Emissions Nuclear

Media reactions to the Energy paper – part 1

It’s been fascinating to watch the media reaction to our Energy paper on how carbon pricing changes the relative competitiveness of low-carbon baseload generating technologies. It has certainly stirred a lot of interest, and the timing was admittedly celestial, because two other reports on electricity costs and technology options (an ATSE and EPRI report) were released at about the same time. The politicians are now talking about it all over again.

In the next few posts, I’ll dissect the reactions and try to draw some conclusions on how the ‘nuclear debate’ is progressing in Australia. For those BNC readers outside of Australia who may think this a little parochial, I’ll note two things: (i) the Energy paper is a global study, so the results can be applied — with due care — anywhere, and (ii) for those living in democratic countries which are looking to re-establish a built-out of nuclear energy (e.g. USA, Canada, most of Europe), the situation in Australia is probably not all that different to what you will face/are facing (albeit a few steps behind).

First up, we have this story from the The Age and Sydney Morning Herald newspapers, entitled Call for nuclear plants to combat warming. It was disappointing, to say the least. I spoke on the phone with the journalist for more than 30 minutes about the background material, but in the end our core arguments regarding relative cost and fit-for-service assessment hardly got a look in. But most disappointing was the ‘reaction’ from Ian Lowe (accompanied by his photographic visage looking down upon the piece) — who for those who don’t recall, was my co-author on the book Why vs Why: Nuclear Power. Ian dismissed our paper, being quoted as saying it was ‘deeply flawed’, and he then gave some specious arguments about the rapid time to build of the ‘alternatives’, plus some blah about proliferation. I sent him this email:

Hi Ian,

I saw you quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald today in response to a paper I and two colleagues have had published in the international journal Energy. You said that you thought the paper was ‘deeply flawed’. Given that it passed peer review by multiple technical referees with no objections, I wondered if you could clarify what parts of the paper you considered to be flawed? I’m always looking to improve my work, and if you’ve identified one or more errors in the piece, I’d be very interested so that I can correct these.

cheers, Barry

Ian never even had the courtesy to respond. That’s simply not good enough in my book — I consider this to be very unprofessional practice (offering a vacuous critique and then not being willing to back it up). In fact, to turn a phrase, I’m ‘deeply disappointed’! (A wag subsequently said to me that he had this image in my head of Lowe’s phone ringing, a machine answering and asking some questions, including “If your comment is about nuclear energy please press button 3”, at which point the machine responds “This report is deeply flawed …….”).

Edit: Ian responded to me via email, comments reproduced below. Thanks to Ian for the courtesy.

Also, on that final sentence: “The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said the security threat from a proliferation of nuclear technology would be ‘colossal’ “. I’ve had a look through the IPCC Working Group III chapters and I can’t find such a statement anywhere — can you? Strange…

My co-author Tom Biegler at least got the following letter published the next day in the SMH:

In attacking our peer-reviewed publication on how carbon pricing affects electricity costs from different generating technologies, with its implication that nuclear electricity could be first cab off the rank when there is a price on carbon, Professor Ian Lowe worries that ”you can’t avoid the issues of … nuclear weapons proliferation” (”Call for nuclear plants to combat warming”, November 26).

Is he seriously suggesting that, say, North Korea or Iran would be more inclined to use nuclear weapons should Australia decide to become the 32nd nation to use nuclear electricity? Give me a break.

Then, today, there is a piece by Paddy Manning, in The Sydney Morning Herald, The cost of nuclear power is debatable. It cites me and my old debating sparring partner Mark Diesendorf, in a kind of side-by-side comparison. Diesendorf’s work was based on an unrefereed (as far as I can tell) spoken paper presented at a solar energy conference (!), whereas mine was a peer-reviewed study published in the international journal Energy. Now look at how the two arguments are covered in the article. Is this a fair depiction of their relative credibility/backing? By the way, this is the second SMH coverage of Diesendorf’s ‘paper’. I don’t know — I can sympathise with Manning, as he’s been looking at this issue from only one side for a long time any any shift will be gradual and cautious — but I have to wonder whether the 1+ hour I spent talking to him on the phone last night, for a yield of 1 weak and partially dissenting paragraph, was a good use of my time. (There is also a cut-down version in The Age, which is even harder on me and more dismissive — I won’t speculated who edited that version…)

In other media, this morning, in Adelaide, I did a radio interview on the topic (listen here). I also did radio slots for some popular drive programmes in Melbourne and Sydney over the last few days (but they were not podcast — at least I can’t find them), and a TV interview on the ABC News 24 channel Afternoon Live (also no video available, alas). The TV slot went for about 6 min, and was really quite worthwhile, I thought. It’s a shame I don’t have a vodcast copy to share. My last line, coming off the top of my head, was something like: “Nuclear power should be part of any rational low-carbon energy plan — and Australia must have a rational energy plan“. Enough said.

Next up, I’ll look at the conservative press reaction, and try to analyse what’s going on there.

Interestingly — and unconnected to the Energy paper — I was also asked a few weeks back to be one of four contributors to a Sydney Morning Herald newspaper piece on: “The question: should nuclear energy power our future?“. It came out early this week. Below is what I said in my 400 words. Click here to say what the 3 others opined.

Should nuclear energy power our future?


Yes. Nuclear power uses atomic fission (splitting heavy atoms like uranium and plutonium) to generate vast amounts of heat energy.

This can be converted to electricity, or used to synthesise liquid fuels to replace oil. As an energy source, it is more than a million times more concentrated than chemical fuels like coal.

Today, nuclear power provides about 15 per cent of the world’s electricity, but some countries get far more.

France, for instance, sources 80 per cent of its electricity from nuclear fission, and South Korea gets 45 per cent.

The US has more than 100 nuclear plants, supplying 20 per cent of its needs.

Nuclear energy produces no carbon dioxide emissions when operating. Indeed, if all the world’s nuclear power stations were replaced by brown-coal power, an additional 3.5 billion tonnes of CO2 would enter the atmosphere each year.

Of course, nuclear electricity, like any other activity in the modern world, has some ”carbon footprint”, because we use fossil fuels to generate a large fraction of our electricity and to power our vehicles, industrial equipment, steel smelters, concrete factories and so on. But in a future world powered largely by nuclear energy, its footprint would be reduced to virtually zero.

Nuclear energy also has the great advantages of cheap, abundant fuel and incredibly reliable operation. It is not dependent on the fickleness of natural energy flows (such as wind and solar) and so does not require expensive energy storage.

This energy source is a proven economic way to replace coal. This is why rapidly developing countries such as China are pursuing nuclear energy so vigorously.

Currently, 25 new nuclear power plants are under construction in China, and the target there is for 112 gigawatts online by 2020.

This is the equivalent of four times Australia’s average electricity generation, all built in 10 years and without a price on carbon.

A type of nuclear technology nowbeing commercialised in India, Russia and China, called ”fast reactors”, can be used to repeatedly recycle its fuel and consume old nuclear waste. Because of the incredible efficiency of this next-generation technology, we have already mined enough uranium to power the global economy for more than 500 years. This is truly a sustainable energy option.

Nuclear power offers our best chance – indeed, probably the only realistic hope – of curing our addiction to fossil fuels and eliminating carbon emissions, in time, on budget, and at sufficient scale.

Professor Barry Brook is director of climate science at the University of Adelaide’s Environment Institute and coauthor of Why vsWhy: Nuclear Power (Pantera Press,2010).

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.

