Emissions Open Thread

Open Thread 6

Open Thread 5 has spooled off the BNC front page, so it’s time for new one.

The Open Thread is a general discussion forum, where you can talk about whatever you like — there is nothing ‘off topic’ here — within reason. So get up on your soap box! The standard commenting rules of courtesy apply, and at the very least your chat should relate to the broad theme of the blog (climate change, sustainability, energy, etc.). You can also find this thread by clicking on the Open Thread category on the left sidebar.

Given the recent discussion on BNC in various threads, a topic worth collecting up here is the merits/demerits of imposing a price on carbon, rather than simply pursuing policy to lower the costs (and regulatory burdens) of low-carbon energy sources. In reference to past discussions on BNC about the form a carbon price might take, read about cap-and-trade vs carbon tax and fee-and-dividend. An argument NOT to impose a carbon price is given here. An argument FOR a carbon price is outline here.

Finally, for those in Adelaide, I here’s a head’s up to a couple of talks I’m giving in the near future:

On Thursday 16 September 2010 at 7.30 pm I will be talking on “Sustainable energy solutions for successful climate change mitigation” at the Campbelltown Function Centre, 172 Montacute Road, Rostrevor (rear of Council Offices). Click on picture for details — it’s a free event.

On 18 October, I will be teaming up with Ziggy Switkowski at the Hilton Hotel, Adelaide, to talk about the near- to medium-term  future of nuclear power in Australia, and also to discuss some of the key technologies that will likely underpin this next-generation revolution in atomic energy, and chart a possible course for their development and deployment over the next 40 years. Details are in a flyer you can download here. This is also a FREE public lecture, so don’t miss it!

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By Barry Brook

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

655 replies on “Open Thread 6”

I doubt that energy policy in Australia will differ that much if either Abbott or Gillard form a government. The fact that the Greens will control the Senate next year means that in practice they will get a lot of what they want. Perhaps their $23 carbon tax will be watered down to $10 with giveaways.

I’d expect a trickle of wind and solar projects to keep bubbling along with great fanfare. Meanwhile mid sized plants fired by coal seam gas will be built and the media will point out that’s where all the new electricity is really coming from. Bureaucrats will announce Australia’s sheep don’t fart as much as first thought therefore emissions are down. In other words the next three years will be marked by the same dithering and delusion as the last three.


This has been briefly mentioned in another thread on this forum. How about micropower Nuclear powered plants for personal use. Rod Adams and galloping camel tell us they have been available to power space probes and the like for years. So technically they are available right here and now, I don’t know about safety or lack thereof as far as the nuclear fuel goes, but imagine if one could buy , off the shelf so to speak, an electricity and hot water producing system that works 24/7 independent of wind or sunshine availability. Those people not paranoid about nuclear power could install it and society would gain experience with it and mitigate co2 pollution. Analogous to the situation in some European countries, where as an electricity consumer you have the option of buying “nuclear electricity”. I doubt very much if the greens would allow the regulatory framework to set this up.
But we can dream can we not ??


This has been briefly mentioned in another thread on this forum. How about micropower Nuclear powered plants for personal use.

Outer solar system probes use radiothermal generators which rely on the radioactive decay of plutonium-238, an expensive isotope in rather short supply. The US had to beg some from Russia to power the New Horizons probe to Pluto.


Uncle Pete,

I would like to build on your thought.

I’ve been thinking about the problems of getting nuclear started in Australia. One part of the problem is politics, public awareness and fear of all things nuclear. Another part is the technical aspects, such as with our transmissions system, and a third is the financing of nuclear power plants. This post is about the technical aspect as it relates to the best size of the plants for getting us started.

I’ll continue my approach of ‘book-ending’ the problem by looking at the extremes first.

Let’s start at one extreme of the size range, the large end. I’ve been thinking about the problem of trying to build the really big reactors in Australia. They are too big for our transmission grid. The new Gen III units being built in Europe are 1600MW. Some boiling water reactors are even larger. Korea has standardised on its 1350MW APR1400. Most other designs are over 1000MW,

However, Australian generating units are generally less than half the size of these new Gen III power plants. Most of the newer NSW coal units are 660MW, Victoria about 500MW and the other states use smaller units (mostly). Our transmission system is set up for these sizes, so to insert 1000MW or larger units into our grid will mean we need to spend a lot on the transmissions system as well.

There is another problem with larger units. Australia’s relatively small economy would not be able to gear up to manufacture as large a share of the components as we could if the components were smaller. To elaborate: if we were to standardise on say the AP1000, more of the components would have to be built overseas than if we were to standardise on smaller nuclear power plants. The CANDU6, at about 650MW net, was designed and built in Canada but is now being built in many countries and in all cases with increasing local share.

Going a step further, if we were to start with very small reactors, just to get started, I envisage the possibility of Australia building a manufacturing plant under licence to, for example, Toshiba or whoever’s technology we decide to go with. The manufacturing plant would expand over time to manufacture more and more of the components as the roll out and replacement of our fossil fuel generating plants progresses.

Ziggy Switkowski recently said that it may be easier to get started with some small plants to help to change the public perception. He wasn’t specific about types, but I can envisage the possiblilty of getting started with plants in the range of 100 to 300 MWe [Ref 1], instead of trying to go straight to 1000MW or more. These plants are expected to be commercially available in the near future, and one of them is claimed, by the manufacturer, to cost arounf $4,000/kW in 2009 $ [ref 2].

Uncle Pete, you’ve mentioned the extreme small end of the market. I don’t really think that is a viable option. It suffers from the same problem as distributed power supplies like solar panels on roofs. Here is why.

In a house or small factory, the load changes from zero to full power. Let’s start at the limit where there is no grid and everying has their own power supply. Every site would need a generator that could provide full power but swing between zero and full power. The cost of such a unit would be very high per unit of energy supplied.

If we allow a grid as well then there is a balance between the peak power the grid must be able to provide and the peak power the local plant must be able to provide. If we work all the options through, we find that by far the cheapest option is to have poles and wires to deliver the power for from reasonably centralised, moderately large power stations.

