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”

sorry for the strange phrase “the AGW.”

Sounds like Will Ferrel’s parody of George W. Bush where Ferrel/Bush refers to “the global warmings.”


A couple of questions I’ve been meaning to ask for a while now. Does disposing of the sodium coolant in a fast reactor present special problems in decommissioning? And would the decommissioning cost for a fast reactor be comparable to that for a PWR?


quokka, the sodium coolant presents no special problems for disposal, and has already been dealt with in multiple SFR decomms to date, including EBR-II, FFTR, PFBR & EBR-I (both NaK), etc. It ceases to be radioactive very rapidly, since the only significant activated species, Na-24, has a 15-hour half life (all other radioactive Na isotopes have a half life measured in seconds or ms, except natural Na-22). There is no reason to expect decomm costs to differ markedly from the PWR experience to date, as the experience with EBR-II has shown.


quokka – The NOAH process was developed to dispose of the sodium coolant from the Rapsodie reactor in France and has been used in every other instance since. It looks like this will be the standard procedure. The alkali metal is converted to brine by mixing small batches with large quantities of aqueous sodium hydroxide and then neutralizing it with hydrochloric acid. Radioactive caesium is extracted by passing the liquid through an ion exchange column, leaving a cleaned up salt water that can discharged safely to the sea.

About 10 tons of effluent are produced for every ton of sodium coolant destroyed.

Other than than you understand that the bulk of the expense in decommissioning is generally dealing with the containment simply because of its mass.


quokka, without having ever decommissioned a fast reactor, I can’t see that it would present any special problems.

The main reason is, you wouldn’t dispose of it. There are plenty of commercial applications of metallic sodium. If you had to decommission a reactor, you’d sell the material.

Likely it would wind up in another fast reactor. On the assumption that we have an energy future in fast reactors, the fleet will be expanding for perhaps hundreds of years. Maybe at some point we reach stasis. There would be no net sodium disposal unless the fleet started to contract – maybe LFTRs displacing sodium pool fast reactors?

If there weren’t a market for the sodium, there is a market for lye – just add water, and sell the sodium hydroxide. But I think the sodium metal would be more valuable.

I assume the reactor vessel would be designed with ports for filling and draining the sodium, so the handling aspects should be covered at the design phase.

I don’t think there’s a radiological problem. The sodium isotope formed by neutron capture (Na-24) has a half life of 15 hours. I haven’t checked the decay pathway but I expect any decay products are short lived, and probably insoluble in liquid sodium so readily isolated.


Gregory Meyerson, on 15 December 2010 at 7:59 AM — DV8 went on about “funding sources” and similar matters. I concluded he was less than fully rational regarding the more dubious claims for radiation hormesis. It looked to me to be the style of argumentation (unreferenced) which many who have jumped to a conclusion use; most recently I’ve seen this repeatedly from climate denialists.

In every matter of science the jury is always, to some extent, still out (although not much for the laws of thermodynaics and a few other settled matters). Regarding AGW the risks are potentially so high that one ought to simply accept it, holding whatever remaining doubts one has at bay for the interim (which might be a long time).
Merely pointing out a correlation (without giving references) and without a causal hypothesis (even if wrong) isn’t advancing science.

I am open to cogent argument which offer an explanation of radiation hormesis which also accounts for why, in some circumstances, only very low dosage LNT appears to explain the evidence; read the Wikipedia article.

However, rgarding the usual range of topics here, radiation hormesis is rathr off-beat (since as I understand the matter, regulatory agencis all consevatively use LNT).


Barry Brook, on 15 December 2010 at 8:46 AM — Sorry about all that, which is rathr off-topic for BraveNewWorld. I don’t have any beef other than what I’ve previously posted recently on this thread.

Thanks for the offer of the older thread, but as a former resident of Los Alamos and a voluntary Hanford downwinder, I’m not particularly concerned about radiation risks, just setting the record straight.



Kaj Luukko, on 15 December 2010 at 9:14 AM — The Wikipedia article I previously linked suggests a serious flaw in that study.


Kaj Luukko – Unfortunately the contaminated building in Taiwan is a poor experimental location to ether support or reject radiation hormesis as some of the exposures were almost 3 Sv, at the beginning of the building’s occupancy . This is well above the level of radiation for which radiation hormesis has been observed.

Thus there is nothing conclusive that can be drawn from this event in support of radiation hormesis.