113 replies on “Media reactions to the Energy paper – part 1”

In my experience, the Sydney Morning Herald is deeply anti-nuclear in its outlook. I’m disappointed in Ian lowe though. Of all the anti-nuclear critics, he always seemed to be the most amenable to rational debate. it is sad to see him resort to such shoddy tactics. Pperhaps felt he had no alternative but to say something anti-nuclear given his position as head of the ACF while knowing full well he had nothing to back that statement up.


That piece in The Age leaves me fuming. How can they put Lowe’s picture on top of a piece about your work, when all he’s done is recycle some generic anti-nuclear points?

Google points towards the 1995 IPPC Working Group II report as the source for “colossal” impactsof proliferation, as picked up and gleefully spread by antis everywhere. I haven’t gotten to the actual IPCC quote yet.


following.. and it strikes me, anyway, that any 1995 IPCC pronouncement should be regarded as suspect unless it has been revalidated in the subsequent three reports.


page #601 of the IPCC 1995 doc above has the following to say about proliferation (couched in rather arguable language, but here it is):

Proliferation: The potential use of nuclear materials and technology for weapons has long been recognized. At the end of 1994, 178 states were parties to the 1970 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of nuclear weapons (NPT). The treaty places conditions on the transfer of nuclear technology and materials to prevent the development of nuclear weapons. Verification is carried out by independent inspectors from the International Atomic
Energy Agency (IAEA), which was established in 1957 (IAEA, 1993). An indication of the impact of the international safeguards regime is the limited number of nuclear weapon states existing at present as compared to fears expressed in the 1960s (Thome, 1992). However, illicit trafficking of nuclear materials became a concern to governments in 1993-1994 (IAEA, 1994).

A 1-GW_e nuclear power plant of the current LWR generation produces about 200 kg of plutonium (Pu) per year; future breeder reactors will produce about 1,500 kg of plutonium per year. Concerns regarding the proliferation risk arise from the accessibility to plutonium because an explosive similar to the Nagasaki bomb could be produced with only about 10 kg of plutonium (Carson Mark, 1993), or with 4 kg of plutonium or less in advanced designs (U.S. DOE, 1994a). Plutonium may be mixed with uranium as a fuel for nuclear power plants and may also be used for nuclear explosives, although the use of power reactor-grade plutonium complicates bomb design. Countries that have produced plutonium-based nuclear explosives have produced weapons-grade plutonium in reactors designed for this purpose (National Academy of Science, 1994). However, the difference in proliferation risk posed by separated weapons-grade plutonium and separated reactor-grade plutonium is small in comparison to the difference between separated plutonium of any grade and unseparated material in spent fuel (National Academy of Sciences, 1994).

The word “colossal” does not appear in the IPCC document. Hunting around the web, it is possible that the adjective arose from this flawed, anonymous essay which I infer is from around 1998:


English language media bias in general against nuclear energy, while still apparent, is certainly softening up. In some ways the fact that no one seems to be able to mount a rational attack, and must fall back on the tired collection of antinuclear shibboleths suggests that your arguments are air tight.

The proliferation argument is particularly weak, and indeed should be ridiculed as Tom Biegler did. This is important because proliferation has become the last refuge of the antinuclear side, once it is shown that their other arguments are invalid. I am seeing statements to the effect that nuclear may be non-polluting, but the risk of everyone in the Third World having the ability to build nuclear weapons is too high a price to pay.

This is rubbish, of course, but it has become an effective fall-back position for the zealots and needs to be cut off at every opportunity.


It’s hard to imagine a similar media response to a peer reviewed science article in the united states.

in the u.s., I’d like others to chime in on this, my guess is that by and large, science articles, even on topics this important, are ignored.

the science/media connection seems much stronger in Australia. in the u.s., or so it seems to me, the science/media connection barely exists.


The psychology of anti nuclear activists,climate change sceptics/deniers and growth at any cost advocates would be an interesting study.
Maybe there have been some good writings on cognitve dissonance which would have application in these cases.
I suspect that most of the current crop of psychologists/philosphers would have too much skin in the game to contribute much of any worth on the anti nuke zealots.
Re Ian Lowe – I have always respected his views on environmental matters but I wonder whether he takes the threat of climate change seriously when he dismisses,in such a cavalier fashion,rational argument for an eminently practical and doable strategy for amelioration.


I agree with Finrod re Ian Lowe. Personally I am getting very tired of his same old irrational whining about proliferation. (I myself worry about Paki nuke weapons falling into terrorist hands Seems to me a more clear and present danger). And as for another tired old argument , ie : Nuclear power is not economically viable ……. Just give us a level playing field , and they will come and build…. :)


The IAEA has been patting itself on the back for several years claiming that they have been instrumental in preventing the spread of nuclear weapons. The truth is that no country has ever proceeded with a nuclear weapons program, just because it was able to. There has to be a really strong perceived need for this capability, that when present is enough to carry the task through as much international pressure as can be applied short of military.

This whole idea that proliferation is some sort of accident waiting to happen, and that unchecked will lead to a domino effect is pure fantasy based on the overactive imaginations of Cold War strategists like Herman Kahn. Theories first put forward by him have been proven by events to be categorically wrong. Yet the whole nonproliferation community behaves as if it were still 1670,and the Cold War was still being fought.

This needs repeating: Even if the question of supplying weapon-grade fissile material is removed, it still requires a sizable technological infrastructure and the expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars to make a weapon. The costs of a more ambitious program aimed at producing a militarily significant number of weapons can easily run into the billions of dollars, and the idea that such a project could be carried out by surreptitiously stripping power reactors of their fuel belongs in pulp novels, not in any rational discussion of the issue.


The anti-nuclear front seems be built around several prominent individuals whose influence is out of proportion. In the media key journalists like Paddy Manning at the SMH and Bernard Keane at Crikey lead the charge. Alas these gents seem not to have kept themselves up to date with the the issues. I was surprised that a week after signing the uranium deal with Medvedev that the PM came out with the line that Australia should have enough renewable energy. Apart from the fact she may have gotten that line from confidante Wayne Swan we should ask the PM to take it a step further. Run Parliament House on wind mills and solar panels and fill the VIP jet on biofuel.

I think the public realises that wind and solar aren’t up to the job. With the help of the thought police they’ve blanked out the logical conclusion .



I’ve read quite a bit of the media reaction to the nuclear power issue in the last few days but mostly it seems about politics and politicians rather than policy. There was however a supportive editorial in the Canberra Times yesterday which surprised me. David Mills’ article on renewables seems to be getting far more traction with very little criticism, rightly or wrongly. Politicians may change their view when they detect a change of mood in the electorate but I think lobby groups have more influence these days.

The problem for us poor punters is who do we believe? We have senior renewable energy researchers at the ANU telling us (several times, on national radio) that the country will run on solar in a very few years and that the storage issue can be solved, at least for Adelaide, by filling an inland valley with sea water. We have credible commentators (well, the media believe they’re credible) telling us that there isn’t enough nuclear fuel, that Chernobyl killed possibly 500,000, that the so-called nuclear renaissance doesn’t exist. I know there are plenty of rebuttals to these comments but the negative messages are the ones that get through.

It seems to me that nuclear is a no-brainer for Australia but I’ll be surprised if it gets up any time soon. Overcoming the fierce resistance to nuclear will take a long time and we have little expertise of our own – unfortunate the Jervis Bay reactor was cancelled. I think we’ll spend a few years exploring renewables – they appear to offer a safe solution to those who get all their information from the MSM. Then we’ll either be pleasantly surprised when it works or back to square one having wasted a lot of valuable time. We’ll use a lot of coal in the meantime.

