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What is risk? A simple explanation

In chapter 7 of his book “The Nuclear Energy Option“, Prof Bernard Cohen wrote the following provocative statement:

It is very difficult to predict the future of scientific developments, and few would even dare to make predictions extending beyond the next 50 years. However, based on everything we know now, one can make a strong case for the thesis that nuclear fission reactors will be providing a large fraction of our energy needs for the next million years. If that should come to pass, a history of energy production written at that remote date may well record that the worst reactor accident of all time occurred at Chernobyl, USSR, in April of 1986.

How could he have the audacity to make such a prognostication? Simple — because he, like most scientists, engineers and actuaries, understands the meaning of  probability and risk (as well as the fundamental physics of modern reactor design). In chapter 8, called “Understanding Risk“, he goes on to say:

One of the worst stumbling blocks in gaining widespread public acceptance of nuclear power is that the great majority of people do not understand and quantify the risks we face. Most of us think and act as though life is largely free of risk. We view taking risks as foolhardy, irrational, and assiduously to be avoided. Training children to avoid risk is an all-important duty of parenthood. Risks imposed on us by others are generally considered to be entirely unacceptable.

Unfortunately, life is not like that. Everything we do involves risk. There are dangers in every type of travel, but there are dangers in staying home — 25% of all fatal accidents occur there. There are dangers in eating — food is one of the most important causes of cancer and of several other diseases — but most people eat more than necessary. There are dangers in breathing — air pollution probably kills 100,000 Americans each year, inhaling radon and its decay products is estimated to kill 14,000 a year, and many diseases like influenza, measles, and whooping cough are contracted by inhaling germs. These dangers can often be avoided by simply breathing through filters, but no one does that. There are dangers in working — 12,000 Americans are killed each year in job-related accidents, and probably 10 times that number die from job-related illness — but most alternatives to working are even more dangerous. There are dangers in exercising and dangers in not getting enough exercise. Risk is an unavoidable part of our everyday lives.

That doesn’t mean that we should not try to minimize our risks, but it is important to recognize that minimizing anything must be a quantitative procedure. We cannot minimize our risks by simply avoiding those we happen to think about. For example, if one thinks about the risk of driving to a destination, one might decide to walk, which in most cases would be much more dangerous. The problem with such an approach is that the risks we think about are those most publicized by the media, whose coverage is a very poor guide to actual dangers. The logical procedure for minimizing risks is to quantify all risks and then choose those that are smaller in preference to those that are larger. The main object here is to provide a framework for that process and to apply it to the risks in generating electric power.

The failure of the American public to understand and quantify risk must rate as one of the most serious and tragic problems for our nation. This chapter represents my attempt to contribute to its resolution.

In this BNC post, Peter Lang provides a simple explanation of risk in relation to energy generation. In an Endnote, I quote a few passages from my recent book that also relate to this important — but often misunderstood — concept.

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What is risk? A simple explanation

Guest Post by Peter Lang. Peter is a retired geologist and engineer with 40 years experience on a wide range of energy projects throughout the world, including managing energy R&D and providing policy advice for government and opposition. His experience includes: coal, oil, gas, hydro, geothermal, nuclear power plants, nuclear waste disposal, and a wide range of energy end use management projects.

A recent comment on BNC stated:

I for one am glad nukes are being forced to be orders of magnitude safer than coal because the risks are orders of magnitude greater

In fact, the risks from nuclear are orders of magnitude lower than coal, not greater. Let me explain.

Risk is Consequence of an event multiplied by the Probability of that event occurring.

We need to define what we mean by the Consequence.

For electricity generation the consequence could be (for example):

1. Fatalities

2. Work-days-lost

3. Total health effects

4. Total damage costs (including health, environmental, etc.)

Fatalities can be subdivided into ‘immediate fatalities’ and ‘latent fatalities’. Fatalities can be subdivided into ‘workers’ and ‘public’.

We must define which measure of ‘Consequence’ we are using. Let’s keep it simple and use ‘immediate fatalities’ as our measure of ‘Consequence’.

The consequence of an accident might be 30 immediate fatalities (as happened at Chernobyl). The probability of occurrence might be 1 in 14,000 GW-years (123,000 TWh). The risk of such an accident is 1 fatality per 4,000 TWh (equivalent to 1 fatality in 20 years from severe nuclear accidents if all of Australia’s electricity was generated by nuclear power).

Now refer to Figure 1. To understand what this chart is telling us, consider the pink dot labelled “Chernobyl”. This is plotted at 28 Fatalities on the x-axis. Reading off the y-axis we see the frequency of nuclear accidents causing 30 or more immediate fatalities is 1.1 x 10-4 GW-years (or 1 occurrence in 9,000 GW-years of electricity supplied). That is about 1 immediate fatality in 2,800 TWh (equivalent to about 1 immediate fatality in 14 years from severe nuclear accidents if all Australia’s electricity was generated by nuclear power).

Figure 1: Risks of severe accidents in the different energy chains in the EU. Original Source of this chart (link no longer available). Original Data is in Figures 7 and 8 is here.

Now look at the coal accidents (the brown line). For accidents with the same number of immediate fatalities as Chernobyl we see that the frequency is about 1.15 x 10-3 GW-years. So, the frequency of severe accidents that causes 30 or more early fatalities is 15 times greater for coal generation than for nuclear generation.

Also on Figure 1, notice the pink line in the lower left corner of the chart. This is the Probabilistic Safety Analysis (PSA) of nuclear generation. It indicates that nuclear is about 4 orders of magnitude (10,000 times) safer than coal generation.

This chart includes only the immediate fatalities caused by severe accidents. It does not include the latent fatalities. For coal generation most of the fatalities are latent fatalities and these occur in the general public, not in the workers. However, in nuclear and renewable energy generation most of the fatalities are amongst workers in the industry — workers anywhere in the chain from mining materials, processing, manufacturing, construction, transport decommissioning and disposal. The figures are from full life cycle assessment.

For nuclear and renewables the Fatalities per TWh of electricity supplied are roughly in proportion to the quantity of materials needed per TWh over the plant life. However, for fossil fuels, the fatalities are dominated by the fatalities to members of the public due to the toxic emissions. The fatalities to the workers are dominated by those involved in the fuel extraction.

Figure 2 compares the total health effects of the main types of electricity generation in the EU. It shows that, in the EU, nuclear is about 50 times safer than coal generated electricity. Nuclear is safer than all except hydro in the EU.

Figure 2: Mean values of health effects, presented as deaths/TWh for the respective forms of electricity generation throughout the EU (Source here).

Outside the OECD, fossil fuel and renewable energy generation is much more dangerous that in the EU so nuclear is even safer by comparison.

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Endnote (Barry Brook): Here are some extracts on this topic from recent book, Why vs Why: Nuclear Power:

Nuclear safety and serious accidents

Safety is the most common fear about nuclear power, yet the nuclear power industry has an excellent operational safety record.

A study of 4,290 energy-related accidents by the European Commission’s ExternE research project examined the number of deaths per terawatt hour of energy for each of various technologies. It found:

  • oil kills 36 workers a terawatt hour
  • coal kills 25
  • gas kills 4
  • hydro, wind, solar and, yes, nuclear, all kill less than 0.2

(These figures ignore deaths from pollution and global warming.)

The fearsome reactor meltdown or terrorist act: what is the worst case scenario?

There is no limit to what the imagination can come up with regarding industrial accidents.

Imagine if a fire broke out in a natural gas refinery on the outskirts of a city. High winds then carried the hot embers aloft, setting ablaze nearby suburbs and the surrounding forest. What if this triggered explosions in adjacent chemical plants? This chain of events might ultimately lead to a city-wide conflagration that killed hundreds of thousands of people. Such a scenario is exceedingly unlikely, but not impossible. In the end, it is the probability that matters.

