Category Archives: Nuclear Power and Climate Change

How long does it take to build a nuclear plant? Another look at The Australia Institute

The submission by The Australia Institute (TAI) to the South Australian Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission includes discussion of time taken to build nuclear power plants. The mean time shown is 9.4 years. The conclusions drawn by TAI are:

“If Australia begins to develop a nuclear power industry, build times are likely to be long enough that renewables and storage will be well established long before completion, invalidating any realistic business case which is, if European nuclear power profitability and current levelised cost of energy is any guide, already tenuous”.

This analysis is flawed. The given mean, 9.4 years, is mathematically correct based on the data shown. However TAI have not interrogated and analysed the data adequately in order to provide a robust conclusion about potential nuclear build time for Australia.

The data set for this finding is shown by TAI in Table 1 on page 8 of the submission. I have reproduced it here.

Country Units Mean time Min. time Max. time
China

18

5.7

4.4

11.2

India

7

7.3

5.1

11.6

South Korea

5

4.9

4

6.4

Japan

3

4.6

3.9

5.1

Russia

3

28.0

25.3

31.9

Argentina

1

32.9

32.9

32.9

Iran

1

36.3

36.3

36.3

Pakistan

1

5.3

5.3

5.3

Romania

1

24.1

24.1

24.1

Total

40.9

9.4

3.9

36.3

Useful research needs to clearly define the question under investigation and then both interrogate and analyse the available data set. Let’s assume the question here is “How long does it take to build nuclear reactors?” in the context of informing discussion in South Australia.

In this data set covering 40 reactor builds in nine nations there are six obvious outliers at the high end with builds of 24-years or greater. There is a gap of 13 years build time between the lowest of these outliers and the next longest reactor build (11.2 years). These outliers will skew the mean to the high end.

What should be done with them? They could be excluded. Given (a) the gap between the outliers and the rest of the data set (b) that they are relatively small in number and (c) three of the data points are the only build in a given nation, exclusion seems reasonable prima facie.

It would be better to interrogate the outliers, understand what caused them, and either exclude on a clear justification or attempt to correct the data for any identified confounding factors.

What are confounding factors? Borrowing a definition from epidemiology:

“Factors that can cause or prevent the outcome of interest, are not intermediate variables, and are not associated with the factor(s) under investigation. They give rise to situations in which the effects of two processes are not separated, or the contribution of causal factors cannot be separated, or the measure of the effect of exposure or risk is distorted because of its association with other factors influencing the outcome of the study“.

In this data, understanding the outcome of interest (nuclear build time) from the available data may well be confounded by factors that have nothing to do with nuclear build time (i.e. not associated with the factors under investigation). Could that be the case in this data? Let’s look at the outliers.

  • Argentina: Like many economies in South America, Argentina has experienced repeated economic and social upheaval. I discuss this example further below
  • Romania: Romania was part of the Warsaw Pact, under dictatorial rule for over forty years, which ended in violent revolution in 1989,
  • Iran: No comment required. Including Iranian nuclear build in this dataset without question is clearly untenable.
  • Russia: The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 was probably the greatest social, political and economic upheaval of the second half of the 20th century

In all of the outliers, the metric of build time, measured from start of construction to end, has been grossly confounded by social, political and economic upheaval. These data points tell us very little about nuclear build time. They may tell us something about the impact of such upheaval on large infrastructure projects. It would be an interesting question to examine, separately.

One might try to correct this data for the confounding factors. One way might be by specifically measuring time in active construction as opposed to calendar time between start and finish. Take the Kirchner reactor in Argentina (Atucha 2). It was not a 33 year build as suggested by the data used by TAI. It started in 1981, in the last days of a military dictatorship. It proceeded slowly due to lack of funds until 1994 when it was suspended. The Argentine economy collapsed in default in 2001, began recovery a few years later and has been quite strong since then. Atucha 2 was revisited in 2006 as part of a strategic plan for the nuclear sector in Argentina, and reached full power in February 2015.

