Author Archives: Decarbonise SA

Not humbled, angered. The response to Fukushima is an ongoing mistake. Part 1

When I knew I would be visiting the site of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plants, I prepared myself to be humbled. I expected to learn that things were worse than I realised. I expected sombre reflections on how we need to manage the great power that is nuclear power.

That isn’t what happened. The accident was a very serious one. But the disaster? The disaster was the response. That disaster continues to this day and as we approach the next round of international climate negotiations, it may cost us all more dearly than we could have ever imagined.

In part 1 of this post I will discuss the experience of visiting Nahara town and hearing from local officials. In part 2 I will cover the visit to deep in the exclusion zone and the Fukushima site itself.

While I travelled with a group, heard information from local officials and discussed many of the concepts raised below with the experts who joined me, these thoughts and conclusions are my own. I am speaking for no one else.

From 17-20 May, 2015, I was privileged to join an international delegation to Japan to participate in a nuclear symposium, meet relevant Japanese organisations and undertake a site visit to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station.

I officially changed my tune about nuclear power in November 2010, but really went public with it at a presentation on 8 March 2011. That was just three days before the great eastern Japan earthquake, tsunami and subsequent triple reactor meltdown. Like many others I remember watching the horrible footage of that black wave rolling inland and following the news that the Fukushima Daiichi reactors were stricken. It was a test of my revised stance to say the very least, and it took effort to prepare my initial article calling for rationality in the response. This happened on our watch, in an OECD nuclear nation. This was just about as bad as nuclear could possibly get.

So I approached the prospect of a site visit with great interest and also professional trepidation. It’s one thing to comment from afar. It’s quite another to visit a location to learn and see for yourself. I prepared myself to be humbled by the experience. I expected my support for nuclear technology to be tempered. Part of me thought that’s what should happen.

It didn’t turn out that way.

The group left Tokyo early by bus to reach Fukushima prefecture by lunchtime, where we were briefed by local officials at Nahara town. Nahara was a town of about 7500 people, sitting at the southernmost coastal boundary of the exclusion zone, approximately 20 km from the Daiichi nuclear power plant. The 10.2 metre tsunami exceeded the local 6.2 metre seawall and inundated 2.5 % of the town area, killing 13 people. As the situation at Fukushima Daiichi worsened and emergency was also declared at the nearer Daiini reactors, Nahara town gave its own evacuation order about 10 hours earlier than the central Japanese government.

The evacuation was undertaken in a situation of limited information and, presumably, considerable haste. The use of private vehicles led to serious traffic jams. About 5000 people were moved from this town to become refugees in nearby Iwaki City and Aizumisato Town, during late-winter conditions that were still very cold. Given the great strain the nation was already under from the quake and tsunami, it is evident that this was a high stakes decision with considerable risks involved.

It is easy to understand why this decision was made: the town officials wanted to protect people from harm. They regard the fact that their decision pre-empted that of the central government as partial vindication that it was the right one; at least they got moving earlier than they would have otherwise been forced. There is another possibility of course: both levels of government were altogether wrong. It’s an unpleasant line of enquiry. I don’t wish to criticise decisions made under great pressure. But criticise we must for how else do we learn? Was this the right decision?

(Lengthy) Aside: Units of radiation. What are they? What matters and what doesn’t?

To understand the following, readers will need to understand a little about doses of radiation. 

Different types of radiation, exposed to different parts of the body, provide differing “equivalent doses” i.e. the raw dose adjusted for the relative biological impact. To account for this I am using the unit “Sievert”. This unit takes account of the various factors that determine whether a dose is harmful and weights it for the potential for damage to be caused to the body. So it’s the right comparison unit to talk about health effects from lower levels of radiation received from the environment. In summary, Sievert measures the “dose equivalent”: the raw dose corrected for the biological effect.

