Discussion Thread: Should Gen III nuclear power precede Gen IV in Australia?

Geoff Russell’s recent article on IFR has provoked (in the comments section) a sustained (quite fascinating) discussion on the pros and cons of ‘going nuclear’ in Australia. One of the topics that’s come up is whether there should be a transition from Generation III+ (e.g. ESBWR, AP-1000) to Generation IV (e.g. IFR, LFTR) nuclear power. This Gen III stepping stone is obviously already a reality in many places (e.g., China, Finland, France); but what about countries, like Australia, that currently don’t have any nuclear power?

Is Gen III a necessary transition, given that commercial-scale Gen IV is at least 5 to 7 years off [if we get really serious about it]. Or, would support for Gen III give the impression that Gen IV is just a Trojan horse? [if so, can this be avoided?]

Useful background reading for this thread, which summarises my views, can be found here: A sketch plan for a zero-carbon Australia. Some of these ideas have already been chewed over on the Climbing Mount Improbable thread.

Note: This is not intended to be a discussion about whether or not Australia should have nuclear power — that is a different topic. This thread is for discussion of the currently hypothetical situation where Australia has decided to adopt nuclear power as part of its move to a zero carbon economy. In this context, how should we proceed?

By Barry Brook

Barry Brook is an ARC Laureate Fellow and Chair of Environmental Sustainability at the University of Tasmania. He researches global change, ecology and energy.

96 replies on “Discussion Thread: Should Gen III nuclear power precede Gen IV in Australia?”

To kick this off, here is a comment I made recently in another thread:

Tom Blees has emphasised that the rapid rollout of IFRs is not impeded by a technological barrier. The impediment is the ‘vision thing’. Most governments rolling out NPP are looking to Gen III because they’re here and proven commercially (and Gen III+ is just an evolutionary, not revolutionary advance on these). But they’re even reticent about the newest versions such as the AP-1000 or ESBWR [the Economic & Simplified Boiling Water Reactor], which is why the French and Finnish are building the possibly already outdated EPR [European Pressurised Reactor] and the Japanese/Taiwanese/Yanks are all still looking at the ABWR [Advanced BWR — certified in 1997]. It’s well summarised here:

“GEH is selling this [the ESBWR] alongside the ABWR, which it characterises as more expensive to build and operate, but proven. ESBWR is more innovative, with lower building and operating costs and a 60-year life.”.

It’s all about the perceived trade-off between potential [huge] advantages of Gen IV vs the ‘security’ of proven-up Gen III/III+. We’re not being bold enough.

So I misspoke. We don’t need 1000+ Gen III reactors — we could do it all with IFRs, starting soon (within 5 years). Reality is though, we’re likely to get 100s of Gen III+ before a significant number of IFRs are getting built, even if the IFR certification and full commercial demonstration is super-fast-tracked by Obama. It doesn’t need to be this way, but that is how it is looking. China, for instance, has around 100 x AP-1000s on the books. At least we know that there is no point blocking these, because their fuel supply limitations are irrelevant (enough U-235 to power them all to retirement) and their long-lived waste gets eaten by IFRs. They’re also quite proliferation resistant (not as much as IFRs) and still extremely safe (not as safe as IFRs, but all new designs have many passive systems).

My view is that we push Gen IV/IFRs as the ultimate solution that must be pursued vigorously, but don’t let a slower-than-ideal uptake block the ongoing development of nuclear power in the interim. I’d be interested in other’s thoughts on this.

Ideally, we’d go straight to IFR. If not ready, I still suggest we go to a Gen III+ design. Why? Say IFR or LFTR, for some inexplicable reason, doesn’t work out. Gen III+ are bad then, right? (because of the HLW problem, primarily). Well, that’s quite true, but my feeling is that at this stage of the game, we’ll have so many other things to worry about, climate and energy wise, that a few extra tonnes of HLW is going to be the least of our concerns.

Of course I see no reason whatsover why IFR won’t work and why it won’t end up being highly successful. And I’ve looked hard and critically to find those showstoppers.


If the Chinese are building so many AP 1000s they can come over here and put one up in a year or so. If it looks nice and works smoothly the doubters will be reassured. Then there will be the extra spectacle of dynamiting a few brown coal stations.

In my view the right place to put the first Gen III is on the Great Australian Bight next to a desal perhaps combining flash and RO. The GAB (not the artesian basin) has cold currents that can cool multiple reactors and disperse salinity. This may not be true of other suggested desal sites. I recall Neil Howes has suggested an HVDC cable from Esperance WA to Pt Augusta SA. Make the nuke one of the nodes. Allow a few hectares to put a Gen IV next to the desal/Gen III when the technology is ready.

As it happens Ceduna on the GAB is only 70km further from Whyalla the nominated desal site for Olympic Dam. It is about 200km closer than Moomba the nominated start point for a gas pipeline for the mine’s power supply. Due to local groundwater depletion precious River Murray water is now being pumped to some towns in that region.

There you have it; starting 2010 build an AP 1000 with Chinese crew next to a desal at Ceduna leaving a paddock next door for a Gen IV. Send water and electricity to Olympic Dam with some surplus power exported to a new national grid and surplus water to parched nearby towns. Build the Gen IV in 2015 or so.


hmmmm – technically Gen IV is the Trojan horse:)

I honestly don’t see where the political support is going to come from for GenIII+. Enough people would be influenced by the greens position to at least vote for the major party that is opposed to nuclear as it is known today, without actually voting green. I just don;t see a major taking it to an election as policy.

In Australia I think we can afford to exploit natural gas, invigorate the renewables sector as best we can given our natural solar advantage, and (I can;t believe I’m saying this) flog the clean coal dead horse (you never know?). I think we are far more likely to follow a path to Gen III should it be obvious it is putting other nations at an economic advantage. I’d rather we played a serious role in progressing GenIV for the 5-7 years for that is where the glory lies.

And if GenIV is 5-7 years away I’d rather wait than get Gen III plants we are stuck with for 30 odd years. You sell Gen IV too well Barry! Why would I eat raw eggs and flour when in a few hours I know there will be chocolate cake?


I honestly don’t see where the political support is going to come from for GenIII+. Enough people would be influenced by the greens position to at least vote for the major party that is opposed to nuclear as it is known today, without actually voting green. I just don;t see a major taking it to an election as policy.

I percieve a way around this difficulty.

For my part, even GenII would be better than coal.


