Nuclear Renewables

Germany – crunched by the numbers

Guest Post by Tom Blees. Tom is author of Prescription for the Planet – The Painless Remedy for Our Energy & Environmental Crises. Tom is also the president of the Science Council for Global Initiatives.


Following up on the article Barry pointed out the other day about Spain’s drastic turnabout in solar subsidization and the ripple effects it’s having on the solar industry worldwide, I thought I’d mention some similar news from Germany. I ran across an article from Die Zeit, a prominent German publication. You can find a typically rough Google translation of the article here. I did have a German friend of mine translate a few of the pertinent paragraphs to get a more accurate rendition:

The entire amount can be pretty accurately calculated. The expected installation of new solar modules [in Germany] for the year 2009 will cost the consumer at least ten billion Euros in the next 20 years. Count on an additional 1.8 billion kWh of sun energy from the outlets, which represents about 0.3% of the entire present energy consumption, which means almost nothing. Whatever was built up to 2008 will amount to even more than 30 billion Euros. That at least is what the Rheinisch-Westfaelische Institut fuer Wirtschaftsforshung calculated.

And the costs will grow rapidly. If the prognosis of the Union of the European Photovoltaic Industry proves correct, there will be so many new installations by 2013 in Germany that the cost will grow to at least 77 billion Euros, without inflation.

Here’s what Germany’s solar electric output came to in recent years (in gigawatt hours):

2006 = 2,220 GWh;     2007 = 3,500 GWh;     2008 = 4,300 GWh

According to this, the increase in 2009 comes to another 1800 GWh, bringing the 2009 total up to 6,100 GWh. Note the progression hasn’t been steady since 2006, increasing by 1300, then just 800, and now 1800, for a three-year average of 1,300 GWh. I don’t know what the prognosis of the photovoltaic industry organization above projects for increases to 2013, but let’s assume it’s even higher than this year, that it’ll be 2000 GWh more per year. So that’ll give us this probably over-generous estimate:

2009 = 6,100 GWh;     2010 = 8,100 GWh;     2011 = 10,100 GWh;     2012 = 12,100 GWh

So by 2013, Germany will have committed to spending €77 billion (that’s over $113 billion USD) for solar capacity equivalent to less than 2% of their 2006 electrical demand.

Now let’s look at the cost of nuclear power plants. Setting aside the legalistic and political quagmire that characterizes the nuclear power industry in America, we can look at the cost of the Advanced Boiling Water Reactors (ABWRs) that were built in Japan in the late 90’s at a cost of about $1.4 billion/GW, and the Chinese’ recent estimates for the final cost of their first two AP-1000s ($1.76 billion/GW), and come to the reasonable conclusion that Germany could build Gen III+ reactors for $2 billion/GW, especially modular units in the dozens.

At the moment, Germany’s Gen II nuclear plants have strong capacity factors, including probably the best one in the world with about a 94% CF. So let’s assume that Germany’s brand new Gen III plants could average a 90% CF. For $112 billion, they could build 56GW of new nuclear capacity, for an effective capacity at a 90% CF of about 48GW. Those plants would thus produce about 421,000 GWh annually, which is approximately 68% of Germany’s electrical needs in 2006 (I keep using 2006 figures to be consistent here because that’s the latest IEA data I can find for Germany’s energy stats). Compare that with the <2% expected from solar, and of course unlike solar, nuclear runs 24/7. Now figure in the expected lifespan of the systems: Nuclear: about 60 years. Solar PV: 20-30 years. Being generous and saying 30, that means you’ll get twice as much as the already astounding 34 times the energy that nuclear will produce compared to the same solar investment.

So Germany’s ill-considered (and, amazingly, continuing) national experiment with solar power is costing them roughly 70 times (in costs/kWh) what it would have cost them to build top-notch nuclear power plants, disregarding the intermittency problem with solar, which is no small matter. In other words, Germany could have gone France one better and gone 100% nuclear and saved a ton of Euros in the process. Instead, we have the example of environmental ideology run amok, with very real and seriously negative economic and environmental ramifications.

While I suspect that solar advocates might quibble with some of my figures above, perhaps pointing out that Germany might install even more solar panels by 2013 than I project here, but really there’s simply no comparison no matter how you massage the numbers. The statistics are there in plain sight.

So what will happen in Copenhagen come December? If the result of that conference is some cap-and-trade shell game along with solemn (and ultimately ignored) promises to cut down on CO2 emissions based on fantasies of wind and solar power, the end result will be as ineffectual as the previous conferences have been.

The people on this planet will not be satisfied with an energy-starved and desperately thirsty world. Before they settle for that they’ll yank every bit of coal and oil out of the ground and toss it on our unfortunately common (funeral?) pyre, solemn promises to the contrary be damned. Delusions about wind and solar coming to the rescue are ludicrous, especially in the face of the demographic landslide in which we find ourselves until at least mid-century.

There is only one source of energy currently available that can possibly provide an energy-rich yet environmentally benign future, including supplying the massive amounts of energy that will be required to desalinate water for literally billions of people. I fully realize that pro-nuclear people at Copenhagen will probably be about as popular as a porcupine in a condom factory, but unless these harsh realities—and their politically incorrect solution—are brought to the fore, just what effect is Copenhagen going to have? What we should be talking about there is how to ramp up nuclear power while putting in place an international regime to forestall nuclear weapons proliferation in the process.

Why do I have the sinking feeling that isn’t going to happen?

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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.

111 replies on “Germany – crunched by the numbers”

This is yet another example of that old adage: Reality always bats last.

When all has been said, and the political and public relations fights are over, wind, solar and the other ‘renewables’ have to deliver, something they never can and never will do. The physics can’t be negotiated, or be brought to a consensus, or bullied or shouted down. The Laws of thermodynamics cannot be repealed. These things just are, and they will remain what they are regardless of the opinions of those that do not like them.

That is why the only debate is if coal or uranium will power this civilization for the foreseeable future. There are no other contenders.


You’re not doing anyone any favours by the deception in those figures. There are solar cells over 60yrs old still producing useful amounts of electricity so why not be honest about the true operating life of solar.

Your costs for nuclear are only for the generating facility. What are the costs over 60yrs for the mining, enrichment, maintenance, waste storage and decomissioning. What have been the research costs of solar vs nuclear? What are the insurance costs of solar vs nuclear?

The German and Spanish Govts aren’t completely stupid so what is the catch here? Why are the largest solar power installations around the world currently of the PV type if the economics as you see them don’t stack up? You know damn well why. It’s because solar is relatively maintenance free, set and forget, low tech, modular, peace of mind and in the longest run probably cheaper. Taking into account all the things I mentioned above, prove me wrong.

The world will have need of widespread nuclear power one day regardless of your bumbling and dishonest attempts at promoting it. Best for all if you lose the spin.


The German and Spanish Govts aren’t completely stupid …

… because there cannot be, could never have been, a completely stupid German or Spanish government …

so what is the catch here?

… your bumbling and dishonest attempts … lose the spin … You know damn well …

The catch is that they are greenwashing fossil fuels. They make money on fossil fuels.

And yes, that is stupid.


— G.R.L. Cowan (‘How fire can be domesticated’)


#4: “prove me wrong”

Ahh, the favorite words of a climate change denier, and sad Salient Green cannot even see the irony. Poor sod, I almost feel sorry for him.


“…popular as a porcupine in a condom factory…”. VERY funny.

To be fair, I don’t know anyone (except our own Salient G.) who believes solar is going to handle even close to a double digit % of Germany’s electrical needs. That would be like building igloos in the Outback for shelter on a hot summer day. It was dumb to start, it’s still dumb and it’s the most expensive form of electricity in Germany today based on the Feed in Tariff of over 30 cents Euro per KWhr. Talk about DUMB.

Most renewable advocates see wind as the answer there and this is where most investment is going. At best, solar can handle about 15% of the day in foggy Germany and that’s for residential, which in Germany, is only 25% of the load anyway. I’d like to see the solar array that can run a steel mill in the Ruhr! Ha!

I think the blog is very good and the analysis of solar there is spot on, anyway. Clearly Germany would do well by doubling it’s nuclear power plant base. We can actually say “no, don’t build those Russian-gas supplied power plants, shut down these 70 coal plants!”. Can’t do that without nuclear. If you rely on solar and wind, it means more gas and more coal…and in FACT that IS the plan worked out by the previous SPD “Green” gov’t there.



Solar cell longevity:

“Poised over the horizon with the promise of large-area solar cells are dye-stabilized and organic-polymer (plastic) cells. However, organic materials have lower carrier mobility and lower current-carrying capabilities than traditional inorganic materials. Moreover, they can’t match today’s silicon cell longevity of 25 years.”
–EE Times:

“Most polymer, or thin film, solar cells currently have a lifespan of about 25-30 years; over time, their ability to convert sunlight into electricity is degraded by UV light.”
–Tree Hugger:

The paper you want to read on this is the Mikkel Jørgensen, Kion Norrmana and Frederik C. Krebs paper that is the single most respected authority on PV longevity *and* it’s future. 30 years is the *best* estimated longevity of newer, not currently deployed, PV sets.

These conclusions are all done in laboratory conditions and reflect average solar days; peak solar, minimum solar availability. Norrmana noted once at a solar energy conference 3 years ago that this doesn’t includes issues of sand, grit, and above all, acid rain, soot, snow and ice in northern climes as is often the case in Germany for 4 month of the year.

So…Barry’s conclusion that “25/30” years life span of solar PV is probably spot on *under ideal conditions*, that is, almost exactly half that of nuclear.

New Generation III nuclear going in now is expected to have an 80 year lifespan, not 60. “60” is the “official” claims in terms of “what can be expected” but all nuclear engineers are confident that will upgrades and maintenance like a once only cooling pump replacement, turbine upgrade, generator rewinding, that these plants will last 80 years.



S. Green @ #4 says: Your costs for nuclear are only for the generating facility. What are the costs over 60yrs for the mining, enrichment, maintenance, waste storage and decomissioning. What have been the research costs of solar vs nuclear? What are the insurance costs of solar vs nuclear?

Well, if you use IFRs there will be zero costs for mining and zero costs for enrichment. Waste storage will be extremely simple (read about it), as is decommissioning, since the amount of material exposed to radiation is quite small. The bulk of it is a tank full of sodium, which decays into a stable form quite quickly. Maintenance? Do you think the maintenance of vast fields of solar panels equivalent to a nuclear power plant in output (though they never can be, since night intervenes) might just possibly be more difficult than maintaining a single relatively small power plant? The research costs up to now are water under the bridge, aren’t they? That money’s already spent. It would be nice if we cashed in on it. Insurance has been covered on these pages many times, no need for me to flog that dead horse.

You can dispense with the ad hominem attacks, thank you very much. They make you sound desperate.



Its a matter of appropriate technology, nuclear to replace coal and so decarbonise present thinking without needing to change it much and so frighten people and things like PV elsewhere.

But in dissing the huge amounts of money spent this way on PV aren’t we all missing a trick…. What was it that persuaded the German government and the EU to pony up all this money? Who was it that that were so successful in this persuasion? What can we learn from them to succeed in getting Gen III a leg up and IFR off the ground? Or better still can we find them and hire them……. I’m being serious. We can diss ’em or make use of them.


On the question of insurance critics often point to the US Price Anderson Act as unduly helping the nuclear industry. Well the Australian government has just indemnified Chevron from damages for CO2 leaks under Barrow Island
In other words if something goes wrong the Feds pay the bills. It hasn’t even gone to legislation, just an administrative decision.

Many in Australia see gas fired generation not nuclear as the alternative to coal and I suspect we’ll head down that path for a few years.


What was it that persuaded the German government and the EU to pony up all this money? Who was it that that were so successful in this persuasion? What can we learn from them to succeed in getting Gen III a leg up and IFR off the ground? Or better still can we find them and hire them……. I’m being serious.