We need to remember that about 75% of our power is demanded all the time. It is cheaper to have power statiosn that provide that power all the time and onthers that can ramp up and down to delieve the extra power needed at peak, than to try to fit every establishment with a power supply that can delieve the full range of power demanded at that site. My gut feeling is that the cost of a fully distributed system would be in the order of 100 times thew cost of centralised power stations with power delivered by poles and wires. Combinations of distributed systems and centralised systems will cost less than fully distributed systems, but more than the centralised systems.

I hope this makes sense.

[Ref 1]
[Ref 2]


This has been briefly mentioned in another thread on this forum. How about micropower Nuclear powered plants for personal use.

Outer solar system probes use radiothermal generators which rely on the radioactive decay of plutonium-238, an expensive isotope in rather short supply. The US had to beg some from Russia to power the New Horizons probe to Pluto.

Yes, and radiothermal generators are like reactors that cannot be turned off, even if you smash them to tiny pieces. If the intact generator was doing 100 thermal kilowatts, so now are the pieces. This mean they cannot have reactors’ safety during failure.

The smallest reactors that have shown themselves practical are those on ships. Here the Savannah is discussed, and a mass is given for its gamma-ray and neutron shield: 1795 tons.

This sort of minimum shield mass remains necessary even if the power is only a few kW. So it becomes relevant to compare the few-kilotonne few-kilowatt reactor’s service lifetime to the time a few-kilotonne heap of fuel — much simpler — would last. This has been previously discussed.

(How fire can be domesticated)


Yes, and radiothermal generators are like reactors that cannot be turned off, even if you smash them to tiny pieces. If the intact generator was doing 100 thermal kilowatts, so now are the pieces. This mean they cannot have reactors’ safety during failure.

Given the difficulty the US had in securing a ,couple of kilos of P-238 for an historic space mission, I doubt we’re in much immediate danger of having hundreds of 100KW RTGs rolled out for general use.


Australia’s current crop of hi tech manufacturers seem to be mainly looking to defence contracts with only side jobs for private industry. Example
At the Australian Submarine Co’s engineering arm (ASC-E), fabrication of four giant autoclaves for Murrin Murrin is well under way. These vessels, weighing 600 tonnes, will be the largest titanium-lined autoclaves in the world. Total contract cost is more than $A40m.

The titanium, which is bonded to the heavy steel plate using explosives, arrives at the Adelaide site where it is rolled and welded into cylindrical “cans” which are welded together to form the finished length of the autoclave.

In another workshop, huge caps are welded and prepared for fitting to the autoclaves. The titanium skin will withstand a solution of nickel and cobalt ore and sulphuric acid heated under pressure to a temperature of 250° Celsius.

OK that’s not a single piece forging but it suggests there is some local knowledge of containment vessels. Surely that knowledge can be used and extended. I question the wisdom of some defence contracts such as building more diesel submarines because the last lot were duds. According to tonight’s 60 Minutes the enemy is China so perhaps it would be easier just to surrender.

The point is that there will be many well paid jobs with increased local sourcing of nuclear supply contracts. It would provide careers for young people whose current prospects may be limited to growing spuds in a community garden.


Uncle Pete,
My apologies for my (intended to be humorous) reference to Pu238 electrical generators. Finrod is right, this solution only works for space probes that need a material with a very high heat output and a long half life (88 years).

You were looking for a power source for your farm. That might be a tough nut to crack using nuclear fission. LFTRs should be economical in smaller sizes than LWRs but until someone can develop a design that will operate without human intervention for long periods it is hard to imagine anything smaller than 50 MWe being economical.


Very interesting perspectives from those in the know: Two views on nuclear energy in Asia:

Read it all – here is a taster:

Bryan Camoens: How does the role of government in the Asian nuclear power industry enable nuclear power plant development?

Edward Kee: There are several ways. First, the assurance of a market is key; having early orders for multiple units from government-owned utilities is something that western commercial vendors do not have.

Secondly, the national commitment to develop an integrated nuclear supply chain with significant long-term investments in human resources and manufacturing capacity. Like France in the 1970s, a large order of new nuclear units drives supply chain investments and long production lines, which lowers the cost of the nuclear units. Large national nuclear fleets also provide additional benefits in operation and maintenance and fuel cycle.

Third, financial resources are important. For example, the Russian offer to finance, build, own and operate nuclear power plants in Turkey is only possible due to Rosatom’s government ownership.

Fourth, the ability to put forward an integrated nuclear power plant offer to outside buyers that incorporates a seamless integrated supply chain. Western vendors must cobble together a series of subcontracts and related agreements from unrelated commercial entities; each of these agreements adds cost (to meet risk premiums and profit margins of subcontractors), risk (as responsibility is shared between multiple commercial entities), and complexity (project management is more difficult due to multiple entities with multiple interests and contractual rights).

Finally, these governments largely avoided the electricity industry experiments in de-regulation, restructuring and electricity markets. In the US and the UK (and in some other countries), electricity generation has been largely privatized with investment decisions made on the basis of commercial outcomes. While this worked well so long as significant baseload generation capacity from the prior era remained in operation, there are serious questions about whether this approach will result in the investment needed to replace aging baseload generation plants, much less any investments in very-high-capital-cost, very-low-variable-cost nuclear power plants..


Peter Lang,

If Australia decides to invest in NPPs, I hope you will go for a solution that suits a very large country with a low population density. Australia needs energy sources that can be economic in relatively small sizes while offering high availability (>90%) and good load following capabilities (e.g. hydro, nuclear, oil and coal).

While solar or wind sources can be small, they do not fit the template owing to their low availability, which mandates back up from remote sources via an expensive high voltage distribution network.

IMHO, IFRs and LFTRs are more scalable than LWRs so they have potential to be economic in much smaller sizes than the 1 GWe and above plants that are currently popular.



Good points. I wonder how we could wind back where we have got ourselves to with privatisation of the electricity industry. If we tried to introduce government owned and operated generators to compete with private owned and operated generators, how would that work? I know what the initial reaction from the private operators would be!

