Clean future in nuclear power

Here is an editorial written by Martin Nicholson and me, which is published in today’s edition of The Australian newspaper. This is all pretty familiar fare for regular BNC readers, but I publish here for completeness, as I like to have my media articles collected together and archived in this central web repository.

I should point out that it’s deliberately pitched in a way to get the general public thinking more carefully about nuclear power and the alternatives. Although it’s not made abundantly clear in the article, I’m actually increasingly of the view that Gen III+ reactors will have a major role to play in large-scale nuclear deployment over the next two to three decades, to support the ramp up of the Gen IV fleet (more on this in later IFR FaD posts). But making this point credibly in a short Op Ed like this would have left room for nothing else, and also would have risked been seen as ‘same old, same old’ by the nuclear power fence sitters (or those who are ‘weak antis’). Hence an emphasis on Gen IV, to try to hook the fresh fish.

I’d be interested to hear whether you think we’ve struck the right balance here.

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WE may not be getting an emissions trading scheme any time soon but the climate and energy crises still need fixing with real urgency.

For climate, the issue is excess greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels. For energy, the crisis is dwindling supplies of those fuels and air pollution from coal combustion.

Replacement energy sources need to be reliable, plentiful and economic to deploy. They need to be low-carbon to minimise global warming. Business-as-usual or half measures risks saddling future generations with a climatically hostile planet and energy scarcity.

Nuclear power is one obvious replacement source, but typically raises five objections.

First, readily available uranium supplies are limited. If the world was wholly powered by present-style nuclear reactors there would be at most a few decades of energy before cheap uranium was exhausted.

Second, nuclear accidents have happened in the past, suggesting this technology is dangerous.

Third, expansion of nuclear power would risk the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Fourth, we would leave future generations with the legacy of long-lived nuclear waste.

Fifth, large amounts of energy (and possibly greenhouse gases) would be required to mine, mill and enrich uranium and to build and later decommission nuclear power stations.

All the above points have merit, although their relative importance compared with climate change and critical energy shortages is debatable. But there is little point in debating these objections because none will apply to future nuclear energy generation.

Almost all today’s nuclear power stations are thermal reactors. These use water to slow the neutrons that cause uranium atoms to split (fission) and to carry the heat generated in this reaction to a steam turbine to generate electricity.

Because of the gradual build-up of fission products (neutron poisons) through time, we end up getting less than 1 per cent of the useable energy out of the uranium. The rest is thrown out as that long-lived waste.

In contrast, newer fast reactors are able to use almost all of the energy in uranium. There is enough energy in already mined uranium and stored plutonium from existing stockpiles to supply all the world’s power needs for more than three centuries before we need to mine any more uranium.

Fast reactors can be used to burn all existing reserves of plutonium and the nuclear waste from the past and present generation of thermal reactors. With additional uranium mining, there is enough energy in proven deposits to supply the entire world for many thousands of years. This deals with the first objection.

As to the second objection, modern reactors use passive safety systems requiring no operator intervention to shut down the reaction. This makes them safe. So safe that a certification assessment for Westinghouse’s AP-1000 reactor put the risk of a core meltdown such as the one that occurred at in the US in 1979 at Three Mile Island at once every 24 million reactor years.

Comparing the flawed Chernobyl design to today’s reactors is like saying modern aviation is too dangerous because the Hindenburg airship exploded in 1937.

On the third objection, proliferation, the nuclear fuel used by fast reactors is initially very radioactive, making it impossible to divert to a nuclear weapons program without an expensive, heavily shielded, off-site reprocessing facility that would be readily detected.

In fact, the only nuclear waste materials that will ever leave an Integral Fast Reactor complex (which has on-site recycling) are fission products, which decay to background levels of radiation within a few hundred years.

Unlike conventional nuclear waste, which can last for hundreds of thousands of years (the fourth objection), the waste from IFRs can be more readily stored because of its small volume (150 times less than used nuclear fuel from thermal reactors) and short storage times.