Attempting to persuade governments that new nuclear reactors will produce only token amounts of energy, and so deprive the governments of only token amounts of fossil fuel tax income, isn’t a possible sales tactic, I think.

(How fire can be domesticated)


Tom Blees @ #9 responds by talking about IFR’s, when his original proposal seemed to be for Gen III which is not exactly transparent, and encourages (in my view overblown) comments like #4.

The most proximate example of a new reactor is in Finland, and that hardly seems to be going very well. It will be interesting and important to see what happens in China and India.

Comparing nuclear and solar while ignoring the < Gen IV waste and refining costs / risks is dishonest in the absence of an economically proven way to transition the waste to Gen IV.

Tom's lack of a clear answer to #4 is concerning. Until we can all adopt a more scientific attitude (by quoting ranges of figures not just the best cases) we do not advance the debate past the shouting stage.

In the end Gen III is probably a dead duck precisely because of the legal / emotional issues and because of the industry’s past tendency towards hype / exaggeration / obfuscation (which we all need to continually guard against if we are to be taken seriously). We need Gen IV to be commercially proven as soon as possible and this will unfortunately take time. In the meantime we need as much solar etc as possible to minimise fossil use (for peak loads if nothing else and especially in sunnier climes).


“The world will have need of widespread nuclear power one day regardless of your bumbling and dishonest attempts at promoting it. Best for all if you lose the spin.”

This is an interesting comment. Salient Green, could you explain your reasons for believing that the world shall need widespread nuclear power in the future, what advantages it posesses that will allow it to meet this need, and what aspects of the current advocacy you are objecting to are incorrect? If you support the eventual deployment of nuclear power, how do your reasons and your perceptions concerning it differ from mine, or David Walter’s, or Tom Blees’ or Barry Brook’s?


David Walters #7,

Could you please explain what you mean by your statement:

At best, solar can handle about 15% of the day in foggy Germany

Solar power’s capacity factor (without storage) is abot 15% annual average. The average capacity factor for winter is probably less than 10% (I have not checked the actual figures fro Germany). The capacity factor for a heavily overcast (foggy) day in Germany is probably less thatn 1% (for a 24 hour day). So I am not sure what you mean by “solar can handle about 15% of the day in foggy Germany”.


Salient Green #4 said:

You’re not doing anyone any favours by the deception in those figures. There are solar cells over 60yrs old still producing useful amounts of electricity so why not be honest about the true operating life of solar.

Can you quantify ‘useful amounts’. The first solar cell was made in about 1955 and much later they could power a small calculator. What is your idea of the useful energy being produced by solar cells that are 60 years old, and even those that are 20 years old? Please provide the figure as a percentage of Germany’s total electricity generation so we can get some understanding of what you mean by “useful amounts of electricity”.


Alistair Breingan #13:

Until we can all adopt a more scientific attitude (by quoting ranges of figures not just the best cases) we do not advance the debate past the shouting stage.

Agreed. That is why BNC is posting articles such as these that do compare the figures from authoritative sources:

Given your statement, I urge you to provide alternative, equally authoritative, figures for solar and nuclear. I would like to see what figures you believe for solar and nuclear, (life cycle analysis) for: $/MW, $/MWh, t CO2-eq/MWh, GHG Avoidance Cost ($/t CO2-eq), economic plant life, volume of material mined per MWh, land area required per MWh, decomissioning and waste disposal cost per MWh, R&D expenditure per MWh, R&D expenditure per Return on Investment. I would suspect any fair comparison using authoritative figures will come out strongly in favour of nuclear over solar. I look forward to your ‘scientific attitude’ and the results of your comparison.

In the end Gen III is probably a dead duck …

If it is, there will be no significant cut in GHG emissons.

…because of the industry’s past tendency towards hype / exaggeration / obfuscation (which we all need to continually guard against if we are to be taken seriously).

Yes we do need to guard against hype / exaggeration / obfuscitation, and dishonesty. My impression is the renewable advocates are far worse at this than the nuclear industry.


There is an alternative which could well work for Australia, but probably not for Germany:

Install combined cycle gas turbines as rapidly as possible so as to quickly turn off the coal burners. Doing that in the USA would remove about 24% of CO2 emissions right there.

Start up algae farms to produce biomethane to suppliment and maybe even replace natgas.

All while waited for oxy-fuel plus CCS conversion kits for the gas turbines; about 15 years off. Similar time for the first IFRs, I’m afraid.


There is an alternative which could well work for Australia, but probably not for Germany:

Install combined cycle gas turbines as rapidly as possible so as to quickly turn off the coal burners. Doing that in the USA would remove about 24% of CO2 emissions right there.

Start up algae farms to produce biomethane to suppliment and maybe even replace natgas.

All while waited for oxy-fuel plus CCS conversion kits for the gas turbines; about 15 years off. Similar time for the first IFRs, I’m afraid.

This ‘alternative’ seems rather business-as-usualish. Especially seeing as CCS is a complete crock.


“How long do PV modules last?

PV modules last a long, long time. How long we honestly don’t yet know, as the oldest terrestrial modules are barely 45 years old and still going strong. In decades-long tests, the fully developed technology of single- and polycrystal modules has shown to degrade at fairly steady rates of 0.25%-0.5% per year. First-generation amorphous modules degraded faster, but there are so many new wrinkles and improvements in amorphous production that we can’t draw any blanket generalizations for this module type.

PV technology is closely related to transistor technology. Based on our experience with transistors, which just fade away after 20 years of constant use, most manufacturers have been confidently predicting 20-year or longer life spans. However, keep in mind that PV modules are seeing only six to eight hours of active use per day, so we may find that life spans of 60-80 years are normal. Cells that were put into the truly nasty environment of space in the late 1960s are still functioning well. The bottom line? We’re going to measure the life expectancy of PV modules in decades – how many, we don’t yet know.”

Most PV warranties are 25yrs for 80% of stated power.

Germany’s solar program has generated tens of thousands of jobs and export income, offset energy imports and driven the price of PV down so that grid parity will be achieved in some areas by 2010 and most of USA by 2015. Solar PV is still far from being a mature technology. Who knows where it will be in another 15yrs? The biggest solar installations planned around the world are currently of the PV type.

It’s very obvious that PV has a lot more going for it than the picture painted by the above article. It’s also obvious that nuclear has a lot more costs and other difficulties going against it than the picture painted above.

BTW, a 1kw PV system in southern Germany will produce around 1000kwh/annum.


It’s obvious that Germany has been led down the garden path over renewables and hopefully the new govt will be a bit more realistic and capable however the recently removed anti-nuclear Green lobby won’t go away.

“We help people and advise them on how they can act. There is a big campaign ready for October. We already have 50,000 people in our network and they want to make sure that these nuclear plans are not enacted. There will be a gathering in Berlin – people are just getting warmed up for the fight.”


Salient Green #20,

You said

BTW, a 1kw PV system in southern Germany will produce around 1000kwh/annum.

The annual output is only relevant if you have sufficient storage to get through all the low generation periods throughout the year. If you do not have this mush storage, you should state the minimum output for the period for which you have storage. For example, if you have storage for just one day, you should state what is the minimum kWh you would generate for 1 day. That is the figure you need to quote – if you are being honest, and not being deceptive (refer your post #4).

You talk about the ‘life’ of panels. We are talking about the ‘economic life’ of panels. That takes into account that as efficiency improves older panels are no longer economic. They will be replaced. I expect the economic life of PV panels is probably less than 20 years.


#23, said “I expect the economic life of PV panels is probably less than 20 years.”
I think that is utter nonsense. What is uneconomic about a solar panel sitting on an otherwise wasted space, a rooftop, still generating over 80% of it’s nameplate capacity after 25yrs and over 60% after 50yrs with no attention bar the occasional hose down and inverter replacement? Why the hell would you replace them? Add to them yes. If a commercial generator is short for space, sure replace them and sell them off cheap to be used elsewhere but they will still be generating useful amounts of electricity.

Re Germany, The annual output is completely relevant as the energy is used. I am well aware of your accounting methods and don’t agree with most of them. If you’re on grid you don’t need storage. A very large grid such as Germany’s makes it easy to accomodate solar power.


“If you’re on grid you don’t need storage. A very large grid such as Germany’s makes it easy to accomodate solar power.”

Oh dear.

Salient, that was a supremely ridiculous statement, even by your standards.

Germany’s ‘very large grid’ is able to accomodate a few percent input from variable, unreliable, intermittent sources such as solar and wind because it has a solid backbone of reliable, weather and time-independent power plants of the nuclear, coal and gas variety. An electric grid powered by renewables doesn’t magically become more stable and reliable just by scaling it up. If you can’t have a stable 10GW grid with 2.5GW of nameplate solar input and 7.5GW of something reliable, you won’t get one by having a 100GW grid with 25GW nameplate solar input and 75GW of something reliable. In fact, by conceding that solar power needs to be embedded in a far larger reliable grid to enable you to use it and still have reliable power, you have demonstrated that it is useless as a major contributer to any future energy solution.


Even PV’s greatest claim, namely to summer load follow, is arguable. A TV ad showed a 2.5kw wall mounted ‘inverter’ air conditioner on special for $1,000 presumably before installation. To power that in real time with PV could cost 2,500w X $6/w = $15,000, plus the cost of the AC. I’d guess you could run a ceiling fan for decades on that outlay. If thousands of suburban rooftops are generating solar electricity while the homeowners are away in air conditioned shops and offices I guess that helps somewhat. However try financing all those panels without rebates and feed-in tariffs.

I think PV with batteries is well suited to remote applications where the cost of grid connection is prohibitive. I doubt that will change for many years. When coal is depleted or carbon taxed to oblivion maybe non-remote PV will make sense but I’m not sure there will be a functioning society by then.

Footnote: I have PV and I haven’t paid an electricity bill for two years but I can see it won’t scale up.


The 2.5 kW figure for the air con unit is a peak draw when the compressor is operating. When the compressor is off it draws much less current. So you have to determine how long the compressor needs to operate for and take account of the COP as well.

BTW there are other avenues such as insulation (retro fitted) coupled with house design. But if you want to pooh pooh that then you could always look at the concept of a an ammonia based solar absorption cycle. Lower COP but what the heck when the heat energy is free. Then there is a that new compression technology being developed by an Adelaide academic that, if its what its cracked up to be, uses a fraction of the energy a conventional compressor based aircon system (sorry I can’t remember it).

But why are our houses in Australia so energy inefficient that we need lots of aircon at this present time


Salient @ 20: Germany’s solar program has generated tens of thousands of jobs and export income, offset energy imports and driven the price of PV down so that grid parity will be achieved in some areas by 2010 and most of USA by 2015.

Offset energy imports? You must be joking! It’s been producing less than 2/3 of one percent of their electrical needs as of 2008, and half that as of 2006. And when a country is subsidizing an industry to the tune of tens of billions of Euros it better generate some jobs! Does that mean it’s money well-spent? You can pay people to break rocks in a quarry all day, and all you have at the end of the day is a bunch of gravel. Is it money well-spent? Considering how much electricity Germany gets from solar panels, the comparison is, I think, apt.

By the way, the price of solar panels is definitely coming down at least temporarily due to a glut on the market after Spain cut back on its subsidies. Also, a lot of those green jobs are disappearing because of it.


On solar thermal air conditioning,

Just shows what can be done when people put their mind to it. Most on this blog are committed to nuclear because they wish to continue the energy intensive, energy wasting, continuous growth lifestyle we are currently living in and hence the endless negativity and snearing at solar and other renewables.

The fact is that other people are getting on with the job of making renewables work and setting us up for a sustainable future. I’m not suggesting you should give up the fight for nuclear but I believe you need to do it differently, without the negativity towards renewables for one thing and with greater honesty and openness about nuclear for another.


Thermal comfort is just one reason I think there can be no powerdown. The population is ageing while heatwaves and cold snaps appear to be getting more severe. I see that David MacKay has come out in favour of heat pumps rather than gas fired heating
Other new energy demands include electric transport, desalination and food production with low fossil fuel input. Even if less energy is used for non-essential purposes like recreational travel more ‘new’ energy will be needed to maintain basic services that we take for granted.


