Emissions Nuclear Scenarios

SNE 2060 – can we build nuclear power plants fast enough to meet the 2060 target?

The nuclear scenario I describe here requires around 10,000 GWe of nuclear capacity by 2060, to replace most of our current fossil fuel use. (For further justification of this 10 TW target, read this TCASE post.) My next step is to look critically as some of the critical underpinning assumptions — uranium supply and build rates. Now, as was the case for the previous question (are uranium resources sufficient?), I’m not the first to try to provide an answer on possible build rates. So, before I add my say on the matter, I’ll quote from two other sources.


First up, we have Tom Blees from Prescription for the Planet (pg 200+)

So what kind of money and timelines are we talking about here? As to the latter, the idea of building hundreds of nuclear plants a year is something I haven’t seen even remotely suggested by anyone, though there are really no compelling reasons, given the political will, that it couldn’t be done. France has been good enough to give us a perfect demonstration.

Once the oil shocks of the early Seventies jolted the world into a new perspective, France more than any other nation took decisive action. Having precious few natural energy sources of its own, the nation embarked on an ambitious plan to convert their energy infrastructure to nuclear power, supplemented by what hydroelectric power they’d already developed. Within the space of about 25 years they succeeded, and today France’s fourth largest export is electricity.

About eighty percent of their electricity is provided by nuclear power, with nearly all the rest comprised of hydroelectric and other renewable sources. It is truly ironic—and more than a little ridiculous—that France is singled out for being so far behind on meeting the EU’s renewable energy target, a system that was put in place to encourage its member nations to reduce their GHG emissions. The fact that nearly all of France’s GHG emissions come from the transportation sector and that they produce far lower emissions from their electrical generation systems than any other EU nation just isn’t recognized under the renewable energy goal system. So if you happen to see France being castigated as a global warming slacker, take it with a large grain of salt. They are, in fact, helping their neighbors reduce their GHG emissions by selling them electricity from France’s nuclear and renewable energy power plants, all the while enjoying the clearest skies in the industrialized world.

France’s nuclear power buildup proceeded at the rate of up to six new power plants a year. As in most other countries, they tend to build them in clusters of three or four, with a total capacity per cluster of 3-4 gigawatts electrical (GWe). Currently the government-owned electrical utility, Electricité de France (EdF), operates 59 nuclear plants with a total capacity of over 63 GWe, exporting over 10% of their electricity every year (France is the world’s largest net electricity exporter). Their electricity cost is among the lowest in Europe at about 3 eurocents (or €ents, if you’ll allow me to coin a new symbol of sorts, since I know of no euro-native symbol akin to the U.S. ¢) per kilowatt-hour

Just how realistic is it to think we can build 100 nuclear plants per year? Remember that France built up to six per year during their conversion to nuclear, so let’s look at Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a guide to what a given country can financially bear for such a project, keeping in mind that France proceeded without the sense of urgency that the world today should certainly be ready to muster. There are six countries with higher GDPs than France, all of whom already possess the technology to build fast reactors: USA, China, Japan, India (they’re building one now), Germany, and the United Kingdom. Add Canada and Russia (which already has one running and is planning more), then tally up the GDP of these eight countries. At the rate of 6 plants per year with France’s GDP, these countries alone could afford to build about 117 IFRs per year, even without any greater urgency than the French brought to bear on their road to energy independence. And come on, you know that using “urgency” and “French” in the same sentence is pushing the envelope.


Then we have David Mackay from Sustainable Energy: Without the Hot Air (pg 171):

I heard that nuclear power can’t be built at a sufficient rate to make a useful contribution.

The difficulty of building nuclear power fast has been exaggerated with the help of a misleading presentation technique I call “the magic playing field.” In this technique, two things appear to be compared, but the basis of the comparison is switched halfway through. The Guardian’s environment editor, summarizing a report from the Oxford Research Group, wrote

“For nuclear power to make any significant contribution to a reduction in global carbon emissions in the next two generations, the industry would have to construct nearly 3000 new reactors – or about one a week for 60 years. A civil nuclear construction and supply programme on this scale is a pipe dream, and completely unfeasible. The highest historic rate is 3.4 new reactors a year.”

Graph of the total nuclear power in the world that was built since 1967 and that is still operational today. The world construction rate peaked at 30 GW of nuclear power per year in 1984.

3000 sounds much bigger than 3.4, doesn’t it! In this application of the “magic playing field” technique, there is a switch not only of timescale but also of region. While the first figure (3000 new reactors over 60 years) is the number required for the whole planet, the second figure (3.4 new reactors per year) is the maximum rate of building by a single country (France)!

A more honest presentation would have kept the comparison on a per- planet basis. France has 59 of the world’s 429 operating nuclear reactors, so it’s plausible that the highest rate of reactor building for the whole planet was something like ten times France’s, that is, 34 new reactors per year. And the required rate (3000 new reactors over 60 years) is 50 new reactors per year. So the assertion that “civil nuclear construction on this scale is a pipe dream, and completely unfeasible” is poppycock. Yes, it’s a big construction rate, but it’s in the same ballpark as historical construction rates.

How reasonable is my assertion that the world’s maximum historical construction rate must have been about 34 new nuclear reactors per year? Let’s look at the data. [The figure] shows the power of the world’s nuclear fleet as a function of time, showing only the power stations still operational in 2007. The rate of new build was biggest in 1984, and had a value of (drum-roll please…) about 30 GW per year – about 30 1-GW reactors. So there!

See also: Plan C (PDF)


BNC take on the matter

Okay, so I think it’s clear from the above two extracts that the deployment of 50 new reactors a year, worldwide (i.e., 1 GWe per week) would be quite achievable, assuming any serious socio-political impediments were overcome, like they were in France in the 1970s — 1990s, and are today in places like China, South Korea and India. I crunched some further numbers to back up this assessment.

World GDP in 2009 is $US 58 trillion. Yet the top 30 nations encompass 87.4 % of this total (and 22 of those already have commercial nuclear power, with another 4-6 of them actively seeking it), or $US 50.7 trillion, so to simplify, let’s just consider these nations. In 2009, France ($US 2.68 trillion) represented 5.3 % of the Top 30 cumulative total. So if France could build at a rate of 3.4 GWe per year (6 reactors with average unit size of 500 to 600 MWe), the Top 30 could do it at 3.4/0.053 = 64 GW/yr. Back in 1980, however, France’s GDP per capita was $12K, versus $32K today, a 2.7-fold increase. If we applied that multiplier to the figures above, we get a possible build rate, on an equal-terms economic basis, of ~170 GWe per year.

To go from 380 GW in 2010 to 10,000 GW in 2060, however, would require an average of 190 GW to be built each year. Actually, as this table from the previous SNE2060 post shows, the maximum rate I calculate from the TR2 scenario is 386 GW per year, but that peak doesn’t occur until 2040, giving plenty of time to ‘tool up’ (the implied rate from my modelling in 2020 is 25 GW/yr, and in 2030 is 130 GW/yr).

So, another take. China’s electricity consumption grew by an average of  360 TWh over the last 5 years, or 40 GW of equivalent generation capacity, driven by a national GDP of $US 4.9 trillion. If this rate of build is scaled-up to the Top 30 (i.e., assume that all other nations built nothing), this would be like adding 410 GW of electricity generation capacity worldwide. Now, let’s say that in some hypothetical future, where the world’s economic powers urgently wanted to replace coal with low-carbon alternatives (including substituting oil with electricity-derived synfuels), and the goal was to emulate France. such that ~80% of their new build was nuclear power stations, then China’s current pace setting would allow for 410*0.8 = 330 GW of new nuclear capacity per year.

Bottom Line: Folks, the conclusions are that: (a) it’ll require a massive effort to build 10 TW of replacement nuclear (and renewable etc) capacity by 2060, but (b) it’s certainly doable, based on no more than the level of urgency currently shown by China today (with France as backup).


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.

186 replies on “SNE 2060 – can we build nuclear power plants fast enough to meet the 2060 target?”


Thank you for another thought provoking post, based on figures and rough calculations rather than emotive talk (which we see on other web sites discussing nuclear).

I know you have more of the SNE posts planned in this series. Having read this one, I think it is great to set the world context. I’d suggest it would be good ina future SNE posts to focus on what build rate Australia could achieve.

