Open Thread

Open Thread 7

Open Thread 6 is getting overly bloated in its old age, at 650 comments, and is taking too much time to load. 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.



You may find this letter of interest, on the IFR and an upcoming book on Len Koch: The death of something wonderful.

TCASE #5 at the RiAus is coming up next week. There are still seats available, so book now (free, but you must register). Details below (and here):

Thinking critically about sustainable energy: Demand side management and energy storage

When: Wednesday 3rd of November 2010 – 6:00 – 7:30 pm

Venue: The Science Exchange Address: 55 Exchange Place, Adelaide

Click here to book for this free event.

Demand side management (DSM) aims to improve the efficiency of energy consumption by reducing demand and using supplementary energy sources at peak times. Emerging systems can store excess energy produced during low demand periods and return it to the grid during peak periods. Smartgrids, which can monitor and control domestic usage instantly, are just around the corner. Will these systems play a significant role in reducing our power consumption? Professor Barry Brook and an expert panel (Craig Oakeshott from AEMO, Andrew Dicks and Glenn Platt) explain the role of these technologies. This event is the fifth of six public forums on sustainable energy technologies.

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.

367 replies on “Open Thread 7”

I think in general that TOD is a good site, even though I don’t personally subscribe to any kind of Malthusian peak-anything doomsaying, including but not limited to fear and doom surrounding peak oil.

There has been some good discussion of nuclear energy on TOD before, and since there are comment threads, there’s always opportunity to peer review and thrash out debatable claims.

For example, there was a post on TOD in 2007 regarding nuclear power, written by Prof. Martin Sevior at the University of Melbourne. (Some of you may have heard the name before, he often does a little research and public communication regarding energy, and nuclear energy particularly.)


Jim Green is at it again, trying to fraw a connection between civilian nuclear power and nuclear weapons, somehow impying that N. Korea is typical of the third world.

I suppose he’s probably not up for my suggestion that Australia establish its own U enrichment facility to provide LEU to others, thereby de-justifying those others establishing their own such facilities. If we did that, we’d be making a solid contribution to curbing proliferation throughout the world.

Is it just me, or has anyone else noticed the decided anti-nuclear bias of SMH?


Sydneysiders are dreamin’ if they think they can substantially power the place by trigeneration equipment run on sewer gas
I suspect the heating value of the gas will be an order of magnitude too low. The average landfill generator in the US produces about 20 kwe from umpteen acres of rotting garbage. I’d guess a lot of that sewer gas is already burned so there may not be that much more to give. In Sweden I believe there are clashes between the railways and the bus lines as to who gets biomethane.

At least warm climate Australia shouldn’t have to burn gas to keep the digesters warm. The normally NG powered trigen equipment may need to be modified to run on sewer gas with say 25% CO2. I have no idea of the capital cost of trigen equipment but it seems strange to have a form of gas powered air conditioning. A cold air con next to a hot chimney.

However it might be a step in the right direction for when there is no oil and no phosphate. Rearrange the suburbs to grow local food on sewer waste. Most electricity will still have to come from somewhere else.


In particular see the comment at that newmatilda article by Nick Sharp, author of “A Zillion Year Plan … for humanity” who has thoughtfully included ZCA 2020 to assist his “plan(?)” ->

Click to access AZYP4.pdf

This guy really seems convinced that ZCA is credible !


It’s great that the article quotes Barry but Piers Akerman has his own madness in there too.

I doubt Barry said that environmentalists were standing in the way.


Does anyone have access to data on the actual performance of some of these solar thermal heat-storage systems? Even though for energy delivered they are still wickedly expensive, I’m interested in whether they actually deliver on the power projections which are usually the only material easily available. Andasol seems to claim 3500 hours expected operaton/year (CF 40%), which could well be timed as a useful contribution to load requirements, But I don’t know if it delivered, or indeed how much of that heat was NG-combustion-generated – Spain allows 15% I think even for a “pure” solar project.


I’m putting this on OT 7 to see if machiavelli reads anything but the radiation thread.

anyway, I found what seems like an interesting study correlating increased incidence of breast cancer and ambient exposure to radiation from cosmic rays. conversely, author shows correlation of decreased exposure with decreased incidence.

the author attributes the causal mechanism to alpha particles that penetrate the body. if this study is borne out, what does it tell us about cancer incidence in general and radiation levels? very little since such stats are consistent with lower incidence overall and higher radiation levels (low level).

what implications might this have for nuclear power? virtually nothing. in fact, in this study, part of the point is that breast cancer incidence in Brazil, Aus, France and U.S. shows no significant divergence.

Recall that the cohen radon study shows powerful inverse correlations between higher levels of radon and lung cancer incidence. different cancers show different patterns.

anyway, here is the abstract. what do you think? and has anyone seen this study?

Breast cancer mortality reveals the same geographical distribution within Australia, Brazil, France, and USA.

Alan Astbury
Dept. of Physics & Astronomy, PO Box 3055 Stn Csc, Victoria BC Canada V8W 3P6


Abstract. A simple model is proposed as a possible major source of breast cancer. It is assumed that the
cause of the chromosomal dislocations in the cells of the breast, which may ultimately lead to cancer
formation, is uniform irradiation from internal alpha particles. These alpha particles, which are the source of a high LET radiation field, are produced in the structures of the breast by interactions of cosmic ray neutrons which bathe planet earth. This model leads directly to a predicted correlation between mortality from breast cancer and the geographical distribution of the intensity of the cosmic ray neutrons. Such a correlation is observed globally, and also locally in Australia, Brazil, France, and the USA. The correlation may be modified by the existence of environmental factors, such as the systematic variation of the age at menarche
and menopause, nulliparity, and the age at first birth. None of these factors can play a role in mortality from male breast cancer, which reveals the same correlation in the USA where detailed data exist. The ratio of mortality from breast cancer in males and females is determined to be (1.05+/-0.07) x 10-2, in good agreement with the quoted value of about 1%.

I have not read this article closely yet but the graphs are interesting.


If someone would like a copy of the article mentioned above, email me, though you could find it yourself.

on a similar topic, I downloaded Charles Sanders’ book on radiation hormesis (Verlag-Springer) from my school library. I have about 15 pdf files. it looks like a very interesting and perhaps important book. I first heard of it from Rod Adams’ blog.

if you want some of this, I can share with you. email me at


The SBS program Thalassa last night covered fears by the Norwegians of sea borne isotopes (Tc 99 etc) originating from Sellafield on the UK west coast. Without meaning to downplay their concerns what about all the millions of people who live far closer to Sellafield? That includes Ireland and the north west coasts of Scotland. If radioactivity follows an inverse square law you’d think that the Norwegians who live 4X as far away would get 1/16 the dose.

Perception and groupthink must be a large component of radiation fears. I thought the Scandinavians were cool until this and the Wikileaks saga.


greg meyerson – I normally take this sort of correlation study based on population statistics with a grain of salt. This is primarily because it is almost impossible to control properly for confounding variables, and they depend on data sets that were collected for other reasons that may have hidden biases.

We can also note the breast cancer is not regarded as particularly having a radiogenic cause. In fact it shows a rather flat high-does linear response, compared to thyroid cancers and leukemia.

It’s difficult for me to see how the findings can confidently be considered anything more than accidental correlation.


I appreciate the response.

but the graphs seem pretty persuasive. especially things like the graph that “gives the single sided probability that the particular value of the linear correlation coefficient would result from the selection of the data set from a random parent distribution.” (7)

the guy obviously concludes differently from what you say on breast cancer.

the thing is, it’s not clear that the study, whatever conclusions can be drawn about breast cancer (and the author notes the usual cautions about correlation studies), has any significant implications for support of nuclear power.

that’s the thing. if the study is borne out (in its claim about causal mechanisms), it would be crazy to infer that nukes are bad and RE is the way to go. etc.

seems to me that the anti nukes attribute huge significance to things like utterly insignificant tritium leaks while brushing aside the huge import of the fact that renewables cannot provide baseload power without such ludicrous overbuild and storage that no country would ever do it.



DV: would you say the same thing about Cohen’s (radon)correlational study, which shows (at least to my insufficiently tutored eye) the same sorts of improbable inverse correlations (if LNT were right)?

serious question.

perhaps the studies are not usefully comparable due to quality of data.

just asking?


greg meyerson, –

Data sets as poor as the one that was being looked at here, with three of them very short baseline and two long, with no attempt to determine if these cancers presented as radiogenic, and without corrections for the presence of other risk factors cannot yield results with any confidence.

The real problem is that I am sure that Dr. Astbury (for who I have the deepest respect) understands this, and so does his professional audience, the trouble is that laymen will latch onto work like this and give it weight far beyond what the author expects or wants.