The fifth objection, concerning greenhouse gases generated in building nuclear power plants, has never stood up to detailed life-cycle analysis.

Renewable energy sources (such as wind and solar) use significantly more raw materials per unit of energy generated than even present-generation nuclear power stations and the full life-cycle emissions, including nuclear fuel production, are similar from both sources. When energy storage and fossil-fuel back-up are included, wind and solar emissions are much higher.

A possible sixth objection could be that we don’t need nuclear power when we can use renewable energy. This is a valid objection for countries with abundant hydropower, conventional geothermal power or biomass, the only three renewable sources of proven reliable power that can deliver energy 24 hours a day at an acceptable cost. Solar and wind sources, however, still rely heavily on fossil fuels to deliver reliable, continuous energy.

At today’s pace of commercial development we won’t see many fast nuclear reactors delivering power to the grid before 2020. This will seem too late for some, but at the present pace, non-hydro renewables will only meet 2 per cent of global energy use.

Either option, therefore, requires radically accelerated research, development and deployment if it is to make a difference to climate change and energy supply. What’s required is a project of Manhattan-style proportions or the audacity of the moon-shot vision.

Let’s be clear. We have the means to fix the climate and energy crises, or at least avert the worst consequences. New generation nuclear power, supported by an expansion of the thermal reactor fleet, is one possible path to success and one that all nations should support. Rationally considering energy planning requires letting go of old-school thinking about exciting new technologies.

Martin Nicholson is the author of Energy in a Changing Climate.

Barry Brook is professor of climate change at the University of Adelaide’s Environment Institute.

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47 Comments

  1. “Comparing the flawed Chernobyl design to today’s reactors is like saying modern aviation is too dangerous because the Hindenburg airship exploded in 1937.”

    The best dismissal of the Chernobyl specter to date. This one is going to become the put-down of choice for me from now on in debate when the subject comes up.

    On the whole the article is a very good presentation of the standard objections and the most rational and accessible responses to them. It avoids the major pitfall of drifting into overly technical explanations, a vice many of us on the pronuclear side often succumb to, loosing our audience in the process. Nor does it take an adversarial tone, another bad habit we often indulge in to our determent.

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  2. I’m actually increasingly of the view that Gen III+ reactors will have a major role to play in large-scale nuclear deployment over the next two to three decades, to support the ramp up of the Gen IV fleet (more on this in later IFR FaD posts).

    Barry, within the blogosphere of pro-nuclear bloggers almost all of whom are big advocates of one form of Gen IV reactors or another (I’m part of the LFTR contingent as you know) I think this statement you make is very important. I tend to be a Gen III/III+ advocate within this small community because of the vital necessity at *every* level of public acceptance of nuclear of any sort.

    Clearly the Indian’s are the only country that is seriously trying to implement an integrated Gen III+ (in the form of LWR/HWR) into Gen IV (Fast Reactors) high end, super high capacity nuclear infrasructure for their energy future. Charles Barton has written on this extensively. See the India paper on WNA.

    I think Gen III instead of representing a competitive nuclear paradigm for us it in facts represents a neatly dove-tailed foundation for Gen IV roll out, providing not just technology, manufacturing and engineering expertise but also providing a fuel feed stock (a la India) for various fuels for Gen IV of a few varieties (at least IFR and LFTR, for now).

    I would also look at the newly expanded and revised paper on Russia from WNA which details their plans for Gen III and Gen IV reactors out over the next 50 years or so.

    For the public to support us, we rise and fall together with the success of Gen III: the economics, safety and deployment of these reactors will guarantee…or destroy, our ability to role out Gen IV atomic energy.

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  3. Here in the U.S. the M.I.T. study, The Future of Nuclear Power and its 2009 update are central to the debate.