John Newlands,

Please don’t suggest wind turbines for Parliament House. I live in Canberra and that flag pole is bad enough. :-)

I disagree that the public realise the deficiencies of wind and solar. They’re fed ‘facts’ such as ‘the ACME wind farm will power 10,0000 houses’ and ‘the ACT feed-in tariff will cost the average householder just 50 cents a week’ – numbers such as this are inadequately quantified. The public don’t understand the numbers, as has been commented on elsewhere in this blog. If someone wanted to promote nuclear power a good start would be to inform the public on the size of the decarbonisation problem.


The Australian yesterday carried some polling on the topic of nuclear power, which was done back in April by a Macquarie Uni group (sample size 1175, 18+, city/country):

Nuclear power more attractive as climate changes

This polling is interesting because it includes some questions that specifically focus on nuclear power as a climate change response. The headline figure is 1/3rd support, 1/3rd oppose, and 1/3rd are undecided.

This can be compared with Nielsen polling from October last year that split 49% support to 43% oppose with 7% undecided.

This is much more polarized than the MU polling, which may just be a function of the survey questions. The broad picture is similar – we’re pretty evenly split. But there is also historical data in the Nielsen polling, where as the MU work is a one off. The Nielsen time series shows support for nuclear power is steadily increasing.

If you put climate change into the picture, nuclear support increases:

.. more people agree (49 per cent) than disagree (36 per cent) that they are willing to accept the building of nuclear power stations if it would help to tackle global climate change or improve energy security.

And if you give people the choice between relying on a diminishing energy source, using less energy, or going nuclear, they prefer nukes:

.. respondents preferred the use of nuclear power rather than continuing to exploit fossil fuels, even with carbon capture technologies, or reducing energy consumption through regulation and taxes.

On the other hand, nuclear power is not top of mind as a climate change response – thats renewable energy, energy efficiency and reducing energy use. So there is a lot of work to do to turn this around.

But the biggest barrier is lack of information (and misinformation):

56 per cent of respondents agreed that they needed more information to form a clear opinion about nuclear power, while a further 25 per cent were unsure, had no opinion or didn’t know.

We really have some heavy lifting to do to raise the level of understanding of nuclear technologies. The work Barry is doing in promoting his research in the media and curating this blog, and the participation of many commenters here in other forums is absolutely critical.


For those who have read Ian Lowe’s book “A Big Fix” you will know that Ian is an “alternative”. He advocates a simpler, self-sufficent, lifestyle so of course we don’t need nuclear power. A few solar panels and maybe a personal windmill is all you need – and go to bed early.


I think this also shows that if you ask people straight out if they support nuclear power, the answer is, often, no. But if asked to choose between alternatives in context, support for nuclear increases significantly.

Maybe that suggests a communication strategy – focus less on the benefits of nuclear power per se, or defending its safety record, and more on the context for its consideration, be it climate change or diminishing fossil fuels, etc.


Despite the tone of the coverage in the SMH and elsewhere, I was pretty pleased to see a lot of pro nuclear respondents in the comments to these articles. Maybe I’m just noticing it more, but it feels as if there is much more well voiced pro nuclear sentiment in these discussions that used to be dominated by kneejerk anti response. Perhaps we’re getting through.


Barry said:

Nuclear energy produces no carbon dioxide emissions when operating. Indeed, if all the world’s nuclear power stations were replaced by brown-coal power, an additional 3.5 billion tonnes of CO2 would enter the atmosphere each year

A lot more than that if you consider the full fuel cycle from harvest (with fugitive CH4 and NOx) and the cost of transport to the coal reactor.

DV82XL said:

Yet the whole nonproliferation community behaves as if it were still 1670 (1970),and the Cold War were still being fought

I feel sure that this is what you intended here.

It’s also interesting that the proliferation-risk crowd are taking their lines from the far-right, despite being largely on the soft-left. The same pool of folks who rightly shouted their distrust of Iraqi WMDs as a pretext for escalation of military action.
accept as good coin the untested and utterly unaffirmed claims of a cold warrior.

I need not recapitulate what I’ve written here on the underlying psychology of this matter, but one does suspect that this started as a disingenuous attempt by leftists to appeal to the right on a ground that they seemingly couldn’t reject which has ended up becoming an article of faith amongst much of the left.

I note the death of Cohen this week, who was associated with the 70’s era proposal to deploy enhanced radiation tactical nuclear weapons in Western Europe (the “neutron bomb”) and it reminded me strongly of the cultural campaigning around nuclear issues of the time. This particular event really solidified leftist opposition to all things associated with nuclear technology as the capitalists now had the ultimate capitalist weapon — one that only kills people but leaves property intact.. When Reagan overturned Carter’s policy and began speaking of Star Wars and Pershing the die was firmly cast.

The view of nuclear technology as a seminal and transcendent evil became near universal on the left and for such things, one scarcely needs careful and detailed analysis.


It’s a pity that one has to use ‘ridicule’ (DV82XL’s term) to draw attention to silly reasoning but it is one of the devices that can be useful in getting people (or at least some people) to think more rationally about this emotive topic. Highlighting inconsistencies by means of analogy is another. To make the point, here is a letter of mine published in The Australian in June 2006:

“Do we need a debate on nuclear power? Australia has huge reserves of a globally important energy resource. But it is fraught with problems. Extracting it exposes miners to great dangers. Processing at the mine creates wastes that to date can only be stored in permanent dumps. Power generation releases greatly feared elements like uranium, radium and thorium into the atmosphere. Massive quantities of other wastes from the plant are simply left untreated. Some are released into the atmosphere; there is no proven process for removing them, but lots of ideas. Other wastes are solids and now have to be kept forever in dumps; they will never decompose. Understandably, no-one wants to have such a power station located near their home. Worse, this fuel is easily converted into the most dreaded explosive used by terrorists.

I am of course talking about coal. Yes, we certainly do need a debate.”

There was perhaps a bit of poetic licence there; the ‘dreaded explosive’, ANFO, depends more on the other fossil fuels, oil and natural gas, than on coal – but you get the point. And four and a half years later we still need that debate.


Also John Morgan

While it is almost certainly the case that the bulk of those sympathetic to the view that nuclear power ought to be considered as a strategy for abating anthropogenic climate change will far more commonly be people who would never vote ALP than those who would or might one has to ask how many people who might vote ALP would give an effective preference to the Liberals if the ALP were to adopt such a policy.

Very few, I’d say, particualrly as on the day after the ALP declared for such a policy, the Liberals would follow suit. The ALP would suffer internal dissent and quite probably a swathe of the ALP’s left would defect to The Greens but in the end, as long as the ALP stayed to the left of the Coalition on social policy, very few would vote tactically for the Coalition, particularly as they would be more unified on the matter of nuclear power.



in the u.s., I’d like others to chime in on this, my guess is that by and large, science articles, even on topics this important, are ignored.

I lived in Delaware for some years and would in general agree with this, but there are exceptions. The New York Times was my local rag and I have to say the Times science reporting could be absolutely outstanding – the best I think I’ve seen in print outside of special interest publications, and definitely better than, say, New Scientist or today’s Scientific American.

There is also a degree of parochial interest and current topicality to the response to Barry’s paper here. US media might well pick up on a research that is relevant to some current US domestic policy or interest.

I think in Australia we have been fortunate to have a specific focus on science communication in our national broadcaster, the ABC. The ABC’s Science Unit has had as part of its mission the training of science communicators and science journalists and has set a high standard for science coverage and communication, perhaps best exemplified by The Science Show radio broadcast, an hour of serious science coverage that has been running for 35 years now, a scientific lynchpin which I think is an important part of the ABC and wider media’s science culture.