BIER VII has this to say, on p268, about their low-dose methods:

The use of data on persons exposed at low doses and low dose rates merits special mention. Of these studies, the most promising for quantitative risk assessment are the studies of nuclear workers who have been monitored for radiation exposure through the use of personal dosimeters. These studies, which are reviewed in Chapter 8, were not used as the primary source of data for risk modeling principally because of the imprecision of the risk estimates obtained. For example, in a large combined study of nuclear workers in three countries, the estimated relative risk per gray (ERR/Gy) for all cancers other than leukemia was negative, and the confidence interval included negative values and values larger than estimates based on A-bomb survivors (Cardis and others 1995).

– my emphasis.

The “most promising” studies were “not used”. Because of “imprecision” – but the evidence that they were imprecise was that they gave the wrong result.

In Chapter 8, page 194, Results:

In most of the nuclear industry workers studies, death rates among worker populations were compared with national or regional rates. In most cases, rates for all causes and all cancer mortality in the workers were substantially lower than in the reference populations.

Sounds convincing – but basically a little later, this solid conclusion has been discarded.

I was surprised to see Steve Wing in there as one of the key studies being used to wave off this inconvenient finding. But perhaps not everything he does is as fantasy-based as his TMI work.


Joffan – That’s what I meant up thread when I wrote: “If a particular study failed to find evidence of radiation’s ill effects, the data was simply forced into the LNT model. “ The other favorite technique is to define ‘low-dose’ as starting at exposures well above those at which radiation hormesis effects have been observed.

Unfortunately though, it must be admitted that there is a lot of poor work done on the side of supporting radiation hormesis as well, the worst with authors offering ludicrous conclusions that the population is suffering from a lack of exposure to ionizing radiation. Others, like the Co-60 in the apartment blocks in Taiwan, poorly controlled. This sort of nonsense, and sloppy work has not helped, and one must take care and examine each study carefully on its own merits.

The fact is that regulators of several stripes, are scared spitless of backing down from LNT because of the political implications, and the fall-out that they would have to endure. Keep in mind that there is an active segment of the population in many countries, that is convinced that there is a real and present danger from cell-phone towers, and there is now a huge body of poorly done studies that purport to show that these are linked to health issues in an exposed population. Against this backdrop, and with many careers in radiation protection at stake, one can understand their reticence.


DV82XL , I was just curious to see what BIER VII actually said about low-level studies, since I knew there are plenty of reputable results which show no effects from low doses and low dose rates.

Also in the frame for discarding is the idea of lifetime cumulative doses. This pretty naturally falls away for below-threshold doses anyway once LNT is repudiated, but also opens the interesting question of what period is a sensible cumulative span? Wade Allison puts the accumulation span at some period less than a month, from medical radiation use considerations among other things.

So the dose rates for the highest-exposed Taiwan apartment dwellers would be, according to the AEC estimates in the paper, , about 50 mSv/month, with some text following that suggests the AEC overestimated. Not so high that a health penalty is automatic. But I have to agree that the reported health outcomes from that paper strain credulity, so it’s hard to know what to believe there.


Joffan – The Achilles heel in most of these studies, pro and con, is poor dosimetery. With the exception of rad worker, the general population doesn’t file wear a badge an have it checked every month, so it’s almost all estimates.

This is why I personally think that the studies done on large populations in high background areas is most valuable, even though there are other confounding factors with these as well, that make it difficult to use them to validate radiation hormesis. Nevertheless, one would expect to see an overall clear indication of a LNT effect with these groups, if the hypothesis had any value, and yet this is not the case.



Where people have exposure to a natural background radiation 200 times the average dose and become more resistant to high levels of ionized radiation as in parts of Iran, seems to indicate that radiation hormesis is a better hypothesis than LNT.

It also fits the Darwinian logic as well.


spangled drongo – radiation hormesis is not considered that type of adaptive response, where a breeding population of organisms are under selective pressure. Hormesis is defined as a dose response phenomenon characterized by a low dose stimulation that results in a positive inhibition of disruption in homeostasis.

It’s expected by the hypothesis that in any randomly selected population, most individuals would manifest a positive effect to low dose exposure to the insult in question.

However, the possibility that a population that has been under evolutionary pressure, may have adapted through natural selection to have a high tolerance to a given toxin, is a confounding variable that must be controlled for in any epidemiological study of the hormesis phenomenon.



I have been thinking about your comments about decommissioning.

