Media reactions to the Energy paper – part 2

Cartoon by Nicholson from "The Australian" newspaper:

In a previous post (part 1), I described some media reactions to my recent Energy paper (on how carbon pricing changes the relative competitiveness of low-carbon baseload generating technologies). The section of the media I covered in that post is often considered to be ‘progressive’ and environmentally focussed — and yet, their reactions to our recommending of nuclear power ranged from luke warm to hostile and dismissive. I was somewhat surprised by this, although, on reflection, that was rather naive of me! Ingrained attitudes are hard to shift.

So what of the more conservative and (putatively) economically focused media? In short, their reactions couldn’t have been more different — and yet, these are the journalists that often profess to care little about global warming or other human impacts on the Earth system. It’s a strange situation.

Let’s look at the reaction of my old sparring partner Andrew Bolt, a journo and popular blogger for News Ltd. In response to our paper and some other related reports that came out at the same time, he wrote an Op Ed in The Herald Sun, “Only nuclear will save Prime Minister Julia Gillard“, and two blog posts “Go nuclear, Julia” (note that I’m still a ‘warmist’ — some epithets refuse to die) and “Desperate Gillard deceives: nuclear not “economically efficient” on the topic. I think you might get a whiff of political undertones here (!) — less subtle certainly than that of the progressive media, but perhaps, in the end, no more or less real.

Some excerpts to illustrate the content:

She must stop telling outrageous untruths about nuclear power, and especially this one, said this week to slap down some of her own MPs: “Nuclear power doesn’t stack up as an economically efficient source of power.” That’s either monumentally ignorant or a bald-faced lie. Either way, it may also be the signing of a death warrant. You see, it’s actually nuclear power — not same-sex marriage — that can save Gillard and Labor from destruction…

…Yet as Ferguson has warned, investment in new power stations has plummeted, because operators of coal-fired ones think the Gillard Government will bring in a carbon tax that will kill them, while operators of cleaner but dearer forms of power fear she won’t, leaving them uncompetitive. So everyone sits on their hands. It’s the paralysis that is killing our future, years before you’ll really notice. That’s in large part why Gillard abruptly declared last week that next year she truly ruly will finally announce what she’ll do to put a price on every tonne of carbon dioxide emitted by factories and power stations, to force the gassier ones to go green. Trouble is, her deadline means she could be promising a carbon tax next year just when Labor is forced to a new election, and won’t dare campaign on a new tax on your electricity. What a nightmare for Labor. And the last element in this great closing of the trap is the failure to find a workable technology to catch and bury the emissions of our existing coal-fired power stations, to make them “green” without having to scrap them…

…Or read it in the new meta-review of 25 studies of generating technologies conducted by warmist Barry Brook, Adelaide University’s director of climate science, and two co-authors: “The standout technology, from a cost perspective, is nuclear power . . . “Importantly, it is the only fit-for-service baseload technology that can deliver the 2050 emission reduction targets.” Again, Gillard contradicted. The review goes on: solar is absurdly expensive, wind too costly and unreliable; geothermal too doubtful. No one can yet fix a price for carbon capture technologies for existing coal-fired stations. New “clean coal” stations won’t be much cheaper than nuclear, but would be much gassier. And even “clean” gas is still, well, gassy. So, no, it’s nuclear or nothing, and I’d bet half Gillard’s Cabinet knows it, but dares not speak for fear of destroying her already shaky leadership.

Then there is Piers Ackerman, writing in The Daily Telegraph, “Nuclear power is the clear solution“. He does not care for my opinions on climate change, but he’s fully on board with my solutions:

THE scientists are lining up to give Julia Gillard a thrashing over her nonsensical claims about the cost effectiveness of nuclear power. The Prime Minister is, according to Professor Barry Brook, a leading environmental scientist, either “talking through her hat or lying”. Professor Brook, who holds the Sir Hubert Wilkins Chair of Climate Change at the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, and is also Director of Climate Science at the University of Adelaide’s Environment Institute, is no stooge for any political party. Nor is Australia’s Chief Scientist, Professor Penny Sackett, yet both she and Professor Brook are at loggerheads with Gillard over her decision to rule out any discussion of the role nuclear power may play in Australia’s future…

…Drawing on his serious scientific knowledge, Brook states unequivocally that “nuclear is the way to go”. In a recent paper written with lead author Martin Nicholson and Tom Biegler, Brook and his colleagues defined and identified technologies capable of delivering baseload electricity and reducing the so-called greenhouse gas emissions…

… Gillard has exposed her own woeful ignorance about nuclear energy. Whether she has done this solely to placate her equally foolish independent and Greens partners or not, it is a particularly dumb look. But worse, in denying Australians access to cheap, coal-powered electricity and to the possibility of cleaner nuclear power, Gillard is destroying the economic heart of the nation.

There are many other ‘choice quotes’ in the article — and let’s just say that it pulls no punches. But perhaps the ‘debate’ in Australia has reached a point where this is required?

Then there was some positive coverage in The Australian, “Emission cuts ‘hard without nuclear power’“:

A review of international studies, published yesterday by Australian researchers in the journal Energy, has also backed the option, identifying nuclear as the cheapest technology able to help keep global temperature rises below 2C. Study co-author Barry Brook, the director of the University of Adelaide’s Environment Institute, said coal and combined gas turbine systems combined with carbon capture and storage could be effective. But Professor Brook’s team concluded that CCS would first require “rapid major advances in technology”.

