation from the accident. Since it is currently impossible to determine which individual cancers were caused by radiation, the number of such deaths can only be estimated statistically using information and projections from the studies of atomic bomb survivors and other highly exposed populations. It should be noted that the atomic bomb survivors received high radiation doses in a short time period, while Chernobyl caused low doses over a long time. This and other factors, such as trying to estimate doses people received some time after the accident, as well as differences in lifestyle and nutrition, cause very large uncertainties when making projections about future cancer deaths. In addition, a significant non-radiation related reduction in the average lifespan in the three countries over the past 15 years caused by overuse of alcohol and tobacco, and reduced health care, have significantly increased the difficulties in detecting any effect of radiation on cancer mortality.

Although there is controversy about the magnitude of the cancer risk from exposure to low doses of radiation, the US National Academy of Sciences BEIR VII Committee, published in 2006, a comprehensive review of the scientific evidence, and concluded that the risk seems to continue in a linear fashion at lower doses without a threshold (this is called the “linear no-threshold” or LNT model). However, there are uncertainties concerning the magnitude of the effect, particularly at doses much lower than about 100 mSv. (Author’s note: you will find in the WHO link that the exposure for residents of the most contaminated areas is listed as “>50mSv”, over 20 years, with natural background being 48 mSv over 20 years)

The Expert Group concluded that there may be up to 4 000 additional cancer deaths among the three highest exposed groups over their lifetime (240 000 liquidators; 116 000 evacuees and the 270 000 residents of the SCZs). Since more than 120 000 people in these three groups may eventually die of cancer, the additional cancer deaths from radiation exposure correspond to 3-4% above the normal incidence of cancers from all causes.Projections concerning cancer deaths among the five million residents of areas with radioactive caesium deposition of 37 kBq/m2 in Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine are much less certain because they are exposed to doses slightly above natural background radiation levels. Predictions, generally based on the LNT model, suggest that up to 5 000 additional cancer deaths may occur in this population from radiation exposure, or about 0.6% of the cancer deaths expected in this population due to other causes. Again, these numbers only provide an indication of the likely impact of the accident because of the important uncertainties listed above.

Ok. If you made it that far, you should be on board with what I say next. The determination of possibly 9,000 excess deaths is in the shadow of a major life expectancy impact from booze, smokes, and a stuffed health care system, and relies on:

  • A theory of extrapolated impacts from very high dose sudden exposures (A-bomb survivors), modelled to assume the same rate of harm for very low dose, long-term exposures
  • Even this model struggles to suggest any effect at below 100mSv. The residents of the most contaminated “strictly controlled zones” (SCZs) get less than 100mSv
  • The other 4,000 assumed deaths rely on this model then branching out beyond the SCZs and into areas where the radiation levels are dramatically less again

Is it any wonder UNSCEAR just went with “no other radiological impact”? For The Age however, this finding of 9,000 is proposed as something really, weirdly low. Finding, reading and accurately presenting the two most obvious sources on this issue in UNSCEAR and WHO, should not have been beyond them. They did however note that “Some estimates are as high as a million”. Well, “some estimates” have been shown to be crackpot lunacy and have no place in a reputable paper.

None of this stops Diesendorf from playing the fearmonger on Fukushima, an event with radiological risk that doesn’t come close to the total catastrophy that was Chernobyl.

I should move on…. We then enter discussion of the new generation of reactors (Generation IV). Here, The Age again takes comment from Diesendorf, yet takes nothing from Australia’s resident expert on Gen IV, Professor Barry Brook. That’s disappointing, and either lazy or cagey. It’s not as if Barry has a low profile for God’s sake. On matters of climate change and energy in the media he’s the proverbial bad coin.

The article focusses on the potential of throrium reactors, which are more commercially distant and technically challenging than Gen IV uranium reactors. This focus lets them slip this quote in from our resident obstructionist:

The new technology doesn’t exist. It’s all talk, it’s all plans. India has been trying to build an incredibly complicated three-part system for thorium and if it ever works it will be much more expensive than existing reactors and even more dangerous.

Firsty, to suggest that an eventual thorium reactor will be “even more dangerous” (than effectively zero risk, but I digress…) is, again just plain wrong. Unlike uranium, thorium is unable to sustain a chain reaction without some sort of external priming, making a runaway chain reaction of any kind plain impossible. It is an easy fact to check.