Gen IVs are fueled by U or Th. The IFR is fueled by U-Pu, and the LFTR is fueld by Th-U. India is currently pursuing a 3-stage development plan that will eventuate with commercial Thorium reactors. Some good info here:

That’s a great link SD. The SSTAR is being developed by Livermore Labs and Argonne, and the whole concept of ‘nuclear batteries’ developing fast. I’d agree that they will turn out to be a major energy option, especially for off-grid uses.


I think we will flog the gas horse to our regret. At first it looks tempting with half CO2 compared to coal. A bunch of new combined cycle plants will spring up with the happy result of enabling intermittent sources. Those wind and solar plants will be situated in prominent locales so we think they contribute more than is really the case. James Lovelock calls this a gesture.

At some point we will find ourselves in the same position as UK and California; gas is now expensive and supply is vulnerable. Note these places now want to import LNG from Australia which will mean less domestic gas for us. The thinking that will appeal to Rudd’s inner circle is expressed here.


What we need and will probably get are a lot of new natural gas peak plants. This summer showed SA and VIC that they need more peak power, a better ( higher capacity ) bass-link to hydro in TAS. As wind energy continues to expand(or if nuclear is built) will still need that extra peak power capacity for about 3h a day on the hot summer days.
This will stop new coal fired plants being built so the savings are much better than 50%, more like 90% of CO2 emissions, because the coal-fired will run 24/7.


What I fear is that we will get many new gas plants but the old coal stations will keep chugging away. If there is as much coal seam methane as they reckon the coal lobby might not object to some CSM plant displacing old stations.

I wonder how ETSA’s proposed remote control of aircons will affect summer afternoon peaks?

There is another reason I think the Bight is the place to put several nuclear plants of any type. Since the Brits detonated A-bombs at Maralinga the Greens might think it is no longer hallowed ground.


From the viewpoint of cost and availability, the Indian fast breeder reactor is an attractive alternative to the IFR. The advantage of the indian fast reactor is that its development has been complete, and it cost in india $1.4 billion per GW. It will of course cost more in Australia, but probably a lot less than a AP-1000.


To try to disentangle Gen III from Gen IV is a *political* impossibility. Many Greens/some Greens are coming out “for” Gen IV as a way to *kill* Gen III and all previous generations.

The success, again “politically” of the IFR or, the LFTR, is tied to the public acceptance of a successful Gen III deployment in China. The whole Chinese program is not getting enough attention from us. They are deploying, actually, both Gen II+ (VVER 1200), Gen III (AP1000/indigenous version), EPR and…their PBMR (rankine cycle however). If they mess it up, no accidents, under or on budget, ahead or on schedule, it will make overall nuclear acceptance in Australia and the U.S. that much easier for us.

To think that Gen IV is somehow going to get in easier that Gen III, not with the huge anti-nuclear activist cadre in both countries, is wishful thinking at best.



have you seen how many Chinese die in mining accidents each year? The tainted baby milk scandal? relying on China’s safety record is not exactly a recipe for success.

Gen IV is a whole new ball game, it is comes up trumps. I’m not sure it should even be called Gen IV. A bit like calling an F1 racing car a generation 57 horse. The key differences being the absurd levels of efficiency taking us from 50 years to 50,000 years of fuel, and as a result the massive reductions in nuclear waste produced. Gen III does precious little for either of these key objections to nuclear energy. You say “kill” previous generations as though that is a bad thing;)

Places that already have nuclear power industries can build Gen III I guess – better than what came before. There is so much background work required in Australia to create a nuclear power industry form scratch it is not as though we would be building Gen III tomorrow even if the govt decided to head down that path, and then after all the ground work we’d end up building GenIII when they are obsolete.

Also, lets not forget that the Greens have only ever held a small fraction of seats in any parliament in Australia… The reason we don’t have a nuclear industry is the same reason we are having a convoluted ETS… The Coal Industry. They will as likely roll over for GenIV nuclear as they will for solar panels.


Good perceptive last paragraph MattB. Just like greens think they
stopped land clearing (its called deforestation when it happens OS) …
I just think the bottom fell out of
the wool market … if we had 170 million sheep and climbing, does
anybody believe we wouldn’t be doing plenty of deforestation? Big Coal
and Greens will be natural allies against nuclear … hell, ACF/WWF could
be onto a great revenue stream if Big Coal pays them to help scuttle
any nuclear plans.


ACF/WWF could be onto a great revenue stream if Big Coal pays them to help scuttle any nuclear plans.”

That’s a nice line of argument Geoff — it may be at least enough to break through the first line of ideology that one usually strikes (I’m thinking of a certain Greenhill Road incident that you no doubt remember…)



My only problem with your comment is that you constructed your sentence in the future tense “Coal and Greens will be natural allies against nuclear. . .”

My research has led me to the conclusion that Big Coal, Big Gas, and Big Oil are and have been allied with Greens against nuclear power for at least 40 years!


Mmm, 40 years ago,
That would have been a good time to start backing renewables properly.

What year was Three Mile Island built?

Those silly billies didn’t know a good thing even when it was melting in front of them.


“But Mark, you simply must read the Chapter 3 of Hayden’s “The Solar Fraud”, entitled “The Solar Drumbeat”. The whole 40 year history is laid out for you in quotes.”

Why Barry? At least give me a clue?


Barry, just found a reivew with extracts of “Solar Fraud” . You should have used this in your post on “Too Cheap to Meter”.

I won’t detail why they should incorporate models and plans by Diesendorf, Saddler, Mills, MacKay and Greenpeace Energy Blue Print, I’ll just take it onbaord.


Geoff I take your point about deforestation. Most of the protected areas in Tasmania are not forested, large sections are button grass.

Similarly, the wild rivers on Cape York would not have been protected if there were any threat that they would be exploited.
You’re correct about a common preference for non-nuclear by coal advocates and many renewable advocates. Similarly there is a common non-coal preference held by both nuclear advocates and many renewable advocates.

Knowing what you know about the anarchical and participatory volunteer nature of green groups I assume you do not believe that such groups could be coopted as a front to support coal?

Or is it rather that you think they might be getting some anonymous donations? If so wouldn’t they risk supporting people who denounce coal and clean coal as much as I do? (You might have read my correspondence with the Coal Association’s spokes person Peter Logue in Crikey Letters?) Imagine if WWF, ACF or the like could fund people with more skill who would day after day, try and expose the risk of depending on CCS.

