From nuclear sceptic to convert

I’m delighted to reproduce an Op Ed written by my good friend Assoc. Prof. Haydon Manning, who is head of the Department of Politics and Public Policy at Flinders University in Adelaide. Haydon teaches Australian and environmental politics and is sufficiently influential (controversial) that he’s been bestowed the great honour of having a Friends of the Earth page dedicated to his writings! This piece was written for the SA Mines and Energy journal; you can read the original here.

(Note: It might seem like I’m outsourcing everything on BNC in 2010, but there’ll be plenty of new blog entries from me over the next few months. I’ve just been rather busy putting the finishing touches to my new book… and other miniutae like writing new grant applications and papers. Oh, and be sure to look out in the 22 January issue of Science — I have a new Perspective piece on the extinction of the Australian megafauna)


Spotting Rex Connor’s Ghost

In the late 1970s, I marched through Adelaide streets shouting: “Uranium, leave it in the ground.” Teaching environmental politics over the last ten or so years saw me prepare lectures weighing up the pros and cons of the nuclear fuel cycle. The evidence slowly convince a nuclear skeptic of the errors of his ways.

Recently, I accepted an invitation from the WA Chamber of Mines and Energy to speak at a public forum in Kalgoorlie. I argued that the good citizens of WA ought to be proud once uranium oxide starts to pass through their township as they will join what I call “the main game” on the carbon emission reduction front.

In an effort to convey this point I often draw attention to the remarkable energy punch embedded in a drum of uranium oxide. One drum, once processed and fabricated into nuclear fuel rods, will generate the same amount of electricity as approximately 6,000 tonnes of coal. In a nutshell, about 5 drums of yellowcake equates to the electricity generating capacity of your average coal freighter!

Take this a step further and look ahead a couple of decades. A drum uranium oxide supplying a so-called 4th generation nuclear reactor would, according to data supplied to me by Adelaide University’s Professor Barry Brook, equate to about 1 million tonnes of coal burning foregone. If you like, that’s something like a briefcase of yellowcake compared to a ship of coal – now that truly evokes hope for a mid-century clean energy future.

In this State we appreciate that our uranium mining story is one of world’s best practice with regard to occupational health and safety and the transport of uranium oxide. Three decades without a ‘radiation scare’ sees the majority of South Australians well aware that there is nothing to fear from uranium mining, milling and transportation. This is clearly evident with opinion polls indicating that South Australians are more at ease with the industry than poll respondents in other states.

Thirty years ago the anti-uranium mining camp spoke of grave health risk for miners. I was convinced when I marched that cancer rates would be higher for miners. Of course, history demonstrates this is not the case but that doesn’t deter the current crop of anti-nuclear campaigners efforts to scare the public.

For example, the WA Conservation Council and WA Greens Senator, Scott Ludlam, proselytize that ‘uranium is the 21st century’s asbestos’. I’m able to report that many young students I teach upon critically reviewing such arguments dismiss them and gravitate toward supporting nuclear power. They see the fact that without nuclear energy in the picture many nations will simply struggle to find a low emissions path to energy security.

It seems that South Australian political and business leaders need to robustly lobby the Rudd Government on the question of uranium sales to India. And more quietly, but I am enough of a realist to know this is unlikely, to advocate the case for hosting a high grade nuclear waste disposal facility. This could begin with the point that servicing the needs of those uranium customers who may struggle find the suitable geology for long term waste repositories dovetails well with our established bona vides dealing with uranium.

Debating with environmentalists of various ‘shades of Green’, one is often at pains to convey the point that countries like India and China will not deliberately slow their economic growth simply because climate change threatens. They seek for their citizens material wealth akin to that which we enjoy. Burning a swag of fossil fuels is a simple necessity unless viable and mature technologies present themselves as an alternative. Powering Beijing, Shanghai and Mumbai, for example, with wind and solar is an unadulterated fantasy. Whereas envisaging a future where nuclear power supplies electricity for industry, homes and transport is no fantasy.

The demand for uranium sourced in South Australia is set to soar in coming decades as we are in the box seat to help such nations. By offering low sovereign risk, a factor well known to this journal’s readership, but one not widely appreciated within the community, SA is set to become a key energy supply province some even say, ‘the Saudi Arabia of the South!’

With WA now on board with licensing uranium mines, and given that few South Australians oppose uranium mining, we should as a nation begin to look at enrichment and fuel rod fabrication. To be sure, this is a long term vision as current international enrichment capacity is well able to meet demand, but that will change and our low sovereign risk status could well see the economies eventually stack up. Of course, it will take political leadership and the dissolution of the remaining anti-nuclear sentiment within the Australian Labor Party.

Sparking a debate over uranium enrichment should be on the agenda of the major parties in South Australia. Thirty-five years ago it was on the agenda of the Whitlam Government’s Minster for Mines and Energy, Rex Connor, but implacable opposition from within the State ALP saw Connor’s vision to value add kyboshed.

A second term Rudd government may well jump the hurdle and support uranium sales to India. In that event the door may also open with regard to a more fulsome Australian engagement with the nuclear fuel cycle. If that happens I hope a third term Rann Government will investigate, as part of a long term vision, an enrichment plant.

In June 1975 Connor argued for an enrichment plant at ‘the top of Spencer Gulf’ because he figured that was ‘the safest place in Australia in regards to marine and rocket attacks … and was the best site for the plant both economically and strategically’. Connor is remembered, infamously for the the ‘loans affair’ which contributed to the downfall of the Whitlam government. Fair enough to, it was a low point in national political life! But one day he may be remembered as a visionary who saw Australia as a mature partner operating at different points of the nuclear fuel cycle.

Add to FacebookAdd to NewsvineAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Furl


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.

85 replies on “From nuclear sceptic to convert”

The Saudi Arabia of the South …?
* The value of Saudi Arabia’s oil exports is 325 times greater than Australia’s uranium exports (which account for about one-fifth of global uranium demand).
* Uranium still accounts for just one third of one percent of Australian export revenue. Revenue would need to double for uranium to make it into the list of top 25 export earners. Australia could stitch up the entire global uranium market and it would barely scrape into the list of top 10 export earners.
* For the second (or third?) year in a row, the nuclear renaissance has gone backwards, with more reactor shutdowns than start-ups.

Uranium and nuclear power “the main game” on the carbon emission reduction front …?
* The International Energy Agency expects 63 percent of the world’s emissions reductions by 2030 will come from energy efficiency.
* A 2007 ABARE study estimated energy efficiency would directly account for 55 percent of Australia’s carbon abatement by 2050.

Uranium sales to India …
* If Australia supplied one quarter of India’s current demand, uranium exports would increase by just 2.4 percent or $24.5 million. Revenue from exports of all products to India would increase by 0.16 percent. Even if India’s nuclear power expansion plans are fully realised (23 reactors are operating or under construction, another 23 are planned), Australia’s uranium exports would increase by a modest 14 percent above current levels and exports of all products to India would increase by 0.9 percent.
* The Australian Uranium Association supports the policy of refusing to allow uranium exports to non-NPT countries including India – presumably because it has done calculations similar to those above.
* Leonard Weiss, a former staff director of the US Senate Subcommittee on Energy and Nuclear Proliferation, notes in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists that a concerted program of improved energy efficiency could substitute for all the nuclear power being planned in India between now and 2020.
* Uranium exports to India would undermine the fundamental principle of the global non-proliferation regime – the principle that only countries which have signed the NPT and are bound by its disarmament and non-proliferation commitments can engage in international trade for their nuclear power programs. True, that principle has taken a big kick in the guts with the US-India deal. Nevertheless, allowing Australian uranium exports to India would encourage other countries to pull out of the NPT, develop nuclear weapons, and do so on the expectation that uranium could still be procured from Australia.

Haydon – would you mind sharing with us your sources of information regarding cancer rates and uranium mining?


