Emissions Future Nuclear Policy Scenarios

Nuclear energy challenges for the 21st century

The following post, by Dan Meneley, was originally presented at the 17th Pacific Basin Nuclear Conference Cancun 2010, and is reproduced here with Dan’s blessing (I plan to buy him dinner, as thanks, when I visit Toronto in June). Its contents are highly topical in the context of the current situation in Japan and the debate that the Fukushima crisis has inflamed. It is also effective as a counter argument to the recent MIT report on the future of the nuclear fuel cycle (which I think made a really bad call, from both a technical and socio-political standpoint).

You can download the 15-page printable PDF version here. There is also a really excellent annotated PowerPoint presentation (30 slides) available here, which is also definitely well poring over.


Guest Post by Dr. Dan Meneley. Dan, a founding member of SCGI, is a Canadian nuclear engineer with 50 years experience in systems analysis for nuclear energy, reactor safety and physics, plant design, risk analysis and operations and engineering of the CANDU design. He has also worked on research on sodium-cooled fast reactors since the 1960s. He is an adjunct professor in the Faculty of Energy Systems and Nuclear Science, University of Ontario Institute of Technology. 


The past fifty years have witnessed the advent of a new energy source and the beginning of yet another in the series of energy-use transitions that have marked our history since the start of our technological development. Each of these transitions has been accompanied by adaptive challenges. Each unique set of challenges has been met. Today the world faces the need for another transition. This paper outlines some of the associated challenges that lie ahead of us all, as we adapt to this new and exciting environment. The first step in defining the challenges ahead is to make some form of prediction of the future energy supply and demand during the period. Herein, the future up to 2010 is presumed to include two major events — first, a decline in the availability and a rise in price of petroleum, and second a need to reduce greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. Both of these events are taken to be imminent. Added to these expected events is the assumption that the total of wind, solar, and other such energy sources will be able to contribute, but only in a relatively small way, to the provision of needed energy to our ever-expanding human population.


Nuclear energy systems, now more than 50 years old, use a mature technology. They are ready to take on larger and larger roles in the provision of energy for the benefit of mankind. Utilization of this new primary energy source is an engineering task of first magnitude, and is no longer a leading subject of scientific research, except at the margins.

This paper outlines the major tasks remaining for nuclear energy professionals over the next half-century and more. These challenges form an integrated set ranging from the purely technical to abstract questions of sociology and philosophy.  They touch on broad matters of public policy as well as on the future development of the world economy.

Today’s challenges to the nuclear industry all arise from the known great energy-related challenge to the world; that is, to find a clean and sustainable source of energy to replace petroleum.  The only greater related challenge of our day is to find a solution to the problem of world over-population. Without a sufficient energy supply there can be little hope for successfully managing this underlying issue.

Some people say that petroleum is not, and never will become, a commodity in short supply. Better-qualified and convincing persons and organizations point out the error of this thinking. The world now uses approximately 1000 barrels of oil in each second of each year. The latest annual report of the OECD’s International Energy Agency states simply “we must leave oil before it leaves us”.

This technical challenge to the nuclear industry is indeed very large. Assuming a plant capacity factor of 90 percent, the higher heating value of oil being consumed in the world today is equivalent to the total fission heat produced by about 7000 nuclear units, each with an equivalent electrical capacity of 1 Gigawatt.

At the same time there are other, perhaps greater challenges facing us. Among them is the matter of urgency. We have very little time to meet the main challenge. Using the most optimistic assumptions, the job should be complete before the year 2200. This massive change will require the good will and the effort of many thousands of people, backed by their governments and the population at large.

The following headings address the main challenges ahead of the world nuclear energy enterprise. The opinions addressed herein are completely my own, and make no pretense of being complete. These opinions are drawn, primarily, from Canadian experience but include some broader aspects of the task ahead. Not all of these challenges are important to any single nation; indeed some have already met some of these challenges to some degree.


Formulating a list of “challenges” requires, of course, some sort of prediction of the future. This is a notoriously difficult process, and in many circumstances is impossible [1].

In their 2008 report entitled “International Status and Prospects of Nuclear Power”  [2] as updated in 2010 [3], the IAEA lists nine key issues and trends, shown in Table I, that constitute challenges for near term development of the nuclear industry.  This author prefers to call the first item in Table I a “pre-condition” rather than an issue. Unless the operators of nuclear plants are prepared to operate these plants reliably and safely, they would be wise not to operate them at all, and to find another line of work that is less exacting. Similarly, economic competitiveness is considered a pre-condition, because unless it exists, nuclear energy will not go forward at all.