Wouldn’t you reckon the Australian Coal Association is just as fearful of 100 deserts full of CSP as they are of IFR?



If I was a coal mine owner or a coal miner who did not believe he would ever be hired by a nuclear power plant or a uranium mine, I would have far more worries about competition from nuclear power than from concentrating solar power.

History shows why. It has only been about 67 years since humans recognized that splitting atoms can release controlled heat. Power plants using that heat now produce the energy equivalent of about 12 million barrels of oil per day and have displaced a large number of coal burning power plants in places like Ukraine, America, South Korea, Taiwan, France, Japan, Switzerland, Sweden, Finland, Belgium, the UK, and Russia. If the US, for example, had simply completed the plants it started in the 1970s and continued building at the completion pace established in the period from 1963-1973, coal would have been eliminated from the US market by 2000.

On the other hand, humans have known that the sun supplied light and heat to the earth for as long as there have been humans on the planet. Most of the numerically and scientifically inclined people in countless generations have recognized the limitations of such phenomena as night, clouds and rain and have determined to find a more reliable source of power for those times when the sun goes away. Some of us know a bit about thermal storage – at least on the scale of a thermos bottle. A well insulated storage device can retain heat for some time, but a device with the lid left off rapidly loses its heat.

When you draw steam from your molten salt, you essentially leave the lid off of your thermos bottle. The more power you draw, the quicker your salt will cool. Since we are never quite sure if the sun will be able to recharge that heat the next day, operators will be reluctant to bring the temperature too low.

Besides, where in the world are you going to find the work force that would be required to construct CSP plants in all of the world’s deserts and then to build the required power lines out of the desert? Where are you going to find the funds to pay for power lines that will not carry any power at all for at least 50% of the time? (Night happens.)

In other words – talk of CSP is music to the ears of logical coal miners. They like the fact that it discourages the development of real alternatives to their favored commodity.


Nuclear power got its start as a free rider on the back of military development of nuclear weapons.

PV properties were discovered more recently, and renewables have suffered by not having backing of consolidated industry establishment. Infact they have suffered by providing a product that runs counter the interests of establihed industry.

Nuclear power was initialy more successfully breaking through this barrier with its connections to support from the industrial miliatary.

CSP does provide power at night.


Oops I forgot about workforce:
We are in a global recession with falling demand for production and rising unemployment. And CSP uses conventional engineering.

I live in an Australian city were manufacturing is folding year by year. I was once a Mechanical Engineer, Design and Production. I know of many Engineering and Trade skilled people who could be coaxed into it in a flash.

With hundreds of thousands of Tradies, there is capacity to commence deployment in thousands of sites in Australia alone.

(14% of Australia’s 10 million plus workforce have skilled trades).


Thanks Barry,

I should really redirect this to my comments @16 relating to Gen II and Gen III not having the advatage over existing low emissions alternatives.

Barry is there the generic term for IFR and the Thorium reactors that sound promising?


Gen IV = chew up waste, no U mining.
Gen III = more waste and still U mining.

Chalk and cheese to me as an ex member of “anti-nuke activist cadre”.


But what about this:

Gen III = more waste, more mining, but at also more Gen IV fuel for the future (from spent LWR ‘waste’ and depleted uranium) and a quicker dismantling of coal

Gen IV = solves all Gen III issues — and if it doesn’t come, we’ll all be so stuffed anyway that we’ll care little whether we’ve got a little extra waste to manage


There are degrees of “stuffed”.

There is “stuffed” with more HLRW and perhaps a different type of “stuffed” with less HLRW.

There is “stuffed” without more distribued plutonium breeder technology and “suffed” with this technology more dispursed. (Though this later choice of stuffed exists with IFR as well so perhaps a different discussion).

What type of apocolyse are we imagining? Rich world vs Poor world? Lovelock’s retreat to the poles? All gone and handover to the reptiles?


The objections to siting a nuclear plant in Australia are not that it only uses 0.7% or less of the uranium fuel, it is related to safety and nuclear waste issues.

The safest designs are reactors that have lower neutron capture as temperature rise, such as molten LiF. The safest coolant appears to be lead. If these reactors also burn up fission waste, you have a design that has defused the two major concerns. I guess the other issue may be cost.

We should start with a small(200MW-500MW) design in a remote location on Federal land and then scale up or adopt a better design for a second and third reactor.


The safest designs are reactors that have lower neutron capture as temperature rise, …

More precisely, a more rapid decline-with-temperature of the neutron capture in fissionable nuclei (usually 235-U) versus its decline-with-‘T’ in nonfissionable ones (usually 238-U).

All reactors that are both cooled and moderated by water have this feature. That is why submarines with water-cooled propulsion reactors, even though they crash into undersea mountains and each other, never suffer any reactor misbehaviour. Well, that, and the fact that control rods are rigged to slip in easily but require the strength of a well-conditioned young sailor to pull out slowly.

(How fire can be domesticated)


IFRs with metal fuels have a negative reactivity coefficient, and the sodium coolant also provides passive safety. This was well summarised by two critical tests at Argonne in 1986, which simulated the events that happened at TMI and at Chernobyl (before it happened). Both resulted in reactor shutoff without human intervention and without damage.

I don’t understand the argument for starting with a small reactor and then adopting a better design later. May as well start with the ‘best’ (safest, most reliable, most economic, fastest to build, etc.) that’s available.


What I meant is start with a small reactor( best design available), build it quickly rather than the most efficient large reactor that may have delays. Don’t delay to incorporate design “improvements”.
When its time to build the next scale it up modestly, or just use 2-3 similarly sized reactors coupled to larger turbines, incorporate any improvements that have been made elsewhere.

The worst mistake we could make is to start with the largest most efficient mega project, because every delay or minor setback will have major consequences politically and for planning. A small reactor will not make too much difference and will not become a multi-billion liability for example as is occurring in Florida and Finland.

Thinking further on this topic, wouldn’t it make sense to combine a solar farm say near Pt Augusta and a nuclear reactor, heating one molten salt storage and sharing the same turbines. That way off-peak power could be stored overnight, solar could boost the peak demand, and the nuclear reactor could run at maximum 24/7.


Neil, I agree totally that we should be building off a standardised, certified design (whether it be a Gen III+ or Gen IV plant) — the last thing we want to do is start trying to modify the design.

