Pamphlets, talks and tweets on nuclear power and climate change

This is an update on some recent media I’ve been doing — and will be presenting in the near future — on nuclear power and climate change. I’d also like to recommend some excellent pamphlets I’ve just read.

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I’ve completed the first round of media promotion of my new co-authored book, Why vs Why: Nuclear Power. On Monday 10 May, Ian Lowe and I spoke at the ABC studios on three separate radio programmes. Two of those interviews are now available as a podcast. Click here to download an .MP3 of our interview with Phil Kafcaloudes on Radio Australia (17 min audio). Then, you can head over here to download a 23 minute podcast of our afternoon interview with James Valentine:

Nuclear power is one of those topics that is guaranteed to get people fired up (pardon the pun). So we assembled two of the finest experts, one of whom is for, and the other against, to battle it out for you on the radio. The man ‘for’ nuclear power is Barry Brook is a leading environmental scientist, and also the hold the position of Chair of Climate Change at The University of Adelaide’s Environment Institute. Ian Lowe AO, presented the other side of things; he’s the President of the Australian Conservation Foundation and a Professor in science, technology and society at Griffith University.

We were also interviewed for 30 min on afternoons Tasmania, but I can’t find a podcast for this one (which is a shame, as we covered quite different material to the other two).

In the evening, we launched the book at Readings in Hawthorn, with a semi-Socratic debate delivered to a small but keen live audience. However, the good news is that the moderator was Paul Comrie-Thompson, who is the host of the Counterpoint ABC Radio National programme. Paul let us know that within the next few weeks, nearly the full 1 hour discussion will be broadcast on the show, Australia-wide (and worldwide via the internet!) — I’ll post back here once it’s up. Overall, I enjoyed the little debate, and think it gave the opportunity to give the major issues a good airing.

The first (very short) review of the book is out, which you can read here. More will be appearing in the mainstream media over the next few weeks (I’m aware of at least three).

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On 8 June, I’ll be presenting a short talk on on climate change and multi-species extinction modelling, as part of the ‘Four in 40‘ discussion series, hosted by the Royal Institution of Australia. Other talks (each 10 minutes long) will cover climate change and groundwater, land management, and minimising carbon footprints. You can register here.

I’ll also be delivering two major 30-minute keynote addresses on the topic of nuclear energy and climate change mitigation, at the AusIMM conference on 16 June and ARPS conference on 18 October (the latter is a tag-team keynote session with Ziggy Switkowski). Here are the two abstracts that are printed in their respective programmes:

AusIMM: Nuclear power can completely replace fossil fuels by 2050

The term ‘The Hydrogen Economy’ is often used to describe an energy future which uses hydrogen as the primary energy carrier, created by extensive deployment of renewable energy. Yet there are compelling reasons to deem that this is not a plausible or desirable goal, on technical, logistical and economic grounds. I will describe an alternative view – ‘The Nuclear Economy’ –which circumscribes a prosperous and environmentally responsible ‘all-electric’ society, based predominantly on nuclear fission power (with minor contributions from technosolar and a strong emphasis on recycling), producing a range of fit-to-purpose energy carriers. This would be an energy system that had eliminated the use of carbon-based fossil fuels and which was sustainable for thousands – perhaps billions – of years. With sufficient will and effort, modern society can realise this goal within the next 40 years.

ARPS: The long-term future of nuclear power

If nuclear power is to be the principal energy solution for tackling climate change – in Australia and worldwide – it must satisfy a number of fundamental criteria: low-carbon footprint, effective waste management, long-term sustainability, reliability, safety and economy. Although the current generation of nuclear power reactors already tick most of these boxes, the ultimate flourishing of nuclear power as a perpetual energy source for humanity will require a transition to a closed-fuel cycle, in which virtually all of the energy in uranium and thorium is used. Professor Barry Brook will discuss some of the key technologies that will likely underpin this next-generation revolution in atomic energy, and chart a possible course for their development and deployment over the next 40 years.

