Commentary from The Australia Institute is simplistic, shallow and misguided

The Australia Institute has, once again, taken aim at the plan prepared by the Office of Senator Sean Edwards with a 26-page “report”.

 P222 Nuclear waste impossible dream FINAL (1).

There is no coincidence in the timing, just five days before the release of preliminary findings of the South Australian Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission. It’s pleasing to note that The Australia Institute regards that plan as the most prominent contribution to that process. It is evidently so compelling as to have warranted the effort of this attack.

Submission coverIt is astonishing to note that their attack, funded by none other than the Conservation Council of South Australia, seeks to undermine a plan based on recycling, waste reduction, large-scale clean energy production and minimisation of mining for energy. Our extensively researched, fully referenced, peer-reviewed document offers a solution to a spent fuel problem that environmental groups continuously complain about. It offers a pathway to the elimination of coal generation. It goes to core of environmental values of reduce, reuse and recycle, and lightening our footprint on the planet. It seems the Conservation Council of South Australia would rather undergo a self-inflicted amputation of core values than take a level-headed look at an innovative proposal using nuclear technology.  

The plan has garnered praise and recognition both nationally and internationally as an innovative concept that has understood and capitalised on the complexity of the international nuclear industry: economically, technologically and politically.

The response from The Australia Institute is, by contrast, simplistic, shallow and misguided. In many respects it seeks to deliberately mislead, misrepresent and misdirect. It demonstrates a paucity of knowledge of the industry it seeks to critique. For example, I don’t understand why the lead image is a man standing on barrels of what can only be low-level radioactive waste; gloves, aprons, booties, syringes and the like. Are they proposing to chop that stuff up and incinerate it for energy or something? Surely an image of above ground stored nuclear fuel would have been more relevant? Perhaps the problem there is that it doesn’t actually look very scary.

Not relevant…relevant

I await with interest the initial findings of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission. In the meantime I offer these brief responses to The Australia Institute.

Motion, combustion, fission and light

Here’s a quick thought bubble on a quiet Tuesday.

I have just been chatting with my friend Mike Shellenberger. Mike is formerly of The Breakthrough Institute and is currently spearheading an effort to prevent the closure of California’s last nuclear plant, Diablo Canyon.

Within a wide ranging conversation we talked about the way nuclear power is presented to the world. The word “nuclear” itself suffers major brand issues, and it is inconsistent with other sources that are commonly named by energy/fuel source (wood, oil, gas). It would be more consistent to speak of “uranium” as the key fuel, though some of the energy production comes from other elements.

I dislike the grouping “renewables” as it make a family out of a motley collection of technologies that have little in common (picture a home PV system, then a large hydro dam on a river, then a biomass plant burning wood pellets. Ridiculous grouping). Frankly, given the available resources of uranium, the efficiency of advanced nuclear cycles and the vast resource in (un)spent nuclear fuel avialable right now, the idea that “renewables” are in any way more sustainable that nuclear power seems fallacious to me.

I like the word “fission” because it tells me something about what is happening in the process and, critically, distinguishes it from “combustion”. Combustion is a climate change and air pollution problem. Fission is not, because fission has no chimney, because nothing is burning so fission doesn’t need one.

That all made Mike and I think about “Motion” (hydro, wind), “combustion” (wood, biomass, oil, gas, coal, biofuel), “fission” (uranium, thorium, other actinides) and “light” (solar PV and, less directly, solar thermal).

Motion, combustion, fission and light.

Nuclear energy by degrees. Guest post from David Hess

Sometimes, in the often heated and intense discussion of nuclear technologies between commentators for and against, it seems like the only people we don’t hear from are those within the actual nuclear industry! I think that’s unfortunate and needs to change, so I am delighted to have the opportunity to publish this post from David Hess, the Communication Manager at the World Nuclear Association. I think David’s contribution is a remarkably frank, fresh and valuable perspective that hits something approaching sensible middle-ground in the decarbonisation discussion. Over to you, David.

