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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  1. I am not an Australian, however your list of actions is spot on and applicable in any country. In particular you have identified the one very weak spot that the public has in the energy debate, and that is the majority are not interested in schemes that will see their standard of living drop.

    In public, and certainly on the net, we find ourselves endlessly engaged with those who’s vision of the future involves huge changes in the culture we have now, yet they rarely emphasize that aspect of their position. They too will have to be exposed, and the public given a clear look at what the implications of following a high penetration renewable energy policy will mean for them and their lifestyle.

    It has to be made clear that this will not just be a case of giving up one of their cars, and going to low-wattage lighting, but that it will have a profound impact on their workplace and their ability to earn a living. Simple put: moving towards high use renewable sources of energy, will require the de facto deindustrialization of any nation attempting it. The only other option is to maintain fossil fuel fired thermal plants to provide industry with the electric power it needs, thus losing any carbon mitigation effects from the renewable inputs.

    Clearly, most people have not stopped to thing too hard about these secondary impacts, and that gives us good leverage in the debate.


  2. Thanks Rob for this post.

    I believe that there are many us who see a need for major shifts in thinking, not only on these issues of nuclear energy and climate change, but also on global issues such of overpopulation, deforestation and other loss of biodiversity. However, we also feel that these reasonably obvious approaches to public advocacy are too slow to achieve the results needed to prevent climate change, permanent loss of biodiversity and quality of life. The point we are at with these things is already past what should be considered acceptable.
    I think we need make a call for a global state of emergency and the whole of the global community needs to be involved in recognising the issues and looking for ways to adapt and address the issues.
    Some reasons for recognising a state of emergency are:

    1) Continued rapid growth in human population depending on destruction of remaining natural resources is a recipe for global disaster on the grandest scale imaginable.
    2) Nobody has identified any fundamental flaw in the science of climate change and there are no computer models that show that carbon dioxide at their current levels are safe, yet people are ignorant and ignore the risks.
    3) Resource shortages will inevitably cause military conflicts and terrorism.
    4) Politics is strongly influenced by the short-term economics of fossil fuels
    5) Efforts to introduce renewable energy are placing unacceptable pressure on biodiversity.
    6) People think that they can trust politicians to lead us through the current circumstances while they will only vote for them if they maintain the status quo.
    7) Diesel is 90% of fuel used for food generation in Australia. The inevitable rise in the price of oil in the near future places us at great risk. Similar problems are likely throughout the world.
    8) Political systems throughout the world are incapable of responding adequately to the need for change.

    How then can we go further?

    The things we need are perceptive vision, focussed information and widespread community involvement.
    We need a vision for how the world should function. Tom Blees’ book is a good start. People need to be able to look on the Internet and easily obtain a verbal picture of a future world. This needs to be simple enough to be comprehended at a casual glance and to have more detail available to satisfy any concerns people may have.

    Relevant information needs to be easy to find. The required information is largely available, but people do not know where to look. Becoming aware currently requires wide reading and self-education. Perhaps on-line courses would help. Information needs to be focussed to give perspective on the most important issues. People are worried about nuclear accidents and nuclear war, for example; accidents involving oil drilling and transport have been worse than nuclear accidents and wars caused over oil are ongoing with disastrous results.

    It is not enough for us as a minority group to lobby politicians. The whole community needs to get involved. Home by home, street by street and needs to be involved. Social media on the Internet need to be employed. But there needs to be some sort of central organisation. The vision, information and debate need to be brought together in some way.
    I guess that the next step is some brainstorming to find ways to bring these together. I certainly do not have the answers, but if people are thinking about finding solutions then such problems can be solved.


  3. I’m a member of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and was there lead senate candidate on the NSW ticket in 2007. The LDP is best described as moderate libertarian or classical liberal. It opposes much modern prohibition including drug prohibitions, firearm prohibitions and nuclear prohibition. It favours lower taxes. It did not support an ETS or carbon tax but the party founder, John Humphreys (an economist), has written a good paper for the CIS promoting the virtues of a modest revenue neutral carbon tax (ie one that pays for the reduction of other taxes). It argues it’s position on most issues via two means. One is a fundamental argument in favour of liberty and individual freedom. The other is utilitarian arguments based on empiracle real world evidence. So for instance with firearms the party advocates a policy shift towards the much more liberal laws of New Zealand and will draw on data and experiences from such places to make the argument. Obviously the LDP isn’t everybodies cup of tea but if your sympathetic to the ideals and you are knowledgable about nuclear power it wouldn’t be hard to get involved in revamping the energy policy. Obviously the aim of a policy for a minor party is not to outline vast amounts of technical detail but to craft a credible message that can be used for evangelical purposes by motivated members at polling booths and the like. If anybody is interested in harnessing the LDP to promote nuclear solutions and is sympathetic to the broader LDP agenda then please get involved.


  4. The one thing that all pronuclear groups face everywhere is a lack of funds. Without money it is very difficult to reach the numbers that are required to effect change in the political climate.

    This is the blunt truth. Our opponents are being funded by those who see nuclear energy as a threat to their business. They know as well as we do how ineffectual renewable energy is, and they know that they can hide behind it and continue to sell their product.

    It is going to take some very hard work, and creative thinking to overcome this deficit in our position, or some source of funds will have to be found.


  5. I think some of the things Robert Lawrence talks about will manifest themselves in the next few years. I’d call them ‘signs of desperation’. For example BP’s troubled Deepwater oil well would only have met half a day’s world oil demand at best. The scramble by the miners to sell as much coal and iron ore to China may be because they fear it will evaporate at the hint of trouble. We are told to switch to battery cars despite a clear preference for big roomy cars that travel for hours on a tank. Fuel availability will exacerbate regional water problems making some basic foodstuffs more expensive.

    Right now the party lines seem split between brown cornucopians (AGW is a crock) and green ecotopians ( RE will save us). What needs to emerge is a third way which is both forward thinking and pragmatic.


  6. Rob Parker,

    Thank you for this important contribution. It got me thinking about what else I can do, that is sustainable for the amount of time I am prepared to put in, and best uses my skills.

    I started thinking about spreading our effort into contributing on pother blogs. I recently tried that on the John Quiggan blog site but John apparently does not like nuclear so that went nowhere. The site was inhabited by bloggers like BilB and worse. I’ve also contributed on the ABC, but couldn’t get through to the others on that site either.

    Then I started thinking about how hard it has been to get the information across to new contributors on the BNC web site. And this is a web site that has many highly knowledgeable people. If it it this difficult on this web site, and has been this difficult for 40 years, I wonder what hope we have by going to more meetings.

    Despite this slightly negative tone, I actually think we are making pretty good progress. I notice an enormous difference in the amount of interest shown by people I meet, ands the great increase in the number of pro-nuclear articles in the press, compared with what it was like in the Hawke-Keating era. We are making progress. The UMPNE report was a really good report and has helped a lot. BNC is doing a fantastic job.

    I am wondering how I can be more effective. Just thinking out loud.

    Thank you, Rob, for your thought provoking article.


  7. Thanks Rob for posting on this topic. There is certainly an appetite here to effect change at a policy level. I’d be curious if you have any observations to make of specific community groups, unions, parties and factions. Which ones publicly support nuclear power, which ones are intransigently opposed, which are amenable to discussion? Where could the case for nuclear get some leverage?


  8. Pingback: Public advocacy on nuclear power and climate change « BraveNewClimate

  9. Rob

    Let me preface what I am about to say by dissociating myself from your bouquet to the Howard regime on climate change. It was no better than Rudd has done and both have made the same errors. I could argue that here, but it would be a diversion from the most important points.

    Broadly, I’d agree with your points for action though I do think we need to be focused on a practical goal. Hence our pitch should be something specific — the struggle to replace Hazelwood seems emblematic and has been embraced by the pro-RE crowd. When we put out ideas, we should refer continually to Hazelwood and the options for replacing it on a low-emissions basis.

    In my experience, talking about models of what could be done (or will happen) by 2050 causes the eyes of all but the most sympathetic to glaze over, and for some to reach for far off in the distance non-specifi options or to imagine that we can get there by energy efficiency.

    It’s really simple we should say. Whatever solution we adopt should be able to replace Hazelwood in the grid. It’s the dirtiest coal plant in the world so it’s an obvious target for clean energy right? A solution that allows us to replace Hazelwood at acceptable cost will allow us to replace Muja and Playford B and progressively all the others. Until we can find a solution that can do that, talk of low carbon alternatives to coal is just hot air.

    We should pitch the idea of a fund to pay for a solution and of withdrawing cash from scams like CC&S, FiT and MRET.


  10. Right now the party lines seem split between brown cornucopians (AGW is a crock) and green ecotopians ( RE will save us). What needs to emerge is a third way which is both forward thinking and pragmatic.

    Very well put John Newlands — I’ll borrow this turn of phrase (The obvious alternative being “nuclear energy cornicopians”, that is, NE is sufficiently abundant to support mankind for millions of years, and will give us the capacity to fix other areas of unsustainability. The world might not be a Magic Pudding, but energy can be a magic gravy poured on top).


  11. Towards 2020 – Understanding the developing electricity drivers

    Click to access Gas_Markets_DLAP_Snow_6October09.pdf

    This describes what is happening and where we are heading. This is from an industry expert who understands the real world electricity and gas industries in Australia

    What we are doing is crazy. It is being caused by irrational policy created by politicians who are responding to pressures from the voting public.

    The voting public is demanding politicians act to implement renewable energy and gas generation. Not a mention of nuclear anywhere in this presentation.

    These policies, which are being implemented by our politicians in response to our demands, are going to have some very bad consequences:

    1. China becoming a major owner and controller of our electricity supply industry (one of our most basic needs!)

    2. Massive use of gas (not sustainable)

    3. Only minor improvements in GHG emissions – 20% improvement.

    4. Huge, but unnecessary, electricity price increases

    5. Throw away one of Australia’s main competitive advantages (low cost electricity), (The result: compared with where we should be, and compared with others our standard of living slips; the country becomes relatively poorer, and our standard of living slips: there less money for health, education, environment etc, than ther would otherwise be … you get the picture)

    The alternative, nuclear, could provide near 100% reduction in emissions from electricity, and if we wanted to get past our silly fears, we could have nuclear energy for little increase in cost.

    We, the voters, are causing this massive policy mistake.

    We, the voters, have been driving this policy for 20 to 40 years

    The Greens and environment activist are a major cause of this. They are misleading the public. They are, and have been for a long time, leading us to implement crazy policies.


  12. Fran and others of similar ideological persuasion,

    I hope you will take some time to go through the presentation linked in my post above. Not all of it is understandable from those outside the industry (me included) but the general message should be clear.

    One of the messages I hope you and others can glean from this is that your anti-capitalist, pro-loony left beliefs are a major cause of the problems. It is these beliefs that have got us here and are keeping us here. You cannot pay for all the socialist, feel-good policies you want without thriving capitalism to pay for it.

    I hope you will take the time to think about this and not just come back posting all the pro-socialist, anti-capitalist, anti-rational, Howard-hating and Liberal-hating arguments.


  13. “You cannot pay for all the socialist, feel-good policies you want without thriving capitalism to pay for it.

    I hope you will take the time to think about this and not just come back posting all the pro-socialist, anti-capitalist, anti-rational, Howard-hating and Liberal-hating arguments.”

    Peter: given that we live under capitalism, your own comments about socialism notwithstanding, I am going to AGREE with you that the greens and the environmentalists are in general a significant barrier to the massive building of nuclear power. and I am going to agree with you that without a transition to an economy that is designed to meet human needs before profit, only a thriving capitalism in the rich countries will produce the capital(goes for more state oriented capitalisms) to build the necessary nuclear plants.

    on the other hand, capitalism throws up its own barriers to solving the energy crisis. You like to emphasize the efficiency promoting elements of profit maximization and cut throat competition. But there are system wide dysfunctionalities connected to these imperatives: the need to cut costs thru shoddy materials, cheap labor; the dislike of regulation unless that regulation eliminates competitors; barriers to entry that flow from increasing monopolization of wealth and power making very very fast and equitable, safe sharing of technologies and best practices impossible/utopian.

    I’ve read lots of libertarian energy analysis: including yourself and Robert Bryce and learned a lot from it. You should read David Harvey’s The Limits of Capital. You may not agree with it, but it might explain the systemic basis of what you like to analyze in terms of people’s irrationality and lunacy.

    This reliance in your analysis on irrationality is itself irrational. a sign that you don’t understand what’s going on. It’s a problem we all share: this turn to “the crazy” when we are frustrated and don’t understand why things don’t go in the right direction.


  14. oh: and stephen gloor’s point (I very forcefully disagree with him on renewable energy) about limits to consumption is almost surely right. I think we need a steady state type economy at some point soon. though what we need and what we have are two different things to put it mildly.

    and there are other pro nuclear people who have raised worries about exponential growth (whose environmental damage cannot be compensated for by improved efficiencies), including Zach Moitoza in his book The Nuclear Economy, chapter 6. I suspect Geoff Russel is in this group.

    Needless to say, a steady state economy would have to be far more equal since trickle down justifications, pathetic as they have always been, have depended upon exponential growth to fund the trickles.

    Please Peter: there are pronuclear leftists so stop the loony business. It’s embarrassing for you–smart guy that you are.


  15. One only needs to look to China to see that a socialist-capitalist hybrid political system (because that is what their modern version of communism is) is doing very well at getting nuclear power deployed…

    greg, one can, in theory, have an Earth-based economic system that has ongoing growth in non-material products (e.g. information and knowledge, cyberspace), a very long-term reliance on effectively inexhaustible but finite products (e.g. iron, aluminium, uranium), and a steady-state relationship with the natural environment (biodiversity, habitat, etc.). The solar system provides many more future opportunities for a large further growth in the human enterprise, if we can get through the problems of 21st century unsustainability.


  16. One more oh:

    everyone should read Robert Bryce’s book, because it’s an unintentionally devastating critique of capitalism’s inability on sheer pragmatic grounds (not wanting to destroy their own capital, problems with asset inertia) to meet the challenge of climate change.

    the book is called Power Hungry, I’ve mentioned it before and, Peter, you will like it: he even quotes you.

    another book that’s worth a look is stewart brand’s book an ecopragmatist’s manifesto. He cites Saul Griffith, a materials scientist, laying out what would be needed to cut carbon radically enough to keep ghgs under 450 ppm (forgetting Hansen’s target of 350 maximum).

    Griffith goes with a mixed portfolio of nukes and renewables and basically shows without saying so how unrealistic the renewables scenario is due to sheer time constraints (connected to renewables ridiculous ecological footprint). But the absurd speed required in his scenario (p. 14 brand) is also a powerful implied comment on our lovely capitalism’s inability to scale up fast enough, and Bryce the libertarian would say that such scaling simply ISN’T GOING TO HAPPEN. (he takes our present system for granted).

    Let me quote Griffith:

    “imagine someone said you need two terawatts of wind, two terawatts of pv, 2 tw of solar thermal, 2 tw of geothermal, 2 tw of biofuels and 3 tw of nuclear to give you 13 clean new terawatts…. what would it take to build this in 25 years?”
    [total energy requirement for his scenario would be 17.5 TW total energy, factoring in a little growth]

    Here’s what it would take:

    …installing 100 square meters of 15 % efficient solar cells every second for the next 25 years…; 50 square meters of highly reflective mirrors every second; 4 olympic swimming pools of genetically engineered algae every second; a three hundred foot diameter wind turbine every five minutes; 1095 100 mw steam turbines every year; a 3 gw nuke plant every week times 25.

    This is a condensed paraphrase. you get the idea. He has factored in overbuild for all the energy forms, though not storage, transmission, basepower requirements, load following etc.

    Once again, a tacit devastating critique I think of renewable energy but also a comment on how fast we must go and a level playing field for nuclear alone ain’t going to cut it. Bryce is for this, and he would look at the above plan as, to use your favorite word Peter, “lunacy.” and this is your people.

