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Public advocacy on nuclear power and climate change

Guest Post by Rob Parker. Rob is a civil engineer with over 30 years experience in both design and engineering construction of dams, freeways, water treatment and general infrastructure. More recently, when confronted by the environmental impacts of our patterns of consumption and growth, he decided to look at ways to influence our political policies. Its turned out to be much harder than first thought. He was a candidate for the NSW Labour Party in the State seat of Goulburn before realising the massive difficulties in getting the ALP to address climate change in a meaningful way. Rob lives in the NSW village of Berrima and campaigns on rational ways to address climate change.

This post is looks at methods to get nuclear power accepted within Australia as the primary defence against climate change. I have read with interest and gained inspiration from many of the contributors to the Brave New Climate site. Peter Lang’s posts, in particular, are a mine of information which have helped me to sift the “greenwash” from the good stuff.

Over the past five years I have experienced many twists and turns in climate change campaigning in Australia. Many of us have gone through the hopes for renewable energy as a benign solution to this wicked problem and come out the other end into a more hardnosed reality. The problem in Australia is that our political operatives are locked into policies designed only to get them elected. These policies are completely ineffective and also prolong inaction. Many contributors to this site will be familiar with the patter.

The most hardnosed of the realists have come to the position that society will not act on climate change if it impacts upon their perceived economic welfare. They have formed the opinion that the only viable solution requires that nuclear power becomes cheaper than all other sources. When this happens the environment will be the beneficiary.

Faced with actually doing something the political operatives have tied the climate change debate up in a complex web of emissions trading schemes and public subsidies for ineffectual technologies. None of them harm the status quo but like many acts of futility the debate descends into two bald men fighting over a comb.

Hopes were raised this year when the Liberals announced that their new policy would be that of direct action. Unfortunately both Abbott and Hunt squibbed it. They could have built upon Howard’s policies which with the benefit of hindsight were far more promising than anything that Labor has come up with. As an ex active member of the ALP I now recognise that the Howard Government did vastly more on effective climate change policies than the Rudd or any Labor State Government.

It was after all the Howard government who:

• established the Australian Greenhouse office,

• got the nuclear power issue going with Gittus and then Switkowski,

• were central to the Asia Pacific Partnership which does good work on improving industrial energy efficiency,

• Undertook much of the design of an emissions trading scheme

• initiated programmes for domestic energy efficiency.

• Engaged with Indonesia on programmes to reduce deforestation

As we head towards a Federal election I propose ways in which the BNC contributors could share their ideas with the electorate. It would be a great shame if all the good work and passion spent was not more widely disseminated.

There is a very big group in the electorate who are sympathetic to nuclear power and know that most renewable solutions are “greenwash” but there is another sizeable group who is fearful. They waver depending upon the effectiveness and not necessarily the truthfulness of a presenter having caught a bad case of the Caldicotts. Barry Brook and I experienced this at Melbourne Town Hall earlier this year when emotive arguments for concentrated solar power in Spain trumped those for nuclear power. To convince the waverers it is essential to create a passionate narrative which we must take out into the community.

Not all action will be on a grand scale. Some are not comfortable on a soap box but are quite prepared to quietly lobby.

This list hope contains a variety of possibilities. It’s a starting point which contributors to BNC can expand upon:

• Write letters to your local newspaper. Local community newspapers are more thoroughly read than the major city papers and the journalists will readily print wise but edgy articles particularly if you do the work for them.

• “Beard the Lion in his den”. Go to Greenpeace meetings. Join your local climate change or environmental groups or even start one. It’s essential to make lobbying groups accountable and to do it in a friendly and discussive manner. It can be lonely but each time I’ve tried people come out to you if you look approachable. Last year at Wollongong’s Walk Against Warming I used the smiley faced atom “Nuclear Power – Yes Please” as a poster. It got discussion going, some heated and some perplexed.

• Join a political party. Members of our parties are amongst the most motivated and moral in our communities. Humble party members engage in thankless unpaid work because they believe in the processes that guide our communities and they crave ideas. Politicians of the two main parties are steadily isolating their members because of the internal contradictions of their policies and the tango between party machines and the media. The membership will give you a good hearing and may even champion your cause. Within the ALP I never failed to get a pro nuclear position endorsed at branch level.

• Visit your local politician and state the case for nuclear power and environmental protection, preferably with three or four likeminded souls and better still if you have the endorsement of a local group. Give them a simple document stating your position – nothing too complex and ask them to bring it to the attention of the relevant minister. That’s their job – they represent you. At times they will be provocative but present the message simply, firmly and courteously.