David Hess
David Hess, Communication Manager, World Nuclear Association

An increasing number of climate scientists are getting vocal in support of nuclear energy. There are reasonable objections being raised against them, but unfortunately a lot more unreasonable ones. The reasonable ones are where, collectively, we should be seeking to improve, not give up on the technology

In the margins of the Paris climate talks, a refreshing dialogue was taking place. Nuclear energy was being put forward for serious consideration by some of the very scientists responsible for putting climate change on the public agenda. The views of James Hansen, Kerry Emanuel, Ken Caldeira and Tom Wigley are summarised in this editorial. They have in effect thrown a gauntlet at the feet of the organisations and governments that claim to work towards preventing a greater than two-degree rise in average global temperatures. This is a gauntlet that sorely needed to be thrown. Among the country exhibitions at the talks, only the USA was brave enough to promote nuclear energy as a climate solution, and then partly in the context of advanced (i.e. not yet commercially available) technology. This in France which acquires about 75% of its electricity from nuclear and which has almost completely decarbonised electricity supply as a result.

The depressing fact of the matter is that fear of the reaction against nuclear energy has become so great that countries would prefer not to openly acknowledge the CO2 reducing potential of the technology, even when the fate of the climate may, in part, rest upon it. This culture of silence from those who claim to represent our collective interests is deeply disturbing. Nuclear may supply only 11% of current global electricity generation but it is more than either wind or solar provides. Gas and coal still account for the majority of electricity production worldwide, with coal still providing about 40%. Someone needed to point out that the low-carbon energy emperor is still not wearing any clothes.

Hill End location may be off the table

The shortlisted site for a radioactive waste facility at Hill End in NSW may be out of contention.

As reported here, community opposition appear thorough and united.

The Department is being true to the spirit of this voluntary process and the messages and assessment processes that have been developed from day one: this facility will not be imposed on communities.

The concerns expressed in this ABC report and attributed to the community include concerns about contamination of water and the transportation of radioactive materials.

Such concerns are understandable starting points. However the actual hazard in such matters is negligible. As such I would and will continue to support the Department in continuing to engage with this community at this stage if there seems potential progress to be made. We cannot, in any challenging issue, simply keep walking away early in the face of opposition and concern.  However I reinforce the position expressed by senior Department head, Bruce Wilson:

“I can absolutely assure you that if the view of the community is that it doesn’t want to proceed to the next stage of the process, that’s the end of the matter”.

My involvement in the Independent Assessment Panel is conditional upon ongoing respect for that principle.

As a researcher in matters nuclear it is also my expectation and desire that as many Australians as possible set aside pre-conceptions and engage openly with the scientific information about what this facility will be, how it will work, and what the realistic prospect for negative impacts actually is. That is a responsibility that is shared between a Department and the communities in question. All parties must be courageous in the face of a challenge when it would be easier for both the disagree, declare failure and walk away.

That said, if a pattern develops then it is the Department that must interrogate the outcomes. I don’t think residents in Hill End would be more inclined than any other Australians to fear, not like, not trust this facility. I would not expect them to be any more or less capable of reading and understanding the information provided. I expect that they are, frankly, as rational as the rest of us.

As such, it is entirely rational to think that there just might not be enough in it for them to really attend to the technical issues. It’s classic with wind farms: beneficiaries are typically supportive. Neighbours who feel they incur impacts but don’t share benefits can feel very differently. Is there enough in it for this community? It’s a fair question.

As I said on radio, in terms of actual hazard, this facility pales in comparison to a simple petrol station. I would, unequivocally, support the facility in my community; in fact I have publicly argued for opening this process to all possible locations, and that’s exactly how this voluntary process began.

As such I invite ALL Australians, not simply those in areas with shortlisted sites, to engage with the materials from the Department and learn about this issue, which I have posted below. The benefits of nuclear technology are shared among Australians. So must be the responsibility for coming to a smart solution for the waste products. Just because it’s not your town, doesn’t mean the rest of us get to forget all about this.