But anything below this high journalism can be pretty crap. You may be viewing sections of the Australian media through the eyes of commenters here, who are self selected to be fairly scientifically literate, so you may have formed a higher opinion than is warranted.


New generation nuclear demands excellent PR/comms. There’s too much nuclear baggage.

The key differences in waste and proliferation hazard need to be understood and accepted by punters.

Punters are not likely to consider economic & climate change arguments if those perceived hazards remain.

I am prepared to contribute to the costs of engaging a top draw PR/comms adviser … and I know of a few.



I am not sure if this link is working properly ?

100% Renewables by 2020? Not possible, says Professor Barry Brook. Nuclear his preferred option. Listen online:

I note that BZe have a link that does work ->

100% Renewable Energy Resources for Australia by 2020? Possible, say Beyond Zero Emissions. Listen online:


I am not sure if this link is working properly ?

The link supposedly to Barry’s interview just leads to the online listening option. No obvious path to Barry’s interview. The link to the BZE piece goes to where it’s supposed to.

Clear bias and sabotage.


Fran – Thanks for catching my little dyslexic moment there.

Fran said:

It’s also interesting that the proliferation-risk crowd are taking their lines from the far-right, despite being largely on the soft-left….

…but one does suspect that this started as a disingenuous attempt by leftists to appeal to the right on a ground that they seemingly couldn’t reject which has ended up becoming an article of faith amongst much of the left.

The Right has always been huge supporters of the anti-proliferation agenda. Nuclear armed nations cannot be bullied by threats of invasion and other military actions. The Left has always taken its lead on this matter as an extension of their position on disarmament. Their agreement on this matter is pure serendipity from the antinuclear POV.

Fran said:

This particular event really solidified leftist opposition to all things associated with nuclear technology as the capitalists now had the ultimate capitalist weapon — one that only kills people but leaves property intact..

The ‘Landlord Bomb’ meme was a creation of Left wing antinuclear zealots. The neutron bomb is a so-called ‘enhanced radiation device’ that has just as much destructive power per kiloton in the thermal and shock regimes as any other similar sized thermonuclear device. It does however produce many times the flux of prompt neutrons compared to a standard warhead of similar size.

This tactical short-range, low-yield weapon was contemplated as a means of dealing with a massed column of Soviet tanks, themselves radiation-hardened. The enhanced radiation device would kill tank crews well outside the blast zone, that would otherwise have to be targeted separately. The reasoning was that it would take fewer strikes to neutralize this threat with neutron bombs than with standard nuclear devices.

The Ban-the-Bomb militants, applying their usual tactics of telling half-truths, mixed with outright lies, spun this into a story of the existence of a bomb that would kill everyone in a city, leaving everything else as a spoil of war. In fact nothing was farther from the truth.

Fran said:

The view of nuclear technology as a seminal and transcendent evil became near universal on the left and for such things, one scarcely needs careful and detailed analysis.

Absolument au contraire ma chérie. Much of the error in the public’s perception of nuclear matters is based on just how and why it was originally presented to them. Studying how these ideas came to be is invaluable if we are to fight them.


Podargus, on 4 December 2010 at 4:37 AM said:

The psychology of anti nuclear activists, climate change sceptics/deniers and growth at any cost advocates would be an interesting study.

A much stronger correlation would be between “anti nuclear activists, climate change Alarmists/scaremongers and ‘anti-growth/depopulate the word at any cost’ advocates.

You don’t even have to do the study to realise this. Just look at the reaction of the Fairfax media to Barry’s article and look at the threads on Skeptial Science that discuss “Can renewables provide baseload” and another thread discussing nuclear. Just about anywhere you turn you find the Left are climate change scaremongers and anti nuclear and pro renmewables (Barry and his disciples excepted). They also want to raise taxes, increase the cost of energy and redistribute wealth, legislate what everyone should say, think and eat. It’s all one package.

If someone suggests we should remove the mass of legislated, regulatory and policy impediments to low-cost clean electricity , the Left don’t wan’t to discuss that. It doesn’t fit their agenda.



It’s also interesting that the proliferation-risk crowd are taking their lines from the far-right, despite being largely on the soft-left.

Another unsubnstantiated statement from a hard Leftie (Green-Labor Alliance supporter) who continually posts her ideologicalluy based comments. And never stopped!


Fran Barlow,

OMG – you never stop your Hard Left politicking do you?

Who’d trust anything you or your Leftie ilk advocate? Thankfully not the majority!


barry: beautiful job on your interview john links to above.

and john, I actually mentioned the NY Times as an exception and then deleted it in order to (over) simplify my point about science/media relation in U.S.

on the neutron bomb I found this:

Definition of the Neutron Bomb

“Also called ENHANCED RADIATION WARHEAD, specialized type of small thermonuclear weapon that produces minimal blast and heat but which releases large amounts of lethal radiation. The neutron bomb delivers blast and heat effects that are confined to an area of only a few hundred yards in radius. But within a somewhat larger area it throws off a massive wave of neutron and gamma radiation, which can penetrate armor or several feet of earth. This radiation is extremely destructive to living tissue. Because of its short-range destructiveness and the absence of long-range effect, the neutron bomb would be highly effective against tank and infantry formations on the battlefield but would not endanger cities or other population centers only a few miles away. It can be carried in a Lance missile or delivered by an 8-inch (200-millimetre) howitzer, or possibly by attack aircraft. In strategic terms, the neutron bomb has a theoretical deterrent effect: discouraging an armored ground assault by arousing the fear of neutron bomb counterattack. The bomb would disable enemy tank crews in minutes, and those exposed would die within days. U.S. production of the bomb was postponed in 1978 and resumed in 1981.”

boy: I was going with fran on this one in a knee jerk way, but based on what I’ve learned in the last two years about radiation, DV’s explanation makes a lot more sense.

that said, I don’t buy the standard cold war idea of the soviets invading w. germany, thus necessitating the nb.


John Morgan, The ABC (Australia’s national Broadcaster) is so utterly Left biased it is the Australian version of Pravda.


greg meyerson – The fact was that the USSR had massed tanks facing NATO forces in Europe. Whether they would have attacked or not if the opportunity had presented itself is a matter of conjecture.

It is interesting to note that the neutron bomb was scheduled for production in response to German antinuclear propaganda to the effect that the definition of a short range tactical nuclear weapon was one that fell on Germany. The drive to push tactical nuclear weapons out of Germany (and Europe in general) was prosecuted very effectively by the Ban-the-Bomb groups, and became a political hot-potato in Bonn.

In actual fact the very idea of a weapon that killed primarily by prompt radiation was known to be fraught with political baggage by the Americans. This is why (the then called cobalt bomb) which had been contemplated in the 1950’s never went into production. It was the hope of convincing the Western Europeans that collateral damage could be kept to a minimum, (and thus get them to agree on the continued deployment of tactical nukes) that pushed the idea back on the table.

The spin campaign against the neutron bomb was a textbook example of pure agitprop, which makes me wonder if indeed Soviet money and influence was not behind it. After all, it was their fleet of several divisions of armor that was being checkmated.


DV82XL said:

Fran – Thanks for catching my little dyslexic moment there

I’m going to play detective and guess you use your keypad to enter numbers, as 6 and 9 are adjacent. Do I get a prize?