    We all better hope Hansen is wrong, cause under anything remotely resembling business as usual, we have no chance–if these analysts are at all insightful.


  17. barry: I appreciate your comment and agree with it. I just wonder whether capitalism could limit its growth imperative to nonmaterial products, and let us remember that nonmaterial products have a material base: like more and more computers, computer power, and grid requirements.


  18. Thank you all for responding to the public advocacy post. Many expressed frustration in their replies. I share this response. Robert Lawrence’s call for a global state of emergency to address the combined impacts of peak oil and accelerating climate change mirrors that of Churchill concerns regarding Germany before World War II. Its self evident but won’t happen until far more dire impacts occur.

    The five actions I outlined were not intended to be spectacular. They are however the stuff of everyday life and they are all achievable. They help to establish links between likeminded people within our communities and this builds confidence and will certainly help to overcome the traditional fears of nuclear power. By way of example I was out today helping with political campaigning. A young man told me my talk in Newcastle a couple of weeks ago advocating a new industrial revolution based upon nuclear power was “awesome”. This result was inspired by links made through this BNC community.

    John Morgan asked about groups that support nuclear power. One union, the Electrical Trades Union was addressed by Dr. Ron Cameron of ANSTO at its Biennial conference in 2009. Following that address the ETU passed the following resolution, “Conference notes the continued development of alternative sources of electricity generation. Conference supports the ongoing debate and discussion on all forms of generation, including nuclear power, as a means of resolving Australia’s energy and greenhouse gas problems.” The ETU has been very effective on the political arena and has some very intelligent members – it’s a shame they don’t pursue their community obligations more effectively.

    Paul Howes of the Australian Workers Union is a strong advocate of nuclear power for Australia while the Federal Energy Minister Martin Ferguson continues to make statements such as “We as a community have to be part of the ever-complex question of how we clean up the world’s climate. And part of that debate is going to be nuclear power.”

    In recent times the closest we came to having fulsome support of nuclear power by an Australian political party has been the Liberal Party under John Howard. Within the Labor Party, individual party units may endorse nuclear power but not the Federal or State policies. John Newlands is right – we do need a third more inspired political force.

    As far as community advocacy groups go, the Australian Nuclear Association holds regular meetings bringing its members up to date on the most recent nuclear developments however in its current structure it is not an aggressive lobbying group and is only really active in NSW.

    I think there is a place for national conferences dealing with nuclear power as a solution to climate change. We see masses of renewable energy conferences and legal/carbon trading gab fests. The thoughts of other BNC contributors on how this could be convened would be appreciated.


  19. Peter Lang – I have a great deal of respect for you and appreciation of your in depth posts on BNC, however, I do wish you would desist from comments on the political persuasion of other posters. I have said before that this is not the forum for debating left/right issues. Let us stick to the point – which is to promote solutions to the global warming problem. Forays off topic, which incite conflict, are not helpful and may influence newcomer’s opinions as to the worth of BNC and the solidarity of its regular contributors.


  20. Isn’t it interesting. The average reactor in the United States is operating at 93.1% of full power. Region 1 is at 99.7%. The average wind turbine in Australia has a capacity factor of about 5% at the time of posting.


  21. Reading the Oakley Greenwood report linked by Peter Lang upthread my interpretation is this; the rush to gas and RET mandated wind is going to leave us out of pocket and vulnerable. The RET has become a pseudo ETS. It may lead to an overbuild of wind power which will be difficult to accommodate into the grid. Operators may have to sell Mwh too cheaply weakening both their bottom line and grid stability.

    On the bigger picture domestic gas buyers will be outbid by export LNG prices. It is not clear if southern Australia can get cheap gas long term. Summer peak demand looks set to worsen.

    The report doesn’t appear to cover the distortion of $2bn in RECs or the likely rise of CNG transport fuel.


  22. Generally speaking it seems that there is some agreement among those who post on this website on the need to address climate change and at least the need to consider nuclear power. If there cannot be agreement amongst this community for the need for a far more systematic and coordinated approach to policy development and public advocacy then it seems it is not going to happen until it is too late.

    There may come a point at which there is a global awakening to the emergency due to some massive disaster or the reaching of one or more of the tipping points. Without the kind of approach I am talking about we are left to the mercies of charismatic personalities and events that catch the attention of large numbers of people. We are left with a strategy of political stunts and point scoring from individual disasters.

    Personally I think we have come too far along a pathway already. There has already been half a degree Celsius of global warming that has caused extinctions, started melting ice caps and changing rainfall patterns. Glaciers supplying water to huge numbers of people are on the way to disappearing. A majority of people on this planet have unacceptable standards of living. How much further do we have to go being led by company directors making a killing from the stock market and supporting the election of governments that maintain the status quo?


  23. Greg and Mr Perps,

    Please Peter: there are pronuclear leftists so stop the loony business. It’s embarrassing for you–smart guy that you are.

    As long as Fran, you and others keep posting such utter drivel on the Lefties utropian beliefs, I’ll continue to respond. I ignored them for ages but its getting steadily worse. The loony-left has caused us to be where we are now.

    You seem to believe that you and the others with similar beliefs, should be able to dictate how society should behave, what it should want, what it should buy, eat, think and say. You want to impose your beliefs on society through regulation. You want more regulation. You want more bureaucrats to enforce it. More public sector and more lawyers to enforce the laws. You want the ‘nanny state’.

    You think bureaucrats, directed by politicians, who are then directed by Lefites controlling the power of the state will give us a better world. What a joke. Look at all the places the Lefties have been in control.

    I, on the other hand, want appropriate, light regulation (a good example of which is the excellent prudential regulation the Howard government introduced; it is one of the main reasons why our banks, and our economy, fared better than most through the GFC).

    I also recognise, but you clearly don’t, that investors have got to have a return on investment that is commensurate with the risk they take; otherwise they will not invest. We cannot regulate the maximum profit that organisations can make unless we are also going to regulate the minimum profit they can make. In other words, no one is allowed to go broke. Quite honestly, I see your understanding of what makes our system work as naive and silly.

    As long as we keep having posts like the one that I responded to by Fran, I have no intention of not responding to such posts. Either stop posting this loony Left,, capitalist-hating, Howard-hating, Liberal-hating drivel or get used to me posting replies to it. I see the loony-Left as the main cause of the problems with having RET, FiT, massive subsidies for renewables, nuclear banned in Australia, nuclear at 2 to 4 times the cost it should and could be in the west.

    So stop posting your ideological beliefs and once I am convinced they have stopped permanently, I’ll stop pointing out how silly is the basis of those ideas. I might add, it really doesn’t matter how many loony-left authors you read, there are just as many rational authors writing sensible material.

    Got all that? Enjoy your weekend :)


  24. 3. “Pass laws that will prevent public disruption during construction.”

    an idea of Peter’s from an earlier post.

    who would pass such laws? if you ban civil disobedience here, where else would you want to do this?

    would this be a “nanny state” dictating such bans? or a military state? a state of non bureaucrat, non politician folk? Investor state?


  25. “How much further do we have to go being led by company directors making a killing from the stock market and supporting the election of governments that maintain the status quo?”

    Robert: you must stop that investor hating, Mugabe loving talk. without investors, nothing would get done!!!

    I will not allow such lunacy and silly naivete to be propagated without an honest and forthright response.

    Robert: just kidding. I was role playing to see what it feels like to be Peter.

    Feels pretty good. I feel more powerful.


  26. As long as Fran, you and others keep posting such utter drivel on the Lefties utropian beliefs, I’ll continue to respond.

    I agree that in the face of leftist drivel polite silence is a poor choice.


  27. greg meyerson, on 6 June 2010 at 10.23 Said:

    3. “Pass laws that will prevent public disruption during construction.”

    an idea of Peter’s from an earlier post.

    who would pass such laws? if you ban civil disobedience here, where else would you want to do this?

    would this be a “nanny state” dictating such bans? or a military state? a state of non bureaucrat, non politician folk? Investor state?

    As I see it we have two choices for baseload power:

    1. nuclear (low emissions, long term energy security, lower environmental impact, safer, cleaner, better health for the population, and should be cheaper)

    2. fossil fuels and continued high emissions.

    It’s that simple.

    Its also simpole and obvious that we will not have nuclear if it is a higher cost alternative that coal, or at least, the replacement of coal will be slower the higher the cost of nuclear.

    France built nuclear without allowing disruption of the process. USA and UK has had ongoing disruption of the approval and construction process. Public actions in the USA are now causing NPP’s to be closed down for bogus reasons. No investors will invest in nuclear power when this can be allowed to happen.

    You want regulation for anything that suits your beliefs. Yet you do not accept that we need regulation to provide certainty for investors. If we want good capitalism and all the benefits it brings, we need good(light) regulation that ensure a level playing field and investor certainty.

    If we are going to allow the sort of ongoing disruption the USA experiences with the building and running of its NPPs, then we simply wont have them, or if we do they will be far higher cost than they need to be. That means our economy is less productive than it would otherwise be. The result is society gets less of the things it wants (like health, education, jobs, income, wealth, etc).


  28. Terje said

    I agree that in the face of leftist drivel polite silence is a poor choice.

    Congruent rewrite with candour of Terje’s remark:

    In the face of criticism of my shibboleths, spouting evidence-free angst in the service of the privileged elites is justified as this is consonant with my version of the libertarian ideal.


  29. I think coal could soon get expensive without help from carbon taxes. More up-to-date sources suggest the spot price of export thermal coal is around $100/t at the moment. Perhaps that could increase 50% in the next few years. The main reason I believe is China’s domestic domestic coal production peak is expected around 2015. Australia and other coal exporters won’t be able to make up the deficit though they will go gangbusters for a few years. Victoria’s abundant brown coal is not export quality so it may be quarantined from price rises.

    While world oil production appears to have already peaked it is not clear whether prices will rise that much. Reasons for this are discussed on The OiI Drum. However if there is the possibility that a world economic slowdown triggered by reduced liquid fuel supply could drag coal demand with it. I don’t think there is much danger of gas prices dipping too often since everybody wants it … peaking electrical plant, export LNG, ammonia plants, CNG truck fuel, industrial process heat and households.

    My recollection is that the ACIL Tasman report had future coal prices on the low side. I wonder how NP would compete with thermal black coal prices around $150/t. NP keeps looking better with or without carbon taxes.


  30. Peter Lang – what an outburst! Do you think maybe that you may not be right (no pun intended) about everything all the time? I repeat – this is not a good look and does you no credit. Calm down and stick to the point of the blog-PLEASE!


  31. Mr Perps,

    More nonsense. Are you a school teacher or something?

    Why don’t you contribute something constructive?

    When you and your loony mates stop pedalling your loony-left ideas on here, then I will stop pointing out how you and your mates are the reason we are in the mess we are in. Perhaps if you let go of your ideological beliefs and started advising people to vote where they can make a real difference, instead of for the loony-Left, then we’d start to pull out of this mess. I know I am wasting my time writing this because you simply have no understanding of the issues.

    However, since you are incapable of letting go of pushing your beliefs, I may as well participate. See next post.


  32. To the Loony-Left who want to keep pedalling their ideology, hatred of capitalists, Howard government and Liberals:

    Regulatory environment for business

    Under Howard: relatively stable, business friendly, allowed business certainty, allowed business to prosper, allowed business to know what changes were coming and provided sufficient time to implement changes.

    Under Rudd: the exact opposite.


    Under Howard: continued to progress the IR reforms that have been freeing up the labour market for decades. Reduced unemployment. Real wages growth. Removed union control of our imports and exports (the wharves).

    Under Rudd: IR reform set back 30 years. We are heading back to the era of unions in control, industrial action, strikes for everything, central wage fixing by a bench of Lefties in Canberra.

    Government debt

    Under Howard: paid off the $90 billion debt inherited from the previous Labor (socialist) government

    Under Rudd: just 2.5 years into their first term of government we’ve run up $76 billion debt and climbing at $10 per working person per day!!

    Sovereign Risk

    Under Howard: Australia seen as low sovereign risk for investors. This improved throughout the term of the Howard government

    Under Rudd: Australia’s sovereign risk suddenly ratcheted up by this governments totally incompetent handling of the Resource Rent Tax (RRT) issue. (to spin this, the government decided to call it a Resource Super Profit Tax). The government misled the industry and is now spending $38 million of tax payers money to try to convince the electorate to accept the governments spin on this. The whole policy developed by Treasury in secret without the normal policy development with stakeholders is seriously flawed. International investors’ perception of Australia’s sovereign risk has been ratcheted up permanently. Even if the government walks away from the RSPT or does make the necessary changes the damage has been done.

    Greenhouse emission

    Under Howard: Genuine policies to reduce emissions.

    Under Rudd: All spin, no substance. Signed Kyoto for the fan fare and publicity when everyone else was walking away from it. What a joke.


    Under Howard: Uranium Mining, Processing and nuclear Energy study and report. Strong backing from the Coalition at all levels. Had the Coalition continued for another term we would be on the way now to implement the education facilities and begin the long process of setting up the regulatory infrastructure

    Under Rudd: Rudd says “never on my watch”. No change from Labor policy 20 years ago and 40 years.

    Administrative competence

    Under Howard: a decade of excellent reform progress, stability and good administration

    Under Rudd: The greatest incompetence since the era of the Whitlam Labor government

    • IR reforms – set us back 30 years. Unions back in control of running the country.
    • ‘Pink Bats’ home insulation fiasco – $3 billion wasted. Much of it has to be ripped out. Four deaths and >100 house firs so far. The emissions avoided are about $200/t CO2 avoided. That is about 10 times the cost of making electricity emissions free with nuclear energy. But Rudd maintains his total opposition to any consideration of that option
    • “Building the Education Revolution” – $11 billion spent so far and $5 billion of that is wasted. Still spending and wasting at the same rate.
    • “National Broadband Network” – $43 billion committed by the Rudd government to rebuild the old Post Master Generals Department. Public sector employees, all unionised of course, so Labor can get more money from union fees to spend on getting re-elected. The government didn’t even do a Business case before it committed to this massive public sector ‘investment’. This is the greatest waste imaginable.


  33. Could we all drop the political back-and-forth accusations and inferences, please? It does nothing to raise the tone of this blog, and I’m frankly getting sick of it. Sure, this post is partly about politics, but it’s NOT about whether one side or the other is better. Terms like ‘loony left’ or ‘rabid right’ have no place in this forum. I’m strongly tempted to re-write BNC’s commenting rules to exclude any political discussion, but that would be a shame as there is much fertile ground to cover in this area provided we don’t resort to name calling and insinuations on people’s deeper motivations.

    I’m not targeting this at anyone in particular, this is just a general observation from someone who cares about all of the valued, regular commenters on BNC and doesn’t want the community to degrade into a rabble that soon disperses into other forums.

    Line in the Sand


  34. Those rules suit me Barry … I have been fairly restrained and strongly focused on the objects of this blog … as the posting record shows, the desire to pursue a different and explicitly hectoring approach has come from another quarter …


  35. I merely wanted to point out, Peter, a component of your rhetoric. for you, “leftists” want to dictate and regulate and peddle, but presumably you do not wish to dictate or regulate or peddle.

    but of course you do. and in fact everyone wants regulations in accord with their beliefs.


  36. I have been tempted to enter your political fracas by reading Barry’s post on 5 June at 23.11. In it, he stated that economic growth should still be possible in a world of material constraint. If he is correct, and I hope he is, then it may just be possible for a growing world population to reach the stage at which it can voluntarily reduce itself. Clearly, our exponential growth is not sustainable for much longer.

    Peter, you, single handedly almost, are fighting the capitalist corner, but you must appreciate that the market can only work if economic growth of some sort can be maintained. Repayment of debt depends upon this growth. The causes of the current financial crisis are complex, but most certainly have some origins in weak regulation of money supply, over-borrowing and the massive increase of, possibly unsustainable, debt. Simultaneously, globalisation and cheap transport have enabled capitalists to source product from the countries with the cheapest labour. Partly in consequence, certainly in western style democracies, distribution of wealth has favoured the very few at the expense of the great majority and there is increasingly less “trickle down” effect, the trickle going instead to those in the exporting nations rather than to those recipients of the cheap imports.

