In his article of 6 November, Senator Scott Ludlam spoke on the subject of evidence and raised wide-ranging arguments against nuclear. Back in March he inferred the Royal Commission would put the nuclear industry “on trial”. Trials, evidence…what he fails to declare is whether he will accept the verdict.

I am confident the Commission will interrogate the evidence. They will find the errors and the misdirection. It sounded simplistic when Senator Ludlam claimed renewables provide more energy than nuclear. Indeed, he was hasty. He compared the percentage of global energy from nuclear with percentage of global power generation (electricity) from non-hydro renewables; a meaningless comparison. When I compared apples with apples from the Senator’s selected source, this is what the data showed:

Table 1: Division of global electricity generation by low-carbon sources. Source: BP Statistical Review 2015 Data Workbook
Generating source Electricity produced (TWh) Percentage of global total
Hydroelectricity 3,885 16.5%
Nuclear 2,537 10.8%
Other renewables (all) 1,400 6.0%
Wind 706 3.0%
Solar 186 0.8%

 

The biggest source is hydroelectricity. That technology galvanised such protest over its potential environmental impacts on the Franklin river, it gave birth to the Australian Greens in 1983. Second is nuclear, third is all other renewables, in which solar, mentioned twice by Senator Ludlam, remains less than 0.8 % of the global total. Today, it contributes over 13 times less than the nuclear sector.

Senator Ludlam talks of nuclear “declining into obsolescence”. Yet his source stated nuclear had enjoyed two years of above average growth, a regain in market share and suggested it will grow 58% to 2035. On the same day the Senator’s piece was published,  The White House announced “Actions to Ensure that Nuclear Energy Remains a Vibrant Component of the United States’ Clean Energy Strategy”, affirming continued US development of new and advanced nuclear technologies along with support for currently operating nuclear power plants as an important component of their clean energy strategy. Less than one month from the 21st Conference of Parties in Paris, this announcement could barely have been more potent.

All is not roses for the nuclear sector. But these are some of the examples why Senator Ludlam cannot be trusted when the subject is nuclear energy. Evidence can always be misused by being careless and selective. That’s why I am grateful the South Australian government entrusted the task to a Royal Commission.

Much of Senator Ludlam’s argument is economic. That is welcome progress. Perhaps he noticed when Friends of the Earth UK’s independent report confirmed that nuclear is both low carbon and safe. Just watch the testimony from global authority Professor Geraldine Thomas, leader of the Chernobyl Tissue Bank. She expertly unpacked what the harm of radiation is and is not. For her, the evidence changed everything. So, if economics is the real issue, the answer is simple: let nuclear compete. There is no basis for arbitrarily applying environmental legislation against safe, zero-carbon generation.

The economics concern me too. I know the state of the South Australian economy. We cannot afford to selectively subsidise. We need to create durable, meaningful industry that answers genuine global needs.

So, in partnership with Senator Sean Edwards (Liberal, South Australia), we used our clean slate to propose a reboot of nuclear economics. That proposal demonstrates that when we pool a portion of the globally available revenues from accepting and storing used nuclear fuel we can profitably commercialise the technologies to recycle it. We can do that and make $28 billion. Or we can give the electricity away and make $17 billion. Senator Edwards favours the latter approach, to directly share the benefits among the South Australians he represents. This is a project of which we could be very proud.

I invite all readers to view that submission to the Royal Commission. Every contention is referenced. Every figure is sourced. The specifics of the submission are there for the critiquing yet Senator Ludlam only offered generalisations. We know the Royal Commission will properly test what we have brought forward. I invite readers to hear the testimony of Dr Eric Loewen from General Electric-Hitachi. He confidently addressed the Royal Commission for over an hour and reinforced what our submission asserts: this recycling-reactor technology can be commercialised and the opportunity is there to do that in South Australia.

Senator Ludlam suggested there is a stealth plan to make South Australia a dump. Well, to the Senator from Western Australia I say this: this is my home. I was raised here, I am raising children here, and I am staying here. Dumping? That is no plan of mine. I want to make South Australia the nuclear recycling hub for the 21st century. I support the vision of Senator Edwards who wants high-tech jobs for South Australians for the next hundred years and beyond. I want to commercialise the solution to a problem the Australian Greens like to point at. There is no party more morally compelled to support this proposal than the Greens. Fully implemented, this proposal would cut 15 million tons of Australia’s greenhouse gas per year while recycling used nuclear fuel. Of course, perhaps the Greens prefer to keep that “waste” problem alive and kicking. It certainly is useful if fear is your tool of trade.

