Monthly Argument debate: climate change – is nuclear power the answer?

Remember this? Want to see me go head-to-head in a ‘bar room brawl’ with Jim Green and a representative from Friends of the Earth (Cam Walker)? Want to see on what I agree — and disagree — with Arthur Dent (formerly Albert Langer) on energy options for the future and the possibility of nuclear energy displacing fossil fuels?

Well, here’s the video of the 3rd Monthly Argument debate, held in Melbourne, Australia at the Dan O’Connell Hotel (11/11/2010)

Speakers:
Prof. Barry Brook, Adelaide University (Yes : renewables too expensive and not capable of replacing fossil fuels)

Cam Walker (FoE) (No: renewables can do it)

Jim Green (ed: ‘Chain Reaction'; No: nuclear power is bad for indigenous peoples, and dangerous)

Arthur Dent (aka Albert Langer) (Neither: nuclear and renewables both too expensive for the developing world, we need to do more fundamental research)

Watch away, then give your feedback!

And for the BNC reader in a hurry, here is 8 minutes of excepts:

I also had a pre-game stoush with Dave ‘No Muckaty!‘ Sweeney, the ‘nuclear free‘ campaigner for the Australian Conservation Foundation. Shame it wasn’t captured on film. I was dismissive (bordering on rude, after his opening parry along the lines of ‘I disagree with everything you say’) — he was aghast and offended… Fun all ’round.

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69 Comments

  1. Just watched it, great stuff. That was an outstanding opening salvo Barry. And I agree with DV82XL. These people are paper tigers – blow hard and pff! they’ll be gone.

    Good on you for putting yourself out there.

  2. I do respect people who are fighting to mitigate the human’s impact on the planet but are those people the right one to do that? Well, above all, there are some others sources besides nuke power we can rely on (e.g. thorium). What I can point out here as well is very poor quality of video record…

  3. What in the world is ‘Arthur Dent’ going on about? While he’s hanging around waiting for anti-gravity to be developed, I’ll just point out that when you take into account the length of time a nuclear power station can remain in commision compared to the time it takes to amortise the construction cost, nuclear power, even current conventional nuclear power, is already cheaper than coal when looked at over its total lifespan.

  4. Well I sat through that, and let me say the anti-nuclear pair were simply implausible, to the point of being irritable and shifty. They didn’t even bother making a case for renewables beyond handwaving appeals to what might be done “in the future”.

    Barry was really the only person there putting a clear case on point.

    Some quibbles:

    1. It always annoys me when someone uses the term “windmill” for wind turbine. It’s either juvenile snark or ignorance.

    2. I shifted about uncomfortable when Barry said he thought nuclear power was not an answer but the answer to climate change. He later modified the position to “75%” but this simply ignores the role of what may be called loosely geoengineering measures (active and passive) and changes to the built environment, particualrly in the design of cities.

    Even if we could wave our hands and replace every hydrocarbon combustion plant on the planet right now with a nuclear plant this would not remove a single gram of existing CO2 from the flux.

    We are going to have to re-afforest, and suck a lot of CO2 out of the atmosphere and lock it away if we are to rapidly halt the warming trend. In practice since the lead times for clean capacity and reafforestation are longfand we are stuck with HC plants, and liquid fueled HC cars and trucks we are going to have to redesign our cities to minimise per capita transport and stationary energy demand.

    So in practice, between now and 2050 nuclear, while it is going to be the key underpinning technology for a successful clean energy transition, is not going to be the whole answer (or the whole answer less some niche renewable technologies) to foreclosing climate change.

  5. Wow. I sat down with a bottle of beer and began watching this, but had to go through 2 more to get through it. Absolutely agonising.

    Some comments:

    Excellent opening Barry, and you continued it throughout. I admire your patience and willingness to get into these types of debates.

    As for the rest…

    Jim Green made 2 main arguments:-
    1. Nuclear has a “disproportionate impact” on Indigenous peoples.
    2. Nuclear energy means nuclear weapons.

    Barry clearly demonstrated that the second argument is rubbish.

    Arthur Dent, unfortunately, made an appalling attempt to refute Jim Green’s first argument. Nevertheless, this argument does need dissecting. What is with this “disproportionate impact” argument FoE and other groups keep using against nuclear? It is disingenuous to the extreme.

    Back in 2004-2005 the Narungga people (Indigenous people) of the Yorke Peninsula in South Australia strongly opposed the construction and opening of the Wattle Point Wind Farm (consisting of 55 wind turbines, it was the largest wind farm in Australia when it opened). Why then, did FoE not oppose the construction of the wind farm?

    Furthermore, I’m unaware of any evidence to suggest that uranium mining is any more damaging to human health or to local ecosytems than any other type of mining. And the reality is that renewable energy needs far MORE mining to produce the same amount of energy as nuclear. This means that they are actually unwittingly advocating for MORE mining on whoever‘s land.

    Moving on….