ABARE’s 2007 projections for electricity demand suggest by 2050 we’d need (excluding reserve capacity), about 85GW total capacity. In the ‘Emission Cuts Realities’ paper, this was made up of (in GW:

54 = nuclear
9 = natural gas
18 = hydro electric (asuming 14% capacity factor)
5 = oil and renewables

The 54 GW of nuclear is achieved by the following build rates:
1 GW/y 2020 to 2024
1.5 GW/y 2025 to 2029
2 GW/y 2030 to 2050

ABARE’s projections do not allow for the massive transfer from fossil fuels to electricity that are assumed in David Mackay’s ‘Plan C’, the Zero Carbon Australia Plan , and Nicholson and Lang critique of that plan. If the rate of electricity demand is higher than ABARE’s projections, then we’d need to build nuclear faster especially after about 2030.

However, for context, the build rate for 2030 to 2050 mentioned above (2GW/y) is only about 60% of what France achieved 30 years ago. And that was with Gen II power stations. Surely we can do far better than we did 30 years ago.

Another way of looking at 2GW/y is: it is only one nuclear unit per state per 3 years.

In summary, I’d say Australia could certainly achieve the build rate, easily, if we wanted to.


Folks, the conclusions are that: (a) it’ll require a massive effort to build 10 TW of replacement nuclear (and renewable etc) capacity by 2060, but (b) it’s certainly doable, based on no more than the level of urgency currently shown by China today (with France as backup).

Factory-produced AMRs (small modular reactors) should boost the production rate of nuclear generating capacity even further. With a bit of spadework, the global community should be easily able to reach ~10TW by 2060. If it wants to badly enough.

As for the anti-nukes, well, it takes some time for nuclear generating capacity to arrive, but when it does arrive, it does it in very large chunks. And it’s reliable.


I have a couple things I’d like to bring up:

1) I think technologically/industrially, we probably could do a massive buildout of nuclear power, BUT. . .

Where is the money going to come from? In European countries you have large government controlled energy companies that could presumably draw upon tax payer funds to build power plants, but in the aftermath of Chernobyl, the public in some of those countries (Germany especially, but I think others as well), have become pretty anti-nuclear, from what I understand.

In the U.S., you don’t usually have the government getting directly involved in funding such things (although, things like loan guarantees can help raise private-sector funds for such projects using government money). However, we just recently had a somewhat high-profile withdrawal of a major backer of a new nuclear plant (Constellation Energy) pull out of a big nuclear project (Calvert Cliffs 3), and the reason they did is that even though the government is offering loan guarantees, it is doing so at terms so unfavorable the company didn’t think they could operate the plant profitably and competetively.

2) Instead of using a linear-model for estimating if we can get it done, have you considered the effects of trying to predict growth? My understanding of this type of thing is that it isn’t linear – it’ll start out small, but then it can quite possibly grow to the point where we can easily make up the early deficits, and then some (much like compounding growth of a long-term financial investment).

That is, maybe in the first 5 years, you build an average of 3 or 4 plants per year in a given country (like the U.S.), but then in the second five years, perhaps you’re building 8 or 10 per year on average, then in the third 5 years, building 12-15 per year on avearage, etc?

I don’t know enough about the math, or historical growth rates, to really grasp what a reasonable growth rate would be – the examples I gave above may reflect a much too generous growth rate, ,I’m not sure, but if you made an assumption of reasonably modest growth, year after year, with the numbers starting reasonably small in the next couple years, could we make it?


@ Jeff S:

The bulk of nuclear developments for the immediate future will most likely be in Asia and the Middle East. Thus is where most of the development needs to take place anyway. The West will probably start to catch up after another decade or so of bumbling.


Jeff S said:

My understanding of this type of thing is that it isn’t linear – it’ll start out small, but then it can quite possibly grow to the point where we can easily make up the early deficits, and then some (much like compounding growth of a long-term financial investment).

You’re right Jeff that a simple analysis using a linear model is not the most realistic way to look at this. But my TR scenarios don’t assume a linear addition. You need to note, for instance, what I said in the post above (bolding added here):

To go from 380 GW in 2010 to 10,000 GW in 2060, however, would require an average of 190 GW to be built each year. Actually, as this table from the previous SNE2060 post shows, the maximum rate I calculate from the TR2 scenario is 386 GW per year, but that peak doesn’t occur until 2040, giving plenty of time to ‘tool up’ (the implied rate from my modelling in 2020 is 25 GW/yr, and in 2030 is 130 GW/yr).

This is clearly the way it will pan out. Still, the 50-year average rates are useful for basic scale calculations, then the peak numbers become useful for ‘tooled up’ estimtes.


10000 nukes worldwide in ten years. Is it possible.?

Well the US did the equivalent in switching gear to the World War II production of war materials.

In 1941, America had a fraction of todays industrial capacity producing 3.7M automobiles compared to 2007 when America produced 10 million vehicles. In 1941 American tank production was almost zero and yet by 1945 it had produced 80000 tanks weighing in at 30 tons each. Auto production was essentially zero 1943 to 1945. With 2007 auto production capacity scaling up 1943 Sherman tank production almost 80K 30 ton Sherman tanks eq per annum could be produced today.

A total fossil fuel elimination with the factory produced 30 Mwe Hyperion unit SMR weighing in at about 15 tons illustrates the small amount of industrial capacity required. Two units – made almost 100% of steel with a few pounds of enriched uranium weigh about the same as 20 automobiles or a Sherman tank and are lot less complex. 80K of them would be needed to convert America from fossils to nuclear about the equivalent of a 1.5 million vehicles – 1.5% of American’s 2007 auto production per year for 10 years or 10% of America’s world war II sherman tank production scaled up.

There is a lot of unemployed autoworkers and mothballed auto factories just waiting for orders.

In the US, like FDR with 1930’s TVA and Bonneville hydro projects, Obama needs to start a giant public power nuke corporation with a single national license – no lawyers allowed – charged with replacing all the nations coal plants efficiently on budget and on time just like Asian countries are doing.

Big nukes are 99% steel and concrete and today’s much smaller units require about the same materials as a bridge or tall building. They can be largely mass produced in factories. Labor is a relatively small part of nuke cost but we sure have a lot of that available. With orders for 10000 nukes worldwide, colleges would have hundreds of thousand of graduates ready for the big push three or four years now the road.

Based on Chinese builds and Westinghouse predictions we are looking at the mass produced nukes at under $1B/Gw within 5 years. Far simpler than todays nukes the DMSR promises costs of 25% of todays relatively complex units with far less industrial capacity requirement.

Worst case America is looking at cost of $250B per annum to convert from fossils to nuke within 10 years from the starting gun.

As we convert to nukes, NG electricity and heating applications would immediately convert to nuclear electricity. The freed up gas would be available to make CNG, methanol, DME (propane), and synfuel transportion fuels as we transition to nuclear produced synfuels and electric vehicles.

Call it the nuclear Picken’s plan.

With current US expenitures on fossil fuels at $800B per annum finance won’t be a problem – the cost of its nuclear replacement is covered by the phased fossil expenditures three times. Once our Big Oil owned politicians are fired by an angry populace and the non oil industry who see the results of the Chinese eperiment, this race will be on.


Re – Jeff S,”Where is the money going to come from”?

A sovereign government,that is,one which has control of its own currency,does not,and should not behave like a household or private business which have to balance a budget either by strict control of expenditure relative to outlays or by borrowing which just kicks the can a bit further down the road.

A government which has sole power over the issue of a fiat currency can fund any number of worthwhile(and not so worthwhile) projects by deficit spending.As long as the nation as a whole does not borrow excessively in a foreign currency and due note is made of balancing the supply of resources and labour against demand so as to avoid inflation then the sovereign can do what it likes in this regard.It can’t go bankrupt.

This is one of the basics of Modern Monetary Theory.
Bill Mitchell at the University of Newcastle (Australia) is one of the exponents of this theory which has been around since pre WW2 in one form or another.
Go to for some interesting reading.

Unfortunately,MMT is like nuclear power.It is difficult to get these concepts through the thick heads of the herd as they meander through the grasslands to what they think is a nice waterhole.But there have been a few tectonic movements and now there is cliff where the waterhole may have been


the world war two analogy shows that a country can mass produce certain items very fast if the country perceives that it faces a common enemy and is the world’s leading creditor nation.