Yes, Haydon, I’d be interested in data on cancer rates and uranium (and
coal) mining. I too have changed my views on nuclear, but still have a
suspicion that ALL mining is bad for people! However, I had a look at the
childhood leukemia association a while back and found that a
one time hero of mine (Caldicott) deserved a little depedestalisation over
her portraying of the research:


Jim: I ride a bike (a very new one as it happens, because some
bugger stole my other one last week!), use a 7 watt fit-pc2 computer
and reckon the biggest energy expenditure in our household is
brooder lamps for the orphan ducks we raise … but … I’ve been
seeing energy efficient fridges for 15 years, but have our per capita
emissions been reducing? No. Last time I checked, per capita
Australian emissions rose at about double the population rate between
about 1990 and 2007.

The reason isn’t hard to understand. My parents now have 2 huge fridges and
a freezer instead of the single fridge they had when the kids were at
home. And they are in their 80s and don’t actually eat much. Ditto damn near
every other effort at efficiency. Make it cheap and efficient and
MOST people view it as a reason to use more. If it is expensive and
efficient then nobody uses it. For efficiency to work it has
to be mandated … eg. banning incandescants. Are Governments ready
for that?

On the positive side, the fairly successful water restrictions
in Adelaide show that most people will do the right thing if they
see a pressing need.


Cancer rates and uranium mining.

Unfortunately uranium has been mined in the past, as well as many other minerals, with poor attention paid to miner’s health. This is as much due to the fact that it is an activity with a long history, as it is due to the fact that it was carried out underground by humans deemed disposable by other members of society.

Conditions, awareness and technology have improved, and continue to improve in this sector and as a consequence it is difficult to get a clear picture of what the actual risks today are. However it remains a job that is hard and dangerous, but no more so that winning any of the other materials we use.


Haydon Manning,

Excellent post.

My view is that nuclear power for electrcity generation is a higher priority for Australia than enrichment.

I’d suggest a multi-unit nuclear power plant near Adelaide, supplying fresh water and baseload electricity to Adelaide and Olympic Dam.


Jim Green,

You have selected to talk about the $ value of Australia uranium exports compared with the $ value of the oil exports from the Middle East. What your comparison shows is just how expensive is oil per unit energy contained. Why didn’t you choose to make the comparison on the basis of units of energy (PJ)? Is this an example of cherry picking data, or is it anti-nuclear spin?

You might also mention that uranium mining has been banned over most of Australia for decades, so of course we are not exporting nearly as much as we could. Importantly, I would argue that the fact that uranium is very low cost per unit of energy is a great benefit for humanity, not a disadvantage.

You say:

For the second (or third?) year in a row, the nuclear renaissance has gone backwards, with more reactor shutdowns than start-ups.

More cherry picking and spin. Why didn’t you quote the total capacity of the plants shut down compared with the capacity commissioned and also mention the capacity to be commissioned over the next five years?

Why don’t you mention that anti-nuclear protesters have stalled nuclear development in the west over the past 40 years, and mention the consequence of this irresponsible act – ie how much more CO2 has been emitted to the atmosphere as a result and how many extra deaths and adverse health effects have been caused as a result. The figures are available from unbiased, authoritative sources.


I agree that RFX Connor was a visionary. Some 30 years ago he predicted the need for a west to east gas pipeline and that idea may yet be revived if SA, Vic and Tas are bullied into an increased share of gas fired generation. If ‘Rex’ were alive today I believe he would be appalled at the rush to flog off irreplaceable resources like natural gas. That’s not ‘resource nationalism’ so much as simple prudence.

My Gen Y relatives in Adelaide all seem enthusiastic about nuclear power for SA. The fuddy duddies are Rann and his cohort from the Mururoa Atoll protest days. Given that SA may have a third of the world’s easily mined uranium and needs cheap desalination and new jobs it seems logical to build at least a couple of NPP/desals. I suggest one at Ceduna to supply water and power to Olympic Dam and the region (thereby turning off the Morgan Whyalla pipeline) and another on Fleurieu Peninsula to supply Adelaide and environs.


My opinion of Jim Green is not high, but I do not think he is stupid. He chose to use of the dollar value comparison of uranium to oil rather than the energy generation comparison because the energy comparison (the one Haydon Manning clearly intended) would not serve Green’s purpose. It is a shallow rhetorical trick which demonstrates the frailty of the anti-nuclear case.


I read Jim’s pieces on Green Left Weekly, and both Barry and I (perhaps others) have responded in the GLW’s letter column.

I think Jim shows what is wrong with the anti-nuclear green-left generally and shows a kind of desperation (the ‘going backwards’ remark actually made me laugh out loud: Jim, please, either pay attention or learn to read Chinese) that is more akin to the Harvey Wasserman school of splatter-shot nay-saying and factual inaccuracies than the kind of style I expect from Mssr. Green, who is usually more high caliber than his response here.


Oh…I mean to add: what we need to do is thoroughly replace the Green-Left’s anti-nuclear religious views with a Socialist-Left pro-nuclear perspective: the only kind of “Green Left” there really is!


Given the low cost of fuel for a nuclear power plant compared to a coal fired power plant it is still something of a mystery to me as to why nuclear electricity costs more. If somebody has the ability and inclination it would be great to see a side by side cost breakdown of the two technologies.



You ask for a side by side comparison of the cost breakdown of coal and nuclear. The comparison is very dependent on the discount rate chosen, and the rates for return on debt and equity. So any comparison neds to be explicit about the assumptions.

Have a look at the slide presentation at the end of this report. It will be right up your alley. It compares (in charts) nuclear, coal, solar, wind, biomas, and an electrcity system with electric vehilces acting as storage. It shows the effect of differewntr levels of cost on CO2. This is an authoritative report.

Go to Chapter 10 (which is the slides summarising the preceding chapters) here:

For more (but a different slant and based on the 2008 data):


A second term Rudd government may well jump the hurdle and support uranium sales to India.

Yes, but before that killing and burning of Indian students / expats need to stop.


Peter – I think perhaps you misunderstood my question. A breakdown of what alternate power plant technologies cost is interesting and relevant to policy makers. However what I was interested in was more about why one costs more than the other. For instance it isn’t turbines that make nuclear more expensive than coal. and it isn’t fuel. Presumably it is something to do with the containment building. It is this sort of detail I was ondering.



OK. You want a comparison by the major components. I don’t have that and haven’t seen it except for individual sites long ago. My thinking is that it would be commercial in confidence and fairly site specific. Also, the cost is calculated, then contingency, risk premiums and mark up is added to the whole project, not by component. Perhaps someone else can help with this. I’ll see what I can find, but no promises.


@ Geoff Russell

What is it with senior citizens and fridges?
My inlaws (both 70 +)
also own two huge side by side fridges and a three phase driven huge aircon plant to chill the whole house in a steaming Brisbane summer !!!
If you ask them have they heard of energy effiency you get the stunned mullet look as an answer.
I totally agree Nuke power is the only answer…


Underground uranium is no doubt dangerous. Gwenyth Cravens covers this in her book quite extensively. Open pit is far safer locally but has its obvious drawback. One of the interesting things Sandi National Labs noted in their studies was that no only were radon levels extremely high, but the dust…pure particulate…was also very high and 80% of the Navajo miners smoked.

Cancer rates for contemporary miners are no where near that of the Navajo miners of the 1950s and 1960s.


The steam or froth produced by hot dry rock geothermal can contain abnormal levels of radon. The water in the drill holes should be closed cycle for that reason and I’d also guess makeup water could be scarce in the outback. Geothermal seems to be getting a lot of government help with drilling costs presumably since it’s not ‘nuclear’. Radioactive decay good fission bad. The current exportable electrical output for HDR geothermal is zero I believe despite millions in subsidies.


Good piece Haydon Manning. It confirms much of what I’ve been saying now for the past 10 years. My piece in the same SACOME journal of a year ago highlighted the good sense of South Australia getting serious about hosting nuclear waste from nuclear countries mainly because we have in the Officer Basin the best site on the planet for burying the waste. It’s an old[Palaeozoic] sedimentary basin which meets the IAEA site criteria better than any of the very few others on the earth. Most suitable sites are in the southern hemisphere
with the OB clearly the best. It’s in our western desert [little water to transmit radionuclides], it’s geologically stable [SA earthquake activity map reveals no earthquakes there in the past 120 years] It has very little groundwater which is only suitable for pickling cucumbers according to my geologist brother who wrote and mapped the SA section of the basin 35 years ago. It’s flat lying. It’s virtually unpopulated. The nearest settlement is Oak Valley [Aboriginal] which is at least 100km away. It’s as remote a site on the planet as could be found and we should make it available to the nuclear world, especially those countries which import our uranium and which do not have suitable burial sites themselves. It is without any doubt the best site on the planet for waste. I sent a letter to Rudd saying that the most useful thing he could have done at Copenhagen [what a debacle], would have been to offer the world that site for some of the world’s waste which though small in quantity, will grow as the world takes up more and more nuclear power.