I do think this is just about the most important issue to be addressed. I think the financing of nuclear in Australia is the really big hurdle to overcome. I believe the public perception and political obstacles can be overcome if we are serious about cutting our GHG emissions. And I believe such public perception obstacles could be changed sufficiently within one term of government.


Regarding the discussion of RTGs, given how concerned the US is about Pu-238 availability for spacecraft, and developing new Pu-238 production capability, I think there should be a renewed interest in the use of small fission reactors on spacecraft, since their fuel is much more available than Pu-238 is.

Some small fission reactors (as distinct from RTGs) have been deployed on spacecraft… for example SNAP-10A, as well as some Russian ones.

There are also modern small reactor designs such as Toshiba 4S… which are quite a bit smaller than typical submarine reactors.


Of the potential available options, were Australia to consider NPPs, a number would seem to be well suited to Australian needs. First would be two or three Indian PHWRs. The first two would have gross output of 220 MWs and 700 MWs. These would offer some flexibility in one for one replacements for coal fired power plants. The third PHWR would be the AHWR-300 LEU, which would be available after 2020. In addition, the CANDU 600 has already been mentioned. Finally. even smaller units will be available in the form of B&W mPower 125s.

The Indian units would probably turn out to be bargains, compared to world prices for NPPs, while the CANDU and mPower options probably would facilitate a more rapid deployment of nuclear technology, than would be possible if only Indian technology were relied on.


Thanks for educating me guys. Ok, here is another potential saving in construction cost of a nuke plant.
Instead of building a containment vessel that can withstand a 747 crashing into it, why not have a battery of Patriot missiles installed on site, and let it be known that anyone flying any aircraft within , say 2.5 Km ,will be toast :)


Uncle Pete,
Small NPPs should be buried, thus providing excellent radiation shielding and reduced vulnerability to all kinds of external threats.


I presume the S-PRISM would suit Australia well. :) But in all seriousness, what’s stopping a large generator like a AP1000 coming online? iirc, the current coal ones are a few thousand MW, but split by smaller generators. What’s the difference?



Uncle pete, on 5 September 2010 at 8.51 — Toshiba has a 10 MWe mini-NPP for sale. Largeer ones include Hyperion @ 20 MWe and Nuscale @ 45 MWe. Nuscale makes a big point out of the fact that several of their modules can be run at the same site to create a bigger generator.


So , in a nutshell, if the legislation was in place for NPP to be allowed to build, then we would have those power plants. The only thing stopping deployment is the political will. ( I suppose the NIMBY principle). And I imagine the coalmining unions here in Australia are not exactly jumping to get on the fission bandwagon :)


So what do people think about that KiteGen thing? If the carousel turns out to be viable then it looks like it could be a contender. My gut is telling me however that the future energy needs of mankind are not going to be met by a rotating wheel with kites attached.


What do you folks think about this:

I think it’s worth keeping an eye on. Who knows, in spite of it’s apparent unlikelihood, the scheme might work out. I wouldn’t stake the future on the assumption that it will, though.


Further to my previous comment, even though they are touting availability times of up to 75% for Kitegen, that still won’t necessarily get you away from the need for full backup. Unlike a coal, natgas or nuclear plant, the outages are weather-dependent, therefore inherently unpredictable. Also, it may take some time to overcome the issues surrounding keeping large aerodynamic structures airborne for industrially significant periods of time.


Several authors have drawn attention to the benefits that a publicly owned generator has over private ones. The former Electricity Commission of NSW build a dozen 660MW units in about 20 years in the 1970’s and 80’s. The commissioning rate reached better than 2 per year with Bayswater 1-4 before it was wound down at the end of this expansion program. This was extremely successful, so successful that the available generating capacity exceeded the demand, thus enabling the government of the day to completely close its design offices and divide the remaining organisation into three generating corporations and one HV transmission organisation.

Manpower was scaled back from about 12,000 to lose to 4,000 total.

So, not just any state-owned corporation will have the necessary clout to embark on a nuclear program, rolling out one new unit per year reliably. In particular, the international suppliers of units in the 700MW range might not be attracted any more or less to the existing Australian generating corporations than to privately owned generators.

I contend without evidence to back me at this stage, that it boils down to perception of risk.

Perhaps the best way for Australia to manage risks is to apportion them where they best can be managed. E.g.

Radiation leakage
Radiation – material storage
Radiation – operational error
Commercial – construction
Commercial – market
Planning and approval
and so on.

I suggest that planning and approval risks could be resolved in advance by the state acquiring the land and obtaining pre-approval based on an indicative design.

Most or even all of the other risks could be managed privately, perhaps with a form of underwriting by the government.

In conclusion, my initial position is that appropriate government owned integrated power industry players no longer exist in this country and are unlikely to be rebuilt, but that an intelligent government may be able to sort out amny of the perceived risks which attach to a major infrastructure investment such as re-engineering our power industry, through private corporations.

This may change when I have fully digested the various links which Peter and Barry have provided for us all.


I just tried to book in to the Campbelltown event. The listed phone number appears to b elong to Toll Priority at mascott, not Campbelltown Council.

Does anybody know the correct contact phone number?


Huw Jones,
That Deutsche Welle article confirms what has been happening for more than five years. Germany has sunk so much money into wind power that they have nothing to spend on new power plants with better availability.

The Germans have painted themselves into a corner, so the only solutions they have in the short term is to buy electricity from France and to extend the life of NPPs that should be de-commissioned.


A few thoughts…

Existing coal fired power stations all have:
1. Land zoned for power generation.
2. Workforces locally which can build, operate and maintain power stations.
3. Wet cooling water systems eg lakes, salt water frontages and/or cooling towers.
4. If desired, land for dry cooling towers. Think: 5Gl/year for a 1000MW dry cooling station, Vs 20Gl/year for cooling towers, but with an energy penalty of at least 5%.
5. In most cases, quite a large physical separation from neighbours – reducing slightly NIMBY.
6. These sites offer a trade off – do away with the coal and fly ash dusts and the sulfurous, nitrous and carbon-laden stack gases and replace them with a cleaner and safer operation.
7. High voltage, high capacity connection points which are the switchyards of the existing power stations.
8. No new land to purchase.
9. No new neighbours to placate.
10. No new dams for cooling water.
11. No increase in water requirements from the rivers.
12. No new highway or rail diversions around greenfield sites.
13. No new towns and construction camps to build.
14. No new transmission easements.
15. No new transmission towers and lines (some conductor upgrades and switchyard mods).