Neither (TO PUT IT MILDLY) of these two conditions applies now in the U.S.

with nothing like a consensus on climate change (TO PUT IT MILDLY YET AGAIN), there is no reason to build nukes instead of natural gas.

The fossil fuel companies have a huge incentive to gum up the works as their assets would suffer precipitous devaluation in the event of a gigantic and public nuclear build. (unless it just so happens that all the fossil fuel plants are on their last legs and in need of replacement and the fossil monopolies can join hands with the nuclear monopolies. in some cases, this seems plausible. Duke power builds nuclear and coal and if the coal plants are old, Duke wouldn’t mind scrapping them in favor of new subsidized nuke builds, etc).

I’m all for the nuke build (and here, I’m just talking about u.s. barriers). but world war two analogies, apart from showing that such a build is technically possible, get in the way of analyzing the barriers to any such build: which are indeed economic/political.

it’s obvious that no massive build on a scale we’re discussing could happen without massive state intervention: the timing for this sort of policy couldn’t be worse, in the dumbass U.S.

while I don’t want to exaggerate tea party tendencies in the u.s., barry’s twitter post of tea party funding from b.p. is worth a look in the light of these discussions about massive infrastructure transformation.


China currently builds a (fossil fuel) power plant per week, while simultaneously churning out modern road infrastructure, apartments by the thousand, and much of the world’s industrial production.

Given a decade to gear up, there’s absolutely no reason why the world couldn’t manage to build a nuclear plant per week, and it’ll get easier as time goes on and we get a critical mass of workforce expertise.


china’s geopolitics and economy are much better situated to engage in the big build than most other countries.

it’s like arguing that because the u.s. could rapidly build up its productive forces during ww two and after, that everyone else can.

it depends on political economy.

china is the world’s leading creditor; china hasn’t off shored and “deindustrialized” its economy for the past 30 years.

You can’t look at one country, presently favorably positioned in the global economy, lacking significant domestic barriers to development, and generalize it.


it’s obvious that no massive build on a scale we’re discussing could happen without massive state intervention

I disagree. The state has been and remains the major obstacle. We need the state to remove it’s barricades.


My understanding is that 20% of the worlds electricity comes from nuclear. I suspect that all those reactors in service were built in the last 50 years (ie since 1960) using a smaller GDP than we enjoy today. It seems pretty self evident to me that we could go nuclear if we wanted to. However we won’t want to unless it’s a cheaper way to make electricity.


Unlike normal state expenditures like military and bridges etc a massive nuclear build has a immediate direct return to the economy, using $2500B in mass produced nuclear to replace the $800B in annual fossil fuel cost and at least $100M in health related costs – payback 3 years ROI 35%+, unemployment rate close to zilch. Name a single large scale state investment which has this kind of potential return.

The caveat is that the return is to the state overall not the nuclear plant investor who gets no benefit from transportation related fuel saving and medical cost. savings. Capitalism doesn’t work here.

This is a big part of the reason why China run by engineers is building all these nukes and thousands of miles of high speed rail while the west run largely by attorneys bought and paid for by Big Oil sits on its hands smoking the not so renewable pipe.


OT, the picture of a 4 unit, 5300GW nuclear plant sends a good message about the advanges of nuclear:

– small site area (for a very large power output)

– clean, neat and tidy

– sea water cooling (no fresh water and no evaporative cooling towers required when located on the coast).


The cost of all of this activity isn’t as large as first imagined either. Firstly because many coal fired assets are reaching the end of their life and have to be replaced anyway, so the marginal cost of nuclear over a new coal or gas fired plant is all that ought to be accounted for. Secondly because before too long we’ll have closer to full-cost accounting, with a carbon price, and nukes will be comparatively highly competitive.


There is another, far lower build cost, far lower electricity cost, far quicker, nuclear build-out paradigm that uses IFRs instead of slow reactors.

It does not require building ANY new nuclear electricity power plants.

I’ve just begun revising my web site to this new nuclear electricity paradigm but there is enough already posted to give some idea of what I’m thinking.

Jim Holm


Back to the photo in the article above, that 4 unit power station, 5300MW, was commissioned over a period of 18 months.

Two similar power stations in each of NSW, Victoria and Queensland, one near Adelaide and one near Perth, would meet Australia’s baseload power to around 2040.

Roll them out at the rate of 2 units per year in Australia means they could be built in 16 years

Roll them out at the rate of 1 unit per year per large and one per 2 years in the smaller states means they could all be built in 8 years.


My last sentence was inmtended to read:

“Roll them out at the rate of 1 unit per year in each of NSW, Vic and Qld and one per 2 years in South Australia and Western Australia means they could all be built in 8 years.”



The state has been and remains the major obstacle. We need the state to remove it’s barricades.

I agree.

It seems pretty self evident to me that we could go nuclear if we wanted to. However we won’t want to unless it’s a cheaper way to make electricity.

I agree.


I opine tht electricity consumption will go way up once crude oil derived transportation feuls become scare and expense. So why not plan on building to NPPs per week? That is, world-wide, no strain.

As for cost of the electricity, the estimate for the Nuscale SMR is a generation (busbar) price of US$0.065/kWh. I don’t know whow that compares around the world, but my (retail) cost for electirc power is a base change of $6/month plus a little less than $0.065/kWh. That will, of course, now start to increase as the hydro resources are fully utilized and the local utility copany has to start looking to other forms of generation.

Hope that helps.


seth: where did you get those annual costs for fossil fuels and health?

peter and terje: of course you agree that the state is the major obstacle. what else can you say?

it’s like fundamentalist christians agreeing with each other that God is Jesus.

(a joke, sort of)


There is an entirely different nuclear paradigm that does not require building any new nuclear power plants and will add over 2 million additional MegaWatts to the world’s electricity supply.

I am adjusting my web site to accomodate it. There is enough up now to quickly get a rough idea of what I’m suggesting.

Jim Holm


Greg meyerson,

it’s like fundamentalist christians agreeing with each other that God is Jesus.

That is exactly what I argue that the socialists keep bleating on about (you Ewen Laver. Peter Lalor, quokka, and many others). You continually say “the state can do it better” but you have continually avoided answereing the questions I put to you about how we would get there in reality.

We’ve been moving the opposite direction for at least 20 years. How could we turn that around? The answer is that we couldn’t unless we changed to a socialist state – and go down the tube like all the others that have been there done that or are heading that way now (as Europe is).

Been there, done that, it didn’t work.

And while you continue to try to get the developed countries to adopt socialism, you waste effort that should be directed to getting the state to remove the baricades to low cost nuclear power.

Instead of wasting your time arguing for the return of socialism, government run enterprises and cooperatives, I’d suggest we could all achieve much more if the Left worked on getting the Greens-Labor and the environmental NGO’s to change their anti-nuclear policies. That is where your effort would be valuable, instead of trying to return to the failed policies of the 1960’s and 1970’s.


I think the real break through starts when a single Greens MP is pro nuclear. There are plenty of pro nuclear people in the ALP already.


peter and terje: of course you agree that the state is the major obstacle. what else can you say?

I suppose I could instead say that the state isn’t the major obstacle but that wouldn’t seem accurate. However if you think there is some other alternate barrier that explains the lack of nuclear power in Australia the let me know what it is please.


I suppose I could instead say that the state isn’t the major obstacle but that wouldn’t seem accurate. However if you think there is some other alternate barrier that explains the lack of nuclear power in Australia the let me know what it is please.

The state is only the instrument. The question is who wields that instrument.


The US produces enough carbon neutral urban and rural biowaste to completely replace petroleum use in America– if an ample supply of hydrogen can be provided to supplement the excess amounts of carbon neutral CO2 (~80%) from the biomass.

Nuclear power plants could supply the electricity for the production of hydrogen through the electrolysis of water. Hydrogen combined with the CO2 from urban and rural biowaste could be converted into carbon neutral: gasoline, methanol, diesel fuel, jet fuel, methane, and dimethyl ether.


Finrod – okay then to use that terminology. I can’t get out of my garage because somebody has parked the state across the driveway. The state is the obstacle. It will continue to be in the way until somebody with keys to the state moves the damn thing out if the way.


MFW I think this is the way to go provided hydrogen can be made cheap enough. The synthetic hydrocarbon gets its ‘kick’ from the hydrogen while the bulk and easy handling properties come from the combination with biocarbon. Combustion products are looped within the biosphere.