And Jim Green, I know you are not stupid but I reckon you think the rest of us are. Nuclear going backwards? China alone has currently 10 GWa generated per year. It plans to have that at 120GWa by 2020 and 160Gwa by 2030. There are about 50 power reactors under construction as I write to add to the 440 which are currently operating and which produce 16% of the world’s electricity. Nuclear going backwards? Come off it Jim. It’s time you looked at the truth about the rapidly growing world nuclear power generating industry.


Terry didn’t the Feds buy Arcoona Station near Woomera and hence Roxby Downs as a low level waste site? Pix
I assume that area has sedimentary layers over granite basement rocks. If Olympic Dam goes to open cut (when Rann eventually departs) the underground haulage equipment could be used for Swedish style cask storage. Whichever location the fact of returning unusable actinides close to a major source of the original uranium also seems satisfying.

New industries for the Great Australian Bight area – high level waste disposal, nuclear electricity, desalination, zirconium and rare earth refining, steel smelting using hydrogen.


Joh Newlands,

Please add to your list:

Freshwater desalination from nuclear plants
Methanol fuel production from nuclear plants

BTW, if we are going to build solar thermal plants throughout Australia’s deserts, we are going to need a great deal of fresh water – for concrete for the solar thermal plants and for cooling water (see here: So we’ll need a lot of desalination (probably using nuclear power) to provide the fresh water to build these solar thermal plants (sounds a bit like “there’s a hole in the bucket’)


Just came across this recent poll on renewables vs nuclear at the Clean Energy Council’s website :

“Baseline support
There appears to be broad acceptance for developing alternative energy sources:

The baseline results for nuclear power mirrored a Nielson poll from the last couple of months. 93 per cent of those polled favoured the Federal Government supporting the development of renewable energy.
Just under half (49 per cent) also showed support for the development of nuclear sources
Greater priority for government
There is a clear preference for giving priority to developing alternatives to nuclear energy

On the matter of which approach should receive the greater priority, the vast majority (80 per cent) said that the government should give priority to renewables while only 15 per cent favoured priority being given to developing nuclear energy sources.
Males, 22 per cent, were significantly more likely than women, 8%, to believe greater priority should be given to nuclear energy.
Those aged under 50, 86 per cent, were significantly more likely to prefer renewables over nuclear, than those aged over 50, 71 per cent.”


What clearly isn’t stated is whether the people polled had a clear understanding of the pro’s and con’s of renewables or nuclear. My gut feeling is probably not.


A disturbing development is what I’d call ‘value subtracting’. Two thirds of the OD copper concentrate will be exported probably to China from which uranium will be extracted. See
under OD Expansion. Thus SA can have 60c (?) feed-in tariffs for PV and lots of wind power 92% unavailable during heat waves but it can’t supply enough power to fully process minerals within the State.


Haydon – your silence is deafening – do you have evidence to support your comments regarding uranium mining and cancer incidence or were you making those comments up?

Terry et al – last year there were 2 power reactor start-ups (Japan, India) and 4 permanent shutdowns (Lithuania, Japan x 2, and Phenix in France).


Green, your miserable attempt to fabricate a case by cherry-picking isolated context-free facts is making you a laughing stock. Who do you think you’re fooling? The general public? They are increasingly seeing through the gimmicks of you and your ilk.

When you set out on your career as the FOE’s “national anti-nuclear campaigner’, did you not foresee the time when you would have to openly (at least to your own eyes) abandon all alliegence to honesty?

You are pathetic.


Jim Green,

What were the capacity and the annual energy production of the retired NPP’s compared with the replacements? (You can safely assume 90% CF for the new ones)

I hope your silence won’t be deafening.


Jim Green,

Regarding your comments about radiation induced cancers from uranium mining, could you tell me how you think the health effects per Mh of electricity generated on a LCA basis of nuclear energy compares with fossil fuel generated electricity.

Furthermore, as Finrod points out, why are you cherry picking lowe order facts and fifures rather than considering the comparison at the LCA level? If you look at the overall picture you find that nuclear energy is some 10 to 100 times safer than coal generation. If you want to dig deeper the ExternE study would be a good place to start. The second figure shows a summary:


Permanent shutdowns in 2009
– 233 MWe France
– 1185 Lithuania
– 515 Japan
– 806 Japan
Total above -2739 MWe

New reactors in 2009
+ 866 Japan
+ 220 India
Uprates in 2009
+ 808
Total above +1894 MWe

Net decrease: 2 reactors, 845 MWe

For context:
Try this link to a recent Bulletin of Atomic Scientists article

Click to access fulltext.pdf

or google World Nuclear Industry Status Report and click on the first link


To respond to Jim Green’s first post:

“* The value of Saudi Arabia’s oil exports is 325 times greater than Australia’s uranium exports (which account for about one-fifth of global uranium demand).
* Uranium still accounts for just one third of one percent of Australian export revenue. Revenue would need to double for uranium to make it into the list of top 25 export earners. Australia could stitch up the entire global uranium market and it would barely scrape into the list of top 10 export earners.”

This really doesn’t tell us much, of course – if anything, it tells us that uranium represents a very inexpensive fuel – significantly cheaper than, say, coal.

Australia’s uranium exports are, at present, approximately 10,000 tonnes (of natural uranium oxide) per annum. That figure is expected to increase substantially in coming years with expansion at Olympic Dam, Four Mile, Beverley, Honeymoon, etc; but never mind, let’s just conservatively consider the value which we know right now.

Let’s assume (conservatively) that all of that uranium is utilised relatively inefficiently as low-enriched uranium in existing light water reactors in a once-through fuel chain, and that none of that uranium will be utilised efficiently, or recycled or reprocessed ever in future.

Under such assumptions, approximately 200 tonnes of natural uranium oxide are utilised to supply one gigawatt-year of electrical energy. Therefore, Australia’s present uranium exports correspond to approximately 50 gigawatt-years of electrical energy per year.

Australia’s exports of thermal coal (just thermal coal, excluding metallurgical coal) in 2007-08 were 114.8 million tonnes. (

The energy content of black coal is approximately 24 MJ (thermal) per kilogram. Since an average Rankine-cycle steam engine has an efficiency of approximately 1/3, this corresponds to approximately 8 MJ of electrical power per kilogram.

Therefore, Australia’s annual thermal coal exports at present correspond to approximately 29 gigawatt-years of electrical energy.

In terms of energy, Australia’s present exports of uranium are nearly double Australia’s exports of thermal coal – and that’s without using 96% of that uranium at all.


Just briefly skimming the BAS article reveals that their assumptions depend heavily on the retirement of currently operating plants at the end of their 20 year operating licenses. Given the success rate for license extension applications in the US, I’d have to say that such an assumption is downright delusional.

Also, comparing the rapidly accellerating construction rate of NPPs at present with the peak of construction activity thirty years ago during the first nuclear age without taking into account the history of the industry from then to now is blatently dishonest, and a clear demonstration of the farcical nature of the anti-nuclear position.


A correction to my previous post: Some of the new operating license extensions in the states are for the 40 to 60 year period of the life of the plant, not just from 20 to 40 years. There seems little reason to doubt that 80, or even 100 years may be possible.


Jim Green
For goodness sake Jim, get yourself into the 21st century and do what many sensible Greens have done in recent years. James Lovelock looked at the facts and changed his mind about nuclear power and so did Patrick Moore, founding chair of Greenpeace. Bishop Hugh Montiefore was sacked from FOE [your mob for goodness sake] because he converted to nuclear. I converted in 1981 when I spent a year in Canada during which time my family and I [all six of us] depended on nuclear power and where I too converted from an anti to a pro position. Jim, you’re starting to look pretty silly with your pig headed attitude to the facts about nuclear power generation. Overall it will increase rapidly in coming years despite occasional shut downs [they all eventually reach their use-by date] and decommissionings. By the way Jim, have you ever visited a nuclear power station or been down a uranium mine or been to a nuclear research station or stood on top of an operating reactor or actually been given a bag of yellowcake?? I have. All of them Jim. I use my yellowcake with every pro nuclear talk I give. It’s time to grow up Jim.

