Is deliberative polling a way forward for nuclear consensus?

This week, Flinders University academic Professor Haydon Manning put forward an intruiging proposal for the use of deliberative polling in South Australia as a mechanism to assist in the building of consensus on whether or not to move forward with further engagement in the nuclear fuel cycle.

As you can read here, deliberative polling is a process whereby a representative sample of citizens are engaged in a structured process of receiving information on an issue, and given the opportunity to ask questions and engage in discussion in small groups with the aid of professional facilitators. The citizens are polled on the way in and at the conclusion.

I was interviewed in this very interesting show (I am starting at about the 24 minute mark however I think the whole show is great) and, as I say, I am in favour of this proposal. Experience has shown me how well the nuclear issue performs in these types of environments. As  I also say in the show, I don’t know any advocates of nuclear power who would be disinclined to this: we want people to have these opportunities. To a great extent, it is all we ever want.

Data update: rate of PV install in South Australia

In our 2015 paper Beyond Wind: Furthering development of clean energy in South Australia, we identified a relationship between subsidy availability, subsidy withdrawal and rates of PV installation in South Australia.  The story was clear: here in sunny South Australia, subsidisation of PV caused a strong consumer response. When subsidies were combining (i.e. renewable energy certificates and feed-in tariffs were both available) at the same time as power prices were rising and system prices were plunging, PV became a true financial no-brainer. As subsidisation budgets became subscribed beyond expectations (and budgets), a process of reduction and withdrawal began. This lead to a series of installation peaks and finally what appeared to be a “new-normal” installation rate at a level far below historical peaks.

Figure 6 Solar PV install by month

Figure 6. Monthly solar photovoltaic installation in South Australia (kw month−1 ) from February 2011 to November 2014 showing reduction and withdrawal Renewable Energy Certificate (REC) multipliers and Feed in Tariff (FiT). Sources: Clean Energy Regulator (2012), Clean Energy Regulator (2014c).

We now have over a year more data on this issue, so it pays to see what has happened since.

Figure 6 Solar PV install by month
Data to end January 2016 from Australian Photovoltaic Institute. There may be some remaining lag on the January figure while all systems are deemed

The “new normal” remained remarkably solid for about a year and then appears to have taken a dip to levels not seen since 2010. South Australia has continued to add PV at a much lower rate. At the time of our manuscript completion PV was providing about 5 % of South Australia’s electricity. Now it is providing more … but not much more. At over a million systems installed and penetration of nearly 25 %, any pragmatist can see that the first great age of PV has ended in South Australia. Doubtless, more can be achieved but the low-barrier, low-cost period seems to have ended.

Which was, of course the core theme of our paper: deciding whether or not to use solar or wind is a moot point. The question is: what do we do next?

Recreating the Future: A presentation

On my recent trip I had the good fortune to address the Canadian Nuclear Association in Ontario. My thanks to the CNA for the invitation, I was glad I could make it.

In this presentation I seek to describe the impressive but seriously flawed processes and trajectory of human development and the essential role of dense, clean energy in recreating our future: getting back to a time and mindset where we really view the future as something we are doing, not something that is decided. Since I was addressing an industry audience, the messages are targeted at how that industry must approach this challenge, however I think the messages are valuable and important for all of us to play our part.

Friends like Moore: Pro-nuclear environmentalism demands higher standards

Since venturing as a voice for pro-nuclear environmentalism I have been regularly pointed toward Dr Patrick Moore as an individual with the same stance. Every time I look, I don’t like what I see: a voice that likely does as much harm as good. I don’t find him to be an insightful, thought provoking intellectual but rather a predictable contrarian.

When he labelled Ken Caldeira a “fake” today, I took an interest.


Caldeira is, to me, the opposite of Moore: a working, senior scientist and an authentic and valuable voice regarding the need to use nuclear energy to tackle climate change. We met at COP21 in Paris and we discussed his research (Albright et al 2016) that was coming up for publication in Nature.

Sticky Notes for The Australia Institute

The Australia Institute doesn’t really do “review”.

From the initial submission to the Royal Commission, to the pre-emptive attack on the work from Senator Edward’s office and now to the response to the tentative findings, there is not a reviewer with any knowledge of the nuclear sector in sight.