For radiotherapy purposes, the unit used is the Gray. This is a more direct, raw unit of the energy received per kilogram of tissue. This is appropriate when much higher doses than are found either in nature or in occupational exposure are being targeted to specific parts of the body for the purposes of treatment. In these situations specialists know exactly how much of exactly what type of radiation is being targeted to exactly which part of the body. It’s typically a very large amount compared to environmental radiation. So I won’t be referring to Grays.

One Sievert all at once is a heck of a big dose. A sievert in a short amount of time will make you sick, 2 Sv will make you very sick, 8 Sv will kill about half of all people and 20 sieverts will kill anyone unless they get serious help, pronto. So mostly, you hear talk of millisieverts (mSv, one one-thousandth of a Sievert) or even microsieverts (µSv, one one-millionth of a Sievert).

When we are in circumstances of using mSv and µSv to consider health risks we will almost always be talking about stochastic risk, not deterministic risk. Stochastic risk refer to an increased likelihood of a future outcome (in this case, the development of cancer) from exposure to a hazard(in this case, radiation). But the outcome (cancer) will be no different in type, or severity, than might occur anyway i.e. there is a background rate of cancer in humans, influenced by a great many factors, varying hugely with location and lifestyle all over the world. Should a cancer occur, there is no way of attributing it to a single hazard factor. Deterministic risks  come from much larger exposures causing direct effects very close to the time of exposure, and the size of the effect can be clearly related to the size of exposure e.g. exposure of unprotected skin to UV light will result in sunburn, and more time in the sun will worsen the sunburn in a direct way.

It’s not just the equivalent dose that matters for human health but also the equivalent dose-rate. That’s the time period over which you receive the dose. Consider the difference between a bucket of water being tipped over your head, and the same amount of water being misted onto your head over the course of a week. The impact is very different. Our bodies have multi-layered mechanisms to respond to cell damage from radiation (and other causes) that are in use all the time.  Problems can occur if our cellular defence mechanisms are overwhelmed by too much damage in too little time. So for that we need to talk about mSv per hour or µSv per hour.

The largest cohort of evidence relating to human health impacts from low doses of radiation comes from survivors of the atomic bomb explosions in Japan. This evidence suggests that at a dose of 100 mSv, in a short period of time, an increase in cancer risk can begin to be detected. This finding is published by the International Council of Radiological Protection (publication 103) and reinforced in work by Zhang et al. At less than this level, there is no empirical evidence of increased risk of cancer. Any possible effect is lost in the noise in a world where we are bathed in natural levels of radiation, and we have background rates of cancer from a wide range of causes.

Furthermore what we can see is that the age-corrected rates of cancer vary markedly from country to country, and the variation has nothing to do with the differences in low-level radiation. Lifestyle and dietary differences appear to affect baseline cancer outcomes in a measurable way. 

Nonetheless, in setting guidelines and regulations, the major radiological protection agencies continue to apply assumptions that exposures below this 100 mSv level result in an increased stochastic risk of cancer, all the way down to near-zero exposure. This model of harm (and it is a model, not a body of evidence) is known as linear, non-threshold (LNT). The United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effect of Atomic Radiation has recently made clear that the LNT model does not have application in determining population-wide impacts of exposure to low-levels of radiation.

So, finally, what are normal rates of exposure? Global average radiation exposure is 2.4 millisieverts per year. However the background rate varies a lot depending on location and occupation. International air crew receive an extra 4 mSv per year. Occupational exposure limits are 20 mSv per year. Doses from nature have been recorded of up to 202 mSv per year in Ramsar, Iran. Despite no epidemiological evidence of harm, some authors still prosecute the case for the protection of people in such areas, well, just because! Fortunately other authors push back against such notions, highlighting the lack of empirical evidence supporting the LNT model. End aside.

During this trip I was lucky enough to have the ear and attached brain of Professor Gerry Thomas of the Imperial College in London, one of the world’s foremost experts on the impacts of radiation on human health. She has long been one of my credible hulks, so I did the sensible thing and asked Gerry. What was the right response? She gave a sensible answer.

