Two nuclear-solar dialogues in Melbourne next week

Back in September, I visited UNSW in Sydney and debated Mark Diesendorf on nuclear and solar power. It was a useful night, with quite a few Sydney-based BNC readers attending. I was pleased with the outcome — I just hope the audio becomes available at some point.

Now this “Brain Food” event comes to Melbourne. Next Monday, 8 November, I will be speaking, along with Professor Vassilios Agelidis (Director Centre for Energy Research & Policy Analysis, University of New South Wales) and Dr Peter Seligman (Melbourne Energy Institute, University of Melbourne). Peter is author of the report “Australian Sustainable Energy – By the Numbers“. Some details (PDF here):

Nuclear – Solar Energies: Facts and Fictions Demystified

6:00pm for 6:30pm start

Coles Theatre, The University of Melbourne, 200 Leicester Street Carlton, VIC 3053

VISIT www.alumni.unsw.edu.au to sign up (bookings essential), or contact UNSW Alumni Office 61 2 9385 3279

There are some enormous challenges ahead with energy and electricity generation. More than one-quarter of the world’s population has no access to electricity and our reliance on fossil fuels must be reduced rapidly. A carbon constrained sustainable development is inevitable. Electricity demand is likely to continue to soar and transportation loads are likely to change profile as more electric vehicles would soon rely on electricity grids. Multi-billion dollar smart grid investments worldwide present tremendous opportunities.

Solar energy technologies have made rapid progress and are being built in both small and large-scale systems. Together with other renewable energy sources, they now have the potential to replace fossil fuels. Nuclear energy is seen by many nations as a way to energy security and immediate reduction to electricity generated carbon emissions.

Join our experts as they:

• demystify fact from fiction for both solar and nuclear energy technologies

• highlight the merits and limitations of these energy sources

• debate their role to Australia’s energy mix of the future

• share your contributions and address your questions and concerns.

Then, on Thursday 11 November, there is another Melbourne debate, this time organised by The Monthly Argument:

Climate change – is nuclear power the answer?

The Function Room, The Dan O’Connell Hotel, 225 Canning Street (corner of Princes Street) Carlton Melway 2B J4

6.30pm for 7.00pm start. Free admission. No need to book. Meals available from 5.30pm.

Prof. Barry Brook (Adelaide University) See his blog – “YES”: Nuclear power is safe, there’s no doubt that it can produce the amount of energy we will require, it’s cheaper than renewables. The intermittency and variability that’s inherent in the process of producing energy from renewables would lead to the building of new fossil fuel plants as back-ups.

Jim Green (Nuclear Awareness Project) – “NO”: Nuclear energy is dangerous, leads to proliferation, and the industry has a history of ’radioactive racism’ both in Australia and around the world.

Cam Walker (Friends of the Earth) – “NO”:  Renewables can already supply us with the energy we need so we should make the switch as rapidly as possible.

Arthur Dent (previously know as Albert Langer) – “NEITHER”:  Nuclear is a better bet than renewable, but both are far too expensive. They will not be taken up by the developing world which requires cheap energy NOW.  Instead of panicking, we should be demanding a huge increase in the funding of fundamental science.

It’d be great to see the Melbourne-based BNC readers at either or both events! I’m looking forward to locking my pair of evidential and logical horns with these folks, especially Jim Green who has posted previously here on BNC. I’d hope that the two events make available the audio (and maybe video) recording, so that at some point I might also be able to post the content here at the end of this post.

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95 Comments

  1. Barry, it sounds great. YOu and I have both had run ins with Jim Green, at GreenLeftWeeikly. You should be able to break him, so to speak. His method, I notice, is a more sophisticated, and even honest version of H. Caldicott.

    David

  2. Thanks,Barry,for providing some early morning amusement.I refer to the second debate in Melbourne.Just as well it is at a pub.You will need a reviver after dealing with that lot.

    That little gem from Jim Green – “radioactive racism”.I’ve heard the magic word “racism” used in all sorts of situations to try and beat rational people into submission but associating it with radioactivity is a new one on me.

    i don’t know what some these tossers are smoking but it must pe potent stuff – good luck.

  3. The Navahos certainly think they are sufering from \radioactive racism\, those that used to mine uranium.

    A Tuareg tribe in the Magreb certainly must think they are suffering from \solar racism\. Its water stolen from them, they claim, that is being used to wash the mirrors nightly.

  4. Barry Brook, on 3 November 2010 at 9:19 AM — I now regret not keeping the link. In the news somewhere and either Morocco or Algeria, I disremeber which. But between ther two countries there can hardly be more than one large solar installation so far.

  5. The first event sounds fantastic. The second event sounds loaded.

    “Solar energy technologies have made rapid progress and are being built in both small and large-scale systems. Together with other renewable energy sources, they now have the potential to replace fossil fuels.”

    Questionable. And two “No” speakers vs. one “Yes”. And Arthur Dent? The guy’s a nut.

  6. Could anyone advocating solar power and wind power – as the better way to reduce CO2 emisisons from electricity generation – please show me the effect of solar power and wind power on a country’s CO2 emissions; and also show the cost per tonne CO2 saved.

  7. The majority of the uranium mined by the Navajo was for WMD, not nuclear energy. It was to feed the Pu plants making weapons grade plutonium.

    80% of the mners smoked and most got cancer and died from the combination of silicosis, tar from smoking, massive quantities of radon in poorly ventelated mines and worked non-union.

    Let’s never again repeat this scenerio. Forward to a *breeding* atomic future!

    David

  8. @Weston: point of linguistic hygiene: you refer to “professional anti-nuclear activists”.

    The adjective is normally used to insinuate that if a position is held by a person who also receives money for expounding that position or is not prohibited from doing so by his employer, that position is by definition suspect or inferior, irrespective of the science/ethics involved.

    However, as neither Brook nor Switowski nor Jim Green are prohibited by their respective employers from expressing their views, they are all “professional activists.”

    The error in your innuendo seems to be that you conflate the causal explanation known as “follow the money” (e.g. natgas firms finance green renewabilists, who are thus all bought and/or naive dupes) with some (implied?)notion that only the self-employed working in an area unrelated to nuclear energy should be listened to when talking on that topic.

    That proviso however rules out both Diesendorf and Brook.

  9. Peter,

    OK, let’s have a look at a couple of examples.

    Let’s choose Diesendorf as one example. We will do a quick Google to find a couple of brief bios of Diesendorf:

    http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/author.asp?id=548

    “Dr Mark Diesendorf is Deputy Director of the Institute of Environmental Studies, UNSW.”

    http://www.abc.net.au/science/explore/climatechange/experts/markdiesendorf/

    “Dr Mark Diesendorf is a senior lecturer in the Institute of Environmental Studies at the University of New South Wales, and…”

    Now, let’s look at Green as another example. Again, a quick Google to find a couple of example bios for him.

    http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/author.asp?id=4142

    “Dr Jim Green is the national nuclear campaigner for Friends of the Earth and a member of the EnergyScience Coalition.”

    http://www.abc.net.au/tv/bigideas/stories/2010/03/18/2849810.htm

    “Dr Jim Green is the National Nuclear Campaigner for Friends of the Earth Australia, and edits the organisation’s national magazine.”

    Green actually describes his own occupation as national nuclear campaigner for Friends of the Earth.

    Attacking nuclear energy is actually his full time profession, as he himself describes it.

    That’s what I meant by a professional anti-nuclear activist. Applying a consistent test to, say, Diesendorf, however, Diesendorf is not.

    When asked to describe his day job, the answer is not professional anti-nuclear activist, as it is with Green. In the example of Diesendorf, the answer is that he has such-and-such position on the faculty at UNSW. He also happens to be anti-nuclear, but it’s not his occupation.

  10. Well done Barry in once again being prepared to debate others with different views. I expect to be there.

    The previous monthly debate videos are available at the site. The September debate: “Renewable Energy: should we make the switch” is relevant.

  11. I just noticed another similar event scheduled for Wollongong (near Sydney):

    Politics in the pub – Powering the future
    The case for coal, renewable energy and nuclear energy
    Sunday November 21st, 2pm
    Rydges Sports Bar, Wollongong
    Speakers: Tony Maher – General President CFMEU Mining and Energy
    John Kaye – Greens MP
    & A Representative from ANTSO – Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation
    Organised by MUSAA

    Not yet having a speaker for the nuclear case lined up doesn’t look very promising.

  12. For the non-oz readers, Arthur Dent has some history making the “Neither” case. As Albert Langer, he found a way to game the preferential voting system so as to avoid voting for either major party. He publicized it in a “Neither” campaign and wound up in gaol for his trouble. So in speaking for the “Neither” case here, I assume he’s just trading on past notoriety to get a gig.