Many of our existing coal fired power stations fit this description. In fact, we used to have scattered around our cities a crop of former power stations.

For example, Newcastle – Zaara Street Power Station. Lake Macquarie – Wangi Wangi Power Station.
Sydney – Bunnerong, Pyrmont, White Bay and Balmain Power Stations.
Illawarra region – Tallawarra Power Station.
All of these sites have now been lost, along with the employment and industry which they supported.
They have mostly been sold off to high rise building entrepreneurs.

The selling point: Recycle our existing coal fired power station sites as cleaner, safer, reliable, long term energy and employment generators to serve our communities and to provide employment for our children and their children.

In summary: Before the governments sell off their remaining power generation assets, pre-approve and promote the development of nuclear power stations on existing sites, preferably by 30-year BOOT contracts, which should be enough for the proponents and the financiers to recoup their investment. BOOT means build, Own, Operate and Transfer. After the 30-year point, the asset and workforce are transferred back to the community, which receives the benefit of virtually free energy and reclaims the asset value. This plan also provides for end-of-life site rehabilitation by the State, thus placing the perceived long term risk involved with site rehab in public hands, rather than asking potential financiers to price into their plans something which is 30+ years away and wrapped in much more emotional nonsence now than will be the case in 30 years.

NSW could start with 2000MW at Liddell (Hunter Valley), a further 3000MW instead of the proposed coal or gas Bayswater 2 (Hunter Valley) and another 3000MW at Wallerawang near Lithgow). Victoria could start with Hazelwood or just about any of their brown coal burners, but with the additional problem that Kennett sold these stations years back. South Australia has a few choice sites, some of which are still in public hands. Quite possibly, further capacity could be located close to pumped storage in the Snowy, to maximise the utility of this resource.

So, what is our national target? How about a dozen 700MW units and a further dozen 350MW units? That program would draw huge international interest amongst suppliers. The first couple of units would iron out any bugs to suit local constraints, for example, training Australian subcontract suppliers and manufacturers to achieve the standards and skills necessary.

From there, it would be easy.

All we need is the political will to use cheap nuclear instead of not-so-cheap but still nasty coal. Once on a roll, 20GW or more would very easily become an achievable target over, say, 25 years.

Nothing else can come close to achieving that amount of CO2-e reduction in that time and at that cost.


Just for the record, in terms of refuting the case for nuclear power, it seems (from my meeting yesterday at Greens HQ) that the first objection for contemporary Greens is the cost argument.

Roughly, nuclear power is too expensive [point to cost overruns in Finland] and cost of string waste if openended. Mention subsidies a lot.

One of the sillier arguments raised, which I must admit I hadn’t heard until yesterday, was that the people storing nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain would have to try to guess the languages spoken by people 18,000 years from now, because otherwise they wouldn’t understand that the materiel stored there was dangerous.

Apparently, despite the fact that we can now decipher Sanskrit, and despite a continuous, incremental and fully documented language existing with humanity over the next 18,000 years when it will be dangerous, and despite the probability that they will be massively more technologically advanced than us, people then won’t be able to work out what a hazard warning looks like. Gosh. Who knew that documentation was the chief problem?

Now as far as I know, no materiel has yet gone to Yucca Mountain anyway, but putting that aside, it apparently didn’t occur to the speaker that sometime in that 18000 years, someone might find a way of rendering the hazmat useful and/or entirely innocuous, which seems a far more plausible hypothesis than speculation over the collapse of the provenance of language forms.


Ewen Laver,

Just for the record, in terms of refuting the case for nuclear power, it seems (from my meeting yesterday at Greens HQ) that the first objection for contemporary Greens is the cost argument.

Thank you for that report. I find that really good news. Is see that as enormous progress. Because, if cost and financing is the top item on the agenda, many people will be on the same page (not all of course), so it can be dealt with. I really hope the focus stays on cost and financing being the top issue to be dealt with.

Thanks again.


Interestingly, given that it was a meeting mainly for new members, two or three I spoke to were actually open to the idea of nuclear power.



Does that mean that ” the first objection for contemporary Greens is the cost argument” is an opinion of the newish members rather than reflecting the opinion of the higher levels of the organisation? I was hoping it was a reflection of a changing opinion towards the top. I guess that will take longer, yes?


I revert at the start of a new solar cycle to the topic of the effect of a CME, coronal mass ejection, on NPPs. The now-departed blogger DV downplayed all concerns in this area, nothing new there.

So it is interesting to read the long anonymous piece at on the impact of a CME or EMP attack on US NPPs today. It is written by somebody called “BZ” who says he is a nuclear engineer of 30 years experience. So he passes the BNC nerd test. He writes that his fellow engineers advised him to keep his mouth shut about CME/EMP.

Now as regards BZ, there is an admitted current habit of US nationals and their admirers in the US satellite states of UK, Aust. etc. to turn the victims ie N. Korea and Iran, into perpetrators, ie aggressors against the USA. Hence the preoccupation with EMP, electromagnetic pulse attack against CONUS, as the fans of the US military on BNC would say.

Having said which, BZ’s article is worth reading, because he focusses not on core meltdown upon power loss but on what then happens to the spent fuel storage pool.

A weakness of the article is that he does not compare and contrast CME with EMP: the former happens every 500 years on the scale of the 1859 Carrington Event as shown by icecore proxies, the latter is a Bush-Bama fantasy.


What would be the settled down capital cost for NPPs of less than 700MW in Australia if we removed all the impediments to nuclear and established an approriate environment to facilitate their roll out at least cost?

