Open Thread

Open Thread 15

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Note: This is a new general Open Thread. However, two more specific Open Threads are also still available: (i) if you wish to make a philosophical comment on the Fukushima Nuclear crisis, go here; (ii) for technical comments on the Fukushima situation, go here. Every other non-post-specific comment can go below. For reference, the last general open thread (from 20 February 2011) was here.

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.

195 replies on “Open Thread 15”


I know you don’t really do the whole AGW vs Skeptics thing any more, but just wondering what your thoughts are on the current popular/political debate in Australia. My assumption, possibly false, is that you probably are not too fussed if the carbon tax does not get up, but do you have concerns regarding the shifts in public opinion to out and out skepticism and the distinct possibility of an election essentially based on climate skepticism/denial?




There are two things to consider with the seals.

The pressure, which is constant, should be keept low by a good diameter/height ration.
Don`t know about the GPM idea but the pressure on the granite block seal is around 200bar.

200bar is your typical hydraulic system and a rather low pressure for industrial sealing.

They are working with multiple industies and science institutions developing the granite storage…
Fraunhoferinstitut UMSICHT KIT Geologie Karlsruhe, Freudenberger Dichtungen (industrial seals), WDiamant Seilsägen Verband Deutscher Schleifmittelwerke (ropecutting equiptment)
tunnel, drilling and mining companys,….
thats not the project of one weired scientist….actually there is nothing involved that has not been done yet on other projects even on a bigger scale (a longer ring shaped tunnel at CERN down 100m.

The second important point is the speed it is moving along the wall.
The slower it is moving, the easier to seal.
You can calculate that for the GPM.
Granite Block again anywhere between 0 to 5mm/s, normaly around 1mm/s.
That again is easy to seal.

Some things can help:
Multiple, pressure distributing (get it down to 10bar each) seals.
A viscouse top fluid atop the water.

The idea on the granite block storage are multiple, teflon coated flaps pressed against the Wall by the fluid below.

You can see that on slide #29 and #30.

The walls are not round….the granite block is a polygone with flat faces.

The bouys seem to be very small with each rated at 150kw?


@ Stephanie. Please provide references to your idea. Cost, materials requirement, and the 2-7 day storage requirement. I would like to know also how you’re going to pressurize the water to lift billions of tonnes of rock. You are talking about a 100 billion ton piece of rock. Pie in the sky, pie in the ground.

Take a look at this:

>7 day low wind periods happen. Are you going to burn fossil fuel then?

Solar is also intermittent. Total PV output of Germany:

We don’t all live in the desert. We have to talk global, and we have to talk phaseout of dangerous coal. I can’t make wind+solar work when I look at the real data and the real global energy challenge and looking at how we’re going to get rid of deadly coal the fastest.


Here is the Frauenhofer studie I was refering to.

Click to access 2009-007_Storage_and_Transport_Capacities.pdf

It`s actually a polygon in the ground.

We do not need the desert for a 60/40 wind/solar mix.
There is still a fair share of hydro in Europe on top of that 100% wind/solar scenario.
It does not include other renewables and the frances nuclear fleet which will not be phased out any time soon. It does not include further advances in solar and wind technology (…kitegen, makani power).
It is the post fossile/nuclear energy solution.

It does not help to claim anything on basis of some blog links. Please provide reference to your 600h storage claim.
Frauenhofer scientists in contrast can make wind/solar work when they look at the real data.


@John Newlands 18April, 8.34pm

Not sure why sea water pumped hydro would be built distant from present grid connections, when large reservoirs already exist with good grid connections to Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide. Upgrading the Murray Link could accommodate all of the wind power planned for SA.


@CyrilR,20April 5.01pm.
Solar PV in Germany presently producing 12GW. I am surprised that it is that large for April, about 65% maximum capacity.


@ Neil:

Seawater in the desert avoids messing up more freshwater rivers and all the conservation concerns that raises.

I understood the rationale behind this beast was that it would make use of much of the S.A. solar stuff planned for the desert there and STORE it in a battery that could run the whole of Australia for 10 hours.

That’s a lot of stored energy! It also seems to be one of those projects trying to cash in on the efficiency of scale. You might have a certain cost per unit of battery energy sold to the market from your freshwater river, these guys are trying to deliver a lower cost per unit without stuffing up yet another river.

And how many rivers do we have that could supply significant hydro anyway?


@ Neil Howes, German solar panels produce up to 80% of their rated capacity at peak in summer, but that’s a misleading statement. Its at peak only for an hour or less, if you look at the actual generation per hour and add that up, you get around 100 GWh for yesterday (today is not yet full but looks like similar to yesterday, a sunny spring day). Theoretical production from that 17.3 GWe is 24×17.3=415,2. Thus the capacity factor for yesterday is around 24%. On a dull winter day you get around 1 or 2%. On some winter days there is snow on the panels, resulting in zero output. Please be sure to check those winter days as well. On average throughout the year, the German solar PV fleet does about 11% capacity factor.

Energy that is not there for 89%. I’m flabbergasted how anyone thinks that running a modern industrialised country on highly intermittent energy that is not there 89% of the time is a good idea. The German solar PV idea is inherently flawed even if the panels get really cheap.

We discussed this on and things were even worse than I thought previously:


Capacity factor is a useful number when comparing one generating station to another of the same technology. And I think that one could argue a nuclear plant has only a 30% capacity factor if we look at the energy from the fuel that actually is converted to electricity. Taking the percentage of energy from the sun that is converted into electricity by a PV plant and making a point that the resulting 10 or 20% is “intermittent” or such a number is inadequate and not a relevant comparison. A low capacity factor that is from a cost effective energy source is just fine, so it is all in the economics, not the capacity factor. This debate frequently come sup when comparing low cost inefficient PV to high cost highly efficiency PV. PV of course does not yet meet the cost effectiveness required when compared to coal fired generation. A load duration curve and solar availability relative to the load duration curve is a more useful number, especially in sunny climates. In terms of land area required for PV, all the world’s nuclear output is about 2800 TWh/year (2008 data), a PV farm of about 150 km x 150 km in a moderate solar climate would produce all the world’s production of nuclear electricity (modeled in Retscreen with present commercially available modules), and of course it would be intermittent, so of course on its own could not replace the nuclear station, some sort of storage, costing money, would be required. Cost is another issue of course, but to rule out PV is to exercise the same close mindedness of ruling out nuclear without a fact based argument.


Steve lapp, no that is efficiency and not important in this discussion. A solar panel has an efficiency of much less than 30 percent but is also not important in this discussion.

What is important is when is your energy there. If it is not there 89% (solar PV in Germany) you have a big problem, even if your solar PV stations are cheap. Energy storage is not cheap. Fossil fuel backup is cheap. This makes cheap PV in not very sunny countries a nice way to lock yourself into fossil fuels indefinately.

These are fact based arguments. Energy that is not there 89% of the time. What more can I say?

PV enthusiasts often make the mistake of confusing total kWh potential of solar with the time it is actually generated. This is the strange paradox with solar power: it is abundant in total resource potential, but is not there 80 to 90 percent of the time depending on how sunny your location is.

Cost is overruling. When considering transport to your work for example, a helicopter might look effective. But when cost comes into play that helicopter is no longer on the list of practical options.


Very brief analysis and cost estimate for
“Ring-wall” Storage:

Diameter of upper lake: 11.4 km

A1 = pi * r1^2 = 102 km^2

Level of surface of upper lake? Let’s say h1t =
0.4 km. Level of bottom of upper lake? Let’s say
h1b = 0.3 km

Volume of water in upper lake: V1 = (h1t-h1b) * A1
= 12.2 km^3. Mass of water in the upper lake =
1.224 x 10^10 kg

Altitude of surface of lower lake? Let’s say h2b =
0.020 km.

