Open Thread

Open Thread 2

It’s the Christmas and New Year season, and that means general festivities, good food and drinks, and lots of time in the pool with the kids (remember, it’s the height of summer in Australia). I also make it a rule at this time of year to try to stay away from anything serious on the computer, at least for a week or so. (For those who care about my other life, I’ve been catching up on season 4 Doctor Who and old Poirot episodes, as well as leveling up to 70 in CoD:MW2 multiplayer).

But, as a hat tip to my mentally evolutionary year (in terms of my thinking on climate solutions), I’ve got one last post lined up to close out the Noughties. It’s a brief review of the sustainable energy and climate change books that I read in 2009 (…stacking them up on my table, there is a disturbingly large number). Expect that post to be up on 31 December.

Meanwhile, I’ll be in-and-out of BNC, keeping up with the comments. I really love the active community that’s built up here — it’s got a real life of its own. In that spirit, I thought it was probably time to post up another Open Thread.

The Open Thread is a general discussion thread where you can talk about whatever you like — there is nothing ‘off topic’ here — within reason. The standard commenting rules of courtesy apply, and at the very least your chat should relate to the broad theme of the blog (climate change, sustainability, energy, etc.). You can also find this thread by clicking on the Open Thread category on the left sidebar.

I’ll start a new thread every once in a while when the old one drops out of view.

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.

167 replies on “Open Thread 2”


You very kindly answered a question I had relating to Iran’s nuclear activities. I have been brooding on it and wonder whether I could trouble you for more explanation. You made two statements that appeared to be at odds with each other. As they almost certainly weren’t, could you sort out my state of confusion? The two statements were as follows:
1) It would be a huge and costly undertaking to build a nuclear arsenal and most unlikely that it could be achieved in a surreptitious manner.
2) Iran could still get regional traction without having a nuclear arsenal and would only have to reach “breakout capability”, which you defined as being able to weaponise in a few months.

How can one reach “breakout capability” surreptitiously? This was the inference I took but , probably, wrongly.


Douglas Wise,

Yes, the UK White Paper does claim that they have included the emissions from back up in their figure of 11-37 kg CO2-e/MWh (I am writing all this from memory, so correct me if I am wromg).

However, that statement is plainly not correct. The figures for wind power from all the studies are the life cycle emissions for wind alone, not including the emissions from back up. The emisisons in the UK white paper are consistent with the ExternE figures and most other studies all of which do not include the emissions from back up.

Here is a summary of the most authoritative studies, including links to the sources.

A great deal of work is going on to determine the emissions penalty for fossil fuel shadowing and back up for wind power. This provides a calculator and references to the recent work:

There is a new version of thie calculator about to be posted. It shows that for realistic input variables, wind power saves no GHG emissions, and perhaps causese more than with no wind power.


Douglas Wise – No the statements are not at odds with each other.

It is not possible to hide a nuclear weapons program, because of the size of the undertaking, and the particular technical requirements that such a program entails. This doesn’t mean just facilities on the ground, but also trafficking in certain specialized material and equipment, which was the way the Pakistani program was exposed.

However, and this is the point I was trying to make when I referred to a breakout capability – many of the steps needed to make nuclear weapons, can be carried out to a certain point, while still remaining within the letter of the NPT. Japan has done just this and made no bones about it, there is some suspicion that South Korea has done the same, (or is moving towards it) such a posture was at least considered by the then West Germany, and is considered as a serious option by Brazil (among others) to-day.

It is a huge loophole in NPT that lets this happen, and efforts to close it have been stymied by members of the G20 who see more restrictions on nuclear tech at best as efforts to keep them dependent on the Five for nuclear energy, and at worst, as a potential loss of sovereignty. So protected behind this loophole Iran could come within a few months of deploying a weapon, and still keep their hands clean.

Now this is going to be quite obvious to an outside observer, not only is there no hiding it, the country doing so would want everyone to know how close they were, because that’s how the threat/deterrence is projected. Thus the two statements I made before are not mutually exclusive.


Peter et al:

I’ve read from Lightbucket among other places that wind power has a generally favorable EROEI number. But at one wind site, I found the caveat below. I’m wondering what else wind eroei leaves out.

How would wind accommodate the gas backup issue? would the numbers include penalties for pollution due to the gas use?

It just seems to me that without massive demonstration projects, EROEI numbers can be pretty easily fudged.