A more limited prediction was made by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as reported in their document “The Future of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle” [4]. The MIT study is focused primarily on the US scene.  This report is formulated in terms of findings and recommend-ations. The main points of the Executive Summary have been recast in terms of challenges, in Table II.  Several entries are equivalent to those in the IAEA report. The MIT challenge to deploy nuclear capacity at the terawatt scale by mid-century is related to climate change risk in that report. Missing from both of these lists is explicit reference to the impending crisis in world petroleum supply.

Given the extremely optimistic assumption that world petroleum demand based on current projections can be satisfied over the next 90 years [5], the predicted growth of nuclear energy capacity (4 percent per year in the “high” scenario) would seem reasonable. However, if a more realistic assumption of oil production had been used then the Terawatt scale of capacity in the world by mid-century would perhaps best apply to the US alone; the world requirement would be about five times larger. This single change in one fundamental a priori assumption would drastically change the list of challenges to be faced in the short term.

Prognostications differ. Various experiences and individual assumptions can lead to widely different future scenarios. Without by any means exhausting the possibilities, this paper presents one more set of challenges, underlain by a somewhat different idea of how the future should unfold. Table III, representing this author’s predictions, shows a list similar to those of the IAEA and the MIT studies, but with differences.  The item first listed in Table III shows what is, in this author’s opinion, the most difficult challenge of all.


Though political systems and practices vary greatly from one nation to another, it is generally true that unless a substantial majority of the population agrees with a major undertaking such as nuclear energy, it will be very difficult to sustain the undertaking over a long period of time. In many countries a vocal minority opposition to nuclear energy has dogged the industry for many years. As the advantages of this energy system become more apparent, this opposition seems now to be decreasing, but this trend could easily reverse if and when a major problem arises in the industry.

In one sense this opposition is useful – it keeps us on our toes. At the same time this active opposition requires a large amount of effort to repeatedly refute the spurious claims of those who are dedicated – some very deeply dedicated – to opposing any activity associated with the adjective “nuclear”. The distribution of these zealots is wide. Some can be found entrenched in government bureaucracies and other respected institutions, at times very near to the top levels.

Do we have any “respected institutions” remaining in our society? Hugh Heclo [6], in his book “On Thinking Institutionally” asks us to re-examine our opinions of those institutions on which we rely so heavily, and yet for which we show very little respect. At times, of course, institutions go off the rails and no longer deserve respect – Heclo addresses this phenomenon as well. He illustrates the situation with many examples, and points out that the systematic denigration of our basic institutions has been building up over the past century, to the point that it is now hardly appropriate to support many of them when speaking in polite company.

It must be obvious that our society cannot function without a large number of institutionalized organizations and processes. It is equally obvious that these institutions must earn and hold the respect to the general population. In the case of an operating nuclear utility, this generates a powerful need to deserve the trust of the people from day to day. The same applies to all aspects of our industry, and more so because the integrity of this institution is always under challenge.

“Deserving of trust” is, of course, in the eye of the beholder. Today’s political climate of challenge to all institutional authority, coupled with our new instant and worldwide communications pathways, makes it very easy to generate dissent on virtually any topic. The apparent virtues of “truth telling”, and the normal penalties for violating that norm, have decreased in recent years. Herein the root cause of our public relations trouble. Perfectly rational people who have a deep understanding of the nuclear industry criticize the industry for not “standing up” to the onslaught, and presenting the true story. A splendid example of such critical remarks can be found at Ted Rockwell’s blogsite, [7]. Many of the truths of our industry are defended therein. Others would do well to follow Rockwell’s lead. We must do whatever we can to eliminate the falsehoods, the distortions, and the extreme assumptions from our technical discussions.

Over the years of verbal conflict between scientists and engineers versus their opponents, the “defensive ramparts of truth” have become bent and battered to some degree. This is especially so in the area of nuclear regulation, where the technical arguments of the proponents meet the political reality of the day. The regulator must defend each decision to allow a project to proceed with a very high degree of assurance. That institution also is challenged every day, the same as are all the rest of the several institutions involved with nuclear energy. In order to continue this great enterprise of providing the world with plentiful energy, we must remember always to defend the “ramparts of truth” and to rebuild them as and when necessary.

This author considers that the task of providing the necessary human resources to the industry can be included as an integral part of gaining public acceptance of our enterprise. If the people accept the need for nuclear energy, young people will rise to meet that need with enthusiasm and in great numbers. At the same time, if the majority of young people see the wisdom of the choice, the future of nuclear energy will be assured. The only remaining job will be to provide suitable means for their education and training.