Bryen, on the issue of public support for renewables versus nuclear, you can bet your boots that those polled had no understanding of the pros and cons of the renewables and nuclear. They’ve NEVER been told about the superiority of nuclear over renewables in all aspects of comparative cost, energy payback, greenhouse emissions, capacity factor and overall economy. Nuclear comes out tops, followed by hydro then geothermal then photovoltaic solar, wind and thermal solar at the bottom. Read Colin Keay’s Nuclear Electricity Gigawatts for the truth and then tell your friends.

John Newlands. You are right about the Feds buying Arcoona and that lies on the geological province called the Stuart Shelf which has the same Pre-Cambrian and Palaeozoic layers which overlie the Gawler Craton [Olympic Dam]. Anywhere out there would be OK for waste as long as the IAEA site criteria were met. I’ll tell you more about my vision for development in the SA north and west next time.


Jim Green,

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) ( ) the situation with reactor changes in 2009 was as follows (in MWe):

3 Final shutdowns (2506)
2 new connections (1068)
? uprates (not mentioned here)
11 Construction initiations (12,125)
4 Construction reactivations (870)
There are 55 nuclear reactors under construction.

I concede your point that more nuclear capacity was retired in 2009 than commissioned. I hadn’t realised that was the case until now.

This chart of nuclear electricity production shows that there was a slight drop in 2007 and 2008 from the all-time peak in 2006:

I agree that the rate of commissioning NPP’s has slowed, since 1985 although it is accelerating in the developing nations (see chart in link above)

The figures listed above show the rate of commissioning nuclear power is picking up. I suspect the reduction in capacity in 2009 is a lull at the transition between the slow down, which in my opinion was largely a result of the misguided activities of the very effective anti-nuclear campaigns since the 1970’s, and the ramp up that is occurring now (1/1/2010) – 53 GW under construction, 142 GW on order or planned, 327 GW proposed:


Finrod, you’re misprepresenting the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists article. For a more detailed version, including assumptions, including the assumption that the AVERAGE reactor lifespan of operating and under-construction reactors turns out to be 40 years compared to the historical average of 22 years, see:

Here’s an estimate for the ‘renaissance’. The current IAEA ‘low’ projection for 2030 is 510 GWe. Since 1985, IAEA ‘low’ projections have overprojected by an average of 13%. So if we reduce 510 by 13%, that gives 444 GWe – a 12% increase from 2010 to 2030..

Over and out from me.



Well the poll was posted on the Clean Energy Council website, so I find it suspect immediately! The CEC “wind fact sheet” is laughable, a total bad joke! Their GHG reduction figure for Australian wind energy is pure fiction!



I have obtained a PDF of the book you suggested + Colin Keay’s other books.

In “Nuclear Energy Fallacies : Here are the Facts That Refute Them” 2nd Edition, I found this great quote on page 4 about Chernobyl and the false death claims :

“Interestingly, Peter Garrett, president of the Australian Conservation Foundation, attributed 30,000 deaths to the Chernobyl disaster in an article he wrote in The Age on 2001 April 29. ”

Hmmm, wonder if Garrett ever retracted that statement… !


Even Jim Green gets a mention in the “Nuclear Energy Fallacies” book :

“The MOX industry is heavily reliant on reprocessing to produce plutonium”. From an article “British Nuclear Fools” by Jim Green in the Green Left Weekly, 2000 April 5.

“This is misleading to say the least. The MOX process employs
reprocessing to salvage the plutonium remaining in spent reactor
fuel. Such plutonium has a mix of isotopes rendering it useless for
nuclear weapons, but, being more precious than gold, it is well
worth recycling as far as possible. MOX stands for Mixed OXides of
uranium and plutonium for use as reactor fuel and has been used
without problems since the 1960s. The MOX process is also a
sensible way to get rid of weapons-grade plutonium and the
Russians plan to utilise it to reduce their military stockpile. The
first MOX fuel elements incorporating US weapons plutonium are
due for loading into an American power reactor in mid-2005.”


I would argue that MOX is not a sensible way of getting rid of weapons-grade Pu. Using it as the ‘spark plug’ (initial fissile inventory) of IFRs and LFTRs is eminently more forward thinking, and we should start doing this as soon as possible. MOX is a dead end and unnecessarily rings the proliferation alarm bells due to the Pu separation (even though we’re only talking about reactor-grade Pu).


Something I’ve been looking for is a good, solid up to date “intro to nuclear energy” book that is prepared to go into detail about the various technologies, but from the beginning. Say for someone with at least a school education in physics, or perhaps slightly higher. I would need the book to be in PDF, so that its useable when not connected to the net, in fact that is pretty important for me. The online Cohen book you mentioned on the Energy & Climate books thread” looks good but I cannot find it as a PDF.


Omitted from my earlier piece in answer to Jim Green was the following:
China currently generates 10 GWa, has plans to raise that to 120GWa by 2020 and to 160GWa by 2030. And with 53 reactors around the world under construction, how can nuclear power generation be going backwards? Come on Jim. Get real [as my kids, they’re aged 35-42 say to me].


It is scandalous that the State and Federal governments are prepared to allow BHP to export most of the new copper ( and uranium ) production from OD to China as concentrate, for want of local electricity supplies. Maybe when Ceduna gets its NPP BHP can be forced to consider value adding here. BTW there is a lot of water under parts of the Nullabor, but usually brackish, which is cheaper and easier to desal than seawater

John Newlands, I take your point about desal and smelting etc, but how do you make methanol with electricity? ( as distinct from hydrogen, which is easy )

It is interesting to note that there is probably 30 billion t of ( somewhat crappy ) brown coal in the Arckeringa basin, all within 200k of OD. Can’t use that for power of course. Naughty. Good one Jimbo. And Terry K, I always like your technically literate comments on the uranium issue.

And as for Mr Green, he just doesn’t get it does he?
The one sure, but perverse, outcome of the “success” of the great AGW scare/hype, peddled by FOE etc, is the great reappraisal of nuclear power that is now going on around the world, as engineering minded scientists compare it with the impracticalities of renewables and draw the obvious conclusions.

I acknowledge this site as part of that process.

And I wonder what Mr Green thinks of Arch Warmist Hansen coming to Melbourne to argue in favour of Nuclear energy? ( along with our Ziggy ) And the Gaia dude committing nuclear apostasy as well? You are flogging a dead horse Jimbo. Give it away mate.

to smelt ing power.


Phil S that was Peter Lang’s suggestion to make methanol from nuclear electricity however there are several types of fuel that can made with hydrogen. A starting point is Sabatier methane CO2 + 4H2 = CH4 + 2H2O. That CH4 can be blended with natural gas or biogas or further processed into methanol or dimethyl ether that handles like LPG. If they can make them cheap and reliable enough methanol fuel cells might one day replace piston engines. CH4 gas unlike H2 stores easily and can be piped long distances without seepage or embrittlement.

It comes back to the cost of producing H2. Electrolysis of water using electricity wastes a lot of energy. I wonder if however the O2 which is normally vented could be used to make pure CO2 from charcoal as opposed to alternative sources contaminated with N2, dust and tar . H2 can also be made via thermal splitting of water in a high temperature NPP or solar concentrator. Research is ongoing e.g.

I think hydrogenated synfuels must always be expensive in relative terms. That’s why we should conserve the one-off gift of half a billion year’s accumulation of natural gas in the ground. But we won’t.


The ultimate problem with nuclear derived synfuels is that it will never be cost competitive with natural gas derived synfuels.

The best hope is all electric automotive, nuclear for large marine, and leave liquid fuels for aviation and niche applications. Limited to those, the carbon burden can be tolerated.


