For climate’s sake, nuclear power is not an ‘option’, it is a ‘necessity’

[This is an abridged amalgam of writings by me on nuclear power and climate change that I’ve published on BNC and elsewhere over the last two years. It has been updated with some commentary on recent events – the Fukushima Daiichi crisis, Germany’s announced withdrawal from nuclear energy, and so on. I hope you find it useful].

Let’s start by establishing some common ground between my views and those ‘traditional’ environmentalists who oppose nuclear energy. As the Director of Climate Science and active researcher on the impacts of global warming on the biosphere at the University of Adelaide (Australia), I understand the seriousness of the climate crisis and the imperative for a rapid transformation of our energy system to technologies that emit no carbon when generating power. I also agree that atomic weapons pose substantial risks to the security of global society and need strict regulation, and that issues of nuclear safety must be held to high standards. I also suspect that most environmentalists recognise the dangers that many countries face – including Australia, Germany, Japan and so on – in being dependent of foreign oil for transportation infrastructure and agriculture, two of the arteries of the economy. Indeed, it is in the interest of all nations needs to move to energy independence that is based on clean, sustainable sources.

However, where I part way with many environmentalists in on our view as to what the solutions to these problems are. Many well-intentioned people hope to see a world without nuclear weapons or nuclear power, and unfortunately consider (wrongly) that the two are irrevocably intertwined. In the typical environmentalist worldview (I am, of course, deeply environmentally conscious), nuclear power is not only dangerous, but also unnecessary. Renewable energy, from sunlight, wind, waves and plant life, are clearly the answer, they believe. This is a widespread view – almost ‘common wisdom’ – and would be perfectly acceptable to me if the numbers could be made to work. Unfortunately, they can’t, and there is no prospect of this changing.

To keep things in proper context, let’s quickly review the challenge. In the developed world (US, Europe, and other members of the OECD), we’ve enjoyed a high standard of living, linked to cheap fossil energy. This has encouraged energy profligacy, and we clearly and should cut back on wastage where feasible (and in situations where it is not being done due to market failures) – but this doesn’t remove the fact that we must also replace oil and gas, and that means a future surge in electrical substitution. In the bigger, global picture, however, there is no realistic prospect of even reducing traditional stationary power demand. A third of the world’s people have little or no access to electricity yet strongly aspire to get it. Even if a country like India, with more than 1 billion people, reached just a quarter of Australia’s per capita use, that country’s national energy demand would more than triple! It’s a huge challenge.

If we aim for society to be nearly completely powered by zero carbon sources by mid century, what is the size of the task? This might require 8 to 10 thousand gigawatts of electrical capacity, worldwide. Let’s say we were to do it all with wind and solar. Even if we ignore the substantial issue of energy storage and backup, this would still require building 1,200 huge wind turbines and/or carpeting 45 square kilometres of desert with mirror fields, every day, for forty years. For wind, this would consume 1.25 million tonnes of concrete and 335,000 tonnes of steel. For solar, it would be 2.2 million tonnes of concrete and 690,000 tonnes of steel. That’s what’s required to be built every single day, for decades and decades. What if we did it with nuclear power? Using the AP1000 design currently being deployed in China, we’d have to build two reactors every three days, using 160,000 tonnes of concrete and 10,000 tonnes of steel per day. Once again, a massive task, but one that is substantially less material- and land-intensive than the wind and solar options. When large-scale energy storage and its required peak-capacity overbuilding is considered, the numbers blow out ever further in favour of nuclear.

So let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that because the task for nuclear seems huge, the renewable alternative is the only sensible choice. The hard truth is that it will be inordinately tough no matter what route we choose.

Now let’s consider further the nuclear pathway. Since the 1970s, when the Sierra Club and other prominent environmental groups switched from being general supporters (a better option than large hydro dams) to trenchant detractors, nuclear power has fought an ongoing battle to present itself as a clean, safe and sustainable energy source. Today, a mix of myths and old half-truths continue to distort people’s thinking on nuclear power, whereas rose-tinted glasses are worn when looking at the other low-carbon technologies. Crises like that which occurred in 2011 in Japan at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, triggered by a massive earthquake and tsunami impacting a 1960s vintage reactor technology, amplify these feelings for many people. Yet, given the global environmental challenges we must deal with in the coming decades, closing off our options on nuclear energy would be downright dangerous. Alas, I predict that the Germans will discover this quickly – already, two-dozen new coal-fired power stations are being planned.

Some of the other regularly raised concerns about nuclear energy are that uranium supplies will run out, long-lived radioactive waste will be with us for 100,000 years, large amounts of carbon dioxide are produced over the nuclear cycle, it’s too slow and costly, and a build-up of nuclear power will increase the risk of weapons proliferation. Yet the surprising reality is that most of these perceived disadvantages of nuclear power don’t apply now, and none need apply in the future. As other well-known environmentalists like climatologist James Hansen, Gaia-theory proponent James Lovelock, and environmental columnist George Monbiot have said, we just have to get serious about this.

Worldwide, nuclear power is not going away (although equally, it is not currently being deployed at a rate anywhere near sufficient to displace fossil fuels any time soon). Of the G20 economic forum nations, 15 have nuclear power, four are planning to take it up in the near future, although now, as noted above, Germany have stated that they wish to phase out their use within 10 years (we will see). An interesting fact that most people are unaware of is this: the countries that currently have commercial nuclear power already cover almost 80% of global greenhouse gas emissions. When you add those nations who have commissioned plants, are planning deployment, or already have research reactors, this figure rises to over 90%. I know it’s an over-used cliché, but the nuclear genie truly is out of the bottle, and it is pointless discussing how to try and jam the stopper back in. In this context, the oft-repeated claim that new technologies ‘fail the crucial proliferation test’ is asinine nonsense, and counterproductive if our aim is to increase global security. We should instead be discussing seriously how, as a global society, we will use this low-carbon energy source safely and cleanly, with minimal risk and maximal advantage to all nations.

There are about 60 so-called Gen-III reactors under construction, including 25 in China, many more in the late stages of planning. In terms of costs and build times, modular, passive-safety designs, which can be factory built and shipped to site, look to be game changers for the industry. Standardised blueprints with inherent safety systems are the clear way to remove the regulatory ratcheting that killed deployment of nuclear power in the US in the 1980s. France, with 80% of its electricity supplied by nuclear power, is a good example of how it can and should be done. The modern reactor designs are efficient, with capacity factors exceeding 90 per cent, and have a high degree of passive safety based on the inherent principles of physics. For instance, the risk of a meltdown as serious as the Three Mile Island incident in the US (which resulted in no fatalities) for GE-Hitachi’s Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor has been assessed as once every 29 million reactor years. Very low, but not zero. To demand zero is to ask the impossible – of any energy technology, and to ignore the trade off involved in fixing other major environmental problems with extremely high probabilities attached if we DON’T try to tackle the fossil-fuel-elimination problem rationally.