What’s the potential energy released from the
water in the upper lake if all of it is
transferred to the lower lake? We need a bit more
info …

Let’s suppose that the area of the lower lake, A2,
is 100 times the area of the upper lake. Then if
we entirely empty the upper lake into the lower
lake, it’ll raise the surface level of the lower
lake by 1m.

That seems possible to deal with as long as the
emptying happens reasonably slowly.

Let’s hope there will never be a catastrophic
failure of the 400m high ring-wall!!

A2 = 10200 km^2

Wow! It seems like a pretty large footprint.

We’ld have: r2 = (10200/pi + 5.7^2 km^2)^1/2

Or r2 = 57.3 km, and the circumference of the
lower lake would need to be C2=360 km.

After the water was transferred to the bottom
lake, the level would be: h2t = h2b + 1m = 0.021

Let’s assume that all of the pumping and
generating is done at 100% efficiency, in order to
be kind. Then the energy we can get back from the
water will be just the gravitational potential
energy difference between the situation where the
upper lake is full, and that when it is empty and
all the water is in the lower lake.

The potential energy difference is then given by:

V1 – V2 = rho * g * (A1 * (h1t-h1b)(h1t+h1b)/2 –
A2 * (h2t – h2b)(h2t +h2b)/2) = 1000
kg/m^3 * 9.8 m/s^2 (3.57×10^12 m^4 –
2.091×10^11 m^4) = 3.29×10^16 J = 9138 GWh

If instead A2 = 1020 km^2 we could make do with r2
= 18.9 km and a circumference of C2 = 119 km, but
we’ld need a 10m embankment.

V1 – V2 = 3.25 x 10^16 J = 9026 GWh

If we take A1 = A2 =102 km^2, we could make do
with r2 = 8.1 km and C2 = 50 km. But it seems
we’ll need to build a 100 m high embankment at the
edge of the lower lake.

V1 – V2 = 2.80 x 10^16 J = 7777 GWh

Or we could reduce the depth of the upper
reservoir by one tenth and make do with a 10 m
embankment in which case our stored energy is
reduced by about a factor of 10.

V1 – V2 = 1027 GWh

That’s a pretty big hit to the performance, but
the prospect of building a 100 m embankment 50 km
long makes me a little bit nervous. The scale of
such a construction project is greater than the
scale of the Three Gorges Dam. Anyway, 1027 GWh
seems like a pretty respectable amount of energy
to store. It certainly seems sensible to minimize
the area footprint of such “Ring-Wall” storage
systems, to the maximum extent possible. Land does
cost money, after all.

But it would yield 1000 GWh of storage. How does
that compare to Germany’s anhual electricity use?

The total in 2011 is projected to be 547 GWh; So
that’s pretty good. Once we fill the upper lake
there will be enough energy to provide hydropower
for almost two years!

For comparison: the Three Gorges Dam in China, the
largest comparable construction project in the
history of the world that I can think of, and the
only one I can think of that’s comparable in scale to
such a “Ring-wall”, is 181 m high and 2335 m
long. It’s 40 m wide at the top and 150 m wide at
the bottom, which amounts to an approximate volume
of 3.2×10^6 m^3 for the whole dam. This project is
being completed right now (construction began in
1994) at an estimated overall cost of US $26

Suppose that the cost of construction would scale
with the volume of the structure (possibly not a
very good assumption).

Then assuming that the embankment and the central
ringwall are each isoceles right triangles, the
volume of the 10m embankment would be 2.5 x 10^ 6
m^3, and the volume of the 400m ringwall would be
2.87×10^9 m^3.

That would amount to US $13 Billion for the outer
embankment and US $23 trillion for the

That’s a pretty penny!

And how does this compare to Germany’s GDP?

In 2010 it appears that the nominal number was US
$3.3 Trillion.

I sure hope that either I’ve made a serious error
here, or that I’m very wrong about the cost of
such a project scaling as its volume … because
at this sort of cost, it is just not going to
be practical.



Your points have been adressed in the link I included. You should have tried to autotranslate ist before writing your part.

Maybe you can try to autotranslate this page online to understand more of it. Its the EIKE critique and answers and corrections to the questions raised and errors made.
It does include your objections in comparison with the 3 gorges dam and includes corrections on your cost estimates, storage capacity and building efforts.

Although I still stand behind the “ringwall storage idea” I figure the granite block storage is the more practicable idea.


Interesting, so that’s $ 20000 per kWh of storage capacity. Sounds too high. I’ve seen energy islands in the sea (reverse pumped hydro) that are an order of magnitude cheaper. Underground pumped hydro @ $2/Watt for 6 hours, or $ 333 per kWh. Capacity related cost probably in the 100-200 per kWh range.

However, there is a problem. Germany doesn’t use 547 GWh, it uses 547 THOUSAND GWh. Five hundred billion kilowatthours.

Storing 10000 GWh (about 1 week of average power in Germany) with an optimistic $ 100 per kWh energy storage at very optimistic 100% efficiency would cost 1 trillion dollars. Solar panels and wind turbines not included ladies and gentlemen.

OR they could spend one quarter of that on new nuclear plants and have electricity to spare for their electric cars and heat pumps. Almost no need for energy storage.


The Nurek Dam is 300m high and thus the highest dam in the world. Furthermore because of earth quake dangers its core is made of earth and clay.
The comparison with the 3 Gorges dam is not very helpfull in that respect.

The area occupied by the ringwall storage is about 100km², like the big German brown coal pits but only a fraction of the earth moved in brown coal mining would be needed for the ringwall.

I am not translating everything now, I am not doing well at this task anyways…please contact Matthias Popp if you are interested. Maybe he is up to the challange and can write an English peace about his idea for BNC readers.


Your numbers are completly off.

The highest volume dam up to date is Syncrude Tailings with 0,54km². This dam is built with the overburde from oilsands mining…the dam is 18km long and used as a reservoir in oil sands mining.
The ring wall storage would be 1.4 times the volume.
I guess Syncrude Tailings did not cost 666 Phantazillions of C$.

Please get seriouse in your critics. Its amusing to read your prosa but thats about it…


The ringwall proposed would store 0.7TWh and would be rated at 22GWe.

I still prefere the idea of the granite storage.

11,5TWH would power the Germany for the needed 7 days.


Cyril, Oops! Yes, I see, you’re right about that. I read the number wrong. I should have known that 547GWh was way too small, just one or two NPPS. g


@ David Kahana re: the wring wall storage?

What’s your background? The paper I quoted the costs from said something like $2 billion?
(I don’t have time to check that again, just from memory).


With cliff top tanks the lower reservoir is the sea. There are no concentric rings. The depth of the upper tank is just 20 metres reinforced by the outer earth bank but the cliff needs to be 100m or so in height. The water is not recycled other than through inadvertent mixing.


stephanie, on 21 April 2011 at 6:13 AM said:

The ringwall proposed would store 0.7TWh and would be rated at 22GWe.

Excellent, thanks for that, Stephanie.

So the energy storage would be roughly equivalent to the case I considered with A1=A2=102 km^2 with a 100m lake at the top and a diameter of 11.4 km (7777 GWh). No major disagreement there.

If rated at 22GWe with 50% efficiency it would be exhausted in 0.5*318 hrs or 6.5 days. Close enough.

11.5 TWh for 7 days also sounds about right if
electricity consumption is 547 TWh.

So we agree on basic orders of magnitude.