The human resourcing task is by no means trivial, since it involves continued re-staffing and training of at least three generations of operating crews for each power plant over its lifetime. The task falls on the operating utility to sustain detailed information about the plant as its configuration changes over decades of operation. This problem is significant in many plants in operation today. Fortunately, modern CADDS systems and training courses used in the original construction phase, modified as the plant configuration slowly changes, will in the future enable the utility to maintain not only the plant, but a detailed model of the plant at any given time [8].


This challenge is related to the public acceptance challenge, and could greatly assist in reaching that goal. During the original development of nuclear fission reactor technology, a number of very conservative assumptions were made; especially with regard to the health consequences of low radiation doses to people, and also with regard to the potential consequences of reactor accidents. Two major factors have changed. First, the effects of small doses of ionizing radiation are found to be much less than expected, e.g. [9]. Second, more careful analyses based on recent experiments show that the consequence of the “bugbear” accident of pressurized reactors – the large loss of coolant event – has been grossly overestimated in many cases. [10]. Extremely conservative analyses have resulted from years of stringent regulatory review and steadily more demanding criteria of proof.

A direct challenge for the technical community is to eliminate, wherever possible, gross conservatism in safety analysis wherever possible. Though this may turn into a long and painful struggle with regulatory bureaucracy, it may be the best way to regain public confidence, in the end. Perhaps the most important example of unjustified extreme conservatism is the almost universal application of the now discredited linear, non-threshold hypothesis for estimating the consequence of low radiation doses to large populations. A growing array of facts drawn from past experience [7] suggests that re-evaluation is required of many of our present-day licensing analyses in the light of improved engineering knowledge and operating experience.


Electricity supply is only one of the tasks that soon will be required of nuclear generation systems. Petroleum, one of the world’s major enabling resources will almost surely rise dramatically in price within this century, but may even become a scarce resource, at least in some parts of the world.

5.1. The Need

There is still some debate regarding the timing, and even the existence, of the “peak oil” phenomenon, the postulate that we are at or near the maximum production rate of petroleum. Recent price fluctuations support this postulate – fluctuating price is seen in many cases when a commodity in demand approaches its maximum production rate. Exploration plays are now rare outside areas controlled by national oil companies, and tend toward deep offshore ventures that are very expensive. Unconventional reserves such as oil sands bring with them high development and production costs that demand higher product prices.

In their latest annual report, the International Energy Agency of the OECD [5] strongly reminds its member nations:

One day we will run out of oil, it is not today or tomorrow, but one day we will run out of oil and we have to leave oil before oil leaves us, and we have to prepare ourselves for that day. The earlier we start, the better, because all of our economic and social system is based on oil, so to change from that will take a lot of time and a lot of money and we should take this issue very seriously.

At the same time the world can take comfort in the fact that there is enough nuclear fuel available to supply us with energy for thousands of years. Once again we are fortunate to have “A bird in the hand” in the form of today’s mature nuclear technology. Our descendants may well invent a better way to meet this need – but just in case they do not, we know that nuclear fission energy can do the job. Even though a diverse suite of alternative sources likely will persist over time in niche markets, nuclear energy must provide the bulk of the world’s supply for a very long time. We must do the heavy lifting!

The latest issue of the IEA report presents a sobering picture in their reference scenario, which follows the expected trajectory of world energy development over the next 20 years, assuming that world governments make no changes to their existing policies and measures for energy supply. This scenario is dominated by large increases in demand for fossil fuels, extensive exploration, and consequent large capital requirements. The expected total investment requirement is 26 trillion US dollars up to 2030. The power sector requires 53% of this total. The IEA report [5] concludes that:

Continuing on today’s energy path, without any change in government policy, would mean rapidly increasing dependence on fossil fuels, with alarming consequences for climate change and energy security.

For the past several years the IEA has urged OECD governments to increase their commitment to nuclear energy. Most countries of the world show signs of taking up this challenge, with the surprising exception of the OECD countries themselves.  In both Europe and North America the response is half-hearted at best, up to now. The IEA report notes the following:

The main driver of demand for coal and gas is the inexorable growth in energy needs for power generation. World electricity demand is projected to grow at an annual rate of 2.5% to 2030. Over 80% of the growth takes place in non-OECD countries. Globally, additions to power-generation capacity total 4,800 gigawatts by 2030 – almost five times the existing capacity of the United States. The largest additions (around 28% of the total) occur in China. Coal remains the backbone fuel of the power sector, its share of the global generation mix rising by three percentage points to 44% in 2030. Nuclear power grows in all major regions bar Europe, but its share in total generation falls.