There is, for instance, some risk that a terrorist could hijack an aircraft, hit a reactor with pinpoint accuracy, breach containment, and cause the release of nuclear material. However, it is an incredibly low risk that all of these things will occur together. For instance, it has been estimated that only about one in every 1,000 direct aircraft strikes might crack a steel-reinforced concrete containment dome.

If we want to increase global security, then it is counterproductive to hope nuclear power will simply go away. We should instead discuss how to use this low-carbon energy source safely and cleanly, with minimum risk and maximum advantage. The risks of not employing nuclear power vastly outweigh the dangers of continuing to use fossil fuels or running out of energy.

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By Barry Brook

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

168 replies on “What is risk? A simple explanation”

cheap energy is a component of human well being. They’re not identical.

The BP gulf disaster was a consequence of the pursuit of cheap energy thru business advantage says one paradigm.

Govt. regulations “forced” the corporations to drill in unsafe (further from shore/deeper) places says another paradigm. Government regulations are responsible for the environmental disaster and affiliated effects on human well being. etc.

Telling Fran she’s gripped by a false dichotomy opposing business to human well being has no chance of persuading her (or me). She has more than enough resources in her paradigm to parry such a charge.

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Apologies for another drive-by comment, but after looking through the above I just can’t resist.

This post and thread typifies what I like and dislike and BNC in equal measure:

Likes:
Interesting post on an important topic deserving of further discussion (there’s a lot more which could be said about risk perception, but I’ll leave it for another time!)

Intelligent people from diverse backgrounds engaging in revealing debate (perhaps not always revealing in the way intended by the commenters themselves).

Dislikes:
Circularity of arguments.

Entrenched positions.

Ultimate irrelevance of these arguments for anyone who has already accepted the following, which I’d say is consistent with the ‘core’ BNC viewpoint [I’m sure Barry will correct me if otherwise]–
1. It is of paramount importance that worldwide fossil fuel use is supplanted by non CO2 emitting energy sources in coming decades
2. Nuclear power represents the best option for doing this in a way that allows our civilisation to broadly maintain its current structure and processes

I could elaborate on the final dislike, as it’s the main reason I’ve stopped following this blog regularly and turned my attention back to realclimate etc.

Basically– no matter how rationally we argue for NP, we’ll still be banging our heads against a brick wall until there is a more profound and widespread recognition of the unacceptability of the serious alternatives (principally coal). There needs to be a sea-change in public opinion, and this means going back to the climate debate.

Or perhaps it just means that BNC has served its purpose in my case.

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Peter Lang wrote:

They
have never been exposed to the facts in
Australia (unlike in Finland where people are
better informed than here).

The public opinion in finland seems to be against the two new NPP’s, so it is the government and parlament witch are better informed. They really seems to understand, that cutting CO2 leave us no choise but increase NP.

Here

http://www.sci.fi/~yhdys/eas_08/english/eas-etied_08.htm

is an interesting study of tue public attitudes of the energy issue in Finland. The repport is in English, you may find in interesting. It has been done for seweral years and attitude for NP has changed more positive all the time. Coal lies far behind nuclear.

Have you any similar study of attitudes in Australia?

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Soylent proposed that wrighing business advantage and human well-being on opposing metrics was a red herring in the following way:

Cheap energy IS human wellbeing. Health care, material comforts and everything else becomes much less affordable if you are forced reckon with expensive energy. If you try to push deaths in the power industry too low, deaths elsewhere increase by more than the amount they decrease in the power industry because you blew all your resources in the wrong place

As a general proposition, this is true. We of Marxist disposition take as our starting point the proposition that the satisfaction of human needs entails the deployment of human labour power. Access to energy suitable to the deployment of machines (loosely defined) can radically improve labour productivity, creating more and cheaper and higher quality goods, underpinning labour specialisation, and the surpluses that permit tertiary labour, the knowledge economy and so forth.

Ceteris paribus more labour-efficient production and deployment of energy is therefore a good thing. However, the benefits of cheap energy are merely part of a wider system of resource allocation, so ceteris paribus does not apply in all cases. We have a system which empowers some and dispossess others in all thing, including energy. The developing world is radically short of cheap energy, and they pay a huge price for that deficit. The developed world has relatively abundant cheap energy and the citizens live qualitatively better right now than is the case in the developing world. Marginal variations in the cost of energy will not affect our life chances very much at all. Nuclear power, as currently configured, rolled out here, would radically reduce the epidemiologies associated with fossil fuel combustion, which go not merely to death, but also to damaged life. These impose cosdts both on quality of life and in losses of productivity, health ands welafare system costs and so forth. Since the same community ultimately pays these costs, the internalisation of these costs within the energy system, reflected as higher energy costs is at once an accounting difference and an advantage because this cost shift is a profitable risk and cost trade.

This is how one can return to the original principle described by Soylent as a “red herring”. Leaving coal-fired generators to do as they please, externalising their human casualty costs to the community as a whole, is to act in a pro-business way at the expense of human wellbeing. Business, in a narrow sense, is advantaged, but the entire economy, if one means the total benefit of organised society, human wellbeing, suffers.

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Kaj – if the public is against it and parliament for it and it is the right decision then it is an example of representative democracy working. The whole point of representative democracy is that representatives ought to be better informed because they can devote themselves more to being informed. The thing that undermines representative democracy is popularism and the politics of obtaining it.

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In the spirit enunciated by Professor Brook above …

I will propose my own “socratric” questions. Before doing so, I will make explicit my own assumptions about this topic.

1. Regardless of the views each of us holds about the ethical warrant of particualr sets of social arrangements attaching to the deployment of human labour power, the character of social property, the means of resolving conflicts over these matters, and the specification over human wellbeing, each of us favours the earliest, systematic, adequately-scaled cost-efficient and global deployment of nuclear power technology at the expense of fossil thermal or other energy production technologies less well-suited in each setting to the advancement of human well-being.

2. In this topic, our focus is on what will secure (1) in within Australian jurisdiction.

3. Nuclear power in Australia is not yet well accepted as a legitimate technology, as evidenced by the refusal of any party represented in any parliament either to propose its use or to even raise it as an item of active discussion.

With this in mind …

a) What single factor do the proponents of (1) think is the decive reason for (3) above?

Is it

a. (i) The perceived safety risks attaching to nuclear power (including the prospective leakage of hazmat now or at some unspecified time into the future and the associated legacy question, localised epidemiology, catastrophic plant failure, work-based OH&S, prospective terrorist attack, hazmat spillage in transit through populated or environmentally sensitive areas, ecological damage form uranium mining)

(ii) End user power cost of nuclear relative to coal, including the potential for a 100% rise in the cost of power

b) Do the proponents of 1) believe that the achievement of a simple or even a significant majority in favour of deployment of nuclear power would lead to a change in the position of one of the major parties (or the development of a new coherent party grouping capable of effecting a change of policy) in this matter?

c) Bearing in mind the reality that no ruling party in the history of Australia since Federation would have held office in the face of an adverse swing of 5.3% 2PP and no opposition party would have avoided devastation in the face of such a swing … what does this suggest about the ways in which those of us favouring 1) in an Australian context should act?

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The most recent overview of wind turbine noise related health effects :

Click to access WindTurbineNoise.pdf

Again, as Peter mentioned earlier upthread, this issue “should” be accounted for in the Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) of wind turbines (or indeed whatever technology is being touted). But as the wind industry and governments continue to ignore this issue it never gets into the LCA for wind turbines.

Australians in particular should be alarmed about a recent National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) report, which echoes other industry reports such as the Canadian Wind Energy Association and claims the problem doesn’t exist. See here :

http://www.nhmrc.gov.au/publications/synopses/new0048.htm

Of course the NHMRC is aware of all the peer reviewed information, because the Australian Landscape Guardians told them in their submissions :

“Australian Landscape Guardians Press Release

4 July 2010

On Friday 2 July, the Australian Government’s National Health and Medical Research Council released it’s long awaited findings on it’s investigation into “Wind Turbines and Health”.