• Church groups can be effective. Many see a real contradiction with man’s treatment of God’s gift. I have observed groups within the Uniting, Anglican and Catholic communities developing strong pro environment positions.

Most of these actions involve going out and meeting new people and that’s not always easy. Many engineering and scientific types such as myself feel more comfortable with likeminded souls who help us refine our ideas. One such is James Hansen whose delivery at the Seymour Centre in Sydney was the best most heartfelt plea for action on climate change I have ever experienced. In his quiet, slow methodical unveiling of the storey he very sensitively linked observed science with an unfolding human tragedy. James is a profoundly good man and he laid it all out for a very appreciative audience.

Within Australia we are fortunate to have Barry Brook’s massive energy, ideas and public advocacy. He sets us a great example. I’d be interested to know what other BNC contributors think of following his example with increased public advocacy and the methods to achieve it.

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By Barry Brook

Barry Brook is an ARC Laureate Fellow and Chair of Environmental Sustainability at the University of Tasmania. He researches global change, ecology and energy.

231 replies on “Public advocacy on nuclear power and climate change”

Peter Lalor,

Why aren’t you arguing to ban oil? Surely it is far more dangerous, and causing far more deaths and destruction than nuclear weapons. If we banned oil there’d be no weapons delivery at all.

You argument that we should ban the civil uses of nuclear power because the military also uses uranium, is silly, inconsistent, illogical, irrational. But that’s what’s been going on within the groups pedalling such nonsense. They’ve been pedalling their linked ideologies and anti-nuclear scare campaigns for 50 odd years. These groups that you believe it are the main reason we are where we are now with GHG emissions, energy security, health, slower development in the underdeveloped countries than should and could be the case.

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Ewen Laver,

The cost of diverting water inland from rivers near the Qld-NSW border have been estimated many times. They were invested again during the last parliament. The costs estimates would be publicly available (but I don’t know where). Try Parliamentary Library or PANDORA. I’d reckon you’d want to triple or quadruple the cost to do it with desal. Don’t want to dissuade you, but you might as well get some perspective before you go too far.

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And on the question of pipeline costs, there’s this recent (2007) examination of a proposal to pipe water from the Burdekin to S E Queensland (900 km) at about 1GL per day. It’s an interesting read but the cost comes out at about $14billion — (which is actually a lot cheaper than I thought this would be). So presumably something that was about 200km long would be about 2/9ths of this cost or about $3.1billion. Now at one point in Feb 2007 Howard was proposing to spend $10 billion on programs to save the Murray Darling. Throw in a nuclear plant of 1 GWe at 4 billion and we still have enough change for beefing up existing dams (Glenlyon? Pindari?) and catchments to manage the flow rates downstream.

I can’t imagine that anyone would object to spending $10billion over, say, ten years to assure the future of the Murray Darling River system. Really, it’s a trifle compared to defence procurement, for example, which has no virtually no feasibility considerations attached to it at all.

Throw in the fact that the plant also operates to lower the CO2 intensity of about 1GW (5%) our grid to near zero and it’s an absolute bargain.

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Just working out the energy requires to raise seawater at 16degC to its heat of vapourization, I’m figuring on about 261,000kJ per GL, which (if my maths is right) works out at 72.5 kWh. (I hope I have my orders of magnitude right!!)

If I’m right that ought to amount to only a tiny fraction of the spare thermal capacity of a 1GWe nuclear plant.

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If your really want to green the interior why wouldn’t you put a tunnel from the ocean to lake eyre and then just desalinate what you need on the shores of that lake? It probably still costs more than it is worth.

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Ewen I think the role for desalination is to blend limited amounts as needed with already chlorinated reservoir water. The main users will be the cities. Perhaps it is best just to let the Murray Darling ‘power down’ on its own. Rice can be grown in the subtropics where it really belongs. Increasingly fruit and veg is either imported from NZ or grown in greenhouses on the city fringe using sewage plant wastewater. Some of that water may have been desalinated at one point but it passed through human kidneys.

I note that the big desal planned for the UAE with 4 X 1400 MW power plant will use reverse osmosis, not thermal methods. I’d guess that allows the possibility of periods of no desalination purely electrical load. I think other tasks for NP include keeping us cool in 50C summers and helping replace 1million barrels of oil a day. There is plenty for NP to do without special projects.

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Interestingly, Rocky Creek Dam — the key facility supplying Lismore NSW (along our route) is currently holding just 38% of its 14GL capacity.

Rous Water’s acting operations manager, John Thomas, said that unless water consumption can be reduced by around 1.5 million litres a day, to the target rate of 31.5 megalitres, tougher water restrictions will be introduced within a week. Level 4 restrictions will ban the use of hoses, forcing gardeners to carry water in buckets.

