Nuclear power isn’t ‘economically feasible’ in Australia, but …

This is an article by Ben Heard and me, published today in The Conversation. I’m republishing it here.

If Australia’s to have nuclear power, there’ll have to be policies to support it.

No sooner had foreign affairs minister Julie Bishop announced that Australia should take a fresh look at nuclear power than Prime Minister Tony Abbott responded that nuclear power would only be supported if it was “economically feasible” and would not receive government subsidies.

Tony Abbott can rest easy in his position knowing this much to be true: thanks to an oversupply of incumbent, polluting electricity in the Australian market, nuclear energy is not economically feasible in Australia … but neither is any other new energy source without a policy to guide investment.

We do it for renewables …

Such a policy is exactly what the Renewable Energy Target is doing for renewable sources, and we are currently seeing what happens when you introduce uncertainty into the sector.

Cut the large-scale renewable energy target, and wind development will halt on a dime.

Cut the small-scale renewable energy scheme, and feed-in tariffs and rooftop solar will fall off a cliff.

Remove carbon pricing (as Australia did in July this year), and serious investment in carbon-capture and storage technology becomes a fantasy.

There is no policy-free pathway to replacing Australia’s established and highly polluting coal- and gas-fired power stations.

Too much electricity

Abbott’s position is reinforced by the current level of over-supply in the National Electricity Market.

Thanks to the combination of an exodus of several large industrial customers in the industrial and manufacturing sector, influx of new wind and solar with the assistance of the Renewable Energy Target, and a greater emphasis on energy efficiency in households, we have seen in the last few years a waning demand for electricity while supply remains high.

So there is no market incentive for investment in new large generation such as nuclear power … or anything else for that matter. Even if there were, this would just be new clean generation on top of old dirty generation.

Whether one prefers the flavour of solar, wind, geothermal, wave or nuclear power, the fact is nothing much will change in the foundations of the Australian energy scene in the foreseeable future unless we demand change. We are not running out of cheap coal; we have to choose to DO something.

Cleanest technologies

However, if we decide that we want to generate electricity without increasing carbon emissions, the story is completely different.

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@bionerd23 rescuing rationality from the suits

Guest Post by Geoff Russell. Geoff recently released the popular book “Greenjacked! The derailing of environmental action on climate change“.

Bionerd23She looks a little like Noomi Rapace playing the legendary Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Not quite so tough, but not someone to mess with. Still, it takes more than a punk hair cut to make a real toughie. In one of her latest YouTube clips, she’s in a state of panic in the back of a minivan whimpering in fear and busily checking the doors and winding up windows. “Oh sh.t, it’s coming, I don’t want to die, it’s coming … f..k!” the voice quivers and the fear is palpable. “this sh.t is dangerous, he’s going to kill you.”

She’s in one of the scariest places on the planet. A place most people wouldn’t send their worst enemy to. But moments before she’s been wandering around like a kid in a candy store with an infectious sense of wonder, happiness and excitement.

The young woman is @bionerd23, a German geek YouTube flicking science student, and she’s at Chernobyl wandering around in the debris from the 1986 steam explosion which blew the top off one of the nuclear reactors and changed the course of history. Without it, more countries would have followed France and rolled out nuclear power and been generating electricity for 70 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour instead of the 850g that is typical in a non-nuclear country like Australia.

@bionerd23 has made a series of youtube clips in Chernobyl. Not your usual “me in front of the fountain” shots, but “Here’s me eating apples off abandoned trees 4km from the Chernobyl reactor” and “Here’s me finding a piece of the graphite core moderator spat out when the reactor exploded in 1986 … wow … look at my Geiger counter maxing out!.

So what’s frightening this radiation warrior?

A fox. This isn’t a red-riding-hood wolf, this is a fox. If you aren’t small and feathery or furry, then a fox is a cute creature with a big bushy tale and come hither eyes. “Wouldn’t you just love to pat me!”.

The facts are that @bionerd23 is behaving pretty bloody rationally because she’s far more brain than brawn … despite the haircut. Foxes carry rabies, Ukraine is a rabies hot spot and healthy foxes don’t normally approach in the middle of the day. If you aren’t vaccinated against rabies and you are bitten and infected, then you will die unless you can quickly get proper treatment … a post-bite vaccination plus some high tech supplemental treatment. Rabies kills about 50,000 people a year globally, which is more every year than the Chernobyl accident has killed in close to 3 decades. At a rough estimate, rabies has killed about 1.4 million more people over the period, but hasn’t changed the course of history.