In two out of the three documents we have a sole author with no track-record I can locate in nuclear, one who is not even listed on the website as a member of staff. When I asked that individual whether anyone reviewed his attack on the work of Senator Edwards he said:

I didn’t have formal reviewers. I got some friends to read it to make sure it was readable. There was no input about technical or other detail.

Oh, I did chat to Dave Richardson about net present value calculations. The bulk of his response was laughter.

…and once again, how is this relevant? Why do you keep discussing trivialities? Who cares who saw the paper? Who cares what the picture is?

He remarked further:

I’m not relying on any appeal to authority. It stands or falls on its merit. Who reviewed it is irrelevant. I could have given Satan and advanced copy for comment, and it would make not the slightest difference what the report actually says.

So, they don’t get it. Review is not an appeal to authority, it’s a vital quality check, particularly when writing outside your speciality  (which is a dubious thing to do anyway). In the event that Satan was well-informed about nuclear economics and had some feedback, I should hope it would make some difference in the final report. That’s the point of review.

Ivanpah solar should be given more time

The Ivanpah solar power plant is in the press again, and again for reasons contrary to the hopes of renewable energy advocates.

According to reporting in the Wall Street Journal two days ago, due to the plant delivering a large shortfall on contractual supply agreements, Pacific Gas and Electric Corp. said the solar plant may be forced to shut down unless granted an extension from regulators. The reporting is a little sketchy however this eventuality was flagged late last year. In a decision granted today, the plant has received an extension until July 31 2016.

This is the latest in the difficulties experienced by the plants. I have not objected to the Ivanpah development per se. However I have used it as a case study to highlight the massive land requirements of such developments compared to nuclear technology, the double-standard relating to the threat to endangered species and the reality that sub-average conditions are the real arbiter as to the reliability of climate-dependent electricity generation (the dismal performance of the first year was in part caused by summer conditions being well-below expected insolation for the location). Others have observed the much greater than expected consumption of gas, credible (but preliminary) concerns regarding the extent of avian impact and even the difficulty for pilots. All of those issues mean one thing for a facility that can reliably deliver high volumes of competitively priced, zero-carbon electricity, and another thing for a facility that can’t.

Today, I say the regulator is right to give the plant more time, for two important reasons.

This is newly commissioned technology; newly commissioned technology needs to be given a chance to work. When Australia’s OPAL research reactor was commissioned in 2007 it had teething problems and, without drawing breath, some called it a white elephant. Today it is recognised as nationally, regionally and globally important infrastructure and it is expanding production of vital nuclear medicine and high-end doped silicon. Across the board, we can’t run away from new stuff at the first sign of trouble. Anyone involved in bringing new nuclear technology to the market would do well to remember this.

Secondly, we can’t leave the door open for excuse-making. Ivanpah is a globally premium site for solar thermal technology. If prematurely closed, renewable-only advocates will forever lean on the crutch that it wasn’t given a chance, and who can then prove them wrong? Ivanpah should be given the leash to run right up to the point where the owners/operators say to the relevant regulators “this is as good as it gets”. Today, this class of technology features heavily in modelling for potential 100 % renewable futures in sunny nations like Australia, Portugal and the United States. Giving the Ivanpah plant every possible chance to succeed is important in considering the validity of those proposed energy mixes. It lets the rest of the world to know exactly what that means and decide, in an informed way, whether this class of technology has a serious role to play in our energy future.

I am increasingly of the opinion that it does not. If you tried to market a nuclear plant on the basis of Ivanpah performance (“it takes up loads of space in wilderness, we are not sure how long it lasts, output varies daily, seasonally and annually, it hurts birds in a fairly grizzly way and best of all the electricity is incredibly expensive”) you would be justifiably laughed act then summarily ignored. But the fact is I may well turn out to be wrong. We all benefit from the data and operating experience to put the value or otherwise of this technology beyond supposition.

So let it run. Let it succeed or fail in the clear light of day. The location is certainly optimal for that.

Minor Movie Freak

This is a blog about movies. It is not about climate, energy, environment, sustainability or nuclear in any way, not even peripherally. Don’t look for it, it’s not here. I wrote this principally for my own enjoyment and it’s flabby and self-indulgent. It’s not really a book review, more a book reflection. Nonetheless I hope you enjoy it too.