    – Cam Walker said he’d talk about why renewables can do the job – but then just didn’t. And his response to Arthur Dent asking for a response to his argument was – well, again, he just didn’t.
    First he says “we can’t wait for a carbon price”, then later says we aren’t including the cost of fossil fuels, and nothing will happen “until we get the price right”. He also said gas shouldn’t be part of any transition energy infrastructure (???). Embarassing all round really.

    – Arthur Dent still can’t seem to get past the fact that there are no magical energy sources just waiting to be tapped into to decarbonise the world’s electricity supply.

    – Jim Green won’t admit that he’s more worried about nuclear proliferation than climate change. This is even after admitting that 90% of the greenhouse problem could be solved with nuclear without increasing the risk of proliferation, and that France has one of the world’s lowest per-capita carbon emissions because they are 80% nuclear.

    – Anti-nuclear questions from the audience were just funny, summed up well by the question “what is the half-life of uranium-238″. Well, it’s been in the ground for the past 4.5 billion years….

    – Questions from the audience asking Jim and Cam for a single example of a fossil fuel power station being replaced with renewables were answered by drivel.

    That’s all for now.

  6. Around the end of the first half of the video, Cam Walker was talking vague unsubstantiated figures about radioactive waste remaining dangerous for hundreds of thousands of years and stuff like that.

    Hundreds of thousands of years, quarter of a million years, millions of years… I swear, some people make up these figures on the spot, and they make up bigger and bigger figures.

    Every time somebody is talking about radioactive waste and they’re talking about these absurd lengths of time, ask them what the particular radionuclide they’re talking about is, and what its half-life is.

    Any time anyone makes such references, there must be particular nuclide that they’re referring to, and you must be able to look up the table of the nuclides and find its half-life – otherwise, such claims cannot be taken seriously.

  7. The Indigenous peoples plea is one of the last plausible arguments left for the antinuclear militants. Not only in Australia, but in Canada, and the US.

    Note that these objections are almost always being made by White people. Dig around and look at what the tribal leadership is saying, and you will often find a different view, on that is more concerned with see that they and their people get as big a slice as they can from this.

  8. Hear, hear DV82XL. The classic current example is in Utah, where state government are blocking the Goshute tribe from undertaking low-level waste storage on some of “their” land – apparently not theirs after all…

  9. The whole Indigenous peoples argument smaks of paternalism. Indigenous peoples should be encouraged to speak fro themselves. What gives Green the right to represent their interest? Green’s paternalism is extremely racist.

  10. Why does Cam Walker keep saying “we need to keep all the options open”?

    Nobody here is saying that we shouldn’t have all options put on the table to look at them together, rationally, and compare them.

    Look, Barry Brook doesn’t go around saying he’s a “national Solar-Free campaigner”.

    The only people who want to exclude any particular options from being considered, who want to take a particular technology off the table, and ban it, and exterminate it, are the fanatical anti-nuclearists.

  11. I couldn’t watch all 28 minutes because of download penalties for satellite internet but I think I picked up the vibe. It seems to reinforce my conclusion that FOE doesn’t really have much sway with the public.

    They get their leverage from the fact the public doesn’t really want to shift from low cost fossil energy and by raising doubts it creates another excuse for inaction. In FOE thinking the switch to renewables will be sudden and relatively painless. They can’t grasp that they may be helping prolong the carbon economy.

  12. Yeah,well done Barry! I admire your calmness and patience in the face of the continuing barrage of anti-nuclear drivel that Green and Walker spout. Nuclear waste has never killed anyone , nor will it. It’s been handled safely and securely on a daily basis by hundreds of workers for decades. The level of nuclear ignorance in the community is really worrying. It’ll take us years to get through to most BUT we must keep on speaking for it. Interesting to note that the renewables, sun and wind are being seriously curtailed by Spain, France,Germany, NSW,UK,Denmark,US and Ontario. Their cost is going to cripple countries’ and individual’s economies and that’s why governments are putting the brakes on them. And they won’t reduce emissions anyway. Aaarrgghhh!!!

  13. Terry Krieg,

    ‘the renewables, sun and wind are being seriously curtailed’ etc. Do you have solid sources for that? There’s a lot on the net about it but mostly from sceptic sites – I’m not being critical, I’d just like to read something authoritative. Thanks.

  14. Charles said:

    What gives Green the right to represent their interest? Green’s paternalism is extremely racist.

    I regard this as unhelpful all round. I cringed every time I heard Jim Green speak of “radioactive racism” and I wouldn’t want us to get into a tit-for-tat exchange on these grounds.

    We ought to be keeping this discussion on things that are measurable, because if we stray into culture, the ground will inevitably shift to things that can never be proven and turn on matters of emotion. That’s an argument Green and others in that camp would love to have. Don’t think! Feel!

    For my part, I firmly believe that all discussions with indigenous peoples on these matters ought to be respectful and conform scrupulously to good process. We should absolutely ensure that all of their legitimate claims and needs are rigorously specified and met, and indeed, we should, so far as we can without endangering the viability of projects with adequate net public utility, meet even those claims that might seem to us to be not reasonable. Justice must not only be done, but be seen to have been done. All of us ought to want a society to take proper account of minority rights because sooner or later, all of us will be in a minority.