You’ll need 17 of these Ring-walls, though,
to store 7 days of total consumption.

Having a footprint of 204km^2 x 17 = 3468 km^2.

stephanie, on 21 April 2011 at 5:36 AM said:


Your points have been adressed in the link I included. You should have tried to autotranslate ist before writing your part.

I don’t need to autotranslate since I can read a little German. But it’s slow with technical language.

I actually read most of his presentation
but not any of the commentary. Possibly my criticisms were answered there. I’ll look into it later and see whether I agree that it’s so.

I think it would be great to see an article from Matthias Popp on this blog. I have no objections
to the principle he presents, but as I indicated, possibly little understanding of the costs.

To me these would seem to be:

(1) Land.
(2) Construction.
(3) Pumps.
(4) Hydroelectric generators.

(5) Wind turbines for what was it? 40%
of Germany’s electricity.
(6) Transmission lines.

I’ld love to see it all costed out.

Three Gorges dam will produce about 22GWe,
I think. Interestingly, about the same as on Ring-wall.

Eclipse Now, on 21 April 2011 at 8:51 AM said:

@ David Kahana re: the wring wall storage?

What’s your background?

I’m a theoretical physicist for 25 years now.

What’s yours?


It is strange that people love to spruik, often in great detail, these grand new multi-GWh (or even TWh) energy-storage systems that are going to solve all the world’s backup and peaking demands, without first demonstrating their cost or feasibility on the MWh level.


So the energy storage would be roughly equivalent to the case I considered with A1=A2=102 km^2 with a 100m lake at the top and a diameter of 11.4 km (7777 GWh). No major disagreement there.

Sorry, that’s wrong by a factor of 10: 7777GWh is 7.7TWh. 0.7Twh is closer to the case I considered with a 10m deep upper lake.

22GWe would exhaust 0.7TWh storage in 31.8 hours, at 100% efficiency, so that doesn’t seem to get you to 7 days. I think the lake had better be a bit deeper.


John Newlands said:

With cliff top tanks the lower reservoir is the sea. There are no concentric rings. The depth of the upper tank is just 20 metres reinforced by the outer earth bank but the cliff needs to be 100m or so in height. The water is not recycled other than through inadvertent mixing.

This sounds more sensible: taking advantage of natural topography where it exists rather than building small mountains in lowlands in order to situate lakes up in the air. There would be no worries about evaporation versus rainfall either. Perhaps, depending on cost, it could find a niche in the right places.


Stephanie, if you are serious yourself you should provide cost numbers by engineering firms to show your suggested idea is affordable. Also, let’s see how much land, concrete, and steel are required for 1 week of Germany’s electric output storage.

It is amusing to be said by someone that numbers are completely off and then to see no rebuttal or even numbers at all in defense.

I am a mechanical engineer by profession. I can tell early on by standard go/no go project decision whether something makes sense. A week of energy storage does not make sense for Germany. There is not enough pumped hydro capacity. You need alternative pumped hydro schemes which are all heavily engineered. These schemes were looked at decades ago by various engineering firms, and it was concluded it wasn’t remotely economical.


I am not going to translate everything written about the idea in German.

If you are serious and interested please contact Dr.-Ing. Matthias Popp who runs an engeneering firm himself.
You can also buy his book/dissertation and have it translated by someone.
You can contact him in person and tell him that he is completly off in your opinion.
You would be adviced to view his writtings in advance though.

You still did not provide any evidence for the 600h storage needs you suggested.

Germanys pumped hydro capacity is 0.6TWh.
The gas grid is another potential storage already explored by windgas pioneers.
The german gas grit has a capacity of 514TWh and multiple times transport capacity compared to the e-grit.
The gas mix in Germany can contain 5% hydrogene and 100% methan.

You are also ignoring politics. There is no going back to nuclear energy. There is the KIKK study which concludes leukemia clusters around nuclear power stations. The social economic impact of NPPs is negativ. The people are feed up with the industry and the shortcomings in waste management and storage. The next governemnt will include the green party again and the phase out will be continued even faster.
There is a broad consensu against nuclear power in Germany if you like it or not.
You can still try to argue against it or call them names, it really does not matter in the big picture.

The next decades will show which way was the better idea.

I would also be interested in an article and BNC critique with Prof. Dr. Eduard Heindl.


Some of you folks may interested in the article on ABC The Drum :

The base-load myth, by …. Mark Diesendorf :

Its up to 74 comments already! Lots of people agreeing with him… as well as plenty of people who don’t, and of course, its only a matter of time … someone pulls out the BZE solar baseload is here and now prattle.


“600 h storage requirement”

Just look at German wind output referenced several times here. Two weeks very low wind conditions happen a lot. Also see this study on large scale wind power in the USA:

Click to access 65.Decarolis.2006.EconomicsOfWind.e.pdf

At least 550 hours storage is required for fossil backup to be eliminated. (of course normal CAES is run with loads of natural gas so isn’t that useful for eliminating natural gas).

“leukemia clusters around nuclear plants”

Small wonder, most nuclear plants are close to industry and coal plants. Lots of carcinogens (coal plants even emit more radioactive particles than nuclear plants, because of the uranium and thorium in the coal).

There are clusters of crime around places with many churches. The more churches, the more crime.

One needs to realise that it is not the churches that cause the crime, it is the size of the city that increases crime rates, and bigger cities tend to have more churches.

“Germany’s pumped hydro capacity is 0.6 TWh”

A long way from the 10 TWh it needs.

This is called a spurious correlation.

“The german gas grit has a capacity of 514TWh and multiple times transport capacity compared to the e-grit.”

Like I said, you burn fossil. Not enough pumped hydro, but plenty of fossil fuel available. What a coincidence! Its a fossil fuel lock in. Thanks for confirming this with numbers Stephanie.

While the next decades show which is the better idea, millions will continue to die of fossil pollution of various sorts, while nothing much certain happens for reducing GHG emissions.

Is this your idea of a robust energy policy?


Well. The KIKK studie was conducted by the german government and the data is evident for a radius of 40km around nuclear plants.
You will have to deal with that or at least the german government has to deal with the findings.
You can keep denying against scientific evidence if you like but maybe you should review the data first.
You seem to be clueless about the situation in Germany.

The gas grid is a storage for biogas and synthetic gas (“wind/solar”-gas and hydrogen).


Cyril points out that Germany doesn’t have nearly the storage capacity (nearly a months worth seems to be his target) to provide uninterrupted electrical service with wind, asserts that fossil fuels will be used to bridge the gap, reminds us of the evils of fossil fuels, and concludes with the question “Is this your idea of a robust energy policy?”.

Talk about rhetorical questions. For a rhetorical answer one would have to say “no”.

The implicit assumption Cyril makes is that since wind won’t replace 100% of fossil fuel consumption that nuclear plants are the answer.

If we’re going to ask rhetorical questions, one might include with something like this:

“Is it a rational energy policy to spend a trillion dollars building nukes to eliminate the last 5% of fossil fuel consumption for electrical production?”.

Cyril, it’s not an either-or proposition. A policy of conservation (negawatts are really inexpensive), some storage, and geographical diversity, can allow Germany (or most other countries) to eliminate the vast majority of fossil fuel consumption.

If the purpose of this site is to preserve the climate then we ought to be pursuing the most immediate, cost effective solutions to reducing CO2 even if it’s not a 100% solution. If the purpose is to promote nuclear energy whether or not it meets that mission then please carry on as you were.


5%, not a chance, The Decarolis and Keith study shows you can’t get over 70% or so (asymptotic behaviour) even with good wind resource and geographic spreading, and even then it at least doubles the cost of wind due to mismatch etc.