The report with it’s secondary title “A Rapid Review of the Evidence”, was ironically commissioned back in November 2009.

In March of this year, Nicole Craig, A/g Assistant Director, Emerging Issues, NHMRC, after inquiries from Victoria’s Department of Human Services on our behalf, invited submissions of information in relation to the health effects of wind turbines.

Submissions in relation to health effects and wind turbines were made to the NHMRC over the ensuing months which included peer reviewed scientific literature as well as information specific to individuals suffering in Australia and New Zealand.

A list of the information provided to Nicole Craig of the NHMRC is attached.

It should be noted that none of the scientific papers nor the specific personal evidence submitted to the NHMRC was either noted or referenced in their final decision (also attached).

Why Not? ”

(Note : this came via email, I have not included the ref’s. I’ve forwarded these to Barry)

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** The most recent peer reviewed paper on wind turbine low frequency noise :

Responses of the Ear to Infrasound and Wind Turbines

Cochlear Fluids Research Laboratory, Washington University in St. Louis

http://oto2.wustl.edu/cochlea/windmill.html

The paper is freely available as a PDF from that site.

Another site worth visiting relating to health issues is The Society for Wind Vigilance :

http://windvigilance.com/

I wonder when these issues will be acknowledged by gov and industry (and also by the general public unaffected by “wind farms”), and when will they be factored into the risk assessment / LCA for wind?

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I think this is a really important issue.

Price is not a big factor in power. Yea, people always hate paying more, but the difference between coal and nukes is not something people are going to think about a lot.

I also don’t agree that you can count up lives the way some people do here.

It’s fair enough if you are running a business that is seasonal — like tourism for example — to look at average revenues and costs over a few years and to see how wortth it it is to be in business.

But you can’t say oh … sure, every now and then some people get killed in one place in a disaster and that is compensated by some people some place else and at some other time not dying or getting injured.

Like Peter says about windfarms — you have to take the worst performance and see if that is good enough to still do it.

Now if on a day by day basis nuclear is never worse than coal, then that is fair enough — but that is what you have to compare.

So maybe nuclear isn’t on a day by day basis 100 times better than coal. Maybe it’s onlty quite a bit cleaner. You still have to totally take out the possibility of one of these places going ballistic on everyone’s arse., or get everyone convinced that you have.

Just my opinion — but I can’t see myself trying to explain why someone’s lost family is just some sad and weird arse stat which doesn’t count against someone else’s health.

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One other thing.

When Peter Lang talks about sovereign risk, isn’t he running the same argument?

He’s saying that because some disaster in the future might (maybe) affect the investment return that people have to get more of their money in the here and now … and if they were safer from that in the future, then it would be cheaper now.

Well that sounds fair enough. But if sovereign risk applies to money, doesn’t it also apply to people’s lives? If there’s a rough chance you will and your family be killed and not get the benefits of nuclear power in the future, isn’t it reasonable to expect more safety benefits up front, or swap these for no chance of being killed in the future but a shared chance of being slowly made slightly sick now?

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Fran – 6th July at 18.27
You misunderstood my point.
The point is that IF/WHEN the adoption of nuclear power for Australia is put to the electorate, the majority (who don’t have the financial luxury to agree to it at any price) will ultimately be influenced by the price being equal to, or less than, coal fired electricity generation or renewables.

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That may or may not be true, Ms Perps. I rather doubt it. Nobody for example, is ever asked whether they’d like a new tollway, or whether the tolls on the road will be too high, or which things should count as MAEs or whether rat runs should be permitted.

We are presented with fait accompli and you can take it or leave it.

It’s hard to imagine that nuclear power won’t work the same way. Do you really think we will all be polled on our willingness to pay for various configurations of power service with information on costs and safety in the mix?

But even if, unbelievably, that were the process, we are plainly a long way from that day. Right now, if you could offer nuclear power for free because it was too cheap to metre, enough people would go to the mattresses to stop it to kill the idea — and we know that it is not going to be free or even cheap, even if it were utterly unsafe compared with coal.

You shouldn’t put the cart before the horse, Ms Perps. It’s a basic rule in sales that you a overcome objections and then close the deal. Later on you can haggle over the details.

We can’t close the deal until almost all people (and a clear majority of current opponents) think it’s safe. Once safety goes, warm inner glow (pun intended) can follow and then cost can come down.

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Geodoc

Basically– no matter how rationally we argue for NP, we’ll still be banging our heads against a brick wall until there is a more profound and widespread recognition of the unacceptability of the serious alternatives (principally coal). There needs to be a sea-change in public opinion, and this means going back to the climate debate

I disagree. I think pretty much everyone agrees that coal needs to be phased out as quickly nas possible. The trouble is that those who are keenest oin this think renewables are the answer. They are the cognitive dissonant’s answer to getting rid of coal. The halfway house is gas.

We need to show that renewables are no kind of answer — at least on a world scale. (Even if some places can do geothermal, for example) so that they are forced to confront the choice between coal and nuclear. That was largely what sold me, along with the realisation that nuclear power was actually less unsafe and less environmentally unfriendly even than renewables.

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Fran
Do you honestly believe that any political party would put forward a policy to develop nuclear power until and unless public opinion had changed? This surely implies that the safety of nuclear technology, compared to other power tehnologies, had been demonstrated to and accepted by the populace.That is why I say that, ONCE PROPOSED as a policy, the final judgement will be made PRAGMATICALLY on what the cost will be to the consumer.
It would be political suicide to present the electorate with a “fait accompli” (I presume you mean while in government) – as you say they can take it or leave it and they are likely to leave IT at the next election – along with the political party which had the temerity to impose the policy without reference to the people.

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I certianly don’t propose that the government present nuclear power as a fait accompli. I merely make the point that getting down intoi the weeds, to borrow from Peter, is pointless.

We are in no position to assess the tradeoffs in safety and cost 5 years or more out from the time when perhaps, opinion will have changed enough in the right places to get the matter up for serious discussion. We might as well discuss the relative merits on various house designs on Mars.

We need to deal with the key stumbling block to progress — and that is safety.

You should note by the way that the numbers for and against nuclear are about the same as the numbers for and against the Rudd version of the RSPT — and yet that saw, for the first time in Australian history, a first term PM fall before an election. And that despite the fact that he was clearly ahead in the polls and the fact that a clear majority thought that mining profits should be more fairly shared.

The wedge works.

You have to destroy that wedge on nuclear power first.

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Fran
I am not denying that we first have to make nuclear power acceptable to the general public. That is taken as read.
I am saying that ultimately COST will be the DECIDING factor in the minds of the vast majority of the public.They are in the middle to low income brackets or on pensions/benefits. I would have thought that was obvious – particularly to a self confessed leftie which, incidently, is also my political bent. Perhaps your socialist leanings are academic and not as a result of your life experiences. When one doesn’t have enough money to pay for utilities life can be very bleak. Please keep to the point which is – what will ULTIMATELY decide whether the Australian public embrace nuclear power, and not what will get them to accept the proposition in the first place.
BTW Fran – how do you know so much about so many things? Why is your grammar, spelling, punctuation and typing so variable. How can you always be on-line and why did you disappear before when “Aged Husk” suggested you may be cloned?

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Please keep to the point which is – what will ULTIMATELY decide whether the Australian public embrace nuclear power, and not what will get them to accept the proposition in the first place.

Really? I thought pre-determined prejudices against nuclear power lead to the protests which lead to expensive construction delays which lead to high costs. In other words, already existing prejudices cause the cost blow-outs, not the cost blow-outs causing a prejudices.

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EN
Which is why I prefaced that sentence with:
“I am not denying that we first have to make nuclear power acceptable to the general public. That is taken as read.”
Please re-read my post.

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BTW Fran – how do you know so much about so many things?

I have been engaged with public policy discussion since at least the time I was 14, in 1972.