The future of nuclear power is potentially bright, IF we choose to make it so. Although government reports and the media hardly ever mention so-called ‘fast reactors’, these can provide vast amounts of clean, reliable energy for thousands of years. For instance, a technology developed between 1964 and 1994 at the Argonne National Laboratory in the US, the Integral Fast Reactor (IFR), fissions over 99 per cent of the nuclear fuel, leaves only a small amount of waste (one thirtieth of current reactors) which drops below background levels of radiation within 300 years, shuts itself down if the control systems fail or the operators walk away, and its fuel cycle is extremely proliferation resistant. As an added benefit, all of the spent nuclear fuel generated over the last 50 years can be consumed as fuel in these new reactors. The IFR, and other Gen-IV designs using depleted uranium and thorium, offers a realistic future for nuclear power as the world’s primary source of sustainable, carbon-free energy with resources to power the world for millions of years. All the details you need for this, and related technologies, are on this and similar websites.

Ironically, it’s in places like China and India that these Gen IV designs are now being most actively implemented, and we need to do more to support their efforts in a multi-lateral ‘clean fission energy’ initiative. China has just commissioned two commercial fast reactors based on a successful Russian design, the BN-800. India has just announced that it plans to install almost 500 gigawatts of thorium-based nuclear power by 2050 and is opening a 500 megawatt fast reactor in 2012 (it’s currently under construction). The die is cast. It’s time for all energy intensive nations to fast track the deployment of sustainable nuclear. But of course this won’t happen with sufficient urgency until people get realistic about our future energy options. For climate’s sake, we must start thinking critically.

Renewable energy, such as solar and wind, and energy efficiency and conservation, might allow for a partial transition to a low-carbon economy, at a high cost. Indeed, these are realistic prospects for emissions reductions for some countries, such as Australia, with vast land area and relatively few people. For many other countries, including Japan, Germany and Switzerland, with little land and many people, the options (beyond hydroelectricity in some places) are far more limited. Indeed, because of huge material requirements and severe difficulties in managing variability through large-scale energy storage, I am convinced that renewable energy – if pursued to the exclusion of nuclear – will prove to be grossly insufficient and uneconomic in meeting the problems we face. We will need both, but we must accept the great need for concentrated sources of ‘baseload’ energy that are not constrained by geography or intermittency.

Most countries are now moving slowing in progressing their use of nuclear energy, or are rolling them back (or halting them), as evidenced by recent decisions in Germany, Japan, Switzerland and Italy. The best light one can cast on such extreme measures is that such nations have chose to conduct the grand experiments that must, it seems, be tried, before enough of the general populace (and most environmentalists) can be convinced of the reality of the phrase: ‘it’s nuclear power, or it’s climate change’.

So although this is, in one sense, a great concern for me, because I fear it is putting short-term socio-political considerations ahead of long-term need, it perhaps is also inevitable. To me, it’s absolutely clear that we must start the process of deploying sustainable forms of nuclear energy – those which rely on inherent safety systems and full waste recycling – right now. Others, it seems, need more convincing, and failure of alternatives to deploy at scale and within reasonable budget, and to displace fossil fuels and reduce emissions, must be starkly demonstrated. Again, and again, and again. But at some point, things will have to change.

Deutschland muss Atomkraftwerke bauen - my interview with German newspaper FAZ

As a climate scientist, I consider the public dialogue on nuclear power to be every bit as urgent as the debate on carbon prices and the need for climate change adaptation. It is time for the everyman to become nuclear savvy. Yet much of the developed world is dragging its feet when places like China and India are leading – out of necessity, and on the basis of prudent economic and environmental rationality. But probably not fast enough…

Our sustainable energy future depends critically on choices made today. Some countries in the developed and developing world has already made their choice – for them, the only open question is, how big will their nuclear programmes get? For most others, there remains great uncertainty. I urge green groups to become rational ‘Promethean environmentalists’ – ecopragmatists – and support all forms of low-carbon energy such that they can work together and compete on a fair and level playing field to displace coal, gas and oil as quickly as possible. There may be no silver bullet for solving the climate and energy crises, but there are bullets, and two are made of uranium and thorium. As Ben Heard and I say in our sustainable energy choices video, we have to choose to act – now.

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74 Comments

  1. I agree. One question:

    Why is there no discussion of nuclear in the recent Australian government policy paper “Climate Change Plan”? The only place the word “nuclear” is found there is when shutting nuclear projects out from international credits, as in the Kyoto treaty.

  2. This is an excellent and timely post that I hope becomes widely read.

    I would add that that I am horrified by the thought of the cost to biodiversity of the huge areas that would be required for solar power. I think that environmentalists everywhere should be strongly opposed to this and they are likely to be once the reality dawns on them. This cost is too high.

    Nuclear power is the only sensible option for replacing fossil fuels.

  3. Most environmentalists like solar and small, local and intelligent solutions because they didn’t run the numbers yet. Because they like small and local they like low tech solutions. Unfortunately this means they have very little capacity or interest to run numbers or get aquainted with high-tech stuff. The consequence is they don’t understand what a fission product is, or an electron-hole pair. Let’s call these people the low information environmentalists.

    Many low information environmentalists talk about how they like nuclear power as an “option”.

    This indeed appears to be anti-nuclear sentiment in disguise. You either build nuclear or you don’t. That’s the option.

    But the low information environmentalist interpretation is a bit different and you have to read between to lines to understand the motive.

    Low information environmentalists want nuclear power to be debated as an option – so that they can kill it by debating it forever, while sounding reasonable.

    The low information environmentalists must be seduced to run the numbers. Most of them will support nuclear if they learn solar isn’t there 80 to 90% of the time, and requires 10x more materials than nuclear. And the fact that nuclear power is a million times more energy dense than fossil fuel so all problems of waste etc are literally a million times smaller.

    However the low information environmentists will take time to process this. They must go through a process of creative and objective thinking that will challenge many of their worldviews that have been raised to the status of gospel. So, they must go through an identity crisis, this will take time.

  4. By the way, the map of Germany’s nuclear stations above is a good example of the emotional negativity that surrounds all things nuclear.

    Notice the color choice here. First the plants are all black – the color of evil. Then the plants that have been stopped are green – the color of safe, good, environmentally conscious. The plants that are still in operation have a red dot – the color of danger.

    This is so illogical its obviously anti-nuclear. A logical choice is green = plant is on, red = plant is off.

    Don’t underestimate this type of PR. Gazprom can pay lots of PR people to make scary negative images of nuclear things.

  5. Alas, I predict that the Germans will discover this quickly – already, two-dozen new coal-fired power stations are being planned.

    To move backwards like this from zero carbon generation to more fossil fuels is reprehensible. What do the environmental organisations of the world make of this? For my part I can’t see it as anything other than an utter betrayal.

    They are hypocrites. Germany didn’t stop using oil after the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, yet both accidents – Fukushima and Gulf of Mexico – are comparable in their consequences. That is, they have both been damaging to their local environments. Where they differ of course is that, accidents aside, oil is also hugely damaging, on a daily basis, to the world environment, where as nuclear power is quite the opposite. I don’t know how Merkel can shut down nuclear power but not oil without feeling a deep, deep sense of shame.