A possible oversight is that water splitting produces excess oxygen that might otherwise be vented, the condensed reaction being C + 2H20 = CH4 + O2. I’ve experimented with ‘oxyfiring’ charcoal with some of the oxygen from electrolysis to get pure CO2. The next step is to combine that with the stored hydrogen to get Sabatier methane 4H2 + CO2 = CH4 + 2H20. Alas I lack platinum catalysts and high pressure equipment. My experiments to date have involved biodiesel and biomethane, neither of which are scalable to the degree of synthetic hydrocarbons.

However I’m certain that synthetic methane (‘unnatural gas’) will work out more expensive than the $4-$8 per GJ or mbtu for natural gas. It seems most odd the way we are squandering it for power generation and export when we’ll need all of it soon enough.


@ TerjeP:

My point is that the state per se is not really the problem in this case. There are examples of highly statist nations operating effective nuclear power programs. It’s just that in the case of Australia and some other nations, state apparatus is being used to block nuclear power. Rather than launching an extensive campaign of political reform, it would be quicker to change drivers.

I’m not saying that such reform might not be a good idea, but I think it’s a mistake to tie the future of nuclear power in this country to the success of such a reform campaign.


Finrod – I have no real disagreement with what you are saying. However my comment had a context. It was in response to this:-

it’s obvious that no massive build on a scale we’re discussing could happen without massive state intervention

I think this is a simply ridiculous claim.


Ending Global Warming CO2 NOW is what counts.

Building a new nuclear power plant in 2050 does not end any Global Warming CO2 now.

Destroying a power plant’s coal boiler now does.

Repowering coal burning power plants with small IFR reactors is another very possible option that could also economically add 2.6 TerraWatts of new electricity to the world.

Please check out my web site for more details.


@John Newlands

The cost of hydrogen will mostly be related to the capital cost of the nuclear facility. Completely replacing petroleum with synfuels however would require producing nuclear reactors to produce hydrogen on a massive scale which should dramatically reduce the capital cost of nuclear reactors– especially if they’re small factory produced reactors.

However, simply mandating that a small percentage of all of our gasoline, diesel fuel, and aviation fuel be derived from carbon neutral resources should gradually introduce carbon neutral synfuels into our fuel system the same way that wind and solar have been introduced into electricity production by electric power utilities. But its probably going to take at least 20 or 30 years to completely replace petroleum with carbon neutral synfuels.


Great post Barry and very thoughtful comments from all of you guys. Nice to see general agreement with the need to go nuclear. Funding the huge nuclear build will always be a test but in the case of Australia, I just get the feel that, despite not liking state ownership the state might be the only body big enough to finance it. Maybe a genuine PPP between Govt and Big Business is a possibility as long as each party has the good sense to work in the interests of the country and not of themselves. The fact that Australia is burdened with confounded states makes it more difficult. Witness the sheer bloody minded selfishness of the states on the Murray/Darling issue. I do struggle with matters economic but offer the above as a possibility. Go on. Shoot me down but do it gently. Cheers


I’ve noted what I believe is an unproductive tendancy to argue state versus no-state intervention. Its more a religious than practical arguement.
The most powerful and persuasive examples for effective implementation of nuclear programmes are those of France, Koriea, Japan and more recently China.
All of these countries without exception have strong connections bewteen state policy implementation and industry and are motivated primarily by national security/growth issues rather than climate change.
The United States had a huge nuclear power programme. I suspect that it was motivated and nurtured by government policy which also enabled a freeing of regulation to enable it to proceed.
The Canadians were probably motivated in part by a need to assert themselves along side their big partner to the south.
I can never get away from the basic reality that we are the government and they are us – we get government that is as good or as bad as we are.
Talk of getting government out of the way needs to be restrained by obvious realities:
1) Nuclear power has a strategic value and must be controlled by the representatives of the people in the same way our armed forces are.
2) It is a technology which has to be regulated. Neither unregulated free enterprise nor socialism have good records. Pollution and environmental degradation occur under both regimes

What is stopping us in Australia right now is that we are fat, lazy and complacent and the yellow dog of cowardice is runnig freely. It feeds eagerly in this consumer society of excess.
I can’t see to dynamic that will create change while old king coal and iron ore keeps our treasuries fed.
Possibly the motivation for change may occur a couple of years after this current La Nina ends but thats a terrible price to pay.


It apears that France was way ahead at the starting point, and have much more to go except up grading preasant systems.


Robert Parker,

All excellent points in theory. However, they ignore the reality of what the public sector is like in Australia now. Once, decades ago, the public sector was very capable of delivering large engineering projects. But the public sector has changed. The engineers have been removed and replaced by lawyers, accountants and spin doctors. The public sector is entirely unsuited to running an industry like the electricity industry now (in Australia). It would take decades to change the political momentum that now exists for privatisation of electricity; even if this was achieved it would then take decades to build up the engineering expertise and, importantly, the appropriate culture in a public sector organisation.

I have seen workings and culture of lots of the public sector organisations and they are totally unsuited to being able to handle the task. It’s not like it used to be.

I think anyone arguing for a return to the ‘good old days’ of the state owned electricity commissions is dreaming. And it is politically impossible (for now) to move from our system to the systems in place in China, Korea, etc.

It is just not realistic to be advocating this. And doing so detracts from any unified attempt to get the changes we need – policy changes by Labor and the Greens and at least one significant environmental NGO. That is where the effort should be. Not in trying to achieve the impossibly impractical desires of those who want to turn towards state owned and run electricity industry.


To Peter Lang,
Like you I work in close contact with public services attempting to deliver our country’s infrastructure.
We have reached a stage where most of our public services are not only incapable of project delivery but can’t even frame the scope of what is required.
The rise of PPP’s and the like is evidence of this as is the rise of the offensive “Alliance” contract which is the great refuge of the mediocre.
We get what we pay for and the pillaging of the public purse by poor project delivery is a direct result of people wanting tax reductions. You can’t gut the public services and then complain that they are inexpert in project delivery.
These issues are however floating upon the tides of national building and consolidation. The 60’s through to the 80’s saw competant service delivery. The free marketers then got in and stuffed things up. We then get to where we are today with appaling project delivery such as the Housing Insulation Programme.

The transition to a low carbon economy is going to require public policy and delivery on many fronts. Nuclear power is only one.
While I am historically a Labor voter I am now coming to the realisation that our best chance for the environment may be with the Coalition. These people are closer what make our country tick.
The Greens policies are Godsend to the coal companies. Everytime they criticise nuclear power another cork is popped at Xstrata.
Labor is a real problem. They don’t get science or industry. To them the periodic table came out af a highschool girl’s dormitory.
In the end we need to be building a big picture of a second industrial revolution and it means a lot more than changing the short term party platforms.


Robert Parker – the state can build own and operate nuclear power stations. I’m not arguing here that it can’t or shouldn’t. All I’ve done is reject the assertion that it is the only way. It isn’t the only way. We can split hairs over details about what is optimal or desirable but it is silly to claim that it is impossible for the private sector to build own and operate nuclear power plants. Although clearly they won’t whilst the state is imposed as a barricade or stands poised to (ie regime risk).


The free marketers then got in and stuffed things up.

That would depend on who you regard as a free marketer. However irrespective of how things got stuffed up it didn’t happen due to a reduction in head count. The public service is as big as ever. Unless you want to count those that worked for Telstra, Qantas, the Commonwealth bank etc as public servants.


I know the current fad these days is small modular reactors, and for sure there will a major role for these to play. However, smallness is not a prerequisite for modularity.

One of the big issues in building nuclear power plants is the simple lack of standard designs. In cases were there has been a commitment, the times from breaking ground to tuning the key, have been shorter. In short, off-the-shelf designs, are faster to build than bespoke, regardless of the size.


DV82XL, on 27 October 2010 at 11:54 AM — To some extent, but what counts the most is not being forced to change the design after concrete starts being poured. So by all means stick with successful designs where possible. A case in point is a power compnay in South Carolina with plans to precisely duplicate a quite successful, trouble-free NPP in Maryland. Maybe even a pair of those big NPPs.


No, I meant picking one or two designs, say a 600MWe and a 1200MWe and sticking with them. Once you have tooled up, and production starts, economies of scale kick in.

