Happy New Year to readers new and old! Thanks for the ongoing support you offered throughout 2013. A great deal of good outcomes were achieved for those seeking a faster, deeper and better route to decarbonisation through the deployment of nuclear power, both internationally and here in Australia.
From my local point of view there were several highlights:
- The mid-year conference hosted by ATSE Nuclear power for Australia? and the excellent resulting communique and conference report
- The major and ongoing impact of Pandora’s Promise. I was privileged to assist Cinema Ventures in bringing this film to Australia. We had sold-out shows, including Adelaide, and a slew of great media centring on all-round legend, director Robert Stone
- High profile coverage of the letter from leading climate scientists, including Adelaide friend Tom Wigley calling on environmental organisations to embrace advanced nuclear power technology
- The notable break out in positive commentary for closer consideration of nuclear in Australia from many new voices and places including NSW Member of Parliament John O’Dea, ATSE Chairman Alan Finkel , Tristan Edis of Climate Spectator, John Watson for The Age, Geoff Russell reaching new audiences, Peter Boyer (climate change reporter for The Mercury), Corey Bradshaw and (as of this week) Tory Shepherd in The Advertiser
- The clear articulation of nuclear power, particularly Small Modular Reactors, as an area for consideration in the upcoming Energy White Paper
- Inclusion of nuclear power in a regional survey relating to potential energy investments in South Australia, a move that angered the Greens (by asking people their opinion… outrageous, I know)
- My own commentary appearing in local publication including The Australian, In Daily, ABC Environment Online, and The Advertiser , and my presentation to the Young Nuclear Professionals Congress in Washington DC.
In a triumph of activism taking primacy over analysis, Jim Green of Friends of the Earth declared 2013 the “annus horribilis” for nuclear, and declared the nuclear renaissance “stone cold dead”.
To quote myself from 18 months ago, it’s also very, very predictable:
It is a longstanding tactic of anti-nuclear ideologues to paint the nuclear industry as a technologically stagnant, declining dinosaur with no future, for the simple reason that no one likes to back a loser. It’s a great way of keeping Australians from bothering to look more closely.
Nuclear power broke exciting new ground all over the world in 2013. Some of my international highlights for 2013 include:
- Funding for NuScale Power to license their 45 MW Small Modular Reactor, joining Generation mPower with their 180 MW unit
- China bringing online new large nuclear for around $2,000 per kWe installed, demonstrating the learning we expect when nuclear is implemented at scale. Curiously, these prices are for the same reactors as have seen cost overruns in Europe, which highlights the importance of seeing the whole in trying to understand the trajectory of nuclear
- The UK securing a funding model to support investment in the high-capital, low operational cost generation such as nuclear and off-shore wind, with the go-ahead for 3.2 GW of new nuclear power that will underpin lower electricity emissions for the UK this century
- Russia announcing plans for 21 new reactors including metal-cooled fast reactors
- Saudi Arabia announcing a major new nuclear program to join the UAE, Jordan and Turkey in building large nuclear generation, quickly, in the middle-east
- Tom Blees’ Integral Fast Reactor proposal scoring a major win in the MIT Climate Co-Lab competition
- Michael Shellenberger laying bare the fallacies in the arguments of the NRDC and Ralph Nader in the televised analysis of Pandora’s Promise on CNN
Of course it would be equally silly of me or others to suggest that nuclear power is blossoming in the way some might have expected a decade or more ago (it isn’t), that the current environment for nuclear power is, without exception, fabulous (it isn’t), and that it is smooth seas ahead for a dramatic expansion (it isn’t).
We can see whatever we want to see. It’s a big and complex world out there. We achieve more by having the courage and honesty to seek to see the whole as much as we can.
The truth for the nuclear sector, as best as I can make out, remains uneven and mixed depending on where and what we are talking about. Green is not telling fibs when he describes the tough conditions for the nuclear sector in the United States. Nor is he making a mountain out of a molehill when he discusses the evident corruption and regulatory failures in South Korea. Nor is he alone in questioning the cost and value of the new nuclear developments in the United Kingdom (I beat him to it). Japan’s slow road to re-start of reactors continue to act as an anchor on confidence in the sector. Nuclear power generation continues to face real challenges to expansion.
Perhaps the most important distinction to be made is that to the anti-nuclear activist who cares little for analysis, signs pointing to the loss, constraint or demise of nuclear power is, without exception, good. To those who care enough about mitigation of climate change to understand the role of nuclear power, it is cause for deep concern. There remain simple truths amidst the complexity that are underpinned by decades of clear evidence:
- Constraint of nuclear power does not drive other zero-carbon alternatives to a position of energy supply dominance
- Constraint and rollback of nuclear power does reinforce the dominance of fossil fuels and drives rising greenhouse gas emissions. Count Germany, Japan and now California as stark examples
- Embrace of nuclear power in partnership with renewable sources has delivered deep decarbonisation and reliable energy for fully developed nations and economies with large populations, as demonstrated in France, Sweden, Switzerland, and now Canadian province Ontario (population 13.5 million), and soon to be joined by Finland
- Embrace of renewable energy sources alone has never delivered deep decarbonisation and reliable energy for fully developed nations and economies with large populations
- Nuclear power is our safest major energy option
- The Integral Fast Reactor can provide all electricity for the whole world with existing stockpiles of spent fuel and depleted uranium, using little land, and eliminating energy mining in the process
- We live in a growing world, and we need very large amounts of clean energy
It’s those truths that keeping bringing intellectually rigorous people in behind new clean generation of power through modern nuclear technology. When those concerned with climate change mitigation give analysis primacy above activism, pro-nuclear activism is so often the result, spurring efforts to remove the silly barriers to nuclear and overcome the genuine ones. These truths will continue to spur my efforts as I seek to contribute to lasting, meaningful and scalable answers to our climate conundrum by following a new path of professional development via my recently commenced PhD with University of Adelaide.
It’s a journey I look forward to sharing with you. Welcome to 2014. Onward!
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