John, excellent comments. Even though I’m a BIG believer in the “Thorium Bullet”, I’m also a big fan of heat pumps as in many places, they are an excellent investment. There is an issue with the *real* investment for heat pumps which is actually weatherizing your house. They can be used effectively in temperate climates without insulation. If you live, say, south of Washington DC, about 1/2 the country, it’s limited, even w/weatherizing, in terms of its effectiveness. In big cities, like in NY, which is built on a block of granite in extremely high density, it’s next to useless.

At any rate, I generally am supportive of it. It does very little, however, in mitigating CO2. This has to do with the widely held belief that personal domiciles represent “usage”. They don’t, generally. They represent, in industrialized countries, about 1/3 of the load (total energy use), at best, usually a lot lower. This is not a reason *not* to do it, but putting this in perspective is more helpful. [Where I live on the Pacific Coast, we use neither heat nor AC so it’s totally irrelevant to our residential load which is for cooking gas, hot water and powering all my toys…].

In Texas, I know people who installed heat pumps and they actually work well for winter, but are terrible at lowering the temperature to 70 F. in the summer. Nothing beats AC.

My view is that nuclear can basically, should basically, handle this via electrical driven AC the way it is now. This is why Texas is building…nuclear and while investing in renewables for because it’s tax payer paid for, it is not relying on it.

Germany itself is not relying on renewables either, as is obvious. They are relying on coal and natural gas. Highly unfortunate. I hope the new German gov’t, schedule to rediscuss the phase out of nuclear, next March.


Basically, from anecdotal evidence. Apparently even the damn ground heats up as you pump heat from the house into it. Go figure? I’ve heard of deep-well heat pumps that pump up very nice 53 F. water into the house that NEVER warms up but these are very expensive systems, apparently…the power to pump the *volume* of water from deep wells is greater than the power to run an AC compressor.

Anyway, so people “tell me”. I’m not making any guesses as to the engineering accuracy of all this. I know 3 people in the Austin area that use them. I suspect the winters are not so terribly cold that they can get good heat into the house but those months long hot summers…another question all together.



Salient sez: Most on this blog are committed to nuclear because they wish to continue the energy intensive, energy wasting, continuous growth lifestyle we are currently living in and hence the endless negativity and snearing [sic] at solar and other renewables.

This isn’t a matter of personal virtue and asceticism. This is about reality. People don’t want to go without, people want to live comfortably and even (by developing countries’ standards) lavishly. And people vote for people who will promote that as much as possible. What you need is not an infrastructure that relies on personal virtue to work but on a system that works no matter the personal behavior.

But even if that weren’t the case, there are more billions of people on this planet now using almost no energy who want a lot more. We just can’t pretend they don’t exist, that they don’t deserve to have abundant energy, or that they’ll be willing energy paupers forever. Oh, and then there are 3 billion more, give or take, who we can expect coming up. And they, and we, will all need ungodly amounts of desalinated water. Accept this: Either we plan for an energy-rich world, which can ONLY be done with nuclear power or fossil fuels (tough with the latter logistically, and a catastrophe environmentally), or we are going to be in constant crisis. Take your pick. But don’t pretend it’s otherwise, because that’s the stark truth.


At Windorah, a small off-grid country town in inland Australia, the Qld govt installed a solar thermal plant with 5 six-storey high mirrors at somewhere around $150,000 per household. They still have to retain the old diesel rattler for what must be mainly peak load because there is no storage.
For a working town all this really does is keep the beer cold.
Also, this is where the dust storms come from and there’s only muddy water to wash the mirrors.
There are plans to extend this to other off-grid towns and resort islands seem to be getting subsidies for similar plants.
The resort islands can market this as part of the green experience and charge extra for brown-outs.


Germany’s not the only one suffering from the wonders of green jobs and renewable energy. Check out this very sobering article from last April about the situation in Spain. An excerpt:

Annually, the government-underwritten wind-power contracts are costing approximately €28.6 billion… for every green job created, some 3.9 jobs are lost in other sectors – someone has to pay for that subsidy level.

It’s worth a read, and alongside this information from Germany it paints a sobering picture of a poorly planned path. Those Frenchies are looking smarter every day. This is NOT the way to stifle Gallic pride!


Talking about grim! Check this out:

Nuclear Power, Hydro Excluded From UN Climate Draft (Update1)
By Todd White

Oct. 9 (Bloomberg) — Nuclear power and “large-scale” hydroelectric plants were excluded from a list of sources that a new climate treaty may recommend developing countries such as China use in efforts to curb greenhouse-gas emissions.

Splitting atoms and damming rivers “have adverse impacts on the environment,” according to a draft approved by a United Nations working group at international climate talks among about 180 nations in Bangkok. The document was published on a UN Web site and dated Oct. 8.

Atomic energy and hydropower have been promoted by governments as climate-friendly because they produce far fewer greenhouse gases than generators that burn coal or natural gas. China and India both plan new atomic-energy plants. They are among developing countries at the talks that were asked by industrial nations to reduce their growth of emissions in return for clean-energy project funding from richer countries.

If the nuclear and hydro provision becomes part of a treaty “it means they cannot be supported through public funding from developed countries,” said Benito Mueller, director of environment at Oxford University’s Institute for Energy Studies. It won’t likely stop them from being built, he said.

The UN has spent almost two years drawing up lists of clean-energy “actions” that nations may voluntarily employ to reach national goals for reducing global-warming gases.

While some nations would like to make these mitigation actions mandatory, there’s no assurance they will ever become binding under a new treaty, said Kaisa Kosonen, a political adviser at Greenpeace who monitored the talks in Bangkok.

The talks end today in Bangkok and resume Nov. 2 before concluding in December in Copenhagen.


Most on this blog are committed to nuclear because they wish to continue the energy intensive, energy wasting, continuous growth lifestyle we are currently living in ..

This is frankly insulting. It suggests we advocate nuclear power because we are unthinking consumerists who only care about growth in our share portfolios. Stephen Gloor, Mike Stasse and others have used almost exactIy these words to dismiss nuclear advocates. Yet I don’t think there is a single commenter on this blog whose motivations are as you paint them.

Speaking personally, the single greatest factor behind my support nuclear power is the preservation of complex ecologies and species biodiversity, for their innate worth independent of (and as well as for) their human aesthetic or utilitarian value. We can expect, thanks to our CO2 emissions, to see the loss of the Great Barrier Reef and coral reefs, alpine ecosystems everywhere, tropical rainforests everywhere, Arctic ecosystems, marine ecosystems, wetlands, loss of species that can’t outrun climate change, loss of migratory species that have to connect with ecosystems across time and space, etc. etc. etc. We are about to live through the most savage mass extinction event in history.

Nuclear power is the single biggest green issue right now, in its affirmation, not its rejection. Nothing else comes close. The usual conservationist approach to wilderness preservation will not work now – you can legislate as many national parks and marine parks as you like, but you can’t legislate their temperature, rainfall or pH. The reasons why non-nuclear responses to climate change will fail are well explained by Barry in his A Necessary Interlude post – you should print that out and frame it.

This is a “dark green” aesthetic, not shared by everyone. But given your pseudonym, I assume its shared by you. Have you actually watched the movie “Soylent Green”? It shows a world in a Malthusian crisis due to overpopulation, but its a perfect depiction of where climate change is taking the biosphere, and I found the ecocide more horrifying than its famous cannibalism. Averting that end requires decarbonization, then draw down of atmospheric carbon. Both require vast, cheap power, and renewables cannot deliver for reasons well explored on this blog. Being quantitative about those reasons is not “sneering” at renewables, its taking green values seriously and being pragmatic and honest in evaluating the options.

I presume we share the same strategic aims, but differ tactically. I imagine thats true for ‘most on this blog [who] are committed to nuclear’. Argue objectively with the tactics by all means, but don’t impugn our motivations.


Well, I’m still waiting for Salient to give his/her reasons for supporting nuclear power in the long term. According to Salient those reasons exist… but they’re not the ones which we vocal pro-nukes talk about (which Salient believes are all dishonest spin), and Salient won’t tell us what these genuine reasons for supporting nuclear power are.

It’s all rather strange.


I suspect that many of the regulars here have been first and foremost, like Barry and me, environmentalists. It was an examination of all the possibilities and their potentials and limitations that led me to investigate and eventually uncover and write the story of the integral fast reactor. Contrary to oft-repeated accusations, those of us who advocate the deployment of what is arguably the best possible technology to respond to the climate crisis are neither shills of the nuclear power industry nor profligate wasters of resources. Having led a rather ascetic existence for much of my life, I find the holier-than-thou air of those who advocate energy poverty to be both tiresome and foolish. Social engineering to train everyone on the planet to be a virtuous energy sipper is not a realistic option. Nor is it even remotely necessary. Value judgements about people’s energy use have no place in this debate, for the human race needs vast amounts of environmentally benign energy no matter how people behave.


Tom Blees –

“I find the holier-than-thou air of those who advocate energy poverty to be both tiresome and foolish. Social engineering to train everyone on the planet to be a virtuous energy sipper is not a realistic option. Nor is it even remotely necessary. Value judgments about people’s energy use have no place in this debate, for the human race needs vast amounts of environmentally benign energy no matter how people behave.”

Wow, someone carve that in stone someplace prominent.


Could some of you please advise me on the following idea:

I’m taking steps to try to get my way of life as sustainable as I can by doing everything as intelligently and elegantly as possible (without living in a cave and eating carrots all day). I’m planning on renovating an old house/farm by putting living/working spaces on top of it in passive house standard. This means that my total yearly energy consumption for heating and electricity will probably not exceed 1500 kWh.

I was thinking of placing 1500 kWp of PV on the roof and thus be energy neutral or perhaps even produce some energy for the rest of the community. I’m in the south of Germany right now, where solar panels indeed do produce more than 1 kWh per 1 kWp. I’ll most probably move to the south of Austria where there is even more sunshine.

My question: Would this be the right way to go, ecologically and sustainably speaking? Lately I’ve been reading things such as Tom’s article and I wouldn’t want to install something that turns out to be costing more energy than it produces.

The thing I like about PV is its decentralized nature. I recognize that GenIV nuclear might be the only viable option to avoid catastrophic Global Warming but I heartily dislike the BAU aspect of it in that it keeps all the hierarchal power structures (both meanings) in place that caused a lot of the trouble in the first place. PV also seems to be a lot less high-tech and thus less vulnerable than GenIV nuclear.

But never mind my uninformed, uncalled for opinion. I’d rather have you advise me on my solution on the individual level. Thanks in advance.


Nevan…you need to really read these discussions here to understand that most of us, Tom too, I believe, reject these individual solutions as any solution whatsoever.

My reaction to what you wrote is thus:

1. Boy, it must be nice to pickup and leave to where it’s ‘sunnier’ pay tens of thousands of dollars for PV and generally do what you want with you life. Most us, oh, say, 99.9% of the worlds population can’t. So this is an Ivory Tower approach within the lifestyle paradigm of the upper middle classes. I’m not interested. It doesn’t apply to me who has to actually work for a living.

2. What good does it do? It’s like suggesting, Nevan, that not littering is the answer to the creation of garbage. Will YOU doing this effect, at all, the climate? Are you concerned about the chemically toxic materials used to create PV and, the subsequent chemically toxic waste, spewed, most likey, around the country side in China?

3. This blog tries to answer the human-scale, planetary issues facing it.

4. Decentralization vs Centralization is hardly the issue, in fact it’s a huge distraction to my point 3. above. The point, Nevan, from reading Tom’s work, is the question of CARBON and CARBON destruction or alleged destruction or maybe it’s a problem many it’s not but should we be doing this in any event? Does your going to some PV commune in the Tyrolian mountains help me on California’s foggy Pacific Coast? I’d say no.