  6. If the Germans hope to achieve their promised 40% emissions reductions while closing their nuclear power plants and spending their climate change budget on building new coal plants, what could they really do if they gave a damn about the planet?

  7. When you say things like,

    “For instance, the risk of a meltdown as serious as the Three Mile Island incident in the US (which resulted in no fatalities) for GE-Hitachi’s Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor has been assessed as once every 29 million reactor years.”

    …you should really provide a link. If not a link, at least a source. If not a source, at least tell us who’s doing the assessing.

    With so much hysteria and propaganda being flung around by both sides of this debate, nobody should take any notice of a claim made without a source. When you do this kind of thing, people who have been following this debate are obviously going to take you less seriously.

  8. A summary of the PRA for the ESBWR is here: http://www.ne.doe.gov/np2010/pdfs/esbwrPRA.pdf

    Further details in the 20-chapter report lodged by GE at the NRC:

    http://pbadupws.nrc.gov/docs/ML0718/ML071830102.pdf

    Are your really saying you take me less seriously now, because those hyperlinks were not included in the original essay?

    Also, why would I wish or need to resort to ‘propaganda’ on nuclear energy. What possible benefit would that bring? Is there anything else in the essay, edmundintokyo, that you consider propagandist?

  9. I have no idea what agenda you may or may not have, but following the link, the claim seems to be by GE, who are trying to sell the reactor. Have I got that right? If so, it seems like the kind of thing that has a bearing on how much credibility we put on the “once every 29 million reactor years” number, don’t you think?

  10. There are studies which postulate that supplying Germany with 100% renewable energy is possible:

    http://www.umweltdaten.de/publikationen/weitere_infos/3997-0.pdf

    (in English)

    I have not yet taken a detailed look at the study myself. The authors claim that significant storage of renewable energy is possible using synthetic gas and the existing gas grid. It’s not terribly efficient though and there is still the possibility of significant methane leakage.

    It may be possible in an industrialized country with a declining population, but at what economic cost? And what are the “hidden emissions”?

    Anyway, how did you come to get an interview with the German daily FAZ, Mr Brook?

  11. Without a significant price on carbon emissions, coal is much more economical than renewables. Also the decision to shut down seven nukes caused a gap in supply to open for the next couple of years.

    I’m not anti-nuke, on the contrary. Increasing the share of nuclear electricity generation, augmented by renewables, would be the most sensible path for Germany to go down when it wants to slash CO2 emissions from the energy sector as soon and as economically as possible.

  12. @Cyril R 8:55 PM

    Re “low information environmentalists” – I believe this is also true about the numbers and data around climate change. People themselves do not have the time, aptitude, training or inclination to “run the numbers” themselves. They instead accept the “consensus”; actually they really accept “the consensus” that best fits their preconceived worldview, since there are several “consensus” out there.

    This is the human condition. Francis Bacon 1561-1626 observed “Man prefers to believe what he prefers to be true”.

    Barry illustrates this when he writes “In the typical environmentalist worldview (I am, of course, deeply environmentally conscious), nuclear power is not only dangerous, but also unnecessary. Renewable energy, from sunlight, wind, waves and plant life, are clearly the answer, they believe. This is a widespread view – almost ‘common wisdom’ – and would be perfectly acceptable to me if the numbers could be made to work. Unfortunately, they can’t, and there is no prospect of this changing.”

    As an example of a tiny bit of “running the numbers”, you might read my 17 July 6:52 AM post on Barry’s recent “Climate change updates by the numbers”.

  13. John, there’s a difference between something being technically possible and being possible immediately, on whatever budget the German government is currently willing to spend, with as little lifestyle change as they’re currently able to put up with.

    I think it’s very easy to make the argument that if Germany isn’t going to spend any more money or make substantial lifestyle changes, they’d be better sticking with nuclear rather than coal. But that doesn’t convince everyone in the environmental movement, because they want to shift the money spent and the lifestyle changes as well.

    If I’m reading him right, Barry Brook is saying that even if the environmentalists get what they want on money spent and lifestyles changed, they’ll still need nuclear. That’s a much bolder claim than just saying that Merkel stopping nuclear and switching to coal is a dumb idea.

  14. Thanks for that link, Barry.

    Here’s what seems to be the equivalent (I googled “PSR”, which the NRC doc said is what the Japanese call it) on Fukushima 1-1:

    http://www.tepco.co.jp/nu/f1-np/press_f1/2010/pdfdata/bi0b08-j.pdf

    Turns out we only get a core compromise once every 39 million years, and a containment failure once every 13 million years.

    Maybe we just got unlucky, but I have a suspicion that these numbers don’t fully account for the risks involved, and shouldn’t be quoted uncritically as if they tell us how safe the plants are. (Maybe they’re meant for “within design parameters”, ie don’t account for once-in-1000-year events that knock out all the defence-in-depth cooling sources at the same time?)

  15. Great piece Barry!

    Marion, Germany’s move to build more fossil fuel plants has been matched by Japanese PM Naoto Kan: he’s proposing a phase-out of nukes with the resulting energy loss offset by new fossil fuel plants:

    http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/nn20110713a4.html

    There has been much disagreement on this from his cabinet, and he was forced to admit this was a personal wish.

    What horrifies me about Kan and Merkel’s wishy-washy plans for the future of energy production in their countries is that they both have degrees in physics – they should be able to get an intuitive feel for the numbers, and know enough about the potential devastation coming their way from climate change to put the brakes on such things – but it seems that political survival comes first…

    Edmundintokyo: Barry’s claim is hardly bold – just stating the facts. The renewables ‘miracle’ is vastly over-hyped. In Japan we do have wind power potential in Hokkaido, Tohoku and Kyushu but in addition to not having the grid to shift the power to where it is needed, Japanese turbines need to be hardened against typhoons, wind gusts and lightning strikes – thus much more expensive than the European baselines. For hydro potential Mitsuishi et al (2009) estimate that Japan’s hydro power could be doubled, which is good but hardly the route to zero-carbon. Softbank’s plan for solar power stations on abandoned agricultural land faces problems in that a lot of the donated land is in areas with major snowfall in winter (Hokkaido, Nagano), and that (as usual) peak output is being pushed as meaning ‘sustained output. Geothermal is also being pushed as a boon – but we don’t have any large geothermal plants in Japan – and I wonder how they’d react to a large quake (and the same goes for hydro dams). And how do we store this intermittent energy? Large arrays of batteries seem impracticable – and hydro storage runs up against the low hydro potential of Japan and the hazards of quake damage to such facilities.

    Barry’s being very level headed.

  16. To what reactor type does that Japanese PSR refer? (given that the linked doc is in Kanji, I can’t tell – I can only read the probabilities to which you refer). The equivalent PRA for a BWR of that vintage in the US, based on the 1970s PRAs (Rasmussen 1975), was about 1 in 25,000 reactor years, so I don’t know where the extremely high numbers come from if they do refer to the type of design at FD 1-1.