The name “Owen Gleiberman” has been staring at me for a couple of years, jumping out from the personalised “Pandora’s Promise” film poster that adorns my office. Imagine my delight to find myself at the launch of his new book “Movie Freak: My life watching movies” in the heart of the East Village of New York, my billet d’entrée being none other than my dear friend Robert Stone himself. It wasn’t a planned thing. Life just kind of led there and the end of the evening led me to the copies of Movie Freak waiting on the table.

movie freak“Are you a movie freak?” Owen asked me with, something approaching devilish mischief in his eye after I sought an inscription.

“I like to think so” I replied, and damn if that wasn’t an honest answer. I DO like to think so, but is it actually true? Well based on Owen’s life, described in gorgeous prose and gratifying honesty in the pages of “Movie Freak”, I’m not even close. But I’m willing to bet there is a bit of Movie Freak in all of us. Owen’s lively, honest and occasionally borderline pugilistic retelling of his life watching movies has made me want to reconnect with that little freak again.

My earliest movie memory is falling asleep in “Return of the Jedi”. I didn’t think it was boring; I was four years old, and my parents had a slightly stronger sense of parental responsibility than Owen’s did. They treated their 9 year old to Polanski’s “Rosmary’s Baby” at the drive-in. Owen must be… special. It seems he drank this in and didn’t loose sleep. My older brother lost sleep when, aged about 10, he went to overnight at a friend’s house and they watched “The Exorcist”. I remember, vividly, Jon coming home the next day. He was white as a sheet and not talking. He had nightmares for weeks and my parents were (rightly) livid. Movies can be powerful. I got that much early, and Jon’s horrible experience probably does much to explain that I was raised in a household with a pedantic adherence to the ratings guidelines!!!

Except of course when it all got too hard, which was Crocodile Dundee at the drive-in (double feature after the dreadful King Solomon’s Mines with Richard Chamberlain), rated M!!! Fortunately I was too young to grasp the cocaine and transvestism and frankly I found the g-string bathing suit on Linda Kozlowski to be more confusing than anything else (isn’t that uncomfortable?).

But in movie terms I was not raised by the drive-in like Owen. I was not really raised by the cinema either. Trips to the movies were pretty rare, mainly Cottee’s Cordial two-for-one vouchers in the school holidays (“Flight of the Navigator” anyone? “Benji Come Home”? “The Neverending Story”?)

I was raised by the VHS. This centred around the gradual accumulation of movies recorded from the television by various members of the family. They were lovingly labelled and filed away, often with aggressive instructions of “DO NOT TAPE OVER” which were mostly, not always, respected. These were the movies we watched ad nauseum or perhaps more literally, ad verbum: my siblings and I could quote The Three Amigos and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels all day long and I loved it.

Being one of the younger siblings I had the tantalising offerings of some more “mature” material that was recorded during the old-school “A.O.” (Adults Only) viewing times, like Die Hard (awesome then, awesome now) and An American Werewolf in London (“Keep clear of the moors”). I would sneak this stuff out to watch until everyone gave up policing, realised I was coping and I just watched it. Then of course there were the video store offerings of which the greatest legend in our family was probably Clue. We fell head-over-schoolshoes for this board-game based comedy, unaware we were becoming part of a cult that arose around a commercial flop. I recall convincing my school teacher to show it as the video at our school sleepover (third grade perhaps) and “flop” was exactly the term. How excruciating to sit through one of my favourite movies with a group of my peers fundamentally not-getting it. Owen Gliebermann would have been proud of my attitude whether he happens to like Clue or not: I was pretty darn sure I was right and they were wrong and my opinion was not swayed by the responses of the masses. It’s probably sheer good fortune I had not recommended Johnny Dangerously, another Heard-sibling favourite, as I would have been in the sin-bin while the teachers had to explain to a roomful of kids what “getting laid” meant and why we couldn’t finish the movie.

The junior movie freak in me evolved from repetition to breadth as adolescence set in. My best friend Matthew and I would haunt the local video store, often bringing home a solid weekend’s worth of viewing. Matt’s seriously darkened lounge room was our cinema, his family CRT box our screen and we hit it good and hard. We both adored Dazed and Confused without knowing (or indeed caring) that it was the Movie of the Year (well… sort of…) for the reviewer at EW. As well as getting ourselves across James Bond, we went into some occasionally weird territory like Jacob’s Ladder. There’s certainly something about watching a hallucination of a man’s wife experiencing such brutal intercourse that a horn suddenly emerges from her mouth that imprints itself on a young mind.