Why is your grammar, spelling, punctuation and typing so variable.

It is time-driven. When I am in a hurry, I sometimes don’t bother proofing. I am longsighted, and sometimes if I am not wearing my glasses, I miss things.

How can you always be on-line

I have a wireless laptop. I am also currently on school holidays.

and why did you disappear before when “Aged Husk” suggested you may be cloned?

I have no idea who “aged husk” is, when he/she suggested this, or why.

I did withdraw for a while after some suggested I was harming the nuclear cause and advised Professor Brook at the time. On reflection, I decided that this was unwarranted.

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I do nearly all my blogging from my iPhone so I can be online almost any time. It’s not always healthy but it is nice and simple.

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Hi Fran,

I did withdraw for a while after some suggested I was harming the nuclear cause and advised Professor Brook at the time. On reflection, I decided that this was unwarranted.

I hope it was not me that gave you this opinion. I was trying to point out that the fighting and character attacks you and Peter were dealing out at each other were, like many other debates here, getting little heated.

On this issue I immediately agreed with you that the language used is extremely important and should be called anything but ‘cost cutting on safety’, because from what I hear Peter actually describing, it may not be that at all anyway, so why on earth would we risk bad press calling it that?

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I value many of your contributions, especially when they are calmly and rationally argued.

Nuclear power is the underdog opinion here in Australia. I suggest we all watch each other’s backs and get along as best we can.

Back on topic:

Anyone got ideas on how to summarise risk for a poster, or is this topic so touchy we’ll just forget that? (We’re already so busy I’m not sure when we’ll get to another poster I’m already discussing with Marion, but it might not hurt to brainstorm a ‘safety’ promotional poster after all this discussion and I’ll file it away on my VAST “To-Do” list.)

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Fran Barlow and I are poles apart politically but this I can agree with:

“We need to show that renewables are no kind of answer — at least on a world scale. (Even if some places can do geothermal, for example) so that they are forced to confront the choice between coal and nuclear. That was largely what sold me, along with the realisation that nuclear power was actually less unsafe and less environmentally unfriendly even than renewables.”

In my mind NPPs are inevitable and the “enemy” is the false god of “renewables”. Can we muster sufficiently persuasive arguments to kill wasteful subsidies for renewables? Must we go through an extended period of large scale field trials of wind and photo-voltaic solutions?

Why must Australia (or the USA) ignore the lessons learned in Denmark, Germany and Spain? Repeating the same behavior while expecting a different result is one definition of madness.

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I think pretty much everyone agrees that coal needs to be phased out as quickly nas possible.

Pretty much everyone?

The evidence suggests otherwise.

Sure, the scientists agree. And greens of course, and most commenters here. Journalists and politicians mostly go with the flow of public opinion.

As for public opinion: while the polls suggest that a majority of people agree that global warming is real and a problem, a small but vocal and growing minority– actually already a large minority in US– say otherwise.

In any case, polls tell us little about genuine strength of feeling, and virtually nothing about depth of understanding. Just that most people have identified global warming as vaguely threatening, and of course people don’t like threatening things, vague or otherwise.

Many people also see nuclear power as a vaguely threatening, of course. But this will change when real public understanding of AGW forces a rigorous comparative appraisal of non-fossil fuel energy sources.

The problem is, we’re not there yet.

Or to put it another way: NP doesn’t need to be perceived as “completely safe”– only “safer than the alternatives”.

[Some polls:
http://www.gallup.com/poll/126560/americans-global-warming-concerns-continue-drop.aspx
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/8500443.stm
http://www.theage.com.au/environment/global-warming-drops-down-list-20091012-gu1w.html%5D

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I am posting this comment under duress, as I really want to take a break from the nuclear debate, but someone suggested I look at the discussion on safety in this and the previous thread, and against my better judgement I did. Now I have to weigh in on this issue, because it is plain that everyone here is talking past each other and this is a critical issue.

To start off with, unless you intend to design a reactor from scratch, you are going to have to accept whatever level of safety is designed into the one you buy. No OEM is going to derate their product to cut costs for you. And that will go for things you will have to build yourself, like the containment, and spent fuel facilities. No one is going to risk their brand letting you install their product on a substandard site. But this is not where costs get out of control anyway.

Nor is it in operating safety protocols, which at any rate are tied into general plant integrity routines that must be done anyway. Ultimately cutting back in this area runs the risk of some failure occurring that might stop the plant from producing power, (i.e. stop making money) or causing harm to an employee. In other words most of this falls under housekeeping anyway.

The only place where costs can be controlled which is often (erroneously) referred to as safety issues, is unreasonable procedural nonsense during the initial build. Even this is not the real expense in and of itself, but it is the delays that these can cause that push cost overruns into the stratosphere. It is seeing that these do not get out of hand that is the real way to keep costs down. In any sane world too, most of these procedural issues would be properly referred to as Quality Assurance, or Quality Control, as they would have little to do with real safety issues, but in the politically charged world of NPP builds, the antinuclear forces spin these to security and safety issues their own ends.

OK. So how to avoid this sort of pitfall. First and foremost there must be only one government agency/department/ministry/whatever, in charge of oversight, and it needs to be at the national level, and it needs to exercise eminent domain. Once the project has broken ground, it cannot be delayed by politics, or by lower levels of government. Some local water commissioner up for re-election cannot be permitted to bring the project to a halt while he grandstands demanding a second opinion on groundwater contamination, two years after the first one was done and approved. Similarly, abuses of the legal system by NGO’s have to be made impossible as well. Many of these like Greenpeace, are well aware of the financial dynamics of these builds, and are past masters at using the courts to get injunctions for the sole purpose of running up the costs, in the hope of getting a project cancelled. In fact they have been successful more than once with this tactic.

Next, the agency that does have oversight must operate under a rational set of rules. This is not as hard as it may seem. Most national aviation authorities have a time-tested set of protocols with with they administer their bailiwick, and they seem to be able to do it without disrupting the civil air transportation system unless they have very good reason. Nuclear regulators should have a similar set of rules, legislated into the laws that created them, so some commonsense prevails.

One of the cornerstones of transportation regulation (at least on the technical side) is the emphasis placed on the chain of responsibility. It is inculcated into everyone, from the first day you start, that every action is traceable, and every individual accepts unlimited criminal liability every time they sign off a job. Furthermore. it is made clear that your job is not in danger if you refuse to sign. If your supervisor is comfortable that the job is done right, and feels that you are wrong suggesting it is not – then he signs it off – and so on up the chain, until someone decides to take responsibility, or the job gets done again. The situation that cannot be allowed to develop is one where the regulator has to be involved at every step, and at every minor deviation. Yes, they should have independent on-site QA people, overseeing the quality process, but under no circumstances should the regulator need to sign off at every step.

How does this work? More to the point why does it work? It works because everyone is made to understand that they can be traced and tracked down, and will face charges if they are found to be responsible for shoddy/illegal work, if necessary years latter. This creates a culture where caution and attention to quality comes from the bottom up, rather than enforced from the top down. Small deviations will still be made, and time will be saved, but these will not be anything outside the comfort zone of all involved, and reason will prevail.

[aside: To give an example, for awhile I had a job clearing deviations for a group of Canadian subcontractors to a U.S. bus manufacturing firm. The client firm required strict adherence to their standards, or the signature of someone certifying the change was equivalent. The sort of deviations I was signing off were for things like using a paint with the colour “009876” instead of the standard “009875” a difference almost indistinguishable to the naked eye, for a bracket that would never be seen by the public. If they had not employed me, every change would have to go to engineering for approval, wasting time and money. However they hired me because I was expected to know which changes to let through and which need higher approval.]

As it stands in most jurisdictions, nuclear builds do not allow for this sort of thing. Every change must go through the full process of being approved by all the stakeholders including the regulator, no matter how minor. Many of these are not safety issues, and if they are legitimate QC issues they shouldn’t need global approval. Worse, as can be seen in the trials Areva is enduring in Finland, a regulator with too much responsibility coupled with a lack of experienced people, does more harm than good.