Sorry to go off on you like this because I know you mean well and want to do something. But I think you have the old saying “Think Globally and Act Locally” somewhat skewed…



No problem, David. I’ve been thinking long and hard on these issues and so I can sympathize with your opinion somewhat.

The thing is, I find it unbearable to sit and wait for a solution like GenIV nuclear reactors to be implemented somewhere in the future (if it ever will) as there is so much I can do on a level of efficiency NOW. And though it’s just a drop in the ocean it eases my mind ethically speaking that I’m actively improving my life style instead of theorizing for years on end (not implying that you or anyone else here does) about possible solutions and what everyone should or shouldn’t do.

I have the possibility to do what I think is right (not rich, but working from home). I believe that when you have the possibility to improve something you have the moral obligation to do so. I appreciate that other people don’t have this possibility or think they don’t have it, but that doesn’t really influence what I feel I have to do very much. If nothing matters, I might as well do what feels right to me.

My problem with GenIV is that it’s a Roddenberry solution in that deals with a symptom but not with the underlying cause of the problem(s). However, it does look like a great solution and things will play out like they will.


Neven, when I was 18 years old I realized that it took a lot more land to grow food to feed to cattle for meat than it would to feed me if I quit eating meat. So considering the old saying “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem,” I quit eating meat. Has my lack of meat eating for almost 40 years made a difference in world hunger? Nothing measurable, certainly. It was similar to your “drop in the ocean” conundrum you’re in now.

The problem posed by energy supply for the entire human race isn’t something that’ll be measurably changed by your personal behavior. National and international policies must be arrived at that carry all the people along in their wake, whether they’re conscientious about their ecological impact or not. Absent that, whatever well-intentioned actions you take will be about as consequential as my 40 years of sparing cattle. You might at least feel like you’re not contributing to the problem, but shouldn’t kid yourself that you’re part of any real solution.

If you’re serious about wanting to do something consequential, my suggestion would be to study these issues and then try to raise the awareness of as many people as you know. Given your apparent environmental concern, I’m guessing that you probably know an awful lot of people who find the very word “nuclear” to be anathema. If you can help educate them, write articles for your local paper, write to your political representatives, maybe even try to set up a media event for someone like Barry to get the word out and put some pressure on your political leaders, I suspect that will go a lot farther toward making a difference than deploying PVs at great expense. These are global issues that can, alas, only be solved at the macro level. Might I suggest taking a tiny portion of the money you’d spend on PVs and make a donation to the Science Council for Global Initiatives? It might even be tax deductible for you. Our organization’s whole purpose is creating the international frameworks by which we can build an energy-rich future, not just in the developed countries but across the planet. I don’t know of any other such group that even talks about that as a possibility, much less an achievable goal. Yet it can be done. SCGI is just getting off the ground, but check it out from time to time because it’ll be growing pretty quickly in the near future. Sign up for our email newsletter so you can keep up with it.

As for the Roddenberry solution link you provided, I don’t believe many people believe we can continue to grow our population indefinitely. But we do seem destined to get to about 10 billion. We can provide enough energy for that many, there is no doubt. We’ll also have to be sensible about all our resource use (as discussed in my book) if we’re to weather that demographic storm and hit the down slope while we create a steady-state economic and political model. I would much prefer to see the population decline from that point, though I won’t be around to have anything to do with that personally. Do you have kids? If you do or if you plan to, and you want to make a difference in the world, think about having no more than 2. That alone will make a bigger difference than all the PV panels you could ever dream of buying.


Thanks for the answer, Tom. I’ve just made a donation to SCGI and subscribed to the news letter. There’s another organisation I’m a member of that you might know already. It’s called CASSE and they’re very much on the ball wrt the economic issue of the cocktail of global problems. It’s the first thing that came to my mind when I saw the SCGI website.

Once I’ve got a solid, sustainable foundation for the way my wife, my daughter and I live I’m sure I’ll be actively promoting sustainable solutions, either in my community or on the Internet.

In the meantime I’ll keep looking into the pros and cons of a 1500 kWp PV system on my roof. And all the other stuff. It’s amazing how much you can do on an individual level, once you start looking for the limits.



Solar is not environmentally benign. It requires far more material to be mined, processed, manufactured, decommissioned, disposed of than nuclear. It releases much more CO2 over its full life cycle than nuclear. In almost all ways solar is worse than nuclear. Solar is not more sustainable. If you really want to help, the best thing you can do, in my opinion, is to understand the facts and then start educating the population – especially those who continually vote in governments that are anti-nuclear. And stop doing the wrong thing.


Neven, I appreciate your support and I assure you we have every intention of putting all our support to productive use. Our connections with policymakers are increasing all the time, and more and more they’re grasping the necessity of planning for a future free of competition over energy supplies. It’s quite logical, of course, but most people (including politicians) are unaware of the technologies available.

By the way, if you happen to be awake at 4:15 AM on Friday morning (not likely) I’ll be interviewed on radio station 2UE in Sydney on Jim Ball’s show.


Tom – Off topic but I thought I’d share my thoughts on your book. The book arrived by mail about two weeks ago and I’ve only just finished reading it.

You have brought together an account of some truly interesting technologies and for this I very much appreciated your book. Bravo, good stuff, no serious disagreement with any of the technology arguments. I hope Australia gets over it’s nuclear prohibition fetish sooner rather than later. I hope the USA has now put in place a less disfunctional nuclear licensing regime.

I think however that your economic and political arguments and charatures were shallow and mostly unhelpful to your cause. I suspect you have never studied the arguments for free markets. You pretty much dismiss proponents of free market as insane zealots without even trying to mount any counter argument as part of your repeated dismissal of market based solutions. You list a dozen instances of regulatory failure (eg price capping in the Californian electricity market) but in each instance manage to carry on blaming free market advocates as if the term “free markets” is a euphamism for the US Republican party or a system of plutocracy. Unfortunately the lack of reasoned argument when it comes to the economics of widespread nationalisation of power plants (let alone opposition to privatisation) means I can’t in good faith recommend your book to anybody serious about policy formulation. The proposed establishment of UN run global energy monopoly with it’s own paramilitary branch is at best completely naive or at worst breath takingly sinister. In any case it disqualifies your book as offering anything reasonable in terms of political solutions.

Perhaps your book will convince some die hard socialist lefties to abandon their reflexive opposition to nuclear energy and I suppose there is merit in that. However I think the book would have been substantially improved if you had left out most of the politics and economics beyond the basics such as financial cost comparisons of rival solutions. If you wanted to get into politics and economics it would have been more helpful if instead of disparaging remarks targeted at strawman generalisations you offered reasoned arguments in favour of public ownership in the energy sector. And talk to some economic experts in addition to technological experts.

All up I’m glad I read your book. Unfortunately I can’t in good faith recommend it to others without reservations and serious qualifications.


TerjeP: While I never claim to be an economist, you seem to have an obvious bias toward free market solutions, which seem to form the basis for your objections to my socialist energy utopia ;-) Yet as I point out in P4TP, electricity (and energy in general) is not a free market. It’s like the health care debate in the USA right now. You can’t just say, “Oh, that cancer is WAY too expensive, I’ll just have a hernia today.” You don’t have a choice. Neither do you have a choice about electricity or, in most cases, gas for your car, or heat (either gas or electric) in the wintertime. Sure, you can do without A/C in summer if you’re willing to, but you have to cook and heat and use electricity, and the suppliers of that energy are usually very few in any given area, often only a single supplier. If you simply let the market decide what the prices are going to be for their captive audience, and especially if you have a system where only one or two entities are in there selling the product that people can’t do without, the success at preventing gouging will be in direct proportion to the amount of regulation brought to bear to rein in corporate greed. Otherwise you’ll have situations like we do in both health care and deregulated electricity markets. If I seem to connect Republicanism in the US with such unfettered “free market” looting, it’s because that party has been far more prone to encouraging such misbehavior for the past several decades. And yes, that style of governance has fed a plutocracy in the USA. I’m not making it up.

The success, lower prices and improved performance of the nonprofit cooperatives that supply electricity to 25% of America’s citizens provides ample evidence in and of itself of the superiority of such arrangements. If you feel that this constitutes a “lack of reasoned arguments” then I submit that you are denying the hard data in deference to free market ideology, an ideology that has not only proven bankrupt but which has nearly bankrupted the country.

Another aspect of this that you seem to completely overlook is the fact that nonproliferation concerns would dictate some sort of international control over fissile material, something which many nuclear physicists, engineers, and many others have wished for—and seen the need for—since the Forties and Fifties. Thus the international energy consortium concept is not only to prevent gouging and poor maintenance and operation, but to allow for the widespread deployment of nuclear power while minimizing the threat of proliferation of any kind. The paramilitary branch idea would simply represent the enforcement arm of such a system. There’s nothing sinister about it. Governments could assure continued power to their critical political and military systems by having them supplied by “nuclear batteries” that would provide power for 20-30 years without refueling. The technology has already been developed. The majority of the power their country uses could be left in the hands of the international energy consortium, which being comprised of nations of all ideological stripes would be hard-pressed to punish any nation by turning out their lights except in the most egregious instances of aggression.

It doesn’t surprise me that some people might bridle at the solutions I propose, but to imply that your disagreement disqualifies Prescription for the Planet as “offering anything reasonable in terms of political solutions” is only the opinion of one free marketeer, not the definitive pronouncement that you seem to want to make it sound like. I don’t believe the facts of recent history even remotely support your judgement. So I will refrain from choosing between “completely naive” and “breathtakingly sinister.” I’ll choose “neither.”


Food is in fact more essential than electricity (and health care services). Try 40 days without electricity (or health care services) and you will fair much better than 40 days without food. And yet nationalising the production and/or distribution of food has never been a roaring success (it killed millions when tried in the Soviet Union and China). Subsidising it hasn’t been very helpful either. Price controls on food when tried have been disastrous#. This does not prove that electricity should be provided by the private sector but in my mind it completely neutralises the argument that essential things should be produced by the state. The fact that you raise this as an argument for nationalisation is represenative of the shallowness of the economic arguments in your book.

I am not intimate with the US situation but the term “non profit cooperatives” is not something I would generally think of as a government solution. Civil society is part of the private sector. Even if you wish to regard it as a third force it certainly isn’t part of the state. If you want nuclear power plants provided by non profit cooperatives setup and run on a voluntary basis then far be it from me to object. In fact I would be quite keen to see such an approach succeed so long as competitive alternatives by the for profit sector were not excluded. In terms of the actual local electricity distribution network I think cooperatives are close to an optimal approach although smart grids may shift the balance towards other structures. This has nothing to do with electricity being essential and more to do with the practicalities of competition in the provision of a distribution network. No such difficulty exists in terms of electricity generation.

When you refer to Republican “looting” I presume that you mean government and business getting in bed to rip off taxpayers and consumers. The solution is for government not to get in bed with business and not to rip off taxpayers and consumers. Confusing this as being some argument against “free markets” is a mistake.

You indicate that nonproliferation concerns would dictate some sort of international control. Presumably we would agree that selling plutonium to terrorists or rouge governments ought to be criminal. However simply having a corporation owned by the government (or GREAT owned by the UN) does not automatically achieve anything. People are people. There is no natural law of the universe that says government employees never commit criminal acts. And in fact there is a lot of evidence to show that government organisations are extremely hard to close down even if their culture becomes corrupted or they drift away from their original mission statement (eg the IMF). Your own government went and invaded Iraq on false premises which should offer a salutory warning about the morality of “government”. You seem to assume that government entities are somehow immune from corruption, ineptitude or uneffected by incentives. The way to deal with proliferation risks is to have independent oversight. Whether the operator is government run or privately run the oversight still needs to be independent. Do you presume that GREAT will police itself.

Lets assume GREAT gets set up and it really is great. Then lets assume that 20 years from now due to neglect (it happens) GREAT has a poor culture internally. How the heck do you shut something down that controls the worlds energy supplies? Contrast this with a heap of privately owned power plants with regulatory oversight. One of them misbehaves and you can put them out of business. One of the beauties of capitalism is it’s modular nature.