Much of the wind resource base is located in remote locations, so there are costs of getting the wind from the local point-of-generation to a potentially distant load center. This cost is distinct from the cost of simply interconnecting the site to the nearest transmission line. Even at the relatively low current levels of wind penetration on regional grids, long-distance transmission has already proven to be a significant issue for new wind development in some regions. For example, wind plants in Texas have had to curtail output during hours when regional trunk lines are at physical capacity, and Minnesota and California are currently examining ways to alleviate transmission congestion as more development is proposed in their best wind resource areas. These costs are not reflected in most EROI analyses.



Thanks. I understand. Iran could get to “breakout ” without breaking any current rules but couldn’t get there without intelligence services of other states knowing what was going on.

If I’ve still f….ed, let me know.


That’s the gist of it Doug. Article IV and to some extent Article V of the NPT have loophole so large that one could drive a truck through them. I suspect at the time they were worded in this way so that the major powers would tie their own hands too much, thinking that smaller nations wouldn’t be in a position to exercise their Art IV rights, and and so the major powers neglected their obligations under Article III, to transfer nuclear power tech to non-weapon states. Now its come back to bite them in the ass, and the minor powers are in no mood to tighten the treaty now.

What goes around, comes around.


Great new article by Martin Nicholson here:

Dash for gas in the wrong direction
Gas and renewables may seem like energy solutions, but nuclear is the only technology to meet our needs and our international obligations.

With Copenhagen been and gone and emissions trading in Australia snagged in parliamentary disagreement, now might be a good time for a reality check on emissions abatement…

Read full article here.


A colleague of mine recieved this email today and passed it on to me. Here it is for anyone in or near the ACT who might be interested, especially Peter Lang, given Peter’s excellent work on analysing the efficacy of ‘renewables’.

Have your say on Canberra’s energy future
The ACT Government has recently launched two major discussion papers in the energy sector – the proposal to expand the electricity Feed-In Tariff Scheme and the Draft Sustainable Energy Policy 2010-2020

The Feed-In Tariff discussion paper deals with a possible expansion to include installations beyond the existing capacity limit of 30kW. The draft energy policy sets out a proposed framework for reducing the ACT’s reliance on fossil-fuel powered electricity while making Canberra’s energy supply more secure and sustainable.

You are invited to attend a public information session to be held at 7.00pm on Tuesday 16 February at the Belconnen Premier Inn, 110 Benjamin Way, Belconnen.

We welcome community views on these two important topics that will shape Canberra’s energy sector future.

Light refreshments will be served.

RSVP: or contact Mayumi Smith on 6207 2464 by Monday 15 February 2010.

Consultation on the proposal to extend the Feed-in Tariff closes on 28 February 2010 and on the Draft Sustainable Energy Policy on 5 March 2010. For more information on either policy, visit

Authorised by Geoffrey Rutledge, Director, Ministerial and Corporate, Department of the Environment, Climate Change, Energy and Water.


Finrod I won’t be making any submissions to the ACT even though I lived there one time. I think they are kind of flakey with their ban on uranium mining when none has ever been found. Next will they will deny landing rights to UFOs.

Now I’m in Tas I get no feed-in tariff for my PV, just 18.5c net metering. A neighbour who is about to install 14 kw micro hydro will get the same. I think the reasoning behind FIT is weak and could be used to justify any form of vote buying. So if I was going to make a submission it would be
1) cut the feed-in tariff back to standard rates
2) accept that ACT will be an energy importer
3) encourage the national grid to adopt low cost low carbon reliable electricity
4) if some bugger finds uranium let them dig it up.

The third criterion rules out much wind or solar.


The official line at BNC on Chernobyl seems to be

1. that it is quite irrelevant to the safety of NPP Gens II, II and IV elswhere because it was such an irresponsible design AND

2. that it killed only ca. 55 anyway and will be giving rise to a probable 4,000 cancer cases (source: , which is competitive in deaths per clean gigawatt of power per annum compared to anything fossil, especially coal, AND

3. that the Greenpeace study and the IPPNW study do not comprehend the statistics of epidemiology, hence are hysterical rubbish and typical of those organisations, headed up by paid agents of Big Fossils (are you with me so far, DV28XL?)


discusses a new publication of the Annals of the NY Acad. of Sciences, vol,, 1181 by Yablokov, and Nesterenko and Nesterenko.

The IAEA, WHO and UNSCEAR line taken by BNC hence appears based on a mere 300 Western papers, omitting 30,000 papers written in the territory of the ex-USSR.

“Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment is wrtitten by Alexey Yablokov, Vassily Nesterenk and Alexey Nesterenko. The senior author, Alexey Yablokov was head of the Russian Academy of Science under Gobachev – since then he receives no support. Vassily Nesterenko, head of the Ukrainian Nuclear establishment at the time of the accident, flew over the burning reactor and took the only measurements. In August 2009, he died as a result of radiation damage, but earlier, with help from Andrei Sakarov, was able to establish BELRAD to help children of the area……The government of the former Soviet Union previously classified many documents now accessible to the authors. For example, we now know that the number of people hospitalized for acute radiation sickness was more than a hundred times larger than the number recently quoted by the IAEA, WHO and UNSCEAR. Unmentioned by the technocrats were the problems of “hot particles” of burning uranium that caused nasopharyngeal problems, and the radioactive fallout that resulted in general deterioration of the health of children, wide spread blood and lymph system diseases, reproductive loss, premature and small infant births, chromosomal mutations, congenital and developmental abnormalities, multiple endocrine diseases, mental disorders and cancer….This book is a “must read” for all of those bureaucrats currently promoting nuclear power as the only “solution” for climate change. Those who seek information on the disaster only from the official documentation provided by the IAEA, WHO and UNSCEAR need to broaden their reading to include the reality check from those scientists who have access to local findings and are simply telling the truth, with no hidden propaganda agenda. ”

May I assume that BNC will now retreat from points 1-3 above and rest its case on point 1 only, ie that Chernobyl is merely irrelevant to Gens II, II and IV? Or can somebody show me a Nukie refutation of Yablovo and Nesterenko (x2), which appeared 12.2009?


The following main lessons can be deduced from the Chernobyl accident:

(1) Ionizing radiation killed only a few occupationally exposed people. Due to rapid decay of short-lived radionuclides, the Chernobyl fallout did not expose the general population to harmful radiation doses. Near the burning reactor, the area covered by the dangerous radioactive fallout where, on April 26 1986, the radiation dose rate reached 1 Gy per hour (after one year it had decreased by a factor of about 3000), was limited to two patches totaling together about 0.5 km2 in an uninhabited location, and reaching a distance of 1.8 km from the burning nuclear reactor. Several hundred meters outside the 1 Gy isoline the dose rate dropped by two orders of magnitude, to a level of 0.01 to 0.001 Gy per hour.

(2)Psychosomatic disorders and screening effects were the only detectable health consequences among the general population.

The reported excess of thyroid cancers in children and in adults exposed to Chernobyl fallout is not consistent with current knowledge on effects of medical use of iodine-131. Reports of an “excess” appears to be an artifact of screening, and is only a small fraction of the normal occult thyroid cancers incidence occurring in populations unexposed to iodine-131.

What I find particularly glaring is the lack of controls for other insults given that the area around the nuclear plant was a well known industrial wasteland before the accident. In other words no steps were taken to eliminate the potential influence of chemical or heavy metal contamination in the soil and food chain on the initial health of the human population.

I also find it disingenuous to continue to invoke latency every time actual results fail to meet the dire predictions made previously. We were told shortly after the event, when the immediate death toll was found to be minimal, that the full impact would not be felt for twenty years. Twenty years later, the Cassandras are now saying it could be as much as sixty years before the damage appears, or maybe several generations in the future. At what point do we accept the fact that the impact of this accident has not been anywhere as serious as it was assumed it would be?

(3) Radionuclides were injected high into the stratosphere, at least up to 15 km altitude, which made long distance migration in the whole Northern Hemisphere, and a penetration over the Equator down to the South Pole possible . With the extremely sophisticated radiation monitoring systems implemented to assure compliance with test-ban treaties, even the most tiny debris from the Chernobyl reactor were easily detected all over the world. No such system exists for any other potentially harmful environmental agent. Ironically, this network’s sensitivity ignited mass anxiety, and contributed to the strangulation of nuclear energy development all over the`world.

(4) Finally, and this bears repeating; the event at the Chernobyl reactor was caused by an inherently poor design, shoddy construction coupled with a criminal lack of good judgment.

This was a complete meltdown of the reactor core, followed by ten-days of free emission of radionuclides into the atmosphere. Nothing worse could happen. It resulted in a comparatively small occupational death toll, hundreds of times lower than that of many other industrial catastrophes, and it is unlikely that any fatalities were caused by radiation among the public.

There is simply no rational grounds for continuing to hold this event up as an example of the potential for an accident at any modern nuclear power plant. In fact if anything it demonstrates just how small the overall impact of a worse-case power excursion and critical loss of containment is even under the poor emergency response conditions that were in place at the time. In centuries to come, the Chernobyl catastrophe will be seen as a proof that nuclear power is a safe means of energy production.

Unfortunately the cranks that continue to beat the Chernobyl drum lack the scientific background to properly evaluate the material that has been published on this matter, nor are they able to put the political biases of the authors of these papers into perspective, or check their credentials.