As for technology that doesn’t exist…

A group of imaginary people, including my imaginary friend Barry, standing in front of a Generation IV reactor that operated for 30 years, however does not exist

Spooky…. Hey, what’s this?

This is either the thermal baffle of the Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor being constructed in India in May 2010, or one of David Copperfield's better illusions

As long as I’m overdoing things, here’s a link to a one hour documentary on the history of the Intergral Fast Reactor, featuring extensive interviews with the lead designer, Dr Charles Till, one of the imaginary people in the first photo.

In short, the technology is real, very real, and it is amazing. An international group of very amazing people calling themselves The Science Council for Global Initiatives are doing everything they possibly can to restart the development and deployment of this technology. A great educational opportunity for nuclear was neglected.

Finally, they cover another common misconception, one I used to spruik myself: that nuclear power is not a clean energy solution across the lifecycle. That’s wrong and has been repeatedly shown to be so. Here are a few sources you can check:

  • A 2006 study by the University of Sydney
  • The lead report from Beyond Zero Emissions (they are not nuclear proponents, but they reported this information factually)
  • The afore-mentioned paper in the journal Energy by Nicholson, Beigler and Brook

Once again this meme is pure obstructionism from people who ape concern about climate change. It makes me angry. Solving the climate crisis is going to be hard enough without people just making things up.

There is truth that lower grades of ore require more production inputs, and this ought increase emissions. However:

  • There is so much daylight between nuclear and the fossil fuel we are trying to replace that there is a lot of headroom for increased lifecycle emissions with nuclear still being an effective solution
  • Increasing the nuclear power uptake itself will put downward pressure on those emissions, as more of the process electricity will be zero carbon
  • Having only recently reversed a virtual stagnation of exploration that lasted for decades, Australia’s knowledge of the uranium resource is poor, and “the size of Australia’s known uranium resources significantly understates the potential resource base, and there is great potential for new and significant discoveries” (Australian Government House Committee report).
  • Generation IV reactors like the Integral Fast Reactor will derive power from all current nuclear waste and all stocks of depleted uranium, eliminating the need for energy mining all together.

The Age answered the question correctly, as it were. Australia is not doing nuclear because it is “too politically hot”. But in the process of giving that answer, it neglected to draw on essential sources in the form of both local experts and pre-eminent international organisations. Rather than building knowledge and moving the discussion forward, this article will sow yet more misunderstanding, doubt and confusion about nuclear power. They lacked courage, and they lacked integrity.

I lack the circulation and readership of The Age (to put it mildly), but here’s hoping that DSA can fill the void a little in honest brokerage of information.


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48 thoughts on “A new Age for nuclear? Don’t hold your breath

  1. Karl-Friedrich Lenz

    It is probably true that some anti-nuclear activists don’t even know that there actually is insurance for nuclear accidents. Shooting down that is easy. You have just done it in your post.
    On the other hand, it is a rather different question if the amount of insurance is sufficient. That obviously depends on the amount of damages assumed in a worst-case scenario, which in turn depends on assumptions about radiation dangers.
    This particular anti-nuclear argument makes sense once you start from certain assumptions about radiation dangers, which lead to astronomic damage sums. There have been estimates of a trillion dollar bill for cleaning up after the Fukushima accident, and they add up if one requires getting all dose rates under 1 millisievert per year.
    Therefore, discussing this question needs to address the safety standard for radiation dose rates first. I think that should be at least 100 millisieverts per month, but I hear there are different opinions on that question.

    Reply
    1. Decarbonise SA Post author

      Dose rates under 1mSv per year? Isn’t that less than the 2.4 of normal background? I should imagine that would cost a lot of money, everyone would need to walk around in their own radiation shielding!!! Whatever they do, it needs to be based on information about harm, not fear of harm. But you are right, if you are blatant with those type of assumptions, the dollars will quickly add up and we should see some huuuuuge figures emerging. Then there will be scientists taking a responsible approach. I know who I will be guided by. It’s going to be interesting to watch, especially as the exclusion zones are re-opened.

      Reply
  2. John Newlands

    I just rechecked my saved copy of the SASDO2011 report. I searched for the word ‘nuclear’. No matches found. Odd for a province with the world’s largest uranium deposit. Then in Figure 3-2 I saw the mooted 525 MW geothermal baseload station at Innamincka hundreds of kilometres from transmission. Yair that’s anchored in reality.