In terms of my own biases I do have a preference for free markets, low taxes, civil society and all things voluntary. When authorities want to lock somebody up for a serious crime the burden of proof is biased towards liberty (innocent until proven guilty) and so it ought to be with public policy. The burden of proof should lie with those that want to reduce liberty rather than those that want to increase it.

We could argue back and forth on the detail of economics but that wasn’t my main point. My main point was that your book will in my view alienate a lot of readers by offering weak simplistic economic arguments and by using “free market advocates” and “libertarian” as pejorative terms. It would in my view have been better if you simply stuck to your kniting and espouse the technolgical virtues of Integral Fast Reactors. Perhaps in your next book.

# Price controls are almost always disastereous which you seem to notice in reference to power shortage in California but perhaps you are not aware of the large body of work on this issue. The reason Americans found themselves queueing for petrol (gasoline) in the 1970s and Australians and Germans and Japanese didn’t had nothing to do with OPEC and everything to do with US domestic price controls. Several of your cities also manage to create housing shortages with price controls. Far from being unique the electricity shortage in California was a classic example of a price controls in action. Worth a read is the article “Four Thousand Years of Price Controls”:-


I’m not sure how food got into this but it’s not as relevant as electricity…for which the concept of a market for that which can’t be stored or denied at *any* given point has very different characteristics as a “commodity”.

I tend to agree that state ownership has not always worked out well in the production of food stuffs, or at least in it’s initial form: agriculture. Processing of food? Not as bad, as it happens. But this has to do with the role of the individual in production: farming is best when production is *organized* on an individual basis. Once we leave the farm, production, that is, the adding of value to the initial commodity, changes quite a lot. You have waged workers, not owners, now, in the production chain, and this makes for a huge difference that allows for far more forms of ownership than farming.

Secondly, I totally disagree that food is “more” important than electricity. We can put off eating, survive for days with out it or forever with a lot less of it. Electricity is immediate and, within a few days, without, would lead to an immediate breakdown of society. Far more ‘damage’ would be done if the US, or even a region of the US went without power. This was shown during a particularly brutal winter in the US shortly after Katrina.

Thirdly, it’s also wrong to even suggest that one can separate out the production of food stuffs from energy. They are tied together so closely I don’t think anyone would disagree with this.

Fourthly, and my main point, is that it’s a-historical to look at ‘free enterprise’ as some sort of glorification of a no-state intervention when without the state (to at least insure through threats of violence the current owners stay as such) business is fine. Every great industrial project in the world today wouldn’t exist without massive gov’t sponsorship, financing, intervention, ownership, regulation, etc or any combination thereof. From the 100% private railroad system in the U.S. under Abaraham Lincoln to the building of every massive hydro project in the world today.

Specifically, gov’t *run* nuclear program ARE why we even can debate here the issue of fission energy. Most nuclear plants in the world, at least until recently, were built, owned and operated as quite explicit socialist state enterprises. In the US today, 16% of *all* generation is from publicly owned public-power entities (and on average *better* run, more reliable and *cheaper* than the private investor-owned utilities!).

At the very least, the case of nationalization of energy resources, specifically generation and distribution are overwhelming.



#55: The fact that you raise this as an argument for nationalisation is represenative of the shallowness of the economic arguments in your book.

That’s a false equivalency, Terje. Food is available from any number of sources. You can leave one and take another. That’s not the case with electricity, which in most cases is available from a single provider. Perhaps my arguments are less shallow than your comprehension.

Price controls are almost always disastereous which you seem to notice in reference to power shortage in California but perhaps you are not aware of the large body of work on this issue.

You seem to have a poor understanding of what happened in California, which isn’t surprising because you’re not here, but you could have found out from a closer read of that section of my book. Deregulation, not regulation, is what caused the energy fiasco in California. As for private ownership of nuclear power plants with oversight, that is simply asking for trouble. We’ve seen this already with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and various private utility companies in the USA, as also described in my book. Fissile material must be under international control to minimize the risks of nuclear proliferation. That may go against your free market grain, but your arguments against it are full of holes that could end up being very dangerous holes. The modular nature of privatization of nuclear power is nothing to value, for you don’t want even one failure of the system.

I leave the rest to David, who already got here before me to flesh out some of my points.


My opinion is very distinct, actually, from Toms, I believe. But obviously we both don’t believe in fairy tails of unhindered monopoly capitalism. Like we had in *banking* until that crashed in an orgy of *unregulated* profit taking. The revionsists are hard at work, of course, trying to make this seem like gov’t’s doing. A huh. True, in a way.

They allowed it to happen with the start of deregulation of the banking system by George Bush Sr.’s one and only term in 1988-1992. Then we had the “Savings and Loan Crisis” which until recently, was the largest single transfer of wealth from working class to the rich by the literal stealing of deposits via *unregulated* loans to bank owners from themselves. It all went down hill from there…

I was until a year ago a power plant control operator in San Francisco, CA. I was “in the belly of the beast” during the fiasco we called “deregulation”, in California. The big rate payers: refineries, commercial office buildings, food processors, etc all demanded, back in 1985, that, “because prices were unnaturally high” for electricity in California, the wanted they “wanted the market” to determine prices. Oops! Since the proto-Libertarians (non-partisan Dems and Repubs) who came up with what had been a *fine* system in California, albeit higher prices about 15% more than other places in the U.S., wanted “unhindered access to an unhindered market mechanism”…the whole system got ‘gamed’.

Fortunately for about 20% of California’s residents and small business owners who are pat of the extensive public power/irrigation district/municipal utility system, they got buffered by the price shots. For the others? That’s all history: every major utility when bankrupt, thousands of small businesses went under, general chaos. But, for the Libertarians, they argued, “its all good” because the dollar rules and there are no rules.

The natural tendency toward monopolization and price manipulation doesn’t seem to exist in the world of Free Enterpriseers, I suppose.

I used to receive phone calls telling me that “we’re not raising load on the unit or we’ll ‘soften’ the price. We want it at $700/MWhr. Oh…and good work!”. Really. It’s all a matter public record.

If this TWO commodity that is better handled by the government it’s electrical generation and water distribution (the latter of which I never hear anyone complain, EVER, about).

I urge all activists in Australia to join whatever anti-privatization campaigns that exist there. It was a big deal I think when Labor’s minister in NSW about 2 years ago wanted to privatize everything.


I’ll readily concede that California is a case of flawed deregulation but only in so far as deregulation was the path by which the regulatory environment ended up flawed. How we get bad regulation, whether via the addition of bad laws or the failure to remove bad laws does not change the fact that the problem was with the regulation. The behaviour of the market under those conditions (ie price caps leading to shortages) is entirely predictable. This is not a case against free markets because the market wasn’t free and it wasn’t even structured as a close approximation of a free market. Free market advocates don’t recommend price caps so a problem induced by a price caps isn’t the fault of free market advocates. A market that functions as theory would expect a market to function is not a case of market failure even if the outcome is undesirable.

In terms of electricity being different to food that is obvious, but it is also a statement that has nothing to do with electricity being essential which was your intial claim. In essence your changing the topic which is a good idea because the intial claim (electricity essential) was very weak.

There are reasonable arguments for partial regulation and even public ownership of electricity distribution networks because you can’t readily shop around for access but these issues don’t apply to wholesale electricity generation. We could have all distibution networks belonging to local government or cooperatives and still have a market in power generation.

In terms of trusting public sector employees more than private sector employees with nuclear material I think it would be meaningful to look at the accident record of public nuclear power plants and private nuclear power plants. Preferably within the context of a common regulatory framework. I don’t have such data and I did not encounter it within the book but I think it is a most valid line of enquiry. However in the absense of evidence I’ll defer to liberty as the best option. We trust the private sector with risky activities all the time including the bulk transport of petrol, the operation of gas pipelines, the storage of toxic chemicals and all manner of potentially dangereous systems and things.

My point about culture was not a point about closing companies that have nuclear disasters. If an organisation (public or private) develops a culture that supports corruption or indifference to safety and it works with a potentially dangerous substance then you want to correct that culture before it leads to problems. Correcting the culture of a small local firm via withdrawal of licenses or by closure is a quite legitamate approach to management and oversite. However if you have a single global organisation that everybody is dependent on and which is embedded within our political systems (and even has a paramilitary mandate) then reform is incredibly difficult. To wish this away by saying problems won’t be tolerated seems to ignore the whole question of governance. God like decrees are not what makes organisations function.

Given the onsite processing of an IFR plant it would seem quite reasonable to simply regulate the transport of nuclear material whilst leaving the private sector to finance, build own and operate the actual plants under a license system.



Australia did not have a financial crisis. No banks failed. None even made a loss. We have different regulations to what the USA has. In many instances we have less regulation. For instance prior to the GFC there were zero government guarantees on bank deposits (there is now a temporary one in place). Unlike the USA we have no explicit reserve requirements. We don’t have a free market in banking but it is arguably more free than the US system and certainly one of the most free banking markets in the world. Blaming markets for US regulations seems silly.

I’d readily argue for privatisation of water (dams, desalination plants) but as with electricity I’d be more cautious in regard to distribution networks. Sydney is currently getting a private desalination plant and my only real objection is that the government owned distributor gave them favouable terms and won’t open up to alternate water providers. In particular there are operators keen to sell harvested and treated storm water and they don’t get equal access.


David, there are actually plenty of companies complaining about water distribution being handled by the government, with some big water companies going all out to privatize water systems from Georgia (USA) to Bolivia. The results have been pretty consistently horrible, but that’s hardly stopping them. On the other hand, like Terje I don’t really have a problem with private desal projects, though major dams I’m not so sure. Many different companies could get into the desal business and then you’d have competition on pricing, though I would think there’d have to be some sort of regulation to prevent total gouging in the case of a drought or something. And no, I don’t think desal companies would always be ethical enough to resist such an opportunity. See water privatization horror stories as mentioned above.

As for the price caps being the problem in California, without them the citizens of California would have been even more hosed than we were. Because of the caps, PG&E and SCE went belly-up, but not before they’d looted their own coffers and transferred their money to their own subsidiaries elsewhere, which then joined in the pillaging of their mother company.

In essence you’re changing the topic which is a good idea because the intial claim (electricity essential) was very weak.

I wasn’t changing the topic, but pointing out your bogus equivalency of food and electricity. And I dare say few people in the developed world would agree with you that electricity is not essential, but your mileage may vary. I notice you seem to be using it now, though. Remember the last time your power went out? Pretty disorienting, no? Did your heat work? Even if you’ve got gas heat, the thermostat wouldn’t have let it go on. Same with hot water. Electric stove? Good luck with that. Refrigeration? Lights? Walk-around phone? Computer? If you find electricity non-essential I would definitely put you in the tiny minority of industrialized citizens.

Conflating the control of nuclear material with that of other hazardous substances is yet another false equivalency. Think about it.


Tom – You have not taken the trouble to properly read what I have written. I did not say electricity was not essential. What I did say was that the fact that a product is essential is not an argument for government provision. If essential products should be government produced merely because they are essential then food should also be government produced. Clearly this would be silly. The electricity is essential so government must provide it argument is not wrong because electricity is unessential, it is wrong because the conclusion does not follow.

In terms of private desalination the price of water should rise if there is a drought induced shortage (supply shock). Price is the prime market signal and if you want to disrupt that signal then you don’t want markets to function. A high price during a drought invites further investment in desal plants etc because the high price boosts profits and investor incentives. An anticipated drought will also encourage dam operators to reduce supply in anticipation of a higher future price. If they are right then such action is of high benefit because it imposes conservation ahead of a real shortage. We may not like high prices but that does not mean the market isn’t working when we get them. Drought also effects food prices and as consumers we readily deal with it.