    Although this study states that its “central premise” was that “the importance of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, in order to mitigate global warming, justified reevaluating the role of nuclear power in the country’s energy future”, it came out against fast reactors. The risk of the proliferation of nuclear weapons was cited as a significant concern. The MIT study went so far as this: “The U.S. should work with France, Britain, Russia, Japan, and others to constrain more widespread deployment of this fuel cycle”.

    And so, I think your argument that proliferation is not as great a concern as some people think needs improvement.

    A country like Australia would not be a concern if it ramped up deployment of fast reactors in the same way that Pakistan would. But, the MIT authors noted that US efforts to coordinate research under the GNEP framework ran into Congressional opposition as it dawned that widespread deployment of fast reactors would tend to lead to widespread deployment of reprocessing technology. A concern is that if developed countries turn to fast reactors it will not be ultimately possible to discourage widespread reprocessing including in potentially politically unstable areas.

    What MIT says has increased authority in the US now that Gore has published “Our Choice”. Gore repeatedly refers to MIT as he cherry picks quotes from their pro-nuclear report to support his anti-nuclear stance. He calls the authors at MIT “the experts”. Most of Gore’s anti-nuclear argument can be easily countered just by going to the sources he uses for his quotes where abundant material Gore would not want people to know exists, but this does not apply to his concerns about proliferation and fast reactors.

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  4. The proliferation argument is probably the worst of all the false reasons thrown up against nuclear energy, The suggestion that any dual-use technology built and operated within the United States would somehow increase the risk of some other nation acquiring a nuclear weapons capability defies logic to the point of being ludicrous.

    The argument that the US must lead by example in this area, assumes that it can still influence decisions in this matter outside its own borders in any significant way. While that was true at one point in time, countries like India, and China are not in anyones sphere of influence, and will act as they see fit. In nuclear energy that will mean they will develop and deploy whatever technology they wish whenever they wish without asking permission.

    Furthermore nether has sufficient domestic supplies of uranium for the level of nuclear power they wish to bring on line, nor can they place themselves in dependence of others for nuclear fuel. Thus breeding fuel cycles will be developed by them as a matter of necessity, and I suspect that this will also be the case in France and Japan for much the same reason.

    But the other reason proliferation should not be a concern is that making a bomb is hard. Preparing weapons grade fissile material presents huge difficulties. For instance, one has to build a huge, expensive chemical processing facility that also happens to be very dirty to extract, purify and process the material so it would fit into a nuclear warhead.

    One would also have to devise the nuclear warhead, a task that even nations with established nuclear weapons programs have found to be very tough. Warheads are complicated devices, the entire detonation process happens within a tiny fraction of a second so the hard part is constructing a warhead with reliable assembly capabilities throughout the various stages. There’s a real gap from the point where one can make the fuel needed to where warheads are being built and operationally being deployed such that they are a credible threat.

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  5. Well done Barry your article shows good balance
    It is good that the 4th Generation Nuclear option is moving into the mainstream climate debate.

    Lets hope that the debate on the nulear option can happen with open minds and no political tribalism
    it should be noted that some senior ALP statesmen support nuclear i.e Bob Carr

    In an ideal world we could have both an ETS and 4th GenerationNuclear they are not mutually exclusive.

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  6. Barry,
    The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has an interesting article here: http://www.thebulletin.org/web-edition/features/the-safety-inadequacies-of-indias-fast-breeder-reactor arguing that IFBR’s are unsafe as they are prone to core meltdown and uncontrolled positive feedback from disruption in the coolant (if I understand it correctly). I don’t think the BAS can be considered ignorant. Is your preferred model fundamentally different?

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  7. Good analysis. A sensible triage approach to dealing with the urgency of climate change demands that all options be put on the table, and nuclear is by far and away the best option in the short term because it works so well with existing infrastructure.

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  8. I really hope this push into mainstream media can help assuage the fear mongering responses we get from our elected political leaders whenever the nuclear question is raised. Only just yesterday, the politician who holds the highest office in our land responded with “demanding he say where he will build the nuclear plants” when he was simply asked about opening up a debate on the use of nuclear energy. Educating the media and our elected politicians on the advances and future opportunties for nuclear is a key issue, and I applaud you for your continued work in this area.