The underlying driver of this demand growth usually is, of course, the rise in world population – energy demand growth is a consequence of this seemingly uncontrollable factor. At the present time, however, it seems that much growth arises from the need (or at least the desire) of underdeveloped countries to increase their standard of living. Any energy policy must be coupled with stabilization of the world population along with rising living standards.  A sustainable level of energy supply is a necessary prerequisite if we are to provide a respectable living standard for all people.

5.2 Meeting the need

In its 2009-2030 alternative (preferred) scenario, called the “450 Scenario”, so named to indicate a target of 450 parts per million concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the IEA Executive Summary for 2009 points out:

Power generation accounts for more than two-thirds of the savings (of which 40% results from lower electricity demand).  There is a big shift in the mix of fuels and technologies: coal-based generation is reduced by half, compared with the Reference Scenario in 2030, while nuclear power and [other] renewable energy sources make much bigger contributions.

Three points are notable in this statement. First, I have inserted the word “other” in square brackets to emphasize the now-recognized fact that nuclear fuels are sustainable for many thousands of years [11], so this energy source should be included in the “renewable” category. Second, the hoped-for amount of demand reduction due to conservation in the electricity sector is very large – a most optimistic projection, given past experience. The third item of note is the urgency of action to reduce our reliance on petroleum. There is very little time left for our world to adapt to the coming collapse of the present-day environment in which petroleum is relatively plentiful and cheap. It is quite apparent that someone will repay the tens of trillions of dollars that must be invested in oil supply development to ensure supply of oil up to 2030. It also leaves a big question as to what we might expect to happen during the following quarter-century. For a rather gloomy guesstimate of the upcoming situation, see the apocalyptic prediction in the book “The Long Emergency”  [12].

Accepting the IEA estimate of “new build” generation capacity requirements up to 2030, and then assuming that all of these new plants will be powered by uranium, we would need to build 240 nuclear units each of capacity 1 gigawatt every year between now and 2030. This ideal situation will not be realized, of course, but the number certainly provides a “stretch” target for new nuclear plant construction. Once again, with reference to the IEA alternative scenario, there is another challenge implied — the provision of transportation fuels. This most important topic is outlined in subsection 5.3.

Where else could we get this massive energy supply? Dr. Charles Till (pictured right), retired Associate Director of Argonne National Laboratory [13] reaches the following conclusion:

To sum up, the alternatives to fossil fuels are very, very few that could promise the magnitude of energy required to meet our nation’s need. It is not as though plentiful alternatives exist, and one can be weighed against another …

The blunt fact is that there are the fossil fuels and there is nuclear.

Failure to recognize this, while focusing on options that do not and cannot have the magnitudes [of supply] required, will inevitably lead to increasingly dangerous energy shortages. Who then will answer? Will [it be] the environmental activist, who blocks real options, and then puts forth options that cannot meet the need?

Who else indeed? Will it be the politician who is ready to subsidize unsustainable short-term solutions and who forever plans for his re-election, carefully deferring difficult decisions until after that happy day? Not likely.

My expectation is that the engineer will answer, based on past history. More generally, it is the organization that people really expect to deliver the goods – usually the electrical utility or other operating organization. Because of the long time taken for the results of these decisions and their consequent good or bad impact on society to be revealed, politicians usually get away with no need to answer to anyone.

From the point of view of a large-scale enterprise, the uranium industry exhibits characteristics similar to both the oil industry and coal industry. The time scales involved in exploration, development and market delivery times are all very much longer than political cycles. They all require enlightened and consistent public policy over a period of decades to enable them to become effective. Only real statesmen can and do listen to recommendations whose consequences lie further in the future than the next round of the electoral cycle.

To answer the need for sustainable large-scale energy supply, the first step is to examine the available options. Among the options that are concentrated and thereby easily collected, by far the largest energy potential is from coal or uranium [14] Figure 1, pg. 6. Figure 2 in the same document compares nuclear and coal. Wind is included in the Figure only to show the best of the diffuse options – and the most popular today. Its primary disadvantage is its highly variable nature, which must be backed up by either backup sources or by major energy storage facilities.

Coal suffers from an extraction rate limit and an uneven distribution of deposits, thereby causing transportation difficulty in many nations. Nuclear fission energy is the clear choice. It is highly concentrated and so has only minor transportation problems for either fresh fuel or for used fuel.  In addition, this fuel is inexhaustible[11].