    Instead of panicking, we should be demanding a huge increase in the funding of fundamental science.

    Much as I love to see funding of fundamental science, I think we already have a pretty good handle on the necessary physics. Instead we should be demanding a huge increase in the funding of the public understanding of the fundamental science, and engineering.

  13. I’m curious as to why Tom Keen considers me a nut? My (compressed) position above is precisely the position you would need to be debating against if not for the absurd distraction from people pretending that renewables can solve the problem.

    In reality 20 years of advocacy for both renewables and nuclear has not resulted in any significant reduction in carbon emissions. Governments have pandered to renewables but in much of the world have not actually blocked nuclear. With all the pandering, they have continued to rely on fossil fuels while claiming that “market forces” will eventually deliver a viable alternative to fossil fuels by simply taxing them to provide an incentive for private R&D. There’s still no sign of that happening after 20 years!

    If the resources wasted on renewables were put into R&D towards technologies that could eventually be cheaper than fossil fuels, then we could eventually expect developing countries to industrialize using those technologies instead of fossil fuels.

    Until then they WILL continue building fossil fuel plants as fast as they can.

    Nothing done by countries like Australia, and especially no amount of exhortation, will change that.

    If (unlike the renewables fanatics) you actually believe that nuclear fission is the most likely technology to be able to economically displace fossil fuels then a “technology neutral” stance of putting massive resources into R&D ought to be attractive.

    The various “fourth generation” etc projects advocated here would certainly be eligible for a share of that R&D funding and might well deliver earlier than other technologies (eg fusion).

    But if some other technology could, with massive R&D reach a levelized energy cost lower than coal earlier than fission could, why resist that attempt?

    After all experience shows that the pitiful 3% of GDP used for R&D in the most developed countries is a massive underinvestment in the ultimate source of productivity growth, so even if such R&D efforts just confirm nuclear fission is the best we could do, the spinoffs from the resources put into other R&D are unlikely to be negligible.

    Spinoffs from technology developed for the last two world wars and the cold war have driven an awful lot of progress. But since end of the cold war there has been little incentive for expanded public funding of basic and strategic research. Instead the pathetic little put into R&D at all has increasingly gone to “business” which is naturally much more interested in applied research and experimental development than attempts at anything really difficult.

    There is little prospect of “capturing” the benefits of successful R&D into cheaper energy technology than fossil fuels so it is pointless pretending that “market incentives” like a carbon price can deliver the necessary R&D.

    John Morgan’s comment is more polite but misses the point.

    Nuclear fission is a “mature” technology, dating from world war II (and based on fundamental physics from around the time of world war I). It still hasn’t displaced coal technology from centuries earlier. We still haven’t developed our understanding enough to even harness nuclear fusion, let alone any fundamentally new approach.

    Even on the “physics” of climate, our capabilities are so limited that we can barely predict the climate, let alone control it. So when, as seems likely, the climate does start warming unacceptably long before we have actually halted carbon emissions, we still won’t have a reliable geoengineering capability unless a lot of work starts now.

    There’s also a lot of scope for sciences other than physics to deliver. Eg biology, chemistry etc.

    BTW this site could also do with a better handle on power engineering. Peter Lang’s refutations on renewables are useful but much more is needed to educate people about how the wind/gas coalition and solar are already driving up grid transmission costs. It is unconvincing to explain matters in terms of “base load” and do simplistic calculations of the comparitive costs for producing ALL electric power from renewables. What’s needed is a clear explanation of the “gambler’s ruin” problem faced in trying to provide dispatchable (not “baseload”) power from variable and intermittant sources dependent on the weather.

    Most people don’t have an intuitive grasp of random walks etc and just don’t get it. Confusing explanations about “baseload” instead of about “dispatchability” dont help them to get it

    Isn’t it a bit “nuts” to share the renewables fanatics delusion that people living on less than $2 per day can be persuaded to wait longer for more expensive electrification because of problems expected to emerge generations later?

  14. Sorry Barry, I support Arther Dent’s position described in this statement:

    “NEITHER”: Nuclear is a better bet than renewable, but both are far too expensive. They will not be taken up by the developing world which requires cheap energy NOW. Instead of panicking, we should be demanding a huge increase in the funding of fundamental science.

    If we can’t get our act together on what to do to reduce costs, I’d rather wait until we can.

    I believe the reason we can’t reduce cost is largely because of ideological positions of the so called environmental groups.

    Arthur Dent says:

    Instead of panicking, we should be demanding a huge increase in the funding of fundamental science.

    I’d change the emphasis. I wouldn’t put the funding into science. I’d put it to applied research to determine how to get least cost clean electricity established in Australia and then I’d spend funds on the engineering to achieve that. By engineering I don’t mean the hard (civil, mechanical, electrical and nuclear) engineering. I mean the social engineering and the design and implementation of appropriate financing arrangements, financial risk management, regulatory environment all aimed at giving investors confidence that low emission electricity will be replacing coal and gas from now on, and this direction will not change. If it does, the investors will be fully compensated. That is what I mean by the engineering. In the really big engineering projects it is always the funding that is the key: Panama Canal, Churchill Falls hydro project Canada, Sydney Opera House (paid for by a lorttery – Aussies love lotteries even when the project runs ten times over the original cost estimate!)

    No offence Barry, but that is what I genuinely believe we should do until we can get the ridiculous anti nuclear policy of the environmental NGOs reversed or their influence discredited.

    The comments on John Quiggin’s and the Skeptial Science sites have firrmed my opinion of the rock solid stupidity and lack of objectivity of the environmental NGOs and Greens.

  15. Arthur,

    I read your post after I’d posted mine. I didn’t actually expect to see you posting here. Having read your post through once, I’d have to say I agree with almost all of it (the ‘almost’ is a contingency caveat in case when I re-read I find something I disagree with).

  16. John Morgan,

    I seconded you because you are very clear thinking, you can excplain anything (even relativity) in a way that the interested, non-specialist can understand. That is what is needed. You have an excellent understanding of the subject to the depth that is needed.

    I stand by my seconding of you for this very worthwhile contribution to society.

  17. John Morgan,

    Even more important than what I said above, you have a grasp of the comparitives costs at a high level. Most don’t have any grasp of that at all. That is what really needs to be got across. That is your unique advantage.

  18. Arthur,

    I do disagree with you on one thing. You want to invest in R&D and delay any roll outs until we know what is the best way to go forth. However, scientists will research forever. If we want to achieve something you need to give the task to engineers.

    So I’d suggest we want a parallel path, We should proceed with implementing the best, least-cost technologies now. In parallel we should gear up funding for research. I would not give all the funds to scientists. I’d give part to scientists, and part to other disciplines for applied research.

    I believe we need to keep rolling out the best technology available at the time. That is the fastest way to advance. I give the example: the Spitifre Mark V was a development of the previous Marks. That was fast development.

  19. Would this categorisation be fair? Barry Brook is presenting a technological solution to AGW that is possible but not popular (except in France) and Arthur Dent is presenting a political solution that is more achievable.

    Along similar lines, I think the solution advocated by Roger Pielke jnr on his blog and his recent book, The Climate Fix, also takes the political dimension more into account, ie. what can be achieved politically in a democracy

  20. Arthur,

    The point is that current PWRs are pretty much price competitive with fossil fuels in Asia right now and everywhere else with a price on carbon. http://www.iea.org/Textbase/npsum/ElecCost2010SUM.pdf . Furthermore they also offer much greater price stability than fossil fueled plants over the life of a plant. Nuclear fuel cost could rise substantially without the electricity price becoming unbearable. The same cannot be said for fossil fuels.

    This is why we a seeing a renewed interest in nuclear in developing nations. For example Vietnam has an agreement with Russia for two VVER-1000s and seems about to conclude an agreement with Japan for two more reactors. My own view is that we a seeing the start of a big move to nuclear in China. It all takes time, not just to build reactors but the supporting infrastructure and industrial base, educate and train large numbers of people etc. There is really quite a lot of interest from a significant number of non-Westerns nations including a number of north African and middle eastern nations and Sth Africa.

    Talking down a nuclear renaissance is not recognizing what is happening, and not very helpful.

    And this is happening with current Gen II+/Gen III designs. It does seem a bit silly to say “Hold on a bit – we need more scientific research”. Meanwhile atmospheric CO2 just keeps on going up, and in the absence of nuclear, developing nations will just build more coal and gas. The latter will prove very difficult to get rid of before the capital cost is recovered. What would help developing nations is expanded international cooperation to develop nuclear power – which is just what Vietnam recently called for.

    As for scientific research, who doesn’t want to see more energy research? No argument from many around here about the need for funding of Gen IV R&D. Just 2% of US annual military budget would very likely see both IFRs and advanced molten salt reactors deployable within a decade.