Yet I don’t mainly remember the movie for shock value. I remember it for the tragedy of Jacob, the disturbing serenity of the ending, and for how it introduced me to the possibility that war wounds people in ways we often can’t see. Which medium but movies lets you see that in all the terrifying confusion? Matt was a movie freak, for sure and certain and I think he remained that way. Our last conversation was about movies. It will remain our last as cancer killed him just a couple of weeks later. Owen is right: like nearly nothing else movies bind us. They are a brilliant social lubricant. Matt and I had grown apart. It was hard to see most of him again after such a long time (I didn’t see all of him as he was missing a limb thanks to that damn cancer). It’s telling that we chose to pick things up again with movies.

There was one film on the video-store shelf that frightened me so much just from the box that I never watched it. It happens to be a Gleiberman favourite, Manhunter directed by Michael Mann. I had the pleasant realisation last week that I am now 37 and can probably handle it so I grabbed it for a good night in. Yes, it’s great; taught, tight and tense. Brian Cox is a delicious Lecktor and Tom Noonan is every bit as terrifying as my 13 year-old self suspected. Does he have the creepiest hands in screen history? It’s a movie of its time rather than a timeless movie. Some of the soundtrack is jarring and overbearing and some of William Petersen’s monologues are hard to take seriously when you never really lived in a world where “son-of-a-bitch” was a serious bit of swearing. What shone for me was Kim Griest and William Petersen together. “Be careful honey”. “I will…” is such a god-awful film cliché, always overdone to the point of meaninglessness. Yet I actually believed Griest in that role; being married with kids myself it looked and felt real, not like people trying to act like it’s really serious.

As I hit University I would become more part of the machine Owen christened “Media Mike”: the seemingly en masse anointing or disparaging of art and cultural phenomenon that spreads through a society like genetically modified spores that latch onto our opinion centres and are guided by a central intelligence. I think Owen is right about Mike: he’s real, he’s endemic, he wants your children and he’s not always wrong (Like The Bends, Owen. That really IS a brilliant album). So while I was still hunting down exciting cinematic fare to the extent that I could (Go being a little-known piece from the time that Owen and I agree on for example. Human Traffic being another I loved) I was getting suckered by Mike as well. The Matrix … is it really that good? But where Owen really hit a bullseye was his take-down of The Lord of the Rings. I laughed out loud in that “funny cause it’s true” kind of way. I was a great-big fanboy for these films and I’m contented to remain one… to a point. They are a wonderful popcorn spectacle but oh my god… watching Elijah Wood and Sean Astin is like pulling teeth. Viggo Mortensen’s Aaragorn is downright wet and Bloom could have been carved from the trees of  the woodland realm. McKellen brought the acting chops I remembered so well from The Scarlet Pimpernel (another recorded-from-TV, Heard family, ad verbatim classic) and Gandalf brought the gravitas, frequently interrupted by random elvish mutterings that mean nothing to anyone (at least, not anyone you would want to be stuck in a lift with). Yet we all sucked it up with absurd reverence. Sean Bean’s Boromir was about the only protagonist I remotely warmed to, whose motivations spoke to me, who’s performance moved me. And of course he was doomed to leave us at the end of act I. Dramatically speaking the rest of the film was largely crushed under the weight not of special effects but self-importance.

So Owen got under my guard with that one: I was a part of the Media Mike machine. I don’t think Mike is always wrong, and I’m positive Owen couldn’t always be right (I loved Denis Leary in Suicide Kings), but at least Owen is always honest to Owen. Respect.

Of course the paradox of Media Mike and our widespread acquiesce to what we know deep down is utter shite is that a primary job of movies is to entertain. Are we not just doing ourselves a favour to let our guard down and be swept along by the experience? I have spent nearly two-years building up to Dawn of Justice, with the progression of trailers doing the job nicely. It is well-established knowledge that much of our pleasure comes from the pleasurable anticipation of pleasure itself (ask anyone who knows they will be having sex tonight), and that takes on a grand form in the group-think of Media Mike and the highly refined art of blockbuster hype. Is that bad? I don’t think so, but it’s probably good to acknowledge it and remember that that’s not all there is when it comes to movies.