So, with all that interesting history one could attempt to apply a corrected figure for Atucha 2 and the other outliers. However for the sake of simplicity I will exclude these data points as too confounded to inform the question being asked. When these six data points (of 40) are excluded, the mean drops from 9.3 years to 5.8 years, a 3.5 year difference. With those exclusions and the relevant justification, the data set now appears to me to be more informative and representative of the potential Australian situation: a stable nation that may embark on a nuclear build program.

No one could seriously contend that a mean time of 5.8 years works against the argument for nuclear as a deployable source of clean energy. This is particularly true when considering the quantity and reliability of that supply.

In a metric pioneered by Geoff Russell and further developed at The Breakthrough Institute, nuclear has been decisively shown to be the fastest pathway to adding new energy anywhere, ever. For example South Australia’s wind sector (which I support) has incrementally (but, by most observations, quite aggressively) developed over a 12-year period to now provide a variable supply of about 3,000 GWh per annum. A single CANDU reactor would deliver about 5,500 GWh per year in a reliable, dispatchable form. They may deploy differently however one cannot form a “time to deploy” argument against nuclear without forming the same argument against wind.

In coming years there will be more data. Most of the builds coming from China and South Korea will pull that mean down. The current builds in Europe will pull it up. The current builds in the US will hover around the current 5.8 year mean.

The build program of the UAE will pull the mean down and that’s interesting for Australia. That is a new nuclear nation, not an established nuclear nation, delivering outcomes among the best in the world.

All of this information provides important guidance for Australia, provided we look not only at the numbers but also behind them.

Numbers are useful and they can also be misused. The role of the researcher and analyst in nuclear remains a crucial one. TAI need to apply more rigour to be taken seriously in this space.

What Stephen Chu actually said.

I have been flicking through submissions to the South Australian Royal Commissions, and the submisison from The Australia Institute jumped out

 P181 SA nuclear royal commission submission FINAL_0 (2) 

The submission references a page on this site. It also goes to quite some effort to sow doubt regarding the themes of the submission from the office of Senator Sean Edwards, a submission I was chiefly tasked with preparing.

The argument posited, mainly via rhetorical questions, is a neat little circle that goes something like this:

  • If the market for used fuel storage is real then recycling the material for energy isn’t.
  • If the recycling technology is real, then the market for used fuel storage isn’t.

Here are their words:

However, despite being based on technology piloted decades ago, at commercial scales these reactors are still at the concept stage, and no fourth generation power plants yet exist (from page 9)…Additionally, the same fourth generation technology that Australia might hope to build which turns spent fuel into a resource would invalidate any business case for high-level waste storage. If Australia can profit from waste by generating electricity, why can’t everyone else? If reprocessing can be profitable, wouldn’t it be more profitable if sited next to existing stockpiles and existing reactors? If waste can be profitably turned into electricity, as fourth generation reactors appear able to do, why would anyone pay us to take their waste? (from page 13)

As a doctoral student working under three highly-published scientific supervisors, I don’t write in questions. As a researcher, my job is to seek understanding and provide answers based on evidence; a standard I took to the work with Senator Edwards. What this passage says to me is that The Australia Institute doesn’t want answers; questions will be just fine.

In attempting to discredit the readiness and safety of used fuel storage, the submission quotes Stephen Chu, former Secretary of Energy to the United States government. Under a section headed “Technical problems of nuclear waste storage” this quote regarding Chu appears:

In 2009 Steven Chu, then US Secretary for Energy, said, “Yucca Mountain as a repository is off the table. What we’re going to be doing is saying, let’s step back. We realize that we know a lot more today than we did 25 or 30 years ago.

If you think that ends abruptly, well, so did I. So I did this really clever thing I learned from my times arguing with climate change deniers.

I read the source.

Here is the quote in full:

Steven ChuYucca Mountain as a repository is off the table. What we’re going to be doing is saying, let’s step back. We realize that we know a lot more today than we did 25 or 30 years ago. The NRC [Nuclear Regulatory Commission] is saying that the dry cask storage at current sites would be safe for many decades, so that gives us time to figure out what we should do for a long-term strategy. We will be assembling a blue-ribbon panel to look at the issue.