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  9. The quadranting link involves topics that will be dealt with in the IFR FaD post series, so I haven’t offered a detailed explanation here. But briefly, 3 points:

    1) the 500 MW Indian Prototype FBR (500 MWe) is oxide fueled. IFR is metal fueled. This makes a big difference in terms of reactivity feedbacks. So yes, they’re quite different technologies.

    2) LWRs require strong containment building, with capability to withstand ~50 psi pressure. SFRs do not require such a strong containment, since the reactor operates at near atmospheric pressure, with containment provided by the reactor vessel and augmented by a confinement building.

    3) Positive sodium void coefficient in itself is not a safety concern. There are positive and negative reactivity feedbacks of several kinds. What is crucial is to have a negative temperature coefficient and negative power coefficient when all components are combined. All SFRs have overall negative coefficients, though a metal-fuelled IFR has the best of all.

    More in the IFR FaD series. I’ll probably do a direct critique of the BAS piece, actually. Ramana is a long-time critic of India’s nuclear power programme, in all its present forms (incl. PHWRs and SFRs).

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  10. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is not pronuclear, in fact it is quite the opposite. In the article linked to by Quadranting they drag up the usual tried shibboleths about safety that they dredge up every time, claiming dire consequence are almost a certainty.

    It is just not so. A reactor with a positive void coefficient can and have been operated safely, there is nothing inherently unstable about this type. The only issue is that they can fail in certain cases by a power excursion due to loss of coolant. What the choose not to mention is that those building these devices are well aware of the issue, and take design steps to reduce the threat of an event happening, and to deal with the consequences if it does.

    Under no circumstances could such a reactor go supercritical like the core of a nuclear weapon, despite the article’s use of the phrase ‘the reactor could explode,’ nor would any radioactive material be released into the environment if the reactor has proper containment. Proper containment is a well developed study in the field, and no fixed reactors are built with out them.

    Dragging up the Superphénix and other civilian fast breeder reactors and declaring the whole idea should be dropped neatly avoids two critical points. First there were many military breeders that operated rather successfully during the nuclear arms race, in fact there is more Pu from those programs left over that its owners know what to do with. The second is that as first of type reactors like Superphénix were bound to have issues – dealing with these is a process called learning, an important activity when launching any new technology.

    In other words the article is a hatchet-job that brings nothing new into the discussion.

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  11. Looking forward to your critique Barry.
    What on earth is India’s alternative for generating baseload power for 1 billion + people!!!
    Get a grip people.. Actually since the Three Mile Island accident , and even Chernobyl we have more knowledge about meltdowns, turns out it is impossible for a reactor to turn into a nuke bomb. Correct me if i am wrong folks.:)

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  12. The BAS article raises the spectre of a reactor meltdown initiated by a runaway reaction due to a positive void coefficient of reactivity, should the sodium in the core boil. The article is particularly in reference to India’s fast breeder reactor programme.

    The article states, “Many of these reactors also have what is called a positive coolant void coefficient ..” But it doesn’t say that the Indian reactor designs have this feature. In fact it states that their prototype reactor does not. The PVC discussion appears to be purely speculative. They even say that because the research reactor does not have this concern, the Indians wouldn’t have any experience in dealing with this behaviour if the commercial reactors do. This is disingenuous, to say the least.

    Does this have any implications for an IFR? I think the S-PRISM design has a positive void coefficient. But it has an operating temperature of ~550C, and sodium boils at 883C. And the reactor has a large negative coefficient of thermal reactivity. So to get to the point where you’d be looking at how the core responds to a positive void coefficient, the reactor would have to be in a thermal excursion of about 300 C above its operating temperature, having fought its way up there all the way against a negative thermal coefficient of reactivity.