This even works for dealing with the regulatory burden. After the first few build are given a full shaking down, much of the eleventh-hour design changes will have been ironed out.

As well, one will have a fairly accurate idea of costs, which should help financing.

Remember this is a discussion of a full-up effort to build +50 stations a year.

Also look a Pickering, Darlington and Bruce, in Canada. You don’t just build one or two reactors on a station, you put in eight, with room for twelve. Saves a bunch on ancillary services, fuel storage, specialized labor and such.


DV82XL, on 27 October 2010 at 12:37 PM — I have doubts about economies of scale for anything but SMRs which can be factory built. Persuade me.

As for regulation and cost estimation, yes, certainly.

To avoid having to build excess transmission, better IMHO to put generation as close to load as may be. That argues in favor of many SMRs in different spots despite the opposite avantage of generation parks with several big NPPs.


To TerjeP:
Regarding the reduction in the Public Service head count in my 30 years of working on dam, rail and road projects in Australia I have experienced a massive reduction in the competancy of Public Services to deliver projects.

You are NOT CORRECT in your statement that the damage did not occur due to a reduction in head count. It most certainly did. The technical resources of our Public sector was gutted to the point where many became authorities became incapable of framing the questions let alone documenting the project.
In some areas such as the NSW RTA the damage has been less severe. These public utilities used to provide cadetships and excellent laboratories and research facilities and an underpinning of expertise. They developed our cdes of practice and engineering specifications and good practices – a vast national asset.
The private sector consultancies have never been willing to match the benefits of this investment – and then we trashed in on the alter of tax cuts. We have thrown away massive amounts of intellectual capital.

If the Public Sector has grown then hopefully it is in other areas of equal societal benefit.
This issue needs far more careful analysis than a simplistic public vs. private debate.


Robert Parker,

I hear you. I would just like someone to take me through the steps (big picture) of what we (Australia) would have to do to move from where we are now (most of Australian electricity industry has been privatised over the past 20 years), and where we are heading (most of the rest is to be privatised within the next year or so), to where we would need to get to in order to have a public sector that could build own and operate our electricity industry. I believe such a transition would take us at least 20 years.

I do believe we would need government agencies to lead the way in many ways. I’ve floated ideas before e.g.:
and in a various comments such as:

This article is relevant if you haven’t already seen it:

Click to access 16899_0610pp_grimston.pdf

Electricity – Social Service or Market Comodity?
The importance of clarity for decision-making
on nuclear build

Here is an extract from it:


It’s a misnomer to assume that ‘factory built’ need only apply to the smaller designs. In both the Canadian and Indian HPWR designs the reactor core itself, has been built and shipped as a unit. Keep in mind, however that even if we are talking about in situ builds, commonality of components is more important for large scale deployment of a technology of this sort, than central construction per se.

It should be understood as well, that the firms that are selling the smaller designs, are spinning, some aspects of their product, that while true, are not necessarily the huge advantage they are made up to be.


You are NOT CORRECT in your statement that the damage did not occur due to a reduction in head count.

I phrased myself badly. My point was that if they were trying to shrink the public service they failed.


The advantage of factory manufacture of relatively small reactors is that they are easier to transport. True large reactors can be built as kits, and most component of the kit would be easy to ship, but there are some large components that can turn into shipping nightmares, for example pressure vessels and steam generators. The more components in the kit, the more onsite labor will be required, and onsite labor is more expensive and often less efficient. Thus, there are cost savings advantages to building small reactors that can be shipped as a relatively small number of components, and then quickly assembled.

Secondly, there is a limited need for large reactors. Once base power generation needs are fulfilled, there are few roles which large reactors can play. Load following and reserve generation capacity will be far more important than reactor size, and these will require focus on low unit cost. High temperature reactors can also increase efficiency by multiple operation cycles. For example, a top end Helium or CO2 cycle, with waste heat going to a boiler to produce steam for a middle cucle, and the waste heat from the middle cycle going to district heating and cooling, or to desalinization.

Thirdly, Industrial process heat production will not in most instances require large reactors. Again multiple cycles are possible, with waste heat from industrial processes, used to power a middle cycle electrical generation system.

Because high temperature Generation IV reactors are capable of operating several power cycles, their increased efficiency will decrease levelized electrical costs. Thus smaller units adopted to multiple role operational plans offer cost advantages over large, one purpose units.


Charles Barton,

This is all very interesting – for the future. I agree Gen IV must be pursued as an RD&D priority.

But Australia need to stay focused on what is available, proven, and reliable right now. That is not the case for any Gen IV and I’d argue the Gen III+ do not have a long proven performance history.

So I am leaning towards Australia getting started with the least cost units available (eg Gen II+) then skipping straight to Gen IV when they have been proven in the countries that can afford to develop and prove them.

So the discussion about Gen IV is interesting but if we disucss it at the expense of ficusing on how we can im,plement nuclear in Australia as soon as possible, then I think we are directing our efforts in the wrong direction.

That leads me to plead again for us to stop talking about the impossible, like public sector ownership of the electricity industry, and let’s focus instead on what we need to do to remove the barriers to nuclear implementation.


I have to agree with Peter. There is a tendency to use this debate as leverage for other goals which as not necessarily compatible with a quick deployment of nuclear energy.

The arguments about a single factory are somewhat moot. For starters, it is unlikely that these small reactors can be tested at source, meaning that they will have to be tested on site anyway, which removes much the advantages of central construction.

Secondly, most big ticket items like aircraft, and such, are made in sub-assemblies, by one or more contractors, and move to an final assembly site. It is standard practice, nothing new.

Thirdly, I dispute the assertion that large power stations are not necessary. Large baseload is where most of the projected increase in electrical generation will be required. Despite promises to the contrary, these small reactors have not proven that they will require less skilled manpower to build and operate, per MW capacity than large, multi-reactor stations, and I will be very surprised if indeed this is ever the case.

Finally, other support, like fuel fabrication and disposal and so on will likely be greater with a fleet of smaller stations, than with a few large ones.


Peter Lang, Light water reactors are expensive and they take a long time to build. They are also inflexible. How long would it take to get a Generation IV reactor up and running? Professor Furukawa’s Fuji Molten Salt Reactor could be ready as early as 2020. It would cost less than a LWR, could produce Industrial process heat, electricity, and desalinated water, or all three, and could be factory produced. Furthermore the investment costs are modest and could be raised in Australia. The technology was tested in Oak Ridge during the 1960’s. It is doubtful that Australian LWRs could be brought on line more quickly.


Charles – while I agree that MSRs must and shall be the future of fission, the situation in Australia is such that trying to sell an exotic design is likely to fail. At this point in their development they require a proven type, with a good track record, to keep the opposition down to a minimum.

MSRs and thorium cycles and such, are projects for a more mature nuclear power establishment, not one that is just setting out.

As well, I have said on several occasions, that given a vast indigenous supply of uranium, Oz is better off with an HPWR, if not CANDU, then the Indian offering, for their first excursions into nuclear power. This does not stop them from building LWRs or MSRs down the road.


Charles, I’m not saying that is not the case. What I am pointing out that this is a country with no nuclear sector what to speak of, multiple points of resistance, and altogether (reading various posts on this blog) a very iffy situation politically when it come to this form of energy. In this situation, it would be unwise to push for some novel technology, without a an established track record. It would just make the task of getting a consensus (and financing) more difficult.

MSRs, and other exotic designs must be proven by those countries with an established nuclear engineering sector, and with a regulator that has had some experience in type-approval. Australia, at this point in time, just doesn’t have the infrastructure in place to launch a GenIV reactor program, and attempting to do so is courting failure.

On the broader issue of the world’s capacity to build the necessary number of reactors to make a dent in the global carbon burden, I reiterate what I said up thread: commonality in design and components is what is needed to go forward on a project of this scale. Even pressure vessels, if there was a market of the size we are contemplating, would stop being a choke-point, because more manufactures would tool up to supply it. The point is that you cannot divide production capacity between too many competing designs, or it will spread too thin. Delays, and increased costs will be the consequence.


@TerjeP – Gas turbine plants certainly use off the shelf prime movers. In that case however many of these engines share a basic core with aeroengines, and boosters for pipeline networks, so there are synergies that help economies of scale.

Coal plants are somewhat different, as they are generally designed around the type of coal they will be burning. Also again, large boilers are used to make steam in other parts of industry.