If Australia wants to lower the cost of building NPPs to help make them cost competitive, the area to focus on is not lowering the safety threshold, (which at any rate is likely impossible) but by controlling runaway costs generated by counterproductive bureaucratic overhead, and closing the avenues that permit NGOs and others to practice barratry. At the same time the public needs to be constantly assured that quality and safety, while related, are not always codependent and must be managed separately to assure both objectives can be met.

That’s it. I’ve said my piece on this matter, and I will not defend my points – take them or leave them – I’m going back to my knitting. I may start posting again in a few months, but for now I am taking a break, and I won’t be suckered in reading any threads here again until then.

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Thanks DV82XL. My reading of what you have said is:-

Safe design good.
Accountability in construction good.
Excess beaurocracy in construction bad.
Political interference during construction bad.

I take it that excesses in the later two creep in more in the nuclear power industry bacause of safety concerns. Otherwise other technologies (ie wind, solar, gas, coal) would suffer the same problems.

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Safe design good.
Accountability in construction good.
Excess beaurocracy in construction bad.
Political interference during construction bad.

And that is exactly why I’ve been saying this isn’t a matter of ‘cutting safety costs’ at all! We should avoid that language because that is not what is being discussed. We are talking about bureaucracy and obstruction — effectively industrial sabotage! Any hint of talking about ‘cutting costs on safety’ should be abolished as fertile grounds for anti-activists.

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geodoc wrote:

As for public opinion: while the
polls suggest that a majority of
people agree that global
warming is real and a problem, a
small but vocal and growing
minority – actually already a large
minority in US– say otherwise.

Somehow this minority seems to oppose NP less than the majority. A fact that must not be ignored. It’s a possibility to mobilise the climate skeptics to act for clean energy. I don’t think there is a better way.

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And I can also give my unqualified support to what DV8 said. The kinds of cost imposts that are serious and corrigible have little if anything to do with anything one could legitimately call a safety issue and it would be madness to concede this ground in pursuit of mythical cost savings.

Removing cumbersome, redundant cost-benefit-contra-indicated bureaucratic oversight and compliance makes excellent sense and has nothing tangible to do with where the bar is on safety.

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Eclipse said:

I hope it was not me that gave you this opinion.

Yours was one of the names … but I’ve moved on now, obviously.

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EclipseNow asked:

On this issue I immediately agreed with you that the language used is extremely important and should be called anything but ‘cost cutting on safety’, because from what I hear Peter actually describing, it may not be that at all anyway, so why on earth would we risk bad press calling it that?

Firstly, I am not arguing to reduce safety. I am trying to increase safety of electricity generation by replacing fossil fuel with nuclear. We can only do that if we can have nuclear at a cost that is competitive with coal and, preferably, as much cheaper than coal as we can achieve while still meeting all our requirements (including increased safety).

To get nuclear at a cost competitive with coal, or cheaper, we must jetision our ludicrous requirement that nuclear must be 10 to 100 times safer than coal or we wont accept it.

I understand that we have to educate the population. I understand it will take time and it will not be properly understood, or generally accepted, by the population at first given its current fears. But I say we have to confront those fears and educate. I’ve made suggestions how we go about doing that. Education is major part of what I am proposing.

If we do not tackle this issue (ridiculous safety requirements and high costs because of it) head on, we will be in the same position in another decade or two – that is, nuclear is too expensive because we are placing ridiculous requirements on it. People will still be arguing “Because it is too expensive we’d better wait untill CCS or solar power can solve the problem. After all, solar power will be economic any day now (as we’ve been told continuously for the past 20 years) (sarcasm alert).

By the way, I believe that, by continually making the point:we have a choice between nuclear which is safer than coal at a cost competitive with coal, or nuclear that is 10 to 100 times safer than coal but we’ll pay twice as much for the electricity, we are actually educating the population. I think many people blogging here have come to realise that but didn’t before. The are starting to realise it because we keep repeating it and backing it up with evidence such as the charts and references linked in the lead articel to this thread.

So EclipseNow, that is the line that I would hope your posters on safety would advocate.

GallopingCammel, @ https://bravenewclimate.com/2010/07/04/what-is-risk/#comment-79357

I would not want to see the USA nuclear regulatory environment imposed on nuclear power in Australia. In fact it is about the very last nuclear regulatory environment I would weant to see imposed on Australia.

I want, at the top level of the requirements tree, safety regulations that are defined based on outcomes and are equally applicable for all electricity generation technologies. For example: total health effects for new plants, shall be say less than 1 death per TWh equivalent on a life cycle analysis basis.

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DV82XL,

Thank you for your excellent post. Enjoy your sebatical and come back soon.

I agree with all you’ve said. I would like to comment on some of your points.

To start off with, unless you intend to design a reactor from scratch, you are going to have to accept whatever level of safety is designed into the one you buy.

True. But we don’t have to buy NPPs from USA or Europe. We can buy them from Russia, India or Korea. If they cost less and their safety meets our requirements, then why not do so? We do not need 10 to 100 times the safety of coal.

So how to avoid this sort of pitfall. First and foremost there must be only one government agency/department/ministry/whatever, in charge of oversight, and it needs to be at the national level, and it needs to exercise eminent domain.

True. But very difficult to achieve in Australia because the states are reluctant to give up their powers to the federal government.

Once the project has broken ground, it cannot be delayed by politics, or by lower levels of government. Some local water commissioner up for re-election cannot be permitted to bring the project to a halt while he grandstands demanding a second opinion on groundwater contamination, two years after the first one was done and approved.

The problem is not just during construction. It is for the life of the project. In Australia, each new government can change the laws that the previous government passed. So investors realise there is high risk that a future government will change the rules – eg to required more stringent safety regulations, perhaps with a new body to regulate. This would devalue their investment. The probability that this will happen means investors place a higher risk premium on investment in an NPP and therefore need a higher return on investment. I suspect that many people do not realise that this can be a huge cost. MIT says the investment risk premium for NPP in the USA is 26%. I expect it would be far higher in Australia.

Next, the agency that does have oversight must operate under a rational set of rules. This is not as hard as it may seem. Most national aviation authorities have a time-tested set of protocols with with they administer their bailiwick, and they seem to be able to do it without disrupting the civil air transportation system unless they have very good reason. Nuclear regulators should have a similar set of rules, legislated into the laws that created them, so some commonsense prevails.

I agree. However, again, our history of regulation of the aviation industry is rife with political interference. Australians will remember that frequently CASA (Civil Aviation Safety Authority) becomes embroiled in politics and this can last for years. It is relatively quiet at the moment but many will remember the corporatisation of CASA, the political appointments to the Board and CEO, union disruptions, the cost of safety arguments that lasted a decade as the new traffic control regime was established. Australia has a bad record of political interference and politicising its regulatory agencies. Other examples are the Chief Scientist and the regulation of our uranium mines.

I agree with what DV82XL says is the objective. But given the current state of politics I see it will be very difficult to achieve in Australia. This is exactly what I feel we do have to raise all these issues and confront them. We do have to make it clear how all these sorts of “safety related” issues can double or quadruple the cost of nuclear power in Australia. We have to tackle these issues head on. We have to get them out in the open and discuss them, not try to bury them.

As it stands in most jurisdictions, nuclear builds do not allow for this sort of thing. Every change must go through the full process of being approved by all the stakeholders including the regulator, no matter how minor. Many of these are not safety issues, and if they are legitimate QC issues they shouldn’t need global approval. Worse, as can be seen in the trials Areva is enduring in Finland, a regulator with too much responsibility coupled with a lack of experienced people, does more harm than good.

This is exactly what will happen in Australia, in spades, if we don’t set out to stop that happening before we get started.