[We’re] looking at reactors that have a high-energy neutron spectrum that can actually allow you to burn down the long-lived actinide waste. [Editor’s note: Actinides include plutonium, which can be dangerous for 100,000 years.] These are fast neutron reactors. There’s others: a resurgence of hybrid solutions of fusion fission where the fusion would impart not only energy, but again creates high-energy neutrons that can burn down the long-lived actinides.

This practice by The Australia Institute is called cherry-picking. The quote from Chu is not only desperately incomplete, but contradicts the positions put forward by The Australia Institute and supports the positions put forward by Senator Sean Edwards. That is, that dry-cask storage has proven remarkably safe, will be an effective solution into the future and the use of fast-neutron reactors is under active consideration.

The Australia Institute’s motto is “research that matters” and their philosophy includes “through a combination of research and creativity we can promote new solutions and ways of thinking”.
Sounds nice. My suggestion would be that the “creativity” comes after the research. Not during.

Where we can spare land, we must. A response to Ramez Naam

Earlier this year author Ramez Naam took me to task for what he calls a lack of context in a piece I wrote comparing the land footprint of solar thermal with that of small modular nuclear.

It’s an interesting discussion. He’s not arguing with my numbers. I’m not arguing with his. Both of us support deployment of nuclear and renewable technologies.

The disagreement appears to be based on whether the land use issue for solar is even an issue.

The context knife cuts both ways on that one.

Naam puts the land use required for a solar United States in the context of the area of the whole United States, coming to a figure of 0.6 %.

This figure is low because Naam uses (as did I) average electricity output per unit land for a system with no storage. It was suitable for my comparison of one facility with another. It is not suitable in a comparison of powering the entire US. In that case, average output and no storage is irrelevant. The worst possible period of output will govern the size and economics of the solar thermal requirements. As Naam says he doesn’t believe 100 % solar is going to happen. Nonetheless, it pays to understand this as many commentators expect a big role from solar with storage.

In the same article, Naam reminds the reader that agriculture roughly uses 30 % of the land of the United States, the built environment is using 166 % of the area that would be required for solar and coal mines are using about the same area as would be required for solar (an interesting quantification, to be sure, which I won’t dispute). National defence areas are raised as another example, and one could go on and on.

There is a serious flaw in this reasoning.

The point was never that the world is literally too small for solar. The point was that land is scarce in the economic definition of the word: it is subject to many competing uses and demands and it must be allocated efficiently. The use that most often gets shafted in our human civilisation is biodiversity. Put another way, we get amazing biodiversity outcomes when we make land near-valueless to humans for anything else. For example Naam highlights disused farm land in the US to assert that the size required for solar is relatively small. The interesting question, surely, is what should we do with this disused land? Give it over to energy production of some form like energy cropping? I would hope not. I would hope it might be returned to habitat as has been the case for New England forests.

Lurching from one land-intensive energy supply to another does not further the land-sparing outcome. The way coal consumes country is horrible as I pointed out in this video. Naam asserts that solar uses the same amount of space, with lesser disturbance. I regard that as faint praise.

Solar thermal won’t work on just any old land. Naam acknowledges that the efficiencies of the system matter. A first-order consideration for economic output from solar is the right area with the best solar resource.

That’s why Ivanpah is in the Mojave Desert, where it displaced an endangered species, not on disused farmland in the eastern United States. Naam’s quantification that a solar USA would require half the Mojave is getting closer to the point. That’s also the reasons why it is on a flat area, not the mountainous Mojave terrain which is much of the terrain. Again, the suitable area is constrained and the relative pressure rises for scarce space.