The Ban-the-Bomb militants, applying their usual tactics of telling half-truths, mixed with outright lies, spun this into a story of the existence of a bomb that would kill everyone in a city, leaving everything else as a spoil of war. In fact nothing was farther from the truth

I suspect you may have misinterpteted my claim. I’d agree with the above. I was merely speaking of the way the matter was played by sections of the left, as part of a more general cultural struggle against Reagan and Thatcher. If accepted, the critique was damning.

The more reasonable ethical objection to tactical deployment of enhanced radiation weapons was the threshhold argument — that it was easier to contemplate military commanders using them and thus taking the first step in a more generalised nuclear exchange. In that sense, it is more like the arguments over police and taser weapons.

Much of the error in the public’s perception of nuclear matters is based on just how and why it was originally presented to them. Studying how these ideas came to be is invaluable if we are to fight them

Once again, I absolutely agree, which is why I consistently raise the history of these matters myself. My point here was that transcendent evil, once it is applied to something, acts as a constraint to rigorous analysis — a point that one can test simply by reflecting on those things held to represent transcendent evil.

Fran – Thanks for catching my little dyslexic moment there


greg – you might want to review the idiocy that has on nuclear power before you bother quoting it at any length. I recognize that you understand the disconnect between the claims and the feasible reality on neutron bombs but some sites are simply not worth investing in for understanding the subject. On DV8’s point, however, it might be worth reviewing it for devising counters.


Fran –

I’m going to play detective and guess you use your keypad to enter numbers, as 6 and 9 are adjacent. Do I get a prize?

Ya that was likely why it happened, he lied. Recently I have had these moments, as I have gotten older, where I find that when I am typing rapidly, I switch 9 and 6, and p and b on occasion. Long repressed dyslexia emerging, I would guess.

The more reasonable ethical objection to tactical deployment of enhanced radiation weapons was the threshold argument — that it was easier to contemplate military commanders using them and thus taking the first step in a more generalized nuclear exchange.

Look the claims of lower thermal yield on these weapons is a bit of a fudge. Kiloton per kiloton both types of weapons made as big a boom, dug as big a hole, the difference being the kill zone radius for shielded targets was larger for the enhanced radiation device.

Also, and more importantly, both the warheads and the delivery systems for neutron bombs were designed to be applied to counter massed columns of armor. Thus it was utterly useless as a first strike weapon, or one that could be used for any other type of target.

If you think about it, it would have been utterly unlikely that the Warsaw Pact would have launched an armored assault on NATO as a first strike. One would assume that had they started to attack with armor, the situation would have already decayed to the point where there probably had been a strategic nuclear exchange with ICBMs.

Look I have spent decades sifting through what has been said about nuclear war, and comparing it with what was known about nuclear weapons, how they were deployed, and other tangential information. The truth about these devices was not what the militants were claiming, and not often what the official line was.

Since the internet, and a degree of relaxation of hitherto classified information, I have been pleased to see that almost all of my initial findings were true.

The critical thing to understand is that nuclear weaponry does not exist in a vacuum. It is a chess-piece in a game of almost pure maneuver, in that role, the most important deployment of these things is in tactical situations, not strategic.

It was well understood, early on by both sides in the Cold War, that there was no winning a conflict by pounding each others cities to rubble. Initially they had been force to target cities simply because they were the smallest target the delivery systems of the time could reliably acquire. But the real deterrents were on freezing conventional forces, and keeping them from massing, and everyone on both sides knew it.

This is why the whole proliferation nonsense that one sees in the press is pure fantasy, and why it cannot be used to make policy, and why it has to be countered constantly. Unfortunately I have found that many in the pronuclear camp are just as unclear on the subject, and that is why I always jump on the topic in forums like this. The truth is the only real tool we have.


Half a dozen comments from one hard old head, each one purporting to find a leftist or even a Red under the Bed.

This thread is, thankfully, not really about real and imagined leftists – if I want that there are a billion sites on which to waste my time.

It is unfortunate in the extreme that this one contributor has again adopted this unproductive approach to an otherwise rationally presented topic.

Of course, I may be mistaken. Maybe this thread did not start with a consideration of the main stream media’s intrerpretation and presentation of issues related to three different reports on csts and energy options. Silly me… how did I mistakenly believe that this was not a call for old political scores to be revisited?

Why did I look again at the three linked reports and then consider what Barry and others had to say about the lack of fairness and intelligence in reporting of matters scientific and poor editorial balance, when the whole issue can be so conveniently reduced to a simple Spot-The-Leftist theme?

Stop flogging this horse, Peter. It cannot carry us where we need to go.


Today I visited an off-grid farm which uses tracking PV and a battery bank/inverter for electricity and LPG for cooking. They are about to install a small hilltop wind turbine as they have reliable 4 m/s wind speeds. Without any prompting the people told me it was all an adventure but the future had to be nuclear.

So people who subsist on micro wind and solar, slaughter their own animals and use a long drop dunny have concluded nuclear is the way to go. No they’re not on welfare or drugs. Don’t tell that to cossetted urban greenies who think it is only a matter of flicking a few switches. These ‘survivalists’ also pointed out that heavily subsidised renewables in Europe barely keep pace with demand growth.

Far from being hip I think urban greenies who insist wind and solar can replace coal should be regarded as quaint, like Zoroastrians or morris dancers. Friends of Coal I’d call them.


Hi Alan

Thanks for your comment. I wonder if you could expand on this portion:

I am prepared to contribute to the costs of engaging a top draw PR/comms adviser … and I know of a few.

Forgive me for being blunt, but, what do you mean by “contribute to…”.


Even though they feature the recalcitrant Bernard Keane, I’d strongly suggest submitting this post (or at least the salient points thereof) to Crikey, Barry. They’ve been running strongly on the conservative/right-wing bias of The Australian for some time now; it would be educative to see how this prima facie evidence of bias in the Fairfax media is received. And Crikey do have a good track record of treating dissenting opinion fairly, even if they don’t hold with it.

Not to mention that this would reinforce the media impact of the original article(s).


Those who are looking for the “alternative” to nuclear power are living in la la land. I am waiting for 40 years for the deliverance of that magic alternative to displace nuclear energy. So far it has been one consistent failure. I am sure I will be 40 years in the grave and all anti nuclear fanatics will be still looking over the horizon in their fantasy land for their energy messiah.
Eventually, that ever elusive “alternative” will be nuclear power, especially from Thorium. The laws of physics must determine so because there is no environmentally better, reliable, safer or cheaper energy in existence, at least not on this planet.


Mark, Fran, I appreciate the thought re: Crikey, but I’m not out to particularly antagonise any section of the media, and I suspect that is what this would do. I’d rather just gradually get them to show a more evidence-based approach.


New generation nuclear demands excellent PR/comms. There’s too much nuclear baggage.

There’s baggage, but let’s be careful how we define the problem here.

The key differences in waste and proliferation hazard need to be understood and accepted by punters.

This reeks of the same sort of demonisation of present nuclear technology which has been the main blind spot of gen IV advocates. Bumming a free ride off the propaganda of the anti-nuclear movement is NOT cool, and will play into the hands of the enemy.

Punters are not likely to consider economic & climate change arguments if those perceived hazards remain.

Then we need to attack the root of those perceptions instead of undermining the current technology.

I am prepared to contribute to the costs of engaging a top draw PR/comms adviser … and I know of a few.

Alan, before anyone commits to this, perhaps you could let us all know a bit about yourself?


Barry – I the letter to Ian Lowe you wrote this:

“Given that it passed peer review by multiple technical referees with no objections, I wondered if you could clarify what parts of the paper you considered to be flawed? ”

The journal you submitted it to formally peer reviewed your paper? ie it was sent to anonymous reviewers that the journal knows for comments?