If Australia wants to lower the cost of building NPPs to help make them cost competitive, the area to focus on is not lowering the safety threshold, (which at any rate is likely impossible) but by controlling runaway costs generated by counterproductive bureaucratic overhead, and closing the avenues that permit NGOs and others to practice barratry. At the same time the public needs to be constantly assured that quality and safety, while related, are not always codependent and must be managed separately to assure both objectives can be met.

I agree whole heartedly. So let’s ensure we get the debate on all this out in the open. Let’s not try to avoid it. People must be aware that the cost difference between excessive/bad “safety” regulations and appropriate regulations is very high. An AP1000 cost about $6000/kW in USA and about $1500/kW in China (rough figures off the top of my head).

Closing remark:

This is an enormously valuable contribution from DV82XL and I thank him for it.

I hope we can really take note of this and spread the word about what we need to do to try to get our NPPs at a cost as close as possible to the cost they are in say China, rather than the cost they are in USA and Europe.

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@ Peter
Your statistics are fine and highlight that nuclear currently appears far safer than coal. There’s no need to lecture me on that. I’m not arguing with the statistics.

But unless you are actually talking about safety cuts to the actual reactors, I suggest you’re your own worst enemy right now. The language below is just too strong, it is misleading, it does not say what you are trying to say and will only freak people out.

Please consider that I’m with you all the way on your concerns about bureaucratic waste and the industrial sabotage of anti-nuclear protests. Let’s call a spade a spade and use those terms!

Because the language below is unnecessarily confrontational. The way Aussies are wired, it can only do more harm than good.

To get nuclear at a cost competitive with coal, or cheaper, we must jetision our ludicrous requirement that nuclear must be 10 to 100 times safer than coal or we wont accept it.

Based on the statistics you provide, how many times safer is nuclear than coal? Let’s market nuclear as that, rather than put people off.

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EclipseNow,

Sorry, I do not agree. I reckon the point I am making needs to be made and needs to keep on being made.

If we don’t keep making this point then people simply do not understand the enormous gap, and the enormous cost difference, between what they really want (safer power) and what they are demanding (ridiculously safe requirements at high cost). The discussion on this thread reinforces my opinion that we need to get this message out, not hide it. The more I see people trying to pretend we can have nuclear at 10 to 100 times the safety of coal but with no significant cost penalty, the more I am convinced we’ll never make much progress until we can get people (including on this site) to recognise that the more stringent the safety demands, the higher will be the cost.

Strident demands for safety, to the Australian public, imply all the things DV82XL has pointed out we need to avoid.

We have to get the Australian public aware of what we need to do to bring nuclear to Australia at a cost that is competitive with or less than coal. This debate needs to be out in the open, not swept under the carpet..

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Barry,

I think DV82XL’s post is so valuable it would be worth posting it as a TCASE article so we can always find it easily in the future. It will be useful to point others to in the future.

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Anti NPP folks make the absurd argument that the US government is subsidising the NPP industry via the Price-Anderson Act. Among other things, this act mandates an “up front” insurance bond prior to the construction of all NPPs in the USA. The insurance bond is intended to ensure that money will be available to cope with serious accidents even if the organisation responsible for the disaster goes out of business.

Here is a comment by Fran Barlow on Deltoid (Tim Lambert’s blog) on January 24, 2010:

http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2010/01/more_monckton_2.php#comment-2224869

Fran points out that there is almost $10 billion in the kitty for fixing up nuclear accidents in the USA but almost nothing has been withdrawn in the 53 years since Price-Anderson was enacted.

Contrast this with the fact that BP has created a fund for $20 billion to cope with the consequences of a single oil well accident in the Gulf of Mexico.

Now tell me that nuclear power is more dangerous than fossil fuels.

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It would be hard to argue that NP shouldn’t get Federal indemnity after Gorgon operator Chevron was let off the hook for CO2 escape from Barrow Island, WA. The plan is to separate up to 120 Mt of CO2 from raw natgas and inject it into saline aquifers 2km below the island. If it leaks out I guess the government won’t need to pay itself carbon tax. As the lawyer says it sets a precedent.

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As you note GC … I also argue the cause or rational risk assessment and burden-sharing in places where nuclear power is not the least bit popular.

That’s something those who wonder out loud about my agenda ought to bear in mind.

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Hi Fran,
I’m interesting in how this would work in practice? Imagine the unimaginable — terrorists cause another Chernobyl, only this time in a a prosperous western city. How would the government manage it?

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https://bravenewclimate.com/2010/07/04/what-is-risk/#comment-79839

The contributor Eclipse Now, describing himself as an Australian Social Liberal, ie enthusiast of various dubious elements such as Senator Chipp and Cheryl Kernot, designates anti-NPP protest as industrial sabotage and cries out: ” call a spade a spade”.

Interesting. The Chinese and Russian governments would not doubt agree in the context of their criminal codes and relevant punishments eg gaol, labour camp, execution on the grounds of damaging State property.

Please draft relevant legislation for AU with reference to the injunction of Sir Robert Askin against anti-war demonstrators in front of his official car in the 70s, “Run the bastards over”.

Last time I cited Askin on BNC in this context, the Blog Owner and J Morgan replied merely by way of calling on me to outline an alternative to NPP rollouts.

So to quote the type of “robust, non-nonsense” language
favoured on this blog, it seems “you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs.”

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The short answer is that they couldn’t Eclipse, or if they had the expertise and connections to carry it out they could do something equally bad that was a hell of a lot easier to accomplish. Your average petro-chemical plant is a lot less well protected. So is your average gas plant.

In any event, mass casualty attacks are a lot more effective, quite low tech, difficult to parry and expensive to deal with.

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Peter Lalor

Are you actually going to make a specific proposal for an energy system or not?

Assuming, as I do, you don’t think existing arrangements suffice, it is incumbent on you to outline something else that would.

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@Barlow: ( I seem to have missed your solemn investiture as sole BNC content arbiter: when was it, please?)

even more interesting, all we need now is G Meyerson and D Walters to come out in favour of a police state on BNC too, and the Marxist troika, including yourself, on BNC is complete.

Still, you will be aware of the voluminous literature on Marx and his concept of “freedom” , so QED.

As deaths 1945- per Gwh produced, or similar indicators, are used to compare coal, natgas, hydro and nuclear, please construct a meaningful set of ratios for demonstrator death and incarceration applicable to your AU NPP rollout scenario. Should the raw data be adjusted e.g. for age (dead 70s hippies count less)?

I take it that as a socialist, your sense of social equity would prevent you wanting to weight the data by prior net annual income of the corpse.

Interesting that even the neocon/neoliberal P. Lang is willing, so far at least, to permit anti-NPP protest.

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@ Peter Lalor,
You’re ranting about ghosts from Christmas past again. Nothing you refer to has anything to do with me, or Fran, or the current conversation. Stop being a troll and grow up. Or is that ‘wake up’? Try the blue pill next time. You’ll have nicer dreams.

@ Peter Lang,
Do you have a bottom line for how much safer nuclear is than fossil fuels? Is there any objective way to measure that? I might start brainstorming a poster based on a positive message.

I think ‘most people’ do require that nuclear be 10 or 100 times safer than a coal plant, in the sense of the plant itself being incredibly reliable with the dangerous materials it deals with. But I would also argue that we are nearly there anyway because of efficient running times, reliable servicing, and passive safety systems.

I’d argue for speed of deployment (and why we need to avoid obstructionism) and ask one Federal body to run safety checks.

As I’ve said above, and will not say again: I’d argue FOR all these good things, rather than “against nuclear power being safe” — which is the way the average Australian will hear it. But it’s your paper, and your call. Maybe after a few years of pushing this line you’ll change your tune. We shall see.

Has anyone here put up the ‘Waste’ poster yet? Any luck with tear-off tabs being used?

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EN, Yes to your question. I’ve answered it in the lead article to this thread, and in numerous posts on this thread. Open Thread 4, and on various other threads before. Look at the charts on the Lead article and the description of what those charts mean.