    But I have a problem with abstract hand waving about technological deliverance from some massive R&D funding and twaddle about infinite human ingenuity. For a start there is no sign of any such funding forthcoming. Secondly, you need to specify what is to be the subject of the research. This is not closing one’s mind to other options but to ask the very reasonable question of just what is supposed to pop out at the other end of this process.

    Scientific revolutions do not drop out of trees, and it’s is anyone’s guess as to when something as profoundly transforming as relativity and quantum mechanics is likely to happen again, no matter how much money is spent. My guess is it could be quite a while.

    Meanwhile, as I said there is a pressing need to mitigate CO2 emissions, and meet growing energy demand. Do nothing and pray for funding strikes me as yet another flavour of (rather transparent) denialism.

  21. Arthur, thanks for elaborating your position here for us.

    I agree with this:

    Nuclear is a better bet than renewable, but both are far too expensive. They will not be taken up by the developing world which requires cheap energy NOW.

    But I think the gap between conventional generation and nuclear is overstated. There’s a nice chart of the cost of electricity from many generators, from many studies here. IEA puts nuclear in the same range as pulverized coal and cheaper than natural gas. Increasing scale and standardization will see nuclear costs come down, natural gas costs will certainly go up. The developing world is choosing nuclear NOW. China is building out rapidly, and India is making a long range bet on fast reactors.

    As I said above, I can’t agree with this:

    Instead of panicking, we should be demanding a huge increase in the funding of fundamental science.

    Well, I agree we shouldn’t panic. But there are no questions of fundamental science gating reduced cost and increased deployment rate of nuclear power. And if there are any energy technologies that are awaiting advances in fundamental science, then by definition they’re not available, on anybody’s timeline. What science would you fund, specifically, to achieve your aim?

    There is certainly room for directing funding to the development of manufacturing technologies, the process technologies associated with the fuel cycle, and materials sciences. This is not fundamental science, its very applied science, and engineering development. Costs can be reduced, and the fuel cycle can be closed, and these are worth pursuing, at different levels of priority.

    But the most important area to develop is the financial risk management that Peter Lang describes.

  22. It’s true that China is developing nuclear and hydro and wind but also true that increasing their use of coal at a rapid rate. China is also a dictatorship and they can make decisions in a different way to democracies. In a democracy we can’t have more nuclear and any nuclear unless a major party supports it. Such is the case in Australia. It is also anticipated that China will have “30 to 40 million (!) cars sold in China every year by 2020, and electric cars still a ways off”.

    I obtained this information from Pielke jnrs blog by searching within the domain http://rogerpielkejr.blogspot.com/ with the key word “china”. There is a lot more from that source. He maintains a regular dialogue about China.

  23. Thanks Peter Lang,

    I’ll respond to your “one” disagreement and now take up a few more from the post that wasn’t in response to mine.

    1. Although I am prejudiced in favor of “do more science” generally, I am not advocating there be no rollout until a “best” solution is found. Once ANYTHING is found that is ACTUALLY cheaper than fossil fuels (or even predictably within reach through normal learning curve cost reductions) governments and other investors WILL turn to engineers for rapid implementation. There is no way “scientists” could prevent this just as there is no way that anyone can make them actually switch investment to more expensive technology (as opposed to expensive cosmetic pandering).

    2. I’m not opposed to putting some of the massive R&D into applied research (and experimental development) as opposed to basic and strategic research. However ONLY for aspects that are clearly hindered from “normal” R&D investment by the difficulty of capturing the benefits.

    3. Those difficulties are considerable, so there may be plenty of scope for such “applied R&D” once a plausible technology has been identified. But I don’t want to pander to the idea (shared by advocates of both nuclear and renewables) that a technology plausible cheaper than coal HAS been identified. There’s simply no reason to expect developing countries to buy the argument that they should pay more to developed countries for more expensive energy technology than coal and pretend it isn’t more expensive by putting a price on carbon.

    4. The difficulties of “capturing” the benefits of R&D are inherent. Once you really grasp that the task is to get below the cost for coal then one cannot imagine that some “reward” for investment will flow to whoever funds the technology R&D by means of intellectual property etc. By definition there is no price gap to pay for the intellectual property since the price is to be pushed as low as possible, not just to whatever point maximizes revenue.

    5. This fundamental problem for “market forces” to do the R&D cannot be solved by “social engineering” or “financial engineering”. There is no clever financial instrument that could be designed to shift the risk that technology designed to “save the planet” will be used to “save the planet” rather than rationed to maintain a monopoly premium for rewarding the developers. As with military technology, this kind of research can ONLY be publicly funded.

    6. In particular, “giving investors confidence that low emission electricity will be replacing coal and gas from now on, and this direction will not change. If it does, the investors will be fully compensated” is self-contradictory. Granted that “investors” are stupid and that government funded R&D programs are wasteful, given that nothing but a massive government funded R&D program could deliver results and that it could not recover the costs except by the public benefit of “saving the world” there is no way to convince any moderately sane investor to invest in that kind of R&D.

    7. I certainly agree that funding is the key for big engineering projects. For global R&D the problem is even worse than for big national engineering projects, precisely because the beneficiary is “the world” rather than a national economy. At present governments are still far too interested in free riding than in actual paying their shares. They just don’t do calculations in terms of global benefit. Both military R&D and civilian infrastructure projects get public funding on the basis of “national interest” and there is a “national interest” in free riding on other countries basic and strategic research so there is massive global underinvestment in such research.

    8. Although green reactionary ideology opposed to modernity and industrialization is a problem, they would be isolated and defeated if “mainstream” conservative ruling class ideology was not so inclined to pander to them. The “mainstream” center bureaucrats and “business leaders” are now so parasitic that they actually BELIEVE their mantras about “market forces” producing R&D in response to “price signals” instead of actually paying to do the R&D! Meanwhile they can avoid coughing up their share for an expensive global project by pandering to the greenies and sounding “concerned”. Knock THEM over and isolating the greenies will be very easy.

    9. Despite your agreement with my fundamental point that what matters is the technology used for third world development rather than countries like Australia, you still referred to “research to determine how to get least cost clean electricity established in Australia”. That orientation is deeply embedded in discussions of nuclear here and simply irrelevant to how the world deals with a global problem. The least cost clean electricity for Australia is obviously nuclear. That doesn’t require any “applied research”. Australians aren’t willing to pay the extra cost of “clean” energy compared with using cheaper coal and even if we were that would not change anything in India, China etc.

    Bill Kerr,

    I don’t think its a matter of what can be achieved politically in a democracy. Neither democratic nor undemocratic countries will invest in more expensive energy technologies. Only the more developed (and democratic) countries have the capability to contribute to a massive global R&D effort, which is the only way to solve the problem. So it is up to us to do so.

  24. Peter, up above I was referring to Mark Diesendorf’s declaration that Barry was not an “energy expert”, while he (MD) is.

    In all honesty I’d quite like to do it, I’m just insanely busy at work right now and can’t see the prep time turning up for a long time. A brief break around christmas might see me talking to some green groups.

  25. Quokka,

    The lead time for developing an industrial base, skilled workforce etc is a perfectly good explanation for the modest investment in nuclear power by an economy as large as China’s.

    In addition China’s rail network is too choked to deliver coal from north to south and they are already suffering 100km traffic jams from coal transport by road so they may have to build some nuclear plants quickly in the south. (There are niche applications for nuclear in other places with no local coal or gas and transport bottlenecks but that doesn’t displace the dominant role of fossil fuels).

    As Bill Kerr mentions they are also doing a remarkable amount of wind and solar – presumably to develop a manufacturing base for exporting wind turbines and solar panels to anybody that wants to buy them.

    But as Bill also mentions their energy requirements are being overwhelmingly met by coal and gas (and of course oil for transport). I think its something like a couple of coal plants every week. Not to mention LPG from Australia…

    This will continue until nuclear OR SOME OTHER TECHNOLOGY is ACTUALLY cheaper. The possibility of it being nuclear is a good enough reason for doing whats needed to reduce the lead time. They aren’t going to be the ones doing the basic R&D for it to be any other technology although they could contribute to applied R&D for nuclear once they have built a skills base.

    Yes, scientific revolutions do not drop for trees. No we are unlikely to make further breakthroughs while people act as though either they do just drop from trees or we already know more than we need to and there isn’t much room for big breakthroughs. As I said, massive R&D funding will be required for major breakthroughs. Pretending that this isn’t possible or isn’t needed sounds much more like “denialism” to me.

    I would not try to “pick winners” but promote the idea of a global R&D project funded by national levies in the most developed countries. This should be structured to avoid factions pushing their pet projects like Australia as a coal exporter pushing carbon capture and storage. Funding research into anything that “plausibly might” work, as opposed to absurdities like rooftop solar panels that we know cannot do anything but waste resources on pandering.

