Nuclear India? Guest radio spot on Triple J’s Hack

“I think it is much, much better for Australia to be on the inside of this development pathway for India, doing all it can to build the institutional strength required to run a good nuclear sector, putting downward pressure on the greenhouse gas emissions of this global giant, and enhancing regional security through clean development and secure energy supplies.” 

Over breakfast I read about the findings of an internal Indian Government report into the oversight of nuclear facilities.

Nuclear retreat leads a clumsy climate dance

My latest piece, just published to Climate Spectator.

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Last week’s announcements by Japan and France to reduce or eliminate dependence on nuclear power were greeted with cautious praise from within the environmental movement. “A nuclear-free future is not a choice, it’s an inevitability,” said Kazue Suzuki, Greenpeace Japan nuclear campaigner. More broadly we are told that these are “momentous times” and that nuclear is battling against “younger and better alternatives such as solar and wind energy – a battle that nuclear power can’t win.”

Leaving such flawed rhetoric aside for a moment, there is scope for both pragmatism and very serious concern in analysis of what these recent announcements mean in the fight against a warming climate. Let’s firstly shine the light of reality on the Japanese situation.

Costs and Benefits: Final in the SACOME Series

This article concludes the series of six articles from Barry Brook and me that have had published in the SACOME journal over the last 12 months.

In a subject like nuclear power which is not easily discussed in sound bytes (presuming it is a mature, responsible discussion you are seeking that is…) it is challenging to establish a quality conversation. SACOME’s support has enabled us to do that here, staying with their readers over six issues of the magazine, covering most of the hotly contested issues with a good 800+ words to play with each time.

The articles have been widely shared and roundly appreciated. We (Barry and I) are looking forward to releasing them soon in an easily shared compendium.

My thanks to SACOME for this opportunity. That organisation is representative of a whole range of energy technology players including those that might compete with nuclear power (and those some commentators mistakenly say compete with nuclear power). So their interest in raising the quality of discussion on nuclear is to be congratulated. It indicates they have the genuine longer term best interests of South Australia at heart, through facilitating more informed choices on energy that will be of benefit to the whole state.

In our final article, we talk turkey…

It does not take long in any discussion of nuclear power before people want to talk turkey. How much does nuclear power cost?

It’s odd that when it comes to nuclear power alone, some environmentalists morph into incredibly hard-nosed economic rationalists. If the solution can’t pay its own way from the get go, bad luck.

That suggests a misunderstanding of not so much nuclear economics, but of energy economics more generally. It also hints at an ideological position if the same criteria are not applied elsewhere.

In considering nuclear at all, we are looking to replace baseload fossil fuels at 100s or over 1,000 MW at a time. Take your pick of technology, including modern fossil fuels: that is never going to be a cheap task. There is no way around the “sticker shock” of a modern power facility.

If we want new, large-scale energy generation in Australia, there is a large price tag, comfortably in the billions of dollars range. If, as we would argue, response to climate change demands that any new baseload is zero-carbon generation, then the options are (currently) restricted to the more expensive end of the range for capital costs (fuel is cheap or free for these technologies).

So, what, in that context, can low-carbon options offer in terms of up-front cost?  Let’s take some real-world examples.

“Deadly Nuclear Incident” in France

A man has been killed and four have received burns after the explosion of an incinerator that handles low level nuclear waste (the variety that requires minimal protective clothing, equipment or handling) in France.

The title of my post is borrowed from the headline. Some alternative reporting is provided here. I never wish to downplay tragedy. Workplace fatality and injury, a previous career of mine, is a horrible thing.

It is worth pointing out though that “Deadly Incinerator Incident” would have been a more accurate description. Based on the reporting I have read this appears to be an accident that is sadly too common in a whole variety of industrial settings.

Hopefully,  nuclear opponents will be sensible and avoid using the event inappropriately to push an agenda.  The statements from Greenpeace in the linked articles may suggest this is a foolish hope.

Monbiot vs. Greenpeace Part II: Reflections for Decarbonising SA

Welcome to part two of my review of the nuclear debate between Monbiot/Grimstom and Levitt/Parr. If you missed part one where I drew on the first two speakers to reflect on the nature of anti-nuclear environmentalism, gave a detailed assessment of the performance of solar PV in South Australia, and contended that absent nuclear power all the good ideas in the world will not bring down South Australia’s emissions sufficiently quickly (phew!), it’s not too late, here’s the link. Today though, time to move on to our third speaker, second speaker on the side of nuclear, Malcolm Grimstom. He’s Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Environmental Policy, Imperial College London.