It just as it is a bit odd that there were no objections. Usually reviewers have a few minor or major comments to make.

Perhaps you could post the review comments that you got back from peer review.


Stephen Gloor, yes, it was refereed by two anonymous reviewers and the handling editor. They had no major objections, and their minor critiques were dealt with in revision, as is standard practice. No, I will not be reproducing their reports here, as they were submitted confidentially to the journal editor and it is not my decision as to whether they are released publicly. if you knew anything first hand about the professional peer review process, you’d know this, but as others have pointed out, that wasn’t your point in asking, was it…

Overall, I find you comment to be typical of your attitude, and underscores why I have such little time for you and your methods.


Gloor: I read that sentence as meaning no outstanding objections. Typically all peer-review comments are resolved one way or another before publication.


Stephen, you seem to have missed the whole point of this and the previous post. Yes, the paper passed technical peer review.


Some modelers have gotten so fascinated with abstract power transmission networks that they’ve ignored the physics of how these things actually work – like electricity infrastructure and this can lead you grossly astray. This is what is happening with these claims that we can run the grid without baseload. Others are out to pull the wool over our eyes.

It’s the same sort of reasoning that I get from the financial sales pamphlets that I find in the mail telling me that there are all sorts of ways that I can make money by diddling around with my tax-protected retirement fund. They are happy to show me how things can be juggled about, they have rational sounding explanations and they have graphs.

Only fools believe in the latter, and only fools believe in the former. It’s just that simple.



Do you (or anyone else) know of a good article explaining why baseload is a necessity? I had a quick look on google but couldn’t quite find what I was after. While I have a fairly good understanding of the reason myself, it’d be good to have a solid reference to point people towards.


I hope your comments appear, T and F.

haven’t seem em yet. saw Geoff and Bryan though.

boy, the RE defense is weak. really superficial.

and the know-it-all attitude, the defensiveness about what they do not know, is really telling. How many times do the RE’s claim that critics haven’t read Mills article carefully? So we get the following type of response over and over:

“you’re ignoring the STORAGE.” Or “DON’T YOU REALIZE WE DON’T NEED BASELOAD?? You keep talking about baseload, but the article is about getting rid of baseload. CAN’T YOU READ??”

etc. etc.


Good luck finding something that explains it just that way. For the same reason there aren’t peer-reviewed papers on why car brakes are necessary, or why one should avoid jumping out of airplanes without a parachute.


I can’t find a link to the original work that Mills is discussing. The ABC cites it only as:

his article is based on unpublished research work presented at Solar 2010, the 48th annual conference of the Australian Solar Energy Society.

I did find that Climate Spectator has covered this story twice:

The new pillars of power
Is baseload power necessary?

But it only cites the work as a keynote address at the Australian Solar Energy Society’s annual conference in Canberra.

Can anyone find a link to the actual study?

Climate Spectator gives the genesis of the work thus:

The study is an extension of an idea that Mills has held dear for some time. In 2005 he presented a talk in Canberra suggesting that solar plans with a “primitive” storage model could run the electricity grid in eastern Australia.

Two years later, he did a similar study for California concluding that, based on hourly data for energy usage in 2006, solar could have carried well over 90 per cent of the electricity load.

The latest study – completed with a former R&D specialist at Ausra, Wei Li Cheng, and a US Department of Energy analyst Phil Larochelle – looks at how solar and wind could handle the entire electricity needs for the US in the same year, and also looks at whether it could handle the entire energy needs for the country, including transport.

So its hindcasting. The methodology behind the approach is critical. Does it rely on looking at the load at an instant, then assembling generators to match that load, with the benefit of hindsight? Would it work for a different year? Does it require perfect forecasting to work forwards? Is it a spatial model, ie. does it include transmission, or constrain generators to be near loads? What storage is postulated? Etc.


Instead of baseload it could called be called the somewhat-constant-40%-of- peak-demand. When the aluminium industry say they need baseload perhaps they really mean cheap electricity 24/7/365. I understand there are usually penalty clauses against electricity providers for supply interruptions to electrorefiners. No wonder if the molten metal sets hard and may take a major effort to restart the process.

It occurred to me looking at both a grid tied PV inverter and a squirrel cage mini hydro generator they both need to ‘get a pulse’ from the grid, in Australia 50 Hz AC with not too much distortion. If generation was more distributed and variable that time beat might become unstable. I wonder if there is a practical limit to the penetration of daytime PV, say 50%.


That’s quite an expensive conference! I’ve seen technical professional conferences that don’t run anywhere near that much!

I didn’t know that “Green” was such a massively lucrative business.



perhaps barry can now supply you with articles on why brakes are necessary and why parachutes are advisable for sky divers.

the baseload article was requested by Tom, btw. Barry had posted that article by bayless earlier.


Barry @ 11:45am, point taken, though bear in mind it wouldn’t necessarily have to be you who brings it to Crikey‘s attention ;-)


Ian Lowe emailed me a response (and gave me permission to reproduce it here):

Dear Barry,

I’m sorry for the delay replying to your e-mail. I have been at a conference with limited time and access to e-mail facilities.

I didn’t see the comments attributed to me in the SMH. I was in Melbourne, ironically participating in a meeting of the government body that advises ARPANSA, when I got a text message asking me to call two journalists. They were writing a piece about your paper and were trying to get off-the-cuff responses. I gather the SMH printed something; The Australian, characteristically, just gave the pro-nuclear case.

Let me summarise what I said to the journos. I disputed the claim that the paper gives an “objective” assessment. We are all influenced by our values and experience. We all make choices about which data we collect and how we analyse the data. So your view that nuclear power should be developed in this country inevitably colours your assessment, just as my opposite view inevitably colours mine. Even if we reached our views by an entirely rational process, those views now influence our thinking.

The paper compares nuclear with some fossil fuel power generation options and one renewable energy option, solar thermal with storage. That is one valid way of getting electricity from renewable resources, but not the only one, even if you are just looking at baseload power. NZ and Iceland use hydro and geothermal for baseload power; hydro is certainly much cheaper than nuclear or solar thermal, while geothermal varies with the site. In some locations, wind power is sufficiently reliable to be considered as a source of baseload power. So my first criticism was that the paper compared nuclear with one relatively expensive renewable option, ignoring others that are certainly cheaper.

My second criticism was that comparing the economics of the presently operating nuclear power stations with solar thermal is an inherently biased comparison. In the case of nuclear, you are looking at the result of fifty years of learning and huge investments of public money, as well as an industry still supported in most instances by direct or indirect public subsidies; for example, in the weapons states like USA, UK, France and China, there is a clear subsidy of enrichment by the needs of the military. Large-scale solar thermal with storage is an infant technology and we can expect it to become less expensive with experience.
I said that the Switkowski committee recognised that there would be both delays and start-up costs if we wanted to build nuclear power reactors in Australia. So we can’t apply costs from the existing northern hemisphere industry to the Australian situation. Ziggy’s group, which could not remotely be accused of bias against nuclear power, conceded that the only way of making the economics look feasible is to assume we will be late adopters of a new generation of reactors not yet built and so benefit from the learning of others.

Finally, I added that a decision about energy would not be based solely on economics. Just as we don’t inevitably choose the cheapest shoes in a shoe shop or the cheapest wine in a bottle shop, we should weigh up other considerations in choosing our energy mix, ranging from national security and political support to the implications for local employment.

All that, of course, is far too complicated an argument for a journalist with a deadline and, in the case of The Australian, an editor with an ideology…

Hasty best wishes.
Ian Lowe


He never says one way or the other. Make of that what you will.

