“Anti-nuclear arguments of “too slow” and “too costly” ring hollow when smacked with simple numerical truths”

This is an energy flow diagram for Australia in 2009/2010, taken from the Federal Government’s Energy in Australia 2012. If you are in the fossil fuel game, it’s a dream. If you are concerned about climate change, it’s a nightmare.

Energy flows 200910

There is a lot to glean from this. Here are a few interesting points:

  • Coal energy exports are over 4 times larger than domestic coal use
  • Uranium energy exports, on the assumption of use in current generation light water reactors, are 1.7 times larger in energy terms than our entire domestic coal generation, and the electricity they produce releases no greenhouse gas
  • Uranium energy exports, if deployed in Integral Fast Reactors that extract energy from all of the uranium, would provide roughly the same energy as our entire domestic coal and coal exports, with no greenhouse gas… fifty times over

Here’s a great video to explain the Integral Fast Reactor technology

Further into the report, we get a closer look at electricity generation. Here we can see the following.

  • Production from carbon-intensive sources is about 11 times larger than production from renewables
  • Production from non-hydro renewables is about 30 times smaller than production from carbon-intensive sources
  • Wind production has grown nearly three-fold in four years… to now provide about 2% of the electricity as supplied by carbon-intensive sources
  • Solar PV production has tripled in four years, a period that is acknowledged as a massive boom… to now provide 0.14% of the electricity supplied by carbon-intensive sources

Electricity generation by source Australia

Impressive growth figures can hide painful realities. The reality here is that while everything can help, to pin hopes on non-hydro renewables to get us off fossil fuels in a reasonable timeframe is deluded.

If climate change is a priority, excluding nuclear power from our energy planning is crazy. Another image that illustrates this comes from a surprise source… Germany. Even more surprisingly, the chart comes from a page called “Why solar will win the energy wars”.


It is clear that the smart way to displace that brown horizontal slab called “Lignite” would be by increasing the red horizontal slab called “Uranium”. To draw an analogy from the animal kingdom, if you needed to replace the function of a tiger in an ecosystem, an Indian lion might be a good choice: same basic beast, no stripes. Releasing 250 house cats and training them to gang up to bring down large game… may be possible. But it’s not going to be optimal.

So can we do it? The final chart comes from France and makes the resounding case: yes, we can.


The main barrier does not lie in the nuclear technology, but in our refusal to embrace it in a strategy to fight climate change. Arguments of “too slow” and “too costly” ring hollow when smacked with the simple numerical truths of the challenge and our options.

The message today is for those who support renewables, but not nuclear.  Please, support both.

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


  1. Love that German graph. That right there epitomises the aim of Decarbonise SA, for me at least. Let renewables do their job to chase the peak and give Nuclear a shot at that big fat load at the bottom. A Batman and Robin partnership.

  2. It’s interesting to look at the equivalent of the second chart for Germany :

    Click to access DEELEC.pdf

    And see that Nuclear there as been allowed to handle the increase in energy demand in the 80’s, and remove oil usage, but *never* to threaten the German coal industry :

    The chart unfortunately stops in 2009, an update would show that as a result of the recent measures, nuclear has been sacrificed in order to make sure the renewable increase still did not threaten coal.

    The truth is coal is all powerful in Germany.

    1. actually the way l read it, renewables are eating black coal’s lunch, they have a lot more to worry about than nuclear

      1. As I said, it’s unfortunate it stops in 2009. The crisis made Germany GDP go down very strongly in 2009, -4.7%. (IMF 2011 data http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/weo/2011/update/01/ ).

        But with the newer data, it’d be visible it was a bump in the road, not a trend change. In 2012, the sum of power generated by black and lignite coal is back slightly above the 2008 level. Black coal is slowly going down, but it’s being replaced by lignite ( as shown by the BRD data http://www.ag-energiebilanzen.de/componenten/download.php?filedata=1357206124.pdf&filename=BRD_Stromerzeugung1990-2012&mimetype=application/pdf ).

        So what had an impact on coal in 2009, was only that the whole energy production went down. And indeed strong recession is the most powerful tool we’ve seen for CO2 emission reduction, but is that what we wish ?

  3. Note that 63% of the renewables total comes from hydro most of which was constructed long before the carbon issue was a concern. It’s not just deep greens who need to ask if we can wean ourselves off coal but the Federal government who repeatedly assert we must decarbonise 80% by 2050.

    If so by the time today’s kindergarten aged kids are middle aged they will have to bring about a 20-fold increase in renewables and efficiency. Yet people and industry are struggling with energy costs now. It will be hard even with fourth generation nuclear.

    1. Agreed. The Federal Government is not asking this question. Compare the to the UK Government which is actually trying to get a strategy up for deep cuts by 2030 using both nuclear and renewables.

  4. I can’t decide whether the silliest part of the USA’s “renewables” is the wood burning or the notion that “waste” is a renewable resource. Even the indigenous civilization of the island of Aku-Aku wiped out their “renewable” wood resources. (The Europeans, except Thor Heyerdahl, call it Easter Island)

  5. Oh yes, and I reckon that the incentive for France to launch Electricite de France was the determination not to depend upon importing coal from les Allemands. But the EU has bullied them into privatizing it, and sure enough, now there are a substantial number of French people who have their “doubts” about nuclear!

  6. I’m not sure I fully understand what’s happening in the German graph. It appears that solar peaks at certain times, but when it does it seems to be producing a great deal of energy, at times more than nuclear or lignite. Am I reading this right?

    1. That’s about what I am seeing. A quick, “don’t hold me to the sources” scan of Germany’s 2012 electricity production tells me they got 27.9 TWh from 32.3 GWe of solar PV and 108 TWh from 20.5 GWe of nuclear. So yes, in principal there will be sunny times when enough of the installed solar is firing that it exceeds the nuclear output (32.3 being a larger number than 20.5). You can also see from the chart that those moments are pretty fleeting, it falls off steeply either side. It is also in May. I dare say it looks different in December 🙂

    2. The solar peaks are extremely peaky.
      If you do the calculation, within the short winter day (like 5 December 2012), 50% of the daily load is produced during the top 2h30. 80% is produced during the top 4h30 (see transparency.eex.com data)
      Record days like the famous latest 25 of may are much longer, but still produce 50% of the daily load during the top 4h30, and 80% during the top 8h.

      Larger resolution of the image above would show that at high penetration this results in what I’d compare to the back of a camel : Demand is very low in the night but rises quickly and early in the morning with very little solar production, then solar rises lowering the level of residual demand, then solar goes down again long before demand does, so that residual demand is back to a high level, before going down to the night level late in the night. That gives two successive bumps during the day for the rest of power.
      This could be actually quite good to handle with pumped hydro, except that in a country like Germany, in addition to this, there’s the fact that solar level varies a lot between days, so it doesn’t happen everyday, or not for a similar amount of energy.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: