Tomorrow’s anti-nuclear protest will reinforce regional coal dependence


Tomorrow, Adelaide will host a national day of action to protest any progress in potential further involvement in the nuclear fuel cycle in South Australia. The event is planned and coordinated by anti-nuclear groups from across the nation despite the fact that:

  1. The Citizen’s Jury process has only completed one of the three weekend meetings
  2. The Stakeholder Reference Group advising the jury process includes representation from these organisations
  3. The Citizen’s Jury will hear directly from representatives of several anti-nuclear organisations in the small expert witness list selected by the jurors themselves

Apparently, this level of involvement and representation is not enough. They will also gather and protest in the middle of a process in which they are deeply involved. There seems scant actual respect for the process itself.

We know why anti-nuclear groups are so terrified of this proposal. If South Australia/Australia were to provide a responsible service in used fuel management with international oversight, it would make it much easier for other nations to choose nuclear fission in their energy mix.

Why are they so concerned? We keep being told that nuclear is dying, that renewables are taking over, look at this investment level, look at these batteries. Despite being steeped in this literature and working on these matters full-time, according to my critics I seem to be constantly one media release behind on the technology breakthrough that will completely tip the energy balance to renewables.

This is basically complete rubbish. What is really happening is that we live in a world that is and continues to be dominated by fossil fuels. For evidence, consider Indonesia.

Earlier this year Indonesia released their energy investment plan from 2016 to 2025. I have reproduced the key table below. Allocated means a share of new production already allocated to private investors.

Generation Source Allocated (MW) Unallocated (MW) Total (MW) Percentage of total
Coal 25,125 1,714 26,839 43%
Gas (combined cycle) 6,780 9,310 16,090 26%
Geothermal 5,060 690 5,750 9%
Hydro 6,787 2,029 8,816 14%
Solar 0 2,900 2,900 5%
Other 1,922 0 1,922 3%
Total 45,674 16,643 62,317 100%

It’s 2016. They have all the options in front of them, and their electricity plan for the next 10 years is 43% coal and 69% fossil fuelled in total, in this huge, fast growing, poor nation on our doorstep. The 2.9 GW of new solar is something to cheer about, but not less than 26 GW of new coal is to come on line in the next 10 years.

This is not a blog discussion. This is not my opinion v yours. This is not the latest announcement from Elon Musk. This is the investment plan for Indonesia and PWC tells us loud and clear that coal fired power plants are to remain dominant.

A life of poverty for some Indonesians means living under a bridge. Image from Michael Shellenberger

So, if you were concerned about climate change, would it be a good thing or a bad thing to make it easier for Indonesia and dozens of nations like it to tilt their investment toward nuclear technology? While doing nothing, absolutely nothing, that need tilt investment away from renewable technology?

Australia will be lining up to help meet the growing coal demand from Indonesia, India and elsewhere. Many of the same faces and organisations you will see shouting down nuclear in Adelaide tomorrow will be asking you to protest and blockade Australian coal mine expansion and coal port expansion in Sydney and Melbourne the day after.

We are seriously running out of time for Australia’s “environmentalists” to wake up, grow up and join the damn dots.

Why I waited to comment on the SA blackout: reflections on preliminary findings


I have been commentating on electricity in my home state of South Australia for the past five years. So it may have surprised some that when the entire state (Yes, the whole place. Everything) went black a little over a week ago that I did not get right out there with comment.

There are two simple reasons for this.

Firstly, I was in China. More on that another time.

Secondly, and more importantly (wait for it)… I absolutely did not know or understand what had happened.

And, as I gradually took in news report, tweet, meme, media release in my inbox and op-ed, it became pretty obvious that no one else did either. What we have had is a week of furious politicking and spin, across the board, because seemingly no one was prepared to say “I don’t know yet”. It was seemingly more important to get preferred messages embedded in the public consciousness nice and early.

Our state government was quick to claim that this was an extreme weather event resulting from a catastrophic loss of infrastructure and literally nothing to do with our (frankly untested) energy mix. Yep, the wind event was hardcore, the pictures attest to that. Nope, I wasn’t buying the balance of that argument within the first hours because frankly no one knew. A piece from Tony Wood of Grattan Institute seemed to partially reinforce this, plying an argument I am tiring of: “It’s not wind, it’s that our system is not well structured to manage wind”. A lot of South Australians are struggling to appreciate that distinction and never really consented to being placed on the policy vanguard of system reliability in the first place.

Our Prime Minister (Turnbull), State Opposition Leader (Marshall) and independent Senator Xenaphon were quick to pin the blame all on the renewables, seemingly content to ignore a major, weather induced catastrophe that was hurting people in my home town even though at that time they, too, did not know.

The climate hawks had an interesting spin… apparently wind was the hero of the day, chugging away merrily until disaster struck and then swiftly back on deck.

“The fact is the system brought down all three generators for safety reasons after three transmission lines and nine towers fell. And wind generators actually helped restore power- the Snowtown wind farm was the second generator brought online”.

Andrew Stock of the Climate Council

Again, such a claim coming in scarcely after power was even restored is testing credulity because, yet again, they did not know. Independent energy commentator Tristan Edis asked us to compare this to a coal-induced failure in 2005… except that even did not black out the entire state. Fact is we seem to have nothing like this event on the record.


So frankly, the response in this first week has been mostly a politicized, tribal hot air. While I had my ideas and suspicions, I have been waiting for the reports to begin from the Australian Energy Market Operator. The preliminary report was released today and you can read it here.

So what happened?

Hypocrisy on Hansard


I recently sat in on a session of the Joint Committee reviewing the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission. Speaking to the committee this day was Dave Sweeney, Nuclear Free Campaigner of the Australian Conservation Foundation and Jim Green, National Nuclear Campaigner of Friends of the Earth. The transcript of the session is now available.

I was stunned by some of the hypocritical and contradictory messages put forward by these spokespeople. Truly, the arguments about issues of used nuclear fuel will be manipulated into whichever directions serves the goal of nil progress. They do not want a solution because they like the problem. The problem is good for them and their cause. Consider the following assertion:

 Dave Sweeney: The ACF view is that we don’t have a moral responsibility as a uranium exporting nation to bring stuff back. There is no other mineral product that we are asked to do that with, so we don’t accept that line.

Yet just a few short months earlier, when writing for The Guardian, Dave Sweeney said this:

Ancillary wha? Ancillary services

Data 1

Just because something is cheap to buy, does not mean it will be cheap to own, and just because the sticker price of some renewables is coming down does not mean we can keep adding them without costs. A reliable electricity supply is more than just electrons, and most of our reliability is provided by the dirtiest generators that we need to retire to deal with climate change. We can clean up our electricity supply and maintain reliability  provided we use all the technology available to us. Understanding more about ancillary services and the great concentration of greenhouse emissions in a relatively small number of generators in Australia illustrates a likely sensible floor for a nuclear sector in Australia. There is more than enough space for that, as well as a strongly growing renewables sector. We desperately need a sensible centre in our energy discussion that respects the way our system actually operates.

Ancillary adjective : providing necessary support to the primary activities or operation of an organization, system, etc.

Suddenly it seems like everyone is talking about ancillary services.

Ok, that’s an exaggeration. I am sure there are more people talking about the colour of the diving pool in Rio. In my little world of energy though, ancillary services have seemingly gone from nowhere to very interesting.

What the heck are ancillary services? You can read this piece to get a little idea, you can read this from AEMO to get much more of an idea or you can go with this…it’s all the important ingredients in running a reliable electricity system that you don’t know about. It is only one part of the game to provide the right number of megawatt hours in a given hour. The system needs to run at the right frequency, the voltage needs to stay within limits and the system needs to be able to get back up and running again in case of serious failure. That’s all called ancillary services.

So why are we suddenly talking about them?  Like most necessary support services, we acknowledge their necessity when they start to go away. In the Australian National Electricity Market, all of the ancillary services for the control of frequency are provided by 116 connected generating units that bid to provide that service; a mixture of coal, gas and hydro electricity units. No solar or wind generators are bidders to provide this service because, at this time, they can’t: they are non-synchronous, non-dispatchable generators.