So that gets a little tricky as a movie freak. Long-term exposure and consumption tends to refine one’s tastes and raise one’s demands, no matter the cultural medium. I read comics, have done since I was eight and it’s a lot harder to impress me now than it ever was. Can you take an eye as critical as Owen’s into the movies and actually enjoy yourself? Owen says yes. I’m less certain… I think there are trade-offs.

When you become a parent (as I am) it is also hard to also remain a movie freak without actually becoming a “self-indulgent dickhead”. So the same circumstance can lead one down different roads. The thinking goes like this:

“I have less time to watch movies. Therefore I should be picky”.

“I have less time to watch movies. Therefore I should let myself enjoy whatever happens”.
I have been lulled into the latter, but Movie Freak (and the fact that my kids are getting older) is nudging me right back to the former.

The fact is there is a meaningful difference between the pleasurable surrender to groupthink and Media Mike of the sake of enjoying a rollicking good time (Can’t wait for Captain America: Attack of the Drones), and watching a brilliant movie that leaves you a changed person. In recent years the tortured beast that is Australian cinema has delivered me my greatest movies. Mad Max: Fury Road is just magnificent but I hardly need to tell anyone. It’s fare like Animal Kingdom and Snowtown that really reminded me what great film-making is. You haven’t known terror until you have watched Ben Mendelsohn’s Pope Cody patiently demonstrate the unglamorous reality of scummy crims. You haven’t believed horror until you have seen Daniel Henshall’s John Bunting undertake his mundane, suburban, plain light of day crusade of depravity. Snowtown took $1.3 million at the box office. I dare say they will have spent more on Henry Cavill’s cape. I’m going to enjoy that cape, but I won’t be writing about it. I didn’t sit to watch those films hoping to elevate them to greatness. They got me there all on their own, that transcendent movie experience we yearn for.

But hey, everyone’s a critic right? Well… frankly only to the extent that everyone’s a singer. A good critic will bring more to the movie experience than you can bring yourself. They can’t tell you what to like in movies (or wine, beer or comic books). That’s the job of the individual alone and if there is any core message from Movie Freak it is that the individual should trust their response. But the good critic can help to build the sophistication of how you experience movies, enjoy them, they can develop your way of thinking about them and, should a good critic’s taste tend to align with your own, they might lead you to way more hits than misses when the lights go down. That level of engagement with the medium makes the highs higher. It’s my longstanding relationship with comics that makes Mind MGMT not only one of the best comics in print today but, for me, a pinnacle example of the medium itself. Where every blockbuster film today seems to be drawn from comics, here is a comic that is probably unfilmable. It is of the medium, and author/illustrator Matt Kindt has recognised the power of that medium and mastered it. Ironically, I suspect most folks who have never read a comic would hate it.

Movie Freak is a rollicking good read and for so, so much more than this light-hearted reflection has covered. For this minor freak it brought a welcome reminder of both what can be great about great movies and the influence of my choices in how to approach them. Trust myself more, settle less (not for less), seek great films and trust the great film-makers. Even when I wear my critic hat, that next great film will still blow it off my head as it blows my mind.


Greatness is a choice we can share. A trip to North America

I have been a long way from home this week in more ways than one. South Australia has a lot to learn from North America and at the same time we are showing the world a thing or two.

Many of us have done it at some time; I have done it twice before. Yet the distance from Australia to North America still manages to surprise me. It’s not actually longer than going to Europe. So why does it feel longer? Perhaps it’s the intimidating expanse of the Pacific Ocean. Or perhaps in Europe they at least have the courtesy to speak different languages than we do. It seems somehow preposterous to travel so many hours and disembark in nations so eerily similar to my own. It’s more like traveling to an alternate dimension than another country.

