Energy dialogue, Green debate, Blog updates

Three new things to report to BNC readers.

First, on 11 November, the University of Adelaide’s Environment Institute will host the 2nd Dunstan Environment Dialogue, entitled Power and the People“, featuring yours truly. Here’s the promo:

The Dialogues are a series of public meetings to stimulate debate on how to better manage our environmental resources, to encourage participants to cut through technological haze and the lobby-speak so they may form their own judgements about the directions Australia should be taking as it considers the Green New Deal the world must now develop.

In Australia and around the world, energy demands are on the rise. What must happen to energy generation in the face of issues such as climate change and limited fossil fuel reserves? Should power generation be localised or centralised? Researchers, governments and communities are struggling to agree upon the best method for future energy generation. It is an issue for everyone to consider.

The second Dialogue in the series, entitled Power and the People, will ask whether new nuclear or clean technologies should power our future.

Professor Mike Young, Director of The Environment Institute at the University of Adelaide, will moderate a discussion with two leading thinkers and the audience. You will hear from Fiona Wain, Chief Executive Director of Environment Business Australia and Professor Barry Brook, Sir Hubert Wilkins Chair of Climate Change, University of Adelaide. Together with these speakers we will explore energy generation options and opportunities for Australia.

It will commence at 5:30pm on Wednesday 11 November 2009 at Union Hall (google maps), University of Adelaide. Join us in the debate, then make your own judgement on the direction policy should take. To secure your seat RSVP to environment@adelaide.edu.au

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Second, I was invited to engage in a written debate on nuclear power with Dr Jim Green of Friends of the Earth in “Australia’s leading radical newspaper”, Green Left Weekly. Here is a quote from my piece (the full article is 1600 words, and uses some past material you’d have probably seen before if you’ve been following my writings):

The countries that now have commercial nuclear power already cover almost 80% of global greenhouse gas emissions. When you add those nations that have commissioned plants, are planning deployment, or already have research reactors, this figure rises to more than 90%.I know it’s an over-used cliche, but the nuclear genie truly is out of the bottle, and it is pointless discussing how to try to jam the stopper back in.

In this context, the oft-repeated claim that new nuclear technologies “fail the crucial proliferation test” is asinine nonsense, and counterproductive if our aim is to increase global security.

We should instead seriously discuss how we will use this low-carbon energy source safely and cleanly, with minimal risk and maximal advantage to all nations.

Ironically, it’s in places like China and India that these Gen-IV designs are now being most actively implemented. China has just commissioned two commercial fast reactors. India has just announced plans to install almost 500 gigawatts of thorium-based nuclear power by 2050.

The die is cast. It’s time for all energy-intensive nations to fast track the deployment of sustainable nuclear.

Jim Green’s article can be read here (also 1600 words). We wrote these pieces independently, so neither is a direct response to the other. I understood this to be the totality of the coverage (for and against) and thought this was fair enough.

Unfortunately the GLF Editorial team then decided to weigh in with an extraordinarily one-sided and naive Op Ed which tried to pilliory nuclear power, and concluded “Solar, wind and other renewable power sources are the real solutions we need. The task of the climate action movement is to force governments to make the switch to renewables as fast as possible. Nuclear power remains no solution to climate change“. So I really have to wonder whether the GLF editors were actually looking for a serious discussion of a critical issue. By the poor quality of their editorial, I’m dismayed to conclude that they were not.

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Third, you would have noticed that the BraveNewClimate blog has been undergoing some minor upgrades. I’ve changed the WordPress theme to one which delivers some really nice features (e.g., a custom header, prominent pages, better sidebar control and layout, and some other behind-the-scenes things). However, it also brings some disadvantages (fixed-width centre column, smaller comment box, and most annoyingly, removal of comment numbers [I only found out about this after the theme change]). So, like most things in life, it’s turned out to be a trade off. I hope, in the future, to be able to customise the blog a little better. But for now, I’m constrained by time, limited web design skills, and a general reticence to make the leap required to move from pre-made blog themes to a fully customised CSS scripting system with plugins that will allow really useful things like comment global comment searches. One day…

For the time being, if you want to refer to someone else’s comment, there is a trick to getting its unique #. Hover your mouse over the reference comment’s date/time (that’s the hyperlink next to the commenter’s name), and you’ll see a ghost link appear in grey in the bottom left of your web browser. The number at the end of the link is unique (across all posts, ever!) to that comment. The most recent comment on BNC was #32833, for instance. Why is the number so high? Well, there has been 9,303 legitimate comments on BNC to date. The rest? They were consigned to the spam bin!