    This has all happened under both left and right wing governments because democratic electorates dictate policies that provide illusory or short term rewards. Thus, in the UK, our erstwhile and unlamented leftist government vastly increased welfare spending, immigration and underclass (the immigrants work while the underclass is paid more not to, relying on generous welfare) and relied upon the capitalists (city financiers rather than producers) to provide the funding. Casino capitalism and its demise have been the almost inevitable consequences.

    Peter, you blame the lefties for lack of (or unnecessarily expensive) nuclear power. However, I am acquainted with plenty of right wing lawyers and NIMBYs. These groups are quite capable of blocking both appropriate and inappropriate government initiatives.

    The left can be thought of as idealists and the right as pragmatists. The search for fairness and equality is primarily to be found on the left, albeit often selfishly motivated by envy. As one trained in biology, I appreciate that life isn’t fair. In the animal kingdom, survival of the fittest is the name of the game and the welfare state to prop up the old and sick is not manifest. We, uniquely, have evolved consciousness and, with it, a big dollop of empathy and a great potential to experience psychological suffering. Some neuroscientists think that the evolution of our emotional consciousness represents an epiphenomenon, acquired accidentally as the cognitive abilities of our brains improved and gave us an evolutionary edge. The cognitive advantage might be outweighed, eventually, by emotional consciousness which has no obvious benefits for species survival and may cause us to breed ourselves and many other species to extinction.

    Fran, you are of the left. May I ask you a simple question? Suppose I have two children and you have ten. Would it be fairer for my two each to have five times greater life chances than your ten? A biologist, I suspect, would answer in the affirmative.

    I don’t believe our species can carry on as we are. I am not convinced that left/right arguments, framed as they have been, take us anywhere. It might be more instructive to debate whether, in our current but largely unappreciated state of emergency, we are best served by democracy. Is globalisation all that it’s cracked up to be? Certainly, a global effort is needed to effect significant emissions reduction, but wouldn’t the Indians and Chinese be producing a lot less CO2 if they weren’t preoccupied with exporting to us?

    Sorry that this is incoherent and rambling. It indicates a somewhat fading faith in Peter’s preferred political stance, combined with a continuing antipathy to left wing sentiments.


  37. Rob, thanks for your response. It seems the Electrical Trades Union has had a dramatic change of heart:

    The Electrical Trades Union has banned its members from working on uranium mines, nuclear power stations or any other part of the nuclear fuel cycle.

    The ETU says other unions have expressed strong support for the campaign against uranium, which it has labelled the “new asbestos” of the workplace.

    “We’re sick of hearing about nuclear power as the panacea of global warming, we’re sick of people sweeping safety issues under the carpet,” ETU secretary Peter Simpson said on Tuesday.

    “Our view is there’s enough ETU labour in the place … that we’ll be able to starve the industry out.”

    He was speaking at the launch in Brisbane of an anti-uranium DVD, When the Dust Settles, alongside pediatrician and activist Dr Helen Caldicott.

    I do like your suggestion of some sort of national conference on nuclear power as a response to climate change. I don’t have any ideas on how this might proceed but will give it some thought. Peter Lang, how’s your public speaking?


  38. John Morgan,

    Public speaking is certainly not my strenght. Try Terry Krieg, he loves it and wins over every audience he speaks to. He is an ex-school teacher so is well experienced at getting the message across. He has tried to get elected to parliament as a Labor member, so he may well be the right person to get through to union members. Terry, are you following this?


  39. I think this blog has identified the two key memes that stand in the way of most people even bothering to consider the nuclear question.

    i) global warming isn’t a serious problem.
    ii) renewable energy may cost a little more but it’s a viable alternative to coal.

    Of the two I think (ii) is the more serious issue because plenty of people who agree with (i) are not believers in (ii) and are already open to nuclear power anyway.

    As such you have to convince people that renewables are not now and are not likely to be any time soon a viable large scale energy solution. How you do that on an emotive level whilst windmills are sprouting like mushrooms is very tricky indeed. For now government policy (MRET) has created an industry that appears to be prospering. The fact that they produce a dud product proped up by subsidies is beside the point.


  40. Douglas Wise asked:

    Fran, you are of the left. May I ask you a simple question? Suppose I have two children and you have ten. Would it be fairer for my two each to have five times greater life chances than your ten? A biologist, I suspect, would answer in the affirmative

    Of course not. That’s absurd. All human lives count equally, IMO. The Golden Rule applies: One may not claim what one does not warrant in others. Ethical human beings are bound to do whatever they reasonably can to ensure that every fellow human — every child who begins for the first time to fill his or her lungs with air — has the same life chances as they insist upon for themselves, regardless of the happenstance of gender, genes or geography. When this is not the case, as it frequently is in practice, this not merely tragic but subversive of the integrity of all community and we humans, who are cosil animals and derive our sense of purpose, identity and possibility from community are diminished by it. Accordingly, those who say that this is merely how things go or suggest that in attempting to restore community we must cower like frightened children at the door of the privileged are, whatver they may claim of themselves, likewise subversive of human community and by extension, of individual human interest. Such ideas need to be refuted and exposed for the misanthropy they are. Human equality is foundational. That is why I am a leftist. It is the only position that comports with a recognition of the intrinsic value of human life, itself a function of human community.

    It seems to me very clear that we must work assiduously to ensure that our fellows –all of them — may have at least what we minimally demand ourselves, and that to the extent we do this successfully — i.e. that the marginalised are empowered, that like us, the vast majority of people will choose not to have families of 10 children or even 3 — so the problem to which you refer can be addressed without coercion and in a way that comports with the dignity of all human beings.


  41. I think what everyone is missing is that if one is ONLY looking for a solution to climate change, then nuclear is at least a sensible option to look at.

    If one is trying to solve the whole problem of humanity’s unsustainable demands on the ecosphere then planning for nuclear to be the predominant method of future energy supply is just another grossly foolish red herring. As a centralised, high intensity, energy source which depends on geopolitically concentrated fuel sources, nuclear ticks an awful lot of the unsustainable strategy boxes.

    Look at the whole picture to come up with viable solutions.


  42. On Saul Griffith (further to Greg Meyerson@23:33 5/6/10), there is a presentation by him on SlowTV that is well worth a look if you have an hour or so to spare. He lays out the magnitude of the fossil fuel replacement task very effectively, though strangely ignores or is ambivalent about the nuclear option for much of the talk.

    On political advocacy options, Rob seems to have given a major party a pretty good go. Are single-issue parties likely to be any more effective? One I came across the other day is Environmentalists for Nuclear Energy. They seem to be largely NSW-based. Has anyone else heard of or have an opinion of them?

    I note they have moved to “drop all left-right political alignment and focus solely on achieving the strongest possible action on climate change”. This, at least, seems eminently sensible.


  43. All human lives count equally, IMO.

    Nice in theory. However the life of an unexpected stranger encountered in my living room at 3am will in my book count for close to nothing along side the life of my children, my wife and me.

    And if you are serious here is a challenge to you. Saving lives is cheap. Very cheap. A few lousy bucks can save a life in a developing nation. I’m certain you discount these lives almost completely relative to your own. Ever bought a cup of coffee for you for a few lousy bucks, ever hired a DVD, ever bought a new pair of shoes, ever made a long distance phone call just so a relative might feel kindly towards you, ever decorated the house or fed a dog. The reality, as revealed by behaviour, is that nobody thinks all lives are equal. At most a large number of us demonstrate a belief that we should do no harm to others (ie a strong belief in negative rights rather than positive rights). The rest is mostly just feel good, look good, chatter. Our laws, institutions and economics ought to reflect how people really are, the nature of man as the natural law crowd would say, not how we imagine angels living on a some philosophical pin might be.


  44. Terje said:

    Saving lives is cheap. Very cheap. A few lousy bucks can save a life in a developing nation.

    Only in theory or else only on heroically optimistic assumptions and where “saving a life” means no more than “deferring death for a very short time”.

    If you add up all the small amounts of money and use them to effect stable delivery of vital services and transaction costs are low then yes, some lives can be saved. I’d be more than happy if the state were to donate to well run secular programs (as per above) on my behalf and to charge me and others similarly privileged an apt share of the total proportionate cost.

    I’d be very happy to pay more for goods I imported based on the securing of fair labour standards in originating jurisdictions or equipping them with the clean energy these states need to avoid local pollution and global CO2 emissions. Yet I personally have no means to donate my coffee or DVD money to bona fide organisations that can reasonably ensure such outcomes. Very little of it would get there.

    The most important issues attach to the quality of governance and this is not, by and large, something individuals here can do much about. Governments have to address these issues.


  45. Only in theory or else only on heroically optimistic assumptions and where “saving a life” means no more than “deferring death for a very short time”.

    I think you’re dodging the point. And also I think my “theory” has much more evidence to support it and relies far less on heroic optimistic assumptions than this one:-

    All human lives count equally

    In essence you are saying that Unicef and the like are fibbing. From their website:-

    A donation of just $75 could help us provide enough ORS to help save the lives of more than 200 children.Few other medical breakthroughs of the 20th century have ORT’s potential to save so many lives, so quickly and at so little cost.

    That’s under 40 cents per life. Or about six lives for every cappuccino indulgence that you skip.

    I contend that you don’t care anywhere near as much as you pretend. That you value your life and comfort vastly more than the lives of others. And if you can’t even get yourself to care then what business do you have moralising to the rest of us.


  46. I am going to be very careful at theis point Terje because I don’t wish to go where Professor Brook would not want us to go so when you claim:

    I contend that you don’t care anywhere near as much as you pretend. That you value your life and comfort vastly more than the lives of others. And if you can’t even get yourself to care then what business do you have moralising to the rest of us.

    I’ll respond that the “business” I have is that Doug asked me to specify my views and Professor Brook suggested that this post of Doug’s was apt.

    Unlike you, I don’t see the solution as substantially to be found in individual acts of charity, any more than the solution to CO2 intensity is to be found in people installing solar panels or putting their appliances on standby.

    You prefer this model because it gives you a weapon to attack others advocating system-based solutions which would impinge on your freedom to do nothing at all. You want others to share your lack of interest in the welfare of others, whereas I want others to share my interest.

    That’s the difference.


  47. Why are you two even bothering? The left and Right don’t agree on the Social Contract? In other news the sun rose in the East this morning.

    You guys aren’t going to convince each other, and the rest of us have heard it all before.

    Just give it a rest.


  48. Fran – My comments are not personal. Plenty of people use the same nice words you do about human lives all being equal. People that I love and care about use such words. I’m sure I’m guilty of using such slogans at various times. I do however think these words are intellectually quite empty. I do think you are entitled to your views. I don’t literally object to you having views or even to you moralising to the rest of us, I just intended to show that those views were shallow in case somebody took them as intellectually serious.

    I’m not sure what problem you are suggesting that I see as being solved by individual acts of charity. My whole point has been that individuals don’t act to solve lots of problems. As such notions that “all human lives are equal” does not appear to be what real individual humans actually believe. It does not follow that individual acts of charity will solve world poverty. Clearly it won’t. Commerce and trade and investment and development seem like far more viable means of solving world poverty than individual charity.

    Just because individual acts of charity will not solve a given problem it does not follow that collective coerced acts of charity must be implemented. It could be that some problems simply don’t belong to us.


  49. Fran,

    Thanks for your reply. It didn’t surprise me. I respect your position and don’t expect to change it.

    In a reply to TerjeP, you made an interesting comment which I would like to explore further. You stated that “the most important issues attach to the quality of governance and that is not something individuals can do much about”. That, if I may say so, is the most pithy condemnation of democracy that I have ever read. I might go further and suggest that democracy cannot produce good governance because our leaders are in a fight for votes and, accordingly, try to meet the short term wants of the majority rather than the long term needs of the population as a whole.

    The next problem to address is what to do about it . You made a negative statement when you proferred the opinion that individuals were largely powerless under the present system of governance. Could you go one stage further and suggest something better fitted to our current chronic emergency state? I have toyed with the idea of national governments – something that got the UK through the last war when left and right came together to fight a common enemy. The idea has seemed repugnant to all I have tried it on. Can you do better?


  50. Douglas,

    I like your conclusion that democracy cannot produce good governance – at least for our current model of democracy.

    There are two problems with the current model that come to mind. First is the idea of choosing only one representative for a location. I would like to choose a number of representatives and have them vote on my behalf like a proxy vote at a share meeting.

    The second problem is uninformed voting. I can vote on line without bothering to be informed. On-line poles collect votes without having the necessary background information. This system reinforces existing biases rather than producing informed debate and seeking to find consensus.

    I am sure we could do better than the current system. Obviously, changing to a better system would not be easy.

    I believe that parliament should run like a committee and I find the concept of political parties offensive. I always vote for independents before choosing which of the major parties. Frankly, I can hardly tell them apart anyway. Sorry Peter Lang and others with strong alliances .

    Barry, I hope I am not crossing your line in the sand; it is hard to discuss public advocacy without addressing politics.


  51. Douglas

    It was astute of you indeed to discenr that I have some serious reservations about democracy as it is currently configured in most places where it is asserted that it exists.

    You seem to implicitly support a more authoritarian or cororatist form of rule, but I take a sharply different view.

    My response is to advocate a radical redesign of the polity combining sortition and deliberative voting for candidate selection and direct democracy to resolve major issues of policy direction or seriously contentious issues. In all matters, parliaments would play a guiding role in leading community debate up to a resolution.

    This seems to me in the current circumstances to best strike the balance between individual and collective interests. Such a system I’ve dubbed inclusive governance.

    Under such a system we would get continuous guided self-education of the populace and continuous data on what substantively people wanted. Political parties would effectively be shut out of the business, except perhaps as proponents of policy options — which is their proper role. I suspect this also addresses some of Robert’s concerns.

    The problem at the moment is that rather than trying to give the informed majority what it wants (the majority are not informed, but tribally loyal), the parties try to give the semi-informed and engaged minorities whose favour they need to win what they fancy they want, but since even this is a trade-off what we get is a dogs’ breakfast that frequently makes little sense as a package.

    What we need first of all is an engaged and civically educated majority — and only on that basis is bona fide inclusive governance possible.

    To consider the question that is here at the front of our minds — the role of nuclear power in an energy system — the destruction of tribal voting and the winner takes all system would make a fair discussion of the merits of this possible as no party or settled group could be wedged or advantaged relatively. The institutional obstacles to nuclear power when people realise the merits of the case would be swept aside. As things stand however, even if 60% of the populace thought nuclear power a good idea, it would be subsumed by the broader desire of the major parties to secure or hold onto power.


  52. Fran and Robert:

    We all seem to agree that democracy, as currently constituted, does not seem to provide the solutions needed to extract us from the mess we’re in. It was good enough before things started to become seriously alarming. Unfortunately, the majority are still not seriously alarmed. Perhaps, therefore, as others have suggested, our musings are pointless. Anyway, FWIW, I’ll continue to debate in order to explore new ideas.

    Fran, you suggest that my preferred option is corporatist and that you would prefer a system based on sortition and deliberative voting. Lacking your erudition, I was forced into a quick visit to wikipedia. It seems that sortition involves selecting one’s leaders by lot. As far as deliberative voting is concerned, matters are somewhat more complicated. I did read, however, that an example was to be found in the constitution of the Green Party of the United States. As you might imagine, this hardly warmed me to the idea. However, “rationally motivated consensus” sounds good.

    You talk of guided self education which rather begs the question of who’s doing the guiding. Perhaps more tellingly, you admit that a necessary precondition of your preferred system is an engaged and civically educated majority, something that you admit is not present currently. Perhaps the uneducated should be disenfranchised? How would one qualify to be well enough educated to receive a vote?