One in two of us will use potentially lifesaving nuclear medicine in our lifetimes. We should all understand this process so we can make good decisions, together.


Why does Australia need a National Facility?

What is Radioactive waste?

What does a Radioactive Waste Management Facility look like?

NRWMF – Information for Communities

ANSTO-Safely managing Australia’s waste


Time and cost: End-game for nuclear opposition?

Around the world, credible objections to nuclear energy have progressively contracted to issues of time and cost to deliver. Even here, the data favours a large role for nuclear energy with other solutions. Yet the opponents are not all wrong either. Nuclear energy must improve its global profile in on-time and at-cost delivery, not to outpace renewables, but to displace more fossil fuels. For those primarily driven by effective action on climate change, that’s the difference between succeeding and failing. Observers will need to decide who they trust in this vital conversation.

Nuclear commentary in 2016 began with reinforcement of a transnational trend: credible objection to nuclear energy is increasingly confined to two issues: cost of the plants and time to deliver them.

This is welcome progress. It seems there has been too much discussion, transparent information and experience for the more traditional, fear-laden arguments to cut through the way they once did.

Friends of the Earth UK got this ball rolling back in 2013 when their commissioned independent review of nuclear energy left them with no other credible basis for objection. Last year, The Australia Institute went to great lengths to present timeframes as a problem, butchering good process to get the desired result. Australian Senator Scott Ludlam could hardly find room for anything other than economics in his recent piece. Time and cost were the lead arguments in recent rebuttal at New Matilda and in a piece from Michael James to the Sydney Morning Herald.

Recently, Joe Romm took up the topic[1] with a reflection on the work of James Hansen, Kerry Emanuel, Ken Caldeira and Tom Wigley (Hansen et al.) at the recent COP 21 meeting in Paris. What is complex about this piece is that much is basically factual and reasonable reflection of current findings for the nuclear industry. Sadly much is also highly selective, largely straw-man[2] argument. Romm ignores the core problem identified by Hansen et al: settling for energy pathways that are “reasonable” in today’s terms is a recipe for failure, so we must do more. This should be applauded and developed. Romm chose to belittle and undermine.

He observed, as many have before him, that new nuclear build is struggling to take off in liberalised energy markets. This perspective is one-eyed for two reasons. Firstly, by population these markets are the vast minority of the world. Most of the world’s people are not living in conditions so saturated in electrical generating capacity that planning has been handed over to market forces with short-term horizons. Consequently, most of the growth to come in energy demand will not be from liberalised markets but planned markets where the longer-term value presented by nuclear technology can carry more weight in decision-making. This is reflected in the recent request for procurement for 9,600 MW of nuclear power for South Africa [3]. This market opportunity must be fostered to tip energy investments in developing nations away from fossil fuels and toward nuclear. It is nuclear technology that presents a complete, fit-for-purpose technical substitute for coal.

Energy by income band

Figure 1 How most of the world lives- population and per capita energy consumption of different global income brackets. Data from United Nations Population Division; World Bank (World Development Indicators)

Secondly, this market situation also applies to more expensive renewables technologies with higher availability (such as solar thermal with storage). For hard evidence of the matter, Australia’s simplistically-conceived Renewable Energy Target is now 15 years old. In that time it has assisted to market not one solar thermal plant with energy storage. The price to meet the scheme has been mainly set by low-availability, lowest marginal cost on-shore wind[4]. Renewable advocates are swift to identify market failure and recommend either reform or different subsidies, rather than write-off the technology. What we need is both cheaper technology and affirmative policy that is technology neutral. That’s just what Hansen et al. are seeking.

Romm scoffed at Sweden as an example of rapid nuclear build because it relates to only 10 reactors. Yet normalised for population, nothing in history has been faster than nuclear for adding clean energy. Hansen et al. wisely call for reflection on that evidence. They spoke of a scenario of 115 reactor builds per year, something Romm described as “indefensibly absurd”.