    I can only conclude people prefer fantasies.

    Reply
    1. Decarbonise SA Post author

      It also includes a neat discussion on wave and tidal, an infant fringe energy technology. I did the same for the Clean Energy Future report. Not a singe hit on the word, even to explain why they are not considering it. The Australian Carbon Cost Curve of Abatement?Excludes nuclear, the global version does not. That all really illustrates what I am getting at, the Government seems literally terrified of people beginning to think about this.

      Reply
        1. Zvyozdochka (@Zvyozdochka)

          I think everything is in place for the next 25MW stage (the 25MW in ‘525MW’) for 2013.

          In terms of scrutiny, I’m sure it will be environmental only unless the plan has to go out for a public share prospectus (unlikely now – backers are all in place – to the best of my knowledge).

          Reply
  3. John Newlands

    Makes you wonder if AEMO has been told what to cover. As they say faint praise is damning, since they are less than ecstatic about unproven technology. I think SA energy policy has several open wounds that salt could be rubbed into
    – 600 MW more wind power when gas backup is running out
    – China processing Olympic Dam concentrate, not locals
    – non arrival of granite geothermal year after year
    – solar diseconomics.
    With the latter I include not only the PV feed-in tariff but the proposed solar steam boost at Pt Augusta’s Northern coal station. The public must ask whether it is value for money or an empty gesture.

    Reply
    1. Decarbonise SA Post author

      They certainly must, and I am sure there will come a point where the public starts to get a little frustrated as the realities inevitably trickle out. Its a question of how far we get before that happens.

      Solar boosted fossil… great if you are selling solar, but honestly, from a climate change point of view, why bother? Surely we are at the point of zero carbon or nothing. I know I am.

      Reply
      1. Zvyozdochka (@Zvyozdochka)

        Why bother? How many battles do you want to fight Ben? You want fossil fuel generators turned off tomorrow as well?

        We’re in a transition from fossil fuel to ….. something else. Unfortunately the govt/private owners of generation facilities are going to fight like hell to preserve their investments or to be compensated. Changing the way they operate by solar boosting seems like a simple add-on to me.

        My grand parents were from Whyalla and to say that area of SA (including Pt Augusta) is stinkin’ hot is an understatement.

        Reply
        1. Decarbonise SA Post author

          Mate, no chance I am going to fight it. Just not interested in pretending its the solution we need. If anything it prolongs the life of something we should jettison by cutting emissions a bit and creating a feel-good.

          Reply
  4. Tom Keen

    Great article, Ben.

    I actually thought The Age article wasn’t too bad – for a popular newspaper article, anyway. The final quote from Professor George Dracoulis gives me the impression that the author probably is leaning more that way. You certainly pull him up well on writing a “balanced” article on an issue that clearly isn’t balanced, though.

    Thanks for reminding me to watch the “History of the Integral Fast Reactor” video too – still haven’t gotten around to it, and had completely forgotten it existed, to be honest!

    Reply
    1. Decarbonise SA Post author

      Well, it was a “good read”, I agree. But I was under the impression that The Age were taking it upon themselves to do a little more with The Climate Agenda than that i.e. sort some of the fact from the fiction to actually educate people a little on the questions they have. Not just write column inches with the usual media “balance” but try to get to the bottom of some issues using that crazy notion of “editorial responsibility”. They failed (or were not ever trying, I’m not sure). We should be able to bring about agreement on a few simple aspects of nuclear power by media actually taking their job seriously, such that discussion can move forward. But as I say, don’t hold you breath, its not happening here.

      Reply
  5. John Newlands

    Apparently the Olympic Dam expansion will be powered by a gas fired power station with a pipeline from Moomba,
    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-10-10/eis-mining-olympic-dam-bhp-billiton/3458896
    They were talking 690 MW at one stage. I think that means in turn Moomba will have to be connected to Queensland coal seam gas to ensure supplies. Seems concern over the cuttlefish wasn’t enough to stop the choice of Whyalla for the desal plant.

    My alternative suggestion is to have a bigger desal (>200 ML/d) powered by NP on open coastline, somewhere like Ceduna, slightly further than Whyalla from OD but with lesser marine habitat issues. Make the desal big enough to supply other mines and to turn off the pipeline from the Murray which supplies the region.