The very large quantities of fuel available from uranium and thorium are well known [14] Figure 3, page 7. Using today’s technology (thermal reactors) along with the 2005 total world energy usage, we see that at least 40 years of fuel supply are assured. Assuming a reasonable rate of exploration and tolerable increases in fuel price, at least 300 years of fuel supply can be assured from uranium resources alone. Accounting for thorium fuel supply would probably double the amount shown in this Figure.

Fast reactors apparently are necessary to extend nuclear fuel availability in time, to well beyond the horizon of human existence. It is not practical to mine uranium from seawater to fuel thermal reactors, because of the very large required extraction rate. Fast reactors do not suffer from this drawback, however, because a one-gigawatt electric unit requires only 2 tons of makeup uranium per year. This makeup fuel also can be obtained from dilute ore deposits, from the ocean, or from depleted uranium from enrichment plants. This huge diversity of fuel sources arises because of the very large amount of potential energy in each unit of natural uranium or thorium,

5.3 Alternative strategies

The world is, at the present time, blessed with a sound cadre of successful nuclear plant designs. Based on direct experience, these designs are seen to be economical, safe and reliable when properly managed and regulated.

The basic choice, then is whether to build a large fleet of existing plant designs (subject, of course, to the slow evolution in detail that always follows from experience) or to re-examine all of the alternatives previously studied, so as to find one or more optimum designs for the future. Based on this author’s understanding of the great urgency of building to replace petroleum as its supply declines and its price rises, it is recommended that the correct path can be found closer to the first option than the second. This is mainly due to the urgency of our situation – it is imperative to begin building a large number of power plants now. We have no time to waste. We have no time for long, drawn-out research programs. In this case, in a very real sense “the perfect is the enemy of the good”.

Edward Kee, Vice President, NERA Economic Consultants, said in a recent interview [15] that, from the point of view of both vendor and buyer,

The most important issue for reactor designs is to get a lot of units built and in operation as fast as possible. This gets the design down the learning curve to lower costs and shorter schedules, but also stimulates additional sales from buyers who look for low risk and demonstrated success. While design features are important, market success is much more important.

This market reality strongly discourages introduction of revolutionary design concepts, especially if private industry is expected to shoulder the majority of project risk. Of course there is no reason that the development of improved or new designs cannot continue in parallel. It must only be assured that any development effort does not interfere with the ongoing production plant capacity buildup.

Existing plant designs can be operated with adequate safety, if they employ conscientious crews led by knowledgeable and “mindful” management [16]. Meeting the need for energy immediately creates the challenge of supplying trained manpower to build and operate the plants. Fortunately, this need is fully recognized within the industry.

Given the fact that thermal reactors must be built in large numbers as soon as possible, the question arises as to which characteristics of these units will ease the transition to new designs when they are available? It is obvious that the transition will begin only when the price of uranium rises; it is also obvious that any new reactor type must have improved characteristics for uranium utilization; preferably, these reactors should produce more fissile material than they consume.  Their excess fissile material then could be blended with recycled materials to refuel thermal reactors without using any new uranium. The effect of this strategy will be to control the rising price of natural uranium. The best available system for this purpose is the fast reactor design known as the Integral Fast Reactor, or IFR [17].

Clearly, during the transition between thermal and fast reactor fleets, the less excess fissile material required for refueling of existing thermal reactors, the greater the flexibility for growing the numbers of fast reactors. This indicates that the best strategy to prepare for this transition is a thermal reactor fleet with a high ratio of fissile material produced per unit of fissile material consumed – usually called the “conversion ratio”. Commitment of “High-C” thermal reactors such as the PHWR today would considerably ease the future transition toward a mixed fleet of thermal and fast reactors [18].

Nuclear energy also can be used to reduce petroleum use for transportation fuels. For example, the following conclusion is quoted from a recent paper [19]. These concepts are explored further in a later work [20].

Liquid fuel demands for transport could be reduced in half by combinations of several options such as diesel engines and plug-in hybrids. Independently, the biomass liquid fuel options could meet existing liquid fuel demands without reductions in oil demand. Rapid technological changes are occurring with the development of biological plants for fuel production, methods to process biomass, and plug-in hybrid vehicles, as well as in other areas. Consequently, the specific combination of biomass, nuclear energy, and liquid fuels for transportation will be determined by the results of this development work.

A great deal of work is now being done in this field. There is a high expectation of success. As a direct result, requirements for additional nuclear capacity might well arise over the next few decades. Nuclear capacity planners should consider this possibility very seriously.