    Not gonna happen.

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  13. The Bulletin has gone downhill a bit over the last couple of years, I reckon… there seem to be far too many pieces written by people (who all too often aren’t scientists) who just want to bag nuclear energy… too often with arguments that lack technical credibility.

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  14. there were many military breeders that operated rather successfully during the nuclear arms race

    What are the names and dates of three typical such?

    Not gonna happen.

    You can put a kickstand on a big motorbike so that it, and dozens of others parked at a biker clubhouse, are just never, within reason, going to do a domino cascade fall. Not gonna happen.

    A lot of bad things that warn’t gonna happen, did. Tiresomely, they were physically possible.

    You want a line of dark four-wheeled limos. Then you really know the first one isn’t going to fall over, and you really know if it is manually tipped, there will be no cascade; you need not resort to proof by colloquial exclamation.

    (How fire can be domesticated)

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  15. There were the Hanford reactors, the Russian ones at Zheleznogorsk, and the French ones at Marcoule, in Bagnols-sur-Ceze. Yes they were thermal spectrum, not fast spectrum, but they were breeders none the less.

    Is this a bit of dissemination on my part? Perhaps, but no worse by half than what was being done by Kumar and Ramana in that article

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  16. Were there not a good number of lead-bismuth fast spectrum reactors operating in the Russian submarine fleet, as well? Politically speaking, it’s not much of a stretch to say that every Soviet reactor of that era was a military facility… take Chernobyl for instance. It’s design was such to facilitate its primary function to breed bomb-grade plutonium, at least originally… its electricity output was more of a by-product.

    As for the “Ramana and Kumar” article, I’d recommend “Harold and Kumar go to White Castle” instead… there’s less misinformation and it’s much more entertaining.

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  17. One comment: I believe it is not correct to agree with those who claim that we have only a few decades of uranium resources for conventional nuclear plants. I think this is referred to as the ‘limits to growth fallacy’. We have no idea how much uranium is available and at what cost. We have barely begun to look for uranium but there is probably no reason to expect the utilization to follow a different path than any other mineral resource, i.e, copper, iron, coal, oil, etc. To put it another way I believe I read that there have been ~ 25 years of reserves of copper — for the last 150 years. Utilizing the fuel completely (whether uranium or thorium) is obviously what we should do, but we should not discourage the rapid construction of the technology we already have on the premise that we will run out of uranium.

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  18. SteveK9 – I tend to agree. We were careful to say “cheap uranium” for this reason, though I admit it’s hard to know how efficient we’ll get at extracting it in the future. The Japanese already say they can extract it from sea water for $300/kg, which is only about 2-3 times the current price from ore body mining.

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  19. Fuel is just not an issue period in considering nuclear energy, in fact until the issue was raised by the work of Storm van Leeuwen and Smith it was never considered as a factor in the debate.

    That study has been widely discredited by various authors and institutions. For example, using assumptions from this study, the Rössing Uranium Mine, in Namibia, processing 125 ppm ore, would require 69 PJ/year to operate – seven times more than total electricity consumption actually measured, and 1.1 times more than total energy consumption of the whole country. Similar ridiculous estimates of just about every other variable makes any conclusions pure fantasy.

    Nevertheless despite those large discrepancies with reality and many rebuttals, the paper has become a staple argument for many anti-nuclear organizations. But the reality is that at this time the price of uranium is just too low for any but the easiest deposits to be worked. Higher prices will see the estimated reserve numbers jump up, guaranteed.

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  20. DV82XL, it reminds me of the climate sceptics’ tactics. Like the climate deniers, the antis latch on to a few discredited “papers” (most appearing in the grey literature) and ignore the vast body of scientific evidence – this goes for uranium supply, radiation dangers, nuclear build costs, accident risks, etc., as well as ad homenims, appeals to (false) authority, repeated use of FUD, etc. Frankly, the parallel is both astounding and disturbing.