Apparently there is no objective pathway to deciding how to generate electricity. Yet really, it is difficult to understand what he means. If he’s serious, I’d like him to show us the authoritative assessments we ‘subjectively’ — subconsciously — left out (and then show that it makes any significant difference to our conclusions). I very much doubt that it would — but that challenge stands, and I’m happy to be proven wrong.


Heads up.

Those visiting this site who have an academic inclination might want to know that in late July 2011, in Rio, there is a conference on Climate Change issues.

Here’s the basic link:

There is a very broad agenda and papers that are accepted will be subject to peer-review. There’s a fairly short deadline for synopsis submission so those who are interested should not delay. Youy don’t have to go to Rio to submit the paper and I understand YouTube is going to be used to allow some submissions to be discussed.

I’m contemplating writing one in the area of media responses to climate change.


Once again, throwing hydro into the ‘renewables’ mix is disingenuous, same for geothermal and ‘baseload wind’, if indeed such a thing does exist, seeing as it could only do so in limited locales, just like hydro.


well: both sides run the risk of a he said/she said standoff when they make the “costs will come down” argument.

Nuclear proponents will make it about the new generation of plants; RE will make it.

so how do we assess these claims on the future?

it seems to me that the two trajectories are no where near equally plausible. if RE could control the weather, maybe. but it can’t. the baseload/footprint/overbuild-storage-backup-transmission line and therefore cost problem seem a lot more forbidding than working out the details of the pyroprocess.

but of course, we do all carry around our more or less stubborn background assumptions even about what’s plausible.

Reality at some point will “decide” so to speak. but it sure would be nice not to waste a bunch of time tilting at windmills.


btw, barry, I was going to caution you not to react too precipitously to Prof. Lowe’s email non response as there can be all sorts of reasons why people don’t respond to other people’s emails–especially right away!

On bias, that there’s no such thing as neutrality does not mean that some explanations are not better than others. That theory/evidence/interests are always entangled tells us very little about the merits of any particular study or argument. so I don’t much understand the upshot of Ian’s bias comments.

the inevitability of bias (angle, etc.) idea of Ian’s is basically without consequence. and while he ought not be a relativist (itself a value judgment), he has made some comments (in interviews) about values being subjective, without exactly saying what he means by this. after all, values include epistemic judgments of plausiblity, coherence, explanatory power etc.

DV was exercising such values (properly) in responding to my posting of a correlational study on cosmic rays and breast cancer on OT 7.


Barry – thanks for the link to the Bayless piece. Haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but definitely will at some point.


Kudos to Ian Lowe for being open to engaging the discussion without confrontation or defensiveness, even though I take issue with a number of his statements.

In the survey in the Australian I cited above, NP support/undecided/opposed percentages are 28/30/30. But those willing to accept NP if it addresses climate change or energy security becomes 49% agree / 36% opposed.

That means basically all the undecideds break to being supporters if pressed on climate and fossil fuels. Thats a large demographic that a continued dialogue with people like Ian can address.

I assume the residual 36% opposed are those banking on renewables, or powering down, or are simply anti nukes. Once again, having the discussion in the open with Ian serves to raise the level of debate and awareness of the issues and I would expect people in this group can be reached (some, not all).

Finally, 56% of people said they needed more information, (and 26% said they didn’t know if they needed more information, so obviously they do). These people want better quality information. Public discussion that is rational and respectful is an important way to provide that information. You don’t have to convince Ian, those paying attention to the discussion can work out who is making the quality argument. But convincing Ian would certainly be a breakthrough.

Maintaining open lines of communication with decent and rational opponents like Ian is really important. Its like maintaining diplomatic relationships between hostile nations. Maybe we should establish an embassy within the ACF.


Iread through the Bayless piece and it s interesting and informative.

I especially enjoyed the discussion on LOLP, on plant proximity/factors affecting all plants, and on the importance of fuel grades in the operation of gas turbine plants. This was a strength of the paper from my POV. I didn’t realise that gas turbines could accept a variety of gas inputs and that tuning the turbines was needed.

The factors affecting ramp rates were informative.

Some caveats though:

1. Though it doesn’t bear upon the matter, Bayless takes an altogether too rosy view of the potential of CC&S

2. The discussion on “inertia” and “frequency” seemed to be very important to the case for baseload and yet wasn’t developed clearly enough to take it on board, much less confidently explain it to others. I believe I grasped the general point about system responses to plants going offline in an unscheduled way, but I’d like a better technical explanation before I’d argue it myself.

3. I am not sure that Bayless well enough explained why resources like wind tend to displace gas rather than coal and the economic implications of that or the flow on to lower capacity factor allowances for gas plants (to provide for system stability and reliability).


I wonder if Climate Spectator or the ABC should link the Bayless article. The appeal to CCS is a bit troubling. Perhaps Bayless thinks IGCC plants should be built ‘capture ready’. Another issue is that of gas longevity with Australia, the US and not many other countries having assured mid term supplies. What happens when gas is gone or prohibitive?

Some might equate the term ‘inertia’ with inflexibility. Maybe terms like ‘momentum’ , ‘smoothing’ or ‘underpinning’ are better.


Barry – did you really think you would get a positive gig from the age/herald. They have moved off into a parallel universe where the Green agenda is god, regardless of the strength of alternate arguments or their worth to Australia.


Fran, I would emphatically disagree that wind generation displaces gas. It might, in an already gas-generation dependent system, reduce some gas usage initially, but what it will typically do is entrench low-efficiency gas. The fast response of open-cycle turbines will be ever more required to counter the fluctiuations of wind as the wind proportion rises.

It’s vital to look at whole-system solutions and pouring a lot of effort into wind now that will reduce the ability to get off carbon combustion later is a poor bargain.


Heads up at Crikey:

Nuclear debate will end, again, not with a bang but a phut

Mungo MacCallum retails the usual anti-nuke points: the waste problem; nobody wants to live near a plant, proliferation, slow build times so not a quick solution;

Joffan Said:

Fran, I would emphatically disagree that wind generation displaces gas.

I found that odd too, but this was stated in relation to the pattern in the US, as an argument about why the net mitigation is lower. Gas was the most costly source and thus first displaced. Bayless’s argument was that this meant lower CF of gas plants and thus a constraint on an investment in a technology needed to load balance the system.


remember though in denmark the increase in wind generation and coal reduction (23 % in both cases) canceled out while gas consumption increased by 124 %.

I forget the time span for the stats. 20 years or so.



“remember though in denmark the increase in wind generation and coal reduction (23 % in both cases) canceled out while gas consumption increased by 124 %.”

Interesting. Do you have a reference for those figures?


Fran – I was very impressed by your responses to Mungo’s Crikey article. I really feel we are getting somewhere with the public perception of nuclear power – thanks to people like you and others on BNC.


Luke – Wow – I didn’t check the prices before I posted the link. I don’t think many ordinary folks will be going to the “GreenCities” conference. I guess it is one way to keep out the plebs and riff raff :)


Fran, did you notice Mills’ two little tricks:

First he divides his generation worldinto two categories – flexible and inflexible – whereas there should be at least three: responsive, predictable and unpredictable, with the option of a fourth at least, semi-predictable, and probably more.

Then he walls off the pricing of the two categories, despite the fact that the division between predictable and unpredictable power will have a massive effect on the amount of responsive power required.


The debate at the hotel in Melbourne “The Monthly Argument” is now available. The full version and an edited one is on this site.