Pointing out the other (often destructive) ways humans have used land, and the amazing scale of this use, is an argument for constraining our footprint in everything we do from here: agriculture, human habitat and energy to name the big three. Leveraging it to say “therefore this impact doesn’t matter”, well… that’s the sort of corporate, environmental impact assessment logic which time and time again drives the death of a thousand cuts of one area after the next. When an option for massively smaller disturbance is available, as there is in the comparison of nuclear with solar thermal, we should take it. To assert the difference doesn’t matter is a blind spot.

Two friends. Two journeys. Two worlds

I am glad to know that I live in a world where poverty is declining.

While that is true it remains a world of haves and have nots. Those of us who “have” can barely conceive the lives led by those of us who have not. We can scarcely grasp the diabolical choices they face. Our position of astounding privilege can lead to badly warped perspectives.

Two friends of mine recently took two very different journeys. An Australian, Gary Davies, went to Germany. An American, Michael Shellenberger went to Indonesia. They both met locals, and their journeys both involved rivers.

In Indonesia, Michael met a family who live in the concrete undercarriage of a busy road bridge. They live there because that’s the best option they know of. Reaching their home required a precarious crossing of a polluted river. Once a two-year-old child was dropped, and died. Their living involves fishing recyclable rubbish from the dirty water. They are periodically evicted. They dream of a job in a factory. In their current economic conditions, these people live on the margins of harm from extreme weather events that are expected from a changing climate. It’s a problem of global environmental commons to which they scarcely have the income to contribute.

Per capita electricity consumption in Indonesia is 733 kWh per year.

In Germany, Gary and his friends were accosted by locals protesting nuclear energy. These people doubtless lived in secure homes. These people had the economic security that permitted leisure time to protest against facilities that provide electricity with no greenhouse emissions, no air pollution, and that have never hurt a German person by virtue of the nuclear fission process. Not only that, their economic security enabled a remarkable conversation starter: a free glass of champagne. So wealthy are they, they can provide alcohol to strangers in the name of delivering their argument to an audience. Such wealth results from several centuries of exploitation of energy for economic development.

Per capita electricity consumption in Germany is 7,270 kWh per year. So wealthy is Germany that in the last four years she has, by simple dint of policy, forced closure of over 50 TWh per year of nuclear electricity generation. That’s 28 % of the total annual electricity generation of Indonesia, junked.

Meanwhile on the Rhine, Gary didn’t see families living under bridges, fishing rubbish to make a living. He saw a barge called Privilege moves masses of polluting coal up-river, to power an economy that keeps the locals in champagne.

Running to stand still

Germany’s Energiewende seems to be the global litmus test for all renewables, no-nuclear future. Whatever the final suite of outcomes, no one will be able to say the Germans didn’t try very hard.

They have been trying, very hard indeed, to eliminate their dependence on nuclear electricity, maintain a stable and reliable grid with affordable electricity, and meet targets for reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

For a while there it all seemed to be going pear-shaped. Greenhouse gas emissions were rising, year on year.

Then, in year ending 2014, emissions from the electricity sector dropped, sharply, by 16 megatonnes CO2-e. Victory is being claimed in some circles for the Energiewende. This is highly premature to say the least, and disgustingly perverse to say the most.

What was behind this sudden drop? It was profound, and strongly breaking from the developing trend of the previous four years.

DE CO2

It helps to take matters back a step.

Since year ending 2010 to year ending 2014, (the period of sudden nuclear closure) Germany has reduced output of electricity from the nuclear sector by about 43 TWh per year.

In the corresponding period they have increased output from the overall renewable sector by 55.8 TWh per year. So they have more than covered it in terms of simple output. In principle (if closing nuclear is what you care about) so far so good.

In that same period, to year ending 2014:

  • Brown coal is up 9.9 TWh
  • Black coal is down 8 TWh
  • Gas is down 31 TWh
  • Fossil oil down 2.7 TWh

That’s 55.8 TWh added in renewables, and 75.3 TWh lost in nuclear and fossil.