In light of the situation at the nuclear plant being out of control, Professor Thomas suggests it is hard to argue against the evacuation in the first instance. From there, Professor Thomas argues that it would be worth maintaining exclusion for the three months required for radioactive iodine to decay to harmless levels, and instituting other known, effective measures to prevent uptake of radioactive iodine.

I contend that, if clearly communicated, three months is a period of time away from home that most people can steel themselves for and manage, with appropriate support and compensation.  I also contend that an evacuation in such circumstances can and should be calm and orderly in order to protect people from the direct risks of evacuating. Since the risk being avoided is a stochastic one that requires prolonged exposure for even theoretical increase in risk of harm, running away from it at great speed and in large numbers is just far more dangerous than it’s worth.

During that three month period, some remediation should occur and physical infrastructure needs to be repaired and replaced. Areas identified as being in need of further specific remediation should be cordoned off and dealt with in due course. Citizens should have the opportunity to return to their homes with all appropriate support and information.

This is NOT what happened

The radiation plume from Fukushima Daiichi concentrated to the north-west of the plant, with Nahara Town on the very southern border. This early map of contamination (May 2011) suggests even at the outset, Nahara was in the range of 1-2 microsieverts per hour (8-18 mSv per year). A more localised map provided by the officials in a handout suggests the town was in the range of 5-10 mSv per year by November 2011. These levels may have be higher than prior to the accident, but it is an entirely harmless level of exposure with no evidence of ill effects; in the range of the occupational dose of an international pilot. Furthermore, as shown in the subsequent figure, thanks to the behaviour of radioactive half-lives, this swiftly declines with the passage of time. Recall that there is evidence of some small increase in the background risk of cancer at 100 mSv equivalent dose, received in a short amount of time. A declining dose rate of 5-18 mSv per year would have harmed no-one.

Radiation map from May 2011

Radiation map from May 2011

Comparison of radiation levels, showing decline over a 12-month period

Comparison of radiation levels, showing decline over a 12-month period

Yet total exclusion was maintained for nearly 18 months to August 2012. At this point, daytime entry was for residents permitted. This year, officials from the town have received permission to stay, and are doing so in a bid to give confidence to other residents. But the radiation exclusion zone has resulted in a failure of timely remediation of the essential infrastructure that would have been damaged by the tsunami. A terrible, self-reinforcing spiral is underway. Failure to be rational in the face of low levels of radiation has led to prolonged absence. This prolonged absence has excused a failure to repair the infrastructure upon which the settlements depend. This in turn reinforces the absence. In absence, decay sets in making return ever-less appealing. Vermin have infested homes and shops. Looting and robbery occurred. With people unwilling to return, there is little pressure to repair the infrastructure, and so on…

Now, the dose rate in the residential areas of Nahara is 0.3 µSv per hour (2.6 mSv per year). That’s bang on globally normal. Yet former residents remain anxious about radiation.

Nahara has been a victim of fear and the perils of over-protection, not radiation. This seems to be a product of the way the nuclear industry itself has regulated itself for decades, and the way nuclear opponents amplify this approach to spread fear.

Nuclear risk management faces as perfect storm of acronyms. Firstly there is LNT, or the linear, no-threshold model of harm for radiation. This model posits that any level of radiation will do some harm, no matter how low the level. There is “no threshold” beneath which radiation is harmless. It is by this logic that some authors seriously consider “protecting” people from the environments they have occupied for centuries despite no epidemiological evidence of harm. It’s nuts, in other words, or at least it’s a nutty basis for decision making.

To LNT we can add “ALARA”, which stands for “as low as reasonably achievable”. This is one of the guiding principles for radiation protection: make exposure as low as you can. Note, at this point evidence-based safety has gone completely out of the window. We are not undertaking protective actions because we know it matters, we are not attempting to meet a regulated limit, we are doing it because LNT says we should.