Both types are mature technologies, and are not burdened by the (currently) limited market and lack of skills that nuclear is, nor the regulatory burden.



Does the fossil fuel sector use standardised power plant designs?

Like automobiles, plant designs, control systems, components are all pretty much the same for the fuel.

There is a relatively high degree of defacto standardization between fossil plant components of different manufacture – boilers, turbines, coal handling equipment, substation transformers and switchgear.

This is to be expected when there are over 150,000 fossil fuel power plant generating units in 30,000 different power stations.

Its rare to see a utility electricity generating station providing steam to an adjacent thermal load. I’ve seen a few, but usually zoning restrictions put miles between them.

The company I worked for had a flock of relatively small coal/oil/gas boilers for chemical process steam. We used whichever fuel gave us what we needed for whatever we were making that day.

Steam coming off a turbine is pretty well used up.


There seem to be two main threads in this excellent discussion.

1. Should NPPs be built and operated by the state or by private investors?

Both approaches seem to work well. Countries with planned economies such as the old USSR were successful in developing and operating NPPs. A business model based on privately operated NPPs worked well in the USA for long enough for that country to create more installed NPP capacity than any other. Which way should Australia go? It won’t matter as long as the public is supportive.

2. Should one build large (~1 GWe) NPPs or small modular units?

Personally, I like the vision (TerjeP & Seth) of small modular reactors rolling off an assembly line and being shipped to site on a couple of trucks. That will require a production rate of one NPP per day rather than one per week. However, the USA produced up to three liberty ships per day during WWII, each weighing close to 10,000 tonnes. Without any help from anyone else we could produce a SMR each day. Will we do it? Not a chance owing to our bloated bureaucracy.

Regardless of my personal preferences, the optimum solution will turn out to be a mix of large and small NPPs designed to minimize the cost of the distribution network.


There is a tendency in this debate, not just on BNC, but in general among supporters of nuclear energy, to use the ‘Nuclear Renaissance’, as a vehicle to promote, other, more personal agendas, be it political/economic ideology, or some design of reactor. This is a recipe for failure.

I run into very few people active in this topic with much project management experience in industrial settings, and it seems like there are huge misconceptions of how the real word works, when it comes to considering what is possible in these types of endeavors.

First, one way or the other, unless things are radically different in Australia than the rest of the First World, there will be some sort of financial participation by both the public and private sectors, the only real question is the percentages. A government, washing its hands and saying a project like this must be done totally by private funding, is giving it the kiss of death, without actually pulling the trigger, because the risks are just too high, especially from regulatory interference if the State is not on-side. Contrariwise, a fully funded effort by the State is usually a sign that the private sector thinks the project will never be financially viable. While sometimes those projects must go through anyway, they are going to have a very long payback.

Anyway, when it comes to power generation, financing can always be arranged if there is a market for the power. This is the case with almost every large hydro project, ever built; the costs will always be recovered, because the cash will flow in as long as the water flows out through the scroll-case. The only question is how long it will take, and there are lots of investors, like pension plans that like long payouts.

One cannot pick a technology or design for a nuclear power station on what you like – you do it on what is possible. Like every big project it is a series of compromises, in which many practical factors must be considered. You want to start from scratch with a novel design? Consider that the first heavy water reactor built in Canada was the ZEEP that went critical in 1945, but it wasn’t until 1968 that the Douglas Point CANDU sold its first Watt-hour to the grid, and 1971 before Pickering, the first commercial station went on-line. Those are the sorts of time lines we are` dealing with here.

On of the sure signs that a project is doomed, is when it is expected to meet to many diverse objectives. If you folks are serious about promoting the use of nuclear energy in your country, you are going to have to buy your first few off-shore, they must be of a mature design with a good track record, and as I have said here in the past, you should use your uranium supply as leverage to get a good deal, which means France, Korea, or Japan.

Flights of fancy are not going to make this work in Australia. You must set your sights on what is achievable in the short term, under the prevailing conditions, political, financial, and technical. And that means setting your sights lower than what I have seen here from many of you.


I like the vision (TerjeP & Seth) of small modular reactors

This vision was not expressed by me. In fact I have a view that big and centralises probably makes more sense in most instances.


DV82XL – you said:-

the risks are just too high, especially from regulatory interference if the State is not on-side.

Surely state financial involvement can be limited to some form of regime risk insurance. Do you see it as needing to go beyond that?



I agree with TerjeP on this. If the state is not clearly onside, the investors will want an enormous risk premium to invest. In fact, I believe the risk premium they would demand would make prevent any chance of progress.

I’ve made suggestions on a few comments towards the end of this thread as to what I believe the state need to do.

Here are some thoughts off the top of my head. The state needs to:

1. remove all the impediments to nuclear

2. set up a mechanism so that any generator of any type can get impediments that are anfair against a particular tenchology removed. This is a way to highlight impdeiments that are distorting a ‘level playing field’

3. subsidise the additional costs of nuclear until the systems in Australia are mature and the industries needed to support it is mature. That includes supporting nuclear until it has reached the ‘settled down cost’ stage’. This is justified, a) because the precedent has been set with renewables, and b0 the costs are higher than they should be because society prohibited the technology for the past 40 years so thse higher costs are due to society’s mistakes.

4. State carry the risk of severe accidents – just as it does for serious chemical accidents and as it has guaranteed for the carbon capture and storage industry.

5. State carry the costs for disruptions and delays caused by society (which the state represents)

6. The state need to have some investment in the success of nuclear, and to carry a share of failure. Otherwise the investors will not invest.

7. A Government agency to advise the government on the best way to implement nuclear in Australia and then to manage the implementation, at whatever level of involvement is appropriate.

There may be others but that’s my thoughts off the top of my head.



I’d like to insert a comment above my last comment (but cant). I’d like to say I really appreciate your wise advice an counsel.

Your comments at 28 October 2010 at 1:46 PM, 28 October 2010 at 6:07 AM, and 28 October 2010 at 3:09 AM are wise council – the sort of experience that large organisation pay premium consulting rates for.

You comment about the lack of project management experience fits with other excellent comments by Robert Parker up thread. I really appreciate these sort of comments. I just needed to say this because I don’t show my appreciation often enough

There are, of course, many other valuable comments and contributors on BNC threads too.


Robert Parker,

There are strong arguments supporting the view that electricity water and perhaps even the communications network (a natural monopoly) could be be better and lower cost if they were publically owned.

I can see the arguments for both sides of this debate.

However, I don’t see how we could quickly reverse the direction we have embarked on.

So, I argue it is a major strategic mistake for us to be arguing about that option (or desire by some), when the imperitive is to begin implementing low-cost, low-emisison electricity generation as soon as possible.


TerjeP, Peter – State support can take several forms, the above list is some of them for sure. The point I was trying to make is that holding rigid, doctrinaire positions, demanding that nuclear power stations only be built with private funds, or only be built with public funds, is counter productive.

From a purely actuarial point of view, any facilitating legislation, or assumption of liability by the state, can be seen as covering a certain percentage of the cost. How this is spun politically is, of course, another matter. The bottom line is that the state will be sharing the financial burden.

Peter, I’m glad my efforts are appreciated – thank-you


This is justified, a) because the precedent has been set with renewables, and b) the costs are higher than they should be because society prohibited the technology for the past 40 years so thse higher costs are due to society’s mistakes.

Peter – I think there are some sunk cost fallacies in this line of reasoning. Poor economic policy is not justified on the basis of past poor economic policy. The state of technology and energy infrastructure is what it is and the “it’s our turn” mentality you express in the passage above is in my view quite immature. As such it is also quite out of character because mostly your reasoning on these matters is quite wise. If there is a public interest argument for subsidising nuclear energy then I’m all for having it heard but neither a) nor b) is representative.

In point a) you are saying we should have bad policy (and subsidies without a good public interest argument are certainly bad economic policy) because we have previously had bad policy.

In point (b) you are essentially claiming that society should be compensating the nuclear industry for past injustices. This is simply silly. A nuclear industry if it is to exist should do so because it benefits society, not because society owes something to it. If it joins the race later than the rest because it’s feet were previously bound by poor public policy then that is no different than if Einstein had been born 30 years later.