But a huge amount of that decline in fossil happened in the year-ending 2014 alone. When you look at just the change from year-ending 2013 to year-ending 2014, you can see Germany put on a new 8.2 TWh in renewable generation, and dropped 28.4 TWh across fossil (and a tiny bit in nuclear) compared with 2013. That leaves 20.2 TWh that has disappeared, handily, from fossil fuels, giving a drop in emissions of about 16 Mt CO2-e in the electricity sector for year-ending 2014. Why?

The 2013/2014 winter was Germany’s fourth warmest winter on record, a record stretching to 1881, and 2014 was Germany’s hottest year on record. This is broadly acknowledged as the source of the decline in energy demand. That was the source of the decline in emissions.

It’s an anomaly, in other words, though one that may recur more frequently with climate change. It’s not victory to Energiewende; it’s respite for advocates who finally get some figures to lean on.

But that is where the perversity of all this really comes in. No matter how you slice it this is nothing to be proud of. Germany has been going full speed on renewables and in the process has displaced 43 TWh of clean generation. In climate terms, it has spent four years running to stand still.

The same Teutonic fervour directed against Germany’s seemingly entrenched lignite sector would mean we could all now be grateful for more than just a weather-driven dip in emissions from the electricity sector.

We could be celebrating a permanent cut of an extra 50 megatonnes per year of CO2-e from the German power sector that has nothing to do with the weather. We could be watching a new model of mixed-technology decarbonisation take shape from which the rest of us could learn. A new case study to add to places like France, Sweden and Ontario.

Instead, it’s Atomkraft? Nein danke! Policy by platitude. We can look forward to more of the same for 2015, as new renewables fill the gap left by the prematurely closed Grafenrheinfeld 1275 MWe reactor. The new renewable capacity required to replace it could be instead permanently cutting another 10 megatonnes CO2-e per year from Germany’s electricity sector, were it closing dirty brown coal. Germany decided to piss that opportunity up a wall.

Nein Danke

Anti-nuclear activists in Germany. Note the empty bottles of sparkling wine in the bottom left. They were opening discussions by offering passers-by a small champagne. Photo by Gary Davies

As for the renewables, 25 % of the new capacity since year ending 2010 is biomass, which is now running as baseload. That is not a model of decarbonisation that can be sustainably scaled-up.

Where the Energiewende ends remains to be seen. However I will say this with confidence: the decision to embrace lignite above fission, at a juncture where we needed strong action on climate change, was and will forever remain a monumental travesty, perpetrated by people of privilege.

Privilege

The coal barge Privilege. Photo by Gary Davies

A lot changes in three years: Zero Carbon Options 2015 Edition

With thanks to a generous donor, a 2015 edition of Zero Carbon Options is now available!

ZCO 2015

The new edition features:

  • Foreword by Senator Sean Edwards
  • Foreword by Professor Corey Bradshaw
  • Over a dozen endorsements from academics, politicians, activists and analysts
  • New preface from me
  • Revised introduction

The preface to the 2015 edition is published below. 

logo onlyA lot changes in three years.

When we launched Zero Carbon Options in November 2012 it was the culmination of six months of unpaid work. We delivered an original methodology and important findings, packaged in a fantastic graphic design.

We filled the room, yet it felt a little empty. Despite inviting every Member of Parliament in South Australia, none attended. None sent official representation. It seemed nuclear remained a political no-go.

Fast-forward to the first half of 2015 and the South Australian government of Premier Jay Weatherill will investigate expansion into the nuclear fuel cycle via a Royal Commission. Political winds are changing. The Royal Commission has been launched from a political party with a history of antagonism to nuclear technology (Labor- left).

040815_0116_Wemustactan1.jpg

Senator Sean Edwards

An ambitious vision from South Australian Senator Sean Edwards (Liberal- right) would make South Australia a global hub of storage and recycling of once-used nuclear fuel. The realisation of this economic strategy would permanently displace coal from South Australian electricity generation. Both the Federal Government (Liberal) and the Federal Opposition (Labor) have now clearly indicated that national policy on nuclear will be driven from the outcomes of the Royal Commission. It’s on us now.