Finally, BNC is starting to heave with material which is useful, but difficult to track down. The pages at the top of the header (IFR Nuclear, Renewable Limits, etc.) are one simple pathway to organising and indexing the post archives, but they miss out on a lot. I plan to do more, however. One idea I’m seriously considering is to have a static front page which acts as a portal to the blog (which would then be found at bravenewclimate.com/blog) and to the BNC archives. It would also provide a general description of the site, its motivations, and an easy-to-use index which leads to archived posts and more detailed tables of contents.

What do you think of these plans? I’d really like your feedback on how you’d like the blog to be restructured and formatted, to maximise ‘user friendliness’ — especially in the context of being attractive and accessible to first-time visitors, so as to encourage them to dig deeper and find out more.

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25 Comments

  1. South Australia has perhaps a third of the world’s easily mined uranium and hosted most of the southern hemisphere’s post WW2 A-bomb tests. It desperately needs new jobs and reliable water supply. Yet it shuns nuclear power.

    I predict in 2010 the long awaited announcement on the Olympic Dam expansion will be that more consultation is needed. That is, no expansion for the foreseeable future. New power generation (eg to replace the crumbling Playford B coal fired station) will be gas even if it has to come from interstate. Premier Rann will talk about tramways, geothermal, immigration and defence contracts saving the State’s bacon. The public meanwhile will wonder if any of these things can make a difference.

    With or without the forum I think SA public opinion is leaning towards nuclear power. However the ruling political clique has an entrenched position. I wouldn’t expect a pro-nuclear decision until 2015 or so.

  2. Barry,

    Not sure if you have looked at the Atahualpa WordPress Theme by BytesForAll, but I find it very flexible, it allows widgets in the header and a global search. I use it in a number of sites including lessthan2degrees.info though that site is not nearly as complex as yours.

  3. I can’t say I’m a regular reader of Green Left Weekly but I did manage to find the article before it was referenced here. The point I found most telling was the reference Barry made to the G20 group of nations. Of the 20 there are 15 who already have nuclear energy, four that are moving towards nuclear and then there is Australia.

  4. I’m not sure about the front page portal idea, it would increase the amount of navigation required for readers of your blog, which is never a good thing. IMO ‘about’ pages fulfill the role of portals much better.

  5. I think one item that it might be useful to have a front page link to would be some kind of “Welcome to Renewable Energy Advocates” or “Nuclear Power for Antinuclear Activists” statement or primer. These readers especially seem to come in with a whole lot of baggage about nuclear power, and the kinds of people they imagine advocate for it, that it generates a lot of unecessary hostility.
    This is a real shame, because we’re on the same side (IMHO). Having some sort of a welcome mat out for these readers that defuses the initial adversarial reaction could be really helpful and keep the discussions positive and productive. It would probably even remind people like me to pull my horns in ..

  6. Your site works, and I suspect most people visit for the content not
    the form, so I wouldn’t waste too much valuable time on it.

    However the searching seems broken. It looks like it only searches blog posts
    and not comments. Two search tools, one for posts and the other for comments
    would be great.

  7. Yes, you’re right Geoff, the search option is very limited and only hits the post content. Behind the scenes, I can search the comments (I find this really useful!) but unfortunately the main search box for the public doesn’t do this.

    There is a trick whereby you can access comment searching. Go to Google and enter your search term(s) and the site domain, e.g.:

    geoff russell methane site:bravenewclimate.com

    This works pretty well — the more search terms you enter, the more specific your search will be. Also, you can use the advanced Google search options to be even more precise. I just this ability was incorporated in the default blog search.