Conservation is good but as pointed out seperate from the supply discussion; you get to reduce the demand but not eliminate it. Look at how global demand is growing.

Its not just about Germany anymore. Its about how to phase out fossil world-wide. With a quadrupling of energy use even with the most aggressive energy conservation this century, a 25% residual fossil fuel share is unacceptable, as fossil fuel use would be similar to today.

It is hard enough with nuclear power. It is an either or proposition in the sense that you can only spend your money once. Spend it on expensive unreliable mostly unavailable fossil fuel locking wind and solar, and you get less solution than spending it on nuclear.

I used to be more optimistic about solar and wind’s role, but now that we’ve got good, real performance data, its clearly a giant misallocation of precious resources.

The questions are not rhetorical or academic. Real people are dying because of widespread radiophobia and the unwillingness to assess energy sources on realisitic, pragmatic basis, comparing real energy demand profiles with real wind/solar/nuclear output we see that only the latter can get us to that 90+ percent (especially with nighttime charging of electric vehicles, nuclear matches this the best of all sources).


Stephanie, you will also have to deal with the statistical fact of spurious correlations. Clearly you have not read my previous posts very well.

Please try to comprehend the situation better. Statistics isn’t hard, but can be misleading.


From Das Bundesamt für Strahlenschutz

The study found that there is a significantly increased risk for children unter five years of age to contract cancer and leukaemia the nearer they live to 16 sites of the 22 nuclear power plants results from the study itself. According to today´s radio-biological knowledge the increase in risk determined in the study cannot be explained through the emissions from the nuclear power plants. The additional radiation exposure of the population required for this explanation would have to be about 1,000 to 10,000 times higher than it has been observed…The study thus provides indications for possible causes for the increased number of cancer incidences around certain nuclear power plant sites but cannot furnish proof in terms of a causality.

This is hardly strong proof, and is not backed up by similar studies done in Canada and France.


A quick look at nuclear plant locations in Germany:

reveals that most of the plant are in the south. As it just so happens, this is also where Gemany’s industrial production is from:

Makes sense that you find lots of cancers from heavy industry areas. Makes sense that the nuclear plants are there because heavy industries need cheap reliable energy.

An example of an industrial and transport related pollutant that causes leukemia is benzene. Very nasty stuff, here is what Wikipedia has to say:

“Benzene was historically found as a significant component in many consumer products such as Liquid Wrench, several paint strippers, rubber cements, spot removers and other hydrocarbon-containing products. Some ceased manufacture of their benzene-containing formulations in about 1950, while others continued to use benzene as a component or significant contaminant until the late 1970s when leukemia deaths were found associated with Goodyear’s Pliofilm production operations in Ohio. Until the late 1970s, many hardware stores, paint stores, and other retail outlets sold benzene in small cans, such as quart size, for general-purpose use. Many students were exposed to benzene in school and university courses while performing laboratory experiments with little or no ventilation in many cases. This very dangerous practice has been almost totally eliminated.”

Clearly the suggestion that nuclear plants cause leukemia is a very unscientific one.


As Cyril R and others pointed out, pumped hydro storage is hardly a new or a
radical idea. In fact, it’s a mature technology. The US, for example, has
about 2.5% of it’s total electrical generating capacity in the form of
pumped hydro, or about 21 GW.

Interestingly, most pumped storage in the US was built during the two decades
from 1960-1980, and this construction was mostly done in association with the
construction of nuclear power stations.

It was done for the purpose of balancing base load generation relative to peak
and off-peak consumption. For this purpose, the storage time scale required is
not very long: on the order of several hours to a day. Associating a pumped
hydro facility with a nuclear power plant can improve the overall capacity
factor, since nuclear power plants tend to be either 100% on or 100%
off. Pumped hydro storage is a rational, if a high capital cost, solution, to
the very real problem of maintaining a stable electrical grid.

Much newer state of the art pumped hydro systems have been installed and are
currently employed in the EU (amounting to 5% of total generating capacity)
and in Japan (amounting to 10% of total generating capacity) and these systems
are far advanced over those installed in the US.

I can’t speak to the costs in Japan or in Europe.

An example of a more recently constructed pumped hydro plant in the US is the
Bath County pumped storage station, located in Bath County Virginia. This
plant is built on the eastern continental divide: which means that it makes
use of the naturally constructed Allegheny mountain range, so it didn’t
require the construction of an artificial mountain

The plant has two reservoirs; the head between the upper and the lower
reservoir is 380m. The upper reservoir has a surface area of 265 acres (1.07
km^2), and the lower reservoir has an area of 555 acres (2.25 km^2). In
operation the water level drops 30m in the upper reservoir and rises 20m in
the lower reservoir. From those numbers, we can estimate the total energy
storage: 1.28 x 10^14 J, or 35.5 GWh. With the generating capacity having been
upgraded to 2.772 GWe in 2005 and assuming an efficiency of 80% (such a number
is possible for pumped hydro) that’s enough storage to run the plant for 10.25

Other pumped hydro plants no doubt have differing storage capacities, but if
they resemble Bath County in scale, then a reasonable quick estimate for the
total pumped hydro storage in the US would be 21/2.772 * 35.5 GWh or about 0.3
TWh. This should be compared with annual US electrity consumption on the order
of 4000 Twh (2009). That is: we have enough pumped hydro installed to store
about 40 minutes worth of total US electricity consumption. And that came at a
cost of probably something like US $20 Billion in 1960-1980 averaged dollars.

The original cost of construction of the Bath County facility was US $1.6
Billion when the plant went on line in 1985. Inflation since 1985 is about a
factor of 2, based on the CPI. So an amount of pumped hydro storage sufficient
to hold the total US electricity consumption for 10 hours would be 4 TWh and
it might be expected today to cost the nation $40 Billion * 4 / 0.3 = $533
Billion, or about 4% of US GDP.

I consider such numbers to be very unforgiving to the notion, as much as I
would like to see that happen, that unstable energy sources such as solar and
wind will be able to provide large fractions of the absolutely astronomical
and continuous US electrical demands any time soon. Certainly not at current
usage levels and with the current growth in population (about 1% per year).

Pumped hydro storage doesn’t work on unobtanium, it is quite real, and it has
its place. But it can’t avoid the laws of thermodynamics: it is a net energy

In the US, energy losses due to the use of pumped hydro storage amount to on
the order of 7 TWh per year, or about the generating capacity of a single
1.2GW nuclear reactor.

The real decision is how to provide the underlying energy, and here in the US
it seems clear enough that we’re going to be relying almost entirely (70%) on
coal and natural gas, with nuclear probably gradually dropping from its
current level (20%) due to extreme public opposition to the construction of
new plants and to reprocessing. Hydroelectric has an opportunity to grow

The prospects for wind and solar on the scales required don’t seem very good
to me. But I’m open to being convinced otherwise.


@David Kahana, 22April 3.38am,
Thank you for keeping an open mind about prospects for future pumped hydro as possible back-up for wind and solar.
As you have pointed out the amount of pumped hydro storage(GWh) is generally small but was built to back-up 100GW of nuclear capacity for <12h. Where pumped hydro is built using large reservoirs the cost is for the pumping capacity(GW; turbines and connecting pipelines ) not storage capacity, so very large storage could be built, but hasn't to this date because the US has 78GW of hydro capacity with a lot of long term storage, and 400GW of gas fired peak capacity.
The building of a lot more wind and solar capacity with improved grid connections across US and Canada is likely to require additional medium term storage capacity( 12h to 100h) for periods of widespread cloud cover or lower than average wind output, as well as present short term storage.
It should not be necessary to build enough storage capacity to back-up 100% average wind output and 100% average solar output because some solar and wind will be available and existing hydro and NG used for short term peak demand can be extended for at least a few days operation once or twice a year. CST with a few hours thermal storage will actually reduce the need to use as much NG and hydro for daily peak demand, but require additional NG use during continental wide low solar and low wind events, or additional hydro storage. If wind capacity approaches off-peak (less nuclear) then more pumped hydro would be an advantage to avoid spilling wind, but we seem to accept occasionally spilling excess rainfall over existing hydro dams, so spilling some wind may be the cheapest option.