… as well as articles by Anthony Cox of The Climate Sceptics, “The New Year’s resolution: deliver on energy” on ABC The Drum, a discussion stemming from my interview with 3AW radio, and even a ‘pub debate’ on the Big Footy forums!

Finally, co-author Martin Nicholson had this letter published in the Australian Financial Review:

Congratulations to Angela MacDonald-Smith for her well-researched “Will the Lights Really Go Out?” (November 27-28). Yes, power prices are going to go up whatever we do but the least-cost solution to emissions mitigation has to be the way to go.

Betting on wind and solar power will be far from least-cost, as she says, but worse, there is no evidence that wind or solar has closed a single coal plant anywhere in the world. Relying on geothermal energy seems like a very high-risk strategy. The industry has been trying to make this work on commercial scale for several decades without success.

What was lacking in the report was any mention of what will probably be the lowest-cost baseload solution, at any likely future carbon price – nuclear power. At long last, the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism has released a consultants report that includes costs for nuclear power. This could be a change of attitude in Canberra on how best to address low-emission, baseload energy demand, rather than hoping for technology-risky solutions like carbon capture and sequestration and hot rock geothermal.


So, what’s the upshot? On the one hand we have the ‘environmentally conscious’ media who (generally) plead with us to do something about climate change, yet turn out to care more about being anti-nuclear and trumpeting its perceived ‘problems’ than they do about actually fixing the carbon emissions problem and effectively eliminating fossil fuels. Then, on the other hand, we have the ‘climate sceptic’ media (generally) who don’t even believe that human’s are having an impact on Earth’s climate, yet are strong and vocal supporters for nuclear energy.

Part of the underpinning of this is no doubt tied to the ‘we must drastically reduce our energy use and consumerism‘ versis ‘economic growth at all costs‘ attitudes of the folks engaged on these different socio-political sides — but it’s clearly deeper than this. For instance, it also entails the psychology of people who like to see themselves as close to nature and ‘sustainability’ (irrespective of how real this proximity is), and how enthralled others people are by high technology, gadgets and perceived measures of prosperity (however real these are)… and so on. [Incidentally, I'm an environmental scientist and ecologist who happens to love high tech and has grand visions for humanity's ultimate destiny in space, so I'll leave you to figure me out, but there is a rationale to it all].

The bottom line is this: we need to embrace the common ground if we’re going to get anywhere. It goes something like this:

Environmentalists want to deal with climate change.

Nuclear power deals with climate change.

Climate change sceptics want nuclear power.

That’s the basic chain of logic. Accept it, promote it, tweak it — but above all, use it to our collective advantage. In short, let’s work together on this! The climate system, and the prosperity of future human society, will thank us is we do — or else curse us if we don’t, and instead continue to put petty partisanship and closed-minded ideological agendas in front of serious solutions to major global problems.

The choice is simple, and it’s ours to make.

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  1. Antinuclear but accepts AGW, pronuclear and rejects AGW, is not a phenomena particular to Australia. I suspect that the reasons are more historic, rather than ideological. In a world that has bought into this artificial Left/Right dichotomy, the fact that if one side backs an idea it means that perforce the other side must oppose it and vise-versa.

    The Left has not supported nuclear technology since the beginning because of its supposed link with weapons, and it was there that the lines were drawn. Similarly, I suspect that the Left’s early acceptance of AGW (more because of the fact that it fit their word view, than their ability to interpret the evidence) was a factor in its rejection by the Right.

    Personally I think that this artificial division of political thought has lived far past its usefulness, and is causing more trouble than it is worth. It is time to put on in the dust-bin of history and leave it there.

  2. Although not a ‘climate change sceptic’ as I firmly believe that description is reserved for the Watermelons of the world, the people wholiked the weather on July the 5th, 1966, and don’t want it to change, ever, I am one of those that regards AGW and ‘disastrous AGW as a load of crap.

    However, I have been a supporter of following a nuclear future for decades, mainly on the wagon of efficiency, cleanliness and sustainability. I have always been in favour of exploring breeders. Not to do so is idiocy.

    So I agree. From my side, if my case to build a 3+GEN plant as a start feeder to the industry, quickly joined by some prototypes, Liquid Metal, Pebble Bed and the IFR can be aided by the environmental movement, then all well and good.

    Two major obstacles, The Greens, and the lack of a science/technology bent in the general population (other than the operation of X-Box and Plasma screen televisions). The Greens being the largest obstacle. The members in the public eye all have an education of varying degrees (sic) but have a perverse habit of just ignoring any data that does not fit rusted on philosophies. They are Luddites with a deep and religious distrust of technology.

    I find it ironic that the people who discount nuclear energy as ‘old fashioned’ want to build windmills.

    I have always been strongly on the side of pollution control. As a hunter, fisherman, climber, surfer and diver I appreciate a clean and toxic free environment. Nuclear energy goes a long way to enabling this goal.

    Mark Addinall.

  3. DV82Xl,I agree with your thoughts on the left/right divide.I look at the issue and make a decision on the merits as I see them.whether that makes me a loony leftie , a raging rightist or something in between I couldn’t care less.It’s a lonely life but what the hell.

    I think it is so urgent that Australia gets cracking on nuclear generation I would welcome any favourably disposed person into the camp.Let their dogs lie,sleeping or otherwise.

    To mix metaphors,any port in a storm.

  4. The old saying “Your enemies friend is your enemy” seems to be equivalent to “Your enemies beliefs must be false, because your enemy believes them”.