Thanks Phil for your positive comment. In the past 12 years , almost all of my time, apart from taking people on tour through the Flinders Ranges,has been spent on researching the nuclear issue. I don’t know much about the science of it but I do know plenty about what’s happening around the world in relation to nuclear power. And I’m absolutely certain that the world needs to get big and quickly on nuclear power and at the same time get big on phasing out coal power. And I wonder if Jim Green knows that living next to a coal power station exposes one to far more radiation than living next to a nuclear one. Interestingly, the waste from an “average” nuclear power station is about a cubic metre [20 tonnes of solid waste] while waste from a similar capacity coal station includes 2.5 million tonnes of solids, 3 million tonnes of CO2 and, wait for it, sufficient uranium to power a nuclear reactor for a year. We’ve got to stop burning the confounded stuff for power. There are plenty of other uses we can put it to viz, pharmaceuticals, fertilizers,plastics, liquid fuels, smelting processes etc. We don’t have to stop mining the stuff. We just have to stop using it for power.



Great comments. And also thank you for reading through the “Emission Cuts Realities” paper and all the comments. Thank you for your supportive comments.


Terry Krieg, you do come up with some great facts.

As for this one –

Interestingly, the waste from an “average” nuclear power station is about a cubic metre [20 tonnes of solid waste] while waste from a similar capacity coal station includes 2.5 million tonnes of solids, 3 million tonnes of CO2 and, wait for it, sufficient uranium to power a nuclear reactor for a year.

I was wondering… over what time period? The plant’s life-time, a single year? I’ve really no idea.

Thanks, Marion


Hmmm, my off topic comment hasn’t appeared and hopfully won’t . But in case it does I’d point out that in commenting on disinformation from the AGW side I was thinking of “North pole clear of ice”, every hot day is proof of AGW, drought everywhare, etc. I wasn’t thinking of scientific stuff, though I do blame them for letting the silly stuff go, leaving the public to assume those views are widely held.


Thanks Marion. I’m not 100% sure but think the U waste from the coal power station would power a reactor for a year. Will check it for you.
Haydon Manning’s piece from the SACOME journal mentioned Rex Connor’s vision and John Newlands in one of his posts mentioned infrastructure developments which would follow from Australia going nuclear. I’ve had a piece on nuclear waste printed in the same SACOME journal a year ago and have prepared another piece mid 2009 for a future edition. It’s not been printed yet. I hope it will be this year. I’ve shared it with BHP, CEO of Business SA who echoed some of my thoughts in a report which found its way into the Adelaide Review. Here’s my vision piece for the SACOME journal which shows just how big Uranium could be for SA and Australia in general. Sorry about its length, but here goes.

In the Jan/Feb issue, I called for Australia to offer the world the Officer Basin site for a much-neede international high level nuclear waste repository [dump]. Despite existing small quantities of waste [450,000 tonnes] produced over the past 50 years from 33 nuclear nuclear power generating countries and even smaller future amounts because of the development of the fast neutron reactor [see Scientific American Dec 2005] which will be on line within the next 10 years, the OB site has the potential to remove from the environment for ever all of the world’s nuclear waste. It could certainly handle all of the waste generated by countries without suitable burial sites including many of those to which Australia exports yellowcake. Though increased reprocessing will occur, ultimately there will be some waste to be disposed of in an environmentally sustainable manner. Deep burial in geologically stable zones is the preferred option of the IAEA. Commissioniing such a repository would be an eminently sensible first step in the development of the full nuclear fuel cycle in Australia. Australia could claim the moral high ground on the waste issue and establish itself as a leader in the rapidly growing world nuclear power generating industry. However, we will need some bold imaginative leadership, following familiarization with the facts about nuclear power from our governments. Sadly because of the hangover from the Cold War, exaggerated fears of weapons proliferation , not to mention the consistent misinformation, half-truths, indeed, downright lies peddled by the anti-nuclear ideologues, Australia has failed to develop the cleanest, greenest, safest most powerful source of energy known to mankind. And this is despite being blessed with the largest reserves and the best waste disposal site on the planet. Australia has been negligent in the extreme on the nuclear issue. We should be able to do better for ourselves and the world than just mining uranium and making yellowcake. What follws, is my vision, now 10 years old, for the next 25-30years of development in South Australia. It is based essentially on our minerals and energy reserves, especially uranium.
Step1. Our governments establish a nuclear education programme in our schools to teach students the basics of nuclear energy and the enormous benefits it will bring to their lives including serious reductions to their carbon[dioxide] footprint. In association with that, the government [Feds] need to develop at least one and preferably two university schools of nuclear science/engineering, one in Sydney [Lucas Heights] the other in Adelaide [uranium capital of the world]. Government and BHP Billiton could join in a PPP in sponsoring these two schools.
Step2. We develop an international hifh level waste repository in the old stable, remote, sediments of the Officer basin and serviced by a purpose-built road/railway running from the western Eyre Peninsula coast near Fowlers Bay? where a small purpose-built port facility should be built to receive purpose-built ships carrying the waste from nuclear countries. Such ships have been around since the early 1960’s and have been carrying high level nuclear materials including waste safely and securely across the oceans of the world with never an accident in which nuclear materials leaked into the environment.
Step3.We establish a nuclear cogeneration power/desalination plant at/near Ceduna? to provide water for Roxby Downs, Olympic Dam expansion and Eyre Peninsula towns and power for the grid. This negates the whyalla desalination plant and removes the perceived and probable real threat to the various Spencer Gulf fisheries[prawns, kingfish, cuttlefish etc] from the release of brine into the northern gulf waters where limited water circulation [despite what BHP Billiton EIS says] occurs.
Step 4.
BHP Billiton builds, or gets another energy company to build a nuclear power reactor to provide the power needs of the expanded OD mine and the town of Roxby Downs with excess power fed into the grid. A few South African designed Pebble Bed Modular Reactors [PBMR] could be used. They are smallish [165MW units] which can be established on site where the power is needed. They are gas cooled [helium] and no water is needed for cooling and building time is about 2 years.This supply negates the 275MW gas fired power line from Pt Augusta to OD.[gas is a fossil fuel].
Step 5. We expand the Whyalla port and develop new industries including uranium enrichment appropriate for power reactors, nuclear fuel manufacture based on OD yellowcake. Australia becomes a major supplier of low enriched uranium and/or nuclear fuel rods to the increasing number of nuclear countries. We take opur rightful place as a leader in futre world energy supply and use. SA could/should become a/the nuclear energy centre of the world. We take back spent fuel from countries using our nuclear fuel for further reprocessing and the final disposal of the waste generated in the Officer Basin.
Step6. We extend the inclusion of nuclear power in our energy mix by phasing out the Port Augusta coal power station [Leigh Creek supplies may last another 10 years] and replacing it with a nuclear one. Hitachi-GE are now marketing mid-sized Boiling Water Reactors of between 400-900 MW. Construction time is 34 months. If something bigger is needed, construction time is between 5 and 6 years.
While all of the above is in progress, numerous other developments in minerals and energy will be occurring including those at Ambrosia, Challenger, Prominent Hill etc, all adding significantly to SA’s economic growth, employment growth and the opening up of previously unoccupied lands in the north and west.
The future is bright for SA but it does need to get serious about getting the best out of our incredibly fortuitous uranium supplies. A government which wants infrastructure development, a secure, clean energy future, new industries and more jobs for its people needs to rethink its hopelessly misguided, illogical and somewhat hypocritical attitude to nuclear power. They need to start now.


Terry you should get your plan into dot points that the public can easily remember. I would add couple of provisos; sorry if you’ve already touched on them
– if Spencer Gulf is the wrong place for a desal then Pt Augusta is the wrong place for any large thermal plant
– a Ceduna based NPP/desal could sell up to 300 ML/d of water not only to supply OD but the other mines you mention. The 100 ML/d Morgan pipeline is now inching out that way (Kimba?) and closing it could free up river flow for the lower Murray
– Neil Howes (not heard from recently) proposed a HVDC line across the Nullarbor. That line could transmit both nuclear baseload and WA gas peaking power to the east
– long run Moomba natgas will have to be supplemented with Surat Basin (Qld) coal seam gas. Note the existing backup pipe from Torrens Island to Victoria’s Otway Basin because of Cooper Basin decline
– it would a shameful copout that exports jobs and profits if 70% of OD copper concentrate (including some uranium) was sent to China
-BHP Billiton already have to kick the tin for some State infrastructure like schools. They were intending to build the Whyalla RO desal themselves. As a wealthy corporation they should join ETSA and other public agency partners in the cost of a NPP/desal.


re DV82XL Jan 17th

You state that nuclear derived synfuels could never compete with natural gas derived synfuels.