    If Australia was to make a specific national contribution rather than just paying its share of the global levy I would suggest “regional climate engineering” as an Australian speciality rather than carbon capture and storage. As well as fitting with the “Australian national interest” in prolonging rentals from fossil fuels like carbon capture and storage would, Australia actually has a largely uninhabitable continent on which experiments with regional climate change would be likely to do less harm than elsewhere. (But still so problematic as to be unlikely as a long term solution – and of course most climate engineering technologies have a directly global rather than regional impact and are therefore even harder to experiment with).

    My personal expectation would be that fusion power will be the quickest to actually deliver, but will still take decades and is certainly not a “sure thing” that could justify neglecting other possibilities.

    John Morgan,

    Yes nuclear is a “mature” technology so there is no reason to expect basic research to result in major cost reductions, as opposed to the ongoing incremental improvements resulting from “applied” development.

    The only plausible claims that nuclear costs will fall below coal that I have seen are based on coal having a carbon price. It doesn’t.

    It seems obvious that the capital costs for a nuclear plant will always be significantly higher than for a coal plant. Its not easy to compensate for that by lower fuel costs, unless you can find a way to raise the cost of fossil fuels. That’s why so much effort has been put into taxing carbon – with no signs of success.

    It doesn’t really matter much what claims are made that nuclear is already cheaper than or comparable to coal without a carbon price. The people that actually buy power plants rely on industry figures like the technical assessment guide from EPRI.

    Those figures are very clear, as demonstrated by the fact that they are still buying coal and gas plants and not buying nuclear.

    This is true worldwide, not just in countries that have artificially high regulatory costs and delays. At present, despite “renaissance”, less nuclear is being bought than is necessary just to reduce the lead time in preparing an industrial base and skilled workforce for a possible future expansion.

    Bill Kerr,

    Australia’s ban on nuclear is an insignificant oddity. It doesn’t affect the world situation and is not due to Australia being a democracy than France, Canada, US etc, but due to Australian coal resources being so extensive and cheap that it hasn’t been worth putting in the effort needed to fight the ban. If nuclear was a plausible option in Australia there would be some massive funding for the pro-nuke campaign and the mainstream parties would shift.

  26. Arthur @ 5 November 2010 at 8:34 PM

    Your point 3 jumped out at me.

    But I don’t want to pander to the idea (shared by advocates of both nuclear and renewables) that a technology plausible cheaper than coal HAS been identified. There’s simply no reason to expect developing countries to buy the argument that they should pay more to developed countries for more expensive energy technology than coal and pretend it isn’t more expensive by putting a price on carbon.

    I totally agree with this statement. For me this is the real nub of the issue.

    However, I do believe existing Gen II and perhaps Gen III NPPs could be cheaper (LCOE) than coal in Australia within a decade of the first plant being commissioned if we weer to focus on levelling the playing field. To level the playing field will require a public contribution to correct the errors of the past. I expect the public contribution would be about $20 billion between now and 2030, which is about half the contribution we are making to nationalise broadband communications systems in Australia over 8 years. In other words it is ‘peanuts’ (insignificant).

    I’ll read the remainder of your comment later.

  27. Peter, If your belief was shared by anyone with $20 billion then it is covered by my points 1 and 2. Since the levelized cost of energy from nuclear would predictably become lower than for coal within a decade of the first plant for a relatively insignificant expenditure there is no way anybody could prevent that going ahead.

    Presumably the US would do it before Australia since it has an existing nuclear industry and research base and less cheap coal as well as easier access to $20 billion funding. Advocating it for Australia rather than the US seems odd.

    So far all anybody is doing is hedging against the future possibility of nuclear becoming competitive by ensuring the industry and skill base remains in existence. This seems more of a hedge against the possibility of coal costs rising enough than a belief that nuclear costs could be brought down enough by spending $20 billion.

    Anyway. once there was a massive global R&D project, the fund allocation process for the strategic and applied research component would quickly be able to confirm your belief, AFTER which, governments would act on it.

    So it would still be more productive for you to advocate the technology neutral massive global funding than an “Australian” $20 billion project.

  28. arthur,

    The point I was trying to make about democracy, admittedly I was not clear, was that the australian / western public does want some action on climate change but not to the extent of brute force reduction of CO2 to IPCC or James Hansen required levels – levels which would significantly impact on standard of living. The industrialised world public is concerned but not alarmed enough to submit to significant reduction of standard of living. The Greens will not sweep to victory in the Australian electoral process and I would expect that as they attain more power they will hit a wall as people look at their policies more critically, once those policies start to mean something – increase in standard of living cost

    The level of public concern in the industrialised world however I think would support a well argued case for the massive R&D since that would not in itself impact significantly on standard of living. This might involve a C tax but not a huge one. Perhaps Labour or Liberal might support it (although the political climate is poisonous and it would be difficult admittedly), it would have a better chance than any proposal for brute force CO2 reduction. If not Australia, then perhaps some other industrialised country might see the light.

    I agree with you that nothing significant in CO2 reductions will occur until cheaper than coal technologies arise and that nuclear is not there yet. People should stop citing China as an example that the developing world is embracing nuclear as an alternative to coal, rather than a supplement because China doesn’t have enough roads and trains to transport all the coal they need, as you pointed out.

    I have also read comments by Barry Brook here that he, too, agrees with the economic argument, it won’t happen unless its cheaper. But I think Barry still pushes nuclear as the best solution (technological fix) rather than increased R&D as the best way to go (more realistic political fix). So my initial question still stands is this a fair description of the difference b/w arthur’s and barry’s positions?

    Not much of this is original thought on my part. I’ve been persuaded by the various arguments put my Pielke jnr and would encourage others to read his site and books.

  29. Quokka,

    Thank you for the link to the Executive Summary of the IEA “Projected Costs of Generating Electricity – 2010 Edition”.
    http://www.iea.org/Textbase/npsum/ElecCost2010SUM.pdf .

    It compares the Levelised Cost of Electricity (LCOE) by generator technology for North America, Europe and Asia Pacific with a $30/tonne CO2 price included. The costs are most sensitive to the discount rate used – therefore to the construction time and capital cost (as has always been the case).

    Note this comment:

    Neither does the study include other systemic effects such as the costs incurred for providing back-up for variable or intermittent (nondispatchable) renewable energies. For the calculation of the costs of coal‑fired power generation with carbon capture, only the costs of capture net of transmission and storage have been taken into account.

    In other words, the costs for wind (and other renewables) do not include the cost of back-up and the cost of Carbon Capture and storage is meaningless because it is for the capture part only and does not include the transmission and storage.

  30. Bill Kerr,

    I agree with the expanded and clarified version of your point.

    As well as Pielke Jnr I would recommend stuff from fixtheclimate.com/ and the The Hartwell Paper.

    This confirms that such a campaign to shift the public debate to something achievable is beginning (although the unreadably pompous style of the latter suggests it has a long way to go).

    It may take a few years to swing public opinion and a few decades to deliver results. But, contrary to alarmists, we do have decades available (as well as many other priorities for global development during those decades).

    People who are more alarmed or consider the problem more urgent than I do should nevertheless join the above in pushing to reduce the number of years wasted on pointless approaches before the work that will eventually make a difference actually starts.

  31. Arthur,

    Unfortunately you have missed a lot of the background to what I am saying. Sorry for that. Some of it is on the “Alternative to a CPRS” thread. http://bravenewclimate.com/2010/01/31/alternative-to-cprs/#comment-105862

    I can’t agree with you on the idea of world government, world funding for R&D, etc. It is a fantasy at this time. Its a long long way off.

    I definitely believe we need to just roll out the best and least cost low emissions technologies we have now. Then we will improve them much faster than by sitting in labs palying computer games.

    As quokka has pointed out, nuclear is by far the least cost low emissions technology we have available now.

    I do jump back and forth between good for the world and good for Australia. Sorry. I was trying to demonstrate why good for the world is low cost electricity so ther is no point in Australia or the developed countries making high cost electricity generators. The developing countries will not buy them. So carbon prices and all the imposts we have on nuclear in Australia are bad policy.

    We need to remove the imposts. That is where I want to spend the money on research. To search out all the imposts. Quantify their effect on the economy. Define how best to remove them. Determine what we need to do to set a level playing field for all generating technologies sucn that we get the lowest possible cost for electricity. Determine what we need to do to attract investment for low cost clean electricity. That is wher I want us to spend out R&D funds.

    The world needs cheap low emission electricity. We need cheap low emission electricity.

    I believe we can have what we want. We just need to remove the blocks to it.

  32. @Arthur – I agree with everything you have written here. I have not been participating in this thread because I can’t find anything to disagree with in your posts.

    Just thought I’d say so.