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Next, I’m very pleased to report that my Twitter account, BraveNewClimate, has been selected by The Guardian newspaper’s Environmental Blog as one of the top 50 Twitter climate accounts to follow. Here’s what they had to say:

Discover the key people and organisations you should be following on Twitter if you’re interested in climate change and the environment… From ministers’ tweets inside climate talks and cameraphone photos of climate activism as it happens, to tips on how to live a greener life and 140-character global warming news updates: who are the key people and organisations you should be following on Twitter if you’re interested in climate change? With the help of Guardian readers on Facebook, we’ve pulled together the top 50 accounts worth following… 5. BraveNewClimate: Thoughts from a climate science professor on nuclear power, energy and climate politics in Australia.

My thanks to ConservBytes for the nomination!

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Finally, I’d like to recommend a series of four pamphlets on nuclear energy, written a few years ago by Australian physicist Dr. Colin Keay. They’re all available now for free download, on the Scribd website, and range from 44 to 48 pages in length. The titles, in chronological order, are Nuclear Energy Gigawatts (2002; a compare-and-contrast of all major energy sources — nuclear, fossil and renewable), Nuclear Common Sense (2003; an clear and straightforward overview of nuclear energy and the nuclear fuel cycle), Nuclear Radiation Exposed (2004; a superb discussion of the fears and realities over radiation, with perhaps the best general discussion on hormesis I’ve yet seen), and Nuclear Energy Fallacies (2005). I’ll quote the blurb from that final one:

The author is a retired physicist and astronomer who, as an associate professor at the University of Newcastle for 24 years, taught nuclear and reactor physics to senior classes. These duties induced a deep suspicion of unsubstantiated claims on nuclear matters by persons and organisations promoting anti-nuclear agendas. In the interests of his students he began to identify and correct the disinformation, truth-twisting, false claims and plain lies that flood the media. As a scientist who has investigated phenomena governed by the inviolable laws of nature he finds it very difficult to understand why anti-nuclear activists refuse to believe the hard facts about energy, even when drawn to their attention on many occasions. In the interests of a better future for Australia it is imperative that disinformation and fallacies are dealt with accurately by presenting, as answers to them, the authentic verifiable facts surrounding nuclear electricity generation. He has no past or present connection with the nuclear industry.

Be sure to read these four pamphlets, and distribute the links to your friends and associates. This key information MUST be more widely appreciated by the public and policy makers, alike.

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26 Comments

  1. This is good work to be sure, but it needs to be extended by a functioning political action committee. You may be getting a number of people buying into nuclear energy, but if they have nowhere to turn to offer support, its not going to lead to change.

    While you have the public’s ear you should be redirecting them to some national group, so that at the very least you can gather a community of supporters, if you ever want to take it to the next step. In other words the opportunity for free advertisement should not go to waste.

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  2. This is good work to be sure, but it needs to be extended by a functioning political action committee. You may be getting a number of people buying into nuclear energy, but if they have nowhere to turn to offer support, its not going to lead to change.

    The Nucleus 92 website should be a going concern in a month or so. We’ll launch our publicity drive shortly after.

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  3. I was going to mention Nucleus 92 expressly in that comment, but I didn’t know how far along you were with it.

    I honestly expected to be much further ahead by this stage, but a couple of factors have slowed me down. I’ve found the task of developing material for the site to be less straightforward than I’d initially hoped, and for a few months at the end of last year, I was wary of pushing ahead too quickly because of hostility to such an initiative from my employer (for bettter or worse, this is no longer an issue).

    To begin with we’ll probably concentrate on building a boots-on-the-ground local grassroots organisation while also commenting on national affairs as they relate to nuclear. It will take some time to develop a nationwide presence. But once we have the website up and running, and a system in place to take interstatye membership applications we’ll be pushing it as hard as we can.