I understand what you are saying, in that there is panic over man-made releases of radioactive material, and little concern over NORM, and this is laughably true in many instances. But at the same time I will not give a scientific finding more status than it is due, even when it supports my position.


okay: I’m learning from what you’re saying.

but you know, he’s written numerous papers that focus on proton momentum cut off.

in his conclusion, he says this:

It seems quite remarkable that having taken account of familial tendencies and any hereditary
genetic weaknesses in terms of DNA repair; if environmental factors are comparatively uniform,
then the relative probability of a woman suffering breast cancer can be reduced to the evaluation
of a single parameter, namely vertical proton cut-off momentum. This variable appears to be
sufficiently pervasive that it can provide a framework against which cancer mortality can be
examined. The explicit link to cosmic ray neutrons requires more work, but the level of the current evidence seems to merit serious discussion.

He does admit that the link to cr neutrons has not been demonstrated, but is a basis for further research.

anyway, the only way I can continue to learn from this list is to play student. so bear with me.



greg meyerson – I don’t have much confidence in simple correlation studies, and few people with scientific training do, and this holds with Cohen as well.

However on the topic of radon there have been numerous case-control studies done to assess directly the lung cancer risk from indoor radon. Some studies report positive or weakly positive findings, while others report no increased risk, or weakly negative findings. And a pooled analysis of of a collection of these studies each with 1000 lung cancer cases displays no trend overall.

The findings from studies done in mining show a clear relationship, so its not a question of doubting that high radon exposure is a risk factor for lung cancer. But clearly this result doesn’t extrapolate well to indoor radon exposure in homes and other buildings.

Research into things like this must be on going, it is true. The problem is that there are too many people doing simple correlation studies, and few doing case-controlled, cohort based followups to determine if indeed there is something there. This is of course because these are long and expensive, and cannot usually be done by academic researchers.

Unfortunately, the research that is done, is treated like it is definitive by the general press, regardless of how much the original author(s) try to make the limitations of their work clear.


just as a point, sanders notes in his study of hormesis that the protection factor relates only to the low LET component of any dose, not the hi LET.

astbury explicitly is talking about Hi LET internal radiation.


DV and others.

for what it’s worth, and i think it’s worth something, here are some summary paragraphs on cancer incidence and background radiation from Charles Sanders book on hormesis and the LNT. Many of the results summarized are from correlational studies, though they gain some credibility side by side with specific studies of DNA repair mechanisms and low dose radiation.

From p. 39, chapter three of “Radiation Hormesis and the Linear No-Threshold Assumption.”

A negative correlation was found for all cancer (SIR and SMR) with natural background dose in cities of India (Fig. 3.1) [25]. No increase in overall mortality or birth defects was found in case–control studies in
Ramsar, Iran [26] or in Kerala, India [27].
Ramsar, a coastal city in northern Iran, has the highest level of background radiation
level in an inhabited region of the world; the dose level is more than 100 mSv/year. This
dose is more than five times higher than the 20 mSv/year permitted for radiation workers
or 55–200 times more than the average global dose. There have been no ill effects to
populations in Ramsar exposed to these high-radiation levels [5]. No significant cytoge-
netic effects in blood lymphocytes have been observed in Ramsar compared with those
living in normal background levels. Physicians in Ramsar have not reported an increase in
cancer rates [4, 21, 22].

An in vitro challenge dose of 1.5 Gy given to blood lymphocytes of inhabitants of Ramsar showed significantly reduced chromosomal damage compared with residents of normal background levels [22]. The age-adjusted cancer mortality rate for the U.S. population (1950–1967) decreased with increasing background radiation (Fig. 3.2). A 20% lower cancer mortality rate was found in Idaho, Colorado, and New Mexico than in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama where background radiation levels were nearly five times less than for those living in the mountain states [28]. The incidence of leukemia and lymphoma was 19% less in males and 6% less in females for those living in the United States at an altitude of 2,000–5,300 feet
when compared with those living at an altitude of <500 feet [29].

Correlation coefficients between mortality rates for various cancers and diseases of the heart and background dose levels in 43 urban populations are shown in Table 3.4. All correlations were negative with increasing background dose [30].


All of the studies that purport to show a relation to low level radiation and health issues have been simple correlation studies, and they have not been very well done. The reason they can get away with this is that, correlation studies utility is in forming hypotheses, not drawing conclusions. The same holds true for projective modeling like this. The fact remains that when these hypotheses are revisited with properly controlled, long-baseline longitudinal studies, most of the time these initial correlations vanish. This has been the case with all of the so called clusters of health issues associated with nuclear plants. When they are looked at with the proper tools there is nothing to see.

Cohort and case-control methodologies are the best tools for analytical epidemiological research. Other types of epidemiological studies like cross-sectional and correlation studies, are really only valid for forming hypotheses and this sort of modeling is really only sniff-test for determining if there is grounds for a hypothesis there in the first place. No valid conclusions about the validity of the hypotheses can be drawn from findings of these latter types – nothing at all.

We need to be very careful and not let our biases drive us to give more credence to research that supports the hormesis phenomenon than it warrants. We must apply same high standards and jaundiced eye that we criticize papers that support LNT.

What is needed is a push for quality long-baseline studies that include in vitro work, a search for evidence of mechanisms, and the sort of high standards that the issue deserves, with a view to providing a definitive answer to the question.

This is not to say everything that has been done is useless, but it needs to be seen for what it is, and used for what it was intended for: a guideline for further research, NOT a guideline for regulations.



You suggest that correlation studies are useful only for forming hypotheses. Would you not accept, however, that ,when multiple such studies produce similar findings, the probability of the hypothesis being correct is greatly enhanced.

Furthermore, the in vitro lymphocyte challenge test cannot be so readily dismissed although I respect your caution. Clearly, the concept of hormesis suits nuclear power supporters and your failure uncritically to embrace it stems as much from your distaste at the idea of being tarred with the same brush as the anti-nukes as it does with doubts over the direction of the evidence. ,


Douglas Wise – Not necessarily. There have been some very bad meta-analysis done, for example, on certain aspects of the health impacts of radiation that are just as worthless as the individual studies that were collected to review.

My concern is this: if work of this nature is going to be used to make public policy, there needs to be a very high level of confidence in the results. Much of the research I have seen is poorly done, relying on self-reporting, estimated exposures and historical data that isn’t always reliable. Are we going to trust medical records kept in places like Ramsar, Iran, or in Kerala, India, places where corruption is endemic? I’m not saying that it is, I’m just pointing out that there seems to be too many uncontrolled sources of potential error, to make me feel totally confident in the results.

But more importantly this cuts both ways. If we are going to argue our positions with weak research, and reject the oppositions claiming their research is flawed, we are not going to convince anyone. There are other types of epidemiological studies that can be done that have better methodologies, that yield much firmer results.

Now true I happen to think that the evidence supporting radiation hormesis and rejecting LNT is strong, but unfortunately it is not definitive enough to silence all the critics (or at least the ones that count) so I believe that the better studies are needed to put this matter to rest.

So yes you are right, my objections are motivated by more than just science. But in general I do not like the fact that the popular media takes the results from simple correlation studies and reports the hypothesis as a firm conclusion. Once that happens the anti(whatevers) treat it like it was a Law of Nature carved in stone. Then it becomes a reason for making policy. This has happened just too often, not just in nuclear related issues, but in many domains, and I belive it should stop.

As for “distaste at the idea of being tarred with the same brush as the anti-nukes” that would be the first time I have seen anyone try and put a negative spin on a desire not to be a hypocrite.



I take your point and respect you for making it. I can’t help myself from adopting a devil’s advocate role.

You reminded me of a flirtacious virgin, attracted to the advances of a potential suitor, but unwilling to accede to his demands without first putting up a suitable level of resistance to demonstrate your respectability.

I fully agree that it should be possible to undertake better research to sort this matter more definitively. For example, one might argue that those currently living in Ramsar are, indeed, quite resistant to the harmful effects of radiation, but that this is only due to the fact that susceptible individuals perished in utero or perinatally. How do recent Ramsar immigrants fare? It all needs sorting out and you’re right to remain sceptical.


Douglas Wise – Yes that is a variation on what is called the ‘ healthy worker effect’ in industrial hygiene where a population of workers exposed regularly to some insult fail to show the same number of individuals expressing a effect, as expected, due to the fact that those that do leave the field. Indeed it is this sort of thing that needs to be eliminated from the radiation hormesis/LNT issue.