I understand CANDU6’s are being built in China for about $2 billion/GW (or $2/W). Korea is building APR1400 for $2.3 billion/GW ($2.3/W) in Korea and building them as a sort of first of a kind in UAE for about $3.6 billion/GW ($3.8/W). China and India are building plants of their own design at about $1.5 billion/GW ($1.5/W) I understand. For comparison, new supercritical, black coal, air cooled would cost about $2 billion/GW in Australia (according to ACIL-Tasman). (all figures are in 2009 US$)

What could we achieve here if we really wanted to?



Ewen, do you think the Green’s focus on costs is really because that is their chief concern around nuclear power? Or are the old attitudes still there, but cost is perceived to be the argument with the most traction? Is the opposition on the basis of cost a tactical shift rather than an attitudinal shift?

Not trying to be cynical, just interested in the dynamic here. I’d love for cost to be the focus of the discussion, thats an easy win for us.


The CANDUs look really attractive for Australia. They don’t need a large pressure vessel, so we’re not stuck with a supply bottleneck on a critical large component, and there would be more opportunity for local component fabrication.

And the fuel flexibility would be great for us. They can burn natural uranium, and spent LWR fuel. For a country with a lot of uranium, a mix of some AP1000s and some CANDUs could give a high utilization fuel cycle without separation and enrichment, just fuel refabrication.

I think an interesting question would be to look at what combination of CANDUs and LWRs would be the most effective for Australia.


Hi Ewen,
there’s a European movie coming out (Swedish I think) that analyses all sorts of weird questions about storing waste for 100 thousand years. How do they communicate the dangers to those poor people who might be living in a post-apocalypse world of some unimaginable disaster. Will they be illiterate? Will the virus, nuclear exchange, zombie plague, Deep Impact, or alien attack have been so savage that they can’t read English in 200 years, let alone 100 thousand?

It’s all entirely silly, and is another reason I put up the “Nuclear waste, it’s not the problem, it’s the SOLUTION!” poster.


@Finrod, on Kitegen

I’m looking everywhere, and there’s lots of claims about its ‘availability factor’ but I cant find anything on its Capacity Factor. Or does it produce near ‘peak’ power 60-70% of the time? Now that would be something…


And on the waste thing, I think we have got to make it clear that even with a once through then burying the spent fuel system, the radio-toxicity will be down to that of U ore in 1000 years. Why is there any moral obligation to make it more safe than just leaving the ore in the ground?

Also do the antis realise this, and are just trying to stir public opinion? Or is there something i’m missing?


Hi Huw,
speaking from personal experience as a ‘former anti’, it’s ignorance. Many of us ‘mere greenie activists’ are just uninformed. Again, another reason I developed the “Waste is not the problem, it’s the solution!” poster.


To see one approach to the “problem” of communicating the danger of nuclear waste to future generations in deep time, scroll down to the images here.

Stewart Brand thinks this is completely ridiculous, and any site decorated with such intriguing “art” would invite exploration.



Yeah, come to think of it, when I was in the anti-crowd, it was just assumed that Nuke waste would be dangerous forever. Your poster is excellent BTW! Did you make it? I’m in need of some advice on a poster I’m trying to make.

@John M,

Those pictures are amazing! Please tell me that’s a joke though…

The issue of future generations digging up nuclear waste is perhaps overblown. There have been many societal ‘collapses’ over the past few thousands years, but we still have records of what our ancestors did. Any future generation capable of digging down that far would have at least some record of what went on today, and know to take caution, and recognise the signs. Hell it might deter future generations for digging for more oil!

Even if they have no knowledge of Nuclear waste, and they dig some up, so what? They would have to dig up a shitload for it to be of any serious threat. And dragging up heavy spent fuel from a deep mine isn’t easy.


eclipsenow, on 6 September 2010 at 22.10 Said:

Hi Ewen,
there’s a European movie coming out (Swedish I think) that analyses all sorts of weird questions about storing waste for 100 thousand years.

Do you mean this one:

It’s out already. I’ve seen it. The waste is deadly dangerous forever, and so on…the normal stuff. It’s amusing to watch is knowing that there is no need to bury the waste, but to use it as fuel.

About kitegen: If that system really works, it should be much cheaper to build than normal wind mills. It can reach far higher altitudes, doesn’t need any towers and should be simply to build even off shore at deep sea. I don’t know what is the teoretical capasity factor for high altitude winds. Not 100 %, but more that 25 %, I think.

Maybe Barry could tell us something about high altitude winds?


Kitegen has been postet in this thread already…
How about 24/7 sunpower.
About 3billion for 2.5GW. Cost projection just as stable as gen4 or 3+ nuclear ;)


Peter asked:

Does that mean that the first objection for contemporary Greens is the cost argument is an opinion of the newish members rather than reflecting the opinion of the higher levels of the organisation?

Note: The words italicised were my construction of the remarks of John Kaye, Greens MLC, rather than his words. The question arose because a new member asked for an explanation of the party’s attitude to medical isotope production at Lucas Heights, and this then led to a more general question about why some countries continued with nuclear power. He spoke of there being two types of countries: those that already had plants and regretted it, and those that had committed, seen costs blow out and wished they hadn’t. He then spoke of the unlimited and open-ended costs asociated with waste storage.

The position was not challenged or supplemented on the panel, which included retiring MLC Sylvia Hale, her replacement, David Shoebridge, or Senator (elect) Lee Rhiannon.

John Morgan asked:

[…] are the old attitudes still there, but cost is perceived to be the argument with the most traction? Is the opposition on the basis of cost a tactical shift rather than an attitudinal shift?

Oh I don’t doubt that at leadership level the need to be unambiguous in opposing nuclear power is clear. For the Greens to abandon this position would be potentially very divisive and even if there were elements who might be inclined to take a more pragmatic approach, it’s not clear how they could do this plausibly. What I read into this is that the leadership is no longer convinced that citing Chernobyl cuts the kind of ice it once did. Significantly, in his qualification, Kaye said even if you could somehow promise there’d be no more Chernobyls (or words to that effect). Many of the new members would have been children when Chernobyl occurred and would have cut their teeth worrying about climate change.