    The Gen III+ designs like the AP1000 and ESBWR incorporate passive safety systems (e.g. gravity-fed cooling with convection-based cycling of water within the containment building) which are designed to avoid the sort of common mode failure of engineered-powered backup systems that caused the serious problems at the Fukushima units, and greatly reduce vulnerability to extended station blackouts.

  17. Barry, in light of Fukushima…we need to address the passive safety issue with regards to loss of grid connections and station power.

    1. How many days can, say, an AP-1000 go (I’ve heard its 3) without *any* restored grid connection?
    2. What has been the plan to contain an accident if it goes beyond the 3 days?
    3. The EPR’s safety features include multiple cooling pumps in the core to circulate water should one pump fail. What about station power not being available?

    I think these are important questions.

  18. EdmundinTokyo: The earthquake was a rare event – it was the fourth-largest earthquake in recorded history. (Granted, the nuclear plant location in Japan changes the odds a bit. The creation of a large tsunami after a large earthquake is also quite rare.

    My guess is that the recurrence frequencies you quote were based on combinations of Gaussian probabilities assuming independent events. However, for rare events one should consider using a log-normal distribution function. This would dramatically alter the expected recurrence frequency — still a rare event, but not as rare as it might otherwise seem to be.

    Dan

  19. Dan – sure, it was rare – tsunamis that size apparently happen on that coast about once every 1000 years. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-12740649 (The earthquake was big, but Fukushima was a long way from the epicenter.)

    That said, there must be a bunch of other once-in-1000-years seismic events in Japan with the ability to knock out one of 40 nuclear power stations. Fukushima was unlucky, but 1 Japanese Fukushima in 50 years might just be par for the course. If not quite that likely, maybe 1 in 200?

    Germany obviously doesn’t have these kind of problems, but just on the basis of having complicated machines on our unpredictable planet run by us monkeys, let alone looking at the record of the existing ones, I have a hard time imagining how anyone can hear a number like 1 TMI per 29 million reactor years without their bullshit detectors going off, however elegant the design.

    That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t use nuclear power, especially when the alternative is coal, but let’s not kid ourselves about the risks.

  20. Edmundintokyo: I am saying the same thing as you are about rare events — but in terribly clever statistics-talk instead of plain language. Normal distributions don’t apply to rare events. Period.

    Dan

  21. > loss of grid connections and station power.

    Yep. I wish the nuclear industry were building alternative power sources for their own plants, adjacent to them, directly connected on an emergency switch — to be available as last-ditch emergency local power suppliers for their systems — instead of arguing against them.

    Some combination of electricity from wind/solar/thermal storage/geothermal certainly remains uncompetitive as a grid supply compared to big coal or nuclear (ignoring externalized costs)

    But– built next to each fission plant– that would be damn cheap when the local grids across a wide area do go down for a few weeks — or months. How many fission plants would survive with loss of the grid _and_ transportation _and_ refineries _and_ communication — widespread blackouts that last as long as we know they will?

    Seen in that light, it’s cheap insurance that pays for itself slowly over time.

    And we _know_ that will happen again.

    http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2003/23oct_superstorm/

    Probabilities? Well, as with fission plants, the probability of one single kind of event may be low; but when they interact in ways not understood one kind of problem may make others happen too.

    How long til this again?

    “What happened in 1859 was a combination of several events that occurred on the Sun at the same time. If they took place separately they would be somewhat notable events. But together they caused the most potent disruption of Earth’s ionosphere in recorded history.”

    http://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0273117706000214 is one study on the effects of the flares over several days in 1859.

    How to justify taking precautions?
    Hat tip to Stewart Brand for expressing it well in a discussion of crop genetics:

    —- excerpt follows —

    “I would not replace the precautionary principle. Its name and founding idea are too good to lose. But I would shift its bias away from inaction and toward action with a supplement—­the vigilance principle, whose entire text is: “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”

    The precautionary principle by itself seeks strictly to stop or slow new things, even in the face of urgent need. Precaution plus vigilance would seek to move quickly on new things.

    Viewed always in the context of potential opportunity, a new device or technique would be subjected to multidisciplinary scrutiny and then given three probationary categories for ongoing oversight:

    1) provisionally unsafe until proven unsafe;
    2) provisionally safe until proven safe;
    3) provisionally beneficial until proven beneficial.

    As the evaluation grows more precise over time, public policy adjusts to match it.”

    http://web.me.com/stewartbrand/DISCIPLINE_footnotes/5_-_Green_Genes.html

  22. Marion Brook: “Fukushima and Gulf of Mexico – are comparable in their consequences.”

    The Japanese are trying to reduce their exposure to radiation to LESS THAN THE NATURAL BACKGROUND!!!!!!!   You did know that there is natural background radiation didn’t you?   How else would we date Egyptian mummies with the radioactive carbon they ate thousands of years ago?

    It was the tsunami that did most of the killing and the mandatory evacuations that killed the nursing home residents. The reactors have not leaked enough radiation to match the natural background.

    See:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Background_radiation

    http://www.unscear.org/unscear/en/publications/2000_1.html

    “Power to Save the World; The Truth About Nuclear Energy” by Gwyneth Cravens, 2007 Page 98: There is a table of millirems per year from the
    background in a list of inhabited places.
    Chernobyl: 490 millirem/year
    Guarapari, Brazil: 3700 millirem/year
    Tamil Nadu, India: 5300 millirem/year
    Ramsar, Iran: 8900 to 13200 millirem/year
    Zero excess cancer deaths are recorded. All are natural except for Chernobyl.
    Page 17: Coal kills 24000 Americans and 400000 Chinese every year.
    Page 75: A coal fired power plant gives you 100 to 400 times as much radiation as a nuclear power plant.

    http://www.ornl.gov/ORNLReview/rev26-34/text/coalmain.html

    The truth is, all natural rocks contain most natural elements. Coal is a rock. The average concentration of uranium in coal is 1 or 2 parts per million. Illinois coal contains up to 103 parts per million uranium. Coal also contains the radioactive decay products of uranium. A 1000 million watt coal fired power plant burns 4 million tons of coal each year. If you multiply 4 million tons by 1 part per million, you get 4 tons of uranium. Most of that is U238. About .7% is U235. 4 tons = 8000 pounds. 8000 pounds times .7% = 56 pounds of U235. An average 1 billion watt coal fired power plant puts out 56 to 112 pounds of U235 every year. There are only 2 places the uranium can go: Up the stack or into the cinders.

  23. @Asteroid Miner
    I cannot comprehend why you ask Marion Brook the snide question:

    You did know that there is natural background radiation didn’t you?

    .
    Nothing in her comment could lead to a belief that she did not. Actually Marion is Barry’s sister – ergo I think she just might know quite a lot about radiation and nuclear power. She is also the producer of the “Two countries” video Barry has used on this post and in previous posts and on YouTube and the creator of the community activism/FAQ pages for BNC.
    I think you should be more careful before you cast aspersions and at least do some research into a commenter’s background and previous comments. You owe her an apology.

  24. I think you are going to find that anti-nukes are no longer big on the issue of background radiation. It was never actually the point and we have to adjust our own argumentation around this.