    On the other hand, it seems to me that in all societies, when an irreconcilable conflict over public goods arises between a majority and a minority then, assuming no adequate accommodation can be devised, it is the minority that must make give way. That applies in the case of indigenous peoples too. Being indigenous is not, IMO, a permanent right of veto over policy. In the end, if ecosystem services degrade, indigenous peoples will almost certainly suffer even more than the rest of us, and no amount of “respect for their culture” will change that.

  15. @PeterB, yes, I’ve put in my $0.02 on The Drum, it should get through moderation any week now. In short, Prof Agelidis exhibits many of the typical ‘hypocrisies of the antis’, applying different measuring sticks to the nuclear and renewable options. The crux of his argument is that Australia has some renewable energy expertise, but little in nuclear, so we should go with the former.

    This strikes me as very weak. Surely the main objective, decarbonisation, is too important to stuff around with secondary issues like domestic industry development. If we need to bring in French or Chinese expertise to help us get started with nuclear, so be it.

  16. @Mark Duffett – the really funny part is that, with the number of coal-fired stations in Oz, you’d think we have a huge amount of expertise building them. Yet, somehow, they’re mostly built by European or Japanese companies… (at least, the ones I know about are). It seems odd. We’re happy to import technology for coal-fired, and buy turbines from overseas for gas & wind, but somehow we can’t do the same for nuclear?

  17. BTW, just found this page when doing a search for LCOE:
    http://energytechnologyexpert.com/cost-of-power-generation/new-simplified-calculation-procedure-for-levelized-cost-of-energy-lcoe-and-feed-in-tariff/
    Anyone know how good the figures in that table are? It looks like a nice convenient reference!
    (Tip, I copied&pasted into Excel to make it readable)
    Also, given the Finnish Olkiluoto reactor is close to ~100% over budget, what’s the LCOE on that one looking like?

  18. Olkiluoto is a textbook case of a government doing everything wrong.

    Rather than accept the judgment of a more experienced regulator, (French) the Finnish regulator is insisting on approving everything themselves as the build goes on, not really knowing what they are doing.

    Also rather than import experienced workers for critical tasks, the Finns demanded that locals be trained.

    Then everyone wonders why the project is falling behind schedule and going over budget …

  19. this is an important point, DV, with larger implications for rebutting anti nuclear arguments. this cost argument is huge for the anti nukes– probably the main argument overall. it is for Lovins.

    but the argument depends upon its not being looked at too closely. scrutiny might reveal all sorts of CONTINGENT REASONS why nuke builds are incurring overruns. The flipside of contingent reasons for overruns is that in other situations, there may not be overruns.

    and the whole point of anti nuclear argument is to suggest some essential costliness that inheres in the technology–probably due to its fundamental evilness (I know that’s not a word but I couldn’t resist).

  20. I agree with much of what you say, Fran.

    the main issue is the safety of the mines, and if they’re not safe, who is most affected. This is an empirical matter.

    the cultural relativist defense of “peoples,” indigenous or not, rests often on a dubious homogenization of the “culture” of “peoples,” and a faux respect that is at bottom dogma–in which one’s identity serves somehow as an argument.

    if someone who defines herself as indigenous decides that uranium is “the yellow rock that kills” no matter what the conditions, why should anyone buy this–whatever their ethnicity? Unless the yellow rocks really does kill, and that has to be decided by investigation, not pronouncements of identity made by those who claim to speak for “peoples,” greens or otherwise.

    environmental racism exists, but when anti nuclear greens invoke indigenism, it is often a tacit threat–to disagree about uranium is to disrespect indigenous peoples and so is a form of racism.

  21. Some time ago an acquaintance of mine told me about the Green Ant Dreaming story of the indiginous people. I forget the name of the entity involved, but it appears there has been some amplification of the following story in indiginous activist circles:

    http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,904108,00.html

    The spin on the story now is that the green ants were always connected with uranium, and uranium is evil, and the world will be destroyed if we start messing with it, and furthermore ALL the indiginous peoples all over the world were given this information back in the dreamtime and see it as their duty to halt all uranium mining everywhere. This has been told to me in all seriousness by a person instructed by aboriginal elders.

  22. I do think there is something missing in this debate.

    Firstly, don’t under estimate the opposition. They have been very powerful over the last 30 years – they almost got Germany and Sweden to shut down their entire fleet of nuclear plants and stopped new plant development in the US.

    Secondly, the genesis of the anti-nuclear power lobby came from the anti-nuclear bomb lobby of the cold war. Anti-nuke is in their DNA. None of us want to see another Hiroshima but some can’t viscerally differentiate civil nuclear power and nuclear bombs.

    The Jim Greens of the world can differentiate the two intellectually but they are deeply suspicious at some primeval level. This means they will hang on to any plausible reason why nuclear power is bad.

    They are starting to realise that the power plant safety issue is wearing thin, but they still hang on to the proliferation story.

    They believe the waste story, but they also see that it may not have legs in the future if breeder reactors and closed-loop processing become a commercial reality.