One of the most reliable indications of this effect, (and this is not limited to this debate, but is true across many contentious scientific issues), is flinging out raw counts of publications, in the erroneous assumption that somehow shear volume will carry their point.

Many of us have been looking very carefully, and very critically at the Chernobyl data for years, there is much to be learned from this accidental experiment that is of great scientific value. Other than the survivors of the nuclear weapon attacks on Japan, there has not been a large exposed population to follow, and the results show here as they did there that the effects of radiation on the general health of a population are nowhere near as bad as previous models indicated it might be.


@DV82XL: a not atypical answer in the usual attempt at an ex cathedra, magisterial and utterly unsourced mode, in which you fail entirely to address this study released in English in 12-2009.

Your attempts to denigrate the authors by comments on political bias and scientific credentials are routine, and used in all cases of disagreement eg Brooks as recently treated by Diesendorf; Monbiot as treated by Plimer; questioning of Lovins’ claim that he is a “physicist” , etc. However, they do not advance the argument materially.

This is not wise nukie tactics. I don’t think a corporate advisor on PR in crisis management would approve of you.

The reason is that in terms of logic, the nukie case for building Gens III or IV does not stand or fall by the number of deaths from Chernobyl. Because the higher the death level you admit from a bad Russian design in 1986, the more you can emphasise the superiority of modern western designs and stress how safe they are.

A corporate PR man would say that the study of 12-2009, which is not dependent on WHO, IAEA or UNSCEAR, is now in the public domain and your refusal to deal with it is detrimental to the nukie cause. I would predict that this study is going to run and run, esp. in the USA, as it was translated into English there.


One of the things I find getting tiresome in debating nuclear energy on the web is the endless capacity of cranks to upbraid everyone for using the same tactics they do.

To date you have not engaged in anything that even approaches rational debate. I have seen nothing from you except sweeping and bombastic opinions and demands that we answer other critics regardless of their standing or credibility, but nothing in the way of cognizant counter arguments.

You make pompous demand that we collectively withdraw statements or repudiate positions that you seem to think we have taken, yet ignore any calls to make your own position on key points known.

You have not advanced the discussion here one iota, and I am beginning to suspect that you are little better than a troll. From now on I intend to treat you as such.


It’s not for me to declare these threads a place where anti-nuclear nuts aren’t welcome, but I must say I moved here from other places because it seemed mercifully free of them. This post isn’t addressed to them, and the best chance to make them go away is to ignore them. Which is not to say that we shouldn’t at times legitimately discuss some of the issues they raise. Those who wish to discuss the future with them in other forums should adopt an innocent air and try to find out what they really think. They pretend on the surface that there will be enough renewable energy. But when you dig you find that: (a) They think the world would be a nicer place with only 1 billion people [nobody would argue with that]; and (b) They accept the widely quoted estimate that the Earth’s carrying capacity after fossil fuels run out is 1 billion. Yes, the fact is that these people who claim to be so concerned about “safety” are sanguine about the possibility of billions of people starving to death. They are relaxed about it. They think it is worth it to bring us all back into contact with nature (if you ignore the windmills everywhere).


Soon after my intemperate post I made one of my occasional visits to Kjell Aleklett’s blog ( to look for English translations (I wish he’d run a separate RSS feed for them). The latest “We need global ‘energy miracles’” is very relevant. A snippet: ‘In the last month the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has donated 10 billion dollars for vaccines for children in developing nations. Now it appears they are changing their focus to a new area, ”Finding a cheap and clean energy source is more important than creating new vaccines and improving farming techniques”.’


@DV28XL and R. Smart:

I detect a certain and risible panic (the “trolling” allegation of the former) on your part at the English-language release of studies in 12-2009 by engineering men who you would presumably fall over yourself to quote given their “standing or credibility” had they not worked in a Communist state:


You refuse to address this publication, even though it appears to supersede the Nukie adherence to the IAEA, WHO and UNSCEAR line. That is, the raw data on which that line is based massively understates those data which are available, now in English. And why would men in managerial positions at the time of a disaster have an interest in falsifying the record, ie “overstating” the effects of Chernobyl to the detriment of their country’s reputation?


I maintain Australia still suffers from cultural cringe that defers to the northern hemisphere. If Obama can be regarded as centre-left by US standards then his Down Under counterparts may be influenced. Those who find fault with the nuclear loan guarantee should remove the indemnity for 120 million tonnes of CO2 leaking from under Barrow Island.

If the US and Europe have a hot a summer then we skippies might finally start thinking GW is a problem.


Here’s an update on the Australian government’s attitude concerning nuclear power:

I especially note this quote from Rudd:

He said the people of Australia could debate anything they wanted.