    The argument now is over the development of solid cancers via injection or inhalation of radionuclides. It’s a different issue and has to be approached differently. Thus, the issue of cesium *particles* in the soil is very important in Japan right now, not background radiation, per se.
    MODERATOR
    Your comment is off topic on this thread. Please move to an appropriate thread on radiation or an Open Thread.As per BNC comments policy, further off topic comments will be deleted.

  25. The ingestion of a particle of some radionuclide, radiocaesium, whatever, gives you a certain amount of radiobiological effective dose to certain tissues within your body. We can calculate what that effective dose will be to different parts of the body, using the established science of health physics.

    A millisievert of equivalent dose to a certain part of the body’s tissue is a millisievert of equivalent dose to a certain part of the body’s tissue, and it does not make any difference whether it comes from ingested Cs-137 or from ingested natural background Ra or Rn or K-40 or whatever.

    Some of the anti-nuclearists imply that there is something fantastically, almost supernaturally, dangerous about ingestion or inhalation of the synthetic fission-product radionuclides such as Cs-137. There isn’t.

    A normal adult human body contains about 8 kBq of natural radioactivity within the body; mainly K-40, C-14, H-3 and Rb-87. There’s nothing particularly different about, say, Cs-137.

    Internal contamination with ingested Cs-137 can be managed with certain drugs that will chelate the caesium and help it be excreted, the most common of which would be Prussian blue. Not particular dissimilar to treating exposure to a toxic but radiologically stable heavy metal with an appropriate chelating agent, really.

    If there was any person for which it was actually genuinely medically indicated – where they actually really did have any significant internal body burden of ingested Cs-137 – then they would be administered an appropriate agent, like Prussian blue. We have experience in the medical management of this kind of thing, from things like the Goiânia accident, where people were exposed to Cs-137 contamination at concentrations much higher than what we’re seeing around Japan.

    But anyhow, I suspect I’m getting a little bit off topic for this thread.
    MODERATOR
    You are right Luke – it is off topic and I have advised DW of the same.

  26. @ Asteroid Miner

    I believe my error was in a misplaced full stop (it was late – I was tired). It should have read: “…both accidents – Fukushima and Gulf of Mexico – are comparable in their consequences, that is, they have both been damaging to their local environments.”

    The comparison I was making was that the two accidents had only local consequences where as the normal daily use of oil has global consequences far beyond anything an isolated accident – nuclear or otherwise – could induce. I stand by that. However I do thank you for your response since, apoplectic fit aside, it helps to put into perspective the relative magnitude of the damage each accident has had on it’s local environment and therefore serves to strengthen my initial point i.e. the hypocrisy inherent in Germany closing down it’s nuclear plants when it is fossil fuels that are doing the real damage.

    For anyone who wishes to compare the two accidents the following describes the reach and effects of the Gulf disaster:

    http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/programs/public_lands/energy/dirty_energy_development/oil_and_gas/gulf_oil_spill/index.html

    And the link below reports on the results of one of the first studies to come out of Fukushima since the accident.

    http://www.nature.com/news/2011/110713/full/475154a.html?WT.ec_id=NATURE-20110714

    I think the above indicates that the Fukushima accident is going to be the least environmentally damaging of the two but I don’t think one could say, based on this initial report, that there has been no damage at all.

  27. Thanks Marion, for the link , it is so refreshing to get hard data out of Japan at the moment. It is so sad that what seems to be hysteria is causing the Japanese to scrape up their own precious soil and bury it elsewhere. Alternatives to growing food in technically over-the-limit soil must surely include such non-human-food items as flax, horse feed, biofuels, park land and so on. However the fission products are being treated as though they are intolerable aliens rather than merely exotic.

    If instead of a nuclear plant at Fukushima, there had been a coal-fired plant, millions of tons of fly ash would have been distributed in the environment, including spreading on fields as a soil improver . Fly ash particles are aggregates of mineral crystals, glued together with an unstable low-soda glass, so they leach out a variety of trace elements, some of which are sought-after by agricultural scientists. However they also release the uranium, in already high burden in the original coal, along with all the daughters of uranium — excepting the current radon, which goes out in the exhaust gas so that its daughters get spread across the environment anyway.

    There seems to be no hysteria attached to such exotic elements in Japanese croplands. Perhaps we could argue that, among the exotic elements, the fission products have negligible significance.

  28. I agree with Barry. But transforming the world to a nuclear base will not happen any time soon. There will be several shocks to the world before we see a nuclear future. First there will be an economic collapse caused by too much debt. Then rising oil prices will prevent an economic recovery from that collapse, possibly for decades. Then about mid century we will know for sure that the oceans will be rising for the next 200 years, possibly at a rate of 1 ft per year by the end of the century as the polar regions nearly completely melt. The lack of oil, the immense amount of CO2 in the air, the rapidly rising oceans, and the lack of fossil fuels later this century will cause much starvation. Only countries that have long range energy planning and city planning will survive the harsh conditions at the end of this century. But out of that ruin will come new incentives to develop nuclear power, not as we see it today, but from new ideas. That’s my prediction.

  29. It needs to be pointed out that conventional light water reactors LWRs suck! They should have been outlawed 50 years ago. However, the author is correct, nuclear is not only necessary, but a molten salt thorium fluoride reactor is hands down, the only logical way to produce electrical power. It does not build up a massive fission product inventory and thus does not have any potential for a massive release of fission products. It consists of little more than a pump, a pipe with a bulge, a steam generator, and a bunch of thorium fluoride salt. Best of all, a single core the size of a conventional LWR core could power the state of California! Reasonable estimates are it could produce electricity for a fourth of either coal or natural gas. LWRs, on the other hand are an unmitigated cluster>>>>>. In conclusion, nuclear LWRs are an abomination whereas nuclear molten salt reactors rock!.

  30. edmundintokyo, on 18 July 2011 at 3:04 AM said:

    , I have a hard time imagining how anyone can hear a number like 1 TMI per 29 million reactor years

    You have to look at the ‘design basis’ events.

    In the US licensing is a 2 step process. The first is ‘design license’. The GE reactor has a PRA of 1/29 million reactor years if a ‘beyond design basis’ event does not occur.

    In the second stage of licensing, the site license, the probability of a ‘beyond design basis’ event occurring is taken into account. Depending on where the reactor is sited that 29 million years could drop substantially.

    Fukushima was a ‘beyond’ design basis event.

  31. Re-posting a comment of mine from Atomic Insigts, this just for replacing one CO2 free energy source with another:

    Some quick calculations about what it would (at minimum) take to replace Indian Point with solar:

    Spain’s Gemasolar has a nameplate capacity of ~20MW, molten salt storage to supply electricity 24h (at least on sunny days), an expected avrage annual capacity factor of 60%, and use 1,85 km^2 of land.

    Indian Point is 2GW, 90% capacity factor and use about 500*750m or 0,375km^2 of land.

    The land use for Indian Point is coarsely estimated with Google Earth. I’m unsure about how much of the nearby industrial area belongs to the power plant.