Consider that there are currently 510 coal plants under construction globally and 1,874 in planning. Is that absurd? Horrific? Choose your adjective, however this is the scale of a world of  7-billion people and growing. Hansen et al. asked us to deploy that scaling effect to reliable clean energy. Labeling it “absurd” is simply part of the longitudinal effort toward self-reinforcing failure and inaction favoured by anti-nuclear commentators[5].


Romm described as “myth” the suggestion anti-nuclear activism holds back the expansion of nuclear power.  This is flatly contradicted by Harvey Wassermann. He attributes the permanent premature closure of the Vermont Yankee nuclear station to “decades of hard grassroots campaigning” that “forced this reactor’s corporate owner to bring it down”. Australian activist Jim Green is unashamed in calling for mobilisation to prevent nuclear energy from having any access to the United Nation’s Green Climate Fund. He contends this could come at “the expense of renewables” and “we mustn’t let them get away with it!”. This raises technology tribalism to a new level of transparent grotesquery where the whims of western activists are prioritised over optimising mitigation outcomes in the developing world.

ENGOs direct resources toward activities that deliver results. Many maintain dedicated anti-nuclear campaigners and campaigns. This works toward prejudiced, technologically-tribal energy policies. Nuclear was excluded from joint-implementation projects under the Clean Development Mechanism while efficient coal plants were included. It was excluded from Australia’s technology-limited Renewable Energy Target that has, for nearly 15 years functioned as a slightly removed subsidy for wind and solar PV (and water heating). Nuclear has been disadvantaged by recent US policy that provides no recognition of extending the license of existing nuclear plants for carbon abatement. Romm’s assertion that the impact of activism is mythical is disingenuous.

So too is the pretence that it’s all the activist’s fault. There are real issues with time and cost for nuclear technology. I was quick to criticise the proposed cost of Hinkley Point C as too high. Others eventually withdraw support for that specific development claiming to be “pro-nuclear, but not at any price”. There is truth in Romm’s piece that currently nuclear just is not growing quickly enough, price is one driver of this and resolution of challenges is required to hit greater deployment. Hansen et al. known this: that’s their point. It is time for Romm and other climate hawks (to borrow his phrase) to get focused on solutions.

Instead Romm refers to the strong growth and falling prices in renewables to diminish this issue. This misses the point entirely. Take the most recent energy projections from BP to 2035. The projected growth in non-hydro renewables is an extraordinary 235 %, taking it to a larger share than nuclear energy in that time. Yet in absolute terms, the energy added is nearly the same as that added from a modest 20 % growth in coal alone. Meanwhile gas and liquid fuels (nearly all fossil) is projected to add 2.8 times more energy than the non-hydro renewables. So Romm is right: nuclear is growing too slowly. This is a problem that must be overcome. At this point, it behoves observers to ask who is interested in overcoming that problem, and who is interested in prolonging it.

Table 1 Projected energy growth across fuel groups in millions of tons of oil equivalent. Data from BP Energy Outlook 2015
Annual consumption 2015 Annual consumption 2035 Growth 2015-2035
Liquids 4,280 5,065 18%
     Biofuels 68 132 93%
Gas 3,020 4,558 51%
Coal 3,816 4,564 20%
Nuclear 633 842 33%
Hydro 898 1,249 39%
Wind/solar/other renewables 347 1,177 240%


It is clear that the nuclear sector must deliver more, beyond current expectations, if we are to decarbonise apace. It is wise, therefore, that as well as looking to (a) historic precedent to galvanise greater ambition and (b) affirmative market policy,  Hansen et al rightly look also toward new generation reactors as one way to accelerate deployment. It is one reason I will direct efforts to the work of Terrestrial Energy as a member of their advisory board. This is not in place of my broader efforts in the clean energy discussion but in complement to them.

Whatever the eventual clean energy mix, the challenge is so great that the task will remain Herculean. We have to be prepared for that. But selective pieces such as Romm’s only serve to obfuscate the pathway to progress. This will render the task Sisyphean as the growth in energy demand overwhelms any gains we might make. Sober realism demands holistically looking at global energy requirements, historic technology deployment rates and advantages of various energy sources to forge optimised solutions for every part of the world and pressing to overcome barriers to that outcome. It is true that time is not our ally, so the sooner we move beyond simplistic, motivated argument, the better.