    I am not being deliberately obstructive. I think your analysis of why, currently, nuclear power may never be on the political agenda, even with the majority in favour, is extremely compelling. Furthermore, in principle, I wouldn’t object to your proposed system except that I regard it as possibly too idealistic. Lacking your faith in human nature, I tend to think that the tail of the dog will forever be uneducated – hence my preference for a more elitist, meritocratic form of governance. Educability (if there is such a word) is surely correlated with intelligence, which, in turn, is mainly, but not solely, determined by one’s genes. Life ain’t fair. However, I do accept that, however thick I am, it would be a bit churlish for me to be despatched in battle without any say in the matter .


  53. DV82XL, on 7 June 2010 at 10.17

    TerjeP, on 7 June 2010 at 10.32

    Geopolitically concentrated. Whilst I understand Ozzies, with their large reserve of the global uranium supply, being keen to become the new OPEC of non fossil fuel energy don’t you think that nations having too much of a stranglehold on resources ends up causing trouble? Either because other nations can’t access it or because powerful nations, who find themselves getting short, launch wars to get some, or influence over some, for themselves.

    As far as unlimited energy, “too cheap to meter” being a panacea surely you realise that energy resources is not the only constraining parameter on sustainability?



  54. Nick Palmer, on 7 June 2010 at 20.38 Said:

    As far as unlimited energy, “too cheap to meter” being a panacea surely you realise that energy resources is not the only constraining parameter on sustainability?

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


  55. I wouldn’t accept, Douglas, that the success of my proposal depended on positive assumptions about human nature. On the contrary, it’s my view that the system should predispose education, dynamically connecting process and goal. That is the educator in me talking of course.

    If you want educated people, you must give them a reason to self-educate. If you want it to be of quality, the underlying processes must reward what amounts to questions of quality. Deliberative voting, guided discussion by represpesentatives of the public, direct democracy, the ansence of dynasty of a settled political class — all these lead in this direction.

    Of course, I attach only passing sigbificance to genetic patrimony in determining intelligence. I’m with Edison on this — genius being 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.

    And even where one does see what most of us take to be inordinate intelligence, it is not a complete solution to ethical and therefore poilicy rectitude. There are all many considerations to weigh in framing a policy which sees to the interests of entire diverse communities.

    In my experience, most people have at least one useful thing that they can teach almost anyone else, no matter how apparently intellectually feeble each of the “teachers” may be.


  56. I started this thread with a brief overview of the state of play in our political system of climate change policy and in particular the increased use of nuclear power. I then outlined a few modest practical things that we could do.

    I am a very “hands on” civil engineer. I get confidence by achieving things one step at a time and when I look back I marvel at how far I have come. I gave some examples of unions and politicians advocating nuclear power – I forgot to mention Bob Carr. I also forgot to mention the weekly writings on climate change by Dr. John Hewson or Malcolm Turnbull’s lonely walk in the House of Representatives. These are all small steps along the way. Right now in Australia we are seeing the national agenda being moved to mining taxes, health, boarder security and every policy except climate change because it got too hard.

    I am trying in a modest way to get us back onto the “one step at a time” path and I sought comments and by inference commitments to do something apart from theorising.

    May I please have some comments on the actions I outlined or suggestions for better ones. Are people on this blog prepared to commit to some of them or carry out their improved suggestions?


  57. Nick Palmer, by the time nations who are currently pursuing nuclear power are pressed by significantly rising uranium prices, fast spectrum and thorium-cycle reactors will be well into the large-scale deployment stage. At this point, stockpiles of depleted uranium, once-used nuclear fuel, and various forms of low-grade uranium will render your concern moot. There will never be a geopolitical concentration of power centred around uranium, as the very driver of such regional resource power will inevitably undermine itself. It’s a classic negative feedback.


  58. Robert: Good post. As you mention, many of your
    suggested activities involve getting out and meeting
    new people … which many people find tough, particularly when they risk getting howled down. My advice is to
    attend your chosen activist group meetings for a while BEFORE putting your nuke position. That way people
    know (and hopefully respect) you before you threaten
    their ideological position. Build a little credibility first.

    As for myself. I’ve written a pro-nuclear article which
    got aired in a few places and also a few letters, I’ve also had plenty to say in person to a politician who had
    best remain nameless for now … I imagine he will
    “out” when he feels more comfortable with the
    numbers and arguments. That’s about it, plus countless
    personal interactions including anti-nuke people outside
    James Hansens talk in Adelaide recently … this was
    only possible because I knew the people involved (see
    above). As most BNC readers know, my
    particular focus is on animal source foods because energy reform may be necessary but it isn’t sufficient to
    prevent dangerous climate shifts. Undoing 200 years of
    deforestation is also required plus reductions in non-co2
    forcings. This requires global dietary change, which will
    actually be MUCH tougher than energy restructuring because it can’t be done without daily lifestyle changes
    for a couple of billion people … a nuclear style
    “magic bullet” would be growing meat in a bio-reactor
    with adequate efficiency gains. There are people working
    on this.


  59. Fran and I share an interest in the use of sortition in the reform of our democracy. As a very simple reform I think each of our 76 senators should be appointed by sortition. One new senator should be appointed by lot each month and each should serve for 76 months (just over six years). I’d exclude such senators from serving as ministers. The senate would under this reform act as a giant jury that sits in judgement of all proposed legislation. It would be far more represenative than any possible voting system and it would be free of the worst incentives of elected bodies ( popularism and party loyalty).

    If presented with legislation to enable a nuclear industry such a senate would be free to consider and debate the facts entirely free from any incentive to do what is popular. After all popularity is not what gets you appointed under a system of sortition.

    The one virtue of elections over sortition is the accountability incentive. I’d reserve elections for the lower house where executive government is formed.


  60. TerjeP and Fran:

    At first glance, sortition for second chambers has much to commend it. It would be particularly appropriate if this chamber were charged with consideration of pressing issues, taking expert evidence on same and reporting back to the first chamber and the public.


  61. Assuming one wanted to keep a second chamber then Terje’s approach would be a step forward. I’m favour of deleting it. As a dry run though of how a deliberative/voting sortition approach could work to produce candidates and ultimately parliamentarians, it might be useful.

    Under my deliberative system one could rate each of a set of candidate’s policies (say 10) on a scale from 1-10 (with 1 being “strongly oppose” and 10 being “strongly support”) and also rate them in terms of their significance in your vote. So for example, if one strongly supported a policy of keeping out “them furriners” but ranked this only 10% significant in determining one’s vote, they’d have a remaining 90% to allocate amongst the remaining options.

    Candidates would get a rating based on the extent to which they got support for their policies, but they would also get feedback on what people approved and disapproved of. A candidate who got a 100% rating would get more chances in the final sortition draw than one rated only 70% or 50% supportable.

    This way, the system would tend to prefer candidates who better matched the policy preferences of the electorate, since numerically, they would get more chances to be drawn out. Of course, once quite a few of the most supported were selected the chances of someone who was somewhat supported but who had one or two “out there” ideas being selected would go up. So the system could not become a new iteration of “the borg”. There would be a uniting consensus, but fringe ideas would stand a good chance of getting a hearing. If the fringe people wanted their ideas to get up, they’d need either to accommodate the consensus or persuade more of the public to support them.

    And since in practice all of them would be gone in four years or so, they only get one shot and the public gets to reflect on what they have learned when the next parliament comes in. Rather than focusing on getting rid of some hate figure, they can focus on policy matters instead.


  62. Geoff Russell said on the 7th June:

    “My advice is to attend your chosen activist group meetings for a while BEFORE putting your nuke position. That way people know (and hopefully respect) you before you threaten their ideological position. Build a little credibility first”

    Geoff, thankyou for your advice.
    I understand the reasoning behind this and have tried it. In our local climate change group I bit my lip for 18 months and watched solutions become steadily less practical. Perceptive people left the group as they became disenchanted with poorly thought through technologies and ideologies. In the end I “came out” and was criticised heavily.

    Its hard to hide the spots on a leopard so this time around I am advocating the full story – nuclear leads to a new industrial revolution maintains jobs and the economy with a clean environment as the dividend – a cohesive narrative.

    So far it works better because I actually believe in what I am saying. Nevertheless the need for diplomacy which is behind you suggestion is paramount. Picking your timing, audience and delivery is critical.


  63. I think your claim, Robert, that picking your timing, audience and delivery is critical is indeed germane. Your account of biting your lip for 18 months and seeing the group gop backwards does ring true.

    A balance needs to be struck, in which you move the group to consider the merits of your position without appearing either as a one-trick pony or worse yet, as agent provocateur. It seems to me that this is not so much a matter of time spent in the group as it is in the quality of the relationships you can establish with those who are respected. Common work on group goals in which you distinguish yourself for your focus, wisdom and commitment under pressure earns credit rather more than passive and polite timeserving and attendance. You must be seen as bringing something of value to the group. It’s only in that sense that time is relevant.


  64. Fran – my reservations about the deliberative system is that I’m pretty sure it would still be driven by biased positions more than considered positions. The great strength of representative democracy is that the representatives have the opportunity to review the facts in much detail and to review their biases. Of course elections mean that they have an incentive to keep their biases so long as they align with those of their voting constituents. Hence my preference for an upper house with sortition. I’m pretty sure that over time such a house would get to review a great breadth of ideas as the fortunes of the elected lower house tilt back and forth. Lots of ideas would come in the front door, and mostly only good well considered ones would pass through.

    Geoff – an upper house appointed by sortition would have a certain amount of filtering up front as only the engaged tend to volunteer for such things. Even so the merit and goodness would be mostly a reflection of the merit and goodness of the broader society. The notion that an elected house has more merit or goodness than our broader society would be one that I would reject. And in fact most people rate our elected officials as having above average tendancies to lie and cheat. Which should not surprise given the incentives that dictate their selection and their success.

    An upper house appointed by sortition would be a technically modest but very meaningful reform to the DNA of Australias system of government. We could even experiment with the notion first at a state level in one of the states with an upper house.


  65. Terje said:

    my reservations about the deliberative system is that I’m pretty sure it would still be driven by biased positions more than considered positions.

    Gosh … it only seems like ten minutes ago that you thought it appealing but only for hobbyists and would be too complex for people to get their heads around …

    most people don’t want to be bothered with all this stuff. You he and I are interested but most people have other hobbies and want to be left alone

    I can’t imagine how deliberative voting could lead to any result apart from more useful data about what people actually want out of governance or a better informed polity than we have now.


  66. We have polls that tell us what people actually want. You can create lots of data with polls. However just because people tell you want they want and how much they want it that doesn’t mean their views are well considered or that they will become well considered just because you keep asking. Perhaps you can explain how the process gets people to engage in debate and discussion, to take in new data and view points and to reflect on their initial position.


  67. Terje said:

    We have polls that tell us what people actually want.

    Nonsense. We have polls telling us how existing stakeholder interests are seeking to frame the issues and these in turn have to pass the elite interest media filter. At best, we have broad binary questions on various issues whioch often assume facts not in evidence or set up inadequate dichotomies.

    Perhaps you can explain how the process gets people to engage in debate and discussion, to take in new data and view points and to reflect on their initial position.

    Plainly, candidates are going to be involved in an extensive dialogue with actual and potential constituencies, and, over time, an increasing proportion of those constituencies will either have been candidates themselves, or been in close contact with those who have been. Parliament groups and members would be leading active debate so as to impriove the prospects of policy preferences being taken up, and since we could not read the answer to what would happen from pre-existing party alignment, the progress of these activities, the terms of debate, the persuasiveness of key figures and the ownership of matters before parliament amidst the populace etc would be the stuff of media narrative.

    It’s hard to imagine anything more likely to produce reflective citizenship than that!


  68. How does a set of votes on what people want feed into a set of incentives for candidates. Candidates already do detailed polling on what people want, precisely so they can taylor their dialogue but the narrative still sucks. The idea that candidates should focus on what people want is in my view a big part of the problem. Instead they should be focused on the public interest which is not the same thing.


  69. Terje asked:

    How does a set of votes on what people want feed into a set of incentives for candidates?

    Fairly obvious I’d have thought. Candidates have access to the feedback both on their policies and on those proposed by others. they follow the debates and public commentary. They may modify their positions to improve their chances before the final vote. They can choose not to if they prefer of course and this would not exclude them from being elected.

    What is the benefit of a reflective citizenry? Good public policy is surely the objective not a population of elite philosophers.

    Again, I’d have thought this obvious, especially to a self-professed “libertarian”. Having a reflective citizenry improves the prospect that state’s action will express each person’s legitimate interests. It is hard to see how the state can act this way unless the citizens know what these interests are — unless you take the view that the state knows best what serves each citizen, merely because it is the state.

    I am the parent of two children (well one of them is now 26 and the other 17). When they had no idea where their best interests lay, I assumed this role on their behalf, but I saw my success as a parent in fostering their practical capacity for social and cultural autonomy — or to use the phrase I used with them so often until such time as you can make good decisions in your own behalf .

    There exists an analogy with the state here. Until such time as people are able to make good decisions in their own behalf, the role of the state should be to make them for them. This is ultimately unsatisfactory as the state can, at best, only effect a rough approximation of the best interests of individuals, foreclosing gross harm and predisposing generalised goods. Of course, the fewer the institutional constraints to serving the public interest and the better the grasp of what those interests are, the less rough this approximation becomes.

    Now the state will of course continue to play the role of arbiter in disputes and continue to act to foreclose what behavioural economists like to call “collective action problems” but as the citizenry better grasps its individual and collective interests and can make these manifest in public policy, so too the space for the state to unwittingly or otherwise trample on the citizens diminishes. The state will shrink to the size needed to do what the citizenry cannot or should not do themselves.

    So long as the political class stands aloof from and above the public, and the public is either disengaged or unable to confront the cultural privileges of the career politican and the wealthy exploiters who stand behind him, democracy will continue to be more apparent than real — a mere caricature of the public will or interest.

    Reflective citizenship lies at the very foundation of the possibility of genuinely inclusive governance. Your formulation above stands in sharp contrast to your professed libertarian ideals.

    I will concede that I am scarcely surprised at that.


  70. I don’t buy your analogy. You seem to assume that the problems manifest within our system of government are a result of people not knowing what they want. I don’t think there is any such problem, at least not to a significant degree, with our citizens. The problem isn’t with there ability to decide what on the menu they like, the problem is that the menu is pretty horrid. And horrid for systemic reasons not because our citizens have not been reflective enough.


  71. You seem to assume that the problems manifest within our system of government are a result of people not knowing what they want.

    There’s no point in most people investing the emotional energy in deciding what they want or is even possible if voting is a tick and flick exercise. In fact, the clearer an idea you have of what would be ideal the more depressing voting is. My response is not to vote and to deluge politicians with what I want.

    Most simply watch the sports, take up hobbies, bury themselves in work or find other diversion. Really, at the moment, the voters are for all practical purposes, an irrelevant nuisance to government.

    Using 2nd best theory, abolishing voting and going with Doug’s meritocracy would probably be no worse. At least we would have some candour: you don’t count.


  72. Geoff Rusell;

    You suggest that intelligence and goodness are only weakly correlated. Having reflected upon this statement, I continue to find it very odd. It is reasonably easy to assess the former in a scientific manner. The latter cannot be measured other than through the eyes of an individual. It is thus subjective and no attempt to correlate it with an objective characteristic makes much sense to me.

    What seems to emerge from your statement is your belief that there is something absolute about goodness. One also sees something similar in some of Fran’s writing. Her guiding principles seem to be ethics based, where ethics always trumps pragmatism or efficiency. At this point, I am tempted to suggest that the road to hell is paved with good intentions – so I will!

    If one arbitrarily thinks of one’s brain as consisting of two components, one could make a distinction between the cognitive (reasoning) part and the emotional (feeling) part . Empathy stems from the latter. Lack of it is a characterisic of sociopaths. Notwithstanding, I have always believed that good governance should be driven primarily by reason rather than emotion, just as there is supposed to be benefit in the “blindness” of justice.