    More recently they have found the cost story works – particularly given the escalating capital costs in the US. We are working on that one.

    Eventually they will run out of arguments. I’m not sure what they will invent then. Perhaps by then the post cold-war generation will be in control without the primeval fears that gripped their parents.

  23. Thanks Peter B,
    The information you want can be found in an article by Lawrence Solomon titled “The green energy collapse” written for the Financial Post ,Dec 3 2010. Sorry I can’t give you a link.

  24. Martin, consider the continuing protests in Germany. These are not the indicators of a movement that is almost finished. It is important to understand the appeal of their arguments, not merely to counter their specious claims. I tend to believe, as you hint, that it is mostly fear; of the unknown, of illness and of power surrendered. It’s wanting to blame something or someone for stuff that goes wrong.

    Perhaps, as Rod Adams thinks, it is also worth considering what motivates the leaders to adopt their arguments, but I tend to think this is of secondary importance.

  25. Barry,it appears that this is one of the few instances where the Chinese are displaying some sense.
    re Angelidis – I couldn’t resist commenting on this appallingly hypocritical screed even though I seldom read The Drum. Just like Online Opinion I don’t have the time or patience to read messages from the Republic of Catatonia.
    I finished up my brief comment with the statement that anti nuclear activists have closed minds and cloth ears.Probably wasted on that cohort at The Drum.

  26. Barry – It may be that you are just the better debater however that does not necessarily mean that the message you are sending is the correct one.

    Climate change deniers and creationists can ‘win’ debates against scientists. Perhaps your ‘opposition’ were not expecting you to be so combative.

    I would be far more receptive to nuclear power being a part of the future energy mix if it was included in an overall lower energy society. If you are really concerned with climate change then you must acknowledge eventually that BAU will be increasingly impossible in the future whether it is nuclear powered or powered by renewables.

    In my opinion BAU is the problem not so much how we generate our electricity. At least the BZE plan, as flawed as you think it is, addressed this.

    Anyway I have done a critique of your paper. If you would like to read it please email me and I will send you a copy. I have not had time to polish it properly and put all the references in correctly.

  27. I finished up my brief comment with the statement that anti nuclear activists have closed minds and cloth ears.Probably wasted on that cohort at The Drum.

    Actually Podargus, I was quite pleased with the quantity of pro-nuclear commentary in the thread. The article seemed to draw plenty of well-deserved
    withering scorn.

  28. @SG:
    I would be far more receptive to nuclear power being a part of the future energy mix if it was included in an overall lower energy society. If you are really concerned with climate change then you must acknowledge eventually that BAU will be increasingly impossible in the future whether it is nuclear powered or powered by renewables.

    Now just why would that be?

  29. “Some time ago an acquaintance of mine told me about the Green Ant Dreaming story of the indiginous people. I forget the name of the entity involved, but it appears there has been some amplification of the following story in indiginous activist circles…”

    Personally, I don’t think there’s any place for religious stories and creationist stories to have any role in rational decision making and policy making.

    That’s equally true irrespective of what race or creed or religion those stories or mythologies come from, whether they’re the creationist mythologies and religious stories of the indigenous Australian’s dreamtime, or the creationist mythologies and religious stories of the Europeans, or whomever, it doesn’t matter.

  30. right luke.

    but to the extent that some greens fail to sort out the problems in cultural relativism, which shape many forms of “identity politics” and multiculturalism, even theories of “self determination” (consisting of assumed collective selves with “unique” values), they are susceptible to giving up rational argument–which no one can coherently do.

    one standard knee jerk rebuttal to this is that “rational argument” is just one value among others or is eurocentric. This sort of “argument” is utter rubbish, however common. one, this argument against rational argument is itself meant to be understood rationally; two, “rational argument” is not just one value among others but a precondition for making any sense at all. and three, the equation of rational argument and euro anything is total bullshit.

    first, “europeans,” whatever exactly they are these days, are not particularly rational. and non europeans are not particularly irrational, etc. etc.

    lots of toxic (no pun intended) crap gets enmeshed in these discussions.

  31. Personally, I don’t think there’s any place for religious stories and creationist stories to have any role in rational decision making and policy making.

    We are dealing here with people who do have that opinion, and who will feel perfectly entitled to use this fake trad story (the original it was based on did not specifically mention uranium, after all) to further the anti-nuclear cause in any way they can. I don’t think it’s going to be a huge obstacle, but I thought people should be aware it’s out there.

  32. Barry,

    You are doing great work! What do you think of LFTRs, it seems to me we should be pushing LFTRs as fast as we can because they are so great environmentally. Australia has lots of thorium, right?

  33. Just posted this in response to the Jim Green article –

    There are several problems with what has been said in this article. We’ll start here:-

    “cheapest renewable energy sources — including landfill gas, onshore wind, conventional geothermal and hydro — are already cost-competitive”

    Landfill gas is very limited. Onshore wind cannot provide baseload energy. Conventional geothermal is not an option in Australia. Hydroelectricity is very limited in Australia and has an enormous ecological impact, and has driven species extinctions.