The kicker in all of this is the nature of radiation itself as a brilliant tracer. We can detect radiation down to incredibly small levels, and we can even tell where it came from. So, if you can see something down to a very fine resolution and the rules say you have to keep lowering wherever “reasonably” possible it even though there is no evidence of harm, then you have a problem. Suddenly, you are neck deep in a professional culture with the potential to protect people to death.

I wish I was exaggerating.

Nahara Town lost 13 people in the tsunami. To date, they have recorded 110 premature deaths as a result of the dislocation caused by the prolonged evacuation, or as they said, “attributed to life in shelter”.

This is all willingly aided and abetted by our environmental ENGOs who expend much time and energy putting a megaphone on the message of the radiation protection industry that radiation is the most terrible hazard imaginable. This is led by some individuals who are particularly unhinged (Helen Caldicott) or outrightly venal (Chris Busby), but let’s be frank: there is no serious pushback from industry and Government. There is little courage to stand with the data about what does and doesn’t hurt people. Four years on from March 11 2011 and the results have been severe. As well as the deaths, the town and region continues to suffer from the effects of “unfounded rumours” impacting their food production and tourism. Once more it is fear, not radiation, that is preventing a return to normality.

I hope for a successful and prosperous future for Nahara Town. I applaud the courage of the officials who have made the return and shown the way. It was a pleasure to visit, eat good food and learn about the situation first hand.

However I am angered that such a situation was allowed to happen. Great pain, suffering and tragedy could have been avoided.

We have to be honest and smart about this. Delivering decarbonised energy for a large and growing world is going to require a massive build-out of nuclear power. Even acknowledging the vast improvements in reactor design and nuclear regulation, it’s just wise to assume that something will go wrong again in future.

It’s not enough to obsessively focus on lowering the likelihood of an event through design, defense and regulation, only to completely ignore the nature of societal response when something does happen. For it appears to be the response, not the radiation, that is killing and hurting people. In Nahara no one died from radiation and likely no one will. Fifteen people died from a tsunami and 110 people died from the consequences of evacuation, relocation and forced estrangement from their homes.

We have to learn and plan together, globally, based on evidence. We may be subjected to radiation events in future. It won’t be of our choosing, however we will get to choose how to respond. I hope we learn from Nahara and choose wisely.

As I will discuss in part two where I recount my visit to the nuclear site itself, we can punish companies for doing the wrong thing. But we must take care to avoid the folly of punishing ourselves in the process.

Thanks for having me EA, see you soon Japan

Here’s a bit of a catch-up blog as I wait to fly to Sydney airport where I will meet Barry Brook and fly to Japan. More on that later.

Early this week it was my pleasure to be the guest of the Electric Energy Society of Australia, a division of Engineers Australia, at a special event for their members in Melbourne, Electric Energy Security and the Role of Nuclear Energy in Australia.

My fellow panellists included my now old friends Mr Martin Thomas AM and Dr Tony Irwin of SMR Nuclear Australia. New acquaintances were Mr Neil Greet and Ms Gaye Francis.

Neil, an engineer of defence background now focussed on national energy security, spoke of the need to take a holistic point of view of the nature of energy security. Gaye, a risk engineers, spoke of her personal and professional experiences in the Finnish community that is home the Olkiluoto power stations and now the Onkala waste repository and just how and why this community has come to embrace such a strong connection with nuclear.

We were privileged to have and opening address from Senator Sean Edwards, who then remained for questions.

The event was completely full with around 100 in attendance. I have great appreciation for Engineers Australia. This organisation has taken an increasing interest in this matter over the last few years, from smaller state-based events, to a session at the 2014 national conference and now this special session in Melbourne. I am delighted to see one of our major professions determine that their members ought be informed and active in these discussions. This is an invaluable broadening of the nuclear conversation in Australia and, as I said in closing, I ask them to please have an opinion on nuclear. Such essential professionals should not be on the sidelines of national policy discussions on our energy future.