Interestingly, Kaye, at one point in his life, apparently was an energy trader and leveraged that experience to put the baseload fallacy position to answer the intermittency objection put to him. “We were the ones” he said “who helped push the whole move to on demand energy”.

Re: thorium, in private discussion, he tried to claim that thorium plants required significantly more energy to start up than did uranium. I suspect this was based on a misunderstanding of the roles of fissile and fertile materiels in the nuclear fuel cycle. One person challenged him, but I thought it better to get a feel for the people in the room than become engaged in debate at that point so I kept circulating.


kitegen is a dynamic system. The kite is controlled. It works at full capacity in almost any winds.
If there is to much wind it is powered down.
You would understand if you kitesurf.
Unlike a parachute it is not only dragging along but working like a profile. Maybe you can compare it with a sailboat.
In the carousel configuration you would just launch more kites in low winds.
High altitute winds are almost always “on”.
Jet streams even more so…but you would have to reach higher to tap into jet streams.


From the Spiegel article –

‘As long as old, highly profitable nuclear power plants are still online, they will hinder the development of renewable energy,’ Gabriel said.

Morons. That sentence makes no sense, and exposes the true objectives of the person who said it.


From James Hansen’s book, Storms of My Grandchildren, page. 181:

Then, in the final minutes of our meeting, the underlying story emerged with clarity: Coal use was essential, Minister Gabriel said, because Germany was going to phase out nuclear power. Period. I was a political decision, and it was not negotiable.

That’s it.


I occasionally drop in the logging protestors at Tasmania’s Camp Florentine. You’d think they would be the hard edge of the green movement but some of them are quite reasonable to talk to. What we should fear are the urban deep greens who never spent a cold night living under a tarpaulin. Evidently in Germany these urban types now become environment ministers. They seem to work with a simple rule – if it’s renewable reward it with generous subsidies if not punish it with heavy taxes.


Hi Stefanie,
How much is the transmission technology for reaching jet streams? Can we even do it in the first place? Those jet-streams are 10 k up, and unless the whirly-birds are generating some SERIOUS power per bird, I can’t imagine it being economic just because of transmission costs.



High altitute winds are almost always “on”.
Jet streams even more so…but you would have to reach higher to tap into jet streams.

During the Second World War England and Germany floated balloons above their cities; they were tethered to the ground with thin steel wires . The purpose was to bring down bombers flying in to bomb the cities.

My question is who should pay the insurance costs for aircraft that accidentally get caught in one of the kites you are advocating?. Should the insurance cost be attributed to the air transport industry (thus raising our airfares) or to the wind kites (thus raising the cost of electricity)?


Peter, that’s a fairly weak tactic. There are strict flight zone rules. If this technology works, I’ve seen stats that a fairly small area of the flight zone would be off limits and planes will easily avoid these areas. The counter response would be to asks who pays if we have to evacuate Sydney because something happens at a reactor!

I think the main thing to focus on here is whether or not the technology actually works.


I agree with EclipseNow, my support/lack of support for kitegen is based on the actual performance of the technology.

BTW, I read somewhere during my brief attempt into researching Kitegen, that one proposed idea is to place the systems at the sites/on top of a Nuclear reactor. The idea is that there is a no-fly zone around the reactor anyway, so there’s no added disruption/risk to planes.



I am not talking about tactics. I am talking abojt the cost? What is the cost. Ams I totally disagree with you that it would be a small risk. I think it is not a risk, it is an issue (in project management terms when a risk has a probability of occurrnce near 100% it i8s an issue). So this is an issue, not a risk.

Do the calculations ansd work out hom many of thse things would have to be strung from the sky to provide our electricity needs and what spacing would they be. How many aircrafet would they bring down per year? What is the cost? Who pays?

If you think aircraft never stray off course, I don’t know where you’ve been?

I notice you back on the evacuating Sydney emotive stuff. I thought we’d put that to bed ages ago. Is it sny wonder I get frustrated?


Sam Powrie, on 6 September 2010 at 8.14 Said

I don’t care what ‘generation’ the reactor technology belongs too – you are dealing with need for the construction and then the maintenance and the rebuilding every generation or two of thousands of new nuclear reactors. Thousands!!! Not just say 5000 over 20 years (I’ve read it would take 10,000 to replace the coal-fired generation needs of the earth’s current 6.5billion pop’n) but another 5000 30 years later to replace the first lot and so on. Ad infinitum.

Sam, I agree that nuclear plants will have to be replaced as they reach the end of their economic lives, just as all plants have to be. But nuclear plants last longer, are smaller, require much less material, land area, disturbance to the environment, etc.

Yes, we will have to replace reactors when they reach their retirement age. But the same occurs for whatever technology we use. Coal gas, hydro, wind and solar plants also have to be retired and replaced. All of these, except hydro, have shorter design lives than nuclear. The new generation nuclear plants have design lives of 60 years and will quite possible be extended to 80 or 100 years. So everything has to be replaced. By the time Gen II reactors have to be replaced we’ll be replacing them with Gen IV or who knows what will be next. Did you see these two articles:

The key point for me is the cost of the various options. Nuclear is the least cost way to provide our future electricity needs and reduce emissions. The cost wraps in all the variables so it is the all embracing way to compare options. Did you see this article which compares the cost of several options for transitioning to low carbon electricity generation.

How many nuclear reactors do you think Australia can build and sustain before our economy goes down the tube?

The answer is: As many as we need and they will enhance our economy and the well being of all people on the planets if we tackle the problem in the right way. What is critical is how we set up the regulatory structures and the long term security for investors. If we do this well so we implement low cost nuclear, (like in Korea, China, India, Russia) then my answer is we can build as many as we need to have our power generated as it is in France (about 76% nuclear and the rest from a mix of hydro, other renewables and a little gas and coal).