    DV8

  33. Arthur,

    I am quite surprised by the way you misused the “$20 billion” figure I quoted.

    I said it is over a period of 20 years. That is trivial in comparison with what we waste every year: $2.5 billion in one year on the pink bats home insulation program, $16 billion on the Building Education Revolution, $43 billion over 8 years committed to nationalising our communicatiosn system, a lot (can’t remember the figures) on Renewable energy, carbon capture and storage, gas projects, tax breaks for coal and the list goes on. So $20 billion over 20 years is trivial in comparison. It makes me wonder what you background is if you missed this importan part of what I said.

  34. Why do we need to to wait for more R&D before pushing ahead? Nuclear power is a mature technology. If it’s not competitive with other baseload energy technologies at the moment, why does France have the cheapest electricity in Western Europe? I realise that building nuclear power plants was their only option at the time, but this does not change the fact that their household electricity prices are lower than the mostly fossil-fueled nations surrounding them.

    We should be shutting down coal power plants now and preventing gas power plants from coming on line. Fossil fuels are more expensive when you include the externalities.

    We’ll never have nuclear unless it’s cheaper than fossil fuels, and we’ll never sell nuclear power by claiming it’s too safe. There is nothing wrong with nuclear becoming the cheaper option because the fossil fuels industry has to start paying for its external costs.

  35. Folks, despite already-been-beaten-to-death differences between Peter and myself, he *points* to something that many are missing. It is his “challenge” so to speak: not just rolling out nuclear energy in his country (and everywhere else for that matter) but to do so in manner that makes it not just the “cheapest” but “really cheap” by any measure.

    Peter and I have the same position on this question. For the obvious economic and political reasons, coming up with a *plan*, although for this forum I suspect he means an “outline”, is the ONLY way to assure a roll-out of nuclear at least in Australia (and you won’t get any argument from me for the US as well).

    Peter is concerned, as he should be, with public acceptance of nuclear. The antis make this increasingly about cost. The antis have a point. Even cutting through the BS, nuclear is “expense” intrinsically in the short term. So how can we “plan” to have nuclear cheaper.

    I also agree with Peter that in the short term: next 10 years, proven but standardized Gen II (VVER) and Gen III (you name ‘em) are what we need to look to for actual deployment. Also, since the Koreans and Chinese are doing a heck of a job eating up all the learning curve for everyone, costs could actually come down. We’ll see but I’m hopeful.

    At the same time we need to put major R&D bucks (or whatever Aussies call money in the idiom) into our favorite Gen IV and Small Reactors models for deployment after this date (I remain a big fan of LFTR, myself, albeit I’m always contrarian and think the real money is in BIG LFTRs but I’m not wedded to it).

    Peter “$20 Billion” over the next 19 years is really quite a bargain IF he’s correct. That’s less than 10% of the yearly Defense budget for Australia.

    Every stage of human cultural development: economic, technological, agricultural has been dependent on MORE, not less, energy. Energy that has continued to become more ‘dense’, more cheap and more abundant. Without deployment of such energy human civilization will go *backwards*. That’s the decent into barbarism. See Mad Max. It was all about the fuel running out…

    David

  36. Thanks chaps for a very intersting discussion. Hope the following is relevant. It’s my latest letter to the Australian sent today [Nov 6]. Here it is:
    Graham Lloyd’s piece, “Labor urged to follow Obama on carbon” highlights business leader Dick Warburton’s suggestion that Australia should look towards investigating other ways to cut CO2 emissions. He also noted that Australia needed to make better use of its resources including gas and nuclear. He also made it clear that “the renewables, solar and wind are a very long way from being economically effective” Warburton is right on all counts. In effect, he’s endorsing the rapid increase in nuclear power generation around the world. And in the light that at present 20 additional countries are currently building 54 reactors [China 24 of them] it must surely be time for Australia to get nuclear in our future energy mix. We should also be encouraging an increased global uptake in nuclear and be helping developing countries to take it up as well. Perhaps some of the first world countries’ aid to developing countries could take the form of some NPP’s of appropriate size. Australia might build a couple of PBMR’s for example somewhere. What we all need to understand is that apart from coal, nuclear is the only source that can deliver, emissions-free, the growing supply of base load power the world will need. Wayne Swan needs to commit at least half of the $642 million allocated to renewables Rand D to nuclear Rand D. It’s hard to believe that as James Lovelock said here in Adelaide in 2007 that “it doesn’t make sense that Australia hasn’t already gone nuclear.” Australia has become sidelined because of its refusal to develop the cleanest, greenest, safest, most cost effective source of energy known to mankind.

  37. @ Arthur,

    I pretty well agree with DV82XL’s statement. I agree with the general thrust of most of your argument too – but not with delaying roll out of the best available now. And I strongly urge they must be rolled out at least possble cost. We should and must remove all the imposts we have imposed. That will mean subsidies for a while because it will take a long time to remove the damage caused by past bad policy decisions.

  38. @Bill Kerr

    The point I was trying to make about democracy, admittedly I was not clear, was that the australian / western public does want some action on climate change but not to the extent of brute force reduction of CO2 to IPCC or James Hansen required levels – levels which would significantly impact on standard of living.

    Public opinion won’t become more hawkish on climate change while people keep on spreading this kind of fact free stuff with emotive phrases such as “brute force”. Those nasty extremist scientists trying to destroy our way of life, eh? But that’s the reason you do it, isn’t it?

    Peter Lang has done it better, but let’s do some quick back of the envelope stuff. If Australia were to build say 40 GWe of nuclear capacity over say 25 years that would pretty much clean up electricity generation. Lets say the cost averages $4 billion per GWe, more for for first of a kind, then probably declining as expertise increases. That’s $160 billion over 25 years or $6.4 billion per year – similar sort of figure as will be spent in the initial NBN rollout. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the NBN are, it is not going the destroy the Australian economy.

    Looking at it a bit differently, Australia’s GDP is over a trillion dollars. So we are looking at ~0.6% of GDP. But a significant portion of that will have to be spent anyway to replace aging coal plants and satisfy growing demand. The excess cost due to nuclear would be significantly less than 0.5% GDP PA.

    Say we extend the time frame for our notional build out to 40 years. Our yearly spend is ~0.3% of GDP – most of which would have to have been spent anyway as the entire existing infrastructure would have reached the end of it’s life. This is not going to break the bank. This new nuclear infrastructure would be good until close to the end of the century.

    The figures are entirely politically acceptable. What is needed is a proper national energy policy and political will to see it through. There is in fact no insurmountable economic problem or anything that remotely resembles one. It is in fact a political problem.

  39. quokka,

    I think you have missed three important points:

    1. raising the price of electricity damages Australia’s competitive position, resulting in a greater loss of GDP than you have mentioned.

    2. the effect of raising the price of electricity is to slow the rate that electricity will displace oil for land transport and gas for heating. So the emissions reduction will be slower than it would be with lower priced electricity

    3. one effect of raising the cost of electricity generation in developed countries (even just one, Australia) is to make clean electricity more costly. That will reduce the rate of uptake in the under-developed countries.

    I wonder why you seem to be so opposed to the fix I am suggesting which is to remove the impediments to low-cost, low-emissions electricity and level up the playing field. Why are you opposed? Not only you, but why hasn’t anyone else grasped this? I suspect the reason is that I am not explaining it very well. Another possibility is I’ve go it wrong. No, on second thought’s, that’s not possible :)

  40. Will try to respond more later. Very quickly for now:

    1. DV82XL thanks. DV8s of the world unite!. Please do help with responses to others.

    Peter Lang,

    2. I (literally) don’t undestand your complaint about my reference to your $20 billion. I was AGREEING that it is a relatively insignificant amount and pointing out that therefore your proposal would already be happening if your belief that what you propose is all it would take was held by others in a position to act on it. I cannot see that you have responded to this argument and you seem instead to be reacting to some suggestion that $20 billion is too much which I haven’t made.

    3. I have (now) read the comment you linked in another thread as background. I agree with everything you said in it. (Have not followed the links).

    4. “I can’t agree with you on the idea of world government, world funding for R&D, etc. It is a fantasy at this time. Its a long long way off.

    That is not a useful characterization of what we do disagree on. Global funding for R&D to solve a global problem is a) not world government, b) not fantasy and c) not a long way off.

    For example Fusion Power (excluding ITER) currently receives almost as much EU R&D funding as all other non-nuclear energy related research programs combined. (See footnote 15). ITER is a $10 billion R&D project jointly funded by USA, EU, China, Russia, Japan, South Korea and India under IAEA auspices. IAEA is an international agency, not a world government, it isn’t a fantasy and it isn’t a long way off from doing $billions of R&D projects.

    I’m simply proposing MUCH MORE of what is ALREADY happening on the fusion front, but much more broadly.