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Human population size: speeding cars can’t stop quickly

Barry Brook:

I’m reblogging a post from @conservbytes (Corey Bradshaw) about a new paper we have out today on human population growth and environmental problems. There’s a lot of media coverage about it too!

BNC readers will be amused to know that it was based on a BNC blog I did on population and climate a few years ago. http://bravenewclimate.com/2011/09/19/population-no-cc-fix-p1

If you want a PDF copy of the full paper, let me know.

Originally posted on ConservationBytes.com:

Stop breeding cartoon-Steve Bell 1994Here at ConservationBytes.com, I write about pretty much anything that has anything remotely to do with biodiversity’s prospects. Whether it is something to do with ancient processes, community dynamics or the wider effects of human endeavour, anything is fair game. It’s a little strange then that despite cutting my teeth in population biology, I have never before tackled human demography. Well as of today, I have.

The press embargo has just lifted on our (Barry Brook and my) new paper in PNAS where we examine various future scenarios of the human population trajectory over the coming century. Why is this important? Simple – I’ve argued before that we could essentially stop all conservation research tomorrow and still know enough to deal with most biodiversity problems. If we could only get a handle on the socio-economic components of the threats, then we might be able to make some real…

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Short hiatus (gone south…)

Well, it’s come at last — I’m currently in the throes of my move (southwards retreat!) to Tasmania. Such is the upheaval involved in a large inter-state move (from the mainland to an island, no less!) that I will be unlikely to be in a position to post any new material on the BNC blog for a few weeks. But be assured, once I’m settled in my new deep-austral abode, I should once again be able to give due attention to this domain!

Destination: southern Tasmania!

In the meantime, a few interesting things to read, in case you’ve not already caught these:

  1. Think we’ll ever run out of nuclear fuel? Think again… http://www.journalogy.net/Publication/50514377/nuclear-fission-fuel-is-inexhaustible
  2. Prescription for the Planet book is now FREE (the whole book as one PDF): http://www.thesciencecouncil.com/pdfs/P4TP4U.pdf

  3. “Technical rationale for metal fuel in fast reactors” — read this to better understand why the IFR offers such outstanding benefits for sustainable energy. Despite the title, it’s actually quite readable (!), and lots of useful diagrams: http://www.kns.org/jknsfile/v39/JK0390161.pdf?PHPSESSID=2d3b18b9d415e3c564b40853e16fe3d7

  4. The Australian Academy of Technology Sciences & Engineering has released an action statement on nuclear power. There is also a WNN editorial that discusses it in some detail.

See you when I get to the other side of ‘The Ditch’!

Deep Space

Now for something different…

I’ve always been an avid astronomy hobbyist, ever since I spent my teen years at Siding Spring Observatory — Australia’s largest professional site for optical observations. My Dad worked (and we lived) onsite, as an electronics technician keeping the critical equipment running. As a consequence, I got to live on a mountain, in a national park, and be exposed to real science from an early age!

Anyway, I’ve recently had a chance to take up my amateur astronomy pursuits again, and this time to try my hand at some astrophotography. I own good-quality but relatively inexpensive equipment right now (most of my imaging to date has been done through an 80mm ED refractor and either a Sony NEX-3 DSLR camera or an Orion StarShoot G3 monochrome CCD). Apparently astrophotography is a bottomless money pit — there is always the next upgrade to look to! But one step at a time.

Anyway, here are a few of my recent images that I thought you might enjoy — or want to critique. They were taken in the relatively light-polluted skies of suburban Adelaide, but I’ll soon (in one month, in fact) be moving to a much darker site in southern Tasmania. Did I tell you all that I’ve taken a new job at the University of Tasmania?

Here is the selected gallery, with full capture details and higher-rez versions in the link to the Astrobin AP hosting website.

NGC 253, the ‘Silver Coin’ galaxy in Sculptor (http://www.astrobin.com/118924)

NGC253_ED80TCF_SSG3_Sept14

M42, the Orion Nebula (details here: http://www.astrobin.com/117345)

M42_ED80T_SSG3

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