Hi Prof Barry,
(If we are going to use the title “Prof” for Ian Lowe, then let me remind us all that you hold the same title.)
In that reply here you have Prof Lowe quoted as saying: “In some locations, wind power is sufficiently reliable to be considered as a source of baseload power.” Could you ask him (I couldn’t find an email address for him when I last tried), to reference the source of this information? My own analysis of windfarm performance on the eastern Australian grid (using published AEMO 5-minute data), covering several years, shows that wind here is a complete fizzer for baseload. Indeed, there are times when the output of the entire wind fleet is zero, and it is clear from an examination of the meteorological conditions at the time that it wouldn’t matter how many windfarms were present in the region. Note that the EA grid is the most geographically dispersed single interconnected grid in the world. It seems to me that coupled with the limited data available from other regions, the EA grid must be regarded as providinga source of benchmark studies. Wind providing for the baseload? To my mind the case has yet to be made.


I’ve been reading through the discussion and I am surprised by the lack of concern for the effect of mining both coal and uranium on the people and environments in the mine locations. The international community strongly condemns China’s human rights abuses, and yet the Australian government is about to commit the same abuses towards Aboriginal people in the Kimberley by introducing coal and uranium mining along the Mardoowarra-Fitzroy River name of business. This is serious business for us folk who live in the area. The hard scientific evidence clearly links cancer, lung and skin conditions to mining in the Hunter Valley NSW. Furthermore ‘real’ science acknowledges the mining processes for both coal and uranium does destroy the land and water in the region mined. My concern is in regards to why Australian governments are exposing Australians to disease, early death and destruction of ecosystems for the benefit others mostly non-Australians. Australia needs to move past its’ colonial period and stop killing Aboriginal people, their land and culture and start taking a more responsible approach to northern development. All you big experts have done a great job of stuffing up the south east and west corners of our country. Maybe you should apply some of your scholarly genius to fixing up your southern mess before you start destroying the rest of the country. It is time to rethink this issue but think about the values and ethics you hold so high in relation to criticising immerging and totalitarian nations as you mob commit the same human rights abuses to my mob.


Perdrisat, I certainly agree with you in wanting to minimize the ecological, health and other adverse effects of mining.

The most effective way to do this within the energy sector is to derive our energy from uranium rather than coal, which would deliver the same power for one tenth the mined material (see Finrod’s link). The campaign for nuclear power is the single most important environmental issue in Australia today.


Hey Finrod and John M, Thanks for your responses however I am not on any high horse, I am in fact going to be in direct contact with uranium exposure if uranium mining is allowed to go ahead in the west Kimberley. It is easy to philosophise about the benefits and risks of the various options from your distance however I see whole communities of families that are going to be placed at risk. Remember we are not talking about Australia’s’ energy security, we are talking about exposing Australian citizens to a toxic environment for selling uranium and coal overseas to make a corporate profit. Isn’t there some sort of ethical principle that would question the values of a nation that kills some citizens so that overseas interests can prosper? Sorry but I do not accept the view that any uranium mine is safe. Yes I have looked at the technology and the science is clear, the uranium mining proposed for the west Kimberley will poison the aquifers and the dust will poison the country, people, plants and animals. Once again thank you for your views as the mining epidemic we are experiencing does require candid discussion from a wide range of perspectives to balance the ideological promotion of ‘best practice science’ which is really a thinly veiled push for economic exploitation. I would welcome a debate with anyone who thinks their life is worth more than any other Australians. No I am not on any high horse, the threat of uranium and coal presents a direct threat to the lives of people in the west Kimberley and nobody has a right to do that.


Perdrisat: you may not think this about energy security, but the bulk of the commenters here feel that Australia can achieve complete energy independence with nuclear power. So that’s an argument you can’t brush aside so easily.

Uranium mining, like any mining, needs to be regulated, and it is pretty well regulated in Australia. Your allegation of “clear science” that shows widespread harm needs sourcing, because it appears to be merely hysteria from my viewpoint, which doesn’t help any discussion. Remember that speculation and third-hand stories are not evidence.


I share your worries about economic exploitation (others here view this worry with disdain, as itself a figleaf for totalitarian control).

I don’t share your worries about uranium mining unless you explain what you mean by “poison.”

what sort of body burden will people have to bear from the mines? what’ you’ve written is vague and it is my experience that people on the left who write about radiation unfortunately almost never know what they’re talking about. they holler about the infinite half life of u 238 as if this is a problem. how much u dust are you talking about that would end up in people’s lungs? whatever it is (and my guess is it’s truly insignificant and if not, can be remedied), is it a cost worth bearing given the alternatives? (on radiation, take a look at the recent exchange between myself and the much more knowledgeable DV on Open Thread 7)

when you complain about toxicity from uranium mining, are you comparing it to the toxicity involved in RE mining? or are you just assuming that anything connected to wind and solar is fresh and clean and wholesome?

if the mines of whatever sort are well ventilated, are the workers still in danger?

be careful when you view “best practice science” as merely a mask for economic exploitation. this view can often turn into a rejection of science, and thus of rational explanation.

let’s face it. given the economic system we live under, from a leftist point of view, all the alternatives are exploitative. all energy production is dominated by corporations. RE all told would be much worse for people than nuclear. but both would be corporate.

I don’t expect that sentence to convince you. but study the material on this website and see what happens.

questions for fin. when we claim that RE mines 10 times the material of current nuclear, is this per actually generated electricity or nameplate? don’t remember if Mackay answers this or not.

also, while radon is associated with uranium mines, is radon production insignificant for mining in general?


Someone who Im assume is Perdrisat has left a comment on the U mining thread on my blog. Here is that comment and my reply:

Ian: Thanks Finrod for referring me to your blog, however I maintain my view that there needs to be far more discussion regarding uranium mining, use and disposal because there are human beings and many other things living on country that will be seriously negatively impacted on from uranium mining in the west Kimberley and that is worthy of consideration, particularly given many of these people that will be affected will be traditional owners who have lived there for countless generations and receive absolutely none of the benefits of the profit or the power, only waste land.

Finrod: Sorry Ian, I can’t let you get away with that comment unchallenged. Please provide some credible backup for your comment with references or links. My reading and research into the field suggest you have vastly exaggerated the dangers locals would face from uranium mining.

It is true that some native American employees of uranium mines in the US in the fifties were exposed to high radon levels in underground uranium mines which later correlated to high incidents of small-cell carcinoma lung cancer, but this is no longer considered an issue given modern mining practices.

The notion that uranium-rich dust from these mines presents any great health risk is not supported by the scientific evidence. Dust is dust, and uranium is not particularly radioactive, so it’s difficult to see how it could have any health effects at all beyond those posed by regular dust. Frankly, U-rich dust is already blown around the desert after being eroded from surface deposits, so it’s not as if this is anything new for the outback.


questions for fin. when we claim that RE mines 10 times the material of current nuclear, is this per actually generated electricity or nameplate? don’t remember if Mackay answers this or not.

When I calculated the figures for the examples in my essay I incorporated capacity factors for each source into them, so it’s ectual electricity generated. As Joffan pointed out in the comments thread, I was probably overly harch on nuclear power in this regard because I used the figure for the total material needed to by mined from lowest grade ore currently used (300 ppm from the Rossing mine) when calculating nuclear’s mining footprint rather than just using the mass of the uranium finally extracted and shipped off, do it could be argued that nuclear’d impact is actually far lower than I’ve made out.

also, while radon is associated with uranium mines, is radon production insignificant for mining in general?

No. Radon is often an issue in many sorts of mines, especially coal, which often has an elevated U concentration. Proper ventalation to cut radon in any underground mining operation is considered essential these days.


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