You mentioned that one option was entombment. Given that new reactor designs may be a) smaller and modular, b) that they may in future be buried, c) that NPPs are generally sited within a relatively large perimeter and d) said sites are usually going to be suitable for new reactors when the previous ones have become obsolete, I was wondering why entombment shouldn’t become much cheaper and more convenient than dismantling.

Could you comment? I imagine that the planning processes could, if necessary, be altered to obviate the need to restore the sites to their original states and be a small part of playing field levelling.


Greens could be onto something about fossil fuel subsidies.
It turns out Bell Bay aluminium smelter in Tasmania has been paying 2.2 c per kwh while households pay more like 20c. The new price is a secret but a couple of years ago it was said to be worth $133k per employee. 550 workers X $133k = $73m p.a. approx. Link.

Some more factoids. The aluminium smelter is close to two gas fired power stations supplied from gas platforms in Bass Strait. It is also close to the HVDC converter station for the underwater cable. That cable sells peaking hydro high and imports un-carbon-taxed brown coal power low. According to the Peak Energy website the Hydro’s wind farm at Woolnorth in NE Tas lost money because wind speeds were 14% lower than expected. Sounds strange.

I was just talking to a Hobart foundryman who said his business is too small to extort cheap power prices. However there is talk of a silicon smelter to add to the State’s aluminium, zinc and specialty steel electrorefiners. It seems pensioners will have to foot the higher power bills to pay for it.


Douglas Wise – Several small reactor designs are assuming in situ entombment as the preferred decommissioning method. TerraPower’s traveling-wave nuclear reactor is being designed with this type of end-of-life final disposal in mind.

John Newlands – One should be careful in doing this sort of comparison between industrial pricing of electric power and household pricing. In general the cost of delivering power on a per-watt bases, is very much lower for something like a smelter. About the only thing the power company does is run high voltage lines to the facility, switching, transformers, VAR compensators and such are the responsibility of the end-user. Whereas the delivery and distribution network for small consumers is owned and maintained by the provider. Part of the price of the latter is the cost of maintaining that aspect of the service.


DV8 that may be true that industrial customers have to manage the quality of available power. However my understanding is that households and electro smelters are treated very differently when it comes to supply interruptions. I got a hint of this riding in a cable car that services a hydro dam. The workers said (if I heard it right) that the smelters have to be compensated under a penalty clause in the contract. You and I might invest in a UPS and put up with blackouts but smelters get cash.

The bigger issue here is what I’d call ‘energy equity’ that Peter Lang also touches on. For example seniors who’ve worked for 40 years but can’t afford the energy to survive a cold snap or heat wave. Maybe aluminium smelters should get a discount but not 90%.


John Newlands – Ultimately with primary industries added costs are always passed down to the final consumer anyway, and shows up as a higher price for finished goods. Thus it’s hard to see how those on fixed incomes would benefit.

As for smelters being compensated under a penalty clause, this is normal too, because the consequences of an unscheduled loss of power to an operation like that can be severe, and expensive.

The two types of customers for electric energy cannot be compared, and it is unfair to do so, the facts on the ground are often much more complex than can be described by superficial analysis.


John, with some trepidation I point you towards Tasmanian Times, where there are a couple of threads canvassing this issue. I routinely ignore the usual ratbag suspects there, but the poster ‘shaun’ is very well informed on this subject, and worth reading.


Thanks for the link MD. The key difference between BNC and sites like the Tasmanian Times is that emotive arguments get short shrift here.

There is a widespread perception that aluminium smelters should pay a lot more than 10-15% of what households pay. For example some suggest the workers clock in for 5 minutes a day, don’t bother making aluminium but the subsidy gets paid and spent regardless. An inquiry needs to propose multiple criteria by which to assess this state of affairs.

The terms of reference could be wide ranging
-10c deposits on sticky soft drink cans
– tariffs on imported aluminium
– giant battery banks to take wind power
– effect of carbon tax
– alternative employment
– price effect on households.
As household energy bills skyrocket and nukular is a non-option Big Biz will have to take some of the pain.


Benson: So, BEIR VII is basically admitting hormesis and want to understand why it works?

No, I didn’t think so.

Did you have anything to say about my earlier extract from BEIR VII, where they admit that the best data for low dose exposure has been discarded?


Fran, just read your excellent comments on Dan Cass’ blog, and that was indeed a very polite, terse, GTFO response.

As an aside, the commentary I see you provide in various fora I occasionally visit is first class. The tenacity and intelligence of your comments is surely cutting through. You’re doing great work.