And also:

“On the question of a debate in the community, we will happily debate this until the cows come home.”

In other words, Rudd will oppose nuclear power no matter what the merits of the case in favour of it. Isn’t that nice?


Thats a rather discouraging update, Finrod. Its all the way with CCS, and he’s making it a partisan issue, noting that the Opposition has a policy that embraces the possibility. If so, maybe its time to break the voting habits of a lifetime.


In my view Rudd has bean dishonest and misinformed on carbon mitigation. Some 28 months ago he rode to victory largely on a promise to ratify Kyoto. He took all the plaudits and even gave a lead speech at Copenhagen. The one initiative he did take with home insulation now looks wonky. Meanwhile Australian coal, brown, black or exported generates about a billion tonnes a year of CO2, way out of proportion to our population.

In practice he has ensured the longevity and profitability of the coal industry. To wit the clean coal delaying tactic, high immigration, unmerited industry compensation, new coal loaders and a pathetic CO2 reduction target. This is fundamentally dishonest and perhaps even creepy given the rhetoric. When challenged he trots out the standard fantasies about wind, solar and geothermal.

If Rudd is re-elected he will continue to give free rein to the fossil fuel industry, all the while spouting delusions that he is somehow turning the problem around. In my opinion he doesn’t deserve another chance.


John Newlands, John Morgan, Finrod — alas, I’m forced to agree. It seems I will also have to change the voting habits of a lifetime. Such is the brave new world we face. Damn populism.


Combine this fanciful appeal to CCS with the expectation that we can ignore our 2020 target by buying overseas permits. We realise the government is not serious about any of this. What it is serious about is stuff it doesn’t talk honestly about: making a BIG Australia; and stopping us watching naughty things on the Internet (not illegal stuff, just anything the government thinks that we, or they, would be better off if we didn’t see).


I’d go further than ‘not serious’ and suggest the government is slightly unhinged. You can’t talk carbon cuts for over two years then suddenly advocate a 70% population increase. The disconnect is kind of chilling in the sense of Captain Queeg or GW Bush justifying the Iraq invasion. IMO Rudd has had his chance and blown it.

On the State govt front if Rann gets re-elected in SA I believe he will effectively stymie the Olympic Dam expansion. Some of these centre-left politicians live in a kind of dream world frozen in 1980s thinking. They haven’t grasped that we now need to push the limits of what is physically possible.


Barry Said:

It seems I will also have to change the voting habits of a lifetime. Such is the brave new world we face. Damn populism.

I’d be disappointed that you could reason to this position Barry. Firstly, as strongly as most of us feel about putting nuclear power at the centre of our response to climate change, the attitude of Australian governments to nuclear power will not greatly affect the way this matter is dealt with internationally. While the failure of governments here to address this matter seriously and take a positive lead is shameful, embarrassing and subversive of good international policy, in the end, it will probably make little difference to policy in practice.

Secondly, there is no prospect that the Opposition will be have differently on this matter than the government. They will not propose even discussing nuclear power at any election where the matter is in the balance, or at any election where they don’t think it’s a done deal for them. That is entirely for populist reasons, just like the government we have now. They no more want to be wedged than do the ALP, and can afford it less.

What they will do is to try to play the patronage game that Rudd is now, probably with even worse consequences for policy. So voting for them on this issue gets you either no difference or something even worse — what Garnaut called Soviet-style central planning. Abbott is positioning himself as a critic of Garrett over insulation (and presumably now solar panels), but Garrett was doing the kind of “no regrets” direct action that Abbott proposes. It turns out there are some regrets after all.

So if you end up giving your effective preference to the Liberals, what you are really supporting is the differential policies — a return to the retrograde Howard-era industrial policies of pre-September 2007. Demonising irregular immigration arrivers, moral issues over stem cell research and so forth. You surely couldn’t be relaxed about that.


Whatever the dismerits of the current Labor Party policy concerning nuclear power, I reason that the key to nuclear power’s acceptance in Australia is to capture the sympathy of a respectable chunk of Labor’s heartland voters for the nuclear cause. Coalition supporters will likely support their party eiother way, and the Coalition is on occasion publicly sympathetic toward nuclear. The occasions when they are not are those when they believe they must follow Labor’s populist stance to retain support. Break the ALP’s demographic support for anti-nuclear policy, and we’ve broken the anti-nuclear cause in this country. Be prepared for a massive disinformation campaign from fossil fuel interests in the course of this crusade.


Actually Ewen, I was more thinking of the “Beam me up Scotty, there’s no intelligent life here” approach to the ballot paper.