[1] I was at the press conference in Paris, as well as doing some work there of my own. The subsequent misrepresentation of Hansen et al. and other nuclear advocates has been positively willful. Fortunately the transcript is available here and a video of my panel is available here . Do not be misled by others regarding the message we brought and the motivations behind it.

[2] For another valuable reflection on the article from Romm, I refer readers to by David Gattie

[3] Consider also the nuclear development programs of sun-drenched UAE and Saudi Arabia, the major programs of China and India as well as the preparations underway in nations like Kenya, Nigeria and Vietnam.

[4] There are a little over 500,000 certificates in the large-scale generation REC register attributed to solar and approximately 65.5 million certificates for wind. Currently, the two largest solar generating plants in Australia are PV with 155 MW capacity. Good solar resource is clearly not everything. REC Registry

[5] For more on the fallacies of the “time and cost” argument I recommend “Climate Gamble” by Partanen and Korhonen. There is no better assembly and consideration of these issues written for people with concern about climate change and clean energy.

On evidence, emotion and wisdom: A response to Senator Scott Ludlam

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.

New Appointment to International Advisory Board of Terrestrial Energy

For the excellent and exciting submission from Terrestrial Energy to the South Australian Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission, click here Terrestrial-Energy-01-08-2015


November 30, 2015

Terrestrial Energy Announces Appointment of Internationally-Recognized Authority on Sustainability to International Advisory Board

NEW YORK, NY – November 30, 2015 – Terrestrial Energy announces the appointment of Ben Heard of Australia to its International Advisory Board.  Mr. Heard is a globally recognized authority on climate change mitigation and corporate sustainability.  He has advised large and small corporations on climate and sustainability matters.

This appointment demonstrates the Company’s core commitment to developing commercially-viable, sustainable, clean-energy technology that can rapidly drive global decarbonization of the primary energy system.  Mr. Heard is a thought leader in ecological issues, who strongly advocates for advanced nuclear technology as an essential part of the climate solution.

Ben Heard is a principal of Australian-based consultancy, ThinkClimate Consulting, and popular analyst and commentator through Decarbonise SA, where he provides research, analysis, and strategy development in sustainability and climate change to the private sector.  He has advised large corporations on a range of climate, sustainability and stakeholder consultation challenges.  Mr. Heard has taught sustainability and climate change at University of Adelaide, where he is also pursuing his PhD in Clean Energy Systems and Advanced Nuclear.  Mr. Heard has a Masters in Corporate Sustainability Management from Monash University in Victoria, Australia.

Simon Irish, chief executive of Terrestrial Energy, commented on the appointment:

“The energy industry is at a crossroads created by fuel ecological impact and policy response.   Terrestrial Energy’s IMSR technology has game-changing ecological ramifications for the energy industry and these require expert handling.   Terrestrial Energy is therefore delighted to be working with Mr. Heard in this capacity. He is one of today’s ecological and sustainability thought leaders, and will assist the Company with one of its core objectives: to demonstrate that Terrestrial Energy is a leading industrial energy innovator that is addressing the central problems of climate change and energy sustainability.”

About Terrestrial Energy

Terrestrial Energy is developing a next-generation nuclear reactor based on its Integral Molten Salt Reactor (IMSR) technology.  The IMSR represents true innovation in cost and functionality.  It will offer reliable power solutions for electricity production, both on- and off-grid, and also energy for industrial process heat generation.  These together extend the applicability of nuclear energy far beyond its current footprint.   With this profile, the IMSR is capable of driving the rapid global decarbonization of the primary energy system by displacing fossil fuel combustion across a broad front.  It is complementary to renewable power sources and ideal for distributed power systems on existing grids.  Using an innovative design and proven Molten Salt Reactor technology, the IMSR can be brought to global markets next decade.  Terrestrial Energy is currently developing its IMSR commercial demonstration power plant for deployment in Canada.