    Some people have a nice comfy belief set, shared by
    their friends and about which they can make shared
    jokes, asides, puns and witticisms. Being green and
    pro-nuke fractures one of those belief sets. And if I listen carefully I can hear the chandelier of shared prejudice shattering now!

  5. While Ms Gillard is pragmatic the Greens are dogmatic and unyielding. Remember the PM recently signed the uranium deal with Russia’s Medvedev and said some positive things. However the Greens will have the numbers in the Senate after July 2011. They insist on a carbon tax over $20 which would be political suicide for the ALP. They will feel they have a mandate to veto any pro-nuclear decision. It’s as if the ALP and Greens went to the top of a tall building holding hands then the Greens decide to jump for both of them.

    I think the public is contemptuous of carbon capture and paying farmers to feed sheep a special diet. Nonetheless I still think that is the way things will probably go next year as it takes little political courage. The Greens might get their carbon tax (say $10) but it will be so heavily exempted or reimbursed via payroll deductions as to be pointless. I think the pro NP decision will be made by Gillard’s successor of whichever party.

  6. I’m going to get a bit misty eyed here but if you have a heart read on.
    For a tech savvy and deeply committed environmentalist this whole climate change thing has a lot to do with the search for meaning. Our love of the world and its protection provides us with self worth. It doesn’t need someone to reduce our environment to a utilitarian benefit for me to want to protect it. It’s because at the age of five I sat in a blackfella’s cave at the bottom of our land which infused me with a sense of awe at my surroundings in the Blue Mountains. Riding on my tricycle through the forests with my terrier and getting shit scared of death adders and red bellied black snakes. It was very wet in the 1950’s and our mountains fairly throbbed with the energy of the environment.
    Through this life I have experienced the starry eyed mung bean eaters in one camp and the dead eyed, rapacious coal miners on the other. Neither side won me over but then I read Sir James Lovelock and found someone who got it. The Gaia concept provides me with meaning. The world of Gaia is a hard and ruthless judge who will provide us with all our needs if we play by the rules. And with it are some new commandments if you like such as don’t erect graven images of wind farms or industrialise our landscape. Be brave and fair dinkum and step up to the challenge of what it means to inhabit this world.
    Our Prime Minister is not brave, neither is Tony Abbott. They perpetuate mediocrity which is the first cousin of cowardice. Malcolm Turnbull’s stance on climate change was brave and much of his party loves him for it.
    So now Barry to Andrew Bolt and Piers Ackerman. They need to behave like pricks because their readership are pricks. That’s the contract between them and in the end I doubt they can be trusted even if in the short term they go along with nuclear energy. Likewise the mung bean eaters will stiff you the moment you look like coming close to success because they wear negativism like a badge of honour. Refreshingly the protection of man’s place in the environment through our intellect and imagination is neither a left nor right wing issue. It’s an idea whose time is about to blossom and isn’t a branch of either side of politics.

  7. I’m a libertarian but my politics, or more specifically my economics, usually gets me tagged as right wing. I don’t think AGW is crap but much of the alarmism and demands that we shut down coal fired power stations and just live humble is utter crap. And when AGW is routinely used as a lever to attack economic liberalism, modernity and industrial society I can understand why people tag AGW as crap. Much of the “AGW crowd” is looney.

    A shift to nuclear power is a prudent insurance policy against AGW. It will also reduce pollution in a more general sense and take pressure off the fossil fuel cost curve. We can start by ending nuclear prohibition.

  8. “the Greens … will feel they have a mandate to veto any pro-nuclear decision”

    I don’t think they could though, John. If the Labor Government was to change their current stance on nuclear power, and if the Coalition didn’t oppose it in either house, they wouldn’t need the support of the Greens.

    I don’t believe a pro-nuclear stance from Labor would necessarily be suicide for them either. What might happen? A few more people might vote for the Greens instead at the next election, but most of them would probably still preference Labor over the Coalition anyway. The independents might cause some trouble, but I’m unsure how that would play out.

    It’s gonna happen one day, whether that be under a Labor or Coalition government. My only fear is that it will take anything up to another 2 decades before it happens.

  9. TerjeP said:

    “when AGW is routinely used as a lever to attack economic liberalism, modernity and industrial society I can understand why people tag AGW as crap”.

    I agree that it is sad that many people do use climate change to advance their own political agendas and ideologies. This has also been very detrimental to progress on fixing the problem. I also think that the fact that others tag AGW as crap simply because of this goes to show that their level of thought about this is about as deep as the former.

    I think DV82XL might be spot on when he said that the reasons are historic. And I think the history might go as far back as our religious/worshipping roots, where we now have nature-worshippers and economy-worshippers instead (as a simplified way of looking at it). And they, like religious zealots, will blatantly ignore and try to denounce anything that doesn’t fit their world-view.

    This dichotomous political division certainly isn’t useful, but is human-kind able to simply bin it? I like to think we can. And the fact that there are people out there who are able to look beyond these artificial political lumpings and prejudices gives me some hope.

  10. DV82XL said it well. These opinions are based on tribal identities. Or, maybe we should call them ‘teams’. It is much more about whether you are a Giants fan or an Eagles fan (to use a US football example) than about reason.

    My politics have always been ‘left’ — I’m one of those people infuriated by the fact that Barack Obama turned out to be a corporate Republican. On the other hand, I’m a Scientist at to me the answer to climate change, which I am concerned about, is clearly nuclear energy (my son is studying nuclear engineering, partly because I believed he would be in demand and working in an area that will benefit mankind).