  8. barry: it would be nice to have a detailed reply to Jim Green; otherwise, it’ll just be a he said/she said. Like you said, there needs to be a serious debate on this issue, no matter how much FUD is spread by the anti-nukes. don’t give them the out of “one shot and we’re thru with the nukes issue.”

    Tom: you gotta get in on this one too.

    i thought the green article was terrible: it didn’t respond to the limits of renewables problems with anything but assertion. it seemed to rely on the proliferation scare–from the Stamford quote that IFRs can produce weapons grade material to the dread nuclear winter.

    It was interesting to me that the plant safety issue wasn’t raised (right. hope I wasn’t reading too fast); I’m wondering if raising the obvious safety and security of the plants would have seemed to undermine the proliferation fear point? seems to me the proliferation fear depends upon having just the right amount of (mis) information. after reading cravens’ description of the precautions around a nuclear power plant, I view these quick fear inducing cascades about proliferation as borderline grotesque.

    the uranium shortage problem also was not raised (a concession?). he raised the possibility of IFRs producing weapons grade plutonium (is this true? if so, is it really an issue? what is the chance of this really happening?) while suggesting that one of the primary benefits of the IFR (eating existing waste and so functioning as anti proliferation device) wouldn’t be realized since IFRs need no outside fuel source once loaded–since they can be set to breed instead of burn? but you’d set them to burn in order to eat up the waste–did I miss something? I often do so please set me straight.

    It was great that you engaged GLW.

  9. I was very glad to FINALLY see Jim Green taken on in the pages of GLW. I’ve read GLW off and on since it started. They’ve run edited versions of my pro-nuclear response to Green, but only episodically.

    GLW is important because it has an internet presence far away from Aussie shores. It is very influential in Europe among various Green Socialist types.

    The Democratic Socialist Platform of the Socialist Alliance published GLW. I don’t seem them ever abandoning their religious view of renewable energy vs nuclear but that they were willing to run Barry’s comments, edited or not, is a very important advance for pro-nuclear socialists like myself and others.

    David

  10. barry/anyone:

    to turn for a moment to the scientific american article by Jacobsen, have you been able to determine the basis for the claim that nuclear power consumes 25 times the CO2 as wind per unit of energy? on charles barton’s blog, someone, couldn’t tell who, suggested that Jacobsen factored in a predicted nuclear explosion once every 30 years:

    Jacobson rejects nuclear power because he claims it puts out 25 times as much carbon per unit energy as wind, based on the astonishing claim that nuclear power plants lead to one nuclear bomb attack every thirty years, resulting in enormous amounts of atmospheric soot.

    Can anyone verify this? I would be nervous repeating it.

  11. Gregory, I’ll be blogging on the Sci Amer paper and its supporting technical document, tomorrow, so stay tuned.

    Re: 25 times more carbon than wind, you are quite correct, they assume a major nuclear exchange will occur every 30 years, which can be linked directly to nuclear power. It’s quite insane, but that’s the extent of the deception some people are willing to go to to argue a point that agrees with their ideology.

  12. The op-ed response was appalling. I got much he same from the Australian Greens Blog. Using information from all around the net (your great site included) and my own experience over the years, I penned a lenghty description of the differences between 4GEN and the older water kettles, and specifically the longevity of the fuel resource.

    I got back,
    “Mark nuclear has problems, it’s expensive, it’s slow, and it’s dangerous. After decades of nuclear power there is now safe way to store the highly dangerous waste….”

    I thought…”They musn’t have read a word of what I posted”, but I just saw the same response to your argument! Selective deafness I think isan apt diagnosis.

    Regards,
    Mark.

  13. Jacobson rejects nuclear power because he claims it puts out 25 times as much carbon per unit energy as wind, based on the astonishing claim that nuclear power plants lead to one nuclear bomb attack every thirty years, resulting in enormous amounts of atmospheric soot.