    In comparison, nuclear power is not limited – nuclear fuel is inexhaustible (see http://www.mcgill.ca/files/gec3/NuclearFissionFuelisInexhaustibleIEEE.pd…). It can provide plentiful baseload energy. It has a minuscule ecological impact, and has never caused a species extinction (the primary measure of environmental impact). It can replace fossil fuels in Australia at a lower cost and more reliably than anything else.

    The Clean Energy Report relies on bioenergy and gas for baseload. The claim that “bioenergy comes from crop wastes” and therefore “addresses one of the major global problems with bioenergy” is simply wrong. This amounts to scraping up what remains of already degraded top soils in Australia, and removing the remaining nutrients. This is extremely detrimental both agriculturally and ecologically.

    And 30% gas – so we don’t need nuclear, we can just burn fossil fuels instead? Not a sound response to the climate problem.

    While this article does acknowledge that there are problems with bioenergy and gas, this leaves us without a reliable baseload option. Solar thermal is not at all proven on a commercial scale, or even technologically at scale. It is also extremely expensive and material-intensive. Dry-rock geothermal is not proven at all. So what are the viable alternatives which lead to the conclusion that Australia does not need nuclear to replace fossil fuels?

    We certainly need baseload (see http://www.eei.org/magazine/EEI%20Electric%20Perspectives%20Article%20Li…). And we are going to need a lot more electricity to decarbonise our transport sector with electric vehicles in the near future. Energy efficiency is a good idea, but it won’t make the slightest difference to the climate problem.

    Renewable energy sources have not replaced a single fossil fuel power plant anywhere in the world. They have made no difference to greenhouse gas emissions. France replaced nearly all of their fossil fuel power plants, and now have ~80% nuclear generation. They have among the lowest carbon emissions per capita in the world.

    And as for the weapons proliferation problem – 90% of greenhouse gas emissions in the world come from countries which already have nuclear weapons or are weapons capable. Implement nuclear power in these nations and 90% of the greenhouse problem is solved – without increasing proliferation risk.

    At the very least, we should just remove the ban on nuclear in Australia. All options should be left open. This is the only rational way to fix the climate problem.

  34. First, thanks for so many insightful posts and comments in this site. As a Finn who’s been following the nuclear debate for some time now I just have some comments to DV82XL:

    “Rather than accept the judgment of a more experienced regulator, (French) the Finnish regulator is insisting on approving everything themselves as the build goes on, not really knowing what they are doing.”

    This may be so, but I believe the Finnish regulator’s involvement is extremely important for public acceptance of the reactor, not to mention that our nuclear energy act would need significant revisions to accomodate what I believe you propose. I think the problem is mainly due to lack of experience in managing nuclear construction projects, at both sides of the table – granted, we’ve had a longer hiatus than Areva.

    “Also rather than import experienced workers for critical tasks, the Finns demanded that locals be trained.”

    Again, important for both domestic “consumption” and for building domestic knowledge base. A major public gripe and a point anti-nukes constantly harp about is that the project does not provide employment for locals, at least compared to what picking twigs, treestumps, and whatever for bioenergy would employ (!). Yes, irrational, I know, but still.

    However, the reports I’ve seen indicate that many if not most problems result from Areva’s use of a very multinational workforce in simple construction tasks (e.g. for concrete structures, welding, etc). Lack of common language apparently leads to misunderstandings, and some sub-subcontractors seem to have a different view of safety requirements than is expected.

    Who’s to blame? I’d say that at least an equal share goes to Areva’s end of the table. They seem to lack experience as well, and are under pressure to reduce costs whatever way they can. Not exactly the best way to assure the public that the plant is going to be safe. I believe Areva is not going to be building the next two reactors…

  35. I was thinking about the societal reluctance to get started on nuclear power and the slight disconnect I felt when reading Tom’s note above, especially: At the very least, we should just remove the ban on nuclear in Australia. I don’t think that just removing the ban is enough.

    There’s no doubt that nuclear power requires a certain amount of initial effort to set up the governing structures of regulation and experienced investigators, but this can be learned from other countries. There are plenty of Australians just as capable as the NRC staff in the US (for example) who can learn the essentials of nuclear industry there. And the first nuclear power plant will be a learning experience for everyone. But the knowledge is available. It really isn’t such a big step.

    So – remove the ban, and undertake to expedite the development of licensing and regulation for nuclear power plants, at a Federal level, with political independence and guaranteed long-term funding flows (from operators).

  36. So – remove the ban, and undertake to expedite the development of licensing and regulation for nuclear power plants, at a Federal level, with political independence and guaranteed long-term funding flows (from operators).

    I have always assumed that the first 2-3 years under an Australian pro-nuclear government will likely be spent undertaking the legislative and regulatory groundwork, followed immediately after that with the licensing and approval procedure for a number of sites, with educational and staffing issues addressed parallel to these efforts.

  37. J. M. Korhonen, well then if anyone chooses to use a project to do technology transfer, and provide local employment, then there should be no complaints about cost overruns, and falling behind schedule.