Terrestrial Energy will be represented at COP21 in Paris, France, the week of December 7, 2015.  COP21 is the 21st Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.  COP21 is the largest climate change conference to-date.  Terrestrial Energy is proud to be taking part, and ensuring the rightful position of advanced nuclear technology as a significant agent of decarbonization.  The Company is registered for the Sustainability Innovation Forum, which is an event organized by the United Nations Environment Programme.  SIF15 is the largest side event of COP21, and the largest business-focused event at COP21.  The Company’s advisors are also engaged in various speaking engagement in the Generation Climat section, within Le Bourget.

Did ClimateWorks vary assumptions between scenarios?

As part of my research reviewing all 100 % renewable electricity studies, I am revisiting the work of ClimateWorks for the Deep Decarbonisation Pathways Project. You can find the report here.


The report includes three scenarios:

  • 100 % renewable grid (of interest to my meta-review, and the major scenario presented by ClimateWorks)
  • Nuclear
  • CCS

In the latter two scenarios, “permission” is effectively given in the model for those energy sources to compete. As a result, each of these energy sources comes to make a significant contribution to the least-cost finding (23 % and 14 % respectively).

The limitation on nuclear to only 14 % seemed surprising to me. It is based (primarily) on the following assumptions:

  • Only a few large nuclear plants can be accommodated in the eastern states before connection limitations are met
  • Western Australia remains separate from the NEM (despite the scenario suggesting it will become the largest electricity user)

On the first point they say “ESM (CSIRO’s Energy Sector Model) only allows nuclear power in the larger states of New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria, since nuclear power stations generally have to be a minimum size, which would preclude their deployment in the smaller states”.

The authors acknowledge that consideration of smaller reactors is important and worthy of further work. They also tested the WA connection in the nuclear scenario and found the nuclear share increased to 27 %. That alone is an interesting signal.

They state further that “with the use of small-scale nuclear plant or a more interconnected grid [we will return to that] there is no technical reason why nuclear power could not supply a major share of electricity consumption”.


In light of these sensible remarks, I am concerned that the assumptions about transmission network limitations and may not have been understood and applied equally. I am not certain of my findings here. All of the following is to be read as open investigation, not conclusion.

The authors state:

“Within the scope of this project, it is not possible to fully resolve the changes to the network that would be required to support the reliable market balancing of the generation mix in each scenario. The relatively high demand growth will necessitate significant transmission network growth and the need to extend the grid to remote renewable resources, given their high contribution to the generation mix”.

Ok… they know it’s essential, it was out of scope. Fine. I have no problem with that. What did they do?

“As a guide, in the absence of detailed transmission network modelling, the transmission cost results from the existing ‘Renewables thrive’ scenario of the Future Grid Forum project have been applied, which is a 100 percent renewable grid scenario, as outlined in Graham et al. (2013)… Under ‘Renewables thrive’, taking into account the required changes to the transmission network, the cost was projected to increase to 4.3c/kWh by 2050”.

So, no modelling, but an effort at costing based on someone else’s modelling. That, again, is fine with me as long as it’s disclosed.

Now, let’s look at the mix for 100 % renewable grid.


It is evident that this mix will require the “significant transmission network growth and the need to extend the grid to remote renewable resources” that the authors discussed. So, I strongly suspect the transmission was assumed to be unconstrained, simply costed in on a per kWh rate on the basis of “we will build what we need”.

Here are the network augmentations proposed by Future Grid Forum. 

Future Grid 1

Future Grid 2

That’s a lot of investment that could be put towards improvements tailored for nuclear generation.

So…why was transmission assumed to be constrained in the nuclear scenarios such that only a few reactors in the eastern states were assumed to be possible? Renewable units are smaller than nuclear units, but that renewable scenario is (much) more dispersed than a nuclear-based system would be. Stronger transmission networks (and other investments) is an answer to both problems. The authors acknowledge that very fact (“with the use of small-scale nuclear plant or a more interconnected grid there is no technical reason why nuclear power could not supply a major share of electricity consumption”).