6.  Establish means of financing large-scale nuclear energy

Financing is difficult for large projects such as nuclear plants. Two good comparisons are seen in development of a new oil field and the construction of a continental highway network. In the first case large capital resources must be committed many years before any return can be expected. In the second case, people expect that taxpayers will fund major highway construction.

Bill Gates [21] puts forward a precise and simple explanation of the problems of nuclear plant finance. He argues that the private sector will remain unable to finance this new build program, but that governments can help a great deal. The US government has, in fact, begun this process by offering loan guarantees. A similar system was utilized to finance construction of the Qinshan-3 project in China; nations associated with several major systems and components used export development loans of various kinds. This operation was very successful, and the loans are now being paid back expeditiously. loan guarantees could be established in support of the project. Loans would be repaid over time during plant operation. Financing also would be greatly eased if some of the capital expenditures incurred during plant construction could be charged into the rate base, recognizing that plant benefits will eventually accrue largely to those same ratepayers. Both of these alternatives depend completely on the support of the community where the plant is located, thus underlying the paramount importance of their trust that the plant being constructed is truly in their interest. Of course, this is a political and sociological question.

The complexity and uniqueness of project arrangements for building a large plant defeat any attempt to generalize the process. There is no doubt that it is one of the crucial steps toward success. Expert management combined with careful project planning, clear definition of roles and goals, along with comprehensive design and scheduling of each step of the project can lead to timely and economical project completion [8}.

Financing of large projects can benefit from better predictability; this can be achieved through standardizing all or even part of any plant design. Partial standardization implies modularity, and is the preferred alternative recognizing the large span of time involved between projects that might be built on one site as well as the wide diversity of site conditions, in other cases. In most situations it is be wise to restrict evolutionary design changes to infrequent, incremental steps.

All of these arguments support standardized design for new plants and militate against radical changes, even though such changes might be advantageous in theory. In general, such developments must take place outside normal commercial venues. New reactor types must be thoroughly tested and demonstrated before being considered seriously as production options.

7.  Answer power plant site, security, and energy transport questions

Assuming the greatly increased scale of this industry, choice of sites for new power plants will become a serious issue in the future.  As the application of nuclear energy broadens from electricity production into a wide range of industries [22] it may be necessary to update traditional thinking about these locations. In any case, the area requirements for the plants themselves will not be large; the majority of space will be required to accommodate the “industrial parks” that will surround these plants.

The need for security is another factor in the choice of site. Together, these two factors suggest the establishment of energy parks on which many nuclear units (at least, those of a scale envisaged today) will be co-located along with fuel recycling and possibly long-term fuel storage facilities. Recycling “on site” may well be preferred to drastically reduce the need for shipping of used fuel and other radioactive materials back and forth to the power plants. High security for all nuclear materials is, of course, easier to establish on a large site than it is on a number of small, isolated sites.

Yet another advantage of energy parks is that they can service smaller sites without the need or the capability to grow very large [23]. The so-called “hub and spoke” arrangement is very likely to be chosen in most cases. The idea is that small or medium capacity (SMR) units would receive their fuel from an energy park, and return their used fuel to the energy park for recycling. Several of these satellite units serviced by a single large central site.

Presuming that a few large-scale sites are established raises the question regarding the proper scale of nuclear units to be installed there [24] Those studies indicated that very large (5,000 to 10,000 MWe equivalent) units could be optimal. Industrial application also likely will lead to some of the units being dedicated to supply process heat; these may or may not include electrical generation capability.

When established these energy parks would be similar to large oilfields in production capacity. Their main energy currencies [25] would be electricity and hydrogen; this system could be identified by the newly coined word “hydricity”. Transportation fuels may be an important product, carried from the site to consumers via conventional pipelines or supertankers. Location of energy parks on large waterways, ocean shorelines or islands would greatly facilitate transport of products from these sites.

8.  Eliminate nuclear weapons proliferation

This issue is really one that must be solved through international diplomacy; technical methods can assist in reaching the goal of eliminating both national and sub-national weapons production; however, in the end it is a matter that must be settled through international agreements. As noted in the book “The Bottom Billion” [26], behavior of individuals and nations is more effectively sustained through social “norms” rather than laws or coercion. Agreements between governments establish these norms of behavior. The nuclear non-proliferation regime constitutes the sum of these agreements. Up to the present day, this network of agreements has been sufficient to avoid any use of these weapons. As technology advances and behavioral norms are even better established, it is reasonable to hope that the use of all weapons of mass destruction, including this one, will be eliminated.