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  21. To my mind they sound the same because they are coming from the same source. Both anti-nuclear and AGW deniers are just fingers on the same hand – that of fossil fuel interests that will stoop at nothing to maintain their hegemony in energy.

    I do not invoke the over-used term ‘conspiracy’ lightly, but it is difficult not to in this case. The facts supporting AGW and the facts supporting nuclear energy are just too clear to anyone that takes the time to examine them in any detail. While individuals can be forgiven it they do not have the tools to do this, that cannot be extended to those who claim an education in the sciences. Thus, given the quality of the arguments presented by the leaders in those camps that oppose nuclear and deny AGW, I am forced to draw the conclusion they have been bought.

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  22. Thus, given the quality of the arguments presented by the leaders in those camps that oppose nuclear and deny AGW, I am forced to draw the conclusion they have been bought.

    It seems utterly improbable that this could happen without the facts emerging.

    Occams razor surely applies. Doesn’t it seem more likely that both amongst the deniers and the anti-nukes, that cultural matters are driving their preferences?

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  23. Frankly, the parallel is both astounding and disturbing.

    The rhetoric of both camps is similar because they both face identical problems with identical solutions. The problem is they are demonstrably wrong, and a full logical appraisal of the subjects would convince any reasonable person of this. The solution is to short circuit all attempts at such an appraisal by producing a rival body of literature designed to appear credible to the general public although a person knowlegeable in the field could see the faults, and to simultaneously employ every class of false argument known to humanity to obscure and complicate all discussion. They must do this… there is no other choice when promoting a falsehood. Only the subject matter changes.

    This makes it sound like I’m arguing against collusion between anti-nukes, AGW deniers and the fossil fuel industries, but there’s no doubt that those industries have a lot to lose in the current public energy and climate debates, and are likely aware of potential and/or actual allies in the public arena.

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  24. Finrod… Thats a huge investment in time, energy and resources your talking about there, suggesting there must be an equally large “payoff”driving the behaviour.

    In some instances no-doubt the payoff is material, but we shouldn’t underestimate the power of the psychological payoff. Some of these anti-nukers and AGW deniers have invested their entire lives, identity and self worth in these campaigns.

    To admit they are wrong would be (or they feel would be) the equivalent of admitting all their efforts have come to naught, all the beliefs upon which they have built their life are false, and consequently, their life has been a waste.

    A hard pill to swallow I think.

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  25. @Finrod, Barry Brook, DV82XL re: conspiracy theory equating climate change deniers with anti-nukes, with the conspiracy involving bribes paid by fossil fuelers to anti-nukes:

    1. This is an Anglosphere blog whose contributors were likely not living within range of the east wind from the Ukraine in 1986. The effect of that accident on German-language attitudes (countries: FRG, A, CH) on NPPs cannot be underestimated. Non-German speakers on this blog are at liberty to research that impact on a total population of ca. 100m.

    The allegation supported by most/all on this blog that deaths in Ukraine/Belarus as from 1986 were minimal is met by the Greenpeace study citing clinical reports from Belarus/Russian doctors and in Russian only, another example of the effect of language barriers. IAEO does not take kindly to original E. European data in Russian, after all. Belarus children with thyroid cancer are hosted in the town of Bad Homburg near Frankfurt annually, a PR-intensive fact not likely to be removed by e.g. DV82XL insisting on double-blind medical studies to prove that Chernobyl caused such cancer, as implied perhaps on his website.

    2. FRG has 17 NPPs running. The multi-year bureacratic malfeasance/secrecy common to NPP regimes is thus not conducive to citizens in FRG, CH or A starting to believe that their own Gen II NPPs are much safer than Chernobyl was/is. It does not appear useful to book this problem under mere “politics”, as Tom Blees appears to do on another thread. This is because no pro-NPP decision (bloggers rejoice, Berlusconi has just stated he wants to build 4 NPPs in Italy) is ever neutral with respect to the powerful/powerless in a society.