    5. “I definitely believe we need to just roll out the best and least cost low emissions technologies we have now. Then we will improve them much faster than by sitting in labs playing computer games.

    Leaving aside the completely unconvincing dismissal of R&D as “playing computer games”, that IS a fair summation of what we disagree on.

    You are aware both that the best and least cost low emissions technologies we have now is nuclear fission and that nuclear fission is still more expensive than fossil fuels.

    As I see it you can only reconcile this with your convincing argument that more expensive technology WILL NOT be rolled out by means of your belief that only $20 billion over a couple of decades would result in nuclear becoming cheaper than coal.

    I have already repeated and clarified my apparantly misunderstood refutation in item 2 above, so await your response to what I actually meant.

    Tom Keen,

    6. I’m not sure whether France really does have lower household electricity prices than its neighbours. If so it would certainly confirm that the ridiculous promotion of solar and windmills in Spain and Germany has had a dramatic impact on their costs. It would not change the fact that nuclear is generally more expensive than coal.

    7. “There is nothing wrong with nuclear becoming the cheaper option because the fossil fuels industry has to start paying for its external costs.

    Whether there is anything wrong with it or not, it isn’t happening and there are no reasons to believe it will happen.

    I can see plenty wrong with asking people on less than $2 per day to pay more and wait longer for electricity. So can the governments concerned, which is why they have loudly and clearly said NO WAY. Which part of NO don’t you understand? Or don’t you understand that they get to decide this, not you?

  41. There is a lot of talk about what should and should not happen in developing countries, but what do the population of developing countries actually think about climate change and their willingness to pay for mitigation?

    Here is a World Bank report Public attitudes toward climate change

    In every country surveyed, including the US and China, a majority strongly or somewhat agreed that “Dealing with the problem of climate change should be given priority, even if it causes slower economic growth and some loss of jobs”.

    But what is really striking is that in the poorest countries, sentiment is strongest for taking action. Isn’t that remarkable. It would be very interesting to redo this survey in Russia in the aftermath of the recent fires.

    If we want to start talking about democracy then it seems that the will of the people is quite clear – they are prepared to pay some premium for clean electricity if it will mitigate climate change and furthermore, it is in fact their right to make that choice. AGW deniers, libertarians and mechanically deterministic Marxists notwithstanding.

    The key is the magnitude of the premium. I should think that the back of envelope stuff I did for Australia in terms of nuclear cost in terms of percentage of GDP might come out at something similar for many nations because of the correlation of electricity consumption with GDP.

    So if we rephrased the world bank survey question as “Do you think it is worth 0.3% of GDP to take serious action to mitigate climate change?” my guess is that there would be majority support – in just about all nations.

    Which leads to the conclusion that while the cost of nuclear is vitally important, the political dimension is also very significant.

  42. Be careful with running raw comparisons on electricity prices between countries, especially between neighboring countries that trade power across their border.

    To make a long story short net exporting regions cannot keep local prices too low relative to what they are charging international customers, the reason for these are varied, and complex and are written into the the agreements between the respective governments that makes the trade possible. This is also particularly true for grids that cross international boundaries.

    Finally price support or outright subsidy in some countries distorts the true cost of electric power.

  43. @Peter Lang

    1. raising the price of electricity damages Australia’s competitive position, resulting in a greater loss of GDP than you have mentioned.

    Not mitigating climate change will lead to a loss of GDP through for example increasing drought severity http://climateprogress.org/2010/10/20/ncar-daidrought-under-global-warming-a-review/ . Very likely there will be an increase in the severity of tropical cyclones with associated economic damage. We could compile a very long list of economic ill effects.

    In any case, a price premium for nuclear electricity may actually disappear even in Australia due to higher fossil fuel costs – even coal.

    2. the effect of raising the price of electricity is to slow the rate that electricity will displace oil for land transport and gas for heating. So the emissions reduction will be slower than it would be with lower priced electricity

    There will be no significant reduction in emissions without being rid of coal. It’s gotta go.

    3. one effect of raising the cost of electricity generation in developed countries (even just one, Australia) is to make clean electricity more costly. That will reduce the rate of uptake in the under-developed countries.

    I don’t get this at all. It is the Asian countries that are doing nuclear at a highly competitive price. It is non-western countries that are showing the most interest in nuclear. The way things look at the moment, it will be the likes of China, India, Sth Korea etc as they move towards developing nuclear export industries, that will most likely bring the cost of nuclear down. A quite plausible scenario is that western Europe and the US, caught in an endless cycle of political procrastination will over a time frame of say, 15-20 years, lose all leadership in nuclear science and engineering and the future will be driven by Asia. Might even be a good thing :)

    I wonder why you seem to be so opposed to the fix I am suggesting which is to remove the impediments to low-cost, low-emissions electricity and level up the playing field. Why are you opposed? Not only you, but why hasn’t anyone else grasped this? I suspect the reason is that I am not explaining it very well. Another possibility is I’ve go it wrong. No, on second thought’s, that’s not possible :)

    When did I say I was opposed? I might take a slightly different view on issues of the need for state involvement, the politics etc, but at the end of the day, whatever works. I completely accept the imperative of doing nuclear at at least competitive cost. The cheaper the better (within reason of course). Having said that there is significant support for action to mitigate climate change and preparedness to pay something to that end. A small premium for nuclear power could be politically acceptable. Over the top costs for renewables will not be.

  44. Arthur,

    Sorry, I did misunderstand your comment about the $20 billion over 20 years.

    You are aware both that the best and least cost low emissions technologies we have now is nuclear fission and that nuclear fission is still more expensive than fossil fuels.

    I agree that would be more expensive than coal in Australia under a USA or EU type regulatory environment, but nuclear is not more expensive than coal everywhere. http://www.iea.org/Textbase/npsum/ElecCost2010SUM.pdf .

    As I see it you can only reconcile this with your convincing argument that more expensive technology WILL NOT be rolled out by means of your belief that only $20 billion over a couple of decades would result in nuclear becoming cheaper than coal.

    I am not saying that the $20 billion alone will make nuclear competitive with coal in Australia. Most of the change in the relative costs of nuclear and coal would be caused to levelling the playing field, and the message that action would send to investors. We need to level the playing field to remove the favourable subsidies, regulations and tax breaks for coal, gas and renewables. That is important because that is what will send the clear signal to investors that the regulatory environment has changed from favouring fossil fuels to favouring low emissions electricity generation. I’ve listed some of the impediments that we need to remove here:
    http://bravenewclimate.com/2010/01/31/alternative-to-cprs/#comment-86256

    The basis of my rough estimate of $20 billion, and more comments about how levelling the playing field will change the investor risk premium to disadvantage fossil fuels and favour the least-cost low-emission technologies, is here:
    http://bravenewclimate.com/2010/10/25/2060-nuclear-scenarios-p4/#comment-106153

  45. Peter,

    I am surprised to see the IEA projection that nuclear will have lower LCOE than coal by 2015 in Japan and Korea based on a 10% discount rate.

    But as you pointed out to Quokka at 12.45pm this afternoon, that assumes a $30 per tonne price for emissions. With emissions something like 0.8 to 1.3 kg per kWh for existing and new black and brown coal in Australia – say 1 kg/kWh for convenience, ie 1 tonne/MWh that adds $30 per MWh to cost of coal.

    We both agree, and you have argued eloquently, that this is not happening and should not happen.

    But without it, nuclear remains more expensive than coal!

    I must admit though that the IEA margin without carbon price is only about 10% in favor of coal. If correct, that puts nuclear much closer to being economically feasible than I thought. The comparison with much higher margin for Europe and USA does confirm the importance of the regulatory environment etc.

    The IEA summary mentions serious limitations to the data.

  46. Scott, thanks for the additional IEA details.

    I’m confused as some rows show less than $30 “fuel and carbon” costs for coal (eg China, Table 4.1b).

    This is inconsistent with my calculation that $30 per tonne of emissions corresponds to about $30 per MWh of electricity. (Implies negative cost for coal).

    Can any anyone provide and explain the correct way to recalculate with no carbon price?

  47. Pingback: Electricity costs exhibits « BraveNewClimate

  48. Notice how the fuel & carbon in Germany is 50.24 USD/MWh for ‘Bk PCC’ whereas ‘Bk PCC w/CC(s)’ is 37.81 USD/MWh. This difference can only be made up in carbon because as we all know CCS increases the fuel consumption rather than decreases it. If we shift to Russia ‘Bk USC PCC’ fuel & carbon is 20.41 USD/MWh while ‘Bk USC PCC w/CC(s)’ is 26.10 USD/MWh which is what we would expect from CSS. Since we don’t have the full report I think we can deduce that the $30/tonne carbon tax is only applied to OECD members and is not applied to non-OECD nations.