The presence and participation of Senator Edwards added to the seriousness with which discussions were entered into. The Senator again spoke glowingly of the opportunity that has been afforded via the South Australian Labor government in the form of this Royal Commission. He reiterated that a “bi-partisan sentiment” exists, for the first time ever, for these discussions and investigations. I have seen many senior politicians open events and then leave. Not many stay for all presentations and then actively participate in Q&A. The impact of the sincere leadership that is on display from Senator Edwards is palpable.

So, my thanks to EESA and EA for hosting me at such an excellent event. I look forward to sharing video of the presentations in due course.

As I mentioned in opening I will shortly be boarding for my first ever visit to Japan. I, along with Aussies Barry Brook and Tom Wigley, will be the guest of The Breakthrough Institute, IEE Japan, International Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia and the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies. We will be joining a global group for an International Nuclear Energy Symposium.

The trip will include a visit to the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, meetings with Japanese Government officials and media engagements. I am especially looking forward to a full-day conference exclusively examining women’s interface with nuclear technology. The symposium theme is “Discussions on Nuclear Energy from the Female Point of View ― Why is it necessary? Why is it safe enough? Why is it irreplaceable?”

We seem to be experiencing one of those global-collective penny-drop moments, where everyone involved in nuclear is suddenly saying “Hey… women… we should really look at that…”.

We really should. As my wife Dr Gemma Munro from Inkling Women recently observed, “The nuclear industry is led, in the main, by white middle-aged men. Discussions about nuclear are dominated by white middle-aged men fighting about who’s right”.

Urgh… I know she’s right. The way so much of the nuclear energy discussion is conducted leaves many women cold. Yet we know from independent survey data that it is women we still need to reach if we want strong social licence for an embrace of nuclear technologies.

Maybe… we should ask women what they think? And maybe… take proactive steps to enable greater female leadership, messaging and communication about nuclear? Because maybe… that would work and then we would get what we want? We could stop the fighting and get on with the winning?

So to say I am thrilled with this symposium agenda is an understatement, not least because I am not involved, I just get to listen to some of the world’s best. I have a suitcase full of AV and plan to get lots of photos, audio and video to share. It’s the least I can to do repay my hosts.

In closing, watashi no hobokurafuto wa unagi de ippai desu, and I look forward to sharing the experience.


Cancel Paris, Tesla released a battery

When Tesla made their little product announcement last week it caught me in a moment of ebb rather than flow. I had just handed over some work, done a presentation, had some important meetings… It was Friday and I had no interest being first out of the blocks with analysis. All I could muster was a bit of crystal-balling Twitter sarcasm:

I promptly received a warning in return:

Then, in a moment of life-imitates-sarcasm, Mark Cojuangco proved that he was the prescient one, not me.

This article contains what will probably stand as the most intellectually feeble, thus outright dangerous, bit of hyperbolic overstatement about climate change solutions I will ever read:

Assuming the Tesla system comes anywhere near meeting its announced specifications, and noting that electric cars are also on the market from Tesla and others, we now have just about everything we need for a technological fix for climate change, based on a combination of renewable energy and energy efficiency, at a cost that’s a small fraction of global income (and hence a small fraction of national income for any country).

John, pardon my language, but you must be fucking joking.

Quiggin delivered on my own intended absurdity: “Down tools folks. Pending a bit of market tweaking, we are now on the downhill run to climate stability and energy prosperity for all. Cancel Paris, Elon Musk announced a battery”.

This is more than irritating, it’s dangerous. It’s repeating the pattern of decades past, that an imminent technology breakthrough will wipe out fossil fuels like sunlight on so many vampires. He didn’t merely underplay but outright avoided any examination of complexity. He didn’t even consider the product itself!

This is not what we need. We need hardworking pragmatists who will do the work in helping global society to understand and benefit from technological innovation, across the board, in order to tackle challenges that are gnarlier than any handful of technological breakthroughs can possibly “solve”.

That’s not how Quiggin saw it.