The new Gen III+ designs are modular to a degree (the AP-1000 has 2 x 500 MW loops, for instance), and the IFR as exemplified by the S-PRISM would have 380 MW reactor units, grouped together in various configurations from a single unit through to 8 units comprising a 2.5 GW plant.

If the economics work, I’ve no problem attaching a CSP plant to the nuclear plant, to provide for peaking power, especially if both can make use of the molten salts. Again, somewhere like Ceduna or Whyalla seems like a good place to try this.


Barry Brook – “Of course I see no reason whatsover why IFR won’t work and why it won’t end up being highly successful. And I’ve looked hard and critically to find those showstoppers.”

I did ask this on another thread however no-one answered it. Perhaps you can. Does the IFR do load following? The French modify their PWRs to load follow and I was wondering if the IFR does it as well.

It is important because if the IFR is the solution as you write here then some of them will have to load follow.


Molten Salt Reactors have superior load following, load ballancing and peak reserve capacities. Unlike the IFR, which uses control rods to shut down, the LFTR uses its negative coefficient of reactivity to perform temporary shut downs. Thus the LFTr always posses reserve heat, and as it produces power its core temperature drops and its reactivity rises. The LFTR automatically responds to power demand by draining heat from the core, and thus increasing core reactivity. If power demand drops the LFTR stops draining heat from the core, core temperature rises, and reactivity drops till it ceases. A high core temperature can be maintained by fission product decay for some time. Eventually as core temperature starts dropping a critical mass of fissionable materials collects in the core, and reactivity begins again.

The LFTR thus has a capacity to always deliver the demanded amount of electricity on a real time basis. Its only limitation in shifting from a zero power generation state to delivery of maximum power is its ability to bring its turbines to maximum generating capacity without damaging them. The LFTR can deliver more torque than its turbines can tolerate. Because of its unique capacity to perform load following, load balancing and peak load reserve duties the LFTR can occupied several power market nitches now occupied by fossil fuel generators.


Sure a nuclear plant can be load following and so can wind(by feathering wind turbines during low demand) but it’s expensive not to operate because the cost of fuel and maintenance is so little of the operating cost.
I would imagine that nuclear would be running close to maximum all the time and additional pumped hydro used to capture surplus energy from 1-5am, or if co-located with solar energy excess nuclear heat could heat the solar heat storage medium.


Neil, there are actually economic benefits for operating MSRs/LFTRs on a part time basis. Exposure to neutron radiation damages core materials at a constant rate. If a LFTR can be held in reserve during periods when power is in low demand, its electricity will be worth more. Hence LFTR owners will maximize their rates of return on a limited life time core by selling power at times when electrical companies pay the most for it.


I thought these reactors have a 60 year life-time, wouldn’t it make sense to pay off capital costs as fast as possible, not many investors are going to benefit from a reactor in the 61st year.


Sigh, A 60 year lifetime would be nice, but there are tradeoffs here. MSRs produce high ammounts of energy from small cores. As a consequence you also habe core materials bombarded by a huge amount of neutron radiation. All of those neutron damage metals and materials like graphite at a molecular level. Eventually the integrity of core materials is compromised and core structure needs to be replaced. The same problem exists, by the way, in CANDU reactors, which have to get core rebuilds every 25 years.


Charles is correct. More succintly, in the US at least, the biggest power plant “market” are not for base load plants. They are for combined cycle gas turbines that are regulated as “peakers”, even when they “play”, that is, bid into the day ahead or hourly ahead market.

All these pakers, mostly in the 100 to 540 MWs range, are really designed to handle any load above baseload, that is above minimum. there are whole weeks when the never run. You think they lose money? Of course not. Their deals and contracts with the ISOs that allow for a revenue flow based on the very, very valuable availability.

Now, you may ask, why don’t the big baseload nukes do this? They marketed themselves on the deal that now only are they available for full load, but only for full load. thus the GEN II reactors (except for the ones in France which were designed with load following in mind) were marketed, built and *assumed* to be AT their full capacity 100% of the time. Thus their financing was based on this.

The LFTR, *especially* if it’s hooked up to a brayton cycle gas turbine, of *any* size, or even multiple turbine/generator sets (not unlike cross-compound steam turbines), along with the latest in whiz-bank controllers like the GE Mark VI, will b marketed not unlike the LNS-100 or the various CC Frame units from a variety of vendors. That is, they can do: baseload, 24/7, peak load and intermediate loading.

The market is *looking* for this.

I might add that the all EPRs will have load following capability built in. It’s up to the financing arrangements with the utilities and ISOs that will determine if this is the case.

Lastly, the way the Chinese regulate certain industries is dependent on the history of that industry. It is not a generalized problem with corruption or other irregularities. The nuclear industry is *tightly* regulated by the Chinese. They have 9 plants and never a peep of a problem has been detected. They are also internationally inspected. I have a lot of faith that if there is ONE country in the world that can build and run AP1000s, it’s the PRC.



Yes, as Neil said, nuclear plants, including IFR, can load follow. Submarines and aircraft carriers do it with PWR, LFTRs are exemplary at doing it as Charles pointed out (these were considered for aircraft), IFRs can do it. It’s just about relative economics and some impact no reactor life.


I was aware that the LFTR can load follow as it is one of the reasons that I can conditionally support it. For many reasons if a GEN IV solution was to be chosen then this would be it.

However I am interested in the technical details of the IFR and can find nothing in the literature about how an IFR is modified to become load following. I did find how a PWR does it as the French load follow, mind you they are the only ones that do it as far as I know, however there is nothing about FRs being load followers.


Since their neutrons are fast they have no 135-I/135-Xe difficulties when run low after a many-hour period of running high. Since both their fuel and their coolant is metal, with high thermal conductivity, temperature gradients vary little with power.

It would make more sense, therefore, to say there is nothing about fast liquid-metal-cooled reactors not being load followers.

(How fire can be domesticated)


The basis of extremely fast load changes for military PWRs is that they have excellent xenon control (a poison produced by load changing) and run at 97% enriched U235 (big bucks).



I presume a method of removing 135-Xe from the fuel rods. With HEU, it would take a while for the poison to be sufficient to cause problems. The LFTR has the great advantage of being able to bubble out the Xe continuously.


John Quiggin referenced a useful report, which certainly helped me understand the Oz situation better.