The primary impact the current crop pro-nukes will have on future policy mwill not be through their own voting patterns this coming election, but on the effectiveness of their public advocacy in leveraging the voting patterns of the larger community.


@Ewen Laver
I’d be disappointed that you could reason to this position Barry. Firstly, as strongly as most of us feel about putting nuclear power at the centre of our response to climate change, the attitude of Australian governments to nuclear power will not greatly affect the way this matter is dealt with internationally. While the failure of governments here to address this matter seriously and take a positive lead is shameful, embarrassing and subversive of good international policy, in the end, it will probably make little difference to policy in practice.

Australia has arguably been one of the strongest pillars of the international anti-nuclear community of first-world sovereign states. The fall of anti-nuclear policies here would have a much greater international impact than our small population size would initially suggest.


Finrod said:

Australia has arguably been one of the strongest pillars of the international anti-nuclear community of first-world sovereign states. The fall of anti-nuclear policies here would have a much greater international impact than our small population size would initially suggest.

I’m not so sure about it. I kind of see Australia as one of the last holdouts, and I’m not sure the handful of others would pay much attention. Of course I agree that we shouldn’t be holding out and it is damned annoying that we are. When you look around at the general political process in this country, it is, regrettably, not all that surprising. Hardly any big policy gets discussed on its merits or even in ways that are consistent with some vision of political philosophy.

Barry said:

Actually Ewen, I was more thinking of the “Beam me up Scotty, there’s no intelligent life here” approach to the ballot paper.

Oh well, that’s different. Been there and done that plenty often enough. I wish there were something better though.


@ EL
I’m not so sure about it. I kind of see Australia as one of the last holdouts, and I’m not sure the handful of others would pay much attention.

The impact would be in first world countries dush as US, Germany and the like where the local anti-nukes may be pointing to us as an example of a modern 1stworld nation that won’t play nukeball (no doubt aluding to our ‘renewables’ policies as a prime example of how the rest of the world should proceed). We need to take our name of the list of supporters of their hideous fraud.


It shouldn’t be hard to remind the gloaters that Australia’s per capita emissions are an appalling example to the rest of the world. Secondly we are hypocrites mining so much of the uranium which (currently) underpins the nuclear fuel cycle.

I hereby call on the Federal and State governments to show leadership. Cut domestic emissions by 60% to developing world standards and stop uranium mining. Then we will be in a position to lecture others.


Democracy now just had an interesting day:
I’m not real happy that Democracy now keeps being anti-nuke. They’ve had Wasserman on several times recently.

In the first interview, Stiglitz argues:

“In Copenhagen, if we had succeeded in raising the price of carbon—the cost of carbon emissions that pollute the atmosphere are going to impose enormous costs all over the world. If we had succeeded in doing that, that would have provided a market signal. It would have told firms, you have to invest to reduce your carbon emissions. There would have been this retrofitting of the global economy to meet the needs of global warming. That would have stimulated an enormous level of investment and stimulated a lot of spending. And that would have been the critical thing that could have gotten us out of the current Great Recession.
But as it is, what we did is left even greater uncertainty. Where are we going? The result of that is that—greater hesitancy even to make the kinds of investments that we were in the process of making. So, in fact, the failure in Copenhagen has its economic consequences right now. ”

I take it that Stiglitz, who is a pretty good economist, thinks we need to increase the cost of carbon, which sounds like the opposite approach to Peter Lang’s recommendation.
Is it?


Frankly, the jewel would be Germany, Finrod. If they moved on nuclear power, with the acquiesence if not the active support of the German Greens, then Greens everywhere would be hard pressed to hold the line. A restart in Sweden on new builds would be excellent, precisely because Sweden is widely seen on the left as such a progressive country.

While a victory here would be something, Australia is not really much of a trendsetter in world affairs.


Ewan, I dont expect any European Green party to support nuclear power, they’ve invested too much political capital in opposing it. The German phaseout is already on hold, though, and the Swedish phaseout is dead in practice as well. We are just about the last holdout in the western world.


@DV28XL: you wrote about CANDU here

so I have a question about the Maples, based on

With regard to the mysteriously inexplicable positive PCR, power coefficient of reactivity, which caused these medical isotope reactors to be rendered investment ruins in 2008 because nuclear regulator CNSC did not like the “safety story”, I am sure you agree with those (Nathwani of U of Waterloo; Daniel Meneley previously of AECL, etc.) who are quoted as seeing that positive PCR as being unproblematic. After all, CANDU is allowed to have one. And that you are enraged that CAD 350m was wasted on these 2 reactors and that diagnostic medical tests and treatments for millions of patients are thus endangered, because NPP Petten in Holland goes offline in March for 6 months maintenance.