We could reach this situation in about two decades from when we start building. And yes, if electricity is cheap the load will grow faster as electricity replaces gas for heating and oil for land transport. So we will need to build more reactors and faster than if electricity is expensive. Someone pointed out that if Boeing can build $200 million aircraft at the rate of one per day, why couldn’t we get to the point of building two of these a week (i.e. 2.5GW/year) and more as we ramp up:

If we were serious about having access to nuclear technology we would have build the blasted things 2 decades ago. We’d have our own home-grown NP industry maturing right now.

We would have if the anti-nuclear movement hadn’t run a very successful campaign, still running today, to block them and jack up the cost of nuclear in the western democracies. In Australia our federal government and every state government passed legislation banning consideration of nuclear . However, the rest of the world is picking up the baton. All G20 countries, except Australia, have nuclear power or are proceeding to get it.

It’s too late to attempt to become a nuclear consumer now because realistically our only choice is to become a nuclear slave to the technology of others.

I don’t agree. Yes we will contract nuclear technology and equipment from a supplier just like all other countries do and just as we do for most of the heavy equipment items we buy from overseas. We don’t build our gas turbines here, or our oil rigs, or our aircraft, or most of our mining or military equipment. We purchase it from overseas. However, if we went with small reactors, I could see us manufacturing our own in Australia under licence, such as to Toshiba for its small plants.

As I’ve said, what’s important are the numbers, including the money!

Sam, on your last point I absolutely agree with you. This is the point I always argue too. Nuclear is the least cost option that can provide clean electricity to meet our likely future needs for rapidly increasing demand for electricity as we move more and more away from fossil fuels to electricity (including for heating and land transport). If you are genuinely interested in “show me the money” then I hope you might take the time to go through this:


Peter, it’s simple. If these pilots are breaking the law by flying into a no-fly zone, who pays? The airline’s I guess. The pilot was breaking the law! Also check the following.

To help visualizing the existing unexploited potential, just consider that the flight prohibited area over a nuclear power plant can easily get to contain 1 GW of wind power, equal to the power of the plant itself.

Given that the airspace required is pretty much the same as for nuclear power, who pays if a flight crashes into a nuke and kills Homer Simpson, Karl, and Lenny working at the power plant? (Those not lucky enough to be under the containment dome at the time of the accident.) Indeed, to power the world with nukes, just how much air-space are you going to refuse?


@John Newlands, Blees, various CONUS denizens and others at the other end of the world or transatlantic:

when appraising voters’ and hence politicians’ attitudes to nuclear power in all 3 Germanophone lands note one salient fact that you all overlook: they were and are noticeably closer to Chernobyl than Hobart or LA.

Read up on the literature describing what happened in those countries in 1986.

Chernobyl occurred in what is to Germanophones was a foreign ie Eastern European/Slavic/Communist culture beyond the Iron Curtain, this possibly enhancing its perceived threat at the time and since, in folk memory and attitudes to NPP.

Note that Australians would doubtless react differently over time to a large-scale cross-Tasman accident affecting them as compared to one occurring in PNG or Indonesia. Given an accident, NZ would be more trustworthy in the eyes of the Aust. public as being European in origin than would PNG or Indon.

Austria (border with Czechoslovakia in 1986 and a Czech NPP at Temelin still on it in 2010) has banned NPPs in its Constitution and replaced the NPP investment ruin at Mühlberg in 1978 with a coal fired station; Switzerland has on ongoing NPP controversy.

Note that in Germany, pro- and anti-nuclear has to do with political outlook generally; BNC betrays its otherwise fairly high intellectual level with some of the xenophobic and ignorant sweeping comments made recently by Anglosphere residents.

I admit however that it is not easy in Launceston to imagine dozens of countries with different but interlocked histories and mentalities all contained within an area smaller than Aust. itself. However, BNCers are welcome to try to pull themselves up by their bootlaces, imported from China.


Saw the wanker-mobile from “Friends of the Earth” (I think it’s owned by FoE, but I’m not 100% sure) driving around Melbourne this afternoon, scaring people with their fake trailer-load of “radioactive waste”.

(The same one as depicted here: )

(Of course, they have absolutely no idea about the legislation, permitting, licensing, international regulations, package and container design, shielding, containment and similar controls that go into the regulation of the actual realistic transport of any radioactive material.)

I wonder where they’re going? I can’t think of any public forums concerning nuclear technology in the near future in Melbourne that they would take their travelling circus to picket at.


I don`t see a reason why the powersat system should not be doable.

NoFlightZones are all around Europe…there are more prohibited zones than flightpathes.
The kites can be reeled in under a minute.
Every KitegenStem will be equiped with radar.
Residual risk is insurance issue.

Maybe the windindustry could give kitegen a kickstart.
But I guess the Italians are not selling the technology yet. They are trying to develope the product alone.

But there are other people working on high altitute power. Makanipower (Google), the kitelab at TU Delft and some students in Swizerland.

Retrofitting shipps with Skysails can also save significant amounts of fuel/CO2.


@Huw I thought Schneider was ace. It’s a shame the media didn’t discover him earlier, as in the old saying ‘we hardly knew ye’.


Actually, this guy is starting to sound familiar. I searched for Dittmar on BNC but got no hits, so I’m not sure if the search function covers comments as well?

This is the fourth part of a four-part guest post by Dr. Michael Dittmar. Dr. Dittmar is a researcher with the Institute of Particle Physics of ETH Zurich, and he also works at CERN in Geneva.

Anyway, these are his summary claims after a fairly long article.

In this fourth and final part of our analysis about the Future of Nuclear Energy, we have presented status and prospects for nuclear fuel breeder fission reactors and the true situation as it relates to nuclear fusion.

Despite the often repeated claims that the technology for fast reactors is well understood, one finds that no evidence exists to back up such claims. In fact, their huge construction costs, their poor safety records, and their inefficient performance give little reason to believe that they will ever become commercially significant.

Indeed, no evidence has been presented so far that the original goal of nuclear fuel breeding has been achieved. The designs and running plans for the two FBR’s, currently under construction in India and in Russia, do not indicate that successful breeding can even in principle be achieved.