Happy about Tesla? Unhappy about Tesla? What kind of false dichotomy is that? I was happy when my son took home a ribbon from sports day. I’m not interested in happy-clapping technology announcements. I want to understand how they might all hang together into the biggest, deepest, fastest and most effective response to climate change. That means variously criticising nuclear announcements, criticising solar projects, criticising renewable naysayers, and proposing policies that might lead to effective integration and deployment of all useful energy technologies.

So, what do I think will be the impact of the Tesla product? Let’s look at the product alongside Australian household electricity consumption for a start.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics tells us that in 2012 Australian households were using around 125 kWh per week. The Tesla unit will store up to 10 kWh, or about 60 % of the consumption of one single day of use at the Australian average daily consumption.

It is immediately apparent that this battery-plus-panels offering is not the product that is going to take Australians off-grid in droves.

Consider that a great deal of daily consumption occurs overnight even in the long days of summer, especially the very hot nights where air-conditioning will run overnight. In the shorter days of winter plenty of daily consumption is morning and evening lighting and heating where no production will be occurring from rooftop solar, not to mention possibly some overnight heating. Several consecutive days of low solar insolation are simply a given in winter. So, a typically sized household system would not be able to both meet daytime demand and keep that battery full for dark times in a whole variety of conditions and circumstances.

Consider then that we all want electric vehicles charging from our home. That’s more load. Consider that lots of Australians space-heat with gas and heat water with gas. We want to electrify that with clean sources. That’s more load. Pushing in the other direction is general improvement in efficiency of appliances and lighting and insulation improvements in older houses that put downward pressure on load. But to be frank, if those efficiency improvements help household demand even remain static as we electrify the other services, I would regard that as very impressive. To achieve all of this while going off-grid with combinations of solar and batteries would require over-sizing of systems to levels that are completely unrealistic and unaffordable.

So it’s not a matter of liking or disliking the product. It’s just patently clear that this is not the dawn of the off-grid revolution in Australia. It’s not that product (yet?). So what product is it?

At the end of 2014 I wrote:

(We must) Vary our emphasis on solar PV away from electricity supply and toward network management, especially management of peak demand.  The coming of cost effective home energy storage should be emphatically embraced as a potential network service. Consumers should be encouraged to take up small amounts of storage and remain grid connected into the future. An appropriate financial reward should be provided for residents to use and sell their solar power late in the day in response to peak times rather than as –and-when it is generated. This will hold down network costs for each and every consumer, instead of raising them as solar PV does now. The “death spiral” of retail electricity will be averted.

Depending, critically, on how nimble and intelligent our electricity retailers and distribution operators are in response to this product, I believe it could be the solid beginning of this product: smart solar network management. That would be something I absolutely welcome.

Achieving high penetration of embedded solar PV has real challenges, particularly relating to the potential for local over-voltage events in feeders that were never designed to accommodate them. I’m not inventing a problem here; it’s real, it’s recognised, and a lot of literature is dedicated to how these challenges might be overcome. Here’s a summary of some of my recent draft research:

A 2011 review of solar integration in seven nations representing 70 % of the global market share revealed the extent of the challenges (Braun et al. 2012). In nations with higher penetrations such as Germany, voltage overloading is leading to expensive grid-reinforcement requirements and the implementation of a technical code governing voltage rise criteria, active power control and reactive power control (Braun et al. 2012). Photo-voltaic integration in Germany to 2020 is expected to cost €21-27 billion (E-bridge consulting cited in Braun et al. 2012). These costs might be mitigated in the future by the introduction of inverters with active and reactive power control. However of the > 17 GW of photovoltaics installed, more than 90 % do not have these capabilities (Braun et al. 2012). Such inverters are commonly applied at 30 KW and above, and not in the residential range of 1-5 kW, with no apparent technology trend in that direction.

In Belgium, recent strong photovoltaic growth has meant distributed photovoltaic systems “regularly experience disconnection due to overvoltage…in several cases expensive grid reinforcement is required in order to avoid congestion of cables or transformers” (Braun et al. 2012).