9.  Ensure commodity supply and infrastructure strength

By this time (about 50 or so years into the future) one possible issue will be the supply of the necessary materials and equipment to serve an ever-growing population. The underlying issue is, of course, the sustainable limit of human population. Otherwise, just how many people constitute a “full house” on this earth?

Note that two of the IAEA issues do not appear in the present list: reactor design and fuel cycle innovation.  This author assumes that these aspects of nuclear energy development will occur more or less automatically as the promised capacity of the system increases. I assume that they will be driven by a combination of human need and commercial enterprise. This is not to say that they are unimportant, but only to recognize that the form and style of these developments will be a matter of trial, error, and discovery.

Fuel supply is one aspect of long-term development that is already established. Several publications e.g. [11], [27], confirm this, provided only that systems capable of transforming almost all of the fertile material into fissile fuel are installed. The Integral Fast Reactor [17] has already demonstrated this basic capability.

10.  Grow nuclear capacity to more than ten terawatts (equivalent)

This figure for ultimate nuclear capacity can only be a wild guess.  It is intended to indicate a large number, and one that could include not only electricity generation but also a broad array of industrial processes [14]. Ten thousand one-gigawatt units (electricity equivalent) seems to be a large number, but the actual unit capacity will likely be considerably larger by this time.

When the world’s nuclear energy system has grown to approximately this scale, it will be capable of supplying all of the energy needs of humanity for thousands of years. Of course, a better way of supplying large amounts of safe and reliable energy may be invented before this time, even though none is apparent on the horizon at this time.

11.  Conclusion

The era of cheap and abundant petroleum and natural gas is drawing to a close. Many alternative replacements are proposed. The only clear alternative today is nuclear energy extracted from uranium and thorium. During the past seventy years, this new energy source has been fully developed and installed as a second-rank contributor to the world’s energy supply. During the next 50 to 100 years it can and will grow to become a predominant force in sustaining the health and well being of all humanity. If necessary, fission energy can continue this role for many millennia.

No prediction of the future can be reliable, and this prediction is no exception to the rule. By studying our energy supply options we can only hope to improve our understanding of the present, and thereby might improve our descendants’ chances of survival in the future.

12. References

  1. Orrell, D 2007 The Science of Prediction and the Future of Everything, Harper Collins Toronto, Canada
  2. International Atomic Energy Agency 2008, International Status and Prospects of Nuclear Power, Vienna, Austria
  3. International Atomic Energy Agency 1010, International Status and Prospects of Nuclear Power Report by the Director General GOV/INF/2010/12-GC (54)/INF/5, Vienna, Austria
  4. Massachusetts Institute of Technology 2010 The Future of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle, An Interdisciplinary MIT Study, Summary Report, MIT Press, Cambridge, USA
  5. International Energy Agency 2009 World Energy Outlook, Executive Summary, International Energy Agency, Paris, France
  6. Heclo, H 2008 On Thinking Institutionally, Paradigm Publishers, Boulder, United States of America
  7. Rockwell, T 2010 Learning About Energy,, [Accessed 24 Sep, 2010]
  8. Petrunik, K; Rixin, K 2003 Qinshan CANDU Project, 2003 Construction Experience and Lessons Learned to Reduce Capital Costs and Schedule Based on CANDU Project in China, Proceedings of the 24th CNS Annual Conference, Toronto, Canada
  9. Cuttler, JM and Pollycove, M 2009 Nuclear Energy and Health: And the Benefits of Low-Dose Radiation Hormesis, Dose-Response, 7, p. 52-89. Available at: [Accessed 29 Sep, 2010]
  10. Muzumdar, AP; Meneley, DA 2010 Large LOCA Margins & Void Reactivity in CANDU Reactors, Report COG-07-0912, CANDU Owners Group, Toronto, Canada
  11. Lightfoot, HD; Mannheimer, W; Meneley, DA; Pendergast, D; Stanford, GS 92006), Nuclear Fission Energy is Inexhaustible, Climate Change Technology Conference, Engineering Institute of Canada, Ottawa, Canada
  12. Kunstler, JH (2006), The Long Emergency: Surviving the End of Oil, Climate Change, and Other Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century, Grove/Atlantic, New York, USA
  13. Till, CE (2005), Plentiful Energy, The IFR Story, and Related Matters, The Republic News and Issues Magazine, Jun-Sep 2005
  14. Meneley, DA 92010), Nuclear Energy in this Century – A Bird in the Hand, Proceedings of the 31st Canadian Nuclear Society Annual Conference, Montreal, Canada
  15. Kee, E (2010), Asia to Lead the Shift to Nuclear Power, NERA Economic Consultants, [Accessed 29 Sep 2010]
  16. Weick, KE; Sutcliffe, KM 2007 Managing the Unexpected – Resilient Performance in an Age of Uncertainty, Second Edition, San Francisco, USA
  17. Beynon, TD; Dudziak, DJ (Ed); Hannum WH (Guest Ed); 1997, The Technology of the Integral Fast Reactor and Its Associated Fuel Cycle, Progress in Nuclear Energy, 31, Number 1&2, Amsterdam, Holland, Elsevier
  18. Meneley, DA 2006 Transition to Large Scale Energy Supply, Proceedings of the 27th Canadian Nuclear Society Annual Conference, Toronto, Canada
  19. Forsberg, CW 2007 Meeting U.S. Liquid Transport with a Nuclear Hydrogen Biomass System, Proceedings of the American Institute for Chemical Engineers Annual Meeting, Salt Lake City, USA
  20. Forsberg CW, 2009 Sustainability by combining nuclear, fossil, and renewable energy sources, Progress in Nuclear Energy, V. 51:1, p. 192-200
  21. Gates, W; Holliday, C 2010 Energy Sector Poised for Innovation — with the Right Spark, Washington Post, April 23, A19
  22. Gurbin, G; Talbot, K 1994, Nuclear Hydrogen – Cogeneration and the Transitional Pathway to Sustainable Development, Proceedings of the 9th Pacific Basin Nuclear Conference, Sydney, Australia
  23. Wade, DC; STAR H2: The Secure Transportable Autonomous Reactor for Hydrogen Electricity and Potable Water, NERI Project No. 20-00-0060, Argonne, USA.
  24. Hub, KA; Charak, I; Lutz, DE; Thompson, DH; Gast, PF; Meneley, DA 1966, Feasibility Study of Nuclear Steam Supply System Using 10,000 MW Sodium-Cooled Breeder Reactor, ANL-7183, Argonne, USA
  25. Scott, DS 2007, Smelling Land – The Hydrogen Defense Against Climate Catastrophe, The Canadian Hydrogen and Fuel Cells Association, Vancouver, Canada
  26. Collier, P 2007, p139 The Bottom Billion, Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can be Done About It, Oxford, United Kingdom
  27. Cohen, BL 1983 Breeder Reactors: A Renewable Energy Source, Am. J. Phys. 51(1), American Association of University Teachers