    My thinking is driven by study of animal brains and behaviour. Animals lack self awareness and reasoning parts to their brains but have a degree of emotional awareness. Social animals tend to have rigid class (caste) systems and there are many manifestions of physiological stress within groups. Dominants have to fight to stay at the top but are able to confer advantage to their progeny while there. They may experience the effects of surplus adrenaline with different adverse manifestations from those encountered by subordinates. The latter are subject to the malign effects of chronically elevated cortisol levels which lead to loss of immunity and earlier death (and a national health service wouldn’t materially change this).

    I like to work on the premise that our motivations are all, essentially, selfish. Empathic individuals gain satisfaction from caring for those in less fortunate circumstances and, to this extent, their behaviour can be construed as selfish. Those dominated by their reasoning brains will generally see that short term exploitation of others will bring them disadvantage in the long term.

    I accept, however, that man may have evolved so far beyond non human animals as to make the drawing of lessons from the latter meaningless. Nevertheless, I would be very interested were Fran and Geoff to read up on behavioural and physiological studies of free living groups of chimps, baboons and wild dogs. I wonder whether it might change their views on goodness and ethics.

    I am beginning to question the relevance of all this, so I’ll stop.


  73. TerjeP and Fran:

    I quite liked TerjeP’s sortition for second chambers. I might be disposed to refine it by allowing a pre-selected range of interest groups each to have its own lot-drawing process (perhaps even allowing trade unionists a guaranteed lot! ). Fran, you seemed to want to place deliberative voting as a first step before advancing to sortition. If I understood correctly, this, IMO, would be counterproductive because you’d start with a self selected group of power seekers, scrabbling for popular votes and shaping their views accordingly.

    An alternative or additional role for a second chamber might be to curb the excesses of press/media freedom. Clearly, this is a delicate matter and couldn’t be left to a party political first chamber. However, we might all agree that the media thrives on sensationalism, dumbing down and short termism. None of these tendencies is in the long term public interest and all promote bad law.


  74. I think you may have misuderstood Doug

    1. Select candidates at random from voter roll of those who specified willingness to serve about 2 years before service is needed
    2. Deliberative voting processes (at iterations of about 6 months)
    3. Calculate final weightings in sort immediately prior to draw
    4. Draw with alternatives

    I’m not keen on corporate sortition blocs. Too many definitional problems. Let the public figure it out.

    As to animals, at least some of the higher order animals do show altruistic and non-instrumental conduct, including sometimes at their own cost. It’s not immediately relevant here, but that is the case.


  75. Fran, I’ll think on but, as I’m shortly off on a fishing trip, I will have to let things slide. Probably a relief for others as we’re tending to drift off topic. However, I do use these debates to gather more effective ammo for energy solution lobbying. Sortition is new to me and seems like an interesting subject to pursue further.

    I can’t finish without challenging over your animal altruism claims. You state it to be the case as if the science is settled. It’s far from it.


  76. I don’t see how the science could ever be settled on animal emotions — mental states are very hard to measure. Indeed, though I may attribute a given mental state to you, really it’s only an inference based on mapping knowledge about my own to you and of course, what else I;ve read about the mental states of others. To the best of my knowledge though nobody has yet measured a mental state in a way that can be corroborated.

    That said, I found this interesting some years back:

    When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals


  77. Rob Parker

    “I sought comments and by inference commitments to do something apart from theorising.”

    Getting back to your list of five actions, these assume a status quo in the political system, including the media and the voting public. Do you really think that a more widespread action by more people will be enough to cause a change to nuclear power in time to head off irreversible and catastrophic climate change? You have admitted that your strategy did not work in your local climate change group.

    Replacing fossil fuels with nuclear energy is one of the major challenges for this century. The other main issues are overpopulation and loss of biodiversity. It is hard to rank these in order of importance; they all need to be addressed immediately. The need is the same for all of the issues. There needs to be informed community engagement on these issues. Current political systems with the primary goal of winning votes for the next election and media seeking stories to catch the immediate attention of a generally disinterested public is not a setting going to address the real challenges of this century.

    In short, the greatest need at the moment is a better means of community engagement and decision making. We need to theorise to develop an approach to governance that is appropriate in the 21st Century before we can do much else. We need to start by asking what the consequences of the status quo are. We then need to start asking what we want the world to be like in 40 or 50 year or more. We will not need social engineers to answer these questions. Just asking them limits the options.

    There is a human tendency to want to shut the gate after the horse has bolted. Currently the figurative horse is being chased out of the yard and we are prepared only to shut the gate so it cannot get back in. Climate change, biodiversity loss and the tragic consequential loss of human life and habitat that will not be recoverable. There is no point in a modest approach. We need an urgent revolution in governance away from personalities and topical issues to starting to think about what matters the most.

    Ideally this kind of transformation would be led by governments and the media. I don’t know if anyone can envisage this. We who see the need for immediate change need to get organised and not let the current leaders call the shots the way they are currently. I struggle to envisage a solution, a way this could happen. So much depends on it that we need to find an approach. I have a vague idea of some kind of grass roots movement that starts asking and answering the big questions and makes the current form of governance with personalities, political parties, competing media outlets and even country boundaries irrelevant. We have the means with the Internet opening communication across the surface of the globe. We just need to see the need and get organised.

    Are there any other options?


  78. Terje, what is your position on “reflective citizenship”? what is its relationship to “negative rights”?

    RC is associated with philosophers like Alasdair Macintyre (and Aristotle), perhaps John Rawls at his least libertarian. The project of shaping a certain kind of self as a precondition for effective citizenship is at odds, I thought, with libertarianism. So I assume that you oppose any mechanism for promoting RC even if you would prefer reflective to non reflective citizens.

    To be pro sortition and anti RC strikes me as pointless or self defeating. Though I haven’t thought it through yet!


  79. actually barry: I went to E’s site. he is doing a good job of pulling things together and is also forthright about highlighting potential problems with nuclear, even if they turn out bogus. He has one reference to a guardian article about a 9 gallon spill of HEU that “nearly went critical.”

    can anyone parse this sort of claim for its plausibility?


  80. @greg meyerson – There have been a few criticality accidents with solutions containing dissolved enriched uranium, and people have died from exposure.

    However a system like that goes critical, or it doesn’t, there is no ‘almost’ and it’s most unlikely that a spill would ever be compact enough to reach this condition.


  81. Yes, EclipseNow, thats a great page that Barry has referenced.

    Directly relevant to Rob Parker’s post here is your page on

    Starting your own group

    I’m going to quote a couple of slabs since I think its very much to the point:

    1. Why start a group?
    2. If you have to, start an online presence
    3. Recruit ‘kindred Spirits’
    4. Things can happen FAST!
    5. Develop a strategy to recruit local government, business, thinkers and talent
    6. Develop an action plan for your area and start it.
    7. Think about approaching the State and Federal government.
    8. If all of this sounds like too much work…

    # We met online.
    # We met together.
    # When meetup started charging $9 / month, we made our own peak oil “brand” and formed
    # We met about once a month
    # We talked online and on the phone.
    # We used our “6 degrees of separation”, used our contacts and got into speak to some politicians.

    o try discussing peak oil with:-

    * eco-village designers
    * University staff or lecturers in “sympathetic” fields
    * organic growers
    * community supported agriculture
    * Permaculture adherents
    * Conservation Councils
    * Friends of the Earth
    * Greenpeace
    * Socialist Alliance
    * the Greens
    * The Environmental Protection Agency for your region
    * community groups active about something
    * folk festivals
    * (Someone above may be able to offer a meeting venue, especially the University lecturer. That was Sydney Peak Oil’s experience anyway).

    etc. and more.

    This is good stuff. Quite inspiring.


  82. @ Robert Lawrence

    We need to theorise to develop an approach to governance that is appropriate in the 21st Century before we can do much else.

    You appear to be arguing the pointlessness of any action which is undertaken before your notion of an acceptable “approach to governance” (whatever that may be – it’s not clear) is enacted. Perhaps I have misconstrued your position?

    Changing societal structures and political ideologies is teeth grindingly, generationaly slow. The reason I first began to look at nuclear power was because I saw in it a chance to avoid this death trap. For most, nuclear power requires no great shifts in political ideology, no begrudging behaviour changes. A minority can lobby for it and the majority can go on living their life the way they always have, the way they were always going to, because to save the world all they have to do is nothing, all they have to do is not oppose it.

    Now is not the time to worry about the status quo. In the short term we are stuck with it and in my experience (and going on recent discussions on this blog) the more one attempts to challenge peoples political allegiances the more closely they cling to them.

    Wherever one sits in the political landscape it is your duty to convince your people and you must do so using the political arguments most applicable to your and your interlocutors sensibilities. Which party is in power will determine the political framework within which nuclear power shall be built. What we need is grass roots bipartisan support (or at least non-opposition). To that end individual action is an important precursor to greater action.

    We need to garner support from an active minority (Don’t we already have that?), encourage the use of whatever activist proclivities, in which ever political hemisphere, individuals within this minority can bring to bear in order to engineer, at minimum, non-opposition from the majority. Then we can go on to lobby the government minus any major society wide impediments. It’s been done before. We can do it again.

    Will any of this happen? Not if we stick to theorising.


  83. Greg – sortition for our upper house as I have proposed it entails a representative group of citizens who can reflect and debate on matters of public policy. It does not entail all citizens doing so. In fact the whole point of representation is to avoid the need for all citizens to be well versed in the pros and cons of every legislative initative. Their representatives, appointed through sortition, would do this for them.


  84. I don’t disagee with much at all of the practical side of your advocacy Marion. Clearly, we do need to get out there and make the case for nuclear power as strongly as we can to the people who might listen to us, regardless of whether the kinds of structure in the macro-environment tjhat each of us would like are moving in the directions we’d prefer.

    I do think though that we can (proverbially) walk and talk and chew gum (though personally I hate gum so I would pass on that) ;-)


  85. Marion: Yes, nuclear can enable a solution without
    the need to change behaviour. But I’m not as pessimistic
    about behaviour change as some. I went to Switzerland
    in 2003 and couldn’t believe how many people still
    smoked. Australia has slashed its smoking rates in
    ways people thought were impossible 40 years ago.
    Likewise drink driving … which was
    absolutely normal 40 years ago. It is still too
    frequent, but the change has been huge. Marketting
    works, it just costs money.
    On the food front, there are isolated examples which
    give a little hope that diets can change to allow
    global reforestation. Cuba has dropped
    its animal product consumption from 25% of calories to
    just 10% (over 30 years) with a rise in life expectancy
    to a level now higher than the US.
    That’s a massive change. Australia
    has dropped its sheep meat consumption from 37 kg/cap/yr to just 14 since 1970. Again a massive
    change. Huge behaviour changes are
    definitely both possible and plausible … with will
    and funding.

    Douglas: Yes, I do believe in ethical absolutes and
    so do most people on the planet. e.g., See the work of
    Marc Hauser. Very few people believe in torture at all
    and even fewer see it as a spectator sport. Some
    see it as occasionally justified … like war. But otherwise,
    just plain wrong.


  86. Peter,
    Thanks for you words of encouragement.

    I didn’t mean to imply political discussion was unhelpful. Indeed, it’s good for readers of BNC to see there is a diversity of political positions within pro-nuclear advocacy, and to find contributors with whom they can identify. It’s just that this was a post on action and if we can’t prioritise action over theory on a thread such as this… I despair.

    40 years?!


  87. Marion – as Peter Lang says “very wise” and very pragmatic.
    You wrote what I would have liked to say, if only I was as eloquent as you!
    Unfortunately, my clumsy attempts served only to inflame passions, but your remarks have reminded us of our primary purpose and indicated the way we can all do our best (while retaining our ideals) to achieve our goal.


  88. Ms Perps,

    Off topic, but I must apologise for calling you ‘Mr Perps’ previously. That was an genuine mistake – I didn’t look back to check. Unfortunately I’ve misspelled names far too often. Again my apolgises.


  89. The solution to reducing emissions from energy is relatively easy from a technical perspective. A major component of the solutions is to replace coal with nuclear (Gen III now and Gen IV as it becomes the better and more economic option).

    There are two problems. One is cost and one is public resistance.

    However, they are related. I suspect the vast majority are not going to be keen on nuclear power while it is more expensive than coal. There is a minority (IMO) that are prepared to pay significantly more for clean energy.

    The solution is to be able to offer nuclear at a cost competitive with coal, and the cheaper the better.

    To achieve this requires us to change public perception so we can reduce the cost of nuclear. That means removing the ridiculus impediments on nuclear.

    As a minor side issue: I am not advocating ramping up the price of coal by some arbitrary, government imposed tax or ETS. We can include externalities by regulating tighter emissions standards, as we do for nearly all other emissions. It wouldn’t matter how far we ramped up the cost of coal, we’re not going to get nuclear until we tackle and remove the impediments to it. We’re just going to get more expensive electricity. This will do much more harm than good. I’ve said why previously.

    So what we need to focus on (IMO) is getting rid of the impediments to low cost nuclear. That is where we should focus our attention. That is what must be the main aim of our education program.

    To make the most rapid progress we need to turn Labor and a key environmental NGO to becoming an enthusiastic advocate of nuclear.

    Next step is we want the government to budget for education facilities and research facilities in universities in each state. We really do need these education facilities to start getting academics and students to start thinking about the nuclear option. At present all they hear about is renewables.


  90. Peter,

    Very good points.

    Turning the ALP into an enthusiastic advocate would be the best bet, albeit a difficult one. I’m not sure which environmental NGO would contemplate changing their stance on nuclear (e.g. no environmental NGO ever lost significant support for being anti-nuclear as far as I’m aware). I know you’ve said before maybe ACF, but if you’ve ever seen speak or met the likes of David Noonan…well, I’d say not too likely.

    I think when education facilities begin to start properly taking on board the nuclear option we will be well on the way. This is probably more important than NGO support at this stage. I’m a student and you’re dead right, most of what we hear about when someone utters the words “climate change” is renewables, more so in the social sciences than physical sciences. Problem here is, the social sciences tend to be where many of our public descision makers end up coming from.


  91. Marion Brook

    Thank you for commenting on my post.

    Obviously I am not a political scientist interested in a merely academic approach to theoretical models. I am interested in an urgent response to the greatest challenges faced by humanity when it is close to being too late to respond.

    I am certainly not clear on what an acceptable approach to governance would look like. All I know is that we our governments are making extremely flawed decisions that do not take the broader issues into account. I would like to see people re-inventing the kind of decision making we have. Two essentials are that it has to involve the community and it must have a long term view in terms of decades to centuries.

    All of the options seem to be too slow, whether it be trying to inform the community enough to not be opposed to nuclear energy and lobby politicians, as you are proposing, trying to get people to abandon allegiance to political parties in favour of the greater good, or changing major structures.

    I am trying to envisage a way that something could happen fast enough to make the change that is needed. I think there has to be a popular movement outside of the political process. Perhaps there needs to be a high profile person of perceptive vision who will capture the attention of people so that they believe they can make a difference. I guess I am talking about a vacuum in leadership. In Australia, Kevin Rudd’s opposition to nuclear power is his handicap in responding to the current impending crisis. Does anyone think it is likely that he make the switch from politician to statesman and stand up for the obvious need to replace coal and oil with nuclear? Is he going to stop deforestation in Tasmania? Will he oversee removal of cattle in parts of Australia that would revert to forest by this action alone?

    Back to your comment at the start of your post. I received an email from asking me to write to write to leaders. This brought home the choice for the next election in Australia: The ALP is just green-washing with a carbon emissions system that was designed to fail and keep the coal industry on side, a coalition leader who does not believe in the threat of climate change, and the Greens who have a supporter base opposed to nuclear energy. Working within this framework seems pretty close to futile to me.

    I have probably done all I can on this issue. I can only hope somebody will take the baton the next stage.

    I would like to get back to focussing on protecting our local threatened plants and declining species of birds. In the community is basically uniformed and disinterested. Those of us involved in advocacy for biodiversity face the same problems of lack of involvement of the community and short-term decision making. The physics and logistics of nuclear power are not subjects that I feel equipped to promote.