However I am not being coy here as much as I want to make an airtight case. I have elsewhere on on the interwebs, had long sterile debates with otherwise intelligent people concerned about the potential effects of ionizing and non-ionizing radiation who, due to their lack of science education, giving these poor studies much more weight than they are due. Even on those rare occasions when I am able to convince them that these studies are untrustworthy, they continue to fall back on the precautionary principle, correctly asserting that it cuts both ways: nothing is disproved by this type of research ether.

To shut the door on LNT, with or without definitive proof of radiation hormesis should be the objective here for the nuclear energy supporter, and it is clear that this can only be accomplished by research that yields confidence levels at the 5-sigma level, an that is not going to come from small-baseline, poorly controlled studies, with sloppy experimental design.

Frankly. I can’t see any other way of prosecuting this issue that doesn’t leave one open to accusations of cherry-picking or outright hypocrisy.

This is not to suggest good work has not already been done – it has. AECL has had an ongoing heath study running for over thirty years in the regions around Canadian nuclear power stations, that is being conducted with several departments of the Providential and Federal governments. This study has found nothing to indicate that there is any risk to the general population living around those facilities, even though Canadian limits for tritium in drinking water is 7000 Becquerels per Liter, compared to the American standard of 750 Bq/L.

There are others, and slowly a body of proof is building that will be useful in a policy fight. But as I have said in the past, in my opinion, two parasitic cultures have grown around nuclear technology, both artifacts of Cold War paranoia: first is the radiation protection industry and professionals working in the field that depend on the continued acceptance of the the linear-non-threshold dose-response model, despite the fact that this model has been thoroughly discredited on multiple occasions; the second the nonproliferation bureaucracy. The latter having no more of an evidentiary foundation than the former, but is similar in that a host of people depend on its assumptions for their jobs. Thus the battle to kill LNT, and proliferation paranoia, unfortunately means also fighting our own in many cases.


greg, I assume this: is the study you were looking at. The graphs you find convincing look extremely suspect to me. Especially I don’t like the trend lines drawn on the graphs – they mostly look completely bogus.

Most revealing is the throwaway comment in the second paragraph of his USA discussion. The strongest effect associated with increased cosmic radiation – increased altitude – is reviewed and, because it doesn’t show the required effect, is dismissed. It makes me wonder what other data – say from Canada? – was reviewed and discarded on a similar basis.


I have a suggestion:

DV, your thoughts on this issue of statistical significance and the 1-5 sigma range ought to be written up in however many installments and posted on BNC–in the context of discussions around LNT/Hormesis.

That said, I am wondering how much science could actually meet the standards of 5 sigma
(0.99999999802 confidence level??).

would you not place climate science in the same category as correlational studies?

at any rate, I am a student here. feel free to correct anything I have said that is rooted in ignorance.




yes, I noticed that too!!!!!! (the caveat about altitude) what do you make of this comment? does it discredit the study or make DVs point about scientific caution?

I trust your judgment more than my own on this and in part that’s why I posted it.

I am attracted to DV’s point that c studies might best be used as plausibility tests for even projecting a hypothesis in the first place…? (if I understand DV right and in this area, I take nothing for granted)

according to DV, who respects the author, the author himself knows this and scientists all know it but the public does not.

this is interesting. but I wonder if scientists here agree. again, how much science is done at 5 sigma?

as far as the trend lines, first of all, they were really hard to see!! they were all at least negative correlations, right? if his trend lines are completely bogus, what does this say about an established physicist that a smart guy like DV respects?

when you say completely bogus, are you suggesting incompetence or dishonesty?

these are serious questions. I have only in the last several years taught myself enough math to know basically what I’m looking at (stats/prob/calc/chem/phys for dummies, and assorted other texts, visual aids etc). so no irony whatsoever. despite my penchant for irony in other contexts.


Regardless of the character and interpretation of the hypotheses and theories, a working scientific discipline requires at least the 5-sigma standards if its insights are going to be quasi-reliably reused in realistic, chains of reasoning.

Two-sigma is mathematical jargon for a measurement or discovery of some kind that sticks up high enough above the random noise to be interesting but not high enough to really mean anything conclusive. The criterion for a genuine discovery is five-sigma, suggesting there is less than one chance in roughly 3 million that it is wrong. Two sigma, leaving a 2.5 percent chance of being wrong, is just high enough to jangle the nerves.

To recap:

>5 sigma: discovery
~3 sigma: observation
<1.5 sigma: noise

Science is not about proof it's about weighing up the evidence. Is the claim an extraordinary one, then the evidence better also be extraordinary. But at the same time we must keep in mind that it is not always possible to to wait until the evidence is overwhelming, if the risks of waiting are too dear.

This is what I feel about climate forcing – why wait to find out that AGW is right, when by the time definitive evidence is so clear it cannot be questioned, we are up to our necks in seawater (or whatever.) A means that may help avoid the worse outcomes is available – implement it and we'll argue later.


Dr. Astbury is a professor emeritus at University of Victoria, and led a group from the Rutherford-Appleton Laboratory who confirmed the existence of the W particle

He was the Director of the Canadian Institute of Particle Physics during 1991-94, and was appointed Director of TRIUMF in 1994. The fact that the laboratory has remained one of the world's prime institutions for subatomic research and has maintained its outstanding reputation is due in large part to his leadership. Dr. Astbury was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 1989 and of the British Royal Society in 1993. In 2001 he received the Chair's Award for Career Achievement by the Science Council of British Columbia. He has served on a large number of national and international committees and scientific advisory bodies.

This paper is a bit of a departure for him, and is the product of a scientist past his peak years. I think it was an idea he found interesting and published knowing that he had reached the point in his career where he could go out on a limb without doing himself much professional damage.

The conclusion to draw from the work is that there may be something that warrants a closer look, and I suspect that's all he wanted to say. More should not be read into it.


very good, DV.

another great response.

I understand better what you’re saying now than I did when you said it to me several months ago.

I think you should write this up. there are plenty of smart people out there with an insufficient understanding of science–and this leads to belief in lots of half digested b.s.

I include myself in this. Humility always, understanding what Ben Franklin said about it.


There are several good basic treatments of confidence intervals and related matters available. on the web. This is not really the place to delve into the topic in much more detail than I did above. Certainly I would not likely be able to do the subject the justice it deserves, if I tried.


It said on The Oil Drum that by 2013 Germany will have spent 70 billion euros on PV subsidies. Not a lot to show for it. It’s shame there are no small scale energy storage systems that carry over for 6 months. For example around Christmas save 20 kwh a day for mid winter (Australia) but costing less than a million bucks per household. This one was an eye opener

There seems to be no way of avoiding the need for fuel powered devices when natural fluxes can’t meet our expectations. Back to the Neolithic then.


greg, very little science is done to 5 or 6 sigma, which is as it should be. Much, probably most, science does not rely on statistical inference, but rather on deductive or syllogistic reasoning, or direct measurement, or some other way of knowing.

If you synthesize a new molecule and characterize its structure by NMR, there’s no statistical measure involved. Likewise if you measure the red shift of the hydrogen lines from a distant galaxy. Much science is of this nature.

Statistical measures are more appropriate in some fields than others – epidemiology, pharmacology, field biology, psychology and so on. Or looking at inherently random processes like collision products in high energy physics.

For the purposes of pure science, a 95% confidence (2 sigma) is usually sufficient to be regarded as provisional confirmation of a hypothesis. You really only want to push beyond that when there are real world consequences for being wrong, like in medicine (with human health consequences), engineering (with safety consequences or investment consequences) or product reliability (with business consequences), etc. In the latter cases, you really want to throw away theory and become an empiricist, and push out to 5 or 6 sigma.

So not all science uses statistical tools to generate knowledge, and when you do use such tools there is a cost benefit tradeoff, because acquiring high confidence is often very expensive. Most science does not require a six sigma standard.


EN, the Green/Wasley piece at OLO appeared a few days earlier at New Matilda. Not sure why OLO haven’t acknowledged this; they usually do.

I’m not sure that any further effort is needed; the piece is pretty thoroughly demolished in the comments on both sites. Yours was a very nice coup de grace.


Barry – yes I know. Corey sent me a copy of the chapter. Very handy & important stuff to have access to as a biology student.


After yesterday’s wind farm forum meeting in Yass run by the DECC (well the wind industry really), I think a BNC community critique of the GHG abatement study could be a good thing if anyones up for it? This was being heavily endorsed ->

Estimating Greenhouse Gas Emissions Abatement
from Wind Farms in NSW

When I raised the issue of the poor ability of wind to reduce GHG the DECC (and the wind industry reps) were completely dismissive and just point to this doc. One of the wind industry guys (from the CSIRO spin off Windlab) actually seemed to think this report was based on “measurements” not “modelling”, can you believe that! Unless of course the DECC come up with another document…

I could perhaps include some of the community critique in a submission to the Senate Inquiry, mentioned earlier upthread.