Under our government provision of water in Sydney shortages are dealt with via rationing and dob in a neighbour campaign. In one case it even lead to violence between neighbours with somebody being physically assaulted for watering the garden (even though he was watering at a time that was actually permitted to). I’d rather have a price rise rather than a spy on your neighbour program. If I want to put water on my garden and pay for it with shorter showers why should I be penalised?

If you can accept private ownership of desal plants I’m not sure why in your book you leap to the conclusion that Plasma Gasification plants should be government owned.

Also in terms of developing boron cars you recommend a large government financial bonus for those that figure out the details with the assertion that incentives never hurt. It seems that gouging taxpayers to provide incentives is okay whilst gouging consumers isn’t. I found this remark quite extrodinary.

Don’t get me wrong on all this. I do think you have done a good job in mapping out a technological pathway. Government can offer a lot by removing it’s current obstructions and you present a clear outline of where they ought to focus their attention. And you clearly have done some good work on comparing costs so your obviously interested in economic considerations even if I find your economic outlook on dynamic economic factors lacking. You look at high prices and high profits and don’t seem to grasp that the long term consequence is high levels of investment, high levels of competition and a good deal for consumers over the long haul. I’m not even sure you take in the short term consequence which is conservation and moderated consumption.


Terje, thanks for the qualified praise you’ve been gracious enough to tender despite your disagreements. I suspect my socialist-seeming leanings led you to read it with a bit of a jaundiced eye, though. You said, If you can accept private ownership of desal plants I’m not sure why in your book you leap to the conclusion that Plasma Gasification plants should be government owned. Actually I suggested quite the opposite, even calling that chapter “Exxon Sanitation, Inc.” I did mention that it would be good to keep an antitrust eye on things if Exxon or any very small number of companies should try to corner the market on these plants, but that’s hardly an argument for government control.

Your continued contentiousness about the degree of government control over nuclear power plants continues to beat around the proliferation bush, though. While I believe that experience in both the USA and other nations provides ample evidence of the positive effects of nationalization of electrical distribution and/or generation, that is secondary, in my view, to the urgency of such control in the case of nuclear power precisely because of the need for scrupulous international oversight of fissile material. Far easier to oversee the culture of an international group like I propose overseen by a host of countries from all sides of the political spectrum than the corporate culture of dozens or hundreds of private companies whose prime motivation is making money. Whatever you think about that from an economic philosophy standpoint, you simply cannot divorce the issue of control of fissile material from the question.


Tom Bleese, David Walters and TerjeP,

I would like to know what structure would be best able to give Australia least-cost electricity over the long term?

Questions that come to my mind are:

1. Public or private ownership?

2. Public ownership until we reach the stage of “settled down costs” and have an appropriate level of Australian capability, then change to private ownership?

3. An arrangement like the one that built the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme – public ownership headed by a brilliant engineer and exceptional leader, supported by a stable and supporting government. All construction let to contracts.

4. How could we steer the public questions away from whether or not we need nuclear energy, to, instead, how can we deliver least-cost low-emissions electricity. Or more specifically, how can we deliver least-cost nuclear power in Australia?

5. The structures and regulatory environments in USA, EU and Japan make nuclear high cost. How can we avoid those high cost imposts?

6. What is UAE doing? I understand they claim to be implementing US technology with an appropriately downscaled US regulatory environment.

Enough from me. Any thoughts?


Peter – I’ll kick of with a philosophical primer.

I’m loath to recommend public ownership of any business. I view the idea of the state running businesses as comparable to the state running religions. I prefer separation.

The only unique thing that government brings to the table in any activity is the power of coercion. I think that in praising the efficacy of coercion people significantly underestimate the negative consequences (collateral damage). The slow destruction of community being one of them. If you have a narrow minded view of what is important then coercion can get the job done. However I’m not interested in a taking a narrow perspective on society.

When the government builds something it funds it through taxes or borrowed funds. The shiny new thing it builds may be very impressive but taxes and government borrowing both entail significant collateral damage. The damage is distributed so it isn’t always as noticable. However if 3000 people die in a plane crash or they die individually in separate events the consequence is still 3000 dead people even if it doesn’t make the headlines. If you only care about the shiny thing then perhaps collateral damage doesn’t matter. If your interested in nuclear power rather than the public interest then a pro-nuclear government that wants to build nuclear power stations might be all you need. However if your interested in nuclear power and the public interest your viewpoint ought to be somewhat different.

Tom mentioned co-operatives earlier. Co-operatives as I understand the term are quite different to government owned enterprises. Co-operatives take time to build up. They can’t be imposed. Governments have a wonderful track record of taking over co-operatives (in the public interest) and then destroying most of the good qualities they entailed before they were taken over. In a bygone era, before government assumed a huge percentage of our economy and undermined voluntary social entrepreneurship, co-operatives flowered everywhere and did all sorts of great things. Trade unions, friendly societies and other community organisations that once provided pensions, disability benefits, medical assistance, financial services and the like are these days more often involved in lobbying government. When governments assume power over things the natural consequence is that community and individuals have less power and take less responsibility.

The thing that sees government empowered quicker than anything else is a state of fear or a sense of crisis. So for those that disagree with my outlook and who want the government to just get on and do stuff I recommend fear and crisis as useful tools. Tried and tested.


My answers to questions:-

1. Private or not at all.
2. Absolutely not. The last thing we want to do is use the government to build more private monoliths.
3. See 2. In any case I think the technical challenges are different.
4. We can’t steer the public. At best we can inform them.
5. Government ownership gets around regulatory pain. That is probably why nuclear power could be readily built in France by a nationalised utility. However see 2.
6. I don’t know enough to say.



Terje, thanks for the qualified praise you’ve been gracious enough to tender despite your disagreements.

Your welcome. Humans tend to focus on disagreements. However in practice most people agree on an awful lot. For instance you and I both agree that renewable energy sources such as solar and wind are expensive options that won’t readily scale.

I suspect my socialist-seeming leanings led you to read it with a bit of a jaundiced eye, though.

Yes. However I won’t be the only one that feels this way. If you are as passionate about your cause as I think you are then I think you might want to be mindful of who your audience is. It ought to be as wide as possible. References to “intransigent free market ideologues” kind of suggests you were inviting a jaundiced view amoungst some people. Given that free market rhetoric typically finds favour with at least half the voting population (all of whom are adults) I’d be cautious about using it too disparagingly.

You said, If you can accept private ownership of desal plants I’m not sure why in your book you leap to the conclusion that Plasma Gasification plants should be government owned. Actually I suggested quite the opposite, even calling that chapter “Exxon Sanitation, Inc.” I did mention that it would be good to keep an antitrust eye on things if Exxon or any very small number of companies should try to corner the market on these plants, but that’s hardly an argument for government control.

Yes I did read the chapter. However you did seem to retreat from this position later on. However perhaps I misunderstood you and as I can’t find the specific reference right now I will take you at your word and move on.

Whatever you think about that from an economic philosophy standpoint, you simply cannot divorce the issue of control of fissile material from the question.

There are two issues here. Firstly nuclear accidents and secondly weapons proliferation.

I have not seen any evidence that government owned nuclear power plants have a better safety record than privately owned ones. If there is such evidence then perhaps you can point me to it. In the absense of evidence I’m always universally going to favour the more liberal position.

In terms of proliferation risks the assumption seems to be that the a private company might illegally sell nuclear material to terrorists or bad governments. I would think that this would be contrary to their financial incentives. Firstly you want to keep nuclear material for energy production because that is the business you are in. Secondly you are going to be out of business (and in jail) pretty quick if you start dealing with terrorists. However perhaps they are rich terrorists and prepared to pay a lot. But workers and managers at a government owned fascility are not going to be immune from similar such financial temptations. You seem to be asserting that government workers are more lawful than private sector workers. Such a suggestion simply defies common sense.

In any case you make the point in your book that there are much easier ways to obtain nuclear material for weapons than via an IFR reactor.


p.s. I assume Tom that you are not against the private sector building power plants such as Westinghouse and the AP1000. Even though they are doing it for greed.


For Peter Lang: in one of your articles (excellent, thanks) you made the following comment.

The area required for the solar option would be 400 to 1000 times greater than with
nuclear (not including mining; the mining area and volumes would also be greater for
the solar option than for the nuclear option).

where did you get the info for solar mining? better yet, where could I most easily get such info?



This blog is amazing.


Terje, I am certainly not against the private sector buildng the power plants. In fact, the construction project as I propose it in my book would include companies all over the world building modules in order to expedite the process through specialization and mass production, and that would increase the potential for quality control too. It would be the biggest construction project in the history of the world by a long shot, and a lot of people would make a lot of money on it, trillions of dollars in all.

Regarding your earlier point about selling material to terrorists, etc, it all goes back to what you brought up much earlier, the culture of the organization. When you have dozens or hundreds of private companies, all out for their bottom lines, you have that many different corporate cultures, far more difficult to keep on the straight and narrow than a single organization with standardized training for standardized plants, where the employees are somewhat randomly moved between sites so that there wouldn’t be the opportunity to develop a system of skullduggery (all being inspected randomly from above besides). I explained the idea at greater length in my book. Granted, there are easier ways to obtain nuclear material, but in a world that operates like this all of it would be under such control, so that would be about the only way. It would definitely be difficult for anyone to spirit out any fuel at any stage of the IFR process, but for several decades we’d be dealing with spent fuel from LWRs and new fuel to LWRs, and controlling that will likely be our greatest challenge. But any way you look at it, if only from a dirty bomb perspective, we want to control the fissile material.

Now, it would be easy enough to engineer a very secure ingress/egress to the plants that could be operated from off-site. If you want to be as secure as possible, though, you’d want to operate it from outside the country if it’s not a nuclear club country. Again, we get back to government control. It’s clear from all your remarks to Peter that you and I have drastically different views about government ownership of certain things. I think on this we’ll have to agree to disagree. That being said, I don’t mind giving Peter my opinion:

1. For nuclear, public (for the reasons I’ve discussed at length with Terje here and in my book). For everything else, go private if you think that’s a good idea. I personally don’t think it is, for electricity (see the example of the state of Nebraska in Prescription for the Planet on page 251:
“Despite vehement opposition by private utility companies, Senator Norris [of Nebraska] persisted in bringing his public power vision to his entire state. Castigated as a socialist in a time when that word carried considerable stigma (as it still does today in the USA), he succeeded in not only selflessly serving his state’s best interests but in laying the groundwork for a multitude of public power systems which persist to this day. Today there are over 2,000 government-operated systems across the country, with a third of them — like Sacramento and Los Angeles — having their own generating capacity. Altogether, the nonprofit electrical sector — publicly owned utilities plus private, member-owned cooperatives — services 26% of American consumers. Condemned by the private utility companies as socialistic and thus somehow inherently illegitimate, these nonprofit systems consistently provide reliable power more cheaply and reliably than the corporations that deride them.”
Each to his own. I have more faith in the ability of government to do things right than Terje apparently feels is warranted.

2. It’s like health care in the USA: Right now insurers suck at least one of every three dollars into their coffers, money that won’t get spent on actual health care. What service do they provide? Arguably only a negative service, for their exclusion and denial of services results in the deaths of tens of thousands of people every year (see the recent Harvard study). With utilities running nuclear power plants in the USA it hasn’t been much better. If you’re going to start out with public ownership and the infrastructure has been built at public expense, why on earth turn it over to private ownership so that they can milk what is essentially a self-running plant? Whom does that benefit? Certainly not the customer.

3. Public ownership but built by contracts to private companies. This is the method I propose in my book for the whole system. Even under public ownership, there would be many good-paying jobs for the people running the plants. The only thing missing would be the hodge-podge of different corporations—allowing for the movement of employees smoothly between plants—and the money that would be sucked into the pockets of stockholders and overpaid executives.

4. Education and a lot of public discussion, in answer to your first part. In terms of bringing least-cost nuclear to Australia, within a few years you’ll see the first AP-1000s starting up in China. I do think that will be a watershed event that will have the potential to open the door to nuclear (Gen III+ and Gen IV) in many countries where indecision reigns today.