    Can anyone verify this? I would be nervous repeating it.

    Then why did you?

    Hiroshima was in 1945. Was a nuclear power plant involved? Is it 1975 yet?

    (How fire can be domesticated)

  14. hey barry: yeah, I read that IFR/Green piece (pun intended) before and it really does answer my questions.

    actually, i don’t know really why green bothers with the anti-pyroprocessing argument given the possibility of configuring the IFR to make hi grade plutonium.

    if you’re going to go to the trouble to steal the highly radioactive and unsuitable plutonium from the processing facility and then purex it, etc., might as well just storm the nuke plant, take it over and start making bombs!!

    sounds easy, doesn’t it? (when you leave out all the details) the genie/bottle answer really is the right one I guess. combined with the peter lang answer: should we ban use of all materials that are potentially dangerous?

    GRL: I assume you’re kidding around.

  15. oi.

    first, I was thinking of referring to the absurd jacobsen point in a talk, but wanted to make sure it was for real (it must be in the peer reviewed paper cause it’s not in the sci am. article. that this sort of point was allowed amazes me).

    so: when I said I was nervous repeating the point, I meant in a that context, not in this one. (sure you weren’t kidding?)

    second, what you said about hiroshima, a commonsensical rebuttal to an idiotic point, unfortunately wouldn’t be convincing to Jacobsen since he’s making a mysterious statistical argument presumably.

    so: it must make the math impaired scratch their heads. one side says nuclear accidents with gen three plants are virtually impossible (one in 29 million reactor years). the other damn side somehow has nuclear bombs going off in part due to these plants existing every 30 years!!!!!

    to me, having read what I’ve read, I know the Jacobsen is made up.

    I think someone on nuclear green made the point: given the limited time of ordinary folks, how the hell do you sort out this mess, an important mess, that must be sorted out?

  16. … how the hell do you sort out this mess, an important mess, that must be sorted out?

    Follow the money. Natural gas costs 20 times as much per unit of heat as uranium, and some of this money is royalties. That means when nuclear fuel makers pay $1 for uranium, and sell the fuel to nuclear power plant operators, and those operators use it up, government loses several natgas dollars.

    Jacobson compares different energy sources on the demerits he finds in them, and never mentions natural gas.

    I wasn’t kidding about not quoting nor mentioning him. The way to prevent fossil fuel propaganda from propagating is not to propagate it. It’s not always easy to refrain from doing so, but in the case of the proliferation “concern”, one way might be to note that power reactors of the sorts now being built and proposed have never produced explosive material for any bomb, but have destroyed such material.

    (How fire can be domesticated)

  17. If we are promoting talks there are a couple of interest at Uni of Western Australia this week and next week – 1st on the current status of Fusion science, and the second on earth in 2050.

    1) The Status of Fusion Research and Development
    – Lecture on alternatives to fossil fuel energy
    Tue, 17 Nov 2009 18:00 – Ross Lecture Theatre, School of Physics, UWA Nedlands

    Dr. Barry Green, formerly of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) project and the European Commission Directorate for Energy, will give a public lecture entitled “The Status of Fusion Research and Development”. WIth the long held hopes for fusion research and the current incredible interest in alternatives to fossil fuel energy you owe it to yourself to come along and listen to this very exciting, informed and interesting lecturer. Please pass this message on to anyone else that might have an interest in this subject.

    2) SEMINAR: 2050 – CWR Seminar
    Thu, 12 Nov 2009 11:00 – Blakers Lecture Room, Ground Floor, Mathematics Building, UWA

    Lord Ron Oxburgh, House of Lords, Parliament of the UK; Honorary professor Cambridge University, UK Life on Earth in 2050 will be very different from today, partly because of climate change, partly because of other anthropogenic influences on the surface environment and partly because there will be many more people. However, if we have an idea, however faint, of where we would like to be in 2050 it can help us with choices we have to make today.
    Some of these choices are very slow to implement and need to be made soon if they are to be useful. This talk explores some of the constraints and choices.

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