    But environmentalists who support nuclear power are a small group. It’s depressing, but the most effective political approach may be aligning with ‘right-wingers’ that want nuclear power simply because those gol-durned hippah freaks don’t want it.

  11. I agree that it is sad that many people do use climate change to advance their own political agendas and ideologies. This has also been very detrimental to progress on fixing the problem. I also think that the fact that others tag AGW as crap simply because of this goes to show that their level of thought about this is about as deep as the former.

    The former have typically thought longer about it because it’s their hobby horse. However when they want to power the world with windmills, when they think earth hour is progress, or they say nuclear power is a plot against aboriginies, it doesn’t take much reflection to realise that their thinking capacity isn’t worthy of great respect. Whilst they may have thought long I suspect most of them have thought only superficially. Especially the loud ones.

  12. Anyone that subscribes to an ideology has chosen to subordinate decisions to a set of filters that determines what is bad and what is good. It is, in my opinion, the height of intellectual sloth, and it is immaterial to me if they happen to agree with me on any given issue.

    Having said that, it is more often a case of simple ignorance that drives most of those that object to nuclear energy, rather than their politics. Nuclear energy has not been very good at making a case for itself in the last thirty years, and we can hardly blame those that have been swayed by Green/Left arguments for renewables, when no one was presenting an opposing view. This is changing, and the rapidity of the shift in public opinion, and its reflection in the popular media, (once monolithic in its opposition) is an indication of how flexible the public can be IF they have been apprised of the facts.

    Even support from the Right was never a given, as they were once solidly behind coal, and there too we can see a change. So progress is being made, and that needs to be recognized

  13. Indeed, DV82XL. I’d say Australia is an interesting case in point. Five years ago nuclear power wasn’t even up for discussion, and if raised was dismissed with an incredulous laugh.. Now, although it is (ludicrously) still possible to find energy discussions that don’t consider nuclear power, it’s usually dicsussed at reasonable length, and cannot be ignored. And Barry has done a lot to move that forward. The actual fight is in progress:
    “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” Gandhi’s formula may not promise inevitability, but it certainly supports against despair.

  14. Actually the hippie freaks do want nuclear based on my limited observation. I know a few off-grid survivalists who get by on bottled gas plus wind/solar charged battery banks. They will tell you it’s not for everybody. Ergo if pensioners are to get affordable and low carbon power the grid has to go nuclear. If you drop in on a logging protest camp in Tasmania and talk to the ‘freaks’ you’ll find some (not all) are surprisingly pragmatic.

    Therefore I think the stronghold of anti-nuclear sentiment is the suburbs, not hippiedom. Some urban greenies simply have no grasp of the extent to which their lifestyle is underpinned by fossil fuels. The fact they are prolonging the reign of coal is lost on them.

  15. My last letter to PM Gillard with copies to Combet, Ferguson, Swan, AWU secretary, Paul Howes and Janet Albrechtsen [I also sent her a heap of stuff which I hope she may use in the future]
    Dear Prime Minister,
    I’m writing to express my extreme disappointment, bordering on anger at your and the ALP’s intransigence on the issue of nuclear power for Australia. Quite clearly, the rest of the world is going increasingly nuclear and for two reasons. Countries wanta secure energy supply without greenhouse emissions. I imagine Australia also wants that. Yet, your Party and the Greens persist with denying Australia developmnent of the cleanest, greenest, safest, most economically competitive and most powerful source of power known to mankind. And this is despite Australia being blessed with the world’s largest uranium supplies and the world’s best nuclear waste disposal site, both incidentally in your and my state,South Australia. You are allowing the Greens to drag you, your party and the rest of us towards policies which are way out of step with the global community. That’s both irresponsible and inexcusable in my view. The ALP and the Greens need to open their minds and have a serious look at what is happening around the world with the rapid growth in nuclear power generation. And they need to heed what governments and energy authorities around the world have been saying for the past few years, viz that “Any country serious about climate change will be serious about including nuclear in its future energy mix.” The ALP’sand Greens response to this has been to continue making totally unrealistic, exaggerated claims about what the renewables [sun and wind] and still to be developed technologies [CCS and geothermal], will be able to achieve in meeting our increasing base load power needs. No other country in the world believes that. How can sun and wind, currently at 0.7% world energy total ever contribute base load power.?