The nuclear conversation is moving from a whisper among friends to a mainstream conversation in the community. What changed? How did this happen?

We can imagine that November 2012 was simply the “wrong” time and now the time is “right”. That belies a massive effort, both within Australia and around the world, that has amplified the growing realities of the energy and climate challenges we face.

In mid-2013 the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering held a two-day conference called Nuclear Power for Australia? The resulting communiqué and subsequent publications of ATSE did much to build interest and credibility in the nuclear discussion in Australia.

4447Documentary film maker Robert Stone released Pandora’s Promise and brought it to Australia in late 2013. He was aided by supporters in every Australian capital city. The distributor, Gil Scrine of Cinema Ventures, was prepared to cop the criticism from his arts community. We sold out several screenings, sold loads of DVDs, Robert did Q&A in his indefatigable style and Australian media loved him.

By the end of that year, climate scientists were taking the fight up to environmentalists. A powerful open letter from Ken Caldeira, Kerry Emmanuel, James Hansen and Tom Wigley to every major environmental non-governmental organisation in the world, requested a demonstration of “real concern about risks from climate damage by calling for the development and deployment of advanced nuclear energy”.

BradshawHeadshotFrog_ProkopecAdelaideAdvertiser1

Professor Corey Bradshaw

Another climate scientist, Australian coral reef specialist Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, added his voice to the calls for nuclear power in the middle of 2014. Then Australian Professors Barry Brook (University of Tasmania) and Corey Bradshaw (University of Adelaide) assembled 75 other leading conservation scientists from over a dozen nations to “entreat the conservation and environmental community to weigh up the pros and cons of different energy sources … rather than simply relying on idealistic perceptions of what is ‘green’”.

The commissioning of the world’s largest solar farm in the Mojave desert underscored the vast territory that is required for a modest and variable electricity supply, reflecting the land use concerns we raised in Zero Carbon Options. Outcomes of feasibility studies were released for the solar thermal concept for Port Augusta in South Australia, which served as a point of comparison in our report. This revealed pricing to be economically unviable and near-identical to that which we published in Zero Carbon Options two years earlier.

KGOGAN

Kirsty Gogan, Energy for Humanity

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change chose to reflect the emerging evidence. As academic Suzy Waldman identified, the Fifth Assessment Report firmly re-grouped nuclear and renewables as the low-carbon energy sources. The agreement on emissions reduction between the USA and China in late 2014 exposed the critical role of nuclear energy in meeting climate goals of worthwhile ambition. We saw the birth of Energy for Humanity, a not-for-profit organisation prosecuting the case for plentiful clean energy with nuclear technology as a core solution. The CEO, Kirsty Gogan, is another long-standing environmentalist who put concern for climate change above dogmatism over solutions.

In South Australia, random polling confirmed what many had suspected: support for nuclear power was far higher than popularly perceived. Peak business group Business SA stated “we should be mature enough to have an informed public debate on the pros and cons of developing a nuclear industry”.

In late 2014 US-based film maker Gordon McDowell created a crisply edited and entertaining version of my 2014 Google Earth presentation to the Brisbane Global Café. He laid out the case for nuclear in Australia with an amazing mix of dialogue, images and text. Adelaide’s own Geoff Russell wrote and published the informative e-book Greenjacked! , which is among the best explorations of the history of our fears and understanding of radiation I have ever read.

Joyashree Roy, co-author of the Ecoomdernist Manifesto

Joyashree Roy, co-author of the Ecoomdernist Manifesto

In April 2015, an international coalition of 18 analysts and academics published the Ecomodernist Manifesto. This provided a unifying, hopeful vision of the future with plentiful, clean energy as a prerequisite. The following month, 39 nuclear societies issued a declaration that shares the objective of limiting global warming and calls for greater recognition of nuclear technology as essential in meeting this challenge.

The “right time” does not happen, people make it happen. Those of us who wanted evidence-based change in our collective approach to climate and energy have been working hard to make the right time “right now”. That includes a veritable army of energetic supporters, a dawning movement of ecomodernists, taking up the challenge across our social media platforms.