    Reply
  6. John Newlands

    The follow up point is that Diesendorf is right; the nuclear fuel cycle currently has huge fossil fuel inputs. Evidently in this instance uranium mining and milling needs a new gas fired power station. Billions of litres of diesel (19 bn allegedly) will be used in mine vehicles. Both natural gas and oil are inputs to ammonium nitrate- fuel oil (ANFO) explosive. The alternative is to use NP to power the desal, the mine and mill and use electric mining machinery where possible. Use of NP derived electricity in uranium mining then helps ‘close the loop’ on the nuclear fuel cycle.

    Reply
    1. wilful

      John, Olympic dam is a copper, silver and gold mine as well as a uranium mine. I wonder if Diesendorf cares to make that distinction, or lumps it all under Uranium?

      Reply
      1. Zvyozdochka (@Zvyozdochka)

        Why? If they were only interested in the U are you suggesting the mining operation would be significantly smaller? I don’t believe that’s the case; in other words you mine for U but you can get economic Au, Ag and Cu at the same time.

        Reply
          1. Decarbonise SA Post author

            Under the expansion, copper concentrate output will quadruple from the current 600,000 t to 2,400,000 t. Gold bullion will increase from 100,000 ounces to 800,000 ounces per annum. Silver from 800,000 to 2,900,000 ounces per annum.

            Uranium oxide will grow from 4,500t to 19,000 t per annum.

            I don’t have the expected market values of all this, but I think it’s clear that Olympic Dam is anything but “just a uranium mine”. I had always understood uranium to be the tertiary product after copper and gold.

            http://www.bhpbilliton.com/home/aboutus/regulatory/Documents/draftEisExecutiveSummary.pdf

            Reply
            1. Decarbonise SA Post author

              Well he says “Diesendorf said that as we ran out of high-grade ore, mining companies would be forced to mine and mill 10 tonnes of rock to yield one kilogram of ”yellowcake” – an unrefined stage in the production of uranium.
              ”Once that happens, the nuclear fuel cycle will produce at least 10 times the greenhouse emissions of wind power,” Diesendorf said.”

              But at Olympic Dam they will never just be mining that rock for the U. Does that mean it can be seen two ways perhaps? To get the U, we do the mining, so that’s the emissions of the “nuclear fuel cycle” (opponent view). But in doing the mining, we derive immense other valuable products, and in fact they are the ones driving the mining really, so they emissions attributable to the U are but a small portion (proponent view).

              More to the point though, who cares? As Barry has shown over at BNC, the uranium output, by displacing fossil fuels, repays not only the carbon debt of the mining but the carbon debt of the whole State between 13-26 times over!!! If they were smart enough to use nuclear to power the site itself, the situation would be even better. Concern about the greenhouse emissions of U mining is a concern troll lie wrapped in an argument.
              http://bravenewclimate.com/2009/04/05/carbon-footprint-of-the-olympic-dam-uranium-mine-expansion/

              Reply
  7. wilful

    And BHP have both the finances and the risk appetite (though not the direct expertise) to be investors in nuclear power.

    Reply
  8. John Newlands

    If the SA govt built a nuke with BHP as the main customer it wouldn’t be that much different to the cozy coal and hydro deals done to attract aluminium smelters in other States. However the electricity shouldn’t be sold too cheaply since govts carry the financing risk and deserve a reward.

    If NP was built out that way (west of Pt Augusta) new transmission could actually help wind and solar should they prove viable without subsidies.

    Reply
      1. John Newlands

        In the early days I think they helped pay for schools at Whyalla and other places they wanted to attract workers. If I recall BHP made $23.5 bn profit this year so they have the readies to build any kind of power station but I doubt they want to join the NEM.

        Reply
  9. Pingback: Congratulations to Australia | Lenz Blog

  10. Marion Brook

    Thanks Ben. Another excellent analysis of a disappointingly, indecisive piece.

    On the up-side, how’s this for a thought. According to the article, after Fukushima, opposition to nuclear power rose from 49% to 61% (which is not that bad considering a major, tsunami induced accident had just freaked the world out). Bachelard argues that such a high percentage of opposition makes nuclear power next to impossible in Australia at the moment. Now, I don’t know who undertook this post Fukushima poll, nor how large it was, but around the same time there was a galaxy poll that showed nearly as many people (58%) were against the carbon tax in Australia; and yet here we are, just 4 months later, and going ahead with a carbon tax! It’s amazing what a dire future, some science based information and a smidge of political will can do.