Every progressive transmission enhancement that would be necessary for the 100 % renewable grid scenario would, just as effectively, contribute to new threshold that enables the connection of more large nuclear units. Has this modelling settled for assuming nuclear connections based on the network of today, but enabled levels of renewable penetration based on the network of “whatever we need tomorrow?”. If so then an assumption that should be uniform across all scenarios is, instead, differentiated between scenarios.

DDPP-au 2

The transmission enhancement requirements for nuclear (which can be close to load and existing transmission) are likely far more discreet than for the needs of the renewables system shown above. I posit dollars invested in transmission upgrade for nuclear would deliver connection capability much more efficiently than dollars spent in transmission upgrade for geographically dispersed renewable overbuild. If spending on networks was applied rationally and even-handedly, nuclear should do well.

The result is that the contribution from nuclear in the scenario where it was permitted would be, at 14 %, a false low. This suggests that the wholesale price of the nuclear scenario (Figure 2.18) is a false high, as more nuclear, earlier, would displace more of the higher-priced renewable electricity that enters the mix later: enhanced geothermal and wave (capital costs, Figure 2.7) and solar thermal (which, while dispatchable, is still variable). It’s likely not delivering an optimised system from the available options.

I find this report is overall clear, well written and offers some important potential directions, as well as giving one of the more even-handed treatments of nuclear generation in Australian literature (my criticisms not withstanding). However I cannot get clarity on this issue. I welcome comments from all including the report authors if they can shed some light on how this assumption was managed.


A step forward in a shared responsibility: shortlisted sites announced

Today the Federal Government Department of Industry, Innovation and Science announced a shortlist of six nominated sites for consideration for the establishment of Australia’s national low-level waste and intermediate level waste disposal and storage facility.

The Public Notice announcement is here with all sites listed.

Here is list of Frequently Asked Questions. I’m not sure how frequently they could have been asked since it was only announced today… but I think we all know what they mean: here is a list of answers to the basic range of issues that will be coming up for discussion.

As I have discussed once before, I am a member of the Independent Advisory Panel that has worked with the Department to get to this point. I believe the process is on a very good footing thanks to what has been an excellent process. There were 28 nomination through the voluntary process, a much stronger response than anticipated. This goes to show just how well Australians can deal with these issue when we approach it maturely and fairly.

Inevitably, this day comes: the day when people in many communities are made aware that locations close to them are under serious consideration. It happens all at once, since the only other way is basically leaking information, which helps no one.

There will be concerns, there will be some outrage, there will be some statements made that are false and misleading. This is normal, can be addressed and cannot be avoided right out of the gate. I encourage everyone who feels they understand these issues to be very patient with fellow Australians because many of us don’t; most Australians have had little or nothing to do with the back-end of our active nuclear medicine and research activities.

To those who hold concerns, I would say please try to move to a position of curiosity: this facility will not be imposed on unwilling communities and there will be a great deal of information and credible sources available to you to learn about everything involved. I say with no hesitation that the eventual facility will be world-class and safe to people and the environment. In fact, compared to the type of waste facilities most people may have been exposed to, not to mention any other industrial facilities, I think most Australians will be pleasantly surprised (perhaps even astonished) at just how neat, well organised, well contained and inoffensive this facility will be.

I look forward to continuing to assist with this process. I invite media to contact me to ensure a perspective from the Independent Advisory Panel is represented.

Join me at Adelaide Sustainability Drinks

Next week I will be the guest speaker at Adelaide Sustainability Drinks.

Wednesday 18 November 2015, from 6 pm, Kings Head Hotel, Adelaide.

After 14 years of involvement, study, work and outreach in sustainability, I will be reflecting on how my perspectives have altered from then to now, with particular reference to my changed understanding of both human population and nuclear energy. I will describe what I think sustainability needs to mean for the challenges of the 21st century in what I hope will be a thought provoking presentation. Entry is free.

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