Can you look at that report, specifically page 140, Figure 1, which shows the GW capacity of existing OZ coal power plants? You’d understand the politics better than I, but I’d think any good plan would start with that graph, and show how to change it to eventually eliminate coal plants … After all, no matter how many nuclear plants you built, if the coal plants are still running, they’re still emitting.

One strategy might be:

a) Turn a few into CHP, which unfortunately doesn’t usually work so well with existing big coal plants. Here in CA, we use much smaller gas plants, and many of them are CHP, because they don’t have to be away from people. There’s a gas CHP 4 miles from here on the Stanford campus. We haven’t built a LNG terminal in CA yet, probably won’t, although Oz folks were here trying to convince us, I think. CHP doesn’t reduce emissions directly, but it sometimes avoids building more plants.

b) Try to make a few work with CCS, maybe, actually meaning it as opposed to a way to avoid doing anything.

c) Shut them down in some orderly fashion, replaced by renewables and nuclear. Obviously, nuclear is a relatively similar replacement for centralized coal plants not in builtup areas, especially minemouth plants.

Of course, efficiency is always #1, but in some sense, focusing on getting rid of coal plants is a useful way to think about the problem.


That chart is in a 7.5 MB pdf now a bit dated since the heavy CCS line is out of favour. I presume when Rudd postponed emissions trading then clean coal funding was dropped. In theory a shrinking CO2 cap should lead naturally to brown coal stations being retired before black coal, IGCC, supercritical and so on. I doubt coal CHP would work in Australia since we like to be ‘spaced out’.

I agree we should nominate some dirty lignite power stations to get the chop eg Victoria’s Hazelwood station with 1.25 kg of CO2 per kwh. Others are at Pt Augusta SA and Collie WA.

One consolation for global emissions is that Aussie coal exports appear to be in decline.



Perhaps the most technically and economically feasible way to turn existing coal fired power plants into zero emission plants has been suggested by Jim Holm at

In essence his idea is to replace the boilers and fuel handling equipment with high temperature reactors that can supply the same steam temperatures as the boilers.

The Chinese version of the pebble bed reactors are very similar in concept to Jim’s, though the first ones are being built with new steam plants rather than as conversions of existing plants. However, after they gain some experience and confidence with the design, I see no reason why many of the rapidly constructed coal plants cannot be converted to nuclear plants. In fact, if I could read Chinese, I could probably find some papers or documents suggesting that this is part of their current development plan.

It is interesting to note that a similar conversion already took place in the US – but it went in the opposite direction. The Ft. St. Vrain power station in Colorado was originally a 300 MWe nuclear plant with a high temperature gas cooled reactor as the heat source. The reactor system was a first of a kind and not fully refined; the plant achieved a very low capacity factor and was eventually converted into a gas-fired combined cycle plant to make use of the steam plant and the electric distribution system.

Rod Adams
Publisher, Atomic Insights
Host and producer, The Atomic Show Podcast


I think there is a limit to trying to actually convert existing ranking cycle, reheat turbine/generator sets to nuclear of any kind. The generator could certainly be used, but I have doubts about the turbine.

These turbines are designed to send the exhaust of the high-temperature part of the turbine *back* into the boiler to pick up energy and then return it to the intermediate section of the turbine, where it leaves the turbine and crosses over to the very large low pressure section.

One would have to get the exact steam flow and temperature, as per turbine specs, down exactly to get this to work with a reactor. Multiple secondary heat exchanger loops might work.

I’ve written several blogs on at least approaching a nuclear phase out (for the US) on a state-by-state level by *at the minimum* using nuclear at coal sites, utilizing the vast areas that coal plants occupy for lay down and building, and maximizing utilization of every Balance-of-Plant (BOP) system there is from licensing hazardous waste and sewer discharge to water usage for cooling.

The key savings is in *access*, believe it or not. The already developed heavy road system for coal trucks, often twinned with excellent rail spurs with pre-stressed heavy load concrete rail ties, and even better, water transport access. The second *access* is the grid. The grid is *already* there! Only minor upgrades are needed.

So the “perspective” should be one of phasing out coal using LFTR, IFR, LWR/HWR or whatever fission-of-choice you like, and doing it regionally or incrementally on a very well publicized “MW of coal out to MW of nuclear in” paradigm. Australia could do this to with a perspective of choosing outlying coal plants for phase out to start.



I just looked at the coal2nuclear site and the author does in fact take into consideration reheat units. Fascinating. He’s using the PBMR because it’s the closet Gen IV reactor to deployment. Fascinating site. He’s been really thinking this through.


I disagree with using former coal stations to site reactors whether or not some hardware is reusable and they have adequate water. Those sites are polluted with tars and heavy metals and there is an implied rebuke to generations of locals. They will refuse to acknowledge coal’s problems. I think the key to public acceptance in new sites is to supply desalinated water within a 200km radius of the plant and to create new local business opportunities. To me that says the desert coast although new transmission will be needed. The former coal towns can go back to farming.


John, respectfully, I don’t think you get it. The ongoing operation of coal plants is a clear and present danger NOW. If you can build a nuclear plant at a coal site, and shut down that coal burning plant, then INCREASE the health of the surrounding population. It is a sign of respect not a disrepecting that would occur. We say “we want to remove all the coal ash, coal storage, mercury and heavy metal carbon particulate and give you *healthier lives*. It is SO logical.



Agreed. It also represents a huge psychological blow to coal — something that’s critically need to break the ‘coal or blackout’ mindset.

I agree with John that a place like Ceduna would be a great place to site a few NPP. But to begin kicking them out of coal’s heartland is the real winner.


I referenced the (slightly out-of-date) report as it was at least a coherent view at one point, even allowing for the coal-oriented source. I didn’t have anything newer.

What I’d love to see is some chart akin to the one on page 140, but with the different types graphed, and backed by a spreadsheet that showed:

each plant, say on the vertical
MW/year, by year on the horizontal

Of at least, something like California Energy Commission Siting. (see topics at left side of page, including a spreadsheet that lists all the CA plants).

Is there a unified OZ summary like that available?
I rummaged a while, but couldn’t frame a query well enough.


Australia should objectively review its emission levels, future energy demand and emission reduction targets and then deploy the technologies available to meet those targets as necessary. Having said this and in consideration of Australia’s relatively lite nuclear engineering history, it would be foolhardy for Australia to leap into the deep end of the pool until the predictability of IFR/Gen-IV project implementation is well established.