Finally, a word on Senator Ludlam’s appeal to emotion. Right now the biggest health threat in the world is air-pollution.  It kills half a million children under five every year. It comes from burning coal and also “renewable” biomass. The horror of the simple, unglamorous poverty in our own region would shock most Australians. That’s just one reason why I respect the decision of many of our neighbours to include clean, reliable, zero-carbon nuclear in their energy plans. That’s one reason why I want to help them transition to the most sustainable possible model by commercialising the full recycling of used nuclear fuel. Senator Ludlam has no monopoly on emotion. It is what makes us human. What is rarer in this complex world is the wisdom to temper emotion with all the evidence and come to a responsible decision.

So this is the challenge I issue the Australian Greens. If we secure a government commitment to commercialise the technology that solves the used fuel problem … hold us to it. Demand a roadmap for implementation. Demand commitments from governments and regulators. Demand a date for the first flow of zero-carbon electricity from recycled nuclear fuel. Take a seat at the table in making this happen. Show us that much wisdom and I will work with you to that end.

The alternative is to keep pointing at a problem and offering the world no answer. That’s an option of course, but it’s not what leadership looks like.

20 comments

  1. You mention the generation of electricity by source, I’m curious if you know how much we’ve actually spent on subsidies for solar and wind here in Australia. Keep asking myself how many GWe of nuclear capacity we could have built with it. I suspect over the last decade SA alone has spent several many billions.

  2. Dr Caldicott’s evidence, if it can be called that, was cringe-worthy.

    I don’t understand how one can become such an apparently eminent paediatrician, yet have some limited command of scientific argumentation.

    Thank goodness for Prof Thomas.

  3. As a person who lived in SA and now lives in hydro country I can tell you that resource is not looking too good at the moment. It’s a pity the Empowerme website is not archived.
    http://empowerme.org.au/market.html#
    For today’s heatwave we see of SA’s 2800 MW peak demand the most from windpower was under 900 MW. As usual PV faded in the late afternoon but I believe thousands of aircons will be running in the evening humidity. The heavy lifting is from up to 1700 MW of gas and liquid fuel generation the rest from coal. Next summer there will be no SA coal generation.

    Hard line Greens are starting to sound like the Taliban. Not only calling James Hansen a climate ‘denier’ but by making increasingly daft claims about renewables . Note we will probably fall far short of the 2020 RET of 33 Twh despite several forms of very generous financial assistance.

    I agree SA should get into fuel reprocessing but with the caveat SA gets nuclear electricity experience first along with much greater interstate transmission capacity.

    1. John, this heatwave has made it clearer than ever that our state wind fleet works primarily as a fuel saver, and barely at all as actual capacity for handling demand. Whilst pushing close to 3 gigawatt evening demand, folks still deck out their front lawns in spectacular Christmas light displays. They’re not interested in energy policy, and they shouldn’t be made to be.

      When Sunday night supply from Victoria was interrupted last month, they were briefly made to care. One of the forkies at work the next day said to me “Why don’t we have our own ****ing power stations?”

      My own extrapolation agrees that Australia will miss the 2020 RET. If Wheatley’s analysis of NEM wind is anything to go by, this may be somewhat different to actually abating the intended levels of emissions anyway.

      AEMO forecasts dramatically expanded gas turbine use partially replacing high net imports by 2025. I shudder at the cost involved. Beginning the fuel bank business sooner rather than later will provide substantial capital that may relieve other costs. Opponents need to reflect honestly on how the rest of the state will view their intransigence.

  4. As usual, an excellent and well reasoned response Ben. Calling out Senator Ludlam for using the politics of fear for political gain is correct and I hope this piece gets picked up and published in MSM.

    The anti nuclear religion led by The Greens has I think been worried by the loss of its acolytes and position in the political landscape, as a response to greater awareness by the general public of verifiable facts, . Their position is untenable if not laughable.