Nevertheless, assuming that extensive and costly efforts are being undertaken during the next 20-30 years, a remote possibility of mastering nuclear fission breeder reactor technology can still be imagined. However, it is unclear if (1) enough highly enriched uranium remains to start future commercial breeder reactors on a large scale in 30-40 years from now, and (2) if the people in rich societies will accept risky and costly research efforts during times of economic difficulties. In any case, fast breeder reactors, even under the most optimistic assumptions, will come far too late to compensate for the looming energy decline following the peaking of oil and gas.


just asking if anyone has time to write a decent article rebuffing this guy? It seems to be the ‘knock-down’ piece a peaknik friend uses to combat the meme that we might actually DO something about the energy crisis.

There are a great many responses in the comments thread to that article which would qualify to be considered as such a rebuttal, although reading through the lot would take quite a while.


I suspect a major critique has not been written because of the incredible length of it!

I’ve noticed that a tactic sometimes employed by essayists attempting to get away with some premise or point which would be rejected to the accompaniment of laughter if it were plainly and concisely presented is to so daunt would-be critics with an absolute epic of such length that one despairs of ever getting to the end, or even the salient point of the damn thing. I take it as a sign of desperation.


@Eclipse, did you notice that someone was talking about this over on the IFR FaD thread? Someone had some interesting points on the article, maybe you could include them in your email to your peaknik friend :P


Hey, for all I know it might have even been me looking for material on Dittmar a while ago… the article is starting to really sound familiar. Like certain bad smells that just keep reappearing.

Got a link to the IFR FaD thread… I’m having trouble navigating today.


In a different direction – I found Dr. David MacKay’s excellent free online book Sustainable Energy without the hot air via Brave New Climate (thanks!). It’s at

I got so interested that I did more searching and found the video of Dr. MacKay’s April 5, 2010 presentation at Caltech. It’s at:

He’s updated some of the material in Sustainable Energy, and is definitely without the hot air. In the question and answer session at the end, he mentions his work on an online interactive calculator for the UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change. The first version is now online. Start with the 2050 Pathways Analysis page at

and check out the DECC 2050 calculator too itself at

DECC is asking for comment on the tool in a Call for Evidence by 5 October 2010. (I don’t know how they’d respond to non-UK resident’s comments – I’m sure Dr. MacKay wouldn’t mind.)

But even better, for those who would like to start designing the future (and getting our own leaders off the pot – I’m in Canada) – the tool is open source and available. Here’s the quote from the calculator tool page:

‘Creating a low-carbon economy will require the consent and participation of citizens given the scale and pace of change required. Government can play a leadership role, but transforming our economy will require a coalition of citizens, business, and the energy industry.

We would like to test and refine this tool, its assumptions and its presentation, before engaging the public more widely.

* This tool is a front end to a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet that carries out the actual calculations and contains all the assumptions. Download the spreadsheet.

* There is a document that explains the assumptions and approach used in this work and some of its implications. Download the document (pdf).

* We are running a call for evidence to help improve the assumptions and spreadsheet. Respond to the call for evidence on the DECC website.

You can also download the full source code to this interface to the calculator, under an open source licence. Patches gratefully received through that site.’

Contact info:
2050 Pathways Analysis Call for Evidence Co-ordinator 2050 Pathways team 0300 060 4000

I hope you find this as exciting as I do. And Barry – thank you for BraveNewClimate and also to all your readers and commentators. It’s an eye-opener and I’ve only scratched the surface of what’s here.


PS: I say friend because I really do respect the questions Michael is asking. They are important questions. EG: What energy sources will be affected by the upcoming scarcity of ‘rare earths’? Various renewables are going to have to be reinvented as gallium supplies and other ‘rare earths’ become ‘extremely rare earths’. ;-)

How will nuclear power be affected? Which nukes are affected by what resource crisis? Because when one looks into it, babies born today are not just hitting ‘peak oil’ but ‘peak everything’. From here on in, all the normal concentrated resources are declining. Fortunately though I understand that with enough energy, we can chew away at even the bedrock of continents to extract the resources we need. But at what price?

I’m hoping nano-tech and new approaches in ‘green chemistry’ can substitute new building and electronics materials so that we don’t need to scour through every last meter of the surface of the earth, but can leave some ecosystems intact.



you clearly were not at school in the early 1960s. In those days we were taught we had only about 11 years supply of oil left! A few years before that Australia had a ban on exporting iron ore because we didn’t have enough iron in Australia to meet our own needs!!

The Club of Rome had us running out of everything we needed before 2000.

Spare me the doomseday scenarios. There will always be a new scare campaign just around the corner.

We can prioritise and handle what we need to handle if only we could get rational. Unfortunately, our ability to do that has evaded us for the past 40 odd years, and continues.


The Club of Rome had us running out of everything we needed before 2000.

Oh really? That’s a fair group of people you’re attacking there. Some projections were alarmist, and some were just plain silly. But as this is heading into ‘depletion’ territory, and you’re obviously a peak oil sceptic as well, maybe it should head over into the peak oil thread where you have been noticeably absent? I’ve copied and pasted your comment over there where the oil conversation can really kick off.


I encourage everyone to look at not only the post Peter linked to, but the context of the preceding 3 posts by Lawrence. If anything, I was reacting not just to Lawrences insult of “the idiot Eclipsenow or his minions” but also the way Lawrence dared to write to Barry Brook, “That’s a pretty shit stool for an academic to stand on.” I thought that was a bit rich to the owner of this blog, and reacted accordingly! However, to Lawrence’s credit, he later apologised to Barry. (But not to Sam or myself, but that’s Lawrence’s choice).

The reason I have business with you is that from the beginning you have misunderstood my argument with ABARE. You spent 20 or so posts unkindly attacking a deranged straw-man of your own construction — nothing to do with anything I ever said — and now not only attack the credibility of the entire Club of Rome, some of which has stood the test of time as well as any ABARE projections, but also attack the vast majority of independent oil geologists who bother to actually look at the *world* oil situation. Your post attempted to smear a growing consensus of geologists with the same tar-brush you used to attack the Club of Rome: which turns out to be yet another straw-man caricature of your own construction.

I don’t have to be a scientist to tell that you don’t read very broadly.


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