    As for using low quality gastarbeiter, this is pan-European issue, that is very complex, and again is not particular to this nuclear build.

    Areva is inexperienced in off-shore builds, it is true, but this is not at the root of the problems at Olkiluoto, no matter how much the Finns want it to be. Blaming the primary contractor for everything is old news in nuclear builds, and this is no different.

    The point here being that you cannot have your cake and eat it too. If you want things done on time and on budget, get out of the way, if you want to use it to meet several social objectives, don’t bitch when things don’t go smoothly.

  38. DV82XL said:

    The point here being that you cannot have your cake and eat it too. If you want things done on time and on budget, get out of the way, if you want to use it to meet several social objectives, don’t bitch when things don’t go smoothly.

    So true. The old saying that if wishes were horses, beggars would ride applies.

    We had an excellent example of that very conundrum here. When the GFC first hoved into view the government responded by directly handing back cash. This was seens as wasteful, (and of course to some extent it was) but it did have the advantage of being an acute remedy to an excessively tight money supply.

    Anticipating the political cries about waste, the second tranche of stimulus involved subsidised home insulation, picked because it appeared to sit nicely with doing something about climate change. It seemed like a far better idea than what had been dubbed “the cash splash”.

    Because there was nothing like the infrastructure needed to quote and supply everyone who wanted cheap home insulation, pretty much anyone who completed a tick the boxes course could get into the home insulation business and because the people quoting were often selling to people who had no strong interest in getting their money’s worth (since it was so cheap) and because shonky fly by night operations could compete with actual builders a significant numbert of the installations were either outright frauds or done to a very poor standard. There were some deaths caused through poor OH&S by shonky installers.

    On the upside, a lot of homes got insulation, a large pool of people who were semi-skilled and living in regional centres got work when they’d almost certainly have been without it and like the cash splash, the money got out there. The program cost went way over budget when political pressure forced by some insulation-related housefires came to light. When the program was axed, a bunch of people got left with non-saleable insulation. The toss is being argued over that.

    In the end, it might have been better to simply keep doling out cash, since that would have been a lot less administratively costly, and a lot easier to control, and to cease when the crisis had eased. (Who knew that trading in money was easier than bartering goods?) What went wrong was the desire to try and achieve ends with the program that weren’t as easy to reconcile in practice as they supposed in theory.

    In the end they met their money supply and employment goals but failed their budgetary constraints and are now pursuing a bunch of shonky builders through the courts. The impact on abating greenhouse gas emissions would be modest per dollar spent, because in many cases, the lack of insulation is not an important contributor to household power usage, and even where it is, a more thermally efficient house may simply lower the cost of getting an even cooler/warmer house.

  39. Joffan,

    “So – remove the ban, and undertake to expedite the development of licensing and regulation for nuclear power plants, at a Federal level, with political independence and guaranteed long-term funding flows (from operators).”

    You’ll find no argument from me there. As I said, the very least we should start with is removing prohibitive legislation. One step at a time :)

  40. DV8, thanks for your reply. I agree with what you’re saying. However, I don’t see that relaxing regulatory environment _and_ getting the public to approve the reactors would have a snowball’s chance in hell at this time.

    I’m as pro-nuclear as they come but the reality is that the antis’ strongest arguments (i.e. what seems to worry the people most) are the quality and reliability issues at OL3. Should we now propose that we’d have to relax regulations, we’d be very lucky to get OL3 started at all, and the government would reverse the decision for two additional reactors faster than you can say “nuclear.” The things are still somewhat precarious, unfortunately, but there are signs of change in the air (e.g. over 30% of the Greens supports more nuclear power).

    I think it was you who used the example from air travel in the 1970s. That was a very good one; the last time we built nuclear was in the early 1980s, and for the moment, nuclear needs to be perceived as extra safe, even if that means some delays and extra costs. Happily for us, Areva seems to have screwed up the contract and looks like it’s going to be footing most of the bill :).

  41. J. M. Korhonen – I don’t recall suggesting a relaxation of the relaxing regulatory environment is the cure for the issues that plague the Olkiluoto build. I am only pointing out that there are other agendas a work that are contributing to the problems there. I’m not so sure that they need fixing as much as the government needs to be up front about them, and not make a political scapegoat of Areva.

    Now Areva may well feel that it is expedient to take the bullet, it would not be the first time a big company did so to protect future business, and too maybe they do bear some of the responsibility. However, it is overly simplistic to think that they are totally to blame here.

    One thing that aviation acquired very early was international agreement on technical standards. Thus each and every country that operates a particular aircraft did not require the manufacture to do the whole type-approval process for each and every national aviation authority. A good deal of expense could be realized if this were the case with nuclear reactors as well.

  42. Barry,

    As a waverer on the nuclear power issue, I have to say that you have pretty much convinced me with your arguments in this debate.

    While I listened to the whole thing, I did not hear a good response from your opponents to your excellent point about deploying nuclear power across all countries that either currently have nuclear weapons or that have nuclear power but have not moved to weaponise, and as this covers 80 per cent of emissions, that would come very close to solving the problem.

    Thanks for this.