  92. Robert Lawrence – You make a very valid point about the need for high profile leadership in the pronuclear camp. God knows if a stripper and a clown can stop huge numbers of people from getting their kids vaccinated for no valid reason, surely the support of a few famous people should help the nuclear renaissance move forward at a faster pace.


  93. Flipping bill mckibben would be worth a try. He’s anti nuke officially but has made comments that cut against the grain of this position. stewart brand cites such comments in his book.

    I wrote 350 org a letter on this and never heard back. I’d be curious to know what conversations M has had with James Hansen. They got arrested together. They were in Bolivia together.

    Flipping Mckibben would be big. His opposition to nuclear appears to be something other than principled–based on information (incorrect information, but…). In other words, at some level, he knows better.

    This sort of thing is a real mystery to me. I can only suppose he figures he’d lose the movement, but I’m not so sure.


  94. My letter to Mckibben: maybe someone else to give it a shot.

    Dear Bill Mckibben:

    I share your goal of reducing ghgs to 350 in a century’s time or before.

    but I don’t agree with your stance on nuclear power. This is an important issue and needs airing.

    Would you consider a longish published discussion with James Hansen, who disagrees with just about everything you say about nuclear power and conversely just about every optimistic claim you seem to make about alternatives like wind and solar? this could be productive, shedding light not just heat.

    The pro nuke greens (see especially barry brook’s bravenewclimate blog) would take serious issue with your claims concerning terrorism, the waste problem, the subsidy issue etc. They think that only nuclear power (gen three and four) can really replace coal. I think their evidence is utterly convincing. I started out anti nuclear and anti capitallst. Now I’m anti anti nuclear and still anti capitalist. I started out thinking caldicott’s position was correct; now, I think her position is close to one big lie. Her book, nuclear power is not the answer, is one of the most error riddled books I’ve ever read. I’ve seen dogma from Greens which has actually shocked me, and I’m 53, and a long time teacher.

    to give you one quick example, I read a project censored report from jeffrey st. cloud on the possibility of spent fuel pool fires at the shearon harris plant in North Carolina. I live 50 miles from SH.

    the article claimed that the NRC saw a one in one hundred chance of such a fire which would have “chernobyl” like consequences (whatever exactly that means). By this time, I no longer took anything anti nuclear people said about npps at face value so I tracked down the report myself, written by NRC head Luis Reyes (I can send you all the info so you can see for yourself).

    The report dismissed the worries about a spent fuel pool fire, indicating that there was a 2 in 10 million reactor years chance of such a fire, not one in one hundred (a stat which is not only off by several orders of magnitude but doesn’t even make any sense).

    Unfortunately, such reporting is not an isolated instance(if you’re wondering how St. Clair got his numbers, I can reconstruct that for you if you like–he either was lying or is innumerate).

    Most optimistic writing on renewables fails really to face up to the problems of intermittency and diffuse power of renewables: and fails to face up to scaled renewables ridiculous ecological footprint. all talk of decentralization just strikes me as “mere phrases” when you look at plans like Mark Jacobson’s (well critiqued at BNC). It seems you are big on the internet. How keep this going, getting bigger all the time, without any form of centralized power?

    also: there are forms of nuclear power which actually fit a decentralized energy scheme, but without the intermittency/flucutation/diffuse power issues that plague renewables. Toshiba nuclear batteries.

    And thorium reactors appear (they have a way to go before commercialization) much easier to scale down.

    btw, greens like to talk about the loan guarantees to nuclear plants; but the doe issued loan guarantees of the same order of magnitude per nameplate kwh (saying nothing of capacity factor) to a solar thermal plant. No mention of this. It’s a damn double standard and it needs to stop.

    I hope you read this. I didn’t write it to spout off. I have papers to grade.

    Gregory Meyerson
    Associate Professor Critical Theory


  95. For BNC readers who are curious, by the way, “Marion Brook” is my sister… My wife (Sonomi Brook) is totally disuninterested in such forums (But at least she’s completely pro-nuclear! However, she said she found my book a little trying, as there was too many facts to memorise if she ever wanted to have a debate with anyone about the topic).


  96. For the sake of tidiness Barry, your wife may well be totally uninterested in participating in nuclear power fora, but unless you have an actual or prospective pecuniary interest in this or similar fora, you should both be disinterested parties.

    [/idle pedantry] (apologies … it’s a teacher thing)


  97. so then am I to understand, Mr. Brook, that you are not disinterested?

    I knew it all the while.

    a shill for the nuclear industry. Someone phone Helen and Harvey.

    (if you tell me to cease and desist I will know that I have failed in my attempt at levity)


  98. Robert Lawrence

    I can see I did misunderstand you. Your reply is charged with a frustration and sense of urgency I can only share.

    I am trying to envisage a way that something could happen fast enough to make the change that is needed. I think there has to be a popular movement outside of the political process.

    I’ll admit I’ve become battle worn and cynical about the possibility of any solid community wide action. I think we must reconcile ourselves to the likelihood that this will not happen. As far as I can see, it has always been, and will always be a small minority who fights and wins for the majority.

    Perhaps you question whether a minority can sway the majority?

    This question led me to think about successful movements in the past that managed to garner broad community support. How were they begun? What routes did they pursue to achieve their goals? What did community support look? How long did they maintain momentum (or how long did they have to)?

    In Australia the biggest most successful campaign I can think of was the Franklin dam. This was begun by a small handful of nobodies. It grew to a vocal, active minority. I was just a young child at the time but I vividly remember the NO DAMS and SAVE THE FRANLIN slogans sprayed on the footpaths and walls of my suburb. Their campaign was not, to begin with, well funded yet it was strident, emotive and high profile. They made posters and stickers and spread them throughout the the cities. People showed their support with hand painted t-shirts. The issue, it seemed to me, was everywhere. In lieu of high numbers they recruited (as you suggest) high profile celebrities and lobbied individual, sympathetic politicians. They got it to a referendum and the famous NO DAMS vote (which is where the otherwise passive majority came in). It later went to the high court where the campaign was finally won.

    In seven years they went from a small meeting in someones kitchen, to passive majority support, to federal support and a high court win involving lasting changes in legislation.

    If they can do it, why can’t we?

    The government is threatening our future and denying us the key tools with which we can save ourselves. Surely we can turn that into a credible campaign?


  99. I take your point on the Franklin Marion, but in that case, it was a highly emotive issue in a positive sense. Moreover, the campaign had a solid core constituency to which it could appeal — ALP-Green-Left to which right-of-centre people could add their support.

    Importantly, while there was some local opposition, there really wasn’t anyone significant outside the area with an emotional counter-stake.

    That’s not the case with nuclear. Nuclear is an issue where there are people on both sides of politics and on a national scale with a strong emotional investment against it being taken up. The numbers are big enough to wedge either side because a 2PP swing of 5% typically determines government. A wedge of 10% is a landslide.

    If you want either side to take it up, you have to make it no longer a negative wedge issue for either side. i.e. you have to stop significant numbers being emotionally invested against it, (or limit them to safe seats or people who are otherwise rusted on to their tribal party allegiance and can’t in practice split on it.)

    That’s why, IMO, we need something like the IPCC of Energy Policy in this country — a body that would be able to soberly and professionally assess the scientific, technical and economic feasibility of various solutions — something like a larger version of Professor Mackay in the UK or the SCGI, only able to do public hearings where they review stuff and publish reports on maybe a quarterly basis.

    Since the anti-nuclear pro-RE people are on the record as supporting peer-review and “the science” they could scarcely object and it would be hard for them to jump up and down and say it was all industry spin if the people on the body were independent.


  100. Fran,

    If you want either side to take it up, you have to make it no longer a negative wedge issue for either side. i.e. you have to stop significant numbers being emotionally invested against it…

    How do you imagine we could do that?

    Or see this:

    …we need something like the IPCC of Energy Policy in this country — a body that would be able to soberly and professionally assess the scientific, technical and economic feasibility of various solutions…


    These are genuine questions.

    BTW the message I took from the Franklin example was that all movements start small, the trick is to look big.


  101. Of course it is true that one must try to look big, but one must have regard to the ways in which people’s attachments to their existing beliefs can be moved.

    We need a voice for rational policy evaluation seen as authentic by most of the anti-nukes. Get that, and the hard core get wedged instead of your intended policy proponents.


  102. The Franklin was a case of people protesting against something. I think people get more passionate when they are opposing a development rather than when they are advocating a development. Not always true but not a bad rule of thumb. Prohibitionists are noisey, their opposition usually more sober. It doesn’t matter if it’s nuclear, cigarettes, booze or guns being prohibited.

    Those working at the moment to roll back gun restrictions in NSW (rightly in my view) are not doing it via street marches but dilligently behind the scenes. They did march in 1996 when the prohibitionists were active but it proved rather futile.

    The same goes for rolling back alcohol prohibition in the US. It was (I believe) a much less noisy process than the original movement to introduce prohibition.

    Freedom can be popular but banning, capping, regulating, controlling and opposing seem to be much more exciting causes.


  103. I think people get more passionate when they are opposing a development rather than when they are advocating a development.

    I’m not so sure Terje. Think of the campaign for votes for women, or of the Freedom Riders campaigning for civil rights for blacks in the US or of “womens liberationists” for abortion rights, equal pay etc.


  104. The gun lobby is working the same way it always has. Visiting politicians with menace and misinformation … sometimes subtle which leaves the politician nervous or just standing and shouting at them. These are not methods anybody should be advocating and I’m sure TerjeP wasn’t, but that’s the reality of how the gun lobby operates. I’ve spent a couple of
    decades dealing with these people and its often tough
    to know when you are dealing with a bully who is basically
    a coward or a psychopath. For a politician, particularly a new one, they are very unsettling.


  105. There is misinformation on both sides of every major policy debate. I’m not going to argue the gun case here because I think it would take us off topic. However I do see some consistency in how prohibitions are established and removed. Prohibitionists generally think they have morality on their side and facts and reason are merely a second line of defence for them.


  106. Pulling together some comments from this thread.

    Robert Lawerence:

    It is not enough for us as a minority group to lobby politicians. The whole community needs to get involved. Home by home, street by street and needs to be involved. Social media on the Internet need to be employed. But there needs to be some sort of central organisation. The vision, information and debate need to be brought together in some way.
    I guess that the next step is some brainstorming to find ways to bring these together. I certainly do not have the answers, but if people are thinking about finding solutions then such problems can be solved.

    Peter Lang:

    To make the most rapid progress we need to turn Labor and a key environmental NGO to becoming an enthusiastic advocate of nuclear.

    Fran Barlow:

    It’s really simple we should say. Whatever solution we adopt should be able to replace Hazelwood in the grid. It’s the dirtiest coal plant in the world so it’s an obvious target for clean energy right? A solution that allows us to replace Hazelwood at acceptable cost will allow us to replace Muja and Playford B and progressively all the others. Until we can find a solution that can do that, talk of low carbon alternatives to coal is just hot air.

    FWIW here’s my attempt at brainstorming.

    We’ve got some great information on BNC what we don’t have is a popular education/activist page. I imagine something with some basic short answer FAQs ie Whats wrong with renewables anyway? Why do we need nuclear power? etc.
    Some pro-nuclear education videos and pod casts or links to ie some of your nuclear debates Barry? Who’s Afraid of Nuclear Power? What is ionizing radiation? etc.
    A “Get Involved” section where visitors can sign a petition (perhaps to replace Hazelwood with nuclear power), printout posters etc.

    Your right Robert, it’s not enough to lobby politicians, we need to reach Joe average as well. Joe only has time to listen to simple messages – sound bites really – and then only from those he identifies with, or (quite reasonably) considers more knowledgeable in a particular area than he is. So if he’s left wing he’ll identify with other left wingers on the first count and probably listen to environmentalists on the second. Another important component of left wing advocacy is social justice. Rising electricity prices and centrally controlled smart grids are burgeoning issues for this group. So, we could add to our page a (growing?) list of environmentalists and “climate scientists” who support nuclear power as a response to climate change… and some simple messages, slogans really… ie for poster printouts and other “promotion” beyond this site. Some ideas:

    Nuclear power: the power of equality.

    Say Yes to Nuclear Power and No to Climate Change. (Hmmm, needs work)

    Give nuclear power the green light (thanks Fran)

    I would be prepared to help with this, anyone else?


  107. What’s wrong with renewables anyway?

    I think a better way of posing this question would be What’s so good about renewables? … then have a list of the things that renewables are thought to achieve … e.g. avoid fossil fuel use, avoid pollution, work out cheaper, not give profits to multinationals etc …

    Then you simply show how practice doesn’t match the theory.

    Flipside … What’s so bad about nuclear power?

    We could get a little cute here.

    1. It’s a threat to the coal and gas industry
    2. It would lead to cheaper power, especially during the off-peak
    3. It would mean less air and water pollution
    4. It makes desalination cheaper …
    5. It would eventually lead to a loss of jobs in coal mining
    6. Fewer people woukld die in coal mining
    7. Fewer people would die from breathing in coal-based particulates, meaning that there might be some underemployment in the health system
    8. It would underpin the roll out of electric vehicles
    9. It would make it possible to dispose of weapons grade nuclear material

    and so forth … followed then by the objections:

    but what about nuclear waste?. here we talk about comparing like with like — we focus on the ecological footprint per unit of power comparing the land and water usage of renewables with that of nuclear

    what about proliferation?

    Again we point out that waste can be made unweaponizable by converting it to fuel

    I like the idea of an Energy Commission as Fran suggests — it would be something to which we could constantly refer that couldn’t be dismissed by antis.


  108. Nuclear Power Advocacy:
    How to shape the debate

    The basic terrain over which the pro/anti nuclear power debate is being fought has certain characteristics which are changeless, no matter the particular phase the debate has currently reached. simply put:

    1. The technical arguments all support nuclear power.

    2. The anti-nuclear movement must engage in cation set tactics to avoid defeat by technical arguments. These are-

    a. Cycling between bankrupt technical positions, eventually returning to the starting point and cycling through again to produce the illusion of an ongoing valid technical debate.

    b. Abandoning technical issues altogether and attacking on emotive, social, political or personal grounds.

    Veteran anti-nuclear activists such as Caldicott and Wasserman are experts at all phases of these tactics, especially before a home audience. To inflict a major defeat on the anti-nukes , the pro-nuke camp needs to refine it’s tactics and greatly elevate and expand it’s public efforts. To this end, I propose the following:

    1. Solid, easy -to-understand technical descriptions of the various aspects of nuclear energy must be placed actively in the public domain.

    2. The human aspects of nuclear power (especially the appalling long-term consequences of not adopting it) must be presented by the pro-nuke community.

    3. Rather than as noble activists who disagree with certain technical aspects of nuclear power and who only want the best for all, anti-nukes must be unmasked as irrational irrational blackguards bent on perpetuating the dominance of fossil fuels and/or the abolition of industrial civilisation with the mass extermination of human population such a path would entail.

    Ther is a strong current within the pro-nuclear community which supports a polite dialogue with the opposition on the grounds thatvthe are still strong potential supporters within the Green movement who would add to the pro-nuke calibre. This is probably true, but I maintain that there is a much larger group unorganised sympathisers in the general population who could be motivated to open support by the kind of leadership which calls a spade a spade , rather than chasing for the pot of gold at the end of the Green rainbow. The supporters we gain by the first strategy must be balanced against those lost or not fully mobilised by not initiating the second strategy.

    It is my belief that we have to move to gain, more swiftly and completely by the second strategy than by the first. Indeed, I believe that implementing the 2nd strategy will lead us to victory among the rational greens as well.


  109. Welcome back Finrod. We missed you:)
    To Marion et al
    Great ideas bouncing around here – I will be willing to help out in any way with a “Joe Average” approach either on BNC or with a Facebook page.
    Josephine Average, that’s me – which is why my comments have dropped off recently – the technical aspects of NP discussed here, are too advanced for Joe and Josephine so, IMHO, we really do need to “dumb-it-down” to effect any mass conversion to the cause.