    Around the world Prime Minister, the anti-nuclear Left and the Greens, in my view, owe the world an apology. Over the past 40 years or so, they have almost single-handedly forced countries into building coal fired power stations for their base load supplies. In doing so, they have contributed most of the serious emissions problem the world currently faces. Had nuclear been developed instead of coal, it would by now be at 35-40% of total world electricity instead of the current 16%, CO2 would not be a problem and we and the rest of the world would not be considering directing enormous resources through a carbon taxor other emissions mitigating measures to the apparent CO2 problem. That’s what the Left and the Greens have done Prime Minister. How sick is that??
    Prime Minister, it’s time to get nuclear power on Australia’s future energy agenda. It will require some bold, imaginative leadership from you. Not only will you have to bring your Party along with you, but I believe you MUST establish a bipatisan position with the Coalition on the issue and together, do something good for the nation. Ideally the Greens should be included but I know their minds have always been closed on the nuclear issue and they will need to be side-lined as the ALP and the Coalition work together.One thing is certain, both major parties MUST STOP using the issue to wedge the other party. The Australian electorate is well and truly over that negative,unproductive behaviour. A secure, emissions-free power supply is too important for that sort of carry-on.
    I noticed the other day that you said the A:LP “is a party of ideas” and that “people join because they’re passionate about something and want to have their say” You also said “I’ve got a vision for the country.” Well , I have a vision for Australia as well Prime Minister. I’ve articulated it in an article [copy enclosed ] which I prepared for the Adelaide Review,September issue this year. It followed another piece [copy enclosed] I prepared for the South Australian Chamber of Mines and Energy journal last year which outlined how Australia could provide the world with the best nuclear waste disposal site on the planet. I would be grateful if you would read and consider each piece and understand that when Australia does go nuclear, we’ll be able to assume a major leadership role in future world energy supply and use. Development of the full nuclear fuel cycle over coming decades will make us a much more prosperous and productive nation and one which will play a critical role in world energy supply and use.. AsJames Lovelock said during the 2007 Adelaide Festival of ideas, ‘It doesn’t make sense that Australia hasn’t already gone nuclear.” How right he was!!
    Finally Prime Minister, with respect, it is essential that the ALP gets its hopelessly out of date policy on nuclear power changed during next year’s national convention. Accordingly, as I did in 2008, I’m offering to come to put the case for a nuclear Australia to convention delegates. As a retired, 72 year old former teacher , I can and will make a compelling case for nuclear power. I claim this on the grounds of the response I’ve received over the past 5 years from over 2000 people whom I’ve addressed on the issue. As a former member of the ALP [I resigned my membership 4 years ago because of the party's attitude to nuclear power],five times candidate for the party [Dunstan-Bannon years] and 35 years of working for the party, I’ve got something important to say. The party needs to hear it.

    yours etc

    Terry Krieg

    I’ve posted each of the articles mentioned above on a couple of Barry’s previous posts.

  16. It seems to me that over the years, the chief problem in getting people to think pragmatically about nuclear power has been the hydra-headed and overlapping nature of the potential concerns. There’s scarcely a group in society that doesn’t have at least the beginnings of a reason for being against it. Plainly, when an issue can cross-cultural and tribal boundaries as this one can, it’s going to be hard.

    Worst of all, while many of the objections can be unpicked by rational analysis, there’s an overlay of cultural “glue” that holds them together and allows them to be reduxed like some insane and eternal intellectual barndance continually puts the advocates in a position similar to Adam Sandler in 51 first dates. It’s as if nothing has ever been debated before. Those of us pushing for effective CO2 mitigation know all too painfully about that phenomenon!

    In Australia, that “cultural glue” has been the mapping of all things nuclear to the largely tribal conflict over power between the ALP and the Coalition, and their rival support bases. Supporters of nuclear power get lumped in with supporters of “big multinational companies and super profit$$$”, “the war machine”, “opponents of indigenous land rights” “turning Australia into a toxic waste dump” and of course the Liberals. The Liberals really have no answer to this, in part because they like coal money and because there’s therefore no upside in risking being wedged. Nowehere near enough ALP supporters in marginal seats are going to vote for them purely on the basis of nuclear power for them to run with it. And some concerned nimby voters will jump ship in favour of those blocking plants in their neighbourhood. Your average nimby doesn’t like being seen as a nimby and so they will give credence to the usual litany of objections, much as cultural opponents of action on climate change will grasp at any straw that presents itself.

    It helps the case against enormously that nuclear power is for most people a highly esoteric area of knowledge. I would be surprised in as many as 1% of the literate population could give a broad brush account of the ways in which power was ultimately derived from reactors, define the term “isotope”, explain the implications of isotopic half-lives, or account in any specific way for the risks associated with hazmat exposure. I doubt most know how coal reactors extract chemical energy from coal either, but then coal is well established and nuclear is not. There is nothing in the public consciousness that counts as coal’s “Chernobyl”. The complexisty of the matter and the associated difficulty in feeling confident about claims being made about the matter, one way or the other. That’s an opening that FUDsters can easily exploit and when they do, the chorus of cultural enemies will sing along merrily.

    We can and should continue to put an analytic evidence-based case for nuclear power but we do need to find a solvent for the cultural glue holding together and reprising the debunked objections. This is the most challenging thing because it’s hard to refute feelings or to say persuasively that someone’s sense of how things should be is invalid. When someone says: Chernobyl? Never again! one must show not only that it can’t happen again (tricky enough as it is, given the lack of grasp of nuclear power) but that by taking up nuclear power is not dishonouring the victims. That’s a tough gig. All the reason in the world will find it hard to deal with that because it is not based on reason but sentiment.

    Equally salient is the question of authenticity. Populism (on both sides) relies for its force on the marginalisation of those who are socially, culturally, temporally or spatially remote from the persons being appealed to. The Tea Party is an excellent example of this but the really troubling thing about it is that it ringfences ideas to what can be sold by those deemed authentic (i.e “local” in the senses above).

    Since most people aren’t wealthy, or scientists, or in the government all of these sources of information get an asterisk which any local loudmouth can exploit. Renewables fit both left and right populist conversations extremely well. In the public perception, a solar panel on your roof is both an instantiation of personal responsibility and choice (the right likes this slogan) and decentralisation and small is beautiful(appeals both to soft left and right). It doesn’t get more local than power produced on your roof and in your suburbs. The idea of using the sun — a symbol humans have venerated for as long as we have had consciousness — to sustain life is at one traditional and “natural”. Nuclear power plants seem almost by definition, non-natural if not positively unnatural. If they were all built underground and thus had no image at all, they might fare better in marketing terms because they’d be hard to imagine as blots on the landscape vaguely reminiscent of pustules on a human body.