    Pro-nukes can count on enhanced status, power, wealth for them and theirs as their preferred energy policy is adopted.

    3. Fin Times (UK) carried on 10.12 an interview with the CEO of the German energy group RWE, which along with German energy group EON will decide by the northern spring of 2010 on using Areva’s EPR or Toshiba’s AP 1000 or a blend, for the 4-6 pending UK NPPs to be built as from 2013.

    The RWE CEO is Jürgen Grossmann. RWE 2008 power plant capacity was 13.9% NPP but 55.3% coal. However, RWE, the biggest CO2 emitter in the EU, also has a renewables subsidiary called RWE Innogy. On the one hand, Grossmann is trying to get NPP lifespans lengthened in Germany; on the other, he says: “The anti-coal position in Europe is unsustainable on a global scale….what good does it do if we single out coal as the devil’s tool and the world still bets on it?”

    Hence here we have a “not all my eggs in the NPP basket” power player. Is he thus conspiring against himself and colluding with himself to subvert NPPs with coal? has he taken bribes out of his left pocket and put them into his right? He also warns about the difficulty of turning RWE ( “behemoth of coal”) around.

    Concluding, the German renewables camp lumps fossil and atomic together in its public language as “die Fossile-Atomaren”, this presumably accurately reflecting the fact that e.g. RWE does not bet on one horse.

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  26. When analyzing the motivations behind the deniers and the anti-nukes, one must consider the leadership and the rank-and-file separately. The latter as Jade and Marion accurately point out are driven by ideological and emotional biases, and like anyone who has surrendered reason to faith cannot be reasonably accused of being corrupt – only stupid.

    My earlier remarks refer to those, who by every other indication, have both the intellect and the education to see the truth. For example in the case of Storm van Leeuwen and Smith, both those people had to have examined the raw data before they chose to distort it by their wild estimates. It’s impossible that they were not acutely aware of exactly what they were doing.

    Nor is it a coincidence that Jan Willem Storm van Leeuwen is the secretary of the Dutch Association of the Club of Rome, an organization that has predicted that economic growth can not continue indefinitely because of the limited availability of natural resources.

    In both debates, that of nuclear an that climate, there is a legitimate question of cui bono that leads back to fossil fuels, the sector that stands to loose the most. Given the history of that industry, it is hardly a stretch or a paranoid delusion to suggest that they are at work here. Their lobbies are certainly a huge presence in Copenhagen at the moment, and I doubt that they are there to encourage restrictions on their products.

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  27. Finrod… Thats a huge investment in time, energy and resources your talking about there, suggesting there must be an equally large “payoff”driving the behaviour,

    If I had to guess, I’d say that the anti-nuke organisations already existed, and just needed to be supported whenever necessary. The AGW deniers on the other hand are far more likely to be directly established through sponsored think tanks.

    This may well not be correct, but I cannot for the life of me see why fossil fuel interests would not conclude that their interest are best served by using proxy commenters in the public debate.

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  28. @DV82XL. You write:
    “Given the history of that industry, it is hardly a stretch or a paranoid delusion to suggest that they are at work here. Their lobbies are certainly a huge presence in Copenhagen at the moment, and I doubt that they are there to encourage restrictions on their products.”

    But as I pointed out above, energy groups such as the German RWE are both NPP AND fossil fuel!

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  29. But as I pointed out above, energy groups such as the German RWE are both NPP AND fossil fuel!

    This brings up the point that the ‘nuclear industry’, so called, is not really a monolithic entity standing on its own in competition withthe rest of the energy sector. Most of the firms which deal therein have much larger interests in the fossil fuel sector.

    Which sector do you suppose they make the most money from?

    We cannot count on ‘the nuclear industry’ (such as it is) to support the push to expanded nuclear power which is vitally necessary to the future. These corporate concerns are too compromised to do it effectively. It’s going to have to be a grassroots mass movement.