    David

  43. If anyone wants to study why Olkiluoto and other NPP projects have gone well or badly, there’s a superb report done by the UK Royal Academy of Engineering: Nuclear Lessons Learned: “Nuclear Power Station Construction Lessons Learned
    Relevant to New Nuclear Build in the UK” at http://www.raeng.org.uk/news/publications/list/reports/Nuclear_Lessons_Learned_Oct10.pdf
    and the general engineering project management issues are of course relevant anywhere.
    Olkiluoto is discussed on pages 33-43.

    (I found it the nearest thing to a compulsive page-turner that an engineering report could well be.)

  44. Isn’t it funny all these self proclaimed champions of aboriginal land rights only care if its a uranium mine? I don’t hear these same people stand up for aboriginal land rights when a new acid mine drainage polluting aquifers and local rivers.
    Cant the Aboriginal community they are been taking advantage again for political gain?

  45. It takes quite a bit of courage and open mindedness to look into this area. Most people have an agenda on this topic.

    We can not just look at CO2 in isolation we must also take into consideration energy independence (ie. oil supplies).

    After my own research on the topic I and many in the Green movement have changed our opinions on the ability of alternate energies such as Wind, Wave, Solar and Geothermal as a real alternative for Base Load. These technologies are fine for Peak Load Electric Generation but they are not mature enough and will not be mature enough for decades if at all to generate adequate electricity for large cities such as Sydney.

    The conclusion that I have come to is that the only solution to displace carbon emitting fossil fuel burning for Base Load is Nuclear Energy.

    Now having come to this conclusion let me add that I have researched several Nuclear Technologies and have concluded that for Australia’s needs the best direction is actually not Uranium but Thorium based 4th generation nuclear power plants and that is what I believe we should be planning for.

    The main reason I have concluded that Thorium Furnaces are the way to go are:
    1) Thorium reactors are subcritical ie. can not have a melt down.
    2) 75% less nuclear waste than conventional reactors
    3) The waste that is produced is only radioactive for approx. 500 years as opposed to 250,000 years as is the case with conventional reactors.
    4) Thorium reactors can incinerate the nuclear waste from conventional reactors, hence dealing with our current issue there.
    5) Thorium reactors do not produce weapons grade nuclear by-products.
    6) There is 4 times more easily mined Thorium available than Uranium
    7) Thorium does not require enrichment; 100% of the Thorium is used as opposed to 3% of the Uranium in a conventional reactor.
    8) It is estimated that there is only enough easily mineable Uranium for the next 150 years, but there is enough Thorium to run Australia for at least 5,000 years on today’s consumption levels.
    9) No CO2 emissions.
    10) Australia not only has the largest deposit of Uranium in the world but also has the one of the largest Thorium deposits.
    11) Bob Hawke once proposed that Australia has a moral obligation to dispose of the nuclear waste from the countries we sell our Uranium to. By using Thorium Furnaces we can do so safely and at the same time power Australia.
    12) John Howard said Australia should have 20 Nuclear Power Plants. I think he is correct it just depends which type.

    Now the coal & natural gas industries are both valuable industries and should be used also. My conclusion here is that major works be undertaken to convert the coal & natural gas electric plants into Coal To Liquid fuel plants (CTL) & Gas To Liquid (GTL) but should go hand in hand with the nuclear industry. The reason for this is that traditional CTL/GTL plants (such as the CTL/GTL plants in South Africa) generate too much CO2 because they burn coal in the conversion process. By using Nuclear generated electricity for the heating there is minimal CO2 emissions in the conversion process hence we become energy independent without the CO2 issues and the coal & natural gas industry are redirected into another needy area which other alternatives are not as adept at providing solutions for ie. producing ethanol from potential food supplies, also biofuels can not produce petroleum based by-products’ eg. plastics but CTL’s can.

  46. Manny a variant on what you propose could be the Bergius process where the hydrogen comes from NP, either electrochemical or high temperature splitting of water
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bergius_process
    The NP doesn’t heat coal or gas directly. The nuke could be kilometres away from the liquid fuel plant joined by hydrogen pipe and won’t get that grimy look that most coal users seem to develop.

    I agree that we may need XTL where X = C, G or B to make jet fuel in decades to come. Well before that maybe starting in 5 years we could replace liquid fuelled land transport with either batteries or compressed natural gas. If we didn’t burn so much NG in power stations then CNG might keep trucks, buses and farm tractors running for decades after oil is prohibitive.

    No doubt you’ll get an opinion on thorium vs uranium.

  47. Manny –

    1) Thorium reactors are subcritical ie. can not have a melt down.
    – Wrong they are not subcritical. Some designs use a liquid core, making meltdown the normal operating state of the reactor.

    2) 75% less nuclear waste than conventional reactors....
    – Debatable and dependent on design, not the fuel type.

    3) The waste that is produced is only radioactive for approx. 500 years as opposed to 250,000 years as is the case with conventional reactors..
    – The used fuel from uranium reactors is not dangerous for that long, and the used fuel from thorium reactors is about the same depending on how it is used. A liquid core uranium reactor has just as high a burnup as a liquid core thorium one.