“This situation can be delayed by the whole community working together to reduce their water use now, to ensure the water supply lasts throughout what is predicted to be a hot and dry spring and summer,” Mr Thomas said.

Even with water restrictions, the water supply is only predicted to last another six months.

“From hydraulic modelling of the dam, water consumption targets have been set for different levels that will allow the dam to carry us through to March-April 2003, when we can hopefully expect some rainfall,” Mr Thomas said. (June 15 2010)

They have been talking about whether to build a new 50GL dam at about $200million or a desal plant. They had planned to use estuarine water, which has its own problems during local flooding.

I daresay that if the Feds were to propose a desal plant with water supplied en route to Lismore and Casino, recycled and moved along to the Severn and/or Dumaresq Rivers, one or two people would put their hands up to say it was a fine idea.

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I think you’re missing the point John. Whether the Murray Darling “powers down” or not, the falling inflows will kill it off and destroy it forever if we don’t get more water into the system.

At the moment, something like 71% of water is for irrigators and only 29% is for environmental flows, but even if 100% went to the environment, that would still not be enough because the total volume is low and inconsistent.

Remember also whom we are selling this to — largely people who think cost is no object if it is for protecting the environment. We want to make them choose between watching the Murray Darling die and having cheap clean nuclear power save the river system at near zero cost in emissions while making it possible to live in country areas without trashing the local water system. In short, we are emphasising nuclear power’s superior environmental potential over rival approaches.

A project like this has everyone from people on the right who want to save iconic Australia, to people on the left who want to save the environment plus anyone who likes subsidising country life + the people of Adelaide. It also helps short circuit a regional politcal bunfight between NSW, Victoria and SA. Everyone is a winner.

Of course, we would still charge the irrigators for the right to draw water from the supplied rivers. The beautiful thing here is that we could literally supply water on demand — in effect we’d have “baseload” water and these purchases would fund the installation while making it possible for us to supply water to the national parks and water courses.

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DV82XL, 7 June 2010 at 20.48

“Actually it is. With cheap, abundant energy every other issue can be dealt with.”

Sorry, was just reading back over old posts and had to comment on this;

Without writing the idea off completely (i.e. I’m open to persuasion), I have to respectfully disagree with that statement. While it does solve a lot of problems, I don’t think cheap, abundant energy will inherently change forestry and agricultural practices (“land use change”), the main drivers of habitat destruction and fragmentation, which are largely responsible for the current anthropocene extinction event.

I do agree that abundant energy has enormous potential for reducing poverty, and therefore promotes the environmental benefits of better education and reduced population. It also puts us in a better position to tackle other detrimental anthropogenic activities. But I don’t think it inherently deals with every issue.

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Tom Keen,

While it does solve a lot of problems, I don’t think cheap, abundant energy will inherently change forestry and agricultural practices (“land use change”), the main drivers of habitat destruction and fragmentation, which are largely responsible for the current anthropocene extinction event

With respect, I don’t think you are defeating DV8s claim here. All he is saying is that cheap energy is an enabler of solutions to the most challenging of resource issues. Cheap energy isn’t a sufficient solution, obviously, but as above, the problem of water for example, is not that there isn;t enough of it, but rather, that it is in the wrong form and poorly placed. With enough cheap energy we can correct that.

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Senator Christine Milne (Australian Greens spokesperson on energy) was on the ABC 7:30 report tonight arguing against using biomass for electrcity generation. I agree with her. However, I wonder where the Greens think our electrcity should come from. They are against fossil fuels, nuclear and hydro, and now boimass.

I hope some of the Green Party members her might get through to her, slowly and constructively, that the Green Party could achieve their objectives by becoming open to considering nuclear energy.

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On Monday I visited the logging protest camp in Tasmania’s Florentine Valley and spoke to some of the tree sitters. My hunch is that some of them are pragmatists but for now they are toeing that line that renewables are the real deal. I agree with Sen. Milne that natural forest debris is a better carbon sink provided fires aren’t too frequent. It is bizarre to sell wood burning RECs since
1) it allows others to burn more coal
2) it negates the carbon sink of natural forest.
It is a perverse incentive. Also the lack of any ETS on liquid fuels means the large amounts of fossil carbon in diesel used for forest harvesting get completely overlooked.

Like all religions most believers seem able to brush aside the contradictions in Deep Greenyism.

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Peter,

That’s interesting. The Greens are happy to reference Mark Diesendorf’s work when talking rhetoric about switching to a “green economy”, yet ignore the fact that he includes a very large portion of biomass in his models for a “renewables” (but with gas) power grid.