Whilst it is idealism to expect it to actually happen we should none the less aspire to a level playing field in public policy terms with deviations only on the basis of public interest, and then only when there is a robust sensitivity tested CBA that leads to a compelling balance of probabilities case.


Please accept my apologies for confusing you with Finrod.

Peter Lang, you said:
“4. State carry the risk of severe accidents – just as it does for serious chemical accidents and as it has guaranteed for the carbon capture and storage industry.”

At the risk of being disagreeable, this is a really bad idea. It can easily become an example of crony capitalism where the investors get the benefits and the tax payers get the risks.

With all its faults and failings I would recommend something like the Price Anderson insurance guarantee fund that has been set up in the USA. From my recollection this now stands at over $10 billion which dwarfs the payouts that have occurred to date. I look forward to DV8 setting me straight with the real numbers.


Peter Lang,
How could you get the notion that the “communications network” is a “natural monopoly”?

For more than 30 years we have seen country after country dismantle state or privately owned monopolies. Here in the USA, the Bell system controlled 80% of the network while over 3,000 companies controlled the remainder.

In 1984 the justice department mandated the break up of the Bell empire into seven “Baby Bells”. A great deal of creativity was released so that companies such as Cisco Systems (founded in 1984) rocketed to prominence.

When it comes to the supply of goods and services, monopolies always suffer from “Provider Capture”. Anyone who has children in government schools in the USA will know what I mean.

In the UK, the state owned electrical monopoly (CEGB) was dissolved in 2001 so that consumers can buy electricity from several companies. Only the transmission network remains under monopoly control.

Just a couple of examples but there are many more around the world.


gallopingcamel, – The Price Anderson Act is a holdover from another time that is no longer needed, and probably never was. It was predicated on the assumption that a failure in a nuclear power plant could lead to a massive disaster on a scale so large that other underwriters would not, or could not provide coverage.

However the basic designs of US (and all modern) power reactors is such that an event of this nature simply cannot happen. (insert usual assertion that Chernobyl is no example because…)

Certain liabilities are assumed by the international supply chain by a broad agreement called the Convention of Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage. Which one would assume any country getting into nuclear energy would be a party to.

But in general, the issue of liability is a red herring waved about by antinuclear forces, as there are several potential, large scale events from other types of generation, most notably hydro, and to a lesser extent the ash ponds of coal generation. Nether of these seem to require special funds or insurance arrangements.


What a fine collection of recent comments!

Regarding ownership, public or private, I doubt it matters. A VP from the local retail utility (a natural monopoly) gave a talk not too long ago in which he stated that the ultility was highly regulated, unionized and so “we are all” amply compensated. IMHO its a good, well-run, investor owned utility. Not all of the nearby PUDs do as well. For another model, consider France; one state owned utility. Does it do well> For another consider India (when the power goes out as it frequently does, it stays off for a long time).

Regarding size, no one size fits all. I favor SMRs largely becuase of the flexibility in location and also the lower difficulty in obtaining financing. The latter is not a hurdle in, say, France but certainly is in many parts of the world, including even here.

Regarding standardization (on just a few designs), I doubt this will happen; no compelling advantage and each country/manufacturer wants their won to be used.


David – The place to look where a limited number of types is on the market at any given time is commercial aviation. At any given time there are only a few different types available.

Considering it within the context of this thread, which was supposed to be discussing the possibility of wide scale rapid deployment, it is the only way that this can be accomplished.

Given, though, that we are talking about many reactors being built in all countries, this economy of scale will be realized as each region selects a design. This is how it worked in Canada, where all power reactors are CANDUs. So there may be several designs out there, the key is that each market stick with one or two.

Again with the smaller reactors, in the case of Australia, you only have two choices: you wait while this sector shakes itself out elsewhere, which may take another twenty years; or you decide you are going to absorb the development costs of being an early adopter, which may have just as big an impact on finding financing as going with proven large gauge systems.


DV82XL, on 29 October 2010 at 8:23 AM — Boeing alone offers 727s, 747s, 757s, 767s, 777s and 78s. Many of these come in different ranges, frieghter only, etc. Each customer selects whatever features are important for the purpose. Then there is AirBus, with all their types. In addition, some Russian companies continue to supply some planes. For the smaller commercial airliners there are at least Bombardier in Canada and the Brazilian Embraer; maybe others elsewhere, dunno. They are planiing to enter the larger airpliner market and there are rumors of a Chinese startup as well.

Equally well, look into the existing suppliers of gas and steam turbines, pumps and pipe. World-wide, there are quite a few manufacturers of each.

As for what size/design the various states in Australia might wish to start with, that is certainly up to them and the advice to choose a proven design intially might be wise. However, the idea of starting small might win greater appeal in revising the current policies. But this thread is, I believe, about deploying NPPs world-wide. In many localities starting small may be the only feasible option.


The offerings of Boeing are not the issue, there is a high communality of components between these aircraft, they have a single manufacture, and individual airlines tend to stick with a limited number of types, which is more to the point.

I am getting tired of this argument over small reactors, obviously every thing I have said about them must be wrong. They certainly must be a well proven, well developed technology, that anyone would be glad to buy, and of course they have already ironed out all the manufacturing issues, and they are ready for immediate deployment, with the sort of full technical support a novice nuclear state needs.

Therefore I withdraw all of my objections, and I withdraw from the discussion.



Peter Lang,
How could you get the notion that the “communications network” is a “natural monopoly”?

I understand that the pipes for water distribution, the wires for power transmissions and distribution and the wires for telecommunications are commonly referrd to by economists as a natural monopoly. The reasosn is that you do not have multiple sets of pipes or wires serving every customer so he/she can decide which water he will draw on to day, or which telephone line to his house he will use today.

The businesses that own, maintain and operate the pipes and wires are a natual monopoly. That is what I meant.


DV82XL, on 29 October 2010 at 9:14 AM — Well, that’s good because it is clear you know absolutely nothing about Boeing’s commercial aircraft. For example, every type and many models therein have a different wiring harness. Many airplines fly several types indeed from both mjor manufactures; Southwest is almost unique in flying only 737s, although that has proved to be a smart move on their part.

Some of the SMRs are all done with design and at least one offers no manufacturing adventures. The problem with using a proven design, of any size, is that it then contains none of the engineering advances since the design was frozen. That is true no matter what equipment is being ordered and their are certainly risks in both directions.


I must say I am disappointed to see DV82XL withdraw.

I do understand his frustration. He is providing enormously valuable advice based on awealth of experience and on the sort of wisdom that can only be gained from a career operating at a high high level in large engineering projects and project management of them.

I am dissapointed to see DV82XL withdraw.

I am also dissapointed that, so often, the BNC contributors seem to prefer to argue about anything other than what is important and anything other than what Australia actually needs to do to bring low-cost, clean, electricity supply to Australia as soon as possible.


Benson, for your information I spent 35 years in commercial aviation, both in maintenance and manufacturing, and for several companies with ties to Boeing and there products. If you think that the differences between their offerings is greater than the similarities, especially between different series of the same frame, you have a great deal to learn.

Also there is more in common between these aircraft than there is between a BWR and LWR even if they were from the same manufacture.

In short you are arguing that there is a profound difference between a CANDU 3 and a CANDU 6, and a CANDU 9, something that is demonstrably not so, despite the fact that they undoubtedly have different wiring harness.

Which brings us to the fact that in CANDUs at least there has been evolutionary changes in the product, which is why there is now a CANDU 6E on the market, which is exactly how it is in aviation with different series, however there is still a very high degree of common systems between them.

I also notice that US utilities, in the country where most of these small reactor designs are situated, are not knocking themselves out to buy them. I am sure they would love to see some other suckers prove them, and determine which is best, before they do.


Peter Lang, on 29 October 2010 at 9:55 AM — Me too, regarding DV82XL, who writes well about what he knows far better than I; I’m trying to learn.

But I was under the impression that this thread was about the entire world, not just Australia.


David B Benson

Me too, regarding DV82XL, who writes well about what he knows far better than I

It is clear what DV82XL knows about and he sticks to what he knows about.


DV82XL, on 29 October 2010 at 10:20 AM — Glad you are back! I’m certainly not attempting to provide qualitative comparisons between completely different technologies; I think I know what a PWR is but I’m not so certain what LWR stands for. I leaqrn avidly when you write about the CANDU products as I know almost nothing about those.