    To get same average power you would need (2000*0,9)/(20*0,6) = 150 Gemasolar, at ~5 times the area for each or 750 times the total area. This is ~280km^2, or four and two thirds Manhattan.

    That’s not accounting for upstate NY probably being less sunny than Andalucia, and for alternatives on longer period of cloudy days.

  32. edmundintokio said:

    When you say things like,

    “For instance, the risk of a meltdown as serious as the Three Mile Island incident in the US (which resulted in no fatalities) for GE-Hitachi’s Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor has been assessed as once every 29 million reactor years.”

    …you should really provide a link. If not a link, at least a source. If not a source, at least tell us who’s doing the assessing.

    With so much hysteria and propaganda being flung around by both sides of this debate, nobody should take any notice of a claim made without a source. When you do this kind of thing, people who have been following this debate are obviously going to take you less seriously.

    Edmund,
    Providing a link makes no difference. The average lay person’s eyes glaze over when these probability numbers are presented and no amount of links is going to get them to listen.

    I probably have a lower grade education than most of those people on this site (BSME)……and my eyes glaze over at this stuff also.

    and no, I am not providing a link to substantiate my educational background.

  33. CyrilR quote:

    “By the way, the map of Germany’s nuclear stations above is a good example of the emotional negativity that surrounds all things nuclear.

    Notice the color choice here. First the plants are all black – the color of evil. Then the plants that have been stopped are green – the color of safe, good, environmentally conscious. The plants that are still in operation have a red dot – the color of danger.

    This is so illogical its obviously anti-nuclear. A logical choice is green = plant is on, red = plant is off.

    Don’t underestimate this type of PR. Gazprom can pay lots of PR people to make scary negative images of nuclear thing.”

    This brings up a suggestion I have to improve Barry’s video which is presented in his article…… The last Video titled “Sustainable Energy Choices for the 21st Century”….. The whole video is done in black.

    It should be changed so that anytime something nuclear is being presented, it should be green because green is good and black is bad. Leave all the parts about fossil fuels in black.

    I’d also like to see a little animation that shows a nuclear plant surrounded by green fields w/ cows grazing and a farmer harvesting the green below clear blue skies and white puffy clouds. Your portrayal of the coal plant is pretty good—all black w/ lots of black smoke.

  34. Joe, I agree that LFTR is a very good idea that deserves to be investigated. However, your description is a bit over the top. The LFTR will be somewhat more complex than you describe. At least, it will have on-line processing to remove the Xe-137 from the reactor salt, to increase the reactivity and make the reactor easier to control. If you want to burn waste from LWRs, you need faster neutrons, therefore less moderation, and likely two separate salt loops.

    An LFTR has definite safety advantages – especially low pressure in the reactor, so there’s nothing to distribute radioactive products into the environment. However I’m reluctant to say it would be safer than a current generation LWR. (It’s hard to improve on “zero casualties after a catastrophic failure”.) Rather, I’d say the LFTR offers at least as much safety with much less effort – e.g. no containment dome, and passive safety instead of reliance on vigilant operators.

    The cost of deployment will depend on the amount of R&D invested, and the regulatory hurdles.

  35. harrywr2: “In the US licensing is a 2 step process. The first is ‘design license’. The GE reactor has a PRA of 1/29 million reactor years if a ‘beyond design basis’ event does not occur.”

    Thanks, I thought it might be something like that.

    If you’re right, Barry Brook’s article is wrong, and he should correct it. It means it’s untrue that:

    For instance, the risk of a meltdown as serious as the Three Mile Island incident in the US (which resulted in no fatalities) for GE-Hitachi’s Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor has been assessed as once every 29 million reactor years

    What he should have said is that:
    For instance, the risk of a meltdown as serious as the Three Mile Island incident in the US (which resulted in no fatalities) for GE-Hitachi’s Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor has been assessed as once every 29 million reactor years as long as nothing unexpected happened, like it has at 2 out of the 400 reactors built so far.

  36. Agreed.

    The whole assessment & management planning & communication of the risk context must be squeaky clean if ever the technology development is to be done well enough for roll-out and, prior to that, honest and acceptable engagement in the public domain.

    Any suggestion of quantitative trickery destroys trust.

    A mean-time-between-failure based analysis for a complex engineering facility is necessary but not sufficient.

  37. I am going to repost this since it got buried in a poorly written post with too many words:

    Barry,

    This brings up a suggestion I have to improve your video which is presented in his article…… The last Video titled “Sustainable Energy Choices for the 21st Century”….. The whole video is done in black.

    It should be changed so that anytime something nuclear is being presented, it should be green because green is good and black is bad. Leave all the parts about fossil fuels in black.

    I’d also like to see a little animation that shows a nuclear plant surrounded by green fields w/ cows grazing and a farmer harvesting the green below clear blue skies and white puffy clouds. Your portrayal of the coal plant is pretty good—all black w/ lots of black smoke.

    Thx,
    GSB

  38. edmundintokyo, on 19 July 2011 at 7:52 AM said:

    What he should have said is that:
    For instance, the risk of a meltdown as serious as the Three Mile Island incident in the US (which resulted in no fatalities) for GE-Hitachi’s Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor has been assessed as once every 29 million reactor years as long as nothing unexpected happened, like it has at 2 out of the 400 reactors built so far.

    Not exactly…prior to TMI human factors wasn’t part of ‘design basis’…it is now. Given current US NRC regulations…TMI was a ‘within design basis’ accident.

    Even if we look at the GE Mark I model at Fukushima, there are a number of similar models in the US with the electrical switching equipment and emergency generators in the second floor rather then the basement as was the case at Fukushima even though the flooding ‘risk’ is less in the US.

    As far as your math on 2/400. The probability risk assessment is based on reactor operating years. 400 reactors x 30 years = 12,000 operating years which equates to 1/6,000 operating years actual experience. The 1970’s standard was 1/10,000 years.

    Try to find a human activity that won’t result in fatalies once in every 6,000 years of doing it.

  39. As a matter of communication principle the pro-nuclear advocates should always be very clear about what is/is not covered by data – both when presenting own data or critiquing other’s data.

    It matters little if the risk factor – in total – compares favourably with alternatives even with 2,000 reactors operating; if there is a perception that statistics have been “airbrushed” in the past.

    Trust is paramount.

  40. In July’s edition of Engineers Australia the National President Mervyn Lindsay stated that while Engineers Austraia is neutral on the issue of nuclear power, he himself is unashamedly pro nuclear. Because of the misinformation about nuclear power in the media he is urging informed engineers to enter the debate as it is one of the few viable options for 24/7 non carbon base load power currently available to prevent global warming.

    I totally support Merv’s announcement on this vital issue.

  41. Well done Barry. Maybe approach the Advertiser or the Australian and offer your post as an opinion piece. They’re not that good at accepting unsolicited articles but you might get lucky.

  42. Regarding use of red to signify OFF and green to signify ON…

    Red can be interpreted to signify Red for Dangerous = ON, ie energised. It can also signify Red is OFF due to being OUT OF SERVICE. In this case, another colour can signify AVAILABLE; CURRENTLY STANDBY, typically the case when two pumps are available, but only one is actually operating. The other is standing by.