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  4. Barry, I’m pleased that you’ve discovered Colin Keay. He’s a friend with whom I visited Lucas Heights a few years ago. I bought about 20 copies of each of the pamphlets several years ago from Colin and sent them to various people, including Phillip Adams in an effort to educate the people. I used quite a bit of his material in the many speeches I’ve given over the past 5 years. As I think I told you, he and professor Tony Klein nominated me for Rudd’s talkfest , you know, the 1000 “Best and Brightest” who brought so many brilliant ideas before the government. I missed the cut for obvious reasons. I was going to mention the word nuclear.That was enough to scare Rudd off. I did however, have a go at him in my last [11th] letter to him. He promised that in the report everything raised would be covered. Nuclear wasn’t and so I wrote that “It’s obvious to me that the government manipulated this conference to support its policy of no nuclear power for Australia. I know you’re a straight talker Mr. Rudd and so here’s some from me. What a reprehensible response from, on this issue, a totally dishonest government. You should be ashamed.” I’m not giving up however. I know Paul Howes of the AWU and the ACTU is pro nuclear and he’s trying his hardest to get the unions and Labor to get on board the nuclear train. What we pro nukes have to do is to keep talking, especially to our timid and fairly ignorant [on nuclear matters] politicians.

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  5. I listened carefully to the debates between Barry Brook and Ian Lowe on nuclear power. Most impressive! There simply is nothing like this going on here in the USA’s “Main Steam Media”.

    Given that the media here essentially ignore energy policy, what debate there is takes place on the Internet and most of that is superficial, overly political or childish.

    I seldom agree with James Hansen or James Lovelock but their support for nuclear power makes good sense.

    James Lovelock says that we should be prepared to accept higher levels of nuclear radiation in the environment which he sees as an inevitable consequence of ramping up nuclear power generation. As someone who is trained in nuclear safety I disagree with Lovelock because innovative nuclear reactors can systematically reduce the overall inventory of higher Actinides (really nasty stuff that needs “geologic storage”).

    Barry Brook is well aware of Thorium cycle reactors, dry re-processing, sub-critical nuclear reactors and much more. I had to admire his restraint as he did not oversell these ideas as I would have done!

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  6. James Lovelock says that we should be prepared to accept higher levels of nuclear radiation in the environment which he sees as an inevitable consequence of ramping up nuclear power generation.

    Ongoing use of nuclear power wwill decrease the natural levels of radiation in the environment. Most of that comes from the decay of radioactive elements like uranium and thorium and their daughter products. Digging them up and fissioning them results in highly radioactive waste which will be sequestered for a few centuries, thus not really adding to environmental background radiation to any noticeable degree. Because those supplies of U and Th are no longer lying around, they won’t be contributing to the natural background radiation. If we go ddown this path then slowly but surely the natural background radiation on this planet will drop below what it would have been if we left it all in the ground.

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  7. gallopingcamel, re: your last sentence — they’re all exciting ideas that I love to talk about, but I’m also concious that the short-term future of nuclear power is Gen III thermal reactors without recycling, and even these are terrific energy solutions with their ‘faults’ hugely overplayed by the antis. As such, although I see the medium- to long-term future of NP to be inexorably intertwined with Gen IV, I do need to show some restraint in this quarter and also be a strong advocate for Gen III (which you seem to appreciate – thanks).

    I enjoyed the discussions with Ian Lowe — much more than debates with just about anyone else, in the climate or nuclear spheres.

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  8. Listening to those podcasts, I get the impression that Ian Lowe is almost regretfully towing the party line while his considered opinions lie elsewhere. I could be wrong about this…

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  9. No matter how good nuclear technology may be there is a huge problem with public perceptions and the associated political realities. In the shaping of public opinion, Wikipedia has considerable influence. Take a look at the piece on Gen IV reactors:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Generation_IV_reactor

    Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors or Rubia’s Sub-Critical Reactors are not mentioned. The IFR and Phenix are mentioned but there is no mention of the ill fated Super Phenix. What about small factory built nukes?

    Besides being out of date, this part of Wikipedia appears to have been written by the entrenched nuclear power bureaucracy/academia. I am hoping that Barry Brook has some pals who can get this entry updated.

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  10. Besides being out of date, this part of Wikipedia appears to have been written by the entrenched nuclear power bureaucracy/academia. I am hoping that Barry Brook has some pals who can get this entry updated.

    My understanding is that because the nuclear issue is so politicised, there are constant editorial battles over the nuclear sections of Wikipedia. I think DV82XL has had some experience with this, as well as a few of the guys on the Energy from Thorium discussion forum. This isn’t going to go away in a hurry.

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  11. I have experience with Wikipedia editing fights.