The Social and Economic Impact of Rural Wind Farms :

*** Oh, and the guy form Suzlon turbine company (Mike Bagot) who was there, who is involved in the Rugby/Boorowa wind farm application (I think he is proj manager), said was involved in writing the BZE ZCA 2020 report (his name is not listed in the report), and said it was “meant to be dreamland stuff”… and blathered on the usual ZCA blather, and also said the costings were rubbish.

He also expressed a desire to get the community involved in his wind farm developments at Boorowra/Rugby. Perhaps a bit late as the first community meeting is “today”, and the wind resource monitoring/ planning app has been put together since 2004 for this 90 turbine wind farm between these two locations, which will cover 100,000ha of land between Boorowa and Rugby.

The planning app was lodged on 2/11/2010 & is at :–communications–energy—water/generation-of-electricity-or-heat-or-co-generation/?action=view_job&job_id=4316

As yet there is no web site for the wind farm for the local community to have a point of contact. And it is being built by Suzlon & CSIRO spinoff Windlab . There is no mention of the Rugby wind farm on Windlab’ s site ->

A search of Suzlon’s website reveals zero results for Rugby ->

Two news articles I found ->

Hmmm, community consultation … ????


The report mentioned in my previous comment ->

Estimating Greenhouse Gas Emissions Abatement from Wind Farms in NSW

was commissioned by NSW DECC & written by McLennan Magasanik Associates , published in July 2010.

Here is a quick brain twister (well not really:). Section 3, p7 is titled “MEASURING EMISISONS ABATEMENT FROM WIND FARMS”

the first sentence says ->

“There are a number of issues that need to be considered in attempting to estimate the actual level of emissions abated from wind farms. ”

and then go on to talk about the “modeling” they used to estimate emissions abatement. I find it strange that they use the title “measuring”, when they are not actually doing any measuring… is that just me, or does anyone else find this section title a little difficult to believe or, dare I say it, deliberately misleading ?

And bear in mind this doc is being pushed by the wind precinct advisory committees & officers of the NSW DECC & the wind industry developers.


OK, here also is the exec summary ->


This report has been prepared for the NSW Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water to report on electricity market modelling that has been carried out to determine the emissions abatement impact of wind farms located in New South Wales.

The greenhouse gas abatement from wind energy is specific to each electricity system, primarily because the generation that is displaced by the output of a wind farm is location-specific. In NSW, wind farms would almost exclusively displace fossil-fuel generation, either from NSW coal-fired and gas-fired generators, or from coal-fired generators in Queensland and Victoria.

The present study consists of four scenarios, each with a different level of wind
penetration in NSW from 2010 to 2020:

Scenario one: the baseline scenario in which no new wind capacity enters NSW.

Scenario two: a 150 MW wind farm (an average large wind farm).

Scenario three: 500 MW (a very large wind farm).

Scenario four: 3,000 MW of wind capacity (the upper range of wind capacity that
would be expected to penetrate the NSW market under the expanded RET scheme).

Each of these cases were set to run using the PLEXOS electricity market simulation
software package, and the modelling horizon was set from July 2010 until June 2020.

As Executive Figure 1 illustrates, the greenhouse gas emissions abated by NSW wind
farms varies annually over the modelling horizon:

Scenario two (150MW wind farm): from 150 kt CO2e to 450 kt CO2e per annum.

Scenario three (500MW wind farm): from 900 kt CO2e to 1,600 kt CO2e per annum.

Scenario four (3000MW wind capacity): from 6,900 kt CO2e to 9,000 kt CO2e per


greg meyerson, I truly admire this:

I have only in the last several years taught myself enough math to know basically what I’m looking at (stats/prob/calc/chem/phys for dummies, and assorted other texts, visual aids etc)


Taking the average CO2 saving for each wind scenario the figure seems to be 2-2.5 kt annually per MW of nameplate. If wind displaces a mix of combined and open cycle gas at say 0.5 tCO2 per Mwh then a full year’s running at 100% capacity factor would be 4.38 kt per MW. Thus they appear to assume nearly 1:1 gas displacement at capacity factors of nearly 50%.

CO2 displacement seems impossible to measure without wind-free comparison data for a similar region. Perhaps data from around 1985 could be used. The consultants report must have incorporated some major assumptions about future coal and gas prices in order to model carbon intensity.

I lived in Yass 1994-2004. My take on it is that some politicians and bureaucrats in Canberra decided that wind power was a good thing and the hapless yokels will have to wear it. Needless to say various consultants find mostly good things to say about it. Suits get the comfy jobs shuffling papers around or skiting their green credentials while yokels get their lifestyles compromised. The mirror to this is the Murray Darling saga.



is there such a thing as multiple working hypotheses for dummies (not total dummies, but those who have read many dummy books, some several times, etc).

thanks for your reply on stats and science, John. I was actually pushing DV to be more teacherly. NEVER LOSE TOUCH WITH THE STUDENT IN YOU. You assist people a lot more that way, I think.


barry: your work fills me with loathing. even though I haven’t read it.

but seriously, I can likely download a copy for free from work. I have a feeling you sent this to me before in the context of another discussion.

but if you have a copy, and don’t mind sending it, I would appreciate it. would read it right away.


Well I guess in predicting weather we can forgive ABARE. But in largely ignoring the imminence of a predictable, measurable phenomenon such as global peak oil… well, their jurisdiction is only Australia right? So they don’t really have to report on such matters, right? Except they forecast the price of oil. Oh wait…


Here a few Australian articles that will provide interesting background reading for the Senate Inquiry on wind farms, some excerpts below from each article ->

Farmers join ranks against wind farm

Farmers fear rows of 150m-high turbines will tower over their properties as part of AGL’s $1 billion Coopers Gap Wind Farm.

The proposal includes up to 200 turbines around Cooranga North, between Kingaroy and Dalby, 180km northwest of Brisbane. It would supply 400 megawatts towards Queensland’s renewable energy targets.

Some turbines will be only 500m from homes, leading to concerns about sleepless nights and health problems from noise and vibrations collectively known as “wind turbine syndrome”.

A senate inquiry is currently under way into the health effects of wind farms and will include impacts on property values and the interface between levels of government. The Queensland Government is under pressure to legislate a minimum distance between turbines and homes of at least 2km – similar to the new Victorian coalition government’s policy.

Nanango MP Dorothy Pratt said it was “totally unacceptable” to locate turbines near homes.

“I think we seriously need a 3km buffer and as soon as possible because people’s health should be first and foremost,” she said.


Renewable energy targets in doubt as expensive wind power runs out of puff

Without subsidies, current electricity prices would need to triple to justify new wind capacity, which costs about $2.5 million per megawatt to build.

Some analysts and industry sources say most of the required capacity will not be built in time because an oversupply of certificates will continue to depress prices and mean wind farms remain uneconomic for the next four or five years.

For wind farms to be viable at current electricity prices, certificate prices would need to double from a current price of about $35 per megawatt hour (MWh).

Industry sources say new wind capacity needs to return $100 to $120/MWh to recoup development and operating costs, compared with industry estimates of $40 to $45 for new coal-fired capacity.

Therefore, to justify the wind spend, the electricity price received, plus the price of an REC, which is for 1MWh, needs to be at least $100. With electricity futures tipping prices of $37/MWh in NSW next year, and a certificate price of $35, wind farms are far from economic.


Adelaide environmental court rules in favour of AGL’s Mt Bryan wind farm in landmark judgement

The landmark judgment that could set the precedent for community litigation against wind farm developments in South Australia has been hailed by developers and disappointed anti-wind farm campaigners.

Handing down its judgment on the state’s first case of this kind, the Environment, Resources and Development Court cleared the way for the proposed $180 million wind farm.

“As a consequence of this decision, opponents to such projects around South Australia can now see that the demand for renewable energy outweighs any community concerns,” he said.

Ill wind for anti-turbine push: more to come

Under the Coalition’s wind farm election policy, welcomed by anti-wind farm campaigners, residents can veto a development if turbines are less than two kilometres from their home. Planning authority was also given back to local councils.

The new minister encouraged energy companies to be ”mindful” of the government’s guidelines when building their projects. Coastal Guardians spokesman Tim Le Roy, who welcomed the election of Mr Baillieu, acknowledged the government had a problem applying its policy retrospectively but urged the industry to embrace the guidelines on a voluntary basis.


TV chef warms to Baillieu’s turbine tactics

Those “monstrous” things are 90m-high wind turbines, which energy company Transfield Services is investigating putting near Mr Russell-Clarke’s home at Tooborac, an area studded with picturesque granite outcrops, 105km north of Melbourne.