As for utilities not being avid customers of SMRs, AFAIK there are none available yet. Given the sorry history of sodium cooled designs in the past, I’d certainly be leery of any of those. I will point out that an isolated community in Alaska badly wants to but a 10 MWe Toshiba design as soon as NRC will let them; their off-grid diesel generator is very expensive to run. But whether these designs will entice larger utilities depends upon many factors, one of which is the fact that they seem to prefer very large reactors, whether nuclear or coal or wood waste.

Do you know of anybody keeping track of pre-orders for SMRs? All I know is that around 26–29 NPPs are in some stage of approval in the USA and I had assumed that all of these were of the around 1,000 MWe size.


I am not leaving the forum, I am however serious about not debating this issue of GenIV reactors, or small reactors. I’ve said what I can about these, and I am not going to waste my time repeating them.

They are just not ready to make a significant contribution in the short term, and we cannot afford to wait.

Supporters of these ideas are just that – they are pushing an idea – not nuclear energy. Right now we have to work on the latter.


Peter Lang,
I usually find myself agreeing with you so I am relieved that we are not diverging on the issue of tolerating monopolies!

Thanks to my experience in factory automation I am attracted to the idea of building NPPs that can be built in factories and shipped to site on a few trucks. This should greatly reduce the skilled man-hours deployed for “on site” fabrication with dramatic effects on the capital cost per GWe.

However, I do realize that this may amount to wishing the moon were made of blue cheese unless some genius like LeBlanc comes up with a brilliant Gen IV reactor design and someone commits to building it. If only the LFTR folks had got to Bill Gates before the Traveling Wave guys showed up on his doorstep. There I go again,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

With regard to Price Anderson, my understanding is that it was extended in 2005 for a 20 year period:


Gallopingcamel – Price Anderson is a political law, that is maintained for political reasons, not because there is any risk. With typical logic, antinuclear forces lobby hard to keep Price Anderson on the books, then hold it up as proof of how dangerous nuclear energy is.

You have to keep in mind that in the States, at this point in time, nothing, absolutely nothing involving nuclear energy is quite what it seems. It looks to be the equivalent to a prison knife fight going on down there where it is hard to tell who is fighting and who’s side any given player is on, at any given moment.

Of course vaporware is attractive, otherwise we wouldn’t give it the time of day, but I still don’t have the flying car I was promised fifty years ago by Popular Science.


If anyone here has looked at the video presentation by John Holdren, Obama’s energy advisor, to an MIT audience this October, I would be interested to hear his/her reaction. If not, the video is available to download from Charles Barton’s Nuclear Green Revolution site.

Holdren agreed with the recent MIT report that concluded that there would be no worries over uranium sustainability for at least a century. However, he went on to say that, with the best will in the world, we would be unlikely to have built as much as 3500GWe of nuclear by then. He didn’t envisage the deployment of other than once through reactors before 2050. He also seemed to be unduly hung up over proliferation risks. He assumes that, though nuclear will be needed, we will also need all the efficiency schemes and renewables we can get as well.

If this reflects US policy (and I suspect that EU and certainly UK policy is the same), perhaps the best strategy is to shoot the granchildren and eat, drink and be merry.


Politics is the art of the possible folks, and nothing will kill a political effort faster than being inflexible. And the wide deployment of nuclear energy is a political fight, not a technical one, and insisting on arguing on technical grounds in the face of this fact, is being inflexible. Believing that presenting all the good engineering and economic arguments for nuclear energy alone would carry the day was what lost the fight the last time around. If we don’t start looking to where we can win battles, and continue to tilt at windmills, we will loose again.

The entire fossil-fuel sector is not going to roll over and die, an there is no government anywhere that would survive trying to shut it down. At this point we have to look for chinks in the armor where we can make inroads. At the moment coal is vulnerable, and working to see these replaced with nuclear units should be the the focus of most of our efforts. If all that can be done for the moment in places like Australia is to build nuclear instead of expanding the number of coal burners, then that will have to do.

This is not a fight, anywhere in the world, that is going to be over in an election cycle or two, everyone must understand that we are in this for the long haul. At this point we simply don’t have the numbers, or organization to start a revolution that will carry all before it. While building that mass, and as part of the effort, a more focused, more political effort to get new builds, any new builds going has to be a priority.


This debating new nuclear build while the 7,000+ monster coal burning boilers – over 500 MWe each – all around us, and around the world, continue to spew out additional CO2 amounts to re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic as it continues to sink.

Shutting down supersized coal burning boilers NOW is the job at hand. If we don’t, most of those coal burners will still be at it in 2050.

What has happened to our sense of priorities?



Your point is spot on.

Jim Holm, how? How do you believe we could simply shut down coal power stations? This os your goal (and most people contributing here), but you don’t seem to have developed the next level of the plan, the how? (requirements, schedule, resources, budget, financing, politics, etc). We are arguing how it can be achieved. Do you have a realistic suggestion for way of doing it (politically, economically, financially, while maintaining the reliable electricity supply that society rightly demands)?


DV82XL –

We can’t shut them down forever but I think I have a plan that will make them “Dual-Fuel” nuclear and coal if that’s what is wanted.

Each individual generating unit – and each plant has 4 to 8 such units – would would be out of service for about a month as the necessary piping was installed, one unit at a time.

Another advantage is that most such plants would almost double their electricity output.

The economics appear compelling (save for the coal industry).

Check out what is becoming an on-line mini-book at:


Jim Holm, Ok. I hadn’t connected your name with “Coal2Nuclear”. Sorry, and thanks.

By the way, long ago you suggested that the large coal power station could, possible, be transitioned to having nuclear provide the steam for the existing boliers. You advocated the Russian nuclear plant as prodcing steam with properties nearest to thios for which the existing turbines are designed. However, you did mention that the steam from even the Russian nuclear plant may not be hot ehough or ‘dry’ enough for the existing turbines.

Do you have any further development on that?

I haven’t given much consideration to the idea of replacing existing coal with nuclear. I suspect we will need to build new baseload capacity for a long time to keep up with demand and to replace power stations that are past their used by date. I think that will occupy us for decades before we’d start replacing the ‘boilers’ in existing coal power stations. So I suspect we will just start building nuclear, initially fast enough to keep up with growing demand, and thereafter fast enough so that we replace all coal power stations with nuclear power stations. After that we’ll replace gas with nuclear and perhaps some pumped hydro and/or CAES or what ever energy strorage technology is viable by then.


Jim Holm & Peter Lang — If the steam isn’t hot enough, would it work to keep the coal fired boilers running just enough to finish heating the steam?

I’m becoming sufficiently desirous of even partial solutions such as that; extending tropical cyclone season, now an extra-tropical cyclone in the US, Swat Valley in Pakistan last summer, …


Peter Lang –

Below is a link to how the steam compatibility issue turned out. Scroll down a bit to see more about the steam issue.

The fact that the BN-800 is oversize turned out to be one of its most desireable features when you get into the economics.

Since boilers burn out every so often, I see ending 30% of ALL Global Warming as more of a maintenance item – to be done when boilers or turbines warrant the work.

A reader asked me to make up a printable foldable overview sheet for people with poor eysight (like him).



Jim, wouldn’t it be less complicated, in the long run, to just brownfield the coal plant site, and rebuild with nuclear. Yes keep the switch-yard and maybe the cooling towers, but is there any real advantage to trying to save the structure and the turbine hall, that won’t be overwhelmed by the regulatory hassles, and the engineering issues?


DV82XL, on 31 October 2010 at 12:46 PM — I know of a nearby coal burner coming up for renewal (PGE’s Boardman) where PGE is obligated by the Oregon Utility Regulatory Commission, PGE states, to provide the least cost solution. While Jim’s nifty idea probably won’t work for Boardman, being too far from the Columbia River, they’d use that solution if it came in at less than the $600 million that the polution abatement equipment is going to cost.


David B. Benson – Conversion, any type of conversion is often more trouble than it is worth. Usually it is considered as a last option when no other upgrade path is possible. Now it is important not to confuse this with in service modifications, which are normally cost effective. But unless Jim show otherwise, I can’t see a full retrofit of this sort as being the less expensive option to a new build.

I agree though that the site itself is very valuable, it is zoned industrial, the transmission lines are already there, and things like the switchyard and transformers and maybe the cooling towers could be reused saving some money. I just don’t think the rest of the plant is all that valuable.


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