    4) Thorium reactors can incinerate the nuclear waste from conventional reactors, hence dealing with our current issue there.
    – MSR designs of both types can burn conventional spent fuel.

    5) Thorium reactors do not produce weapons grade nuclear by-products.
    – Depending how they are operated. It is very posible to breed weapons grade material from thorium.

    6) There is 4 times more easily mined Thorium available than Uranium.
    -True, and the best argument in and of itself for developing the Th fuel cycle.

    7) Thorium does not require enrichment; 100% of the Thorium is used as opposed to 3% of the Uranium in a conventional reactor.
    – Heavy water reactors like the CANDU do not requier enriched uranium (and they can burn thorium)

    8) It is estimated that there is only enough easily mineable Uranium for the next 150 years, but there is enough Thorium to run Australia for at least 5,000 years on today’s consumption levels.
    – Your estimate is overly pessimistic, but valid in the long term nonetheless.

    9) No CO2 emissions.
    – No more than a uranium fueled reactor, but no less.

    10)Australia not only has the largest deposit of Uranium in the world but also has the one of the largest Thorium deposits.
    – True

    11)Bob Hawke once proposed that Australia has a moral obligation to dispose of the nuclear waste from the countries we sell our Uranium to. By using Thorium Furnaces we can do so safely and at the same time power Australia.
    – If used fuel burning reactors are developed, I don’t think anyone will want to give it back to you.

    12)John Howard said Australia should have 20 Nuclear Power Plants. I think he is correct it just depends which type.
    – I agree.

  48. @Dvd8Xl in reply to Manny

    All good points but there are a few others to raise in the discussion of Thorium vs Uranium. Perhaps this discussion should have been on a general thread but it has blossomed here so I will continue it.

    1. There is high uncertainty in Australia’s Th endowment (RAR- Reasonably Assured Resources). For example, estimates by Geoscience Australia put Australia near the top of the global list of Th-RAR but this is not accepted internationally. Whichever is the case, we have a lot of Th in addition to our world-leading position on U.

    2, The uncertainty on Th endowment is mostly because the price of Th has never warranted exploration geologists and their companies looking for it or defining the reserves once found. However, there are several deposits known that are significant on a world stage (eg Nolans in the NT).

    3. Most of Australia’s Th in known resources lies within mineral sands deposits. This is currently not recovered at all but re-mixed into the sand tails and put back into the ground. This situation will probably continue until it is economic to recover it (given the added issues of treating and transporting a significantly radioactive monazite concentrate).

    4. It is true that Th is about 4 times higher in crustal abundance but this is not the crucial fact for economic recovery. What matters is how big and rich the “freak” occurrences (= ore bodies) are, and how effectively we can recover the desired element from them.

    5. Thorium is geochemically similar to U in its behaviour during magmatic processes (the ones that enrich the crust) BUT it behaves very differently in the surface environment.

    6. While Uranium is highly mobile (and much ends up eventually in seawater), Thorium by contrast is much less mobile and tends to stay locked up in resistate mineral phases.

    7. Because of this difference, there are a whole range of uranium deposits where uranium is re-deposited from groundwater away from its original source at potentially mineable grades- for example in friable sandstones as loosely bound or readily-soluble mineral phases (rather than being locked up in hard rock as minerals that are very resistant to recovery).

    8. If India had significant uranium deposits that could be mined at low cost using ISR (In situ recovery) my guess is that they would be a lot less keen on Thorium reactor technology.

    9. For those of us like Australia blessed with both commodities, I am guessing that uranium will continue to dominate our thinking because it will be just as good as a fuel in the GenIV cycle and much cheaper to extract.

  49. Thanks for the information. It’s great to see this sort of debate happening in Australia.
    The type of Thorium reactors I was aiming my blurb on was the LFTR refer:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AHs2Ugxo7-8
    and the more complex ADSR refer:
    http://www.thorea.org/publications/ThoreaReportFinal.pdf
    http://thoriumenergy.com.au/FedSubmission6.doc

    The debate in Australia between Uranium vs Thorium is not a technical one, its a political one.

    The word “Uranium” puts up road blocks before the debate even starts.

    I don’t believe that Uranium based Nuclear Reactors have a chance in Australia because “Uranium” carries too much baggage. Regardless of Gen IV, Gen V or not.

    Whenever I have a debate amongst friends, colleagues and family on the topic of Nuclear they automatically switch off until I mention “Thorium”. Then they start asking questions.
    I understand that its not strictly true to bag Uranium but at the end of the day, if Thorium gets in because it’s more palatable to the Australian public; then whats more important. Thorium Nuclear Reactors or Coal to run our Electric Generation Plants?

    Also, I believe that nuclear has a better chance if the Coal/Gas Industry is not vilified, but rather embraced as a valuable energy source in other areas such as CTL, GTL etc.

  50. I wonder if there is anothere debat on the same topic, whether Pro: Barry Brooks idea about nuclear would change after what happened in Japan’s Fukashima Daichhi’s power plant.

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