Malcolm Grimston, Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Environmental Policy, Imperial Collecge, London

What I particularly enjoyed from Malcolm was these two quotes:

Monbiot vs. Greenpeace: Reflections For Decarbonising SA

A few weeks ago, one of my favourite writers and thinkers, journalist George Monbiot, shaped up in the pro-nuclear corner in a debate with none other than Greenpeace, perhaps the world’s pre-eminent environmental organisation.

In this post I provide a review of the debate and the key points raised by the speakers. The post will run in two parts, in the order of the speakers. Part one will cover Monbiot and Roger Levitt, part two will cover Malcolm Grimston and Doug Parr.

True to my purpose of developing a successful regional model for achieving decarbonisation, I apply some of the key points of the discussions to the specific challenge faced in South Australia. I hope the approach is instructive, useful, and somewhat generalisable to other regions. You will enjoy this post most if you have watched the debate or watch along as you read

I’ll start with the opening speaker, George Monbiot himself.

George Monbiot

If you are unfamiliar with Monbiot, I hope the video of this debate give you an idea of why I admire his work so much. What a blistering and uncompromising 7 minutes.

AREVA: Sinners, Saints, or Just Big Business?

Sometimes I miss the bleeding obvious.

When I recently wrote Renewable Reality Checks With No Nuclear Balances, I made the following point in discussing the awarding of funding under the Australian Government Solar Flagships Program:

Three quarters of a billion dollars has just been committed to transfer from the Australian Government to the private sector. These projects are not run by Mum and Dad community collectives. We are talking the likes of BP here people.

Well, it turn out we are also talking the likes of AREVA. While BP have their hands in Moree Solar Farm, the Solar Dawn project is the baby of AREVA Renewable. What else does AREVA happen to do? You get one guess…

The decline of the rational German?

Ah, the Germans. Known for Mercedes Benz, BMWs, Loewe televisions, and no sense of humour. Also known for installing way more solar generating technology than is sensible in a dark northern European country (perhaps I am wrong about the sense of humour), and now known for a planned retirement of all their nuclear power generation by 2022. Here’s a link to the report from BBC World.

Counting on replacing nuclear power with solar power in northern Europe. No comment.

Post-Fukushima, the general global response regarding nuclear seems to have been a brief hiatus, an assessment of the implications, and then a continuation of planned development with some addtional checks and safeguards. That makes sense to me, considering the extraordinary convergence of circumstances that lead to Fukushima, all of which hinged on a very old reactor design, and the distinct lack of fatalities or injuries. I have looked at this in some depth in previous articles.

The Germans are bucking this trend and planning the chuck the lot in. Is that a good idea? 

The case against waiting for Generation IV nuclear… and the case for urgently bringing it to commercialisation

Slowly, slowly, ever so slowly, awareness is growing that there is some incredible new technology in nuclear power; Generation IV uranium reactors, and thorium fuelled reactors. These technologies bring significant advantages above and beyond the best commercially available and near –commercially available nuclear technology today. Neither is theoretical, both have been proven and demonstrated. India is building the first Generation IV plants now with the prototype fast breeder reactor plant (PFBR) to be completed at the end of this year. The advantages of the new technology over the current are basically these:

  • Remarkable passive safety
  • Extraordinary amounts of energy per unit of fuel
  • Truly negligible quantities of much shorter lived waste
The thermal baffle being lowered into the 500 MWe Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor in India, May 2010. Generation IV nuclear is not a myth.

For those less familiar with the technology to which I am referring, this article by Tom Blees will bring you nicely up to speed.

The basic issue with the technology is that it is very new to commercialisation (in the case of Generation IV uranium reactors), or a little way off commercialisation (in the case of thorium). That means we have some time to wait before manufacturing, marketing and selling of the technology is ramped up, and we might expect a few teething problems along the way. That says nothing about the technology; it’s the normal pathway of such things.

But the basic concepts are so good that it is enough to get even hardened nuclear opponents thinking twice, and leads to the refrain that is becoming more common, “We should use nuclear power, Generation IV”. I have heard that quite a bit now from a number of different people. The unstated (or sometimes very clearly stated!) implication being, we should not use what could be bought off the shelf and built more or less immediately.

I disagree, and I’m using the diagram below to explain why. I’ve mentioned before that diagrams are not my strong suit. Be nice.