From this statement, I assume you mean that, even starting with relatively cheap electricity from nuclear, the chemical reactions needed to make synfuels from CO2 and water are never likely to be competitive with those needed to make them from methane, even if gas prices were to increase significantly.

For the benefit of readers who are as ignorant about chemical engineering as I am, could you elaborate a bit?

The first route to synfuels is presumably carbon neutral while the second isn’t. This could be deemed to favour the former, even financially were there to be carbon taxes, but to an extent I am not knowledgeable enough to evaluate.

I also assume that the process by which natural gas is converted to synfuel does not result in the evolution of much CO2 till the finished product is combusted. In fact, were it to, the process would be even more environmentally damaging.

Could I also ask a second question on a related subject? The value of electricity for peak use has a significantly greater value than that for baseload use. In simple terms, nuclear is better suited to baseload while gas is good as a source of peaking power. I appreciate that some nuclear plants will have load following capabilities in the future and that night time surpluses from nuclear might also be used for battery charging etc. However, up to that point, gas would appear to have the advantage (along with hydro and, theoretically, tidal lagoon power). My question relates to the possible merits/economics of using CCS gas for peak loads. What level of emissions tax would be necessary to justify CCS for gas?


Terry K writes: Though increased reprocessing will occur, ultimately there will be some waste to be disposed of in an environmentally sustainable manner.

If you’re talking about LWR spent fuel, that’s not necessarily so, and it would be a shame to do that because then you’re having to deal with the politically sensitive issue of long-lived radioactive waste. If you happened to read Prescription for the Planet you may recall that it pointed out that all the world’s spent LWR fuel could be used up in a few years if we built fast reactors at the rate I proposed. Of course we’d have to build sufficient recycling centers to convert all that spent LWR fuel to metal fuel, a project I’m working on now even before the first commercial scale metal-fueled fast reactor is built. Cart before the horse? Not really. Once the recycling center is demonstrated at commercial scale the logjam will break.

I grant you that we’re going to have WAY more depleted uranium than we need, though if we convert to all IFRs eventually we could use it all up over the next millennium or so, though game-changers like viable fusion power will likely have long-since made IFRs obsolete. Suffice it to say, though, that we could just bury a lot of it (might as well make it retrievable though). But it would be crazy to just bury the LWR spent fuel.


Thanks John. You are probably right about Pt. Augusta being unsuitable for a large thermal plant. Let’s put a bank of PBMR’s there instead. We don’t need water for cooling them. It would be great as you suggest if we could effect the closure of the Morgan-Whyalla- Woomera- Kimba pipeline and let that water stay in the Murray /Darling system. I’ve got a plan[now 10 years old] to save that system by the way and will share it with you in the near future. I wrote to Abbott today suggesting that he consider it if he’s serious about really taking responsibility for the M/Dsystem as he said in his last public utterance.


Douglas Wise – I should have written coal and gas derived synfuels in my comment, nevertheless, barring regulation or carbon taxes, this route is economically superior because :

– The raw materials (coal or gas) are available in quantities sufficient to meet demand for centuries.

– It can produce gasoline, diesel or kerosene directly without the need for additional steps such as reforming or cracking.

– There is no need to convert vehicle engines to use a different fuel.

– There is no need to build a new distribution network

– They are produced with proven technologies.

CCS, in my opinion, is not going to be anything but a greenwash under the best of circumstances, it’s not really something I would see having an impact on the EV issue at all. One of the reasons is because the baseload/peakload issue for nuclear energy is somewhat of a red herring that the renewables crowd are trying to drag through the conversation in an attempt to deflect criticism leveled against wind and solar intermittentcy , and thus the need for (NG) back-up.

What has to be understood is that short-term peaking is a reflection of fuel cost and little else. NPPs can run inexpensively, producing much more available power in the form of spinning reserve than is being drawn at any moment, thus much of the hourly peaking (now supplied by gas) simply won’t be needed. Some NPP are currently being run such that their output can be varied to deal with seasonal peaking (certainly CANDUs are) and thus much of the whole peaking issue need not apply to a grid with majority nuclear generation.

Coupled with the fact that several new generation of NPPs are being designed to load-follow renders the entire question moot


Douglas Wise various projects for synthetic gas and liquid fuels are going slowly at the moment because of the daunting problems.
One problem is obtaining extra hydrogen without fossil fuel inputs like coal fired electricity or steam reformed natural gas. Given that crude oil production is thought to be declining at 7% annually achieving the necessary volumes of synfuels is going to be difficult. Then again so is powering aircraft with batteries instead of hydrocarbons.

As others have pointed out it might be simpler to remove fossil fuels from electrical generation and save them for the transport sector. I haven’t heard of CCS applied to flue gas from a natgas burning plant. That would be necessary to achieve 80% CO2 cuts w.r.t. conventional coal. The Barrow Island CO2 storage reservoir will be filled from scrubbing raw Gorgon natgas ie before burning. Note that facility has indemnity from liability just like nuclear plants in other countries.


Thanks for the comment Tom Blees. You are correct in saying that LWR spent fuel could be used in fast reactors. I think it can be argued that we shouldn’t even be thinking about nuclear waste of any sort. Just keep on reprocessing it and deriving other benefirts from it, leaving little or none to be disposed. But whatever we do, I think ultimately we’ll have to remove from the environment safely, a bit of waste. And the Officer Basin could handle the entire world’s waste for ever.


John Newlands, on January 18th, 2010 at 6.31 — DoE has a quite slow moving project on demonstrating an oxy-fuel gas turbine; exhaust is almost pure CO2.


Marion, the coal waste figures including the uranium are for one year. It’s the main reason that you would receive far more radiation living next to a coal power station than if you lived near a nuclear one.

And from the Weekly Digest of the World Nuclear Association,Jan 8th as follows: During 2009 only two reactors were connected to a grid: Tomari-3 in Japan and Rajastan-5 in India and two were permanently shut down: Ignalina-2 in Lithuania, as a condition of EU entry and France’s old Phenix fast reactor. There were a number of power uprates, which helped take the total operating capacity up to 372,600MWe, a net 673MWE increase despite shutdowns. But there were 12 constructuion starts boosting the construction total to 53 [51,114MWe], compared with 43 [37,668MWe] a year earlier. About 8 new reactors and two refurbished ones are expected to come on line in 2010. Jim Green, stop making fatuous statements about nuclear power going backwards.


I’ll tell you what, let’s try to resolve the ‘nuclear power is going backwards’ idea once and for all. Put our money where our mouth is. So let’s make a 10 year bet, in the spirit of the anti-climate change debate about whether temperature will rise over the next decade or not.

On January 1, 2020, I’ll pay Jim Green $1 for every MWe of average capacity that global nuclear power goes backwards between Jan 1, 2010 and 31 Dec 2019 — if he agrees me to pay me $1 for every MWe it goes forward (if that eventuality should instead happen). Agreed Jim?


On January 1, 2020, I’ll pay Jim Green $1 for every MWe of average capacity that global nuclear power goes backwards between Jan 1, 2010 and 31 Dec 2019 — if he agrees me to pay me $1 for every MWe it goes forward (if that eventuality should instead happen). Agreed Jim?

Hmm. Barry, in the unlikely event that Green accepts this challenge, you might want to be a bit more specific. Are you talking about all nuclear reactors, or just civilian power plants?

Come to think of it, military nuclear reactors are probably going to see an increase as well, given that the Chinese and Indians are so keen on building advanced subs and carriers for their navies. You probably win no matter what. But that’s an awful lot of money you’re talking about. I bet he doesn’t take you up.