I’m proud to re-release Zero Carbon Options this year. Aside from the forewords and the commentary from readers the 2015 report is largely as it was published in 2012.

I and many others continue to field variations of the question “can’t we do it all with renewable energy?” This report is my contribution to assisting Australians to draw their own informed conclusions on the basis of evidence from a simple, transparent methodology.

To those doubting the capacity for change in our society and institutions, I invite you to review the last three years in South Australia, take heart, and be the change you wish to see.

Ben Heard, June 2015

Hard copies of the report are available on request at a cost of $15 including postage. Email ben.heard@thinkclimateconsulting.com.au

Optus nuclear? Conservation Council needs expert reviewers

This week, the Conservation Council of South Australia released a report purporting to provide a road map for 100 % renewable energy in South Australia, achievable in the next 15 years. Here is the summary (version 15 June 8.36 pm).

100-percent-Renewables-for-SA-summary-report

This version of the report is also available here.

As far as the key message goes I’m both interested and nonplussed. As a relatively small part of a vastly larger grid, I find this a barely-relevant pursuit; possibly feasible with sufficient expense and government fiat.  As recently published in Transactions of the Royal Society of South Australia, we said:

In electricity terms, South Australia is not, in normal circumstances, an island. The
current and future success of integrating variable renewable energy in South Australia
hinges on the reliability provided by the rest of the NEM network. In that context,
pursuing high penetrations of variable renewables in South Australia, as an end itself,
becomes a parochial pursuit more so than a meaningful contribution to decarbonising the National Electricity Market.

I will leave it to my energy-literate readers to offer further critique on this plan.

However this summary report did not limit itself to a positive renewable story for South Australia. It dedicated some space to attacking nuclear energy technologies. I was stunned by the reference to Optus. See the image below, taken from page 10 of the summary report.

Optus

A mistake is not beyond anyone, including me. The Conservation Council is perfectly entitled to make mistakes and it’s not my intention to poke fun.

However, these are serious matters and CCSA is prosecuting these arguments in a serious way. Given a full paragraph of unrelated material made print, I feel entitled to ask: how carefully was this material reviewed for anything prior to publication?

If the Conservation Council of South Australia is publishing nuclear “myth-busting” with reference to Optus, I posit that no one within the organisation is reviewing the veracity or robustness of the “nuclear energy myths” themselves. This may well be because, quite reasonably, no one within the organisation is sufficiently knowledgable to pick a fact from a furphy on these issues.

Take, for example, the last “myth” on this image: “NUCLEAR WEAPONS CANNOT BE MADE FROM THE INTEGRAL FAST REACTOR”.

The headline is an entirely correct statement. Nuclear weapons cannot be made from the integral fast reactor.

I had to deal with this, on the spot, in front of about 60 people yesterday, with Dr Mark Diesendorf, lead author of this work for the Conservation Council, telling an audience that the IFR increased proliferation risk. Yet the text above clearly states that, no matter what, a chemical reprocessing facility, which is nothing whatsoever to do with an IFR, is required to do any meaningful separation of plutonium. So if you don’t build a chemical reprocessing facility… what then? Are we to suppose that material from an IFR hot-cell in South Australia is first processed, then diverted, sent away on a ship to France to a facility that already exists and operates to undertake this process and the world is somehow more dangerous because of the IFR? Given that an IFR is designed around the permanent elimination of long-lived nuclear materials, the whole thing is patently absurd fearmongering.

As I said in panel yesterday, the South Australian community needs to reach a consensus position on nuclear. For that they need basically agreed information on the table for consideration.

So I am glad of the Royal Commission, because it will be hard to move to serious and intelligent discussions when far-reaching NGOs issue publications on contentious topics without seeking adequate review.

South Australia deserves better. Fortunately, there is plenty of time left for CCSA to take a more responsible approach, and there are plenty of people who would be willing to help.