I heard someone recently say something like “the Greens would cut off their energy nose to spite their environmental face”. All too true.

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Tom Keen,

I agree.

Furthermore, not only Mark Diesendorf is relying on biomass. So is Mark Jacobson in the BZE “Zero Carbon Australia by 2020” agenda. See here: http://media.beyondzeroemissions.org/preview-exec-sum14.pdf

BZE (Mark Jacobson) is depending on biomass to supply electricity when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing.

Their estimate for the capital cost of their proposal is $370 billion. That should be compared with $120 billion for nuclear to do the same job.

However, their proposal is seriously underestimated and the technology is not even available yet. Their proposal cannot provide dependable power, has not allowed for the overbuild needed to get through the worst periods in winter, underestimates the cost of the transmission system, ignores that the system would be to be replaced about three times more often than nuclear (ie three times the cost), and importantly, the solar thermal storage technology is not available yet. Solar thermal storage with sufficient capacity to meet one day storage requirements will not be available until 2020 at the earliest.

I expect the cost to build the BZE (Mark Jacobson) proposal would be ten times the cost they have estimated.

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Really interesting to hear bold ideas for restoring the Murray river. Here in the USA it is doubtful whether we could build something like the Hoover dam given all the red tape that has been created since the 1930s. I hope Australia will be able to implement huge projects if they make sense economically.

It used to be the old USSR that floated bold ideas for rearranging the landscape.

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“It used to be the old USSR that floated bold ideas for rearranging the landscape.”

Yes with lavish use of nuclear explosives when deemed necessary, which it was some 240 times. Naturally there were a few problems.

Among the most cited catastrophes was the Kraton-3 explosion in Vilyuy, Yakutia in 1978, that was supposed to unearth a large amount of diamond-rich ores. Instead the amount of diamonds was insignificant but the plutonium pollution of the water sources was much higher than predicted. According to Yablokov, the level of plutonium in the drinking water of Vilyuy region twenty years after the explosion is ten thousand times higher than the maximal sanitary norm, which at any rate in the USSR was rather generous.

Another catastrophe resulted from the Globus-1 explosion near village Galkino, 40 kilometers from Kineshma city on September 19, 1971. It was a very small underground explosion of 2.5 kilotons that was a part of the seismological program for oil and gas exploration. Unexpectedly a large amount of radioactive gases went out through the cracks in the ground, creating a radioactive hot spot of two kilometres in diameter in a relatively densely populated area of European Russia.

There are proponents for continuing the use of nuclear demolition in modern Russia. They claim that the program has already paid for itself and saved the USSR billions of rubles and can save even more if it would continue. They also allege that this is the only feasible way to put out large breaches and fires on natural gas and oil wells, and it is the safest and most economically viable way to destroy chemical weapons.

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G’Day everyone. I’ve been away in the Flinders and Adelaide for two weeks but have just been “dobbed in” by Peter Lang via a personal email.Thanks for that Peter. Haven’t read the entire thread yet but if it’s of any use, I’ll talk to anyone anywhere if they want to hear an advocate of nuclear power. I went to the uranium open day in Adelaide on Tuesday. It was a useful meeting with several quite good speakers but it was all pretty basic stuff and so I didn’t learn much. The best feature of the whole show was meeting Warren Mundine who is promoting nuclear energy especially on the strength of the many opportunituies it will offer his people [indigenous] for development, growth and jobs in the outback where much of Australia’s uranium is found. He highlighted the fact that there are plenty [not all] of the communities who are very keen to be involved in the nuclear fuel cycle. It was certainly good to hear and meet a Labor pollie who is on side. I shall be sending him a lot of material to help him as he tries to knock some sense into the heads of the ALP. He pointed out that Paul Howes of the AWU is active in promoting nuclear. Perhaps some of you bloggers could write to Paul encouraging him to hurry it along. Now I’ll go back and read the rest of this thread.

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Peter Lang, (14 June) Why Nuclear?
1) Why do we need nuclear power? Won’t Renewables provide our needs?
“No. Renewables are very expensive and cannot meet our needs all the time”
They may be expensive but nuclear is far more expensive (a), while standard renewables may be better at providing our needs than the pro-nukes think (b).