The new Victorian Coalition government has declared the area in the Macedon and McHarg Ranges a “no-go zone” for wind farms, along with other mountainous and coastal areas.

Transfield had been investigating putting up to 80 turbines across the hills west of Tooborac, but is likely to have the project killed if the new government sticks to its policy, which stipulates a distance of 2km between wind turbines and houses.

(bryen note – Transfield are the developer for Collector wind farm near Yass in NSW)


Legal block puts the wind up wind farm protesters

PLANNED legal action against a wind farm approved in the final days of the Brumby government has been abandoned.

The action was dropped after it emerged that former Victorian planning minister Justin Madden had blocked any future appeals.

The proposed Moorabool wind farm, consisting of 107 turbines near Ballarat, 90km northwest of Melbourne, received final planning approvals on November 1, the day before Victoria went into caretaker mode for the poll.

Mr Madden, whose failure to consult on planning decisions dogged the Brumby government, appointed a delegate to sign on his behalf because his relatives own property in the Moorabool area.

“It’s taken away all our options,” said Ms Kirk, who will have five turbines within a kilometre of her property. “It’s just taken away our civil rights.”

The new Planning Minister, Matthew Guy, condemned Mr Madden’s actions but said they could not be undone.

“It’s indicative of why the last government became so unpopular on planning matters, because it was very clear they had no intent of obtaining community consultation on these wind farm issues,” he said.

“They called it in at two minutes to midnight, and cut out any ability for the community to have an appeal process or any kind of feedback into the application.

“They just don’t get it when it comes to people in regional Victoria who have concerns about a 40-storey turbine being placed within 2km of their homes.”

The new policy requires a 2km buffer between houses and turbines unless separately agreed to by the resident, but is not retrospective for approved wind farms.

Moorabool Shire Mayor Pat Toohey said he was disappointed Mr Madden had signed off on the wind farm “about an hour from caretaker mode”.

“Instead of a good planning process, that was a government in panic chasing green votes,” Mr Toohey said.


bryen you point out that Origin paid consultants to confirm that NSW wind power displaces CO2. However the model was shrouded in obscure manipulations. I’ve been wondering about approaches the plebs could do on spreadsheet software. On reflection I’m not sure that correlation based studies will give the full picture. For example we could do a linear regression
Z = aX + bY + c
where Z is tCO2 from stationary generation, X is fossil Mwh and Y is wind Mwh. If the overall fit was good and the estimate for b turned out negative (b<0) we might conclude wind power was offsetting fossil. However there might be a third independent variable such as total economic activity, perhaps measured as inflation adjusted GDP. In a recession heavy industry might cut back on core electrical demand so that fossil would decline anyway. In that case wind shouldn't get the kudos for lower emissions.

I think different models should be proposed and tested with comparable data in different grid systems. I regard the issue of CO2 displacement by wind as a grey area. Even if there was some the next issue is that of justifiable cost.


I like your thinking John. I’d hate to run the math myself, but it’s great to see people considering the extra variables such as overall economic activity, especially after the GFC demonstrated lower Co2 emissions from a recession.



The study was commissioned by NSW DECC(!) and is currently being used as a political / greenwashing tool by NSW gov and wind industry developers :


So it is being endorsed by the NSW wind energy precinct “advisors” and officers ->

Note that the gov in NSW has waived “critical infrastructure fees” until 30 June 2011. The Suzlon proj manager Mike Bagot of Rugby / Boorowra told me this would save them @ $750k.

The NSW DECC study, methodology Section 4 p10 ->

The emissions abatement impact that wind farms will have in New South Wales is driven in part by the future generation mix, which is in turn driven by electricity demand, the carbon price and the expected level of renewable energy generation. The carbon price is a critical component in this equation as it drives the abatement of emissions, primarily through the retirement and/or winding down of coal plant production. However, with respect to renewable energy projects the carbon price has a lesser impact while the carbon price is insufficient to meet the renewable energy targets without additional certificate revenue. This is because any increase in carbon price raises electricity prices which then reduce certificate prices. The critical factors for renewable energy projects during this period are:

The magnitude of the renewable energy target.

The new renewable energy supply curve which will determine the new entry cost for renewable energy.

The extent to which renewable resources are developed in areas of higher energy costs relative to other locations. Returns to wind farms in other locations would be reduced if REC prices are lower due to high energy prices elsewhere, such as in Western Australia.

The electricity modelling developed for the NSW DECCW take into account the following parameters:

Regional and temporal demand forecasts.

Generating plant performance.

Timing of new generation including embedded generation.

Existing interconnection limits.

Potential for interconnection development.


@bryen re the NSW GHG abatement by wind modelling, the following (from appendix A.9.1) does not exactly fill me with confidence:

Typically, each wind farm operates at an average capacity factor of between 25% and 45%, with intermittency represented through the use of stochastic wind profiles. Wind profiles are randomly developed within PLEXOS assuming a log-normal distribution and high autocorrelation from one period to the next, using parameters determined from historical wind profiles.

I would be interested in others’ opinions as to the validity of these availability assumptions, and whether this is important for the purpose of the study.

Notwithstanding that, the bottom line is in Figure 6-3 in the report. Note that even under the most optimistic 3000MW-of-wind scenario, total emissions continue to increase through to 2020. The modelling indicates that this scenario results in abatement of ~10% over BAU. However, this still only represents a renewables (including hydro) contribution of 18% to the total (Figure 6-7). As the report sort of says (section 3.3), intermittency management issues mean all bets are off once you try to push wind contribution beyond 20%.


Also see Appendix A.9 ->

Modelling other renewable energy technologies
Non-hydro renewable generation modelled in the PLEXOS NEM database includes
wind, geothermal, biomass/bagasse, new hydro and solar thermal. The availability of
this renewable generation is represented through a combination of profiles, stochastic
variables, forced outage rates and maximum capacity factors.


A.9.1 Wind
Wind farms are modelled as multiple units, each with a maximum capacity of 1 MW.
Up to six generic locations are assumed in each state to represent some diversity in
availability – the six in NSW are based on the renewable energy zones. With high
wind penetration expected in the future, modelling only six generic locations models
the fact that there is high correlation between wind farms situated in similar locations,
as observed already in South Australia. Typically, each wind farm operates at an
average capacity factor of between 25% and 45%, with intermittency represented
through the use of stochastic wind profiles. Wind profiles are randomly developed
within PLEXOS assuming a log-normal distribution and high autocorrelation from one
period to the next, using parameters determined from historical wind profiles.

In modelling the NSW wind farms, historical profiles from two existing wind farms
were used. The profiles had a correlation coefficient of 76%, which is remarkably high,
and reinforces the statement in the preceding paragraph that the output of wind farms in similar locations is highly correlated (the wind farms are approximately 50km
apart). However, MMA has also found that the correlation decreases as the distance
between wind farms increases. Thus, in Victoria the correlation coefficient between
two wind farms that are 200km apart is only 40%.


I have a few immediate issues here (over and above it is a report on modelling and not measuring). i) units of 1 MW for a wind farm … come on!!! what is that all about ???

ii) what were the 2 existing NSW wind farms . given that Cullerin & Capital the only 2 declared as operating on the NEM in NSW, have been operating for just over a year ??? not much of a historical record to go on their, and Capital has had a bunch of turbines offline for part of that time too!

iii) they try to make some vague statement that wind farms in Vic and NSW are somehow not correlated, when Andrew Miskelly & Tom Quirk, and anyone who cares to look at the AEMO data will find that the whole lot can go offline…


Here’s one for you all Appendix 9, p64 :

A.9.5 Solar thermal
Photovoltaic and solar thermal generation are modelled as multiple units of 1 MW,
using generic profiles to represent the solar radiation potential throughout a day and
across a year. Figure A-17 shows the generic profile applied for December, assuming
no storage potential. In winter, the estimated profile is 80% lower than in this figure.
For capacity planning purposes, PV/solar thermal is assumed to be 100% firm.


European gas lobby urges switch from coal
It might create early CO2 reductions then all the other problems will become apparent as explained in the article.

Despite some points in favour of their case they weaken it by suggesting that gas will take the next step to lower emissions by adopting CCS. I doubt it. Their other weak point would have to be that most gas will come from outside Europe.