I’ve have explained repeatedly why it is ridiculous to require nuclear to be ten time safer than coal or you won’t consider it. Illogical, irrational, emotive, many other adjectives you can look up if these don’t suit. If you and others can’t understand it, no wonder why nuclear remains such an emotive and irrational issue for the general population. You actually think it is more dangerous than coal. Oh my gawd!!

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I seem to have missed your solemn investiture as sole BNC content arbiter: when was it, please?)

even more interesting, all we need now is G Meyerson and D Walters to come out in favour of a police state on BNC too, and the Marxist troika, including yourself, on BNC is complete

Non-responsive your honour. The witness is evading the question …

What do you propose as a sufficient answer to the energy supply of this country?

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Peter Lalor,
I don’t like Fran’s politics either but I like the fact that she makes no bones about “being of the Marxist” persuasion. What bugs me a lot more are the people who trot out Marxist proposals while pretending to be something else.

She gets my respect for her knowledge rather than her politics.

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Wow Fran! 1972? That’s ages ago. My gran is only 8 years older than you! You sounded much younger (No offence!)

I think it’s so great when oldies stay involved in stuff and aren’t all you know “you can’t do anything about anything”. My gran is a bit like that. What you say makes a lot of sense.

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@ Peter,

You actually think it is more dangerous than coal. Oh my gawd!!

You’re being irrational and emotional and unkind. I said nothing of the sort!

Your statistics rightly focus on coal’s worldwide health impacts and tally of mining accidents. I applaud you for pointing them out. I have repeatedly agreed with you that nuclear is already safer than coal in this regard! I don’t know what more I can do to demonstrate that I agree with you on this. The fact that you fling that last line at me indicates that you either have trouble with basic comprehension, or are just plain rude.

Far from contesting the global statistics you present, I’m not even talking about them! You don’t get this. You have simply decided not to hear what I am saying.

Global statistics are one thing, but local catastrophe is another. I’m talking about the fear of evacuating beautiful cities like Sydney, whether or not anyone dies in the accident! Rational or not, global statistics do not generate the same NIMBY fears that images of fleeing Sydney do.

You are feeding the NIMBY’s by your choice of rhetoric. We can still share the same message, but in a more positive vein. Instead of “let’s not demand nuclear be 10 to 100 times safer than coal” why not “Let’s have open inspections and a streamlined single Department in charge.” Instead of “cutting costs on safety” why not “Cut bureaucratic red tape by having one department run deployment?” Instead of getting people’s backs up with poor language, why not tell the same story and achieve the same ends in a way that every citizen can agree with? Why alienate people on purpose? Is it to draw attention to your beautiful statistical graphs? Is it because everyone must know exactly what you know? Every Tom Dick and Harry in Australia must bow down at Peter Lang’s superior statistical presentation?

If you can’t condense the message into 10 appealing words or less, you’re done for.

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EclipseNow,

I agree with where you are trying to get to, but not the way you are trying to get there. And I may be missing some of your message. I admit I have reaced the point that I am bundling some like minded people together (possibly unfairly) and by doing so missing some of the message. However, I must say that I do get the impression that you also frequently misunderstand, or misinterpret or forget and take out of context what I have said. Repeatedly talking about blowing up Sydney does turn me off.

I wrote the following this morning, but decided to hold off posting it. But now I shall because I don’t want to leave the discussion of the last two days with any misunderstanding about what I think.

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EclipseNow and others,

Just to be absolutely clear where I stand on the issue of the cost versus safety requirements for nuclear in Australia:

Nuclear power costs (roughly, from memory):

$1,500/kW in China (actual cost)
$6,000/kW in USA (recent estimates)
$10,000/kW in Canada (recent bid)

Why the difference?

It is because of the different political regimes and the different requirements placed on the nuclear industry by the regulators in each country.

If Australia adopts the path that is being advocated by many of the contributors on the BNC web site, we can expect the cost here to be even higher than Canada’s cost.

That is because people here want safety to be the main issue – the main topic of discussion (this is obvious from the angst this thread has created).

You can just see what this approach will lead to. Our main political parties will be competing to out do each other on the grounds that only they can be trusted to ensure that nuclear in Australia will be “world best practice” then “the safest in the world”.

This is inevitable if we follow the approach that many of the contribiuters here are advocating.

What I argue we should be trying to achieve is:

1. Safety is off the table as an issue between the main political parties. The Australian public understand that nuclear power, procured from anywhere, is plenty safe enough. So we do not need to specify ‘safest’ or even be overly concerned about safety. We will of course require the vendors to detail in their bid of how they will provide safety and how they will transition Australia’s workforce to being able to own and operate the NPPs. We will have to have our own regulator (but let’s get started on the right foot so we avoid as much as possible of the avoidable problems that DV82XL highlighted)

2. Focus our attention on is how can we get nuclear at a cost less than coal in Australia. That is where we want the political parties need to compete.

How can we avoid the ridiculous levels of regulatory control that apply in Canada and USA?

Econowise, for your posters I would advocate as follows

We must remove safety as an issue and focus on cost. We must emphasise that any nuclear is far safer than what we have now. Getting nuclear will be cleaner and safer than what we have now. We do not need to be concerned about safety. What we need to concern ourselves with is how to get nuclear in Australia at a cost less than coal. The main things that will prevent us doing so are:

1. Regulatory environment.
2. Investor risk premium (due to sovereign risk)
3. A political fight over safety which leads to a high cost regulatory environment
4. First of a Kind costs

ps, The cost of electricity from new coal in 2020 would be about 50/MWh (in 2010 A$). The capital cost of new coal (without CCS) in 2020 would be about $2400/kW. Source: Table 52, p82 here: http://www.aemo.com.au/planning/419-0035.pdf

Therefore, we would need to get nuclear in Australia at somewhere between $2500/kW and $3,000/kW, and have low operating costs, to allow nuclear to compete with coal. That is what we have to achieve.

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Yes I kind of see where you’re comming from Peter, but thast post by the Canadian guy DV82XL seemed to be saying that the main problems were not with the design but all the regulation and stuffing about.

If we could get that fixed up we could have nukes 10 or 100 times as safe as coal and still only pay about what they pay in China or a bit more. That still wouldn’t be as cheap as coal, but it would be at a price even poor people could live with.

So the main thing is to do what DV82XL said — get a simple set of rules and keep bureaucracy light.

The safety would just flow from the design of the system, right?

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Ady, you are correct on most of this.

But if we had nuclear at anywhere near the cost it is in China it would produce electricity in Australia at less than the cost of coal.

The point is: STOP talking about Risk and Safety. It is plenty good enough. The focus needs to be on how to get nuclear at a cost less than coal. That is a really big issue. You are correct that if we could prevent the sort of nonsense that DV82XL discussed, we could have nuclear at a cost less than coal. But as long as people want to discuss safety and risk instead of cost, we’ll never achieve it.

We are all talking about the wrong subject.

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Ad Gil said

I think it’s so great when oldies stay involved in stuff and aren’t all you know “you can’t do anything about anything”. My gran is a bit like that. What you say makes a lot of sense

Hmmm … yes … amazing at my age!

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EclipseNow,
The question about evacuating a major city is really something for DV8 but I will have a go at it as he is on “sabbatical”. The subject came up during the LILCO (Long Island Lighting Company) licensing process and it was the main pretext for preventing the operation of the Shoreham nuclear power plant in the late 1980s.

This was a poor decision that would have gone the other way but for the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

Here is a link (thank you David Lewis) giving Cohen’s account of events leading up to the disaster written by :
http://www.phyast.pitt.edu/~blc/book/chapter7.html

The Russian RBMK reactor is graphite moderated and water cooled. This is an excellent design if you want to produce plutonium but a lousy one from a safety standpoint. The “void coefficient” is positive, which means that the reaction rate increases if the water boils. The Shoreham reactor is water moderated so it has a negative void coefficient; if the water boils the reaction rate falls.