    So not the least of the things we must do is to refute the idea that the local and the natural is intrinsically virtuous, which is a tall order because both sides of politics subscribe strongly to that, albeit for somewhat different reasons.

  17. As as a recent Boston Globe article notes:

    In reality, we often base our opinions on our beliefs, which can have an uneasy relationship with facts. And rather than facts driving beliefs, our beliefs can dictate the facts we chose to accept. They can cause us to twist facts so they fit better with our preconceived notions. Worst of all, they can lead us to uncritically accept bad information just because it reinforces our beliefs. This reinforcement makes us more confident we’re right, and even less likely to listen to any new information.

    The conclusion made here is this: facts often do not determine beliefs, but rather beliefs (usually non-rational beliefs) determine the facts that are accepted.

    Right and Left espouse antithetical belief systems, both of which are based on different non-rational set of moral values. thus when we are trying to change some deeply held belief, like opposition to nuclear, we must present the argument very carefully, so as to not put the listener on the defensive.

    As I wrote up thread, in non-rational belief systems, any individual’s ideology tends to function also as a ‘filtering system’, accepting facts that seamlessly fit into the framework of that ideology, while dismissing facts that do not fit. Thus it is necessary to tailor the argument such that it fits, rather than challenges the listener’s ideology.

  18. Barry suggested:

    Environmentalists want to deal with climate change.

    I’d add that we also want to minimise the human footprint on ecosystems. Nuclear power not only has a relatively low carbon footprint. It also has a relatively low industrial footprint per unit of energy output — one that is not only lower than hydrocarbon combustion but that of renewables as well.

    That’s something that greatly underpins my enthusiasm for the technology and a point I often make.

  19. I can’t work out if the right to build the 2 GW Bayswater B baseload station was included in the NSW power sell-off. That would seem to be the litmus test of near term intentions. As of recently the first preference was for black coal fired supercritical water with a scout’s promise to retrofit CCS when ready. I presume that would use cooling towers. The second preference was combined cycle gas, air cooled with no mention of CCS. I understand that so far CCS has only been tried with gasified coal, not pulverised coal or natgas, so it is even more of an unknown.

    My guess is that carbon pricing won’t happen in 2011 despite the PM’s word. Another broken promise. Gas might pay half the carbon tax but will likely cost more than double raw coal per thermal unit. Even if say $10 carbon tax gets up by end 2011 if will be accompanied by howls from the Opposition and the Murdoch press. That prolongs uncertainty about major decisions like new power stations when nuclear is a non-option. I suspect only a subdued economy in 2011 will have any effect on emissions, not policy decisions.

  20. Fran, we have to convince the people that coal, over the decades and continuing now has killed more people [66 per day in the US alone even now] than Chernobyl did over the 24 years since it “went off”. We’ve had a continuing “Chernobyl” ever since the Industrial Revolution started. AGW or not, the world needs to phase out coal and phase in nuclear if for no other reason than coal burning for power has and will continue to kill millions. I’m not calling for an end to coal mining, that would be just plain silly. I am calling for no more electricity from coal. Use it for plastics, pharmaceuticals, fertilizers, liquid fuels etc. Just don’t burn the confounded stuff for electricity.

  21. Terry said:

    Fran, we have to convince the people that coal, over the decades and continuing now has killed more people [66 per day in the US alone even now] than Chernobyl did over the 24 years since it “went off”. We’ve had a continuing “Chernobyl” ever since the Industrial Revolution started.

    I absolutely agree, and this is a point I persistently make to anyone who will listen, while pointing out that the factors that authored Chernobyl no longer apply.

    Sadly, this presumes a willingness to adopt some sort of measurable benchmarks for policy, expressed in terms of morbidity or quality life-years and risk. Many people start from their own cultural paradigm and derive what they will believe from that. Thus, if what is ostensibly “natural” or “local” or “not involved with big business” is always better than everything else, you won’t be listening to risk and reward based on measurable utility to human beings.

    Instead, you will be looking for things that seem to be good for human beings that are natural and local and not involved with big business. This is very much how many people (not necessarily greens and leftists either) approach things.

    Our problem is to get people to agree that we should assess the worthiness of public policy proposals by reference, as far as we can manage it, to things that can be measured accurately and compared with goals that most can support. In some sense, the debate around CO2 mitigation has rather strengthened our ability to do this and not merely because nuclear power fits the CO2e mitigation project very well.

    Activists around this issue (the majority of whom are unenthusiastic about nuclear power) have now spent years asserting that mainstream science demands respect and should be preferred to the dishonest special pleading of the fossil fuel lobby. We have asserted that the footprint of CO2 emissions threatens the life chances of all future generations.

    Activists can scarcely now reject even examining nuclear power as a technology on the basis of cultural special pleading that it is evil when careful analysis shows its utility in dealing with the problems not only of CO2 abatement but the ecological footprint more generally. So we have an opportunity to hoist those who favour mitigation but oppose rational evaluation of nuclear power’s potential contribution on their own petards. That has been the approach I have taken.

    It seems to me that what we should have in this country is an independent commission into low-carbon technologies, which could do, in a sense, what Barry and to some extent what Peter Lang have done in the course of the TCASE series. Let there be public submissions and crass examination of witnesses and draft reports and an FAQ on common objections to nuclear power and let us see how long the enemies of nuclear can resist either jumping ship or becoming like the fringe elements pushing business-as-usual on energy by calling nuclear power “a scam”.