5. Japan isn’t nearly as bad as the USA. They did just fine with the ABWRs in the late 90s. The USA is such a rats’ nest of public/private quicksand that I would much prefer to see nuclear nationalized, though I doubt that’ll happen in the near future unless we can make our way to such a condition via international agreements.

6. Sorry, I don’t know much about that either. But in terms of a downscaled regulatory environment, that wouldn’t surprise me at all. Many countries, I believe, feel that if a design is good enough for licensing in the USA or the EU then it’s good enough for them.

Clearly Terje and I are not just on different pages when it comes to government ownership of utilities, we’re not even reading from the same book. It’s a question of political philosophy. While I feel I make a strong case for government control over nuclear in Prescription for the Planet, clearly not everyone will agree.


Thank you for your comments TerjeP and Tom Blees,

However, this is all very philosophical.

How can we get least cost, low emissions electricity in Australia?

How can we avoid the enormous imposts that the US, EU and Japan are putting on nuclear power but are not putting on the conventional and alternative technologies?


Hi Gregory Meyerson (#69),

Thank you for your supportive comment.

Are you refering to a comment I made on one of the threads or to the article at:

That article explains the background.

Regarding the volumes of material that must be mined, (and milled, processed, fabricated, constructed, decommissioned, disposed of and transported between each step), many studies have been done. However, to keep it simple, the TCASE4 article is a good start. The quantities of mining are roughly comparable with the quantities of concrete and steel required for each technology. However, importantly, Barry’s figures for solar and wind are massive under estimates because they are based on the average capacity factors rather than the minimum capacity factors.

An authoritative study that compiles and references al large amount of information is the ExternE study

This is one of the subordinate studies.


Peter – if your only interest in life is getting Australia to adopt nuclear energy and your not overly concerned about the externalities of taxation or government borrowing or the greater public good then Tom is probably on pretty safe ground in promoting public ownership as the most expedient path. Unfortunately for any debate, be it health care or telecommunications or power plants a good case for government ownership can always be made by ignoring externalities and taking a narrow focus. The single minded pragmatism embodied in your desire to set aside the broader philosophical question of governments role in an economy is in my view a common but destructive impulse. Given that the impulse is driven by concern over AGW and the externalities associated with our current energy technologoes I think this apparent lack of regard for the externalities of government action is somewhat tragic.


TerjeP (#73),

You may have a point. I’ve made a pretty massive logic jump to the point that I concluded nuclear is the answer. I agree that all externailties should be included in the cost of energy.

Then we get to the point, how do we actually achieve this in practice? At the moment the cost of nuclear includes more externalities than any other power source. Yet this is still not sufficient for the anti-nuclear lobby. The regulatory requirements for nuclear are totally out of balance with other industries. I expect you might say “bad regulation is the cause of that problem”. I agree, but what should we do instead?. So far you haven’t suggested anything that I see as a constructive suggestion.

Would you prefer to rephrase the questions as: “how can we achieve low cost, low emissions, relatively economically benign electricity generation in Australia?” What structures or reglations would achieve that? How can we achieve it? I am looking for practical suggestions.

Would you prefer to rephrase the questions as “How can we get rid of the distortions that are preventing least cost, low emissions electrcity generation?”

If you are a supporter of the sort of regulations that attempt to pick winners, such as the Mandatory Renewable Energy Targets, then I’d say your argument is nonsense.


If you are a supporter of the sort of regulations that attempt to pick winners, such as the Mandatory Renewable Energy Targets, then I’d say your argument is nonsense.

No I’m not a supporter of MRET. And I’m certainly not a supporter of the current government cocktail of MRET + ETS + handing our residential subsidies + handing out industry subsidies and grants + government sponsored behaviour modification advertisements + clean coal research centre. If you want a policy to remove CO2 emissions from the economy as efficiently as possible then a carbon tax applied to power plants and transport is the best option. In terms of seeing nuclear power in Australia the main starting point has obviously got to be an end to nuclear power prohibition.


“In terms of seeing nuclear power in Australia the main starting point has obviously got to be an end to nuclear power prohibition.”

What’s the current legislative framework governing nuclear power? What legislation would have to change?

And further from there, what political interests would need to be brought round? Which unions? Which businesses? Which green groups? Which electorates? etc. What would a political strategy for introducing NP in this country look like?


I’m a BIG believer in *mandatory* targets for emissions. Can one imagine what would happen without them? Yes, we can: the USA has none and the only companies that are trying to restrict CO2 are ones that are getting direct subsidies for them.

I’m not even sure why we are having any sort of discussion about public vs private as every nuke in the world is built with some sort of very strong governmental intervention and only the most ideologically driven free-enterprisers would demand that the gov’t *stay out* of the way. Which means no nuclear, anywhere because there are no short term profits in nuclear.

Australia will have nuclear only if there is some form of public or public-private partnership. Again, it both politics and economics that dictate that huge civil engineering projects be gov’t run/influenced or otherwise influenced.

Some of the pro-nuclear pro-capitalist “no gov’t intervention” groups in the US…very few exist actually and only one is well know: the Heritage Foundation based at Standford University, conceded that continued gov’t intervention via financing is a pre-requisite for US nuclear. Can anyone hear seriously imagine this not being the case in social-democratic Autstralia???



David – your last sentence entails an implied double negative so I’m not quite clear what your question is. I do think the private sector would willingly finance, build, own and operate nuclear power in Australia if the regulatory burden wasn’t extreme and if the regime risk was minimal. Even more so if we had a carbon tax in the energy sector (we already have a form of carbon tax in the transport sector but we call it fuel tax).


A double negative? Just an expression “can you imagine not going left instead of right?”. Anyway…

Yes, the carbon tax (and what happens with the money collected?) would add an incentive, but only competively. I don’t see private financing coming up with, say, $5 billion USD for a nuke and having to wait 10 years for payback. At least that’s not how the 440 nukes in the world were built. Well…not entirely, most of the money for the US fleet was private, but many were screwed because of the insanely high costs due to insanely high interest rates in the 1970s into the early 1980s.

But instead of waiting around, society needs to take control. We can’t wait for a free market fix. We need real financing, real money, just like the U.S. did in WWII with the War Production Board. Australia probably had something similar. Climate and energy and sustainability are not just hobbies or areas to make a buck in, it’s serious. For that we need to go on a war footing. And gov’ts, not private guns for hire, go to war.



David Walters #81,

I don’t see private financing coming up with, say, $5 billion USD for a nuke and having to wait 10 years for payback.

David, you make very valuable contribution to the BNC web site, but I disagree with you on this point. I believe there would be no difficulty getting private financing for nuclear energy in Australia under the following circumstances:

1. Change the “Renewable Energy Targets” to “Clean Energy Targets” (no bias, no picking winners, just a limit on the CO2 emissions per MWh for an electricity generation system that provides power on demand). (see more on my proposal for this in another post)

2. Both the major political parties support nuclear as an option, and any unfair impediments are banned by legislation under the Trade Practices Act and monitored by the ACCC. The support is from both the main political parties at both federal and state level. As an aside, if we get the Australian Conservation Foundation to change it policy position on nuclear and lead the charge, we’d be well on the way. I suspect this may not be as far away as some might think, despite the stated position of its leaders.

3. Regulations regarding safety and other impediments will not be discriminatory. They must be the same for all electricity generation technologies.

4. I am not sure how to implement and maintain a slim, constructive version of the NRC. Perhaps others can advise how we get around this problem. I understand UAE claims to have achieved something along these lines by negotiation with the US.

5. Back to funding, the Australian Superannuation funds would love to be able to invest in infrastructure bonds with long term, stable, good yields. What better than nuclear power stations to achieve this. The demand for electrcity is never going to go away, nor is demand growth going to go away. Demand is only going to increase if we can get low-emissions electricity at a cost less than coal generation.


Yes, long range bonds might do it. I’m only looking at this from two angles:

1. What’s the best way to get nuclear built in Australia and

2. How to finance it?

Standard commercial construction loans run 10 to 20 years. Thus *any* return based on this investment might have to wait that long. This depends of how the financing is structured, of course, along with a possible built in % returned to private investors like a standard loan, based on amortization payments. The problem of investing is if one gets all their investment back. That’s the only hindrance to new nuclear from a financial POV.

If history is a guide, the only way private money will be invested *now* is if there is absolute loan guarantees. No one, I mean no one is going to want to invest under the usury conditions that existed in the US in the 1970s. Additionally, just because both parties agree in Australia, doesn’t mean there is still not a *mass opposition* to nuclear there. It doesn’t have to be a majority, only a very assertive active minority to make investors feel “uh oh…”.

Why look in this direction at all? It makes sense that the “gov’t should just build ’em”. Again, if we take nuclear seriously, Australia, any nation and, I might add, especially the U.S., should be adopting the true *national* plans as exhibited for us in the Republic of Korea and the Peoples Republic of China. Both have proven both effective, cheap AND efficient. In the RoK, in fact there is private investment, as junior partners, which makes the investors feel better. The component end is all private in any event.

It makes sense that in capitalist countries (and remember I’m a socialist!) that such a public-private partnerships exist. But totally free enterprise? No, the real entrepreneurial advantages exist in areas like smaller reactors, advanced Gen IV and other projects.

So my question No. 1 is what is the *best* way to build nukes in Australia and No. 2 is how to finance it. Clearly the gov’t intervention/ownership/partnership is the best way, at least if history proves anything. The question really comes down to national and therefore political will to do it. It’s not enough to get a formal majority (which Australia seems to be heading toward) but a true active support.



I agree about an “NRC” type group. All these countries, you noted, Peter, the UAE, and also Egypt, Jordan, Vietnam and Italy are building up their regulatory infrastructure. The IAEA demands this and helps countries establish it. The WNA has details on what countries are doing to establish their nuclear programs.



David Walters,

I realised after I wrote post #82 I should have clarified regarding your post #81:

I don’t see private financing coming up with, say, $5 billion USD for a nuke and having to wait 10 years for payback.

I agree that if nuclear takes 10 years to build and cost $5 billion per GW, it is not viable with private finance. But nuclear is being built in around 4 years in Asia and for around $1.5 billion/GW, or so it is claimed.

My question is what is a realistic way we can achieve that here?

I am not sure if public or private funding will be the best way to go. The world has changed. Long ago, only the public sector could afford to pay for infrastructure such as water, electricity, telephone, postal services and electricity infrastructure. That is changing.

I feel the emphasis needs to be on how do we get the cost of nuclear down to competitive with coal?


Peter, fair enough. At this point, while my socialist and trade unionist perspective comes to fore often enough, I’m for *any* form of building even if it’s personally financed by the estate of Milton Friedman & Adam Smith, I really don’t care.

The majority of nuclear plants were financed privately in the US albeit with some non-guarantee help from the gov’t. If this works fine, then I’m fine. A small % of these US nuclear plants are public power entity owned. Even better but I do not condition my support for them on how they are built or who ends up owning them. From my perspective, I’ll simply work to get them nationalized at some point down the road. In the same way that, I’m sure, TerjeP would would to privatize nationalized ones down the road.

But what we *want* is how this got dragged down to a philosophical discussion over ownership. I was suggesting that while the trend in Australia is toward privatization of electrical generation, *historically* with the exception of the U.S. (and who did so with not enough regulations and the anarchy of the market deciding it wanted ‘customized’ plants) who really botched the job, all other nukes were built as gov’t entities. What I *suspect* is that if Australia gets around to deploying nuclear energy of *any* kind, that the people will want the gov’t to be in charge given the social-democratic political culture of your country. I could be wrong, but it’s what I suspect, that’s all.

In UK, with a much stronger social-democratic culture, but going in the opposite direction, it looks like total private ownership is the way they are going but with gov’t guarantees of various sorts.

What I *object* to is the UK mandate that these plants have to be completely self-sustaining market like animals with no government subsidies. I don’t like the pre-conditions. However, as TerjeP noted earlier, if you get a carbon tax, this makes nuclear profitable from a competitive POV. We’ll see. I think the issue is climate change and not profit, which is why I’m somewhat passionate about it.