Nuclear energy in Canada is going to have a rough time for the next few years. The federal elections have returned a majority Conservative government which is in the pockets of Big Carbon, and an Opposition of rabidly antinuclear New Democrats. The Liberal party, once supporters of nuclear energy, have been reduced to a powerless rump in the House and may well not survive as a national party unless it can attract a dynamic leader to help rebuild it.


Could someone please address a question I have about IFR’s? How do we know these and the pyroprocessing techniques used to recycle nuclear waste will work on a large scale?


Barry – The PhysOrg story Why nuclear power will never supply the world’s energy needs announces an upcoming publication by Derek Abbott, Professor of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at the University of Adelaide in the Proceedings of the IEEE. The paper’s title is “Is nuclear power globally scalable?” .

The press release outlines the paper’s contents and I find it pretty appalling. I looked at Prof. Abbott’s U of Adelaide wiki, even to the extent of giving his opinion piece video How to solve the world energy crisis a look. He’s got his numbers right but obviously hasn’t done the research he needs to, even with the Environment Institute close at hand. (His solution in the video is solar and wind generated hydrogen fuel. Enough said.)

I sincerely hope you and/or your colleagues will give this paper the critical attention it needs, IMO. I’d also question the Proceedings of the IEEE as a place for publication of a climate paper, and possibly the journal’s refereeing process.


david walters has begun doing this, with Abbott.

I’m sure he’ll contribute his sense of the piece to this point.

Abbott’s criticisms appear to be the usual stuff. It will come across as a joke to many here.

I second the call to critique it in detail, along with the IPCC report and its popularization.


Enrichment as a condition of the OD expansion? There seems to be a clash looming between BHP Billiton and the SA government. The company wants to send mixed concentrate via the Darwin railway to China. That country gets first dibs on the U3O8, gold, copper and silver
However the SA Mines minister Tom Koutsantonis wants a local enrichment industry
I agree it is shortsighted to use up a major deposit while other countries get the best jobs, easiest profits and security of supply. We’re left with the hole in the ground.

The other news is that the nearby Woomera military area will be opened up to uranium mining and that will require even more water desalination and electricity for future mines. I’ve forgotten the power requirements for enrichment (centrifuge, laser?) but it would require a massive boost to SA’s power output ie
– 5 or 6 uranium mines
– coastal desalination
– an enrichment industry.

Since politics usually means following the path of least resistance I guess the Chinese will get both the raw and enriched uranium. A long gas pipeline to Qld will probably supply the power for the mines and desal.


More questions than answers on the Olympic Dam expansion in today’s press. Much of the additional energy we are told will come from a new gas pipeline or beefed up transmission. Both the nearest gas field and the currently mined coal field are in decline. There has been major criticism of the preferred site for the coastal desalination plant. Some suggest relocating it from landlocked Whyalla to ocean fronted Elliston which appears to be 100 km further from the mine.

I agree with Greens Party objections to overseas processing of ore concentrate. However I think they want the uranium to go back in the ground. It would be crazy both to burn more fossil fuels to power the mine expansion then hand the best jobs, profits and product access to another country.


I just finished V. Smil’s book “Energy Transitions…”

Has anyone here, especially the energy analysts, spoken to Smil about his views on nuclear power?

In this book, they are negative, more in the sense of dismissal of nuclear power rather than careful critique.

He treats fast reactors in one sentence as a utopian scheme, on the order of many other (renewables) utopian schemes that he rejects. He uncritically treats nuclear waste as a serious problem, indicating that he knows little about the literature on nuclear power.

The book is very good in many ways, with his critique of renewables bearing significant similarity to what is said here. Yet because he rejects nuclear power as an energy form that would play a significant future role, he is forced into being “hopeful” about a non fossil fuel energy transition based on renewable energy. His views do not quite add up and his long term optimism is I think at odds with his many critiques of the limits of renewable energy.

His overall main criticism of renewables transitions is that it will take much longer than the greens think it will take. but he thinks the transition will come and will be enabled by significant efficiency gains and a redefinition of human happiness based on less though adequate energy use–even as he accepts Jevon’s paradox.


China faces energy crunch according to the BBC
This seems to support rumours that the country’s domestic coal production of 3.2 Gtpa has peaked. Reduced hydro is exacerbating the situation. I note elsewhere US west coast ports are slated to export more coal but that country’s coal output has also peaked. Australia’s paltry but world leading coal exports of 260 Mtpa won’t make up the shortfall for long. The short term high export coal price will be hailed by the suits as proof that Australia is indeed the lucky country. That’s until Asia stops buying iron ore etc.

Coupled with world Peak Oil in 2006 (perhaps net energy rather than volume) China’s coal peak has profound implications
– global emissions may shrink with or without political intervention
– affordable fossil fuel replacements have to be found asap.

In my opinion the perceived salvation in natural gas will last only a few years. Reading Crikey and other forums I think there is little appetite for more help for underperforming renewables.


Speaking of China BHP aren’t. Half way through this article
it says copper-gold-silver-uranium concentrate will railed from Olympic Dam to Darwin. What happens then; does it get bulldozed into the sea?

They say the deposit is so big it will only be half dug by 2050. Where will they get diesel for mine trucks and ANFO for explosives given that oil had peaked half a century earlier?


Peter Lang, who was given a temporary commenting ban on BNC a while back (call it a ‘cool off period’) has now had his commenting privileges restored. Welcome back Peter!


John, re Olympic Dam and enrichment… the energy cost of the centrifuge enrichment of its fuel is roughly 0.1% of the energy produced by a LWR. So there’s an easy answer to powering enrichment, powering the mine and undertaking desalination too.


An energy park on open coastline could combine electricity production, desalination and enrichment. Leave space for a Gen 4 unit down the track. BHP Billiton are persevering with unpopular ideas like locating the desal next to a marine reserve and getting the Chinese to extract the U308.

Of course this could be a ploy for the govt to front up for NP. A former Roxby Downs based geologist told me two years ago it was generally believed that only NP could adequately power the OD mine. expansion.


Barry – thanks for the above video. We all need some humor, and it can help make our points.

I’ve been working to learn more about the grid and grid operations, and have found the site GreenTechGrid. There are two connected pages I especially like:

Electricity Grid Quiz: Test Your Electron Wits – 13 mostly tough questions about the electrical grid Scroll the pages down to see the answers.

Grid Realities Versus Greentech Startup Dreams – The Jim Detmers electricity dispatch blues. He’s blue because the transmission system operator’s job is to Keep The Lights On! and that job’s getting harder as the grid gets more complex.

I’ve even posted a couple of comments on the latter page, and gotten very polite responses. They’re really helping me along – I started my research on Wikipedia but than doesn’t go too far. I really need a first course textbook.

For another part of my research and a reality check I searched for videos posted that have an electrical grid theme. There are a lot of them, including accidents – even a few fatal accidents. They’ve helped me appreciate the levels of power the linemen work with every day.