Australia has much to do before contemplating a nuclear power plant. There are politicians to align, laws to be changed, skills to develop and much experience to be gained. If – when these prerequisites are complete – the IFR/Gen-IV track records are well established – than of course we will go for it. If not, we will head for Gen-III – or of course opt to accept higher emissions for who knows how long into the future. We’ve just taken one step in that direction.


Ed, given the urgency of the situation, I’d argue that we haven’t got the luxury of a slow-and-steady pathway. Given your ongoing thoughts on nuclear power in Australia over the past few years, I’d be interested to hear what you thought (in short summary form) was the most rapid feasible time frame for roll out, and what would be required to speed up progress (assuming a decision to dispense with ‘business-as-usual’ and adopt a programme of emergency action).


Living in a forestry community in Tas I see how long term locals think. They simply refuse to ‘get’ ideas of harmony or sustainability. On the other hand a place like Wonthaggi in Victoria is now out of coal mining and looking at desalination. I understand the issue is whether local wind power can truly provide most of the energy needs for reverse osmosis and long distance pumping. The old brownies have now been replaced by blow in greenies.

Building reactors way out of town on suitable greenfield sites solves these problems.


But the La Trobe and Hunter Valleys are still ‘out of town’ — if town is Melbourne/Sydney/Newcastle, and I reckon the residents of those regions would appreciate the jobs and cleaner air that the NPPs will bring.


One point to consider is the availabilty of fuel for mining. Gobal Oil production peaked in the 1st quarter of 2007 while prices were still above $100/ barrel. (Conventional oil prodcution peak in 2005 even before the meteoric rise is incentive for production).

Consider that the Olympic Dam expansion is projected to consume 1 million litres of diesil per day (for 40 years) generate 40 tonnes of uranium oxide per day (14,500 t/y @ 0.05% grade). Which is equivalent to 1 million litres of diesil for 20kg of pure U(the energy cost would be subsidised by profits from Cu and Au). [*fuel would not be concentrated to 100% grade].

How long before we produce electric powered excavators?

Wouldn’t this make the rationale for Gen II and Gen III a little shakey?



Have you never heard of draglines? I have no details about the plans at Olympic Dam, but my impression of open pit mining technology is that it often uses very large draglines with enormous buckets.

Here is a quote from the wikipedia article on the technology:

Most mining draglines are not diesel-powered like most other mining equipment. Their power consumption is so great that they have a direct connection to the high-voltage grid at voltages of between 6.6 to 22 kV. A typical dragline, with a 55 cubic metre bucket, can use up to 6 megawatts during normal digging operations. Because of this, many (possibly apocryphal) stories have been told about the blackout-causing effects of mining draglines. For instance, there is a long-lived story that, back in the 1970s, if all seven of the Peak Downs (a very large coal mine in central Queensland, Australia) draglines turned simultaneously, they would black out all of North Queensland.

It appears to me that right sized nuclear power plants – perhaps a PBMR, a Chinese model pebble bed, a series of NuScale reactors, or even a bunch of Hyperion Power Modules would be just the right kind of power source for a uranium mining operation. Not only would it get reliable, emission free power, but it would increase the world market for its own product.


Even with current diesil budget Olympic Dam is still planning for more CO2 from electric power than from diesal. I assume that means more power from electricity from that diesil. So I’m not sure if they do or don’t plan for drag lines. If not, they will need to be modified. Either way that’s a motza load of power.

If were talking once through urainum, how much energy is required to concentrate 0.05% uranium oxide to fuel grade?

How much energy is required to excative 1 million tonnes per day?

How much energy is required to reclaim the mine site? (though I suppose this part would be sacrificed for the greater good)?

I’m not sure this fuel will produce “emissions free” power for a few years. There would be quite a payback period required first.


Though there would also be a significant energy payback required to construct extensive areas of solar thermal, wind and PV etc.


Payback for thinfilm PV ranges from 2-4 years last time I looked, The ISA life cycle energy analysis put the payback for Gen II nuclear at 6-14 years (with ore properties been the dominant variable in determining payback).

But life of PV is currently 20-30 yrs compared to Gen II life of 25-50 yrs. So CO2 intensity would be similar.


Mark, there is no need to speculate on the energy payback period for nuclear power. Some excellent work has been done on this, as detailed here:

Energy payback for a 1 GWe nuclear power plant, including construction, mining, milling, enrichment etc. is 1.35 to 2.9% of output based on centrifuge enrichment and a 40 year plan lifespan, with the range mostly dependent on ore quality. That is, 7 to 14 months, not years! It takes about 4 months to pay back the energy costs of plant construction.


Barry, I looked at these claims, and found no basis or working calcs. Can you direct me to them?

In the mean time I’ll use the source you advocated from ISA, who show their calcs and make assumptions transparent.

PS. why is the ISA speculating and the WNA not?


I don’t understand what you mean, the working calculations are given in the WNA documents and their links.

The nuclear power plant construction payback is trivial, at 4 months, so the difference between the WNA and ISA figures lie in assumptions about ore quality and enrichment. For instance, the old practice of diffusion enrichment, which is highly energy intensive, is now mostly replaced by the low energy intensity gas centrifuge, and new methods of laser enrichment drop the EI by a couple of orders of magnitude:

The recent research paper by Weisser (2007) A guide to life-cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from electric supply technologies. Energy ( supports the WNA figures. If you refer to pg 112 of ISA you’ll see the range is 6 to 7 years for most sensitivity analyses except for low-grade shale, which is unlikely to ever need to be mined (at least for many thousands of years, given IFRs).

Of course with IFRs or LFTRs, all of the above is moot, as is any life-cycle cost for long-term storage. There will be no need for further enrichment, and by the time we get back to mining many centuries henceforth, the greenhouse emissions of this activity will be near zero.

Given they quality of ores currently being mined and the much greater EI of laser enrichment and the reduced use of materials in new designs, a full life-cycle payback period of 1 to 3 years seems to be a conservative basis for Gen III+ LWRs, and 6-12 months for Gen IV.


Thanks Barry, My mistake, I was looking for a report that in my mind would need to be pages and pages. But brevity has its benefits.

Ranger or was 0.2% an order of magnitude lower than ISA’s best case. Now we are onto Olympic Dam average ore grade is 0.05% and Rossing’s 0.02% U. These are getting cloaser to the ISA’s worst case shale. What’s more we’re digging deep and lifting a lot overburden. I’m not sure previous LCA assessments properly account for this.