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  30. What Finrod says is quite true, some of the worst offenders are those companies with mixed portfolios. We have seen several spectacles in Ontario Canada as the lure of subsidies has caused one company that indeed operates nuclear reactors to go chasing after wind projects rather than support a new NPP build.

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  31. I am a non-scientist . Do I therefore understand that presently stored “nuclear waste” will become the fuel of future fast reactors?If so is it once again politics or money that is slowing everything down ?
    This may be out of place among such informed and learned people but if one doesn’t ask one will never know …. and I can finally stop everyone I know from quoting chernobl 3 mile etc.
    thanks for your patience in advance
    pjp

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  32. General Peter Consgrove (Australia’s Defence Force Chief), talking on Sunday about climate change, renewable and nuclear energy:
    Boyer Lectures 6: Australia’s Future: Paying it Forward
    http://www.abc.net.au/rn/boyerlectures/stories/2009/2725189.htm

    There are so many cleaner, more sustainable and renewable energy resources becoming increasingly available that it might seem that simply making them more efficient, less expensive and more available will go a long way to solving our exacerbation of the climate change phenomenon. Sadly there is still a great mismatch between the reasonable potential of these energy options and the reality of our energy demands. If we are to react quickly enough to avoid arriving at a predicted level of exposure to global warming, then our manufacture of energy in a clean way needs rise exponentially. We should encourage and help finance any and all moderately promising alternative energy production means.

    Of course, it is all horrifically expensive and entails huge infrastructure work and considerable economic restructuring. We could have large windmills dotting the countryside, more prolific than ‘Paterson’s curse’ and we would still be shy of the energy needs for a modern, developed country. We could have solar panels covering untold hectares of land reasonably close to centres of consumption and we would still be well short of the present needs and usage of electric power in Australia. But we have alternative.

    We own a third of the world’s uranium which we are exporting far and wide. In that we don’t want people using our uranium for nuclear weapons, I presume that after a bunch of x-ray machines and the like, we are anticipating that our customers will use our uranium for nuclear power stations. It seems to me passing strange that we so vociferously won’t agree to have our own clean and enduring energy based on nuclear power generation. I anticipate the outcry that nuclear materials are horribly unclean. Of course they are if their care in operation and custody overall is deficient but if you look after that side of it then in a climate change sense there is hardly a cleaner energy resource.

    We should note that if there wasn’t a climate change issue then we could burn our own coal till the cows come home and we wouldn’t need to consider the large step to nuclear energy. I think for many decades to come there will still be markets for our coal all over the world to countries which have no choice but to rely on carbon-based energy—they will not be able to afford nor manage a nuclear energy infrastructure. But if we continue to burn our coal prolifically then it seems to me we haven’t taken climate change seriously. We are a rich and technologically advanced nation, sitting in a geologically stable continent, so surely we can expect to build and operate safe nuclear power stations. While in the context of the climate change debate, I am most definitely a layperson, in practical terms only nuclear power offers a realistic and relatively short-term alternative to carbon-based energy in the quantities and areas where Australians need it. The greatest favour we can do for our less wealthy neighbours is to get our own energy structure right. Windmills in Tuvalu won’t do it!

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  33. PJP, yes, the used nuclear fuel of current generation reactors will become the fuel of the future for fast reactors (well, 95% of it — the remaining 5% is shorter-lived fission products). It is both politics (proliferation ‘fears’) and economics (uranium is cheap, currently no urgency to put HLW in geological deposits) that is slowing it down, yes.

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  34. I think we should put Cosgrove in charge of the CPRS. When the brown coal generators go to him complaining that $10bn is not enough compensation he has the military bearing to say ‘ you blokes have had a good run and you should get out while you’re in front’.

    Drawing a line through recent funding announcements by the Federal energy bureaucracy I infer that their thinking is
    1) geothermal baseload has to work, if not
    2) gas fired baseload is the alternative.
    Notice if this gels with future announcements.

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