    Reply
  11. Marion Brook

    Russel Hamstead asks: “Why doesn’t the government spend some of it’s enormous ‘clean energy future’ research and advertising budget to help educate Australians about the facts around new forms of clean atomic energy?”

    Michael Bachelard’s answer amounts to: “we can’t educated the population on nuclear power because the population is so uneducated on nuclear power that it frightens them witless.”

    Reply
    1. Decarbonise SA Post author

      So true. You get that in the politics as well like in WA a few weeks ago, with nothing responses like “we think a lot of water needs to pass under the bridge before Australians will consider nuclear”. So we won’t talk about it. No leadership. No logic. No vision. No courage. 100% responsive to perceived electoral risk.

      Reply
      1. Marion Brook

        Yeah, it’s maddening, somehow though, the fact that it is immediately obvious to all of us that politicians are less interested in climate issues than they are in their own short term, self serving agendas makes me less angry than it does when we are presented with dishonest or obfuscatory information from someone whose only, self professed agenda is “The Climate Agenda”. The only thing Bachelard can expect to lose is future climate stability.

        Reply
      2. Zvyozdochka (@Zvyozdochka)

        That was said to you in WA?

        I know two Liberal Party members who have tried to move consideration for nuclear power in WA. I’ve been to Mathias Cormann’s and Dennis Jenson’s forums over the years.

        I would characterise these as gatherings of the already interested. After patient explanation to the assembled, discussion quickly moves past safety (I don’t concern myself with that any more either – being honest about it) to economics.

        It turns out, the people that might support nuclear power don’t support paying more.

        That’s the same feedback the State Government gets – they ask their advisors (us, sometimes) and the answer comes back “much more expensive than gas”. Speaking from a commercial perspective.

        So we have a climate change denial State Government (headed by a Premier that goes to a meeting arranged where Ian Plimer is a guest speaker http://www.crikey.com.au/2011/07/29/sceptics-on-the-menu-at-rineharts-big-luncheon-bash/), keen to support a domestic gas industry, told that nuclear power is massively expensive and taking a beating over power prices already (http://www.abc.net.au/news/2010-03-09/further-steep-power-price-hikes-predicted/356368).

        It doesn’t surprise me in the least that they would dismiss nuclear. You’re making a significant mistake to think that it isn’t “reasoned”, not “water under the bridge”, however unpalatable you may find the explanation. Sorry.

        Reply
        1. intuitivereason

          Given the current situation in Canberra, i.e. at least until the next election, you have two groups of people – those for whom CO2 is a problem, and those for whom the CO2 tax is a problem.

          Both will see benefit from nuclear.

          The economic case on the other hand has to be made. The note I’d make is that with some of the manufactured SMR’s being proposed, the 5 year timeframe mentioned in regard to construction of a reactor is well over the timeframe being aimed at, if not at this stage yet delivered.

          Reply
  12. intuitivereason

    Couple of new videos on LFTR up over on AtomicInsights. Good material.

    Also, the Liberal candidate for Bass at the next Federal Election has already come out with some pro nuclear statements. Good to see. Interestingly, only the older folk I talk to have an instinctive reaction against nuclear. Most younger people have never had the discussion and just know vague nastiness about it.

    Reply
    1. intuitivereason

      Andrew Nikolic, 4th Oct, Federal Candidate for Bass.
      “I don’t believe Australia can have a complete debate on our future energy needs without considering whether or not nuclear power is an option for us. As an advanced, wealthy, and geologically-stable continent, we should consider all alternatives to carbon-based energy.
      You may recall the January 2011 collapse in the price of renewable energy certificates, which suggests that wind or solar-generated power is unlikely to be a near-term solution to our surging electricity demand. What is urgently needed is a comprehensive review of all non-carbon energy options, including the potential of nuclear power generation.
      A report by the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering in December 2010 highlights nuclear power as a viable, low-carbon energy option. We are the second biggest exporter of uranium and have the largest known reserves of this commodity. It borders on illogical for Australia to fuel nuclear power overseas, yet be unwilling to even consider it for our own needs. If countries like the United States, France and Germany can use nuclear power safely, why can’t we? Nuclear-generated energy means greatly reduced greenhouse gas emissions and we should at least understand whether Australia has the capacity and geological stability to safely establish a nuclear power industry.
      As an issue of enormous public importance, Australia’s future energy needs should be beyond party politics and electoral cycles. If our Parliament is truly about evidence-based policy making, then it shouldn’t be afraid of a strategic and unemotional analysis of all energy options.”