Barry, you’re taking at face value words that have been put in my mouth. The only comment I’ve made about nuclear power going forward is this estimate: The current IAEA ‘low’ projection for 2030 is 510 GWe. Since 1985, IAEA ‘low’ projections have overprojected by an average of 13%. So if we reduce 510 by 13%, that gives 444 GWe – a 12% increase from 2010 to 2030.


DV82XL and John Newlands

Thanks for your replies.

CCS, I agree, may be greenwash when suggested for coal, provided we deploy nuclear quickly enough.

However, it seems to me that gas will be playing some sort of role for many years to come – for synfuels, peaking power or nitrogenous fertiliser production to name a few of its potential uses. If these uses provide higher added value than that attributable to baseload power, there might be sense in considering removing and sequestering the CO2 from combusted gas.

I have read that activated charcoal will remove about half the CO2 from flue gases in a single pass. Eprida are even advocating the impregnation of biochar with ammonia and its subsequent addition to flue gases to make high carbon/ammonium carbonate fertiliser. This product would have intrinsic value in enhancing crop growth with the virtue of being carbon negative. However, I have no idea whether the Eprida approach scales or make economic sense without offset income.


Douglas Wise: “I have read that activated charcoal will remove about half the CO2 from flue gases in a single pass.”

A lot of activated carbon, more charcoal by mass than the CO2 thats adsorbed. And the adsorption is reversible, its not sequestration.


Oh dear, Dr Green is at it again, trying to throw aspersions about, namely, ‘your silence is deafening’. He’s such a charming fellow, and so filled with his own sense of self importance.

For Dr Green’s edification I humbly point out that not everyone is paid to devote their working lives to political campaigning, anti nuclear or otherwise.

Some of us have other things to do, as I did when returning to the office from holiday. Well, now with some pressing jobs done, I’ve had a chance to read the commentaries generated my op-ed and thank Barry for posting it.

I am pleased people found it spurred some thoughts and a fine debate… and I guess gave Green something to do.

So, why might a convert to the pro-nuclear power argument believe that miners are in no particular danger mining uranium?

Certainly 30 years ago when I marched on Adelaide’s streets opposing uranium mining I was certain uranium miners would end up dying in greater numbers from cancer when compared with population averages. Indeed, our current Premier, Mike Rann, argued as much in a pamphlet opposing the Olympic Dam mine [“Mirage in the Desert”]. Written in early 1980s and, for all I know, I possibly distributed it on a book stall I ran that had a healthy section devoted to opposing all matters nuclear [we probably even sold and distributed work by Helen Callicott as well – call it my ‘misspent political youth”!]

In no particular order of priority here are my reasons for feeling satisfied that uranium miners will not in face any cruel fate comparable to those hapless souls who mined asbestos.

1] I’ve read no reports in the mass media to suggest miners are at any particular risk, other than the normal risks associated with modern mining. That is important in my asssesment of matters but yes, it is hardly ‘scientific’.
The point is, I once expected to be reading reports high cancer rates among uranium miners. Moreover, I’ve seen no literature by anti-nuclear NGOs pointing to evidence of uranium miners suffering higher rates of cancer or leukemia than is the norm.

2] Australians join strong labour unions to protect their interests. I was raised in a family where unionism mattered so it would come as no surprise to learn that I support unions [ well I do for the most part].

My first job out of uni was working for a large national union. I happen to, unlike, I think, Dr Green, respect their leaders and those they employ. Unions employ health and safety officers and, in my view, these people are honest and diligent at their task of protecting the occupational health and safety of their membership.

Unions have sought to make mining uranium as safe as possible and it’s clear from my conversations with union officials that other areas of mining are of far more concern than that associated with uranium.

3] I assume Dr Green and his fellow anti nuclear brethren hold little faith in the union officials’ judgment?

What then do they think of the average Aussie blue collar worker who chooses to work in a mine? IIn today’s labour markets there is no scenario of hapless out of work working class people seeking any job opportunity. In fact it largely the opposite – pay in mining is good with the main hardship being the isolation, but with fly-in, fly-out, even that has been much mediated.

The point for me is that I do put sway in the capacity of workers to judge for themselves what is safe and what is not. And they’ve judged, in South Australia at least, that working in a mine where uranium is mined is no big risk, probably most think no risk – but I’ve not run a survey that just is hunch, Dr Green. So please spare the, ‘where’s the evidence’ taunt.

Can you imagine, for a moment, Dr Green addressing miners trying to tell the them it is against their interest to work at Olympic Dam or the Ranger mine? For mine, there is an inherent patronizing attitude among some anti-nuclear advocates and possible it’s even the norm among those who are paid by NGOs to propogandise the case. Indeed, one full-time paid anti nuclear NGO official once concluded a discussion/argument with me, walking away saying – ‘I feel sorry for you’. Oh dear for I have sinned, have I? But I was so amused by this rare insight into the pysche of the devotee to a cause.

4] Companies such as BHP are not secretive when it comes to health and safety.

Big statement, can one defend it?

I once held the view that pictured corporations as ‘satanic mills’ and believe it remains the case for many in what is called the ‘Green – Left’ to be overly suspicious of ‘the corporation’ be it mining companies or any other. There is, of course, good reason to hold a healthy skepticism regarding the corporate world, just like there is regarding politicians and there advisors… and might I add, the world of full time paid NGO apparatchiks.

But for mine many in the environment movement and pseudo ‘left’ are unhealthily cynical. [Note: big debate here over what constitutes the ‘left’! The original left, for want of a better word, are skeptical of the inherent conservative and anti-humanist disposition of many who call themselves environmentalist – but I risk a major digression!] . In my view many environmentalists are naïve and fail to appreciate that corporations are directed by many people of great good will, intelligence and commitment to bettering our society.

In my conversations and tour of the Olympic Dam mine I am satisfied that occupational health and safety is not just a matter of concern, but rather, it appears for BHP-Billiton it is actually an obsession. That is certainly what I gleaned and the same when I toured the Ranger Mine. [And for Dr Green’s check list of what matters to him, I should add, I paid my own way for both tours, keen to weigh up the evidence free from the burden of any sense of obligation is how I went about it].

But the significant point here is that modern mining companies recognise that the media are quick to report safety breaches and accidents because unions and, for that matter watchful NGO’s, are keen to keep the pressure on, so they make sure the media knows about it. Thus, the company has an intrinsic interest in making sure things are safe. But they also have employed managers who care about safety because is is the right thing to care about.

5] Finally, in terms of seeking to ensure safe working conditions the matter of risk from radiation associated with uranium mining rests on what medical science has to say about how the human body handles various does of radiation measured, as social scientist me has learned of late, in “millisieverts”.

I’ve talked to health and safe managers at BHP and from the public service [so two separate sources of information] about these matters.

Point is, as I understand it, we can satisfactorily measure radiation levels [the millisieverts] and that is exactly what uranium miners like BHP insist upon before workers start, and when they finish, their shifts [they also leave their mining clothes behind at the end of a shift and shower before departing].

I doubt any of the above will satisfy Dr Green, he has a drum to beat for his employer and that he certainly does.

The pity for me is that he and his colleagues in other environmental NGOs do the environment movement a disservice by being so dogmatic on nuclear issues. And it remains a great puzzle why intelligent people like Green and, for that matter, Ian Lowe [current Australian Conservation Foundation President] persist with their strident opposition to the nuclear fuel cycle.

It was with great anguish that I finally decided to quit, late last year, my many years’ membership and monthly donations to the Aust Conservation Foundation. I could not abide any longer being a supporter when there was no evidence of any likelihood of any shift in the ACF’s anti-nuclear position.

Perhaps the membership of Friends of the Earth and the ACF will soon seek revision of their NGOs opposition to all matters nuclear. As reason seeps its way into conversation over our and other countries’ energy futures many members might ask for a cautious pro nuclear stance, well you’d think so…

But, alas, I am sure the full time paid campaigners like Dr Green will do their best to kybosh that prospect. And that is the problem as I see it with many current environmental NGOs. The answer for environmentalists to be effective and wise lies, broadly, in what Barry Brook has argued for, namely a new approach perhaps best captured by the term, “promethean environmentist”.