  22. Good post Barry.
    Bolt and Ackerman are not your enemy. Pro nuclear, conservative, CAGW sceptics do not even reject AGW. Just the catastrophic bit though they may be sceptical about the degree of “A”.
    Many of them are environmentalists too and are horrified by the utter mindlessness of wind and solar solutions.
    Your support is a bit like the emission-free energy we all seek, rather fragmented and hard to assemble into good base load.

  23. Geoff Russell, the ABC link I included seems to indicate a serious attempt on the part of Russia to rehabilitate the Chernobyl site in the minds of the world. I thought readers here might be interested in that.

    p.s. What Spangled Drongo said.

  24. Peter B

    What spangled drongo said was simply wrong. It occurs to nobody visiting Akerman and Bolt’s blog that they are in any sense environmentalists or supporters of mainstream science. If you have the stomach and the time, wade through the much posted there. I challenge you to cite a post from any of their interlocutors that suggests otherwise or a post defintiively correcting the universal impression that they reject the mainstream position.

    Indeed, in the post cited above Akerman says:

    Brook and his colleagues defined and identified technologies capable of delivering baseload electricity and reducing the so-called greenhouse gas emissions (my emphasis)

    Akerman not only rejects mainstream science on anthropogenically-sourced radiative forcing. He rejects the categorisation of gases as having this property. In effect, he is proposing to set aside something even the hardcore deniers like Seitz and and Lindzen accept and create a new science of radiation after his own cultural preferences.

  25. Fran,

    You’ve picked on a small part of SD’s comment. I’ll pass on your challenge, I’ve never read either writer and I don’t intend to start now. SD’s meaning, as I interprete it, is that support for NP is broad and crosses unexpected boundaries. I’ve read his post again and I’m still of that opinion.

    I’ve started reading at this site because I’ve heard Barry on Radio National several times and have been impressed by his grasp of his subject, which usually contrasts with the poor showing of his opponents. I’ve also read several pieces by Peter Lang and found them informative and interesting. A close family friend was involved in nuclear policy in Oz at the time when the Jervis Bay reactor was being planned and he spiked my interest in a subject I thought would never be discussed in this country.

  26. PeterB

    You’ve picked on a small part of SD’s comment

    It was the dominant point of spangled drongo’s comment. Take that out and I’m not sure you have anything but banality left.

    Yes, Bolt and Akerman are verbally pro-nuclear, principally because they are anti-ALP and this annoys most left-of-centre folk. What they are mostly in favour of is business-as-usual i.e. coal, on the traditional grounds. Calling for something they think will never happen is what one does if one is cynic. Like Diogenes, you wear a barrel and tell Alexander to stop blocking the sunlight. ;-)

    (Sorry, couldn’t resist the pun)

    The support of Bolt and Akerman is less than no use to us. It is lead in the saddlebags because the people we need to win over or at worst neutralises find these characters execrable. These people have negative credibility. If they thought that Australia, led by the ALP, really was about to stop using coal and also encourage China to stop buying Aussie coal in favour of uranium and thorium they’d be beside themselves with rage and be talking like Terry McCrann about the ALP “shutting down the Australian economy”.

    We who favour nuclear power need to make it plain that there is no sense in which these dissemblers speak for us.

  27. Fran, I think they’re more than verbally pro-nuclear. They’re in favour of BAU because that, in their view, leads to increased affluence and quality-of-living. They see nuclear power as providing the best alternative to coal that can maintain this. They will resist a carbon price etc., but if one comes in, they’ll definitely push for nuclear as the only sensible option. That’s ‘pro’ enough for me, and I’ll take it thank you. You’re in danger of putting on the same red-blue tinted glasses as others who have now taken a voluntary break from the blog. Chuck ‘em in the bin.

  28. Someone here mentioned that i have not considered AGW ‘long and hard’. Hmmm. Well I have, and have not seen one dataset that convinces me that anything unusual is going on.
    @Barry, keep up the good work. Excellent blog material as always.
    @Fran You are the problem. Any view that does not meet your requirements are dismissed with the usual guff. ‘THEY’ are dominated by the ‘INDUSTRY’ and must be stopped at all costs. You want nuclear power? So do I. Probably for similar reasons. So help, don’t hinder. It does not help if I define you into a bag of ‘stupid hippy bints’, Mkay?

  29. Barry said:

    You’re in danger of putting on the same red-blue tinted glasses as others who have now taken a voluntary break from the blog. Chuck ‘em in the bin.

    I have no intention of carrying on as the leftwing counterpart to the people “who have now taken a voluntary break from the blog”. I do share your desire that this not be a left-right issue.

    That doesn’t mean that specific people who have shown an absence of good faith in these and many matters should be given a free pass. Bolt is a significant part of Deltoid’s 50+ part series The Australian’s war on science.

    For these people, nuclear is simply a safe stalking horse for business-as-usual because they have supposed that given the choice, the ALP will endure coal and gas with greenwash and the Libs will never risk the wedge. Eventually, the libs will return to office and renewables will be left to twist in the wind and hung out to dry. (puns intended)

    When I am doing asdvocacy, I always try to steer the conversation away from clowns like Bolt and Akerman whereas the people opposing nuclear tend to try dragging such people in, precisely so our claims can be discredited through association.