Here’s a routine operation: a 500KV switch opening. The modern version of the good ‘ol knife switch, as found in Dr. Frankenstein’s lab!

Jacob’s Ladder: 500kV Switch Opening (With luck the video will embed.)

An accident in the distribution system. That’s a powerful genie confined in those cages…

Power Plant Substation Explodes

And here’s an example of what’s required when you’re working on a transmission system line. I think you’ll agree that the helicopter pilot is pretty amazing as well.

Dead-end transfer of spacer cart

There are linemen posting multiple videos – they are justifiably proud of their work. Search YouTube for indylineman, gooseskinner, and flying lineman. They KTLO!

Over at GreenTechGrid, WOV replied to a comment of mine by saying, in part:

But more of what I hear from Detmers (and from Pedram) is a very understandable frustration that the Silicon Valley types think that it is unnecessary or small-minded to try to understand the extremely complicated machine they’re trying to be a part of. There’s a real institutional arrogance on both sides – on the one treating the grid as though any new technology is an unwelcome interference to the “real work” of dispatching fossil baseload generators, and on the other acting as though you could just put a power plant on the grid the same way you’d sell your latest gadget in Fry’s. That rude awakening happens at a troublesomely late part of many power technology companies’ development.

I want to practice humility as well when I discuss things that I only know a little about and make suggestions to the people on the floor and at the consoles.


@Andrew Jaremko That Electricity Grid Quiz: you linked to, is somewhat biased as is the rest of that GreenTechGrid website. There is much that is being left unsaid in the articles I read there, and some very broad assumptions are being made, that are not backed by fact or reference.


@DV82XL – thanks for your reply. Yes, I do tend to enthuse over my discoveries; it’s a weakness of mine that I have to be much more aware of. I will do my best to sort out the facts, and I did see some nonsense over there – I wasn’t sure if the Tornadoes, Otter Pops and Other Unlikely Energy Technologies post was serious or a joke. There’s stuff in it straight our of Amory Lovins and most of it would be fodder for Depleted Cranium, IMO. Nobody has made any comments on the unlikely technologies post as I write this – but calling them ‘unlikely’ rather than ‘silly’ seems to show that the post is semi-serious.


Know Your ‘Enemy’ department – I visit The Oil Drum regularly; it’s fascinating to read what the fossil fuelers think. Some comments on the post Tech Talk – American Stripper Well Production talk about stripper wells being candidates for powering by renewable energy!

Ghung on May 22, 2011 – 10:13am

Any use of solar or wind to power these wells? It seems that intermittancy wouldn’t be a problem. Also, offshore strippers could be powered by wave/tidal action… (more)

Paul Nash on May 22, 2011 – 2:07pm (reply)

An “off grid” stripper well would seem to be a good candidate for solar and wind power, but then, you can always run the pump with an engine powered by the wellhead gas or even the crude oil produced! (more…)

And just to demonstrate that fossil fuelers are as imaginative as any of our fellow BNC regulars:

still-wind on May 22, 2011 – 5:37pm

Good example Paul:

How about another idea? Along the same vein…

Think oil sands. Unlimited supply. No need to look for it.

He goes on to discuss renewable electricity providing heat to liquefy tar sands bitumen and pump it to the surface, and sums up:

No tailings Ponds, no added water, no Nat gas, no Emissions.

I live in Alberta and this hits home; I wonder why the majors haven’t thought of these things? [/sarc] To be fair, there are some level headed comments as well. But one of the best comments has a truly eye-opening map of active and shut in wells in Huntington Beach:

Debbie Cook on May 22, 2011 – 10:52am

Scroll down a bit for the map and a production graph. I found the area on Google Maps and the pump jacks in Harriet Wieder Regional Park are clearly visible. That’s definitely in Debbie Cook’s backyard!

I’m sure there are parts of Alberta that look much the same, but mostly on farmland, not in a residential district. Just thought I’d share this with BNC.


Looks like the desalination plant proposed for the Upper Spencer Gulf to support the expansion of the Olympic Dam mine is back in the media:

I’m in two minds about this: I want the expansion to go ahead, to promote further use of nuclear energy and stabilise fuel supply, but the cost of impacting on Australian Giant Cuttlefish and other benthic and mangrove ecosystems is pretty much intolerable. The water has to be sourced some other way.


I’m not sure what BHP Billiton’s game is insisting on the Whyalla site for the desal
We saw a brief glimpse of the adjoining site in the stupid planking video at the Santos propane separation plant. There the NG pipeline goes under the gulf since it is narrow and protected from wave action.

To make the PR disaster even worse the company wants to send the copper-uranium concentrate to China, thereby killing off any local enrichment industry. They say the mine will still be in fill swing mid century. Some minor problems include
– a coastal desal site that doesn’t upset everybody
– drawing 50% of the power from the State grid
– diesel for mine trucks long after oil is prohibitive
– nixing value adding jobs.


Via I see supporting evidence for my view that south eastern Australia simply does not have enough natural gas to convert from poor quality coal fired baseload to IGCC.

Anecdotal evidence came from the fact that the Moomba gas pipe to Adelaide’s 1.28 GW closed cycle plant had to be replicated by another pipe from Victoria. Tasmania’s gas also comes from Victoria via seabed pipe, used by fur seals to navigate Bass Strait. There are two IGCC stations near Launceston.

Now SA needs to find 700 MW to power the Olympic Dam expansion and more if there is ever an enrichment industry. Their Pt Augusta power stations use poor quality black coal from a dwindling deposit. Victoria needs to replace Hazelwood, Yallourn and Loy Yang brown coal stations for starters then some others. There just ain’t enough gas in the south east unless we go to WA or cut Qld liquefied coal seam gas exports.

Funny thing is R.E.X. Connor prophesied this 30 years ago and the financial shenanigans brought down the government of the day. As Barry says renewables and efficiency won’t cut it.


I just read the Crikey article you linked to, John.

Dean Dalla Valle, BHP’s Uranium President said:

“There have been calls for us to find another location, but we’ve remained firmly convinced that from an environmental perspective, we have found the best place on the coast at Point Lowly”

This really irritates (to put it midly) as it is a blatant lie. It flies in the face of the criticism, including in the peer reviewed literature, that the Upper Spencer Gulf is the absolute worst site for brine discharge.

What bugs me almost more than anything is that this type of crap does serious damage to the general population’s perception of the integrity of the whole nuclear industry.


A bit of a stretch but I can link the desal to the Wiki article on Rex Connor, first line of the Minister paragraph. I think the desal should be on the Great Australian Bight, not a narrow gulf. Rex wanted a national energy grid back in the 1970s. I suggest an energy park combining NP, desalination, enrichment and future Gen IV somewhere like Ceduna, only a smidgin further from OD. Think of the new transmission as the 1st stage of the later completion of the east-west link.

BHP get their desal and their 700 MW, the cuttlefish don’t get overheated, the gulf doesn’t get saltier, the SA mines minister gets his enrichment plant, the State’s dwindling and dirty baseload gets replaced with clean energy, uranium ore doesn’t need to be sent to China, fresh water doesn’t need to be pumped from distant River Murray, the NIMBYs are out of range and Rex gets his wish.

I might add Ceduna has lost its nuclear virginity through the Maralinga A-bomb tests and the fact 25% of the world’s zircon (mildly radioactive) will pass through their port of Thevenard.


Mmm. I don’t think I’d be promoting the link between Maralinga and nuclear power too much. But I agree, Ceduna, or Elliston, would be much better places for a desal plant – anywhere but the gulf, really.