South Australia has taken on a very large share of wind generation which has contributed to the exit from the market of several dispatchable, synchronous generators. The availability of ancillary services has declined, and our dependence on the rest of the NEM to provide those services has gone up. The latest 2016 Electricity Statement of Opportunities for the National Electricity Market (Australian Energy Market Operator 2016) has led with this issue:

You’re doing it right: impressive consultation for nuclear in South Australia

THIS! Nuclear on the front foot

En route to work I stopped at the opening of the community consultation road show in Rundle Mall, Adelaide. This will  be visiting dozens of locations around South Australia as part of the discussion on whether to advance plans for a multinational repository. Here are some pictures and a short video. 


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The unfolding energy crisis in South Australia was foreseeable… and foreseen


This last week has seen extraordinary events in South Australia’s energy market make front page headlines nation-wide. In an unprecedented move, South Australian business and energy leaders demanded the re-start of a moth-balled power station to provide relief from suging and variable wholesale energy prices… and the Minister complied. 

As reported in the Australian Financial Review, prices in the state have been “frequently surging above $1000 a MWh this month and at one point… hitting the $14000MWh maximum price”.  The Australian Financial Review reports that average monthly prices have been three to  four times higher than in the eastern states during the month of July and new contract prices in South Australia are nearly double the prices in the eastern states.


Image from Energetics.

Let’s be clear: the South Australian electricity supply is the cleanest it has ever been and it is the most vulnerable, volatile and fragile than any time in recent history with no signs of relief in the short-term. As much as many people, including me, want the former (clean power), we are shooting ourselves and our wishes in the head if we keep contributing to the latter. There are few worse advertisements for clean energy than the current market in South Australia. Short-sighted over-development of variable generation without compensatory planning and policy has driven consequences that were entirely foreseeable. Suggestions that the renewable sector is now merely a “scapegoat” for our problems are absurd, stemming from an ideology of nil criticism for some technologies. While those sectors are not alone in the frame as contributing to this problem, the Pollyanna  group-think that insists that no line can ever be drawn to the obvious shortcomings of variable generators is starting to positively stink.

Around 12 months ago we published our paper Beyond wind. Since that time I have observed nearly everything we flagged coming true only faster than I anticipated, with the biggest surprise being that we did stand by as reliable generators left the market rather than coughing up to keep them in the game. 

I have re-produced an extract of this paper below. As you can see both we and the sources we cite were paying attention to problems in the pipeline. These problems were foreseeable and foreseen. Maybe we just needed more pain to make us pay attention.

Since 2003, the contribution of wind power to electricity generation in South Australia has grown to around 27 % of total annual electricity supplied to the State (Australian Energy Market Operator Ltd. 2014b). This increased wind generation has come mainly at the expense of generation from existing coal and gas generators which are now run less frequently (Australian Energy Market Operator Ltd. 2014b). Yet despite the rapid increase in wind-generated electricity in the State, South Australia still depends on participation in the National Electricity Market for a reliable supply of electricity.

“What a croc of shit!”. Praise for my latest podcast


Well it was my pleasure to spend some more time with Nigel and Stephen from The Adelaide Show podcast to prepare what one listener endorsed as “a croc (sic) of shit!”.


The croc(sic) is available in full from the website of The Adelaide Show.  Here is the blurb for the show:

Ben Heard is an environmental professional. He has worked on a number of major environmental initiatives in South Australia for government, private and not-for-profit clients, through a business called ThinkClimate Consulting. He was once a strong opponent of nuclear power until he underwent a Road To Evidence-Based Damascus experience about five years ago and since then has been a strong proponent. Last year, Ben joined us in episode 106 to talk about nuclear power but tonight we have him on the topic of the royal commission into the nuclear fuel cycle and our first taste of having a citizens jury review the findings.

We discuss

  • Why a citizens’ jury is needed after spending money on a royal commission
  • How South Australia is positioning with mining for the nuclear fuel cycle
  • The reasons for not enriching ore
  • Our almost-missed opportunities for nuclear power generation
  • Our safe and lucrative options for nuclear waste storage (and energy extraction)
  • Where the royal commission stopped too short on science and technology
  • The myths and truths of background radiation

Also appearing with our Nuclear Fuel Cycle citizen’s jury

In the musical pilgrimage, we have a band with a lead singer from Kimba

The SA Drink Of The Week is from winemaker Simon Parker of Vinify

In IS IT NEWS, Nigel tests Steve and the boys on atomic stories, including the revelation that Yankalilli has a rich radioactive mineral source just upstream!