However what is your view on Jean Koclas of Montreal Ecole Polytechnique, who said to the committee of investigation that if one cannot even predict a simple measure like a power coefficient, can you be sure that the nuclear safety analyses based on calculations are correct? And what about Jean-Pierre Labrie who had been Maples project director and said in the Toronto “National Post” in 2009 that the positive PCR was a potentially insurmountable hurdle?

You will gather that we thus have at least two men here who are what you approvingly designate nuclear-type numerate experts (another long-term Anti would be Canadian nuclear physicist and author Walt Patterson, b. 1936 and who worked for FOE, as you know).

Your view on this blog seems to be that decisions on NPPs are, however, best left to men like the above, whereby I assume you like to reserve the right to define what you accept as “training”: I don´t think it includes much outside nucleonics and nuclear engineering, if I recall some of your writings on BNC.

Now Labrie and Koclas as the trained numerate are taking a stance which in your view will be indistinguishable from that of your bete noire Caldicott…or is it?


The MAPLE reactors are not NPPs, they were designed to be isotope production reactors, and one is running just fine in South Korea.

The MAPLE issue, is not a technical one, but a political one. Any discussion of the problem would require a detailed background on the internal workings of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, its relationship with Canadian party politics, the problems inside AECL, and the corporate games being played by MDS Nordion. While I know some of this information, I am not sufficiently confident of the details, to start airing them in this forum.

It is also obvious that you have done little in the way of research on this topic, with any other objective but to skim off something that you could post here out of context, in an attempt to sling mud at me, only underlining that you are nothing more than a troll.


DV82XL (and anyone else who knows about it – GRLC comes to mind):
For what little it is worth, I would like to know the story behind the MAPLE reactors too.
What little I could find out was that there was a positive coefficiency problem/characteristic, but the CANDUs have the same characteristic, and they are run everywhere.
So I can believe there might be some non-nuclear-concerns impinging upon the startup of these reactors, but on the other hand it seems amazing that even the Harper government would happily besmirch Canada’s nuclear expertise, and it’s position as pre-eminent supplier of medical isotopes to the world, over a technicality.
How would they account for it in Dog River?


Lawrence – It is not just a technical issue of a slight positive coefficient, it is an issue that cuts to the very heart of the future of the industry in Canada and is much more than a furious row over who is to blame for this costly and embarrassing debacle.

The Nuclear Safety and Control Act in 2000, created a political monster in the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, that is so out of control that Linda Keen, a political hack with no background in science, who served as the CNSC first president, had to be sacked by an emergency Act of Parliament over the first NRU shutdown. Making major changes at this point is not possible for the minority Conservative government now in power, and Keen, a long time Liberal is still out there bashing the decision to dismiss her in the media at every opportunity.

AECL is on the block and is going to be sold piecemeal, and this was known to be in the works for several years in advance. According to AECL, uncertainty about the cost of solving the MAPLEs problems was a key factor in the project being scrapped. However refurbishment of the NRU is not going to be cheap ether, the difference being that the overhauled NRU will still be there even if the CANDU division is sold. Stripped of its isotope mission, there would be few reasons to fix the aging reactor, or consider building a replacement, if testing CANDU components were no longer being done. Had the MAPLEs been released and licensed, they would have passed to MDS Nordion, and AECL would be hard pressed to justify a new research reactor.

Meanwhile MDS Nordion, which by this time had invested approximately $350 million in the MAPLE project, commenced arbitration against AECL and filed a $1.6 billion court claim against AECL and the Government of Canada to compel them to return to work, and fulfill their contractual obligation to bring the MAPLE facilities into service. Among other things they are demanding that AECL contract with another organization to fix the MAPLE reactors, if it does not have the necessary in-house technical expertise or resources to do the work itself. Naturally this has not been met with much enthusiasm at AECL, given the iffy status of the company at the moment.

As I said above, there is more than meets the eye going on here, and much of it is being played behind closed doors. I doubt that a full accounting will be available for public scrutiny for some time. But for sure the technical issues are an excuse, not a reason for the project’s current status.


It’s hard to know what to make of it. Who wins out of all this?
I can’t see how it’s good for AECL, or Canada, or the nuclear industry, or the provision of medical isotopes. Was it all a secret plan by OPAL?
A followup question (if you can stand it) – was Linda Keen following the rules when she shut it down? Are those rules in the Nuclear Safety and Control Act? If so, it sounds like the new act is not an improvement on the old act.