    Basically, if someone ideologically disagrees with you providing balanced, science-based, fact-based discussion on nuclear power in an impartial way, they’ll find some trivial stylistic or formatting or bibliographic style thing as an excuse to revert your edits. It’s worthwhile to read over all of Wikipedia’s policies and understand them to have the upper hand in arguments.

    It’s really not about whether you’ve got facts and science on your side, it’s more about who has got the most time on their hands to edit the content.

    With one person alone, it’s really, really hard to make a difference on wikipedia, but with a group of people who know what they’re talking about who work on the same articles at the same time it is possible to make a difference in terms of getting sensible content on Wikipedia pages and keeping it there.

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  12. Yes, but they also couldn’t prove that they had the claimed 500 members necessary for registration as a federal political party in the first place. I have my own thoughts on how this situation developed, but I don’t know the true story.

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  13. I caution you against aligning any nuclear PAC with any political party, particularly a narrow agenda party.

    There are several reasons, the first being that you will find much of your time and effort (and probably money) is being spent on non-nuclear matters, and in a parliamentary system that does not have proportional representation it is unlikely that the party will sit any members.

    Another reason is that as a PAC, assuming you can claim enough members, you can negotiate with any of the larger parties and be listened to. As competition, it is not to their benefit to deal with you, as potential supporters it is.

    Finally, over time, single issue parties tend to lower their expectations. Grand celebrations because a by-election was won on a split vote and an indifferent electorate, are typical of these groups, totally forgetting that they have not advance their cause one iota. Effective lobbying always trumps a sitting member with a single vote.

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  14. in a parliamentary system that does not have proportional representation it is unlikely that the party will sit any members.

    That is true of the House of Representatives in Australia, but the Senate has proportional representation on a state-by-state basis. That’s why parties like the Greens, Family First, the Democrats and so on have always concentrated their efforts on the Senate in Australia. There is a good chance that the Greens can achieve the balance of power in the Senate in the federal election this year.

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  15. Yes I see. rather interesting Senate system you guys have there, I hadn’t realized.

    Canada’s Senate is more like the British House of Lords, a place to put old politicos out to pasture. Before term limits were imposed Senators sat for life, and the only time the Upper Chamber made the news was when one of the old goats expired in his place, during a sitting.

    Yes I can see where it would be of some advantage to get a pronuclear member voted in under Australia’s system. Two or three and you would have an effective bloc.

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  16. “Yes I can see where it would be of some advantage to get a pronuclear member voted in under Australia’s system. Two or three and you would have an effective bloc.”

    The Liberal Party (major opposition party here) does have several pro-nuclear MPs. Problem is, the Liberals are mostly climate change deniers, and have a terrible record for human rights abuses – progressives won’t vote for them.

    I’d assume the Labor Government also has pro-nuclear MPs, problem with Labor is that they aren’t allowed to speak outside party lines, as a matter of Labor Party constitution.

    My biggest fear (especially concerning the Liberals) was best summed up by Tim Flannery a few years back: –

    “Over the next two decades, Australians could use nuclear power to replace all our coal-fired power plants … This, I fear, is not what is intended. Instead, many will want Australia to have its cake and eat it too, which will mean keeping the coal-fired power plants and supplementing them with a bit of nuclear. And exports of both coal and uranium would, of course, be pursued as vigorously as possible.”

    http://www.theage.com.au/news/opinion/lets-talk-about-nuclear-power-emandem-other-energy-sources/2006/05/29/1148754933159.html

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  17. Here is a short review of “Why vs Why: Nuclear Power” that was published today in the Weekend Australian:

    Why vs Why: Nuclear Power
    By Ian Low and Barry Brook
    Pantera Press 120pp, $19.99

    IT’S a cute conceit. Present two sides of an argument in a single book with, what else, two sides. Here, the hot button question is: Should Australia develop nuclear power? In the no corner is Ian Low, president of the Australian Conservation Foundation. In the yes corner is Barry Brook, an earth systems modeller with Adelaide University’s Environment Institute. Like any college debate, each side gets to make its case and rebut its opponent. Similarly, the debaters are timed, well, paged: 60 pages each. There’s no name calling or irrational ranting, just the main arguments, pro and con.

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  18. Pingback: Energy and climate books I read in 2010 « BraveNewClimate

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