If by accident or malice all the safeties on the Shoreham reactor (or any other US reactor) were removed the reactor core could melt down but it is not possible to achieve a “prompt critical” situation that could release enough explosive force to breach the containment structures.

Even if you assume that miraculously the Shoreham containments could be breached there is no graphite to catch fire so the bulk of the radioactive materials would remain within the NPP perimeter. The down wind “fall out” would be several orders of magnitude less than at Chernobyl.

Now take a look at what actually happened at Chernobyl. Thirty one people died and all of them received their fatal radiation doses within the NPP perimeter or flying over it. Not a single person died outside the NPP perimeter and here’s why:

According to Cohen the most exposed individuals outside the plant received 50,000 mrem. If the levels had been 600,000 mrem about 50% of exposed individuals would have died within 4 weeks. You might argue that with a 12 times smaller dose, 50/12 = 4.2% of exposed individuals should have died, whereas in fact the mortality was zero.

One of the strange things about nuclear radiation is that its effects on humans cannot be calculated by “straight line” methods. An acute dose of 1,000,000 mrem will kill over 90% of exposed individuals whereas a dose that is ten times smaller may kill none at all.

You are radioactive and so is the entire planet. Where I live the ambient dose is 120 mrem/year but there are places where the dose exceeds 5,000 mrem/year purely from natural sources.

My point is that even a poorly designed nuclear reactor operated by the Keystone cops is less dangerous than a single passenger jet crashing on a major city. Would you advocate banning commercial jets from over flying our cities?

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EclipseNow,

One of the points you’ve been making has got through to me. You’ve been saying ‘emphasise the positives not the negatives”.

I’ve been pointing out the negatives of an ETS or price on carbon for a long time. Here are the positives of not putting a price on carbon, but instead, allowing clean electricity to be cheaper than dirty electricity:

1. higher rate of economic growth
2. stronger economy
3. more and better jobs
4. faster real income growth
5. higher income for workers relative to growth in prices of products and services
6. more tax revenue
7. more funds for services such as Health, Education, infrastructure and Environment
8. faster displacement of fossil fuels for electricity generation
9. faster displacement of fossil fuels by electricity for heating and transport
10. faster reduction in CO2 emissions

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@ Peter:
They are all good things to talk about but not what I was focussing on. We really have some ‘noise’ in here to get through, and I feel like I have to scream to be heard from my end!

I was not talking about the general benefits of nuclear power: all of which are great and deserve a poster in their own right! (Not that I am promising another 10 posters!)

I was asking you how to focus on bringing the costs of nuclear down without once mentioning the word ‘safety costs’, because that is simply not what you are concerned about. You said it yourself: nuclear power is safe enough.

Instead, you don’t want excessive legislation. So focus on that! You don’t want protests and counter-suing adding to utility costs. So focus on that! Write about the means of fast deployment in the positive. “Creating a smoother legislative environment” or “A seamless and timely inspection regime, by the experts, exactly when it counts!” Etc.

I really don’t know how you’re going to just make people ‘stop’ talking about safety. Imagine you’re at a rally and someone asks whether or not nukes are safe and how we are going to ensure they are safe. What’s the answer? “SHUT UP!” isn’t going to win any friends.

How are we going to make sure they are safe AND cheap Peter? “Don’t talk about safety!” Yeah, right. Like that’s gonna work. They’ll just say “Nazi” and embrace the renewable guy.

1. Safety is off the table as an issue between the main political parties. The Australian public understand that nuclear power, procured from anywhere, is plenty safe enough. So we do not need to specify ‘safest’ or even be overly concerned about safety. We will of course require the vendors to detail in their bid of how they will provide safety and how they will transition Australia’s workforce to being able to own and operate the NPPs. We will have to have our own regulator (but let’s get started on the right foot so we avoid as much as possible of the avoidable problems that DV82XL highlighted)

How are you going to achieve this?

Lastly, this next bit was ill advised.

Repeatedly talking about blowing up Sydney does turn me off.

Yes, you have ‘bundled’ me. I never said anything about Sydney “blowing up”! I was talking about a Chernobyl style evacuation.

“Global statistics are one thing, but local catastrophe is another. I’m talking about the fear of evacuating beautiful cities like Sydney, whether or not anyone dies in the accident! Rational or not, global statistics do not generate the same NIMBY fears that images of fleeing Sydney do.”

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EclipseNow, thank you for these comments. And, by the way, I think your web site is great. Well done.

I was asking you how to focus on bringing the costs of nuclear down without once mentioning the word ‘safety costs’, because that is simply not what you are concerned about. You said it yourself: nuclear power is safe enough.

Instead, you don’t want excessive legislation. So focus on that! You don’t want protests and counter-suing adding to utility costs. So focus on that! Write about the means of fast deployment in the positive. “Creating a smoother legislative environment” or “A seamless and timely inspection regime, by the experts, exactly when it counts!” Etc.

I did attempt to address these questions on the TCASE 11 tread here: https://bravenewclimate.com/2010/07/08/tcase11/#comment-80839
Did you see that post? I’d be interested in your comments on that attempt to answer what you are asking for.

How are we going to make sure they are safe AND cheap Peter?

As I laid out in various posts: nuclear plants are plenty safe enough wherever we buy it from. We have to train the operators and maintain the safety culture. If the other 30 odd countries can do it so can we. It is no big deal. We do not have to go overboard. The point is that nuclear is far safer than the alternative we have now. If we want safer we have to be able to afford it. We can only afford it if we don’t make ridiculous demands. So any nuclear that is commercially available is plenty safe enough. We need to get it at a price that is competitive with coal, or we will stick with dirty coal.

I feel like I have to scream to be heard from my end

That is how I feel too!

“Don’t talk about safety!” Yeah, right. Like that’s gonna work. They’ll just say “Nazi” and embrace the renewable guy.

I agree. I’ve tried to explain how I am suggesting we approach this (see my post on TCASE 11), but feel what I am saying is not being heard. Help me to find a better way to get across the message I am advocating, which is:

Nuclear safety is far better than what we have now, but

We can only get it if we are willing to focus on working out how to get nuclear at a cost that is competitive, or cheaper, than coal,

If we do not get it at a cost less than coal, we wont get it at all, or it will be a very slow process,

so we will stick with dirty old coal.

It is the cost we need to focus on, not requiring ridiculous and extreme safety regulations and regulatory regimes.

I feel I am shouting again !!!!!

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I hear you Peter, and I think we’re on the same level now. If I think of anything about how to communicate what it is we are trying to communicate it will probably make it onto a poster or campaign slogan!

School holidays are on: gotta run.

Regards,
Eclipse

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I just came acxross these linksa and am posting them here so I can find them for future reference:

“ExternE: Comparing Nuclear Health and Environmental Effects”
http://seekerblog.com/archives/20100921/externe-comparing-nuclear-health-and-environmental-effects/

“MacKay: risk assessment for energy-related severe accidents”
http://seekerblog.com/archives/20100921/mackay-risk-assessment-for-energy-related-severe-accidents/

“PSI: risk assessment for energy-related severe accidents”
http://seekerblog.com/archives/20100921/psi-risk-assessment-for-energy-related-severe-accidents/

“OECD/NEA: Comparing Nuclear Accident Risks with Those from Other Energy Sources”
http://seekerblog.com/archives/20100921/oecdnea-comparing-nuclear-accident-risks-with-those-from-other-energy-sources/

“NRC: Fact Sheet on Probabilistic Risk Assessment (PRA = PSA)”
http://seekerblog.com/archives/20100921/nrc-fact-sheet-on-probabilistic-risk-assessment-pra-psa/

“IAEA and ExternE-Pol comparative assessments of external energy costs”
http://seekerblog.com/archives/20100921/iaea-health-and-environmental-impacts-of-electricity-generation-systems-procedures-for-comparative-assessment/

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