From Google Earth Elliston looks to be another 100km further from OD and any water pipe might have to climb hills and skirt salt lakes. The logical corridor for any E-W transmission link would be the Nullarbor rail line and Elliston is too far south. Some Whyalla people want to move the desal down the gulf to a place called Murninnie Beach or similar. Unsurprisingly there is yet another uranium deposit nearby. There is talk of an iron ore loader even a bit more south in the gulf (Cowell) but this must mean more megawatts of pumping effort. to distant OD.

The angle on Maralinga is that if people say ‘how dare you contaminate our lovely coastline’ then the response will be that it’s already been royally done over. Not only fission detonations but a balloon launched dirty bomb with 22kg of plutonium.

BTW I’ve stayed with relatives in several towns out that way and I maintain an interest even though I live in SW Tas.


Foolishness in Switzerland:
Swiss cabinet goes for nuclear phase out //”

A decision was taken to review energy policy as a direct reaction to the Fukushima nuclear crisis, said the cabinet, which decided that a worsening of public opinion combined with an expected rise in commercial costs of nuclear power would make it unviable for commercial operators in future.

In my opinion what is more likely to make nulcear power unviable is exactly this kiind of political interference based on short-term thinking and crisis-mode actions. It is, in short, a self-fulfilling prophecy of the worst sort.


> expected rise in commercial costs …
> political interference …

Who expects this rise in commercial costs?
Is it a political claim?
Is it an industry projection?
Is it expected particularly in Switzerland?

(I’m asking hoping someone reading has the background information — Joffan appears to assume politicians made up the notion, but I wonder if the fission power industry, or the insurance industry, said they expect costs to go up)


Still failed on html writing… one more try:
Swiss cabinet goes for nuclear phase out
Triple check… looks OK.

Next two paragraphs after the one I quoted above:

This came despite a February referendum that supported replacement reactors, and a report this month from Switzerland’s Federal Nuclear Safety Inspectorate (ENSI) that found no immediate danger for Swiss nuclear plants in light of the Fukushima accident. Being landlocked, Switzerland is notably isolated from tsunami risk, and Swiss nuclear operators were instead warned to prepare for the failure of nearby hydroelectric dams.

On 23 March reports were ordered from the Federal Department of the Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications on three future scenarios: The early replacement of older nuclear plants to ensure safety; the non-replacement of current plants; and the early decommissioning of current units. Today the cabinet chose the second option, aiming for the end of nuclear power generation in 2034, based on 50-year operating lives for the country’s five reactors.

So, by ordering studies into three scenarios and not the fourth scenario of nuclear build-out, the politicans biased the study right from the off, and poisoned the market for the commercial operators who were already pursuing that option.
I substituted your first amendment as you asked but that failed too. You are right – this one works. Thank you.


Australia was out of step with the world when we signed the Kyoto accord and is out of step again with carbon pricing:

“Global market for carbon pricing has stalled”

“Assertions fly thick and fast”


Federal Treasurer thinks carbon tax will cause a renewables boom
I think not. Without 5c a kwh subsidies and 20% quotas new renewables will grind to a halt. That’s zero growth. $20-$30 carbon tax isn’t enough on its own, nor will Victorian brown coal baseload be replaced with gas.

Swan tells us Treasury modelling indicates hydro will be among the technologies to boom. Huh? A quarter century ago the saga of the Franklin dam project ended all hydro bigger than a megawatt or two. I think carbon tax will lead to some general belt tightening, increased recycling rates and so on but no major technology shifts.


John Newlands,

In general I agree with you. I am convinced the carbon price is very bad policy for Australia at this stage, despite what the Europeans would like to try to forces us to do for the EU’s economic advantage. A carbon price in Australia – before we have removed the impediments to nuclear and before the main emitting nations have agreed a workable international agreement on how to internalise the externalities of energy use – will not reduce world emissions, in either the short of the long term. But it will seriously damage Australia’s economy if it is ramped up sufficiently to achieve the 2020 targets. That is the problem and that is what we are not being told. We are being seriously misled with a ‘honeymoon rate’ to suck in the unaware. The carbon price politics is largely about trying to save the Prime Minister’s political neck. It is not good policy. It certainly is not good economic reform like the reforms of the Howard – Hawke – Keating – Howard – Costello eras.

John, what you have done with your comment is to raise on BNC what is the most important policy issue that BNC should be discussing right now (IMO). Australia will be deciding on Carbon Pricing policy over the next few months and the Labor Party will be deciding whether or not to overturn its 50+ years of opposition to nuclear power.

If Labor doesn’t change its anti-nuclear policy at its National Convention this year, it is unlikely to do so for many more years. These are critically important policy decisions for Australia.

I suggest these policy decisions are the most important thing BNC should be discussing right now. I’d also suggest the conservatives view should not be shut down or neutered. It needs to be discussed and considered.

The long discussion about which is the best Gen IV technology, and the difference between Tc99 and Tc99m and much more of such arguments should be seen as minute side issues from what is important right now. Such discussion is not informing the broader population about the important policy issues. It is not providing them with information they can use in discussions over a barbecue with their friends. All it is doing is pointing out that these possible future technologies have masses of fundamental problems that will have to be sorted out with very many different types of demonstration plants – probably over the next 50 years. When I watch the discussion on the threads about the Gen IV reactors I am left with the impression there are half a dozen competing technologies each of which will take as long and cost as much as the Gen I – Gen II – Gen III have taken so far. I get the impression it will take 50 years and 400 reactors for each variety of Gen IV to get it to being commercially viable. That is the impression the discussion about the Gen IV’s leaves on me.

How do we get past this distraction on the discussion of minute details about a possible future technology?


I think the time frame should be along the following lines
this decade: (fossil fuels still cheap)
What will c.t. actually achieve? Backup plan in case renewables disappoint. Repeal of ARPANS Act to allow nuclear. Policy white paper on gas reserves, markets and conservation. Build decisions on Gen 3 and enrichment.
next decade: (growing energy shortages)
Policy decision on uranium reserves and Gen 4. Electric transport and synfuels. Food and water security.

I think the honeymoon metaphor is apt because after a year or so of carbon tax we will be wondering why the magic didn’t last. Clearly a lot of people are going to be very disappointed with carbon tax. Hazelwood will still be there it will just cost more to run. Wind farms won’t be powering aluminium smelters. It seems we have to go down this path to see it in realtime.



I think many people are making the argument for Carbon Pricing that you made here:

It seems we have to go down this path [carbon price] to see it in realtime.

I strongly disagree with this statement.

This is arguing for bad policy (for whatever reason). It is the same sort of argument that has led us to many very bad policies in the past. Some that come to mind are: Kyoto Agreement, blocking the development of nuclear for half a century, mandating renewable energy, renewable energy targets, Green Loans, Green Car subsidies, “pink Bats” home insulation program, and many more examples.

Surely we should be trying to define what is good policy, irrespective of political allegiance.

I’d change your timeline substantially, and propose this instead:

2011 – Labor dump its anti-nuke policy. Change it to one that strongly endorses nuclear as the energy source of the future. Labor’s new policy should state: Australia must move rapidly to implement low-cost nuclear electricity generation (cheaper than coal) with the first power plant to be commissioned within a decade.

2011 – BNCers, with their contacts in the Greens and environmental NGO’s, will work to persuade the opinion leaders in these groups that nuclear is essential to achieving their policy objectives.