    I am then forced to say “well you know, even a broken clock is correct twice each day. The fact that these reckless lying enemies of humanity are saying this doesn’t make it untrue. They are just trolling. People with a genuine, longstanding regard for the environment and human welfare and a grasp of the relevant scientific matters like Professor Barry Brook are strong advocates”.

  30. I reckon advocacy of nuclear power from the Andrew Bolts of the world is about as useful as advocacy of climate change action from the Greenpeaces of the world. Neither are particularly good advocates for the cause. They can be detrimental to the cause by association, but they can also be helpful by capturing a niche crowd who identify with them. Overall there’s probably no real net loss or gain in public support due to either.

    I think it might often be the pragmatists who end up making an overall difference. Their efforts often go (comparatively) unnoticed though.

  31. What you fail to understand Fran is that many people do not have the same opinion of Akerman and Bolt as you do. Many will be convinced to at least “look into the nuclear option” if it is supported by their “heroes” and so I agree with Barry – I will take their support and thus, that of their disciples, if it means we get to debate nuclear power on the wider stage. Most of those who read Bolt and Akerman would never visit this blog – maybe now it has been promoted in the tabloids many will “drop in” and get to better understand the issue and shed their nuclear bias. I would call that progress!

  32. Ms Perps,

    While any publicity is frequently good publicity and if Bolt and co make some statement in support of nuclear power, thats fine too but there is no history here of advocacy for nuclear power nor of the need to shut down coal ASAP.

    Bolt can easily turn around and defend coal as cheaper than nuclear and I think that would come as no surprise to anybody. IF he establishes a track record of nuclear advocacy, then it might be possible to consider him in a bizarre way as some sort of political ally.

    It is entirely possible that, as Fran says, he is just trolling. I’d put my money on that one.

  33. Sorry John but that “if” packs together things that do not coexist. Everyone who is not a Bolt/Akerman fan knows that they persistently talk nonsense when it suits their cultural claims.

    Thus, nobody on the other side will believe they are adopting factual arguments and sound reasoning. Instead, they will simply have their existing prejudices reinforced.

    Bolt and Akerman oppose the vehicle (a carbon price) that could see coal and gas replaced with nuclear because in the end, they prefer coal and gas. They just think wedging the ALP on the issue would be helpful, result in stalemate and give them what they really want — business-as-usual. Their co-thinker — Terry MCrann — accused Kloppers of treason to BHP when he suggested $10 per tonne might help.

    Those that like Bolt and Akerman are happy enough to demand something they believe that the left will never give them too, especially since the demand annoys almost all the people they really hate.

    Really, nobody should give credence to such a disingenuous charade.

    Let them play their feeble games, but let us handle them with surgical gloves and tweezers. The people we must win over are on the left and we can never hope to do that while we leave the ground between us and these blots on the political landscape muddy.

    This has nothing to do with the fact that they are on the right. It has to do with the fact that they are reckless liars whose persistent malicious actions shame reasoning humanity.

  34. Quite right unclepete. Try telling anyone who will listen that the Greens, around the world, over the last few decades have been responsible for the massive uptake of coal burning for countries to get their base load power needs. As a result, by denying greater nuclear power to many countries, they have contributed more than anyone to the CO2 problem we now all face. And if they come back with the Greens wanting to harness the sun way back then instead of burning coal, tell them the US gave up on the sun back in the 80′s suggesting that solar would never give more than a fraction of the energy the world would need. 280 scientists signed off on that fact. They have been proven right.

  35. Fran,

    They don’t necessarily prefer coal and gas but with even these skyrocketing in price, catastophic warming still debateable and wind and solar discredited, they realise as do a broad spectrum of the conservative side, that NP is the serious future.

    Both sides should forget about their mutual suspicion, embrace this future and save their obligatory “pot remarks about kettles” for afters.

  36. unclepete, we don’t realise how much:

    “The second story is a study in contrast. It’s a report that China plans to spend over $500 billion to build 245 new nuclear power plants. This would mean adding nearly two and a half times as many as the U.S. has in total. As Zhao Chengkun, vice-president of the China Nuclear Energy Association, put it, “Developing clean, low-carbon energy is an international priority. Nuclear is recognized as the only energy source that can be used on a mass scale to achieve this.” While our administration dithers about constructing just one new reactor, the Chinese barrel ahead.”

  37. While not a huge fan of the Greens, I don’t think it’s accurate to say they’re the greatest enemy of nuclear power. The Greens have never held government, and only now are they really having a bit of an influence (they hold 1 seat in Australia and have several members in the senate).

    The real real enemy of nuclear power is the fossil fuels industry. They’re much more powerful than the Greens.

  38. Many of the newly greens consider they are middle-of-the-road supporters of the precautionary principle and as yet have not thought things through.
    As I lie awake at night there are three things I hear; vegetation growing, desal plants rusting and pennies dropping.
    I think the greens have far more political clout than the FF industry.

  39. Uncle Pete said:

    The Greens are the real enemy of nuclear power.

    Verbally, that is so, but in practice, it is the ALP that is the principle political roadblack to nuclear power, since quite clearly, if they proposed it, the Liberals would support it and we Greens could please ourselves.

    When one asks why the ALP opposes it, it’s largely about the mapping of the issue to left-right division and the potentail to be wedged. I’ve also no doubt that sections of the coal lobby would be outraged if the ALP took this course and would run an RSPT-style campaign against it, with the support of Bolt and Akerman.

    Then there would be the question of compensation to existing industrial polluters to worry about.

    Don’t get me wrong — I’d love this turn of events — but it is not The Greens who are the effective constraint here.

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