Joffan, on 18 December 2010 at 7:28 AM — Read the quotation more carefully. In general, such epidemiological studies are tremendously difficult to do well.


Thanks John Morgan. I value your feedback.

I found it telling that Dan was unable/unwilling to directly accept or reject my proposal still less refute even one the counterclaims I made to his nuclear power acceptance benchmarks.



Having read the Dan Cass links I think he is a harder case than Ian Lowe or even Jim Green. In a comment in his own blog he says neither Israel nor Pakistan have a nuclear power industry; I assume that means electricity generation. However Wiki says Pakistan have 425 MWe operational and 1900 MW planned. It’s like Peter Garrett’s alleged remark that 20,000 died at Chernobyl. If they don’t do any fact checking I’d say they’re not interested in facts.


I was recently flipping through the Zero Carbon Australia report, and I found that in their discussion of life-cycle analysis of the greenhouse gas footprint of different energy technologies, they’ve actually cited the Severance paper as a source on the GHG emissions intensity of nuclear power.

That’s a pathetic lack of checking of the scientific integrity of the sources.


Benson, you will have to be specific rather than patronizing to undertake a discussion on why you feel it is valid to discard the best data source. “Read more carefully” is a cop-out.

Nobody is saying these studies are easy. But without convincing evidence of harm, there is no reason to spend effort and resources on preventing that speculative harm.


They say follow the money well the money isn’t going to CCS

Yet the coal industry trumpets CCS as a saviour. Both NSW and Qld have talked of approving new coal fired plants if they promise to be ‘carbon capture ready’. OK provided they are not exempted from CO2 penalties in the decade or three it takes to fit CCS. If you follow the money the winner is combined cycle gas.


Just read an interesting article in The Economist on vertical farming. The bottom line (in the authors’ view); It’s all great, except it requires too much energy which also means more greenhouse gases, and therefore it won’t work. I mentioned in my article comment that nuclear can fix the plentiful clean energy requirement.


I think the Australian Greens Party risk undermining their credibility. Prominent MPs Bob Brown and Andrew Wilkie have called for a $140m re-routing of the new highway linking Hobart and Launceston. Site preparations uncovered thumbnail sized stone chips enclosed in clay. A technique called stimulated optical luminescence suggests the clay could be 42,000 years old but radio carbon dating of nearby material suggests human habitation about 5,800 years ago.

If this saga gets to the point of laying down in front of bulldozers the Greens risk losing the plot. The public will see they put emotive arguments ahead of impartial analysis. The party’s dominance of the Senate in 2011 will be a one-off and they could go the way of the Australian Democrats. Along with them will go much of the opposition to nuclear and support for subsidies like feed-in tariffs.


Joffan, on 19 December 2010 at 3:43 AM — No intent to be patronizing, merely brief. (1) LNT is conservative and the BEIR VII explain that the available evidence doesn’t (statistically) support a more complex relationship. (2) BEIR VII states that the so-called linear-quadratic relationship gives a better fit to the available evidence. [I understand the presumed biologicial response for the low dose, quadratic portion; it is sensible, but that doesn’t mean it is correct.] (3) I’m not going to read more of BEIR VII. The quotation I gave suffices for me to conclude that at the time BEIR VII was written the (knowledgable and expert) authors wrote ‘purported hormesis’; clearly they have yet to see any unbiased, statistically significant evidence nor any plausible biological hypothesis advanced.

I suspect they dropped the data you mentioned for lack of an adequate control group, statistical significance or one of the many other reasons such epidemiological studies have to be disregarded.


John Newlands said:

If this saga gets to the point of laying down in front of bulldozers the Greens risk losing the plot. The public will see they put emotive arguments ahead of impartial analysis.

I doubt it will come to that. FTR, this seems like one of the sillier things Bob Brown has done. He compared it with the Franklin Dam case, which is astonishing.

AIUI, the proposal as it stands would leave the area untouched.

The party’s dominance of the Senate in 2011 will be a one-off and they could go the way of the Australian Democrats.

Doubtful. There is now going to be a pretty solid 11% voting for The Greens and as long as that is true enough preferences will flow for them to stay in the balance.

The Australian Democrats stood for nothing specific and betrayed their own supporters by supporting Howard’s Telstra sell off and GST. Rather than keeping the bastards honest, they became dishonest. Howard could not have won in 98 but for their help.

Moreover, because they were in the centre, they could be pillaged on both sides. There’s nowhere else on the landscape for Greens supporters to go.