“One point of concern has been the standard of radiation emission from 10,000 years to 1,000,000 years into the future. On August 9, 2005, the United States Environmental Protection Agency proposed a limit of 350 millirem per year for that period. In October 2007, the DOE issued a draft of the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement in which it shows that for the first 10,000 years mean public dose would be 0.24 mrem/year and that thereafter to 1,000,000 years the median public dose would be 0.98 mrem/year, both of which are substantially below the proposed EPA limit.” from
At that time, none was planned to be weapons or fuel grade


First of all rems is no longer the unit of choice for exposure, given that this is not an American forum, I suggest that we use the SI unit, sieverts:

1 rem = 0.01 Sv = 10 mSv
1 millirem = 0.00001 Sv = 0.01 mSv = 10 μSv

Second, the existence of a regulation does not prove the existence of a risk, very much like cannon law does not prove the existence of a God.

Just to put things in perspective:

– A dose of under 1 Sy (100 rems) is considered subclinical, which is to say it basically does nothing.

– The average exposure for Americans is about 3.6 mSv per year (360 mrem)

– The equivalent dose for 365 bananas (one per day for a year) is 36 μSv (3.6 mrems)

If the EPA is calling for 3.5μSv/yr (350 millirem per year) they are in essence calling for the facility to be sealed such that no more than the average background radiation will be released. Naturally because whatever high-level waste they put in the repository will decay rapidly, there is little risk that the standards will not be met. I suspect that there is more residual radiation in that area from decades of activity at Nevada Test Site, than could ever possibly come from sequestered material that was to be stored at Yucca Mountain. While this is laudable, it does not speak to the issue of the physics of radioactive decay which is the subject of this discussion.

In fact the entire farce that the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository saga has become, is a textbook example of policy being divorced completely from science, and the longer it goes the wider the split.


DV82XL, on 12 December 2010 at 2:51 PM — There remains quite a division about whether low dosage cancer risk can be extroplated linearly from higher dosage cancer risk. The three camps are (1) sublinear, less risk than a linear extrapolation; (2) linear; (3) super-linear. Last I checked EPA uses linear and only one small group of nuccflear health physicists still claim sper-linear. I find the sublinear model more plasuible myself in that it takes a hit while the cell is undergoing repair to either die or become cancerous.

There is also the question of the trustworthyness of the various lung clearance models. In recent times the nearby air quality researchers have been focusing on micron sized particles (of whatever one breathes) as most likely to invade via lungs. Of coarse they are most concerned about chemical poisons (which might also be cancer inducing). So a thorough analysis has to account for whatever combination of ‘dust & smog’ together with ionizing radiation is emitted by the particles and the particular chemical affinites of the emitters; not all ionizing radiation is equal.

The US DoE is a highly dysfunctional agency in many aspects, but this exchange started by your making the error of stating that plutonium was a chemical poinin, not a radiotoxin. You made the same mistake regarding uranium. I corrected you. You then appeared to have stated that isolation for a long time was not necessary. I pointed out that was thought to be required (but not mentioning that health physicists were the ones to determine that, possibly being overcautious).

For probably more sensible policies regarding radoactive wastes what do Canada, France and Sweden do?


DV82XL — No, even the simple calcuations are not simple. You have to consder every possible fission decay path to a stable isotope. Many decades ago I watched a room full of human calculers with electromechanical Marchant calculators working out such radioactive decay sequences.

Of course, shortly thereafter that was turned into a computer program, not not complex. But lung clearance models are anothr matter and the entire health physics subject continues to fill journals.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Know whereof you write before writing, hmmm?


David B. Benson – We have criticized at length, on these pages, the Linear Non-threshold Theory and it is apparent that there is no scientific evidence whatsoever to justify the continued application of this standard. In fact the bulk of the evidence shows rather the opposite: populations exposed to low levels of radiation are more healthy, and have less cancers than those without such exposure. This is called radiation hormesis and the scientific evidence for it has been solid as a rock for the last forty years.

Any real concern with radioactive particulates would more properly apply to coal-burning, which releases several tons of uranium and thorium into the atmosphere yearly. The overwhelming bulk of nuclear wastes are solid and not particularly friable at that. Most of the concerns about underground storage of used nuclear fuel are its potential to dissolve and contaminate the water table.

I wrote: “The long-lived materials such as uranium and plutonium, on the other hand, radiate for a very long time but at an extremely low level — so low that their danger is essentially chemical.” Which does not imply they are chemical poisons, that is something you chose to read into the remark.. The fact is that metallic plutonium is a fire hazard, especially in a moist environment, as plutonium forms hydrides on its surface, which are pyrophoric and may ignite in air at room temperature. Plutonium expands up to 70% in volume as it oxidizes and thus may break its container. These represent essentially chemical driven dangers.

As for the calculations, if you indeed knew what you were talking about, you would know the decay of used nuclear fuel is well understood. It is calculating the time to any given level of activity that is relatively easy to do to determine how much of a risk is involved.

If you watched a room full of calculators on Marchants work out decay sequences that would make you much older than me and I’m 58, perhaps there have been some changes in that time that you should make yourself aware of before making statements about having little knowledge, as yours seems somewhat lacking.

Oh, and I won’t go away because my opponent tries to kill the discussion with insulting behavior, I have a very thick skin when it comes to that, and anyway when that starts I can smell weakness, and get ready to move in for the kill.


Looks like the some sort of agreement has been reached in Cancun. It’ll be interesting to read the official summit summary documents, but here is a media summary:

I find it interesting that the article refers to “targets” such as ‘reductions of X% by 20XX’, ‘reduced deforestation’ and ‘X amount of money to help poor countries’, but fails to mention actual targets, e.g. commitment to replace X% of our current energy infrastructure, X area to be properly protected from deforestation etc. It might be that this is just a simple report, though I have a feeling that meaningful targets haven’t been defined in this summit.


Climate resolutions are beginning to feel like Groundhog Day. More absurd subsidies and unreachable quotas for renewables with more fantasy talk on carbon capture and carbon farming while the nuclear prohibition continues. However the PM is in a difficult position with the generators wanting certainty, the Greens to control the Senate and the Murdoch press digging in for a fight

Somehow I think carbon pricing will end up as an irrelevance. Nobody is going to double the wholesale price of brown coal fired electricity. I think things will start to happen when BAU looks unlikely. My guess is that will be when we get an El Nino and $150 a barrel oil prices in the same year, perhaps between 2012 and 2015.


Yesterday’s TV gave a glimpse of what a slippery slope carbon farming could turn out to be. The ABC Landline program showed a WA farmer bulldozing a bluegum plantation. The plantation leasing company went broke so the farmer was restoring the land to pasture by bulldozing extensive rows of trees and stumps. My guess is that he was going to put a match to it when the TV cameras had left.

The problem is that if a carbon credit had already been sold on the basis of the growing trees it would have to be repaid when they were burned. This is the kind of silliness we are likely to get more of in 2011 the Year of Being Tough on CO2.


The familiar old thing from Gavin Mudd and Scott Ludlam.

Given that uranium and radioactivity is supposedly so horrible and nasty, and that tailings waste from mining is supposedly so abhorrent, why are they proposing to put the horrible scary deadly uranium back into the tailings waste dam, instead of separating it out?

It’s pretty amazing to note, by the way, that following the expansion of the Olympic Dam mine, the greenhouse gas emissions prevented by Olympic Dam’s uranium will single handedly offset 100% of Australia’s entire greenhouse gas emissions from all sources.


Mudd and Ludlum are the environmental vandals, trying to block nuclear power from displacing coal worldwide. Those faux environmentalists really turn my stomach.


Actually, Luke (or anyone else), do you know how many metric tonnes of CO2 are offset by Australia’s uranium exports?

According to The Australian Uranium Industry Australian uranium offsets about 400 million tonnes of CO2. I don’t know how accurate this is though.

According to the UN Millenium Development Goals data Australia emitted a total of 374 million metric tonnes of CO2 in 2007 – couldn’t find anything more recent.. I don’t think this includes other greenhouse gases (CO2e), and only accounts for direct emissions so doesn’t include land use change.

It’s a significant offset anyhow. Though these savings are easily offset again by our coal exports. Our net contribution to the greenhouse problem is still huge.


Ok – according to the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency we emitted 576.2 million tonnes of CO2e in 2008, this also includes LULUCF (land use, land-use change and forestry).

If Australian Uranium is already offsetting 400 million tonnes of CO2 emissions, after the Olympic Dam expansion (if it goes ahead) it should easily offset our ~600 million tonnes a year.


DV82XL, on 12 December 2010 at 4:06 PM — I’m 70 years old now and the mechanical calculations were watched at some point in 46th to 12th grade in the Los Alamos, New Mexico, public schools.

Last time I paid any attention to it, about three decades ago, radiation hormesis was a contentious matter since there was at that time no explanation for the observations (which might be accounted for as due to other reasons).