2) Is nuclear energy safe?
Depends on how you define ‘safe’, but Dr Edward Teller didn’t think so & even Admiral Rickover in his later years, felt NPP’s should be outlawed. The Admiral was familiar with the true effects of the TMI accident as now known by a sworn statement of a relative. The Chernobyl accident & the TMI Kemeny Report also shows nuclear power is clearly not safe enough for bumbling humans. The Kemeny report also said;
“While throughout this entire document we emphasize that fundamental changes are necessary to prevent accidents as serious as TMI, we must not assume that an accident of this or greater seriousness cannot happen again, even if the changes we recommend are made.”
“We have not found a magic formula that would guarantee that there will be no serious future nuclear accidents.”
We need much safer technology that will not cause hundreds of billions of dollars in damages & far too many ill-effects on the people when it completely fails. Nor do we need deliberate evasion by key agencies to make nuclear appear ‘safe’ (c). Renewables cannot do that sort of major damage if they completely malfunction, so they are much safer. Even the NRC repudiated the Rasmussen Report in early 1979 for major reactor accidents due to its absurdly low estimate of risk & criticised its peer review process. The US Price-Anderson Act is an obvious indication of nuclear risks & dangers. There are also nuclear exclusion clauses in US insurance policies leaving the homeowner uncovered.

3) What about the waste?
“It is not waste. It is ‘once-used-nuclear-fuel”
It most certainly is waste due to all the unused heat given off. This is a further indication of the very low fuel efficiency currently achievable. How about also including all the millions of tons of tailings waste from mining & the 700,000 tonnes of depleted uranium from the enrichment process (US). Then there is about 150,000 tonnes of radioactive scrap metal that needs burial (US). “We will use the rest of the energy in the future” – oh sure. Other nuclear predictions have been made that still haven’t been fulfilled yet – fusion is still well into the future. They have had 60 years to deal with the waste issue & the best they can think of is to bury it in fancy containers – but they can’t even find an ideal site yet (a). So now they want to bury it in the Australian outback. Why do you think they are trying hard to start a nuclear industry in that country? Tell them to take a hike. Australians are entitled to learn from other countries mistakes & use better technologies.

4) What about nuclear weapons proliferation?
“Civil nuclear power is not a precursor to nuclear weapons”- Then how did India get its first bomb – from a Canadian reactor (d)?

5) Is there enough uranium?
“Yes. There is enough uranium to provide all the world’s energy indefinitely”
Since it says ‘uranium’ (with no mention of plutonium), then “indefinitely” isn’t believable (e, p11). Readily accessible uranium has to run out. Any implied reference to fast breeder reactors won’t count as they are potentially more dangerous than TMI reactors. The French, Japanese & Russians have had problems with them.

6) Does nuclear emit more CO2 than renewables
“No. Nuclear emits far less CO2 than any other electricity generation technology”
This is completely unbelievable, since nuclear has very intensive mining & processing requirements that readily exceed those of renewables, depending on the grade of ore mined. Furthermore, nuclear has a very low net efficiency implying significant thermal & processing losses & therefore equally serious CO2 emissions. B. Sovacool & others provide adequate evidence of higher total CO2 emissions.

7) Is nuclear energy expensive?
“Yes and No”. Time magazine concluded nuclear would be “spectacularly expensive” (a). Based upon the figures given in that Time article, Australia could not readily afford those amounts. There are already radically new ideas on the drawing board now that won’t have any of the extreme disadvantages of nuclear power or the obvious ones of coal or gas. Nuclear is a lemon.

(a) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/brendan-smith/nuclear-power-8-questions_b_624874.html
(b) http://www.smh.com.au/environment/energy-smart/solar-wind-power-may-meet-2020-energy-use-20100621-ysdt.html
(c) http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2006/mar/25/energy.ukraine
(d) http://paulmckay.com/AA%20in%20D&IC.pdf
(e) http://www.ecobuddhism.org/index.php/download_file/-/view/140

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Machiavelli, rather than wait an entire month to repost old debunked talking points on a thread that is long dead; how about actually contributing something new to an active discussion.

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Edward Fullam (14 July 2010)
Why are some of you regularly making false assumptions? Like many other people I have significant duties elsewhere & do not deliberately “wait an entire month” to lodge an entry as you assume.
No doubt you thought many points have been successfully debunked, so I have provided new material (mostly in “Radiation, facts, fallacies & phobias” column) indicting that they were not. The 7 points from Finrod are an unbelievable indication of denial, when they have already been adequately countered by others.
This entry was deliberately kept shorter as I have included other relevant links elsewhere. Since virtually all my included links & quotes have not been added by others here, then I definitely am contributing further points, so you’re only revealing yourself as a denier when resorting to unjustified petty ridicule.
The evidence continues to get worse for nuclear power. Why would any sane person want to introduce that obviously mismanaged, ultra-expensive, dangerous & corrupt industry into Australia, when already Americans are waking up to its many flaws (a)? Perhaps Premier Brumby has seen the light with his announcement of solar power plant funding.
(a) http://www.countercurrents.org/baker010310.htm

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