  49. Thanks Scott!,

    So from table 4.1b even for Asia-Pacific China clearly shows coal cheaper than nuclear with no carbon price and both Japan and Korea show same after removing about $30 per MWh from coal for the OECD carbon price.

    BTW I mentioned above at 9.41pm on 5 November that “There are niche applications for nuclear in other places with no local coal or gas and transport bottlenecks but that doesn’t displace the dominant role of fossil fuels” . The low margin in favour of coal for Japan and Korea is probably an example of this as they have to transport coal by sea (from Australia).

  50. @ quokka, on 6 November 2010 at 4:26 PM

    I think what you are saying is that there is a clear urgent problem (agw) and a current best solution (nuclear)

    I would agree there is a problem with agw but that it is not so clear as for instance Jim Hansen presents (I have read his book). I’m impressed by Judy Curry’s blog and her articles about uncertainty. I’ve also read some other material by Richard Tol about mitigation of rising sea levels which persuaded me that what Hansen sees as the only way to go (350ppm CO2) was not the only way to go. I’m not saying Hansen is wrong about the science (I’m uncertain) but I think he is dogmatic about there being only one possible solution. I admire Jim Hansen as a scientist but think he is politically naive. At any rate his activism against coal plants is not building a mass movement at the grass roots even though it does demonstrate the sincerity of his belief.

    I agree that nuclear fission is a good solution (I’ve read Tom Blees book and quite a few articles here) but while it remains more expensive that isn’t going to happen. Given my doubts about the urgency of the problem and the possibility of other solutions then I think we do have some time for further exploration of solutions.

    Politics is the art of the possible. Increased R&D into the problem is possible; the widescale deployment of nuclear with the strategic goal of replacing coal is not currently possible and your scenario along those lines is not going to happen any time soon. The only way to implement your solution quickly would be through an authoritarian, non democratic government. If the choice is between agw and democracy then I choose democracy.

    I’m only presenting this position in a broad way. If you read Curry’s blog or Pielke jnrs blog you will see a more articulate and detailed factually based presentation of these sorts of views.

  51. @Bill Kerr,

    Your attempt to represent the question of urgency of action to mitigate climate change as a debate of Hansen Vs Curry and Pielke doesn’t correspond to reality. Reality is mainstream science (including Hansen) Vs Curry, Pielke and their ilk.

    The only way to implement your solution quickly would be through an authoritarian, non democratic government. If the choice is between agw and democracy then I choose democracy.

    Baseless ideological twaddle. As I have already pointed out, the majority of the worlds population want action on climate change and are prepared to pay something towards that end. It is you that would obstruct that will, every which way you can.

  52. Arthur,

    That’s using 10% discount rate. At 5% discount rates nuclear is often cheaper than coal even if you take the carbon tax away. This was also reflected in the MIT 2009 update study where taking away the risk premium on nuclear brought down the cost of nuclear to something that was competitive with coal & gas. Apparently the new nuclear plant in Finland has a discount rate of around 2%, although don’t quote me on that. The main issue with nuclear in my view is the high capital cost, and risk premium. The latter can be solved.

    Also, according to my math the carbon tax @ $30/metric tonne will increase the price for supercritical black coal by 25.89, and increase the price of subcritical black coal by 28.23.

    Thanks.

  53. Great. A thread about nuclear-solar dialogues has degenerated to the point of throwing around names like Pielke Jr, Curry and Tol.

    Given that most people who trump these names seem to have no idea of the economic consequences (amongst others) of doing serious harm to the biosphere by not addressing climate change, I really don’t see the point in talking costs with them.

  54. As far as gas plants for peak power, Here is the claim for load following of the Atmea design (Areva):

    ’100 – 30%, 5% / min, including automatic frequency control, instantaneous return to full power capability, and effluent reduction by variable temperature control.’

    I don’t suppose this is unique. Does this mean that newer designs are capable of supplying all power needs, not just baseline? Experts??

  55. Steve, let me review for you and others how this works from my own personal experience as being a control operator for a variety of these units and, multiple visits and tours (and job interviews) at GT plants.

    Generally, the Combined Cycle GTs can do anything. Really. They can be run at base load, around the clock, essentially ‘forever’. This is no real limitation on these units.
    The Simple Cycle units can also, in theory, run around the clock as well but there is a HUGE efficiency loss running in simple cycle mode (the non-heat recovery form which boosts efficiency to 50% or more but usually is around 45% after a few months of running).

    CCGTs represent the biggest ‘competitor’ to nuclear energy today for a variety of reasons we don’t have to discuss right now. You can, for example, look at the several thousand megawatt re-powering of nuclear reactors around the United States but ask why as a % of power the nuclear % has actually dropped slightly over the last 10 years.

    The reason for this is the *massive* deployment of GTs around the U.S. during this same period which has edged down ALL other forms of power %s of what they contribute to the national generation.

    In the county directly N.E. of San Francisco, Contra Costa county, over 2000 MWs of power has gone in in the last 10 years with another 1000 or so MWs being built or scheduled. That’s ONE county in California. Get the picture?

    It is precisely the generational flexibility of GTs to adjust for load that makes them so attractive in the short term for utilities and as merchant plants.

    When gas prices go up, we are going to be screwed again in this State and around the US. Big time.

  56. Interesting talk at Melbourne Uni last night. Arthur provided some light entertainment and Barry stuck to the core issues. I was a little disappointed by Peter Seligman’s talk. I was hoping for a more informed and nuanced position, but he appeared flaky on a number of issues. His “200 x 200 km solar square” in the middle of Australia that could deliver “all of Australia’s energy” seems extraordinary, and his 20GW pond in the Great Australian Bight seems ambitious – be interesting to see Peter Lang’s thoughts. It always worries me when the expert knows less than I do.

    A couple of people near me commented that Vassilios appeared “reasonable” and “balanced”, although his views on energy costs appeared displaced from reality. There’s some lessons there – its not what you say, but how you say it that often matters – better to let the other party have their say, be patient and respond carefully and reasonably.

    The core question as I see it, was asked near then end – how many coal (or fossil fuel) plants can or will be displaced by solar and wind? Barry responded in the negative, but Peter also acknowledged in the negative. Renewable advocates seem to simply ignore this fundamental impediment, and I believe this should be the stumbling block that needs to be emphasised. The argument that “renewables need to be given a go” remains powerful among the public, and is difficult to rebut to non-technical people.

  57. The Climate Fix
    I’ve been reading this book by roger pielke jnr yesterday and plan to read a bit more today

    it just seems really obvious to me that he is right

    -we need more energy
    - the amount of CO2 we pump into the atmosphere is a big problem – both AGW and biogeochemical effects
    - so we have to decarbonise the energy supply, aka reduce carbon intensity C output / energy consumed
    - the public will not accept a big C tax designed to change energy consumption behaviour – they will vote out any party that introduces it
    - the public will accept a small dedicated C tax (rising slowly over time) to fund R&D
    - We need more R&D because present technology is not sufficient to do the CO2 reduction that is required

    Here’s some extracts that demonstrates why new technology is needed, with reference mainly to nuclear, but solar or wind is even more unlikely

    ” … to reduce total CO2 emissions from the burning of fossil fuels to a level 50 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, the level recommended at Copenhagen in December 2009″ (p. 77)

    “… for the world to achieve a 50 percent reduction in its emissions below a 1990 baseline it could do the following. First, the world would need to eliminate all coal and natural gas consumption in 2006 and replace it with nuclear power stations. This could be done by adding about 2,800 new nuclear power plants. But that would not be enough to meet the target. More than 40 percent of 2006 petroleum consumption would also have to be replaced (eg. perhaps by using electric vehicles), necessitating about another 750 nuclear power stations. But then there will new demand beyond 2006 that has to be met. If global consumption of energy increases by 1.5 percent per year to 2050, that will imply a need for more than 340 new quads of energy, which, if met by nuclear power plants, implies another 5000 nuclear power stations. The grand total? More than 12,000 nuclear power stations worth of effort would be needed to reduce emissions to 50 percent of their 1990 level by 2050. (footnote: or about 2 million solar thermal plants or 8 million wind turbines). If we were to add in consumption needed to provide electricity to the 1.5 billion people in 2009 without access, it would necessitate the equivalent of thousands more nuclear stations.