I agree that those concerned with low level radiation hazards ought to pay attention to coal burning operations. It also appears you and I didn’t agree on the meaning of chemical hazard; no big deal. I’m sure we agree that for various reasons plutonium isn’t something to fiddle around with.

Since some physicits took up health physics prior to much use of radioactives the standards were set quite high regarding exposures (partly becuase the risks were not well characterized). This differs from the situation regarding hazardous materials in use before there was much understanding of the dangers such as mercury (readily available to me for lab experiments in high school and college) and carbon tetrachloride used routines to remove solder flux. And so on. Some thousands of such chemicals are not subject to EPA regulation, being grandfathered in; stupid.

As I previously stated, NPP waste storage is essentially a nonissue in that what actually is required is not difficult; consider how the Swedes go about it.


Many examples of the hormesis effect are well known: A bit of sunshine does you good; too much may cause skin cancer. Small doses of aspirin have many beneficial effects; too much will kill you. In fact the the existence of chemical hormesis is not in dispute.

Epidemiological evidence supports the hormesis effect of radiation by omission as many studies done to populations chronically exposed to low levels of radiation failed to show the predicted negative effect.

While I am not ready to say we all need more ionizing radiation in our lives, the results of studies that have been done, simply do not support LNT.

Plutonium has been overly vilified both by propaganda and media hysteria, purely because of the use of one of its isotopes in nuclear weapons. As actinides go, it is middle of the road at best in terms of radiological, and chemical dangers in all domains.

However the bottom line – that concernsz about the dangers from SNF stored underground in 10,000 and 100,000 year time-frames is ludicrous and is it driven by political considerations, not scientific reasons – stands.


@Barry indeed, I had thought SNF = Single-pass Nuclear Fuel.

Further to Mudd, the great irony (to put it kindly) of his position is that he has previously written extensively on ‘peak minerals’ (pretty much the whole gamut) occurring in the short to medium term (years to decades), principally due to increasing energy required to extract them. Yet here he proposes throwing away the world’s single largest, most concentrated source of energy, for which most of the hard work has been/will be done anyway. I have commented as much at Climate Spectator.

This piece of work has destroyed whatever credibility Mudd had in my view.


Barry Brook, on 14 December 2010 at 2:21 PM — Thank you.

Linear No Threshold is certainly conservative, but doesn’t seem to be correct provided ionizing radiation is the only environmental insult to the living cell. The (thirty year old) working hypthesis is that a double hit is required, the first for damage and the second while the cell is undergoing repair.


David B. Benson – As an aside, I should not have to caution anyone of the problems one can encounter using Wikipedia as a source. In nuclear related articles, in particular there are constant attempts by antinuclear sympathizers to inject what they consider balance into the topic. I was very active in that area at Wikipedia from the beginning, and was driven out by the endless fighting with idiots determined to insert their views. It came to a head with the depleted uranium entry, where I had to spend several months getting one person barred from contributing through the grievance procedure they have there. When I was through, I realized the futility of it all, and also realized that the wiki would never mature into a place where fact took precedence, except where it did not matter.

There were several underlying factors that contributed to the marginalization of radiation hormesis. The most critical factor affecting the demise of radiation hormesis was a lack of agreement over how to define the concept of hormesis and quantitatively describe its dose-response features. If radiation hormesis had been defined as a modest overcompensation to a disruption in homeostasis as would have been consistent with the prevailing notion in the area of chemical hormesis, this would have provided the theoretical and practical means to blunt subsequent criticism. A second critical factor undermining the radiation hormesis hypothesis was the generally total lack of recognition by radiation scientists of the concept of chemical hormesis which was markedly more advanced, substantiated and generalized than in the radiation domain. The third factor was that major scientific criticism of low dose stimulatory responses was galvanized at the time that the U.S. National Research Council (NRC) was organizing a national research agenda on radiation and the hormetic hypothesis was generally excluded from the future planned research opportunities.

Furthermore, the criticisms of leading scientists of the 1930s which undermined the concept of radiation hormesis were limited in scope and highly flawed and then perpetuated over the decades by other ‘prestigious’ experts who appeared to simply accept the earlier reports. This setting was then linked to a growing fear of radiation as a cause of birth defects, mutation and cancer, factors all reinforced by later concerns over the atomic bomb. Strongly supportive findings on hormetic effects in the 1940s by Soviet scientists were either generally not available to US scientists or disregarded as part of the Cold War mindset without adequate analysis.

This widespread non-acceptance of hormesis as a real-world phenomenon is not present in the case of chemical hormesis; the oversight appears systematic.

The evidence against the linear model and for radiation hormesis has been solid as a rock for 40 years. Yet the LNT model prevails. Why? Follow the money and the politics. The health-physics community is divided, roughly along the lines of who puts money before principles. There have been some amazingly bitter fights within the Health Physics Society. A look at the historical background of radiation research is instructive.

After World War II, the details were released of the A-bombing of Japan. Studies of atomic bomb survivors from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, showed a linear relationship between cancer mortality and high doses of radiation as a result fallout hysteria became one of the themes of the times. The situation was not helped by lurid stories of several high dose incidents reported in the press. Health Physics and Genetics were supported lavishly by radiation fears, and Radiation Biology became the most intensely researched science in history. Health physicists soon learned that their livelihood depended upon scaring funds out of governments and science became irrelevant if the paymasters wanted to mislead the public about the hazards of radiation. If a particular study failed to find evidence of radiation’s ill effects, the data was simply forced into the LNT model. Yet some of these studies are among the best evidence for radiation hormesis because the authors were not looking for it, and effectively denied that it existed.

The LNT model was first considered in the 1940s purely on the theoretical grounds that a single hit by ionizing radiation on a single cell could cause chromosome damage that could cause a mutation or cancer without any hard evidence to support that contention. The justification for using the LNT model was that too many test animals or too much time would be needed to evaluate chronic dose rates. If the LNT model is correct, there is no “no observed adverse effect level” (NOAEL) for regulators to observe, thus officials responsible for public health can claim justification in calling for minimization of exposures to ionizing radiation. Note that this is tantamount to saying that avoiding sunlight is justified on the grounds that nobody will get sunburns in the dark. Added to this, during the Cold War a number of people promoted the LNT model in an attempt to discourage nearly all uses of nuclear weapons and nuclear power, and used it as leverage in their campaigns.

As a result the radiophobes and the politicians took a handy but false rule of thumb and enshrined it in law and regulation. The second problem, related, is that this results in a lot of stupid but expensive procedures where people and vendors can make a lot of money thus entrenching this false standard through special interests.

In spite of this atmosphere, during the 1960’s and 1970’s, about 40 articles per year described hormesis. In 1963, the AEC repeatedly confirmed lower mortality in guinea pigs, rats and mice irradiated at low dose. In 1964, the cows exposed to about 150 rads after the Trinity A-Bomb test in 1946 were quietly euthanized because of extreme old age. This trend continues. It was found that there was decreased cancer mortality in government nuclear facility workers in Canada, the UK, and the US. Whether exposed in uranium mines or processing plants, laboratories, or nuclear power plants—and whether the exposure was to uranium, plutonium, thorium or radium, so long as the dose was 50 times background (chronic) or, 50 rad acute, workers were healthier than those in the general population, mainly due to lower cancer incidence. Decreased cancer mortality, decreased leukemia rate, decreased infant mortality rate and increased lifespan in atomic bomb survivors from both Hiroshima and Nagasaki who received 1.2 rad. was found and a 20% lower cancer death rate in Idaho, Colorado and New Mexico, which have background radiation of 0.72 rad/yr compared with Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama with 0.22 rad/yr was also reported. There were many other similar examples as a quick look through the literature will reveal.

At a minimum the upshot of this reliance on a thoroughly debunked standard has created astronomical expenses in the public and private sector attempting to protect the population from dangers that are not really there. It has severely limited the use of therapeutic radiation treatments and hobbled the development of new ones. It has severely limited the use of radiation to reduce spoilage in food, and to disinfest food shipments of vermin.

Most importantly an unwarranted fear of radiation hazards has limited the development of nuclear energy by unnecessarily raising the cost of nuclear power plants and generating public opposition to their construction.

I would strongly suggest that you, or anyone else wishing to understand this subject look deeper into it, rather than depend on broad treatments of the sort that can be found in Wikipedia.



You have been very helpful in contributing to my education on several nuclear topics such as safety, “waste” and proliferation. I am wondering whether I can draw you into another area.

I was recently talking to the mother of an engineer whom, she said, had considerable nuclear experience. I was very surprised when she said that it was her son’s view that the biggest problem for nuclear power was not so much safety as the costs or even impossibility of fixing broken reactors before they had reached their sell-by dates and also the costs/difficulties of decommissioning. I found this both disturbing and surprising. Would you care to comment?