  110. I maintain that there is a much larger group unorganised sympathisers in the general population who could be motivated to open support by the kind of leadership which calls a spade a spade

    I agree. These would be the people I’d be aiming for.

    Ewen, I like your approach. So for example:

    Q. We need to act fast, renewables are the fastest response:
    A. In ten years France replaced coal with nuclear and now have the lowest (?) per capita emissions in the EU. For the last 20 odd years Denmark has been aggressively perusing renewables. Renewables now supply between 5% and 20% of their electricity needs, they have been unable to shut down any coal power stations and have amongst the highest emissions per capita in the EU. Renewables are proving to be slow and ineffective. (Link to Danish Fairytales)

    Gotta run now, but will think on this some more.


  111. A facebook fan page for BNC probably makes more sence than a facebook group. Barry Brook deserves his own fan page. Movements need a figure head and Barry is better than any I can think of.


  112. Ewen Laver,

    You forgot to mention the most important one. Renewables do more environmental damage and produce higher emissions than nuclear.

    On this matter, this has just been released.

    Subsidizing CO2 Emissions via Windpower: The Ultimate Irony

    In short, wind power causes more CO2 to be emitted than it saves when we get to more than about 3% wind power in the grid.


  113. Hey Finrod:

    I like what you write above. That means I need to stop worrying about Bill Mckibben etc. and focus on ordinary folk.

    interestingly, my experience is that ordinary anti nuke feeling is in fact quite easy to overcome. Committed green movement anti nuke is much, much harder, incredibly frustrating and time consuming, and, as you suggest, not worth the trouble.

    also, as you say, some of the big greens will be flipped, but perhaps most likely to be flipped thru pursuit of your second strategy instead of the first.


  114. Good to have you back Finrod. I too agree with your observations and the program you are suggesting.

    Nevertheless we still need to be more of a presence in the public debate – the greens still are better at getting their message out to the masses than we are. Certainly they have had more experience, and as you pointed out, are more practiced in agitprop rhetorical technique than we are.

    Thus your point about underlining the long-term consequences of not adopting nuclear energy probably should be the central part of the message, with the technical aspects behind.


  115. In short, wind power causes more CO2 to be emitted than it saves when we get to more than about 3% wind power in the grid.

    How ironic. And yet we should not be that surprised. Clearly this work needs replicating and promoting. If validated then the public policy implications are profound. Does it hold true also for solar power?


  116. DV82XL, I think it’s time we drove the public debate, and that means talking to whoever we can under whatever circumstances. What I basically proposed is the N92 strategy, and it’s eating me up that I’m stuck in hospital at the moment. I’d intended to finalise the N92 website after my grandmother’s funeral, but now my energies must go elsewhere. Ah well… I’ll get there in the end!


  117. It wasn’t meant as a criticism Finrod, it was more of a suggestion that we don’t talk tech while the listener’s eyes glaze over, as I’m afraid many pro-nukes have a tendency to do.

    That plus the fact that one of the consequences I have found that gets everyone’s attention is pointing out all the conveniences they will be expected to give up to meet the Green’s low power objectives. Things like dishwashers, and similar appliances, air-conditioning, powered garden equipment and so on make a real difference in people’s lives and they are the reason we have more free time. Energy conservation the way the Greens want it doesn’t mean turning off the lights when you are not in the room, or adjusting a thermostat a bit outside the ideal zone, it means deep life-changing cuts in energy usage, and going back to manual labour.

    Rubbing peoples face in things like this helps focus attention marvellously – and then I bring up loosing their cars. The fact is that stiff energy conservation will strike the middle income brackets much harder that any other class, and that group needs to be made acutely aware of this.


  118. Thanks Peter.

    Maybe then, pursuing by rather topngue-in-cheek strategy above, we could add some more bad things about nuclear power.

    It makes it less useful to spend money on wind turbines and solar farms or panels. That could mean that the people who have jobs producing and laying the extra concrete and steel and other materials needed for all those wind turbines and mirrors and panels would have to find work elsewhere. There would be fewer quarries and less run-off of mining waste into water tables.

    We’ve been talking about replacing Hazelwood as a project and I think this remains a brilliant idea, but it got me thinking — what about another really iconic problem that right and left agree on?

    I’m thinking of course of the Murray-Darling. If you take a look at a map of the NSW-QLD border it seems like the distance between the head waters near one of the sources of the Darling, the Dumaresq River near Mingoola via Tenterfield is only about 200Km or so from the coast near Ballina. Imagine if you could desalinate the water from the Pacific and pump it to the Dumaresq and ultimately allow it to flow into the Barwon and then via Colarenebri and Walgett to the Darling at Bourke. You can charge an appropriate cost for water all along the route, along with recycled water from the towns if they don’t want it and restore the drier areas of the National Parks that are all along that route. Eventually, even Adelaide gets it at the other end, taking the pressure of desal that far down.

    You could only do this with the cheap marginal power and desal that nuclear power could provide and you have an engineering project to remind people of the Snowy River scheme — only this time, we’re restoring a river system rather than obliterating it. We’re doing the Australian dream of watering the dry heart and doing food security. And we would be doing it on near zero emissions.

    An iconic project like that would be very popular, I’d say.


  119. Ewen (assuming you’re serious) desalinated water is orders of magnitude too expensive for agriculture and environmental flows. If I recall reverse osmosis requires about 3.6 kwhe per kilolitre of water and flash desalination about 25 kwh thermal, ie needs ‘free’ waste heat. Real world prices (ie outside Saudi Arabia) for desalinated water start at about $3 per kL. I believe irrigators of high tonnage crops like rice don’t want to pay more than a few cents per kL for their primary allocation.

    Outback farming will have other problems like expensive fuel and fertiliser. Logic suggests farming in the suburbs using sewage water and recycled nutrients but the cornucopians will find that hard to swallow, literally.


  120. “Outback farming will have other problems like expensive fuel and fertiliser. Logic suggests farming in the suburbs using sewage water and recycled nutrients but the cornucopians will find that hard to swallow, literally.”

    I like the idea of vertical farming powered by nukes, but I don’t know enough to assert that it is practical.


  121. I seem to recall some debate on what the cost per Kl of flash desal was John Newlands. Surely the marginal cost of waste heat from a nuclear plant would not be all that high.

    Right now, Perth is quoting $1.40 per Kl IIRC for desal and that is RO. I’m perfectly relaxed with high water use farming not going ahead as I’d like the Darling restored.

    My point is that if you could get the water to the towns in the Northern Tablelands and justify the project as Murray Darling restoration then the total water you could deposit into the system would be very substantial over time when you add in the recycled stuff.


  122. I like the way this discussion is heading. We seem to be converging on how to progress. Good posts by Ewen Laver:
    and subsequent posts by DV82XL, Finrod, Marion Brook, Ms Perps, greg meyerson (hope I haven’t missed any).

    Marion, the figures to fill in the blanks in your post are here:

    France is the best and Denmark the worst – 10 times worse than France!!


  123. I think water is the key to constant loading of NP, say when gas is used up or too expensive for peaking power. Excess output not needed for the grid could go on
    1) desalination
    2) pumped hydro
    3) water splitting for industrial hydrogen.

    Within limits each of these products can be stored or used some distance from the NPP.


  124. My high school physics teacher wanted me to become a nuclear engineer as he said the NPPs would generate power that was “too cheap to meter”.

    Even at age 17 I knew this was crazy talk so I went into electro-optics which has created inter-continental video phone calls that are “too cheap to meter”

    I suspect that if my physics teacher had predicted what has actually happened in telecommunications I would have reacted by becoming a nuclear engineer.


  125. “too cheap to meter” was uttered by one Lewis Strauss then chairman of the AEC, in reference to fusion not fission. At any rate he got the job because he was a consummate lickspittle, being little more than an ex-travelling shoe salesman that suckholed his way into high places.

    He had no idea what he was talking about.


  126. Gallopingcamel is an anti-AGW troll. I daresay his only purpose in wading into the nuclear power issue is to attempt to oppose it for his FF masters. We have a good high-level strategic discussion going on here, and do not require his input.


  127. Finrod – I’m not exactly onboard with the AGW emergency and my livelyhood is funded from fossil fuels. That doesn’t make my interest in nuclear power less than genuine. I don’t think nuclear advocates can be too choosy about who they allow into their club. Careful what you wish for.


  128. I’ve begun a list of supporters. Most are on the left. Can anyone add some from the right who are not known AGW deniers?

    Nuclear power has broad bipartisan support

    Supporters of nuclear power come from all walks of life and from across the political spectrum. They including environmentalists, climate scientists, union leaders, politicians and business leaders. By way of example, here is a list of prominent identities who have come support nuclear power as our surest response to climate change.

    Barry Brook, Sir Hubert Wilkins Chair of Climate Change, University of Adelaide, AUS
    Tim Flannery, zoologist, conservationist and author of The Weathermakers, AUS
    Paul Howes, Australian workers union
    Bob Carr – Former NSW Labor Premier
    Peter Cosgrove – Former Chief of the Defence Force
    Stephen Tindale, Former Director of Greenpeace UK
    Chris Goodall, UK Green Party member
    Mark Lynas, Environment editor New Statesman (and UK Green Party member?),
    George Monbiot (?), Jouralist for the The Guardian
    Stewart Brand, editor of the Whole Earth Catalog, USA
    James Hansen, Head of NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, popularly know as the grandfather of climate science.


  129. “Finrod – I’m not exactly onboard with the AGW emergency and my livelyhood is funded from fossil fuels. That doesn’t make my interest in nuclear power less than genuine. I don’t think nuclear advocates can be too choosy about who they allow into their club. Careful what you wish for.”

    I understand you TereP, but this particular jackass has form.


  130. Excelent. Thanks for that link Peter.

    Re “what’s so good about renewables” I’m going with:

    Renewables are fast – Denmark v’s France example

    Renewables are affordable – Anyone know how much we’ve spent thus far on wind/solar?

    Renewables are safe – Dangerously inadequate response to climate change. Our blind faith in renewables is the greatest threat humanity has ever faced.

    This is just so you know I’m still working on it. I really want to get this page happening.


  131. Finrod,
    You tend to shoot from the hip while jumping to conclusions. My “Fossil Fuel” masters are the same as yours. We love the freedom that owning motor cars brings. I gladly cough up my precious dollars to the wicked FF industry every time I fill up my car; I bet that you do too!

    Likewise you could not be more wrong about my position on AGW. You react irrationally when I challenge the proposition that mankind has the ability to significantly influence climate.

    I was involved in inertial confinement fusion research but now see greater promise in LFTRs and sub-critical nuclear reactors. I would be happy to participate in a “high level strategic discussion” with you if you can stop the purile name calling.


  132. Marion

    IMO, one of the problems in taking people along with us to consider nuclear power is its apparent standing as “a geeky idea”. Unlike coal plants or wind turbines — which almost everyone gets conceptually — large numbers of people don’t get how a nuclear plant produces power. And as soon as you start explaining the subtleties between an LWR and a “breeder” or various NPP many people start feeling just a bit more stupid. Once it becomes more opaque and magic-like it’s fart easier to believe negative reports about NPP.

    At best, for some, it’s like saying Linux is better than Microsoft. Maybe it is but you can’t explain why and there is a vague sense of risk that you could be left unable to do simple things is you switch over.

    That’s why I think part of what we do should be about explaining specific challenges for which the energy from nuclear would be very useful. Instead of wondering whether nuclear power is a good idea, you invite people to reflect on what we could accomplish if we had nuclear power plants.

    Wouldn’t it be good to replace the dirtiest power plant in the world with the cleanest? Wouldn’t it be great if we could restore the Murray Darling River system and the riparian ecology beside it?

    Maybe we could have a section where people discuss the uses to which we could advantageously apply the technology. We could maybe entitle it:

    Of course, there’s always the nuclear option …


  133. Finrod,
    Apology accepted. My interest in sub critical nuclear reactors started with the prototype that Charlie Bowman built out of black pine and graphite on his farm in Virginia. The black pine with its high water content is good at reflecting thermal neutrons. The graphite that Charlie uses has especially low neutron capture that is useful in conjunction with spallation neutron sources.

    We tested the reactor as far as we could before sending it on to Los Alamos National Laboratory. Subsequently, the project found its way to Virginia Tech:

    Click to access 091007_chang_virginia_tech.pdf

    As you will see from L.N. Chang’s brief presentation, the reactor may have a role in reprocessing higher Actinides if the cost of neutrons falls sufficiently. The SNS (Spallation Neutron Source) at Oak Ridge has been a major advance in the economics of neutron production.


  134. OK gallopingcamel, I have some questions, but I’ve just been given a bunch of painkillers by the nurse, so I’ll wait before I ask them. My mental processes are a bit hazy just now.


  135. gallopingcamel: I don’t expect to convince people who haven’t tried it … but I think freedom is enhanced when you aren’t dependent on petrol. And pure pleasure is an 80km cycle through the Adelaide Hills.


  136. Ewen,

    You’ve got some great ideas flowing. This is very encouraging.

    What we need to do from here is flesh them out a bit. To do this I would suggest a narrowing of focus. Choose just one (or one small part) of your ideas and follow it through to completion. I’m not talking about a 1000 word main post here, just a simple outline, say 200 words or less, with some “eye opening” facts or figures and links to more fulsome information. So for example:

    Of course, there’s always the nuclear option …

    Q. Wouldn’t it be good to replace the dirtiest power plant in the world with the cleanest?

    A. (why do we need nuclear to do that?) I’d suggest pointing out Germany’s new coal builds and thus failure to replace a single coal plant with renewables. Link to Tom Blees piece on Germany and Peter Langs Hazlewood post.


  137. John Morgan

    I’m looking for a comment of yours which was (I think) in response to Peter Lalor. It was a wonderfully concise run down of the ecological consequences of inadequately mitigated climate change because of an unwillingness to except nuclear power. You ended by asking him what his “no nuclear”solution would be. I thought it was on open thread 3 or 4 but can’t seem to find it. Do you remember?


  138. Marion, I recall I’ve made similar points a number of times to various correspondents here. I think I put it best in this response to John Tons.

    I also responded in a similar vein here to Salient Green.

    Thanks for recalling this, its nice to know someone was paying attention.


  139. Geoff Russell,
    I used to love my bicycle but arthritis has taken the fun out of it even though I consume large amounts of fish oil (there was a recent thread on Omega 3/ Omega 6 fatty acids).

    The best I can do these days is to scoot around in my electric car open to the breeze! Enjoy the bicycle while you still can.

    Good luck with the painkillers. There is no rush as Sub-Critical reactors are progressing slower than ever since the departure of Pete Domenici from the US senate.


  140. In terms of public advocacy on climate change, a strategy that comes to mind relates to the next El Nino event. I understand that these occur on average every five years. The last event in was the 2007-2008. It would be good if the scientists in this field were to make some predictions on the possible severity of the next event if as this could be the worst event in terms of temperature extremes, droughts and hurricanes. We could start warning people of it now and draw attention to the predictions when it happens. This next event could be the most strategic in making people aware of what is happening in terms of climate change.

    (In line with what I have said previously, I would prefer that that agenda for governance was set by long-term importance rather than by stunts that attract attention, but that is the political situation we are in.)


  141. Peter Lang/ Ewen et al

    Re the video link – what a great job the young girl did!

    My thoughts (and Marion’s) are that we initially get together a FAQ page for BNC (I’ve checked that it is OK with the blog owner). This could also include links to the less technical of Barry’s posts, and to his talks, media articles etc. Also we could link to video (such as the one Peter listed) throughout the net (I am a retired reference librarian so I could do the searches). It would be good to produce our own YouTube series – Nuclear Crock of the Week (as Climate Crock of the Week)- tackling a different question/worry each time but I don’t have the skills for that – Does anyone else have the inclination/skills?