Take Ottawa for example. While at home it was stinking hot, outside in Ottawa it was freezing cold. We both typify some of the extremes of human settlements, each living near-identical lives of comfort and security despite the environment around us. Yet while I spoke on stage in Ottawa I was powered by electricity at 22 g CO2 per kWh. It blew my mind to think I was delivering slides I had prepared at about 600-800 g in Australia the week before (SA or NEM average, depending what you prefer). A 25-35-fold difference in greenhouse gas emissions for an indistinguishable outcome, and the difference is simply nuclear technology. I was glad to see this was not entirely lost on the Ottwans. They knew they had achieved something and they talked a lot about it… to themselves. It’s a story that needs to get out to the world. Solving a major chunk of the climate conundrum is no mystery whatsoever. The proof is found in Ottawa. The Canadian nuclear industry can offer a lot to the world. One big thing it can offer is the boldness to not get prematurely bored by their own success. When you come from a nation that lives off the teat of coal, Ontario and Ottawa are like a dream come true. Us, without the pollution. It can be done.


Speaking in Ottawa
Meanwhile outside it was no sun, little wind but we had reliable, carbon-free electricity

Before Ottawa was New York. It’s the city that sometimes sleeps: trust me, my jetlagged-self went jogging with no-one for company but the good folks of the New York Sanitation Department. But it’s the city that basically everyone loves, a template for cities of the new world. Humanity converges upon it and the result is stunning, stimulating and exciting. It’s a city of many villages, with one knowing insider telling me the secret: it’s a small town. Del Amitri sang about somewhere where “every third car is a cab”. In New York, it’s pretty much just cabs. The thought of using a car didn’t cross my mind until an unfortunate subway fail. You walk and use the trains, and for all the locals I met from Jersey and Brooklyn and beyond this was a pleasant and mostly efficient fact of life. I read a quip on Facebook today, that a civilised country is not where the poor own cars, but where the rich use public transport. There’s something in that.

Benefits of jetlag: sunrise on the Brooklyn Bridge

So it leaves me feeling desperate that Indian Point is the latest nuclear plant in the US to hit the crosshairs of what seems to be the United States anti-nuclear establishment. It represents 2,000 MW of badly needed clean energy generation; a dense source of energy to match the dense human settlement nearby. These plants are aging somewhat but the energy maths are simple. Devolving from fission back to combustion will cause more environmental harm when plants are operating normally than Indian Point has ever or could ever conceivably cause in abnormal conditions.

Just as we in South Australia seem to be fighting to expand into nuclear, New York seems to be clawing its way to a backdown. I can’t help but see a parallel in the pushback against vaccinations; when we live with something beneficial for a couple of generations, we seems to wantonly dismiss the benefits it ever brought us and believe we can do without. I am glad to be living through the South Australian situation. We have proven beyond doubt that groundswell change can take place in attitudes to nuclear, in time-frames of great relevance to the challenges we face. This week Government MP Tom Kenyon has hit upon a narrative I have been ranting about privately for the last few weeks: let’s use the used-fuel windfall to rehabilitate our natural environment.

Reading this from afar I was both delighted and frustrated. This type of thinking, surely, should have been the domain of our so-called Conservation Council of South Australia. Yet instead of seeking to potentially extract a once-in-many-generations opportunity to fund conservation to the hilt, they have taken a probably-intractable position of protest. This is based on no science and a seemingly reflexive anti-nuclear stance that should have been left in the last century. It’s both tragic and hopeful. Perhaps a genuine conservation dialogue can open between government and the actual conservation experts (many of whom reside with me in the School of Biological Sciences at University of Adelaide) to fund a roadmap to a richer environment in South Australia. I’ll call some credit here. With Senator Sean Edwards, we flagged this exciting potential in his submission to the Royal Commission. What does it say that the establishment “environmentalists” are the last to think of this?

Successive state governments would have the capacity to support vibrant communities, address poverty and familial dysfunction and support the preservation of nature. Our parks and wild places could receive greater protection, restoration, enhancement and scientific research for the benefit of us, our children and their children


While in New York I traveled to Columbia University where I had the pleasure of meeting Jim Hansen (for the second time) and Pushker Kharecha (for the first). Along with Simon Irish I provided them with an update on the progress of Terrestrial Energy in bringing the Integral Molten Salt Reactor into being. Long story short, it’s going well, with Terrestrial achieving the milestone of formal engagement with the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. This coincided with a meeting with Travis Bradford, a Columbia professor whom I met previously in Paris just a few months ago. A published aficionado of solar energy, Travis takes a far more restrained view than I relating to the role of nuclear in future electricity systems. But heat… ah, the heat. As he explained when we met in Paris, industrial heat is a monster in the energy use pie and, aside from fission, there is simply no credible zero carbon answer. My interest was more than a little piqued, having been immersed in electricity for so long and I quickly realised he was dead right.