Douglas Wise – I find it difficult to give these concerns much credence as stated given that there are several examples of both successful repairs of nuclear reactors, and successful decommissions.

Thus I would have to ask you to expand a bit on what issues specifically were considered a problem before I could attempt to give you an answer



As you might imagine from the conversation I reported, it didn’t go into specifics. I recall something to the effect that one of three reactors (my recall may be flawed) on one UK site had ceased functioning and that engineers couldn’t work out a way of fixing it and that there had been no public admission of any ongoing problem. There was further mention of old sites being left until a means of decommissioning could be worked out, with the inference that no means had yet been found.

The conversation led me to a study of relevant information on Google and I learnt something of the subject. I am, of course, aware that, as you state, there are examples of successful repairs and decommissions. However, it appears that the latter often involve a cooling off period of several decades and, in consequence, the experiences of successful decommissioning are less than one might otherwise have expected.

Possibly, therefore, the question I should leave you with is the following: Are you aware of any failed repairs or unsuccessful decommissionings?


Douglas, might it be the case that the engineer’s mother was talking about the graphite-moderated gas cooled reactors which were popular in Britain? I understand that their decommissioning is somewhat more problematic than the now more common PWRs.


Cooling off is factored into any nuclear decommissioning plans from the beginning. It doesn’t represent a problem, as the original containment still serves to keep anything from escaping. In fact simple entombment is considered sufficient decommissioning by IAEA. Other than Chernobyl, this has been applied twice elsewhere; once at Lucens, Switzerland, and again at Dodewaard, in the Netherlands.

To the best of my knowledge there have been no unsuccessful nuclear plant decommissionings, per se, although there have been cases where funds were not available and the State has had to foot the bill. Many countries now have laws requiring owners of nuclear reactors to establish assurance funds to finance decommissioning.

It is moot to call situations where a facility has been put in Safe Enclosure (so-called SAFSTOR) because of some missing factor that would allow decommissioning to proceed ‘failures.’ In most cases this is due to lack of acceptable final disposal sites for the rad waste, and one assumes that this will be rectified at some future date, and decommissioning can continue.

As for failed repairs, this is so flexible a term, as to be almost useless as a broad description of an issue. Repair, in general is an process carried out only when it is deemed cost-effective, otherwise it is better to scrap. This is true across domains, not just for nuclear facilities. In the case of repairs that are going to be very expensive, a great deal of time will be spent evaluating the situation, and that this may not be resolved in a short time cannot be described as a repair failure.

They say in the military, that few battle plans survive first contact with the enemy. Anyone that has done maintenance on complex systems will tell you, repair plans often don’t survive past the first panel being opened. There is always the possibility of finding a nasty surprise that can turn a routine procedure into a nightmare, this is just the way it goes, again not limited to nuclear. I would assume that this has happened to those involved in repair of nuclear facilities, with the same frequency that it happens in any other field, but these are not failures, even if they push the situation past the cost effective point.

And yes, sometimes a repair is unsuccessful and must be done again, or the project abandoned to scrap – this is normal in any engineering situation, but I cannot think of any cases where this has led to the shutdown of a nuclear facility in and of itself.

So really your question is a bit open-ended, and subject to debate on what actually constitutes a failure.


DV82XL and Finrod:

Thanks for your replies. I suspect that Finrod’s comments on graphite moderated gas cooled reactors being more problematic to dismantle might well be apposite.

DV82XL, as usual, makes sense as far as I’m concerned and I have to be reassured, albeit with slight reservations about power costs and LCOE calculations being based capital, routine O&M, fuel and decommissioning costs. It wouldn’t take many unexpected and costly problems to up these costs and also risk premiums.


Douglas Wise – It is again one of those double standard situations. Coal facilities are under no legal requirement to ether properly decommission/decontaminate their sites, or are they responsible for their wastes in perpetuity as nuclear plants are. Hydro generating stations are not responsible for returning rivers to original courses, nor are the responsible for the reservoirs, as several failures of abandon dams in the States can attest. It will be interesting to see who is responsible for abandoned wind turbines when the day comes.

In fact nuclear is the only energy technology that must plan for and guarantee the cost of its own decommissioning from a plant’s inception. Again a level playing field would be telling in terms of comparative costs.


Some claim that NSW coal production will soon peak then become exhausted by mid century
I think there may be some new evidence for this in the current conflict between horse breeders and coal miners
If there truly were all these billions of tonnes of coal near the surface they wouldn’t have to disturb prime agricultural land. New born foals shouldn’t have to breathe coal dust.

No doubt coal fanciers will say there is plenty of coal under the remote outback in which case they should go there. The effective price of coal must go up with or without carbon taxes particularly as firms from China and India buy their own mines in Australia. Coal is so yesterday yet it makes 80% of our electricity. It’s like we’re stuck in 1940s thinking.


DV82XL, on 14 December 2010 at 4:00 PM — Writen like a true believer in Luckey’s hypothesis. Looks exactly like what a climate denailaist writes. Shame on you.

I’ll stick with BEIR VII: “The committee judges that the balance of evidence from epidemiologic, animal, and mechanistic studies tends to favor a simple proportionate relationship at low doses between radiation dose and cancer risk. Uncertainties in this judgment are recognized and noted.” from


David B. Benson – Frankly it looks to me like you are gibbering, however I will be charitable and assume that you missed what I wrote up-thread. I contend that radiation hormesis presents as a modest overcompensation to a disruption in homeostasis,. I do not go as far as those that suggest that the population is suffering from a lack of exposure to radiation, and that this lack is causing unnecessary deaths.

Nor am I impressed by studies purporting to show evidence for the LNT model that set exposure floors at levels higher that those done for studies supporting radiation hormesis. 2.0 Sv is far higher than the <1.0 Sv levels where hormesis effects are seen. No one pro or con in this issue disputes the linearity of dose response for higher exposures, it is assuming that this extrapolates down to zero that is the crux of the argument.

At any rate, it is not the need to accept radiation hormesis that is the issue, as much as it is the rejection of LNT as a bases for making policy. This is clear if only because of the failure of any research to find a simple correlation between mortality and various populations exposure to NORM as background. If LNT was valid there would be indisputable evidence from that area.


DV82XL, on 15 December 2010 at 6:57 AM — You once again demonstrate your inability to understand low level BEIR. As a simple example, what is now called the linear-quadratic model probably could resolve the normal background problem.

First of all, NLT for regulation appears to be conservatively safe. Second of all, I re-iterate that the jury is still out regarding radiation hormesis (although proposedf mechanisms appear to me to be biologically implausible).

Give it up and return to sound, skeptical science.


David B. Benson – Your behavior in this thread has done nothing but expose you as an intellectual fraud, regardless of your academic standing. You presume understanding of topics that clearly you have not bothered to acquire fundamental background knowledge of, you make unsupported claims, and then refuse to provide references, you do not have the grace to back down when you have been shown categorically wrong.

It is apparent by the first paragraph of your last post that you have not bothered to do any research and seem to believe that making broad statements, again unsupported, will get you off the hook, and you are trying to hide behind condescension which marks you as a coward. And you have the gall to tell me I should be ashamed of myself.

I hope that as I approach your age over the next dozen years, I will do it with more grace that you are exhibiting here. In the meantime I will not engage with you anymore. I will not be party to your efforts to embarrass yourself further.


david B:

your “climate denialist” comment on DV is over the top. first, he has been very cautious about the correlational studies that appear to confirm radiation hormesis. perhaps you missed the discussion.

second, you say above that “the jury is still out regarding radiation hormesis,” and yet you compare DV8’s stand on hormesis to climate denialism. Is the jury still out on the AGW and its causes? Is radiation hormesis to LNT like climate denialism to AGW?

(I realize some here still think so but that’s not the point in this case)


DV82XL, on 15 December 2010 at 7:45 AM — But it was indeed you who failed to supply any references (I suuplied two) nor to qualify your remarks in any fashion (I attempted to qualify mine). You made bold assertions which the evidence does not support.

Sorry, but it is, once again, you who has gone emeritus, as the saying is these days. This time was sufficient for me to, from now on, distrust anything you have to post on BraveNewClimate (in part as you have earlier demonstrated a willingness to post readily checkable matters as fact when indeed the checking shows the conterfactuality of your writings).


David Benson, I don’t understand your beef here, DV82XL has patiently explained his position and justified as much as is reasonable in a blog comments section. Do you want him to write an academic review on it? Be reasonable. I suggest, if you want to continue this weird line of interrogation, that you go and party with the endlessly soliloquising Machiavelli over here (oh, and do take the time to read the top post first).


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