Along with them will go much of the opposition to nuclear and support for subsidies like feed-in tariffs

Hardly. The main effectiveopposition to nuclear power is in the ALP left. If The Greens were to decompose politically most would return to strengthen the ALP left.

What is needed is to win over the lefts still in the ALP and the Greens to at worst, an agnostic position on nuclear. Neutralising this issue would mean that the ALP could not be wedged and clear the way for a change in policy.


DV82XL, on 21 December 2010 at 9:06 AM — Whicxh you couldn’t bother to read in the case of the IEA wind study.

People who live in glass houses…


Benson – in case you have forgotten, in the previous instance it was you refusing to provide a reference from that paper. An act that I chose to interpret as an attempt to dodge the fact that you had not read it yourself, as you claimed.

In this latest arrogance on your part, at least you are admitting to not reading the source, yet again you expect us to accept it as a reference on the bases of your assertion that it was written by “(knowledgeable and expert) authors”

If you cannot see that in both cases you are clearly in the wrong, you are blind.

You are nothing but a pompous old fraud, that holds everyone in this forum in contempt. Do not be surprised if that feeling is reciprocated.


DV82XL, on 21 December 2010 at 12:03 PM — I don’t hold anyone in contempt.

I do view you as lazy for not reading the IEA wind study; find out for yourself.

As for the suthoritative aspects of BEIR VII, its an NRC study, similar the the previous six BEIR studies and if you start at the title page you can find the list of authors yourself.

If you were actually interesting in the matter, that is. I fear you demonstrate you have other motives.


Benson – I’m lazy? You won’t find the passages in a paper you say supports you, and “leave it as a homework assignment” for me to find them, and you admit to not finishing to read another paper you assert is authoritative and I’m the lazy one?

Your grip on reality is slipping . Seriously, you have to start looking at what you are writing here, because you are just embarrassing yourself more and more every time you post.


From the latest Nature editorial, an illustration of how many renewable energy advocates are beyond rationality:

In 2004, the environmental engineer and atmospheric modeller Somnath Baidya Roy, then at Princeton University in New Jersey, published work showing turbulence created by turbines would, among other effects, lead to vertical mixing of energy and heat in atmospheric layers that would affect local temperatures, and possibly change evaporation patterns (S.B. Roy et al. J. Geophys. Res. 109: D19104; 2004). Some took his study as an attack on the wind industry, and he was besieged with nasty e-mails. They questioned his sanity, threatened to get him fired from his post at Princeton, and accused him of being a pawn of the coal or oil industries. (He has never had nor sought any industrial ties.) The president of one US-based wind-farm firm told Roy to consider “how much heat is your head turning out, while you consider such thoughts?” and to ponder many other factors “while checking your navel for lint”. (We know this because Roy considered the comments humorous enough to post on his webpage.)

Humorous maybe, but these are the people who currently hold great sway in the energy and climate debate.


@John Newlands “…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.”

You may be interested to know that James Hansen and co-workers concur with your climate forecast (I don’t know what JH thinks about oil prices ;-). From their latest paper in Reviews of Geophysics:

The data in Figures 9 and 10 and knowledge that tropical SSTs are now (July 2010) moving into La Niña conditions permit several conclusions. The 12 month running mean global temperature in 2010 has reached a new record level for the period of instrumental data. It is likely
that the 12 month mean will begin to decline in the second half of 2010. The subsequent minimum in the 12 month running mean is likely to be in 2011–2012 and not as deep as the 2008 minimum. The next maximum, likely to be in 2012–2014, will probably bring a new record global temperature because of the underlying warming trend.

You can add to that the knowledge that we are only just coming out of a deep solar radiance minimum now, which reinforces the notion that we may face a perfect storm of El Niño + solar maximum + continued CO2 increase circa 2013.

The full Hansen et al paper is here, and is well worth a read (it’s not too heavy) as a summary of the current climate situation (and, as an aside, it comprehensively eliminates the possibility of urban heat significantly affecting climate trend measurements).


MD thanks I had googled ‘next El Nino’ with slim results. Hansen is one of the few to make a prediction. Rellies just sent me happy snaps of recent skiing in NZ and I said they’d better have a Plan B for a poor snow year. Maybe 2013 will be it.


For anyone with the desire to read something gobsmackingly inane in the anti-nuclear genre (warning, first put on head gear to avoid injuring head on desk) … read here and here

I did answer the first seriously but the second of my posts descended into sarcasm as by then I just couldn’t believe what I was reading.


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