The old “priests” of the environment movement don’t like that, they prefer dogma and hackneyed ideology oddly wrapped up as somehow, leftwing. For mine, they are mostly demonstrably without answers to the carbon emission reduction challenges government and society now confronts; many contributors to this website are seeking answers and, along the way enjoying, I think, the occasional joust with these priests.

Haydon Manning


John D Morgan

Thank you for your reply. You suggest that a lot of activated charcoal would be needed to adsorb CO2 and that the process would be reversible. However, biochar is, as I understand it, more or less activated charcoal if produced correctly. If the biochar is impregnated with ammonia (produced with the surplus energy from the pyrolytic process used on the original organic material), the product produced by passing CO2 through it is ammonium carbonate.

If this product is interred in soil, I would assume that it would act as a organic carbon/nitrogen fertliser. Most of the carbon in the original biochar would be sequestered long term. I am not sure what would happen to the carbon in the ammonium carbonate. If it were to be lost to the atmosphere quickly as CO2, then the possibility would remain to react it with gypsum to turn the ammonium carbonate into ammonium sulphate and calcium carbonate. (I don’t know what would happen to the biochar repository while all this was going on!) Assuming that one ended up with ammonium sulphate impregnated biochar (if carbonate no good), one would have a potentially valuable product that was carbon negative two ways (sequestered carbon in both biochar and calcium carbonate).

I really don’t know whether the game would be worth the candle or whether the process could scale sufficiently to be useful. Your comments on this would be helpful.


Hi Douglas,

I’ll unpack my brief comment a little. Activated carbon has a finite adsorption capacity, which depending on the grade might mean one part co2 requires two parts charcoal. Split the difference and say the co2 produced by burning a kilo of coal requires a kilo of activated carbon to bind.

Now imagine a coal plant with one of those unending coal trains running into it to feed the beast. To bind all the co2, imagine another train the same size rolling in on another track. That should give an idea of the scale, and that it doesn’t scale. I’m assuming your intent is to sequester all the co2 produced by the power plant. (Where does the activated charcoal come from? Trees, mostly, or more coal. Could biochar keep up with this demand?)

You could use some small stock of charcoal as a carrier that doesn’t get consumed – adsorb the co2 from the flue, then drive it off again to collect and compress, and reuse the charcoal in a loop. But that’s not what you’re describing.

The remark that the co2 adsorption is reversible was to indicate that adsorption itself is not stable sequestration. You’ve got to do something with the co2 before it slowly returns to atmosphere.

I’m not sure about the ammonium carbonate idea. Ammonium carbonate’s so fragile its barely a compound. If I had to guess I would say the plant will grab the nitrogen, and the co2 will go straight back to atmosphere. (And remember the material balance requires another coal-train equivalent of ammonia.)

I don’t think the gypsum idea works either. I think you’ll find the equilibria lie a long way towards the gypsum staying as gypsum.

I hope that explains what was going on in my head when I wrote that earlier comment. I hate being Dr No, but there you go, -j.


“The old “priests” of the environment movement don’t like that .. they are mostly demonstrably without answers to the carbon emission reduction challenges government and society now confronts ..”

Indeed. It really is time for the antinuclear old guard of the environmental movement to roll over and stop playing the spoiler to serious, practical solutions to emissions reduction. A new environmentalism focussed on outcomes and not captured by idealogical fossils is to be welcomed.


hi Haydon,

Apologies for the ‘your silence is deafening’ comment.

Regarding the health impacts of working in uranium mines, even in the old days when radiation exposures were relatively high – tens or hundreds of millisieverts annually – there was precious little chance of epidemiological studies demonstrating statistically significant increases in cancer deaths. Partly because of the intrinsic methodological problems and partly because of the lack of monitoring and the lack of epidemiological studies. One exception was the Radium Hill study which demonstrated a statistically significant increase in cancer deaths. With current exposures – averaging 3.7 mSv at Olympic Dam over and above background radiation of ~2mSv – demonstrating a statistically significant increase in cancer deaths would be all the more unlikely but that doesn’t mean those exposures are harmless as your comments suggest.

You say “modern mining companies recognise that the media are quick to report safety breaches and accidents because unions and, for that matter watchful NGO’s, are keen to keep the pressure on, so they make sure the media knows about it.” One example that gives the lie to that claim concerned photos of leaks in a tailings dam given by an Olympic Dam worker to FoE in late 2008. That would never have come to light if not for the whistleblower. BHP’s response was to threaten disciplinary action against any worker taking photos of the mine site.

I’m not on a full-time wage at FoE and most of my work on these issues over the past decade has been unpaid so those arguments are silly.

cheers, jim


The Radium Hill study covered the period from 1952 to 1961, in other words half a century ago. No one is saying that uranium/radium mining in the distant past was not carried out under optimal health and safety practices, but things have markedly improved. This makes any argument against the adoption of nuclear energy based on historical conditions in uranium mines irrelevant.

Also claiming that miners are being harmed by radiation exposure despite the lack of proof is simply your opinion, and that carries no weight in this argument since it is in fact the conclusion you are drawing.

Whistleblowers exposing bad practices at mines is not something unique to uranium mining, nor is toxic runoff from tailing ponds – this is a broad issue in mining and effects several types, and again cannot be used as a reason to halt the development of nuclear energy.


DV said:

No one is saying that uranium/radium mining in the distant past was not carried out under optimal health and safety practices, but things have markedly improved.

I suspect this is what you meant to type.


@Haydon Manning: you take a post-Rex Connor, benevolent stance on corporations. But your argument that CEOs of corporations are of good will at the personal level is a naive category error, coming from a social scientist. Corporatism is driven by market share and bottom line, after all. And the theoretical objections to the capitalism you favour as a functionary of the neoliberal AU state sitting at a chokepoint in the AU academic accreditation system have long since been advanced by eg Herman Daly, ex-World Bank, or Dennis Meadows, for that matter.

Hence it matters not a jot whether individual CEOs run Christian charities or beat their wives or if they don´t, what matters is the macroeconomic impact of the firms they run.

You are of one mind with e.g. Jim Hansen on Gen IV NPPs. But he sees corporate spending in US elections as fatal for the nature of the electoral process: check out the index entries under “United States: fossil fuels use”, in his “Storms of my Grandchildren.”

As you appear to be some sort of Julia Gillard-style “leftist”, a term which has been stripped of meaning by successive AU ALP governments since 1980, you may as a possible Obama admirer be interested in this recent news item from “Democracy Now”:

“Supreme Court: No Limit on Corporate Spending on Elections
The Supreme Court has ruled corporations have the right to spend as much money as they like to influence the outcome of US elections. In a five-to-four decision, the court overturned century-old restrictions on corporations, unions and other interest groups from using their vast treasuries to advocate for a specific candidate. The majority opinion affirms corporations have First Amendment rights and that the government can’t limit their political speech. The decision has sparked widespread outrage amongst progressives and calls to have it reversed. This is Robert Weissman of the watchdog group Public Citizen.

Robert Weissman: “What we really need is to get the decision undone. If the court won’t reverse its own decision, the only course available to us is a constitutional amendment. We have to say the First Amendment exists to protect the rights of real people, of you and me, not artificial creations known as corporations, not for Exxon, not for Pfizer, not for Goldman Sachs.”

In a statement, President Obama called the ruling “a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans.”


As usual, whenever I come to the BNC site seeking answers I go away empty handed! I consider myself pretty open minded when it comes to sources of base-load energy. All I want to know is at what cost it comes – now and to future generations. Neither BNC’s nuclear adherents nor those advocating other forms of base-load power (here and in other forums) have been able to answer my questions in any satisfactory manner. I take this as as confirmation of my low opinion of the debate amongst all of the self-styled experts on all sides in Australia. Speaking as a relatively well informed, critical and well educated member of the great unwashed, I find this exceedingly disappointing!


@ Sam Powrie
What a useless drive-by, intellectually bereft comment. Obviously you have not actually read any of the posts on BNC. Yes -you do actually have to read the blog to find information and answers.
The costs of various energy sources have been dealt with in great depth in the TCASE series and the many comments the series has generated. Do your homework before commenting again or at least, do as finrod suggests and pose some questions, instead of spouting waffle and hand-waving.


Leave a Reply (Markdown is enabled)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s