When Mulroney decided to privatize the isotope business and gave MDS Nordion the profit, it left AECL with having to build the reactor for MDS Nordion while not getting any proceeds from the profit. It eventually lead to AECL having to shoulder a bigger percentage of the cost for building the MAPLE reactor with MDS Nordion still getting all the profit from the isotope business. So when AECL decided to shutdown MAPLE, there’s speculation that it was a strategy to avoid having to shoulder all extra cost when there’s no benefit to be had. Which means taxpayers won’t be shouldering the extra cost while MDS Nordion continue to profit from it. So in some respects it could be said that AEDL wins.

The CNSC has acted by the letter of the law in this matter, and yes I think the new act was a mistake.


I guess I’m dumb. If a public employee follows the law, and Parliament fires them for it, isn’t there something wrong with that picture? Perhaps I don’t want to know.


Not to confuse things – Linda Keen shut down the NRU not MAPLE right?
If AECL was contractually obligated to finish MAPLE how can they just stop? I dislike socialising cost and privatising profit but it’s a big protest to make.


In any case thank you for taking the time to offer some analysis of this situation. I tried to find out about it by reading things in the news but I never found any satisfactory explanations.


Keen was president of the CNSC during both decisions. Her dismissal was a bit more complicated than being fired for following the law. She was dismissed for having lost the government’s confidence, because it was clear that she had let the situation get out of control during the NRU fiasco.

When the Minister responsible stepped in to try and deal with the situation, Keen publicly accused him of interfering. It became very clear very quickly to even her own officials and AECL and independent experts that, in fact, this was not about safety. This was a potential difference in opinion between the two, even CNSC’s director general of nuclear cycle and facilities regulation indicated the reactor was as safe as ever.

She threatened to take the government to court over this, and also said she was going to file charges of interference, with the Parliamentary Ethics Committee, but I guess she talked to her lawyers, because she never has.


Peter Lang said:

16 canisters hold all the used fuel from 32 years of nuclear power generation from the Maine Yankee nuclear power plant. 99% of the available energy in that fuel has not been used yet. The fuel is available for use in the future. Why would anyone want to dispose of it?


Am I correct in thinking that LWR spent fuel has approximately 95% of the original energy content, still unused? I always thought the 99% figure came included DU left over from enrichment?



Scott, correct.

In rough terms, per gigawatt year one needs about 200 t of natural uranium to deliver 20 t of 4.5% enriched U, of which about 1 t of the LEU is fissioned. So about 99.5% of the energy from the natural U remains, but the once-through used LWR fuel has 19/20 or 95% of its energy content remaining. All in very rough terms — the details of enrichment, burn-up etc. depend of a variety of factors.

Some details here:
IFR FaD 3 – the LWR versus IFR fuel cycle


One thing about these figures that may be confusing is a bit of vagueness about how much U-235 is left (or consumed):
“After a year of operation, the following ‘waste’ results: 18.73 t of uranium (mostly U-238),”.
When people read that 99% of the energy remains I think people wonder if that means only 1% of the U-235 was fissioned, since the input was also “mostly U-238”.

Like Mr Abbott said that if “the most urgent task confronting humanity is to reduce our carbon dioxide emissions” the “only realistic way to do that in ways which maintain living standards” was to move to nuclear energy. However, he will not be taking it to the next election.

He should take it to the electorate. (1) He’ll get Peter Cosgrove on his side; (2) Isn’t it better to take a policy that maintains living standards, rather than taking Lib’s current plan, which they are now admitting doesn’t. [Of course their actual plan is not to reduce living standards, but to not reduce emissions, but they can’t admit that.]


Thanks Finrod. He’s arguing nuclear power is too expensive in the US and therefore no one should be building them, and that loan guarantees are ‘subsidies’. A pretty tired old argument. He also concludes by saying we should build renewables, but completely ignores the cost of this approach. Breathtaking.


Thanks Finrod. He’s arguing nuclear power is too expensive in the US and therefore no one should be building them, and that loan guarantees are ’subsidies’. A pretty tired old argument. He also concludes by saying we should build renewables, but completely ignores the cost of this approach. Breathtaking.

I’ve left a couple of comments in the comments thread there. It seems I have a jousting partner. I’ll just have to see if he replies to me again.


Dr Hansen, Ziggy Switkowski and Erica Smyth will debate Molly Harriss Olson, Mark
Diesendorf and Jim Green tonight at Melbourne Town Hall from 6.30pm on whether Australia
should embrace nuclear power. The Age is a partner for the IQ2 debate.


Could someone please give me a link to the comments on the debate between Hansen, Switkowski and Olson versus Mark Diesendorf et al. Several people attended and posted their comments on one of the threads, but which thread was it?


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