    Confusion is very common, even amongst those designing or using control systems. It is too late now to unscramble the egg.

    The short answer is that colours signify whatever the client and/or local industry standards say that they mean and care must be taken to ensure that local rules are followed.

  43. Pingback: The Inconvenient Skeptic » Nuclear Power for Warmists is a “necessity.”

  44. @Alan, I agree with the trust comment. The strong anti nuclear mood in Japan at the moment is as much about lack of trust of the regulators than it is about the technology. Trust in this sense is really about accountability. I think the industry needs to think about this one a bit harder. I am hoping it is an outcome of the various reviews post Fukushima. It will make the industry stronger.

  45. Trust is paramount.

    While trust may be of importance, you could hardly describe it as “paramount”. If that were true, the constantly lying and deceiving anti-nuclear movement would not have had any success. The fossil fuels industries are hardly trustworthy either, yet they’ve managed to convince everyone to continue buying their products, despite the overwhelming evidence that it is only to our detriment to continue doing so. Neither of these parties can be trusted, yet they continue to strongly influence public policy.

    The pro-nuclear position is by far the most honest energy-advocacy position out there, as far as I’m concerned. The facts speak for themselves – nuclear energy is safer, more environmentally benign, and cheaper (once external costs are counted) than any other large-scale energy production option. And it is the only realistic option for replacing fossil fuels. This is the main point. While it may be scientifically interesting to some, getting into silly arguments about details (such as PRA methodology) is completely missing the point, in my opinion.

  46. Look at it this way then.

    The parties spin their message … gild the lily … half-truths … sunny side up. Each time this happens the opponents rebut and maybe add another spin to their message. The punters are taken back-and-forth, again and again.

    The situation descends into “who do you mistrust least”.

    Of course, when the punter has a pre-disposition to want to believe a particular message, even counter messages which are utterly honest & accurate can be readily dismissed on the basis that the messenger has been less than honest in the past.

    Consider this to be an opportunity to differentiate in the marketplace.

    The KPI should be zero messages which can be shown to be inaccurate, incomplete (for the context) or unsupported.

    Anybody with experience is large scale organisation change will affirm that without significant levels of trust it is almost impossible to influence people to shift.

    From my recent observations the messaging from the pro-nuclear side has been trustworthy … although I was very concerned by TEPCO during the Fukushima incident and remain utterly confused by the debates related to deaths/cancers attributable to irradiation/ingestion (and do not implicitly trust the messaging from the nuclear side on this).

    If there is a desire here to get a ‘movement’ going then great … but already over the last couple of days I have observed incomplete risk information which spins nuclear safety positively and a cartoon used to ridicule another energy sector.

    Not the way to win friends and influence people.

    MODERATOR
    Alan, you are going off topic and starting to derail the thread. This post is about why we need nuclear power to solve the climate problem and not about convincing people about trust on nuclear. Please move subsequent such discussions to the most recent Open Thread.

  47. Alan, that cartoon I linked very correctly ridiculed the reporting on renewable energy “breakthroughs”. I took great pains to go through just two current examples of an apparently inexhaustible supply of precisely the kind of nonsense that was being lampooned by Dilbert. The cartoon’s critique was spot on with respect to those two examples, as I believe I demonstrated with some force.

    Do you think the two “breakthrough” stories I critiqued were not exactly the kind of press releases Dogbert in the cartoon was crafting? That was not satire, that was documentary.

    I don’t understand why you think it was out of place – ridicule it was indeed, but it was demonstrably correct, and points out a real problem in one of the key instruments – science journalism – for informing the public on the critical problem of our age.

  48. Sorry to have taken the discussion off on the tangent over your accident risk numbers, but I think it’s important not to mislead, either intentionally or unintentionally. No need to say any more about it now, but it would be worth your while taking some time to think about what Alan has said.

    Back to the core of your argument, could you provide a bit of context for your numbers on the climate damage caused by renewables? For example, 2.2 million tonnes of concrete for solar sounds like a lot. I wouldn’t like to have to carry it home. But how does that compare to the amount of concrete we’ll be making anyway for other purposes? And how does the CO2 impact compares to the amount we’re putting out generating an equivalent amount with fossil fuels?

  49. Rather than taking the position that they can’t do what they say they’re going to do, I’m wondering what its going to cost. They have to cope with the fact that their population has been spooked over nuclear power. When in Australia, Schellnhuber was quoted as saying Germans are 90% unified about going nuclear free – policy makers simply cannot argue with a political consensus like that, until it changes.

    Germany is the developed world’s success story at the moment – they export more than the United States even though they are only 1/4 the population, they are importing skilled workers, and they have a vigorously growing economy.

    I wonder if you were able to get an idea on what Schellnhuber thinks about your views while he was in Australia?

    That statement about Germans discovering the truth of what you say quickly because “already, two-dozen new coal fired power stations are being planned” – I can’t find evidence for this. It was said a few years ago that about that many plants were on the drawing board but serious opposition materialized to many.

    Reuters report on the opposition http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/03/10/germany-coalplants-idUSLDE7290OR20110310

    Are you talking about they’ve decided they need 24 new plants to replace their nuclear fleet or are you talking about the plants people have been talking about for the last number of years?

    The German Advisory Council on the Environment, http://www.umweltrat.de/EN/TheGermanAdvisoryCouncilOnTheEnvironment/thegermanadvisorycouncilontheenvironment_node.html which says it was established by the German government to offer independent scientific advice to it is saying “a secure and affordable wholly renewable electricity supply is well within reach”, etc.

    Page 7 of this document, http://www.umweltrat.de/SharedDocs/Downloads/EN/06_Background_Information/2010_08_Bonn_Climate_Change_Talks.pdf?__blob=publicationFile which was put out by that German Advisory Council, is a chart that shows what they’re telling themselves various renewables cost now and what they will cost in the coming years up to 2050.

    Offshore wind, touted widely now in Germany as where their power is going to come from (coupled with pumped water storage in Norway) is shown on this chart as costing about 12 – 13 Euro cents per kWh now, declining to 4 Euro cents per kWh by 2050. Solar PV is shown as costing 44 Euro cent kWh now declining to 9 Euro cents kWh in 2050. I assume these figures are for production cost only, minus the new grid they’ll need, minus the pumped storage in Scandanavia, minus anything they can shift off the books, but does it matter?

    This is a country that was bombed back into the Stone Age not that long ago if you consider the time frames we’re considering for transitioning to zero carbon economies, and they’re back on their feet now. If they want to choose what looks like a most difficult and expensive road to take at this time I don’t care. What I find encouraging is that they are taking some steps down a road headed toward lower carbon. I write from the US where as Schellnhuber pointed out when interviewed after his life was threatened for merely showing up to give a talk on climate in Australia, climate denial is stronger than in Oz.