Heat is the largest energy end use sector and, barring a sliver called “renewables” (which I presume to be biomass with its frequently dubious sustainability credentials), it’s a fossil sector of direct combustion, and guess what? There no answer in the renewables sector. While I argue the renewables-only answer in the electricity sector is woefully undergunned, Travis observes that the heat sector is literally uncontested space. With the IMSR providing outlet temperatures of 700 degrees C, reliably, with 7-year core life, starting at 80 MW thermal and going up to as high as you need, we have the beginning of an answer to a major part of the problem. Add the remarkable safety profile and atmospheric pressurisation that can cascade to an altogether different cost proposition, well… Travis sees the future we need to create.

Terrestrial Energy’s IMSR, a next generation Molten Salt Reactor, is designed to fill one of the most critical gaps – a scalable, clean, carbon-free industrial heat and power solution.  Today’s announcement puts the Company firmly on the path to being a significant part of the climate solution within the critical response horizon of the 2020s.- Professor Travis Bradford

We can use that zero-carbon heat to make synthetic fuel to attack the third giant in the energy pie: transport. We will need that fuel for our heavy transport at the minimum however in Vancouver I got another glimpse of the transport future with electric vehicle start-up Electra Meccanica. President and CEO Jerry Kroll is exactly what you imagine (and want) in an EV start-up: enthusiasm bordering on mania underpinned by serious business and technical nous. His company is bringing to market a single-occupant electric vehicle, the Solo, at a reasonable price. This could offer the essential quality of mobility in a package that is lighter on the road, lighter on the planet… and a disgusting amount of fun. I drove the prototype precursor, the Sparrow, and got out with a big smile on my face. It was like tasting the future and goddam, it was fast. Concepts like the Solo provide yet another avenue to getting what we love about modernity at the merest fraction of the impact. An essential pre-condition is the pairing to decarbonised grids: a Solo in Australia’s National Electricity Market is different to a Solo in Ontario’s nuclear/hydro/wind/gas low-carbon nirvana.

L-R Canon Bryan (Terrestrial Energy), Jerry Kroll (Electra Meccanica), Ben Heard

However I wasn’t just struck by the car, I was struck by the guy. Jerry Kroll possesses the singular quality of vision and puts his money and effort where his vision is. In that, he reminds me of the team coalescing around Terrestrial Energy. No one intends to fail, yet the potential to fall is internalised as the cost of flying high. For all her faults (and she has many), North America owns that attitude in a way that makes Australian determination seem embryonic in comparison. For example, while there is the scope for a great leap forward in the interim findings of the Royal Commission, we can yet do so much more if only we are prepared to be truly great.

It’s a long way. But with this much to learn from each other, it’s worth the distance.


The economic case for taking the world’s used fuel is clear

Ben Heard

In delivering its interim findings after almost a year of research, consultation and testimony, the South Australian Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission has extolled the potential benefits of a facility for the storage and disposal of international used nuclear fuel. The commission, led by Kevin Scarce, says it has uncovered potential benefits that far exceed the expectations of previous investigations.

They point to a future wealth fund growing at around A$6 billion per year and a present value of more A$50 billion – potentially a significant economic boost to South Australia through ramping up its engagement with the nuclear fuel industry.

If conservatively invested, those revenues, totalling A$267 billion, could give rise to a state wealth fund estimated to reach A$467 billion after 70 years of operations. While other questions will remain, one has been decisively answered: in economic terms, the nuclear opportunity is there for the taking.

Taking the world’s waste

The Royal Commission has identified the potential to establish and operate a facility to accept 138,000 tonnes of heavy metal (MtHM) from spent fuel over a period of some 50 years. Such a facility would be a globally significant piece of infrastructure and a major step forward in the internationalisation of the nuclear fuel cycle.

With no directly comparable service in operation today, demand for service is high, although that means the prices to be paid for using it are also uncertain. The Royal Commission estimates a figure of A$1.75 million per MtHM as a conservative baseline price. For context, that figure is above the A$1.37 million per MtHM adopted in my own modelling as the mid-price. If the Royal Commission’s estimates are correct, the market for taking other nations’ spent nuclear fuel is more lucrative than previously anticipated.