Solutions are needed to reduce the overvoltage and other network challenges caused by embedded photovoltaic systems if increasing penetrations are to be accommodated while stable systems and compliance with regulations is maintained (Alam, Muttaqi & Sutanto 2012; Lewis 2011; Samadi 2014). Suggested remedies include intelligent operation of distributed energy storage (i.e., batteries) (Alam, Muttaqi & Sutanto 2012; Samadi 2014), grid reinforcement (Samadi 2014); active power curtailment (i.e., preventing export from the photovoltaics to the feeder, representing a loss of income to the photovoltaics owner) (Samadi 2014), and active and reactive power control from the photovoltaic unit itself, demanding more advanced inverters (Braun et al. 2012; Condon 2011; Samadi 2014). The potential remedies are summarised by Constantin, Lazar and Kjær (2012):

Overall, it has been found that applying standard voltage control techniques in the LV networks helps to increase the PV penetration by approximately 30% from 1.5 kW to 2.0 kW per residence. For higher PV penetration levels, additional solutions must be applied: more complex voltage control schemes, increased self-consumption, storage solutions or active power curtailment.

So, if things go well, I think in Australia the impact of this product could be a grab-bag of mutually reinforcing trends in consumer behaviour and market regulation:

  • Increasing the number of home solar systems, with consequent falls in greenhouse gas emissions
  • Increasing the average size of home solar systems with consequent falls in greenhouse gas emissions
  • Offering distributors a possible solution to the network challenges of increasing PV penetration
  • Pushing retailers and distributors into more intelligent pricing models for households that reward peak-demand management
  • Downward pressure on peak demand leading to appreciable cost-control in operating the distribution network
  • Potentially weighting water and space-heating decisions back towards electricity and away from gas

But it isn’t the end of baseload or centralised generation into transmission networks. It isn’t, then, the end of coal. Hence, isn’t the end of the need for nuclear and wind (funny, actually, how no one seems to suggest this innovation has negated the role of wind turbines connected to the transmission network).

Let’s be clear-headed about what the real potential of this innovation is so that we can work with the relevant stakeholders to make those benefits materialise as soon as possible. Unthinking hyperbole just serves to muddy the water and leads to false hope, false starts and bad policy development. This is a job for analysts*, not cheerleaders.

Alam, MJE, Muttaqi, KM, Sutanto, D, Elder, L & Baitch, A 2012, Performance Analysis of Distribution Networks under High Penetration of Solar PV, CIGRE (International Council on Large Electric Systems), Paris, France.

Alam, MJE, Muttaqi, KM & Sutanto, D 2012, ‘Distributed energy storage for mitigation of voltage-rise impact caused by rooftop solar PV’, IEEE Power and Energy Society General Meeting, pp. 1-8.

Braun, M, Stetz, T, Bründlinger, R, Mayr, C, Ogimoto, K, Hatta, H, Kobayashi, H, Kroposki, B, Mather, B, Coddington, M, Lynn, K, Graditi, G, Woyte, A & MacGill, I 2012, ‘Is the distribution grid ready to accept large-scale photovoltaic deployment? State of the art, progress, and future prospects’, Progress in Photovoltaics: Research and Applications, vol. 20, no. 6, pp. 681-697.

Condon, D 2011, Grid Connected Solar PV and Reactive Power in a Low Voltage Distribution Network, Ergon Energy, Queensland.

Constantin, A, Lazar, RD & Kjær, DSB Voltage control in low voltage networks by Photovoltaic Inverters: Case-study Bornholm, Danfoss Solar Inverters, Graasten, Denmark.

Samadi, A 2014, ‘Large Scale Solar Power Integration in Distribution Grids: PV Modelling, Voltage Support and Aggregation Studies’, Electrical Engineering, Doctoral thesis, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden.

*I strongly recommend this piece of analysis of the Tesla product announcement

New video: What might the Royal Commission mean for nuclear in South Australia?