But as you say improvements in enrichment may balance this.

So we are left with Gen III with EI similar to wind and about twice as good as current thinfilm PV. (With other PV evolving rapidly).

I’m not cashed up enough to access the Weisser artical, have you seen a LCA of Mills’ CPS?


Barry, I’ve come across this rebuttal from Stormsmith
Stormsmith point out that Vattenfall figures come from an EIS and not a life cycle analysis. They point out other factors that are also not accounted for by the WNA website.

The WNA figures reference various sources which would take some time to verify/critique. I have not done so. But the ISA provide their derivations in a comprehensive manor. Thus were the to two sources differ I put more weight in the ISA figures.

And I said earlier, the ore grades coming into use now (o.o5%) are approaching the worse case scenario in the ISA life cycle assessment. I would thus say that conservative estimate for energy payback (using conventional nuclear Gen II and III for Olympic Dam type ore) would be closer to 14 years than 2 years.


I’ll raise you another couple of rebuttals of SLS:

I strongly suggest you read the whole back-and-forth thread. SLS do not come out looking even slightly feasible.
The more I look over the figures presented by WNA here:
(see also the appendix of this paper for another critique of SLS)

The more I don’t understand the ISA calculations. They seem hugely pessimistic, and the 14 year outlier is inexplicable. The WNA figures, drawn from multiple sources, can’t seem to push the payback time to higher than about 2 years, at a worst case scenario. That’s a huge difference compared to 6 years and 14 years just doesn’t enter the picture.

Mining energy estimates, including real-world data from Rossing (an ore grade of just 0.025%), are still a tiny fraction of generated output from the nuclear power stations. At an ore grade of 0.01% it would still only constitute 2.9% of the output of a standard LWR — that is, a payback period of 14 months.

So what are ISA including that WNA (which is based on a review of all available literature) are overlooking? I’ll need to study the ISA document in detail to work out what the missing elements are, but perhaps you’ve already done this (and can therefore save me the time :) ). Thanks Mark.


Storm-Smith use I/O analysis which measures the energy use/unit of GDP x cost of nuclear plant. No one else uses this method it makes no sense, an aluminium boat would have less embodied energy than a hand crafted wooden boat, if the wooden boat cost more to manufacture!


Yep, thanks Neil, their method is patently flawed and easy to dismiss on the basis of real world data. For instance, using their parameters, the current Olympic Dam operation should be using more electricity than the entire state of South Australia — about 70 times more than it actually uses, according to its audited reports. Similiarly, the SLS method yields and energy use at Rossing that is many times greater than the entire generating capacity of Namibia.


Barry, you could shoot an email the the ISA crew and invite them to do guest posting explainting how such variation in LCA arise. Might save us some trawling?



I wouldn’t expect the GDP/energy ratio would especially discriminate against nuclear power. It might favour Al and disfavour wood products. But I wouldn’t expect that nuclear inputs would be signifiantly below average for GDP/MWh.

Perhaps I’m wrong?

Do you know how ISA get around this?


Barry, the SLS rebuttal suggest that the WNA is leaving out sevarl componets of energy input. Perhaps you could check for WNA flaws as well as in ISA? (I’ll keep my eyes as well).

Are you sure about the 1/70th figure for Olympic Dam relative to SA?

Roughly, OD expansion will add 700 MW to power demand, I think this is apprx 50% of SA demand. (Possibily similar ratio for energy MWh?)

In a malaise of figure I read (but can’t source yet) that 1 million litres per day of diesal will approximately double Australia’s diesel imports.

All this and we are not even counting the largest energy factor in the the SLS LCA with in site remediation. (I’m not suggesting we should remediate the site to the virgin extent that SLS calculates, but that is double the energy cost of any other factor in their calcs.

I’ll have a closer look at the the references links you give, but I note they are all from the same industry source.

After my previous mistake of depending on predominantly SLS analysis (beacuse it had my prefered results)I’m hoping to find wider sources.

BTW I wasn’t aware that the WNA was a summary of all existing analysis? I could only find short list of about a dozen sources on the website (haven’t checke them all but some were not detailed LCA). Reading th ISA report several years ago I got the impression that they tablulised and compared a significant range of LCA.


Barry perhaps a guest posting from the ISA team selected by Ziggy might enlighten us as to why LCA vary so much, and what are the traps e.g. are their traps when for using direct power measurement to measure the total energy cost?


Goddamit – again as part of advice given on this site I wandered to a talk tonight at UWA by Dr Ziggy Zwitkoiski (Sp?) ex: telstra chief, and John Howard’s chosen author of the Nuclear investigation in Australia a couple of years back… and there were plenty of greens in the audience inc Jo Vallentine who I think was WA’s 1st Greens state MP, and I left thinking – you know what, I really have no problems with nuclear power… even some of the questions were “California has committed to 50% renewable why can’t we?” and I was thinking “but what about the other 50%”.

Ziggy also very clearly thinks our 20% renewable target for 2020 is very very optimistic (he supports it – just that it will be tough to achieve), and he genuinely comes across as technology neutral. He is no rabid nuclear fan other than the fact it exists, is pretty much off the shelf, plugs in to our existing grids, and is safe.

Even the waste issue… well the waste sits on site for the life of the facility, then gets dropped in a big hole in the ground… the fact that there are no such holes in the ground yet is simply because the reactors are still operational so they can safely remain on site.

One thing that interested me is that the rods once used eventually get cased in A LOT of concrete – if IFRs ever came on line is it realistic to think it is cheaper to use the “waste” than just to mine new uranium.

I seriously can’t believe I’m becoming a pro-nuclear green. To the extent I feel like a stooge at one of those faith healing events who falls over at the touch of the pastors hand jsut to fool others in to thinking he really has some connection to god…

And THEN, to cap it all, I got a cab home and was babbling (a couple of wines) to the driver who said he was a greenie and had been for a long time, and he didn’t tell many people but he is pretty much pro-nuclear.

Ziggy gives it 3-5 years until there is enough support for nuclear for a pro-nuclear stance to not be political suicide for whoever backs it.



In response to your request above – I never meant to imply slow or a lack of urgency.

Rapid feasible timeframe for rollout: First NPP in Australia in 10 years (AREVA EPR, Westinghouse AP-1000 or possibly – but not likely – something similar).