The relatively rapid establishment of an above-ground interim storage facility would enable this process to begin relatively quickly. The Commission has estimated this could be funded by upfront contracts for receiving the first 15,500 MtHM based on the A$1.75 million per MtHM figure. That would be followed in future by underground disposal. However, with 11 years’ establishment and 17 years of above ground loading, there seems ample scope to revisit a range of pathways for the used fuel material before it is buried beneath the ground.


That may occur via the commercialisation of advanced nuclear technologies such as fuel recycling and fast reactors. At this stage, no advanced technology pathway has been advocated for South Australia, however a scientific research group tied to the facility has been recommended.

Research by me and my colleagues suggests these technologies are ready for commercialisation now and this would be an opportune investment of revenues for South Australia. We believe there is a great opportunity here, although the commission has taken a more conservative view.

Nuclear power a trickier prospect

There also appears to be no prospect of domestic nuclear power for Australia, in the short term at least. The commission has highlighted a range of size, cost and technical challenges, including the need for greatly strengthened climate policy. This is a fair and accurate reflection of Australia’s current generating requirements, resources and policy settings and a reasonable, though conservative, reading of the current state of technology.

But importantly, the findings repeatedly stress that the nuclear generation option may be either beneficial or demanded in future to achieve the necessary deep decarbonisation of our economy. Nuclear electricity should not be ruled out, and it therefore follows that some planning options should be investigated. Should any of a range of conditions change and Australia decides nuclear power is a necessary inclusion, we would then be better positioned to do it.

The Commission has found likely benefits to expansion of uranium mining, although they are relatively small with royalties in the tens of millions of dollars per year. No case has been found for short-term engagement with value-adding processes of conversion, enrichment, and fabrication of nuclear fuel.

An exception to this is the concept of “fuel leasing”, which allows Australian uranium to be sold overseas with an accompanying agreement that the spent fuel will be sent back here for a fee. Having an international nuclear waste storage facility would obviously help this approach, in turn locking in more value from uranium mining.

Given the economic benefits identified by the commission in providing multinational services in used fuel storage and disposal, the domestic use of nuclear power should not be arbitrarily impeded. It may be vital in future, and expanded mining and fuel leasing might provide yet more economic benefits.

Politically, of course, the issue is in the hands of the South Australian public.

The Conversation

Ben Heard, Doctoral student

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

How South Australia can make the world safer

Tomorrow morning the South Australian Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission will provide interim findings.

I am hopeful of a strong endorsement of the concepts and opportunities brought forward relating to the establishment of a multinational storage facility for used nuclear fuel and the subsequent recycling of that material for clean power.

Should this happen there will likely be amorphous talk of risk and danger relating to our expanded role. No doubt this speculation will take an extreme form from some parties.

Such talk will be fallacious. Such a facility in our wonderful state will do much to make Australia, our region and world a safer place.

The following is an extract from Eliminating Nuclear Threats: A practical agenda for global policy makers. It is a 2009 report of the International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament, co-chaired by Gareth Evans (Australia) and Yoriko Kawaguchi (Japan). The following extract is from page 145, in the Chapter “Multi-lateralizing the nuclear fuel cycle” and provides, in the clearest terms, emphatic support for the actions we have proposed.

15.48: The Commission strongly believes that multilateralizing the nuclear fuel cycle would play an invaluable role in building global confidence in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and any efforts to that end should be encouraged. Such arrangements would provide an important foundation for a world free of nuclear weapons, where all sensitive fuel cycle activities will need to be under multilateral verification and control.

Recommendations on Multilateralizing the Nuclear Fuel Cycle

39. Multilateralization of the nuclear fuel cycle- in particular through fuel banks and multinational management of enrichment, reprocessing and spent fuel storage facilities- should be strongly supported. Such arrangements would play an invaluable role in building global confidence in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and provide an important foundation for a world free of nuclear weapons, for which a necessary  requirement  will be multilateral verification and control of all all sensitive fuel cycle activities.

Whatever happens tomorrow, some stakeholders will stop at almost nothing to try and frighten South Australians.

As well as the potential to benefit economically, we may have the opportunity to shift the world to a decisively safer state of relations. There has never been a more important time to listen to the experts. In more ways than one, our future depends on it.

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