      Reply
      1. Decarbonise SA Post author

        Wow! Thanks for bringing this to my attention. I will make contact with him. Sounds like someone who is actually prepared to stand behind a position rather than just blow in the wind, as a sadly suspect has been the case for the SA Liberals.

        Reply
  13. John Newlands

    Bass is said to be a ‘litmus test’ seat Federally as it usually goes to the majority party Australia wide. There’s little hope of NW Tas going nuke since the Basslink cable is limited to 500 MW export. It’s so bad that SW Tas nixed the 180 MW Gordon-below-Franklin hydro back when Hawke was PM and Bob Brown was cutting his political teeth. Strangely Hawke seems to be pro-nuclear. Even more strangely Nikolic strongly supports carbon tax. I believe the Baillieu government in Vic has no intention of doing anything about brown coal for another decade, merely to sulk about carbon tax. If NP can get up anywhere it will have to be SA as their baseload outlook is parlous.

    Reply
  14. John Newlands

    Whoops 2 mistakes Bass is in NE Tas and the incumbent ALP member supports carbon tax, whereas Nikolic does not.

    Reply
  15. intuitivereason

    Heh. Actually there are very good arguments for Tassie to ‘go nuclear’. We have not quite enough hydro power, and have started (expensively) using gas turbines and Basslink to cover the shortfall.

    This was never really the intent of Basslink. Basslink was largely supposed to allow hydro to sell its ‘anytime’ power across to Victoria, while enabling some base load supply when needed. However since we were short of water for a few years, it ended up running the other way.

    Between two and four 125MW units up at Strathgordon would completely free up the state system, providing reliable, consistent base load power and allowing the Hydro scheme to be used to best effect.

    It returns the state electricity to CO2 free status as well, which helps with the state branding and image.

    Reply
  16. intuitivereason

    Oh and regarding the dam – there are a few eyes looking south west for power again. No one wants the gas burner and we need more power. Besides, I think there are a few people who’d like to get that sort of proposal up just to give Bob Brown a birthday present.

    Reply
  17. John Newlands

    While I’m now a Tassie resident I used to visit relatives in several towns on Eyre Peninsula SA so I see different points of view. Strathgordon dam has vacant mounting slots for two 150 MW water turbines so perhaps another irregular power source could pump the outfall water back up to the lake as a power smoother. Economics unknown. On the Tassie west coast bleak Trial Harbour could suit a nuke as could Ironhouse Point on the east coast.

    I note Brown, Hawke, Bellamy etc had no second thoughts about flying to Hobart in kerosene burners for the 25th anniversary love-in of the Franklin episode. Trouble is Australia will soon need at least a dozen times the Franklin’s 180 MW.

    Reply
  18. Marion Brook

    Well, I’m a little disappointed. I checked the comments section of the Age this morning – my letter didn’t make it in (actually my husband sent it in so it would have been under his name). I thought Russell Hamstead made a good reply. In a way his letter and mine were similar since the focus of both our letters were on the articles closing sentiments. Anyway, for what it’s worth, here’s is my letter.

    After your piece of 2/10/11 (Sun shines on all sources, not just the power of one) I came away with the distinct impression that our relying solely on renewable technology was a gamble. This rather disheartening conclusion made the final question in your piece of 10/9/11(For Australia, nuclear is the power of last resort.) all the more pertinent. How long do we give renewables? We have been talking about climate change since the mid 1980s; countries began acting to reduce emissions in the 1990’s; yet 20 years later and even the most climate conscious nations have been unable prevent emission increases, using renewables alone. Meanwhile, droughts, storms and floods are hitting us with increasing frequency and intensity. The planet is heating up. The point of “last resort” occurred when CO2 in the atmosphere passed 350 ppm. We are now at 389 ppm and already committed to several degrees of warming. According to your article, nuclear power generation is entirely CO2 emissions free; nuclear power is no more dangerous than renewable power and one single copper/uranium mine produces enough zero-carbon fuel every year to power almost all of Australia, all year.

    We all know nuclear power provides 24/7, rain-hail-or-shine electricity, with the above also in mind, our “last resort” looks a lot better than the alternative…

    Reply

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