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.

162 replies on “Nuclear energy challenges for the 21st century”

Neil Howes, on 1 May 2011 at 6:14 PM said:

North America has considerable advantages in using a high proportion of both wind and solar…very large long term hydro storage suitable for balancing season solar variations

In the Pacific Northwest we have 33 GW of hydro capacity…last June we were dumping power with all of 4 GW of wind on our grid because the wind and the rain came together.

By dumping I mean the price of power at the regional interchanges went to zero as 100% of export transmission capacity was used, the nuclear and fossil plants were all throttled back and we ended up spilling water because the reservoirs were all completely full.

Hydro dams have minimum flow rates, maximum flow rates and maximum spill rates to avoid killing all the fish.

April,May and June are high flow rate months. They are also minimum electrical demand months as their isn’t much need for heat or air conditioning.

The wind also blows pretty good in April,May and June.

Here’s Bonneville Power’s current statistics…the fossil plants are pretty much just idling.

We are exporting an average of 4.9 GW/hr for the month of April with our nuke plant offline for refueling…4 of it to California and 1 to Canada which is also hydro-rich.

Without more transmission capacity we can’t absorb all that much more wind.

Of course then we are still left with the August problem…not much wind and not much hydro and and maximum demand.

One of the reasons California electrical rates are so high is that they need 50 GW of generating capacity at ‘peak summer demand’ but only need 20GW at ‘off peak’ spring demand with 4 of that being supplied by Hydro from the Pacific Northwest.

The wind does not blow during heatwaves.


Guys I believe ideology is getting the best of you, this site a few posts below (if you want I can link to) accepted the WHO report as the definitive study, now its being torn down because it is also damaging to your point?

@Cyril R
Its objective and scientific, its also the most conservative study, the design of the reactor is not really the relevant part of the study but the release of fission products (Bq) after that it is dispersal (wind), countermeasures and population densities as variables.

Again I ask that you guys check it out, you would see that the vast majority of thyroid cancers in children happened in Belarus, meaning that the iodine pills need to be distributed widely in Japan you should use your pulpit to help and give ideas for countermeasures.

“The link on airline deaths posted by “Cyril R” mentions the reduced mortality in Taiwan following exposure to