A few weeks ago I spoke at an event for SACOME along with Ian Hoare-Lacey (WNA) and Dr Tim Stone, visiting Professor from University College London. I gave my overview with regard to where in the nuclear fuel cycle, and why, there may be opportunities for South Australia.

I look forward to expanding, with greater confidence, on some of the themes raised in this presentation as the year progresses and further work is completed. My presentation is below, followed by Ian’s and Tim’s and then our joint Q&A.

The Ecomodernist Manifesto: The view from a lapsed sustainability professional

A couple of years ago I was called in to deliver a unit called Sustainable Development: Concepts and Applications for the Master of Sustainability at the University of Adelaide. Being late notice (the semester had already commenced) I took some necessary liberties with preparing content that suited me. I asked myself: “If this is the core unit of a sustainability Masters, what do I believe these students absolutely must think about?”.

Population. Trade Reform. Land Reform. Urbanisation. Biodiversity Preservation. Energy. Water. My conviction was that speaking to all these issues intelligently and with evidence, in the context of a ‘10 billion humans’ world, was a prerequisite to presuming to work in sustainability in the 21st Century.

I loved it. Near as I could tell, the students did too. Some of the tutorial presentations were simply outstanding and the international nature of the student body was an asset to everyone’s learning.

Though I could not have named it at the time, I delivered a semester of Ecomodernism, as captured in a staggering manifesto published last week. The manifesto is a tour-de-force of thought leadership at a crucial juncture for humanity. For this sustainability professional it presents a meaningful framework within which to act and I gladly endorse it.


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Federal Labor backs Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission

In this Sky AM interview with Mark Butler, federal Labor Member for Port Adelaide, we see that the South Australian Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission has been backed by Federal Labor. If this is the “right process” enacted by a Government from the same party, a “proper enquiry” headed by an “eminent South Australian”, and this is the view of party leader Bill Shorten, it will be nigh-on impossible for Federal Labor to reject supportive findings taken to a national level at a later time. We now have bi-partisan support at a state and federal government level for the coming enquiry. That’s twelve months of evidence-based investigation free from political conflict. With the

Fact Check: Antinuclear Australia blog post

In the blog post Senator Sean Edwards spruiks for the South Australian nuclear lobby the following statement is made in relation to integral fast reactors:

They “deliver abundant energy without any mining”. Hey – he doesn’t count the mining required for the conventional reactors to produce the wastes to put into the reprocessing reactors that he is touting!

That material has already been mined, in some case decades ago. It is stored above ground at dozens of locations around the world. Nearly all of that material can be used again for energy in the advanced reactors Senator Edwards has referred to. Lots of energy. Perhaps the author thinks the material can only be used once in an IFR and needs a completely fresh feed of material every time from old reactors? I’m not sure what the author thinks, however that is not the case.

Via the recycling process, when a fuel core has completed a cycle, the fuel is cleaned up and re-formed into new fuel for another cycle, with a small amount of “make-up” material added to take the place of the one tonne of material per gigawatt per year that is removed as true waste. As Senator Edwards recently pointed out, the equivalent energy production from brown coal emits 8.5 million tons of carbon dioxide. That one tonne of material has a far shorter half-life of around 30 years. That, combined with the tiny amount, makes it suitable for temporary storage followed by much simpler disposal.

I would expect a site like this to be relatively familiar with this material, as it has been the cornerstone of opposition to nuclear power for decades. Integral fast reactors present a solution to that problem.

Over time, we might reasonably expect (hope) these type of reactors to become the norm and displace the reactors using the once-through fuel cycle. Instead of mining fuel, we might collectively meet out clean energy needs with the material we already have available and we could do that for many hundreds of years, removing the need for energy mining

I am sure the anti-nuclear community in Australia will become more familiar with this technology as the year proceeds. I am confident many will be prepared to draw a line in the ideological sand and get behind a solution that makes sense on so many levels.