Many Gen-IV designs may exist, but none are commercially licensed, not even in any Western, developed nuclear country. Deployment, in a rapid turnkey project sense, is some time away. Adoption in Australia is even further away. Given the urgency – Gen-III is the way to go. [More uranium will be found once we begin to explore in earnest].

10 years (i.e. 2019 if we begin today, including the advocacy and changes I list below) will only happen if at least the following two related milestones are satisfied ASAP.

1. Widespread public (i.e. political acceptance evolving to advocacy for nuclear power in Australia). For this to realistically happen, nuclear advocates with links to the nuclear industry have to stand back and let the open minded pragmatists [such as yourself, Geoff and other converts such as James Hansen, Gwyneth Cravens, the ATSE, recent advocates from the UK, etc.] assume the point position. This group is growing almost daily. It was a trickle less than 2 years ago but now these numbers are significant and their potential to effect the necessary change is HUGE compared to those of use who are deemed to be tainted by our affiliation with the industry [I don’t agree with that link, but I accept the constraints of reality]. These pragmatists must fully engage the opened minded skeptics to turn the political tide, to bring the different parties together and REMOVE nuclear power from short-sighted political agendas – and do it quickly. This will facilitate the necessary legal changes, creating a framework within which to build an Australian nuclear power industry.

2. Create some formal ties between Australian (ARPANSA) and foreign regulatory bodies such that licensed facilities in other countries can be approved here via some type of fast-track acceptance. For this, I would suggest the UK since both France and the USA could be accused of some type of bias when reviewing the EPR or AP-1000. Involving some ARPANSA staff in the UK new-build could prove to be a win-win for both countries as they (the UK) are short staffed at the moment.

We also need to develop other human skills and resources in Australia. This must be started immediately. Anyone who has worked in nuclear power plant construction, operations or maintenance will acknowledge the somewhat unique culture involved: conservative decision making, always putting safety first, the formality and other requirements of a highly regulated environment, clear and transparent communications, safeguards and physical protection, etc. Most, if not all of the above exist in other industries, but I don’t know of any industry with them all. Well trained will not be enough – we will need a fair amount of nuclear experience (Engineering, Quality, Operations and Maintenance – not to mention the technical crafts such as welders, mechanics, electricians, I&C technicians, HP technicians, etc.).

I think 10 years is about as aggressive as one can get. I’m assuming a project will begin the moment ‘enough’ support exists in Australia. Those involved should not kid themselves – there will be some enormous protests from people whose minds are not so open. I expect it will become easier with time. And projects 2, 3, 4, etc. could be initiated shortly after the start of the first – in an emergency scenario.

The above are just my opinions based on my own experience.

Thanks for asking.



How different is this road map to the one used to promote IFR?

Many interested people keen on the way IFR could be rolled out within 5 years, and thought Gen III and IRF were chalk and cheese.

It’s a tougher sell the claim we are saving the world by moving to Gen III. I think would bring back a lot of old arguments that IFR seemed to save.

A good case could be made for going full pelt with renewables in a place like Australia, at least until the promise of IFR can be realised. This would have the added benefit of advancing renewable technology that would provide benefit to people in places that will not (for security or economic reasons) get IFR (redress part of the risk of energy apartheid).


it is probably the case that Indian FBRs could be constructed in Australia within the same time frame as Generation 3+ reactors would be. if built with Indian Labor, construction cost would be far lower than for LWRs built with Australian Labor. Such an arrangement could be justified on the grounds of a climate crisis or something similar.


Here is a really interesting article, with some quotes from Energy Secretary Steve Chu on IFR and ‘waste’

Technology Review: There’s some 50,000 metric tons of nuclear waste scattered among 130 sites across the country. What are you going to do with that waste now?

Steven Chu: Yucca Mountain as a repository is off the table. What we’re going to be doing is saying, let’s step back. We realize that we know a lot more today than we did 25 or 30 years ago. The NRC [Nuclear Regulatory Commission] is saying that the dry cask storage at current sites would be safe for many decades, so that gives us time to figure out what we should do for a long-term strategy. We will be assembling a blue-ribbon panel to look at the issue.

[We’re] looking at reactors that have a high-energy neutron spectrum that can actually allow you to burn down the long-lived actinide waste. [Editor’s note: Actinides include plutonium, which can be dangerous for 100,000 years.] These are fast neutron reactors. There’s others: a resurgence of hybrid solutions of fusion fission where the fusion would impart not only energy, but again creates high-energy neutrons that can burn down the long-lived actinides.”


TR: I know you’ve come out in favor of nuclear power. It’s been decades since any new plants have been constructed. What progress has been made so far in getting some new plants built?

Steven Chu: We’re now going to a two-step licensing. You license the generic plant, and then there’s a separate license for the site. And this helps speed along the process. Before, the way we did it is every plant was a new one.”



This cuts the HLRW life down from 10s-100s of ky to 500 years is that correct?

I assume this also cuts the volume of waste? Is that right?

If so, can you also treat big stuff like decomissioned rectors? Sort of cut them up and burn the nasties out of them in an IFR?


There seems to be two ways of measuring energy used to build nuclear or any other infrastructure.
1) calculate all materials( and the energy used to make these), plus direct uses( eg diesel), the energy used to transport materials, and other direct support, the energy used by employees to travel to the work sites.
2)the GDP/energy used by society; so the energy contained in an object is directly related to its S value( ie % of GDP/%of energy used). In in US each person uses 100,000kWh for an average of $40,000( ie each $ of GDP used 2.5kWh. In this second approach you capture all inputs, including those used for steel and cement, workers travel, leisure travel etc.
Where Storm L and Smith seem to be wrong is that they include all of the direct inputs of energy( say for steel and cement) but also include the total $ cost of the project, thus they are counting the energy used to make the steel and cement twice, once as direct input AND again as inputs in the $$ of project cost for example as labor both on-site and financing design etc, using the average kWh/$ of GDP.

To see why this is wrong lets look at a simple $100Million(GDP) economy with just one industry building one nuclear plant per year and associated infrastructure.If this used 90% of the nations energy(say 90 million kWh) and provided 90% of the employment(directly or indirectly) and 90% of GDP we would assign the costs of a nuclear plant 90 million kWh( direct energy inputs) plus the $90million spend on salaries etc, giving an energy cost of 90million kWh, for a total of 180,000kWh. But the economy only uses 100millionkWh/year


Thanks Neil,

Is it certain that SLS double count the inputs? Seems an elementary error to just slip through?


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