    Germany has had the world’s most aggressive solar subsidy program going for ten years and it cost them a fortune to get about a reactor’s worth of electricity yearly out of it. Their elites seem to understand that plans their population is prepared to accept now are going to cost more than alternatives such as nuclear or carbon capture fitted to coal or gas.

  50. @David Lewis,

    Those German claims for off-shore wind cost look very optimistic. The UK Climate Change Committee is a little more realistic giving ranges of 11.5-15.5p / kWh today and 7.5-12p / kWh in 2040. At today’s exchange rates in Euros, that is 0.13-0.176 and 0.085-0.136

    By comparison nuclear is estimated at today 0.06p – 0.10p and in 2040 0.045-0.095

    http://hmccc.s3.amazonaws.com/Renewables%20Review/The%20renewable%20energy%20review_Printout.pdf

    The size of the interconnects on their map of Europe are eye popping. What if everybody doesn’t want to play this game?

    One thing we do know for certain about displacing fossil fuels is that the cheaper the alternatives are, the more likely it is to happen and the faster the transition will be.

    As for new fossil fuel generation in Germany:

    Germany, which plans to close all its nuclear plants by 2022, should build gas- and coal-fired power stations on those sites with fast-track authorisation for the projects, the country’s economy minister said.

    “I think it is a very clever idea to build fossil-fuel plants on existing sites,” Phillip Roesler told an energy congress in Berlin.

    http://uk.reuters.com/article/2011/06/29/germany-fossil-fuel-idUKLDE75S0RD20110629

    What a clever chap he is!

    Merkel has recently been quoted as stating that Germany needs up to 20GWe of new fossil fuel plants. They are not going to be shutdown five or ten years after they are built.

  51. “Nuclear is not an option” should read “Global Population Reduction is not an option”. Despite many claims to the contary (including your own) there is no technology problem, or economic problem, in reducing DEVELOPED world greenhouse gas emissions by very large amounts:25% by 2020 would be easily achievable by the combination of existing “passive building” technology and separate REDUNDANT roads for lightweight vehicles (no tunnels, but elevated freeways for commuters). McKinsey (yes, those bastions of conservative, big company thinking) have shown this reduction in their “Greenhouse Gas Emmission Reduction” curves, that don’t even include those two above. I am not against nuclear, but I don’t think anything should be allowed to distract from the urgent action which would be taken if people realized they are being taken for a ride by vested interests.
    What we should be saying is, renewable energy doesn’t make sense without greenhouse gas reductions.

  52. For the ordinary citizen, Australia’s adoption of the Kyoto agreement was a symbolic gesture – an acknowledgement of AGW and the need to reduce reliance on fossil fuels. The introduction of a carbon price and transitioning to an ETS entails a fundamental change in how we generate the energy needed to maintain the necessities and the luxuries of our way of life. The debate about it then proceeds on the premise that we don’t want to change those necessities and luxuries, so how much will it cost to maintain them? This is, of course, a far more riveting issue than the acknowledgement of Kyoto.

    Paradoxically, the coalition’s relentless focus on the cost of the change should be a good outcome for the supporters of nuclear power. Assuming that the scheme is adopted into law, it will provide a means of phasing out of coal fired power but without selecting the energy source to replace it. That is to be left to market forces. With the nation’s focus so firmly fixed on the cost aspects of the replacement, this will provide a severe problem for wind and solar technologies, They will have to deliver at an affordable price without being able to hide behind the hope of future improvement in technology to lower their cost at some indeterminate future time.

    So, almost certainly there will be a “transition to gas” as the lesser evil than coal, and at an affordable price. However, from the posts I have seen on this site, this can only be a temporary fix, since gas will start to run out as well, especially if it is needed as a replacement for oil.

    In the meantime we will have the big players like China, India, Russia, Korea etc aggressively building their Gen III and even Gen IV reactors whilst watching Germany get itself in a muddle trying to phase out its old reactors. If they can achieve the build times for these new reactors which have been suggested then we could see some starting to come on line by 2015.

    In the Australian political situation there are two more years for these issues to be debated. If the El Nino bites in the summer of 2012/3 (as is predicted), it will completely wipe out the “let’s wait” attitude which is so prevalent here at the moment, and, with two more years of costs disappointment history for the renewables, that will be an opportune time for the nuclear proponents to push their cause. How seriously nuclear will be considered will depend on the expected timeframe for gas to run out. If it can be seen to have a short duration then nuclear will have to be acknowledged as the only viable alternative.

  53. Chinks in the armour; the new ads if anything may be too brazen or too honest. Check out the geothermal clip in http://www.cleanenergyfuture.gov.au/
    The bloke says it can provide 10% of Australia’s baseload. Er, OK we await developments. Having said it is renewable he then says it (presumably the hot spot) will be exhausted in 100 years.

    The other renewables clip seems to hint that Germany is not ideal for solar energy. Does that necessarily mean other places are? Someone says coal will be with us for a long time. I take it 2050 is considered a long time since we are supposed to be 80% less coal dependent by then. That could happen with or without government policy due to depletion and declining net energy.

    Thus the ads contain no outright porkies but plenty of whimsical thinking.

  54. There is absolutely nothing on the government’s “Clean Energy Future” website that describes a reliable, scalable, baseload, high-capacity-factor, environmentally sound energy generation technology suitable for coal replacement.

  55. I’ve been trying to find some quick indicators of the realism of the Treasury modelling, for example an energy mix pie chart for 2050. For stationary emitters the assumption seems to be a near linear CO2 decline of about 1.5% per annum which somehow preserves economic growth

    http://www.treasury.gov.au/carbonpricemodelling/content/overview/page14.asp

    Assumptions about CCS (in final paragraph) don’t seem convincing. It’s as if an ambulance crew arrived at a highway pile up and announced they had plenty of bandaids and reassuring graphs to look at.

    While carbon tax may create minor efficiency gains the basic flaws remain. Brown coal will not be replaced by gas. The wind and solar build will stop without continued absurdly generous subsidies. Wave power, CCS, geothermal etc are unlikely to get beyond demonstration phase. In other words most of the technology assumptions behind the modelling are implausible.

  56. Although the last three or four comments are interesting, they assumme that we can have a fortress Australia approach to climate change and greenhouse gas reductions. We cant, its global.
    The fact is, without drastic Greenhouse Gas Effeciencies=GGE, there isn’t any reasonable solution, but with GGE of 80%, we (the world)could afford to pay five times as much for energy (fully absorbed cost!)and still be ahead economically: well, until population growth caught up.
    Economic growth in the future will change to the information, computers and communication revolution growth (ICC), with none of the same resource constraints of our current economy: how quickly nobody knows, but Google and Wikipedia are showing us that it can be a lot quicker than we would have believed possible as little as ten years ago.
    Australia needs to: (1) Think global including lead whenever possible on GGE and ICC even though “we” don’t need them (2) Address the strategic issues associated with having an abundance of resources (including renewable energy) in a resource starved world (3) Adapt the wheel rather than reinvent it badly (4) Remeber that there are other problems as well as climate change, like habitat destruction, and over population (5) Above all form partnerships with others who see the problem the same, or similar, ways rather than “go it alone”.

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