    These numbers are so large as to still remain a bit abstract. (reference to figure showing that in 2009 there are 430 nuclear power stations operational and 474 under construction or planned). Creating sufficient carbon free energy by 2050 to reduce emissions by 50 percent below 1990 levels required a level of effort equivalent to dozens of times greater than has been invested in nuclear energy to date. How many nuclear power stations is 12000? It is, in round numbers, about the same as one new plant coming online every day between now and 2050, a result that is not new; climate scientist Ken Caldeira and his colleagues made that argument in 2003″ (pp. 113-116)

    I just noticed that his figures don’t add up
    2800 + 750 + 5000 does not equal 12,000
    I’ll ask him about it on his blog

    1 quad = 10^15 Btu = 11GW over one year (p. 63)

  58. Bill Kerr, you are correct, Pielke jnr’s calculation on the number of nuclear power plants required to reduce emissions by 50% by 2050 is wrong. I have calculated, for a new paper I’m writing for Energy Policy (as I type), that a more realistic number is 6,000 GWe (along with less than 3 TW of non-nuclear sources). And this will achieve >80% emissions reductions, not 50%.

  59. David Waters (and others),

    In case you are unaware, SteveK9 also asked same question in http://bravenewclimate.com/2010/11/07/electricity-costs-exhibits/ and others have joined that discussion there. You might want to respond to those comments.

    Graham Palmer,

    Its worth metioning that there were three active participants in the panel last night. The “facilitator” was blatantly (and somewhat ignorantly) anti-nuclear and pro-renewables. My “light entertainment” was from the audience.

  60. Barry-

    Your estimate of 6000 GWe equals 8,000 nuclear power plants equivalent (@ 750 MW per), virtually identical to my estimate of 8,500. The margins of error here are huge as a 1% error in future energy demand is thousands of plants.

  61. from Roger Pielke jnr who tried to post it here but it went into the ether. From memory that is what happens here, the first comment is moderated and so takes a bit of time to appear

    “Barry-

    Your estimate of 6000 GWe equals 8,000 nuclear power plants equivalent (@ 750 MW per), virtually identical to my estimate of 8,500. The margins of error here are huge as a 1% error in future energy demand is thousands of plants” (link)

  62. Here’s an update on my reading of Roger Pielke jnrs position in his book, The Climate Fix

    we will need VASTLY more energy in the future

    the amount of CO2 we pump into the atmosphere is a big problem – both AGW and biogeochemical effects

    so we have to decarbonise the energy supply, aka reduce carbon intensity C output / energy consumed (see Kaya identity section for more detail here)

    decarbonisation makes sense from other perspectives too, eg. energy security for some countries (from a policy perspective it is important that there are some short and intermediate term gains from the pain or costs of policy)

    the public will not accept a big C tax designed to change energy consumption behaviour – they will vote out any party that introduces it

    small steps are better than grandiose plans that end up being rejected

    there is not a linear relationship between climate science and government policy, Scientific findings in complex social issues do not dictate policy. Politics in a democracy required public support. A non linear or oblique approach might work. The direct approach has failed (Copenhagen)

    the public will accept a small dedicated C tax (rising slowly over time) to fund R&D; there is consistent public support for some action on climate change but not dramatic action which will alter standard of living

    We need more R&D because present technology is not sufficient to do the CO2 reduction that is required – taking into account future economic growth and removal of CO2 from the ocean to reduce harmful biogeochemical effects, as well as from the atmosphere

    Since the above steps do not provide a guarantee for targeted CO2 reductions then a backstop is also required

    CO2 air capture and storage (remediation) is a potential backstop, which could reshape the climate debate, one of the targets for further R&D

  63. Tom – there should be a video of the debate available soon. The two previous “The Monthly Argument” debates are on-line.
    http://themonthlyargument.wordpress.com/
    They may edit it heavily though – as the people doing it are greenies and denied Barry the opportunity to be interviewed on their radio station along with Ian Lowe on their joint book Why vs Why : Nuclear Power.
    Very lively audience participation.Many pertinent questions. Barry remained cool, calm and collected and very persuasive. The two Greens – Cam and Jim – floundered and looked uncomfortable at times.

  64. I should correct the above and say, two of the women, whom (I believe) were involved in the filming, are Greenies – and one of them was the interviewer on the radio programme I mention above. However, on checking the previous videos it seems they have been submitted in a full version and a brief version. Let us hope that will also be the case for last night’s debate.

  65. Ms Perps,

    There will be both a short excerpts and a full video put online as soon as its prepared – as for the previous two.

    The previous ones were NOT edited by greenies. (I think you might be confused because one of the greenies helped out with the audio mixing this time).

    BTW one of the previous two was on renewables with two on each side so could also be of interest to others here.

    The other was also a debate with greenies, that time on immigration.

    I got the impression that the audience, Barry and I all enjoyed this debate. Doubt that Jim Green did. Cam Walker was more relaxed but probably didn’t enjoy it as much as Barry and I.

  66. I’ll be returning to occasional lurking and even more occasional posting mode shortly due to other priorities (after a forthcoming long wrap-up post in the linked costs thread.

    A succinct summary of the position I basically support, as advocated by more authoritative and respected people, including major think tanks from both sides of mainstream US politics can be found here, with links in the comments.

    See especially the summary of Post-Partisan Power (which explicitly acknowledges the important role of nuclear in a way that minimizes knee jerk opposition through primary stress on a multi-faceted R&D program).

    This is neither me leaving in a huff nor giving up in defeat. I got sucked into a more extensive and “robust” polemic than intended as a result of responding to announcement of last Thursday’s debate in this thread (and references to me). Could justify the time as part of warm up for the public debate but now that is over I have to return to other things.

    I’ve enjoyed the discussion and will risk further annoying people as a loud-mouted opinionated blow-in by offering some parting gratuitous advice in the costs thread soon.

  67. I’ve just finished viewing a couple of “Slow TV” videos by an engineer and entrepreneur called Saul Griffith.

    Mr Griffith is described in the following terms at the site these videos appear:

    Saul Griffith has multiple degrees in materials science and mechanical engineering and completed his PhD in Programmable Assembly and Self Replicating machines at MIT. He is the co-founder of several companies including Low Cost Eyeglasses, Squid Labs, Potenco, Instructables.com, HowToons and Makani Power.

    I would encourage regular visitors to this site to view these videos not because I unreservedly endorse them but because they offer an enrormous amont of accessible data expressed in everyday terms. Those who advocate renewables as the key answer to confronting the post-industrial climate anomaly should especially look at thse clips.

    Mr Griffiths appears to be a man of intelligence, intellectual rigour, ethical compass and above all honesty. He is also involved in the business of renewables and favours wind — so he is certainly not any kind of advocate of nuclear power — though significantly, his most negative observations about nuclear power are that it probably wouldn’t last much beyond 1000 years in extremis and that many concerned about climate change aren’t that keen on it.

    Yet Mr Griffiths throughout his talk in the second of the links does not hide the scale of the challenge (though finally I think he understates its magnitude as he assumes, for ease of inference, that the current energy usage of the world stays as it is, which by implication condemns the world’s poor to about what they have now). Yet even on this scale he makes plain that the kind of building program we would need to construct these facilities and the footrpint of that effort is almost unthinkable, unless, he notes obliquely towards the end the second part of the talk, we want to look at nuclear power.

    Unlike many who are sympathetic to renewables then, he works through the calculations as an engineer. One suspects he’s close to Trainer in denying the capacity of renewables to do the job we’d need them to do, when we’d need them to do it,

    http://tinyurl.com/saulG1

    http://tinyurl.com/saulG2

  68. fran: this griffith video is excellent. I will use it for my class next semester.

    turns out that stewart brand cites griffith’s summation of energy requirements on p. 14 of “whole earth discipline.”

    In fact, I think I actually reproduced that page someplace on the bnc site.

    in his discussion of uranium, he cites the figure of 100 years for once thru reactors. 1000 years for french breeders. it’s not clear what his assumptions are, but he does not know of IFRs, LFTRs etc.

    Nuclear plays a modest role in his energy scenario, which is based on keeping carbon emissions to 450 ppm.

  69. I went to the Melbourne Energy Institute event the other day.
    It wasn’t bad.

    Of course, a small anti-nuclear circus show rolled up… but I had predicted that this would happen, given that Dr. Switkowski was there. Fanatical anti-nuclearists seem to have a special hatred reserved for Switkowski, which is analogous only to the fanatical shoe-throwing hatred that some people have for Howard.

    They seemed really disappointed when the UM people had some security staff ready for them, and they were kept out of the theater (of course, they were free to demonstrate or whatever, out in the lobby, without disrupting proceedings too much.)

    I was quite impressed with Dr. Selena Ng from AREVA. Articulate, well spoken, well prepared, and very knowledgeable. She would be a formidable opponent in a debate with anti-nuclearists.

    Interestingly, the Melbourne Uni people didn’t get sucked in to the idea of needing “balance” or needing “both sides of the story”, and putting some anti-nuclear activist on the panel. They simply organised a panel of people who know what they’re talking about, and let them put the information out there.

  70. Pingback: Media reactions to the Energy paper – part 1 « BraveNewClimate

  71. Pingback: Monthly Argument debate: climate change – is nuclear power the answer « BraveNewClimate

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