We announce a new way to be part of our podcast; join our Inner Circle. It’s an email list. Join it and you might get an email on a Sunday or Monday seeking question ideas, guest ideas and requests for other bits of feedback about YOUR podcast, The Adelaide Show.

Liars or bullshit artists? I call bullshit. The truth about Diablo Canyon

whale diablo

There is a well-understood difference between a liar and a bullshit artist. Liars lie and you can confront them with a lie. Bullshit artists just talk with no regard for the truth one way or the other. You can hardly confront them because they are simply not attached to the concept of truth. They will just keep talking about what they want to talk about and pay no attention to the bullshit. Lying is actually relatively rare. Bullshit artistry is epidemic. Environmentalism here in the United States appears to have become a continual string of bullshit.

Yesterday, Pacific Gas and Electric announced plans to close California’s last remaining nuclear power plant at Diablo Canyon. Reading the announcement of this plan that came with the blessing and quotes from environmental organisations here, you could be forgiven for thinking this was good for clean energy.

whale diablo

As James Hansen is want to say, this is pure, unadulterated bullshit. There is no intellectual, numerical or evidentiary framework in which closing clean energy is good for clean energy. The amount of clean energy to be lost is slightly bigger (and far more reliable) than the ENTIRE wind and solar sector in the ENTIRE nation of Australia. If you want to build some renewables and strong-arm some energy efficiency from the utility, do it… while keeping the existing clean energy generators open. Not for the first time, I am ashamed and angry that organizations like this had so many years of donations from me, beginning when I was literally still a child.

The dirty rules behind clean energy: How UNEP quietly hurts nuclear and protects fossil fuels


I have attended my share of conferences and similar events and while they all differ, one thing is constant: the need for, and importance of sponsors. Big events cost big dollars, and even with sometimes hefty attendance fees, the role of sponsors remains a big one. Conference organisers are constantly seeking and soliciting event sponsorship from companies with whom they can identify potential alignment. In return for their support (and depending on the size of it), sponsors get massive visibility at the events. They have prominent visual branding. They will often have senior staff deliver addresses, introductions, sit on or moderate panels and the like, as well as a level of access to other conference attendees. The principle is that everyone wins, which is the way it needs to be or nobody would sponsor.

When the Canadian reactor company Terrestrial Energy (for whom I provide an advisory role) told me they were thinking of sponsoring the Sustainable Investment Forum, an event organised by Climate Action on behalf of the United Nations Environment Program, I was delighted and very supportive. I have, loudly and clearly, told the nuclear industry they must be less insular and get their message out into the clean energy mainstream. This move by Terrestrial Energy was just what I was talking about. Naturally, the event organisers would be pleased to secure another sponsor.


Or so I thought.

Nuclear was fun, just for one afternoon. Thanks for having me NEI


This week I attended the Nuclear Energy Assembly, the US nuclear industry national conference organised by the Nuclear Energy Institute, in Miami, Florida.

I was invited to join a panel with fellow outsiders Rachel Pritzker of the Pritzker Innovation Fund and Matt Bennett of Washington D.C.-based think-tank Third Way, company I could not be more privileged to keep. We three have common foundations and perspectives. None of us were pro-nuclear 5-10 years ago, all of us have changed our position profoundly, all of us are supportive of the industry for what it offers in terms of clean energy and development and, critically, none of us are of the industry. We are the invited Shakespearean fools as it were, with the ability to speak truth to power or in more common parlance, to call matters as we see them. This week we were all more than willing to rise to the occasion.

There is a certain heavy malaise that seems to beset nuclear conferences which, as an outsider, perplexes me. I am in wonder of the potential of this technology which Matt remarked he considers to be “literally the technology which can save the world”. Yet come our session late on Tuesday afternoon you could say everyone was a little tired and certainly wearing “conference face”.