    If only we could get SBS to play Pandora’s Box as often as they have run Gasland. How might we make this happen?

  5. Sometimes Adelaide Now paywalled articles emerge after a couple of searches
    http://www.adelaidenow.com.au/entertainment/arts/royal-commissioner-kevin-scarce-says-south-australian-nuclear-power-would-be-hard-and-expensive/news-story/3e46027cf2aa889fdb002953c108289c#load-story-comments

    I note an odd similarity between advocacy groups
    – soon cheap batteries will make (3rd gen) nuclear unnecessary
    – soon 4th gen nuclear will make 3rd gen nuclear unnecessary
    I’ll believe whatever I see. Meanwhile I have a sneaking suspicion we’ll get another 20 years of coal and increasingly expensive gas.

  6. I don’t think this has been pointed out before but a solar thermal plant under construction in Forbes NSW will apparently use molten metallic sodium as a working fluid
    http://www.vastsolar.com/documents/Vast%20Solar%20Short%20Intro%20Oct%202015.pdf
    The heat reservoir will be molten salt but sodium will be used to transfer heat from the towers at the focus of the mirrors. I seem to recall critics of IFRs went bananas over the danger of sodium fires. Like radioactive decay as the heat source for dry geothermal it seems context absolves all criticism.

    More pointedly if the heat can be stored for just 4 hours how is both the sodium metal and the salt kept hot, say in a rainy week? No mention in the link of an Ivanpah US style winter gas boost. Perhaps the gas will be deemed honorary non-fossil.

      1. Somehow this has been kept out of the mainstream media. Silence from those calling for solar thermal to replace the Pt Augusta coal stations. Note also the large wheat silo next door has been photoshopped out of the photo based image for the completed plant in the earlier link.

  7. SA could justify gigawatt scale nuclear if there was suitable transmission to WA
    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-01-04/rooftop-solar-panels-bigger-than-biggest-turbine-wa/7066240
    That would require an expensive HVDC cable across the Nullarbor. In effect WA has a capacity market since coal and gas plant is kept on standby whether needed or not. Note also AEMO the NEM operator has recently taken over the south west grid even though they are separated at high voltage level by over 1,000 km.

      1. Decision time is coming up fast. SA’s coal baseload closes in March. The Royal Commission reports in May. To maintain momentum I think SA must pour concrete on a NPP site before 2020. I think SA has to decide on an nth-of-a-kind proven technology whether or not it may be superseded.

        Also Terrestrial’s costs are an estimate unlike established makes. Westinghouse checked out SA and said they could build twin AP1000s with high local input for $17.5 bn or about $8/w for 2.2 GW. However that’s far too big for existing interstate export transmission capacity which will be 870 MW to the east and 0 MW to the west and far north.

        1. I wish SA all the wisdom and luck in their endeavor. In my opinion, any nuclear plant is preferred over the alternatives that I would be an advocate in them going forward with the generation 3+ LWR design. The IMSR’s inherent safety characteristics, low pressure, minuscule long term waste, small reactor core, and uncomplicated power generation technology seems almost the perfect match for a country that is considering allowing nuclear to compete in the power marketplace. The question is whether a generation 3+ design will compete without substantial subsidy. It is my understanding that Terrestrial Energy and/or Thorcon Power is scheduled to have their design far enough along that a concrete foundation could be placed by 2020 in Canada or Indonesia – why not Australia as well? My home is Oregon, USA which doesn’t allow nuclear to compete as well therefore I sympathize and are encouraged by Australians who are working so hard on this issue. Good health and great success to all of you in 2016.

  8. Radiophobia combined with lazy thinking explains a lot

    When ReachTEL asked people in the same four Coalition seats whether they supported or opposed Australia gradually transitioning to 100% renewable energy by 2030, about three-quarters of the sample were in favour.

    According to Table 4.2 of Australian Energy Statistics 2015 we get 85.1% of our electricity from burning fossil fuels. Assuming ‘energy’ in the opinion poll equates to electricity we have 14 years to replace that 85% or more than 6% a year. No gas backup, no regard to El Nino effects of hydro or biomass, just 100% RE. The public doesn’t want to think too hard.

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