2012 – The federal Budget will include budget line items (funding) to establish faculties in at least one university in each mainland state for the purposes of researching and educating Australians on what must be done to implement nuclear at LCOE less than coal. Secondly, a budget line item for establishing a nuclear regulatory regime for nuclear electricity generation in Australia. Thirdly, a budget line item to begin setting up “Energy Australia” (see this thread and the many comments on this matter for background: )

2012 – Begin the genuine reform of the Australian economy to remove the unnecessary regulations and constraints on business that prevent them being as efficient and internationally competitive as they could be (at the moment we add about a thousand new regulations on business per year and remove almost none. These are choking business with red tape and green tape. They force businesses to add unproductive staff for monitoring and reporting. The taxpayer has to pay for ever increasing number of bureaucrats, public servants and departments to police the regulations and handle the data that comes in.).

As part of the removal of unnecessary regulations, the distortions in the energy markets would be removed. All subsidies, tax breaks and mandating of some types of energy would be removed and the penalties against others would be removed. That would be the first step. The second step would be to decide what needs to be done to give investors confidence that the old paradigm has been removed, the new paradigm is in place and wont be reversed. We’d also need to overcome the problems caused by 50 years of bad policy. Decisions would be made on the basis of what is the best way forward from here. That is which energy forms will give the best return on investment. (Experience gained over the past three decades demonstrate clearly that the solution will be nuclear, and definitely not renewables).

This decade establish the education facilities outlined above determine the best ways to implement nuclear at lower LCOE than coal, educate the Australian public, implement the nuclear regulatory regime, set up “Energy Australia”, and begin implementing the policies with the aim that the first NPP is commissioned by end of 2022.

If and when the main GHG emitting nations reach an international agreement on how to internalise the externalities of energy production and consumption, then Australia should be an active and willing participant in such an agreement.

Next decadeContinue building NPPs in Australia with focus always on achieving least cost electricity generation and competition to achieve least cost electricity generation. The vision is to progress towards the sort of low cost, low emissions electricity generation France has now, but even lower cost electricity so that electricity will more quickly replace oil as the energy source for transport.

Leveraging our natural advantages, including our demonstrated ability to implement low-cost electricity generation, Australia assists developing nations to implement low cost, reliable electricity generation tailored for their needs (we did lots of this throughout the developing countries in Asia and Africa throughout the 1970’s to 2000’s. We are good at it, and our capabilities and approach are liked by the developing countries. We leveraged off the expertise we gained on the Snowy Mountains Hydro Electric Scheme and applied it in many countries in Asia and Africa for four decades and still are. We should aim to set up to do this again. That is how we can genuinely help the world to cut emissions.

Carbon Pricing is exactly the reverse of this. It is exactly the wrong policy.


The Ziggy Switkowski article has eight excellent comments so far and not one supports Australia implementing a carbon price now.


hotrock companies frozen in Green plan

HERE’S an energy story with a particularly nasty twist: the only renewable technology with the ability to provide base-load power gets king-hit (inadvertently) by a decision from a pro-renewable-energy federal Labor government.
And this sector’s revival would be possible only if the Greens get their way and the proposed carbon tax is somewhere north of $40 a tonne, which is not going to happen.

That, in a nutshell, is the sad predicament in which geothermal companies find themselves.

How long until we stop the nonsense. Carbon pricing will preserve this nonsense. If the Carbon price starts at $25, the pressure will be intense from the Greens and RE advocates to ‘ramp it up a bit more to make them viable’, while continuing to ban nuclear. It will go on for ever.

It’s time to bite the bullet. Clean out the mess of favouratisms and disadvantages that energy policy has accumulated over 50 years in Australia.


Perhaps the Switkowski article will come out in Crikey as a freebie. We need to see if indeed it sticks to the rule of not playing favourites.

Carbon tax at $20-$30 and nothing else will have two conspicuous failings
1) the wind build stops dead
2) brown coal won’t get replaced by gas.
The likely fix for 1) is to continue RECs and the fix for 2) is billions in compensation for brown coal generators. According to Garnaut neither should be necessary.

I think it will take a year or so for this to sink in, same way we now know geothermal won’t deliver. That takes us to mid 2013 which I think Barry suggests will be clearly as hot or hotter than 1998.
We’ll have a progress report from Germany on their plans which I think will have been reviewed. Petrol could be $2.50/L at least in average income adjusted terms.

However $20-$30 carbon tax should put the kibosh on new coal generation which is a step in the right direction.


@ John Newlands

Some very interesting predictions/observations there. I look forward to seeing how they pan out. I also agree with your last comment.

Meanwhile, as Australia quibbles over a carbon tax, and the media world wide is still in a semi-frenzy over what happened in the Fukushima prefecture, geologists are pressing for official recognition of the Anthropocene epoch. Given the world’s apparent collective inability to address the multiple problems we are imposing on the environment (and therefore ourselves), I wonder how long it will be until we collectively realise just how stupid all of the current hysteria is – over a carbon tax and a nuclear accident that killed no one for gods sake.


Just saying you want it because you want it isn’t very convincing.

I wonder how long it will be until we collectively realise just how stupid all of the current hysteria is

Yes, I wonder this too, but probably not for the same reason. Any policy that will intentionally damage the economy for no benefit is certainly “stupid”.



How do we get past this distraction on the discussion of minute details about a possible future technology?

I agree that the top priority topic is energy policy – specifically how do we help China, India et al shift to a low carbon but energy-rich growth path. If Barry agrees he could open a targeted new topic.

Personally I think Australia’s carbon tax policy is a similarly low priority. It doesn’t really matter what Australia does. The game will be won or lost with the developing countries.


Hi all,

This slashdot had some classic comments on why putting capacitors in the side panels of your EV might be a ‘bad’ idea. (As Bill Murray might say).


Does anyone fail to see the problem of having what would likely be several Farads of high voltage stashed away in the body panels? I would expect if fully charged the capacitors if shorted, in a fender bender or whatever, they would leave little trace that they or anything that touches them ever existed. Just a spot of charred metal and the smell of electrolyte.

And what about the aging of capacitors or capacitor failure? It’s certainly exiting when a small capacitor goes POP! Imagine when one of these suckers blow your doors off while you’re driving!

And this…

Besides mechanics, please recall that EMS and police often face the issue of getting through metal to reach injured passengers. The 200 volts typically in a hybrid battery is one issue, knowing the location of batteries and how to disconnnect them another, but the thought of potentially still charged capacitors in the body frame sounds like an issue that could hinder response to emergencies.


@ John N,

///I think it will take a year or so for this to sink in, same way we now know geothermal won’t deliver. ///

Really? Did something come out recently? I’ve been listening to the Science Show on and off and I thought they were making progress on using compressed Co2 (or was that methane) as a more energy efficient heat exchanging fluid pumped down into the well to get into all the nooks and crannies and then not require as much energy to shoot back up the pipes etc. Last I heard anyway — I haven’t been following a lot of this stuff as closely as before.


EN following all your ideas. I like some dislike others.

Capacitor shock in an EV collision. I’ve mentioned before Adelaide’s ‘solar’ bus has a molten sodium battery. What if it were T-boned?

Granite geothermal was going to be the next big thing in 2009. If an idea has legs like Blu Ray or flash drive it takes off quickly. Hence the scepticism.

Pumped seawater hydro. A 300 MW plant is to be built in Lanai Hawaii but they have mountains close to the sea to get elevation. I think a bit of the $11 bn carbon tax revenue should go on a similar sized demo plant here.


An interesting report was released yesterday on the effect the carbon tax will have on mining jobs, authored by Bruce Chapman, president of the Economic Society of Australia. The conclusion is that job losses resulting from a carbon tax (based on the mining industry’s own projections) will be virtually statistically insignificant.

Of course this certainly doesn’t address all of the objections to a carbon tax, but it’s probably been the loudest argument so far.


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