    We could also have an growing list of prominent nuclear supporters and a button to click if the reader supports nuclear power after reading the FAQ etc. No “Yes” – “No” buttons as we would likely be swamped by anti-nuke bots, once the word was out. Marion and I are getting together to try and nut out something more concrete which Barry has agreed to post for your input, comments etc. This could be really worthwhile and productive – once we had the page set up on BNC we could look at doing the same for the social networking sites.

    What do you all think?


  142. Ms Perps and Marion,

    I think your ideas are excellent. I will do what I can to help.

    TerjeP, I agree, TED talks do go viral, especially if they are exciting and factual like Hans Gossling’s (spelling?). Do you remember him talking like a sports commentator about China and USA (or some other county) racing up the chart (improving GDP and Health) like a car race between Volvo and Saab (or similar)? I could see Barry doing something like that to explain why we need nuclear and renewables won’t do the job. I can picture the renewables like a car running out of petrol, or an electric car’s battery running flat because it wasn’t fed by the windmills. And picture Gen III as a father figures and Gen IV as a son. The father educating the son when young then they work together for most of their life and then the son supports the father as he gets old and eventually dies. There’s lots could be done with the TED idea – getting the facts across in a way that will be remembered by the viewers.


  143. Hans is awesome selling the gapminder data. However if Barry was to do a TED talk he would have to find his own style. Trying to be somebody else isn’t a good look. However it does need to be interesting. And the time limit on these things is tight. 20 minutes I believe.


  144. The way I see it Marion, whatever we propose taliking about should at least be iconic and ideally existential if it is to get a bandwagon going.

    Putting aside the existential fear of our long unprotected northern borders, with which nuclear doesn’t help us, the biggest existential question this country has is the big dry heart. Australians never got over the fact that ther was no “great inland sea” — that at our heart was a wasteland. (I’m not saying it is a wasteland — this is the common perception — implicit even in The Greens‘ zero rating of land in the desert for renewable projects).

    Thus, watering the interior — especially the Murray Darling/MIA — is something that would be seen as nation-building . If nuclear can do that, then a lot of people will think it a fabulous thing. It won’t be a geek idea, — it will be the realisation of a dream — a green interior.


  145. Putting aside the existential fear of our long unprotected northern borders, with which nuclear doesn’t help us,…

    Oh I don’t know. A few hundred tactical nukes would make anyone think twice about an invasion,,,


  146. Ewen, I think your ideas are great. Write them up and send them to Barry we’ll include them in the post.

    Peter, thanks for your encouragement. I’d appreciate your help with this:

    Some sweeping statements for contributors to counter (or add to)

    Renewables are failing us

    They are not replacing coal and gas. – Despite valiant attempts by several countries non-hydro renewables have not managed to replace a single fossil fuel power station world wide.

    They are reinforcing the building of new fossil fuel plants, especially gas, as “back-up”.

    They are not reducing emissions. The countries in the EU with the highest renewable penetration all fall within the top 50% of CO2 emitters the countries with the highest nuclear power penetration all fall in the bottom half.

    For no good cause…

    The disadvantaged in our society are already hurting from rising electricity prices… for no good cause.

    (Heard this on the news the other night) Peak electricity prices in Australia are forecast to rise from 8c per kWh to 42c perKWh within the next X years hitting middle income earners… for no good cause.

    Centrally controlled smart meters are removing consumer autonomy and disavantaging some of our most vuneralble citizens… for no good cause

    I’m spending the day with daughter, be back on line tonight.


  147. “Oh I don’t know. A few hundred tactical nukes would make anyone think twice about an invasion,,,”

    Of course, we already effectively have that via our alliance with the USA.


  148. And also, DV8 the threat is not merely from a formal invasion but from informal arrivals …

    Marion. I will work on putting something together along the lines I suggested. I will aim it at around 200 words.


  149. I accept that DV8 but this is a bit like someone making a joke on a plane about having a bomb in his shoe. People tend to see the ugly side first. This joke puts your finger on the most serious objection people on both sides of the divide hold about nuclear power — in this case starting an arms race with Indonesia.

    Back on topic …

    When I’m composing something I like to think of my audience and what they need to hear about. As I see my audience, it would be composed mainly of people sympathetic to a green perspective — people who would see protecting the environment as falling on a line between the iconic and existential — and putting them together with people who think of watering the interior as intrinsically good. These latter would include a large number of people on the right. Especially on the right, it doesn’t get any more authentically Australian than being on the land and “from the bush”. The Murray Darling is the setting for much of Australian lore. Crossing the Blue Mountains to “discover” the interior in 1813 was the first step towards being something other than a penal colony. Put together the people whose eyes well up when reciting Banjo Patterson with those who want to protect riparian environments and you have a pretty large group of people who won’t care what the project costs and who, thinking of the Snowy River scheme, won’t like being unfavourably compared with those who made that happen. And one suspects that the people of Adelaide would be damned happy too. My pitch might go something like this:

    We all know that the Murray Darling is dying and with it much of what is integral to this country’s history and ecology. Anthropogenic climate change will snuff it out forever long before the governments of the world will do what it takes to stabilise climate and return temperatures to where they were when it was at its most healthy. Thinking globally is admirable, but just not quick enough. We need to ask ourselves: what can we do locally to preserve the Murray Darling ecosystem for future generations while the governments of the world are dithering. How much do we want to save it?

    Fortunately, the problem is quite a simple one, at least in engineering terms. Due mainly to climate change and the associated drought conditions, nowhere near enough water is flowing into the streams feeding the river system. If we can move water to the headwaters of the river, then we can duplicate the flows that normal rainfall would have produced.

    Where can we get this water? The most obvious source that doesn’t steal from aquifers — effectively robbing Peter to pay Paul — is the ocean. Just 200 km or so from the head waters of the Dumaresq River, near Ballina lies the Pacific Ocean.

    Desalinating and moving water is an energy-intensive operation and if we had to do this using conventional thermal power sources, the GHGs associated with this would be very high. If we tried doing this with renewables the cost would be huge per kilolitre of water produced and moved.

    Fortunately, there is a far better and cheaper option — nuclear power. Nuclear power plants are most efficient when they run at their capacity continually. Because of the enormous energy in nuclear fuel compared with coal during the evenings when demand for power declines there is little point in slowing the plant to save money. The marginal cost of the power is tiny. If the heat within a nuclear power plant were used to desalinate water, and the electrical output used to operate pumps to deliver it to the Dumaresq River 200Km away, then the Pacific Ocean would be supplying the Darling River and all of the communities along the path between Ballina and Adelaide all of it at a CO2-intensity perhaps 1-5% of that of coal.

    We could be the generation that saves the Murray Darling and the National Parks along its route from a slow and painful death, and which makes it viable for people to live outside the major cities in large numbers. This could be this generation’s Snowy River Scheme. We would be guaranteeing this country’s food security and the survival of our greatest river system and its ecology.

    Do we have the courage and the will to do this?


  150. “This joke puts your finger on the most serious objection people on both sides of the divide hold about nuclear power — in this case starting an arms race with Indonesia.”

    Are you serious???


  151. Ian Lowe raised this in his section of the Why vs Why book, but I never even bothered to respond to it in my rejoinder as I took it to be one of the more hysterical and incredible aspects of his argument. Following the reducto ad absurdum line, should we (Australia) be motivated to acquire a bomb when Indonesia starts to deploy nuclear power reactors, as they’ve stated is their intention? See also:


  152. I guess many of you have already seen this – but for those who haven’t…….

    Love your idea Ewan – I feel “Saving the Murray with nuclear power” could generate heaps of media coverage
    an appeal to people from all sides of politics not just the Greens.


  153. Yes I am serious Finrod. People on both sides of the politcal divide are bothered by Indonesia getting nuclear power precisely because they are frightened in general at Indonesia. Much of Australia’s regional foreign policy is based around maintaining good relations with them and Austalian going nuclear is discussed in this context.

    Our interlocutor BilB was the most recent to raise this scare.


  154. I see I must remain engaged in this debate, even after a major victory which sees the N92 agenda being recognised as the common sense approach. Apparently eventually recognising common sense and being able to initially apply it are still two different things.

    SE Asia will sooner or later go nuclear, and our abstinence will not delay this. We should go nuclear ASAP, and spurious “arms race” scare stories from anti-nukes are just that. Why in the world are you giving this issue any credence at all?


  155. Marion and Ms Perps,

    Here is a quick contribution for the FAQ. It’s intended as a draft for others to pull apart, build on. or discard. Obvioulsy it would need links to sources to support the statements.

    Why Nuclear?

    Why do we need nuclear power? Won’t Renewables provide our needs?


    Renewables are very expensive and cannot meet our needs all the time

    Is nuclear energy safe?


    Nuclear is about the safest of all the electricity generation technologies.

    Nuclear is 10 to 100 times safer than coal electricity generation.

    This has been demonstrated by 55 years of nuclear electricity generation.

    New nuclear power stations are even safer – much safer.

    What about the waste?

    It is not waste. It is ‘once-used-nuclear-fuel’. We’ve used about 1% to 10% of the energy so far. We will use the rest of the energy in the future.

    Used fuel is stored safely in containers like this: .This is all the ‘once-used-nuclear-fuel’ from 31 years of power generation from a now decommissioned power station.

    The amount of used fuel is miniscule compared with the waste from fossil fuel power stations, much of which far more toxic and lasts forever.

    What about nuclear weapons proliferation?

    The military will do what the military will do. They make their own weapons if they feel they need to. Civil nuclear power is not a precursor to nuclear weapons.

    Is there enough uranium?


    There is enough uranium to provide all the world’s energy indefinitely

    Does nuclear emit more CO2 than renewables


    Nuclear emits far less CO2 than any other electricity generation technology, or mix of technologies, that can meet our demand for electricity.

    Wind power emits roughly the same as nuclear if we ignore the emissions from the back up generators. When we include the them, wind power emits about the same as efficient gas generation.

    Is nuclear energy expensive?

    Yes and No.

    It is expensive when regulatory environment makes it so (such as in USA, Canada and Europe).

    However, it can be the least cost electricity where there is a ‘level playing field’ for all types of electricity generation.


  156. Thanks Peter for your time and effort. Just the sort of direct answers needed for the FAQ – we can find some links I’m sure. After Marion and I have worked together this Thursday(using the input so far) we will get up a post which can be commented on, added to etc by BNC contributors before we ask Barry to put it on BNC as the FAQ page. More comments guys, please:)


  157. Note that for the first time, the neocon (in case of doubt) Lowy Institute in Sydney recently polled citizens of the Rupert Murdochracy in 2010 on their attitude to nuclear weapons, among other things (Murdochracy: term used by John Pilger)

    Why Lowy included this nuclear question in their annual poll in 2010 is not clear, nor does the PDF poll report say why, if you take a look.

    84% polled were against AU getting nuclear weapons; that figure fell to a bit over 50% once the questioner asked what they would want to do if some other nearby country acquired them.

    There is a podcast of a Lowy panel “discussing” the poll results. This spin exercise included the neocon Bush Family adherent and paid scribbler Miranda Devine, and neocon John Howard’s ex-chief of staff. However, the figure of 84% was not discussed at all, nor was the question about nukes itself. Possibly the Lowy neocons had been hoping for a lower figure to seize on.

    A Sky News bimbo-hack attended this “discussion” and as you may hear, posed what passes for a question. Sky is 38% owned by News Int. i.e. Murdoch, a good friend of Netanyahu among others, so she was merely “doing her job”.

    BNC lurkers working for DFAT or other AU services might well say that the first step to to rolling out civilian NPPs in the Murdochracy would be to strike fear of Indon. acquiring nukes into the populace, which is however easier said than done, even though the other propaganda stalwarts, viz. Lust, Greed and Hate are difficult to operationalise in this case.

    As Israeli-Australian property magnate Lowy is worth AUD 6.3 bn at last report, there may be some deep pockets for any attempt to spin Indon acquisition of NPPs as aggression requiring more fabric on the US nuclear umbrella.


  158. OK Ewen, you see where the “Oh no! A nuclear Indonesia!” issue leads us… it leads to Peter Lalor making a convenient link between civilian nuclear power and nuclear weapons. Best we dismiss this for the spurious nonsense it is.

    We could gain quite a bit by cooperating with Indonesia in civilian nuclear power… maybe a deal could be arranged over the next few years…


  159. Weapons proliferation is such a non-issue in the nuclear power debate, and so easily countered it is barely worth mentioning. I particularly like Peters treatment:

    What about nuclear weapons proliferation?
    The military will do what the military will do. They make their own weapons if they feel they need to. Civil nuclear power is not a precursor to nuclear weapons.


  160. I was not giving it credence Finrod. I was merely giving DV8 a heads up on how such jokes play when handed to the dissembling enemies of nuclear power.

    Of course we should assist Indonesia to acquire nuclear power, not the least reason being that it would make eschewing nuclear power here look even sillier.


  161. @Laver, M Brook, Finrod, Lang etc:

    “proliferation is a non-issue in the nuclear power debate”

    Dream on. It beggars belief that BNC nerds seem to exist in a parallel universe to that of the Iran-N Korea-Burma Angst which is drummed up by NPT signatories and their press organs. But then no security analyst from DFAT or Int. Crisis Group ever writes on BNC to enlighten you about power politics.

    Ever considered that US and helpful Aussie Diggers in Central Asia also means control of Kazakh uranium vis-a-vis China with its NPP programme, by the way, and not just control of natgas and oil in the region?

    Just because a bomb is difficult to build even once one has enriched what is needed to 90% and over, a development that is readily apparent, this does not mean that the NPT powers cannot spin proliferation fears to preserve their privileged status. And that is what you are up against if you want NPPs.

    And any time any Pakistani talks of the Indian NPP programme, he uses the word “safeguards”, ie he is (apparently genuinely) bothered about enrichment. If you don´t believe it, check out the Lowy Institute vodcast of early 2010 involving senior men from India, AU, USA, China and Pakistan during a Sydney panel discussion.

    And is not the proliferation-weak modus operandi of the IFR supposed to be a USP, unique selling point of the IFR? It still was when I read Blees’ book at end-2009.

    By the way, what an interesting, (ie comprehensively and neoliberally bankrupt) concept of democratic control via elected parliamentarians is implied in P Lang’s and M Brooks’ statement: “the military do what the military will do.”
    Still, it fits Lang’s neocon politics hand in glove.


  162. Thanks Marion

    Here are some questions (in no particular order) I’d like to obtain more clarity on before writing a more substantial piece:

    1. What would be the highest elevation on the most suitable route between Ballina and the source of the Dumaresq River?
    2. How far is it in practice from Ballina to the source?
    3. What capacity pipes and pumps would we need to do the job of stocking the river?
    4. Roughly what would it cost to install this and how long should it take?
    5. How much thermal capacity would we need to do the desal required and if this is what we were aiming to do, what changes to the design of the nuclear plant would be implied?
    6. What actual or potential commercial usages for water would exist along the most likely route?

    Looks like I have some homework …


  163. Actually, given that another source of the Darling is the Severn River near Lyra and Sundown in QLD, it might be better to make this to dump point.

    By road, Lyra is only 222km. The route to the Dumaresq and the Severn both take in the major towns, Lismore and Casino, but the Severn is 55km closer. A more direct route through some state forests would shorten this still further (perhaps trimming 25 or 30 km off the route), though this might be less politically acceptable.

    It seems the highest elevations on the straightest route are 1000m though much of it is >600m.


  164. Peter Lalor
    I have one thing to say to you re weapons proliferation:
    It has worked for the last 65 years and I see no reason it won’t continue to work. Even dictators aren’t silly enough to guarantee their own physical destruction- they are cowards – much better to send thousands of their young people to be slaughtered in a conventional war.


  165. 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.


  166. 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.


  167. 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.


  168. 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.


  169. 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.


  170. 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.


  171. 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.


  172. 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.


  173. 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.


  174. 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.


  175. 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.


  176. 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.


  177. 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.


  178. 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:

    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.


  179. 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.


  180. “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.


  181. 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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  183. 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.



  184. 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.


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