David – in terms of long range investment I think you under estimate what the private sector will finance. A good example is forestry which frequently entails zero financial return until 30-50 years after planting but is readily financed by the private sector. Sweden offers some examples of even longer range private forestry investments. Whether the deal is a million dollars or a trillion dollars isn’t really much of an issue, what matters is risk and return.

These days regime risk for things like forestry is perhaps higher than in the past. I recall a plantation near the farm I grew up on which was the subject of green protests when the 40 year harvest fell due. If such protesters gain political control I’d avoid planting trees and go for annual crops like corn and wheat and the bandicoots would have to breed elsewhere (notice this entails less trees being allowed to grow). Nobody protests on mass when annual crops are harvested or when the cows get milked.

What long term investors in nuclear and coal and forestry can in my view rightly put their hand out for is some sort of government contract to compensate them if rule changes, post investment, remove their effective property rights. Our constitution covers just compensation for forced acquisition (by the federal government but not for state and local governments which can screw you as hard as they like) but it is silent on other forms of regime risk. Property rights are a necessary precondition for investment which is why the third world typically gets little investment.

In terms of just compenation Canberra might be a good juristicion in which to build private nuclear power plants because it isn’t under state law. ;-)


TerjeP #87,

You offer some good ideas in this post. This point is important:

What long term investors in nuclear and coal and forestry can in my view rightly put their hand out for is some sort of government contract to compensate them if rule changes, post investment, remove their effective property rights.

If we want investors to invest in nuclear, it is vitally important that governments do not shut down the coal fired power stations without proper compensation. The “buy a coal clunker”, suggested in an earlier post, is a good idea. But some commenters argued the government should just take the coal power stations and not pay. Fran Barlow was one. She feels that the investors are evil to have invested in them in the first place. However, governments wanted and encouraged investment in coal fired power stations. Now we’ve changed our mind. What will we change our mind on next. Taking coal fired power stations without proper compensation would send the wrong signal to investors. It would kill confidence that investors could invest in nuclear. It is no different from taking a person’s house to build a hospital or freeway. The person must be properly compensated for their house. And so to with the coal fired power stations.


All the more reason, Peter, to look at the retrofitting of coal plants that still have a lot of years on their downstream infrastructure (that equipment exclusive of the coal burner and its steam generator) into nuclear plants. PRISM reactors could be emplaced and utilize the same turbines, switchyards, etc, greatly reducing the stranded costs and thus minimizing the buy back prices. The outlet temperature on a PRISM is sufficiently high to make such a retrofit possible, and indeed we almost have to come up with such a system to be widely deployed in China if we’re to have a hope of prematurely decommissioning all those coal plants they (and others) have been building. The good part about all this is that once we begin to build the PRISM modules we could build a lot of them in a short time, with contracts for the components let to companies all over the world.


Frans position seems to be that anybody that invested in a coal fired power station post 1980s should have factored in the regime risk. Her position is not entirely without merit even though I don’t agree with her.


p.s. I don’t think Fran cares if private investors are discouraged from building nuclear. She likes governments to own and build that sort of stuff.


TerjeP @ 87, 90, 91:

As I noted previously, I don’t care how they build ’em so long as they do. The gov’t is the best start in terms of where to begin because even if you are for building ‘private’ plants (heaven forbid) it will have to be more than just a passive slight majority of people who want them. It has to be a *serious* commitment by government to both allow and encourage them. How that plays out in Australia really is anyones’s guess and will depend a lot on how the parties and other stakeholders line up. I would suggest, as even the case in the US to a more limited degree, that no one trust profit incentive to run a plant safely given the history of corporations cutting corners. I think this is a secondary issue in that *strong government intervention in the regulatory process at a minimum* at in the US with the NRC, shows that gov’t oversight and intervention works well. BTW…there are zero intergroups that think we ought to get rid of the NRC as “excessive gov’t intervention” … not even on group things that … but that reform is certainly on the order of the day.

As for compensation for coal owners. Obvsiously Fran and I see basically eye-to-eye on this. But there compensation and there is “compensation”. Any older, out of date, *destructive* technology and owners behind them when they *knew* it was bad news have a lot to answer for IMO. However…I’m not in principal about ‘just compensation’. But just for who? Just the owner? How about the unionized work force from the plants to the railroads to the mines? I’d start with the actual producers…that is the workers, and the paper-holders second.

At any rate, in the US, the gov’t pays true market prices which means antiquated technology, depreciated equipment (the fault of the owners who take tax write offs on “depreciated” machinery) and land values are supposed to be judged on true value. The coal plant owners might get some dimes on the dollar, but that’s it.

Lastly, as I don’t give a hoot for the owners, what happens to the *value* of their property when no one is buying their product? If it goes to “Zero”, essentially, below the cost of production, because of gov’t regulation of the market, the coal burners have little to complain about and the “market” that TerjeP loves so much will settle the issue and no compensation is necessary.

For me the goal is to build new GEN III plants with a plan to move on to GEN IV production in a few decades. I think anyone who is nuclear has to support building new nukes with out preconceived ideological prejudice. Period.


Ad: come to the reasonable conclusion that Germany could build Gen III+ reactors for $2 billion/GW, especially modular units in the dozens.

AFACIT it is not so rosy:
Levy county NPP – 2x AP1000, $14 billions
Virgil C. Summer NPP – 2xAP1000, $9.8 billions
William States Lee III NPP, 2xAP1000, $11 billion
Olkiluoto-3, 1xEPR, € 5.3 billion
Flamanville-3, 1xEPR, € 4 billion

Did I miss something?


Levy county NPP TWO AP1000s $7 billion each/ with huge grid upgrades.
Virgil C. Summer NPP TWO AP1000s $4.4 billion each
William States Lee III NPP, 2xAP1000, $11 billion $6.5 billion each
Olkiluoto-3, 1xEPR, € 5.3 billion
Flamanville-3, 1xEPR, € 4 billion = I see the trend *dropping*. Perhaps it will continue and the next in France will be even cheaper?
But wait…
Sanmen 1&2 and Haiyang 1&2 AP1000s @ *$2.6 billion EACH*.

You mean prices *drop*!?!?! What???


Here’s the latest estimate on the cost of China’s new AP-1000s at Fangjiashan: $1.76 billion/GW. Yes, with the new modular reactors the prices drop. The ABWRs in Japan also were well under $2 billion/GW when they built them in the late 90s at about $1.4 billion/GW. Quoting high estimates from U.S. utility companies for plants not yet even licensed is an exercise in meaninglessness. Yes, we have a dysfunctional system in the USA. It’s our system that needs fixing, not nuclear power plant technology.


@Davis Walters:
Levy country: grid upgrades are extra $3 billions, $14 is for only reactors (

I hope everyone can divide by two. When you build more units at site, it leads to significant savings (~15% according to Nuclear Energy Outlook 2008).

Flamanville-3: Of course it is lower than Ol3, Ol3 was FOAK project, 3 years late and 40% over initial budget.

Comparing building in China is rather unfair, because of cheap labor, friendly regulation and lot of experienced and qualified workforce, China has been building big construction projects a lot. Thanks to state planning they will probably utilize specialized teams for each stage of construction, improving quality, cutting costs and time.

EPR in China:
First deal was € 5 billion(~$2272/kW) for two, second one was $6.4/2xEPR (~$1939/kW) (the whole deal is $12 billions, but rest of the deal is enrichment facility).
AP1000 at Sanmen 1&2 and Haiyang is probably ~ $2253/kW. Because Chinese are experienced + in friendly environment they got it right first time.

It looks to me that $/per kW is roughly same in China for both EPR and AP1000. I assume that Chinese got it about as right first time(Sanmen and Haiyang) as French second time (Flamanville), therefore it should cost about same on per kW basis () in Europe (this is rather speculation, until someone builds it, but if ratio of cost about same in one country, it should be similar in other country). Still, it looks to me that price will be far higher than $2 billions/GW. Also, you won’t get much friendlier nuclear regulations than in France (Flam3 it took ~2.5 years to approve).

I am wondering if I have some error here, I always thought AP1000 was significantly cheaper than EPR per kW basis.

@Tom Blees:
That was 10 years ago, cost of material, inflation ect. go up rather fast. My point is that $2 billions/GW it is not reasonable cost estimate for Germany according to reality.

Of course if you want to go to fantasy land of state monopoly with full commitment to nuclear power, it may be possible. Probably not though. I haven’t found current material/equipment/labor ratio for NPP, so let us assume data from before Three Mile island as indicator ( The ratio there is ~ 1:1, yet Chinese build them quite close to $2000/kW. Considering price of work in China and Germany, I don’t see any way to achieve the price even if regulator was very friendly.

About the only way to achieve the specified target price is to ask Chinese to built them in Germany without regard to laws (workers protection…) and regulatory agencies in Germany.

Event GE-Hitachi says that ABWR would cost more:

Mid 2008 vendor figures for overnight costs (excluding owner’s costs) have been quoted as:
GE-Hitachi ESBWR just under $3000/kW
GE-Hitachi ABWR just over $3000/kW
Westinghouse AP1000 about $3000/kW

Ad: exercise in meaninglessness..
Maybe, but from what I have observed in the world, cost of projects has tendency to increase from estimates, rather than decrease. I would argue that even discussion about price of reactors is meaningless discussion, because we have no way to verify, until they are build, and no way to affect the price.

P.S.: I can’t believe how long it took to write. I rather admire you dedication, because of sheer amount of time it must time to write all the comments here.



I should have said in my previous post “thank you. That is a good summary”. I consider all the costs for EPR, AP1000, and other Gen III+ power stations to be FOAK costs. I suspect we have a long time to run until we re-build the lev el of expertise that built the French, Canadian, US, German, Swedish, UL, etc reactors in the 1970’s and 1980s.

Costs will decrease from FOAK until they become settled down costs. That will be after about 5 of a type has been built in a country.

After that introduction to my question, I am interested in what you think of the MIT study “The future of nuclear power – 2009 Update” and their evaluation of costs for new nuclear build.


Honza writes: That was 10 years ago, cost of material, inflation ect. go up rather fast.

The cost of material is really immaterial when it comes to these nuclear plants. The materials cost (steel, concrete, copper, nickel, etc) comes to about $35/kW, whereas the cost of the plant I was shooting for was $2,000, and these materials prices were just recently updated by Per Peterson of U.C. Berkeley. As for cheap labor costs and a command economy, bear in mind that the Japanese have high labor costs, a democracratic government, and they import virtually everything, yet they were still able to build the FOAK ABWRs cheaply and quickly. Since IFRs would be totally modular (which the ABWRs weren’t) and able to be built quickly and in great numbers because they don’t require the pressure vessel because they operate at near-atmospheric pressure, there are considerable cost saving that can very reasonably be expected, as reflected in repeated testimony before Congress and as can be reasonably projected from all these factors.

No, I most certainly do not lend credence to most estimates bandied about in the USA except insofar as they reflect our dysfunctional system. Nor do I buy the line that we’re just so much more careful and safe. Japan built the exact same design that we’d build in the USA. Anybody making estimates of the cost of nuclear power in the USA is always looking over their shoulder at the lawyers from environist organizations and building in not only their profits but plenty of padding to boot to try to compensate for construction delays due to lawsuits. I’ve seen estimates as high as $10 billion/GW from highly respected individuals who were being seriously considered for some of the top energy jobs in the country, using the flimsy rationale that that’s how much the worst-case fiascos cost in the 80s so we have to assume that cost today. It bogus through and through.


Sorry for all the typos in that post. It’s very late. I try to be more careful than that usually. Yet I plead technical handicap, because since Barry revamped his site you can’t read your entire comments as you write them, they scroll off the end of the comments box if you have too big a font in use. Late at night when I’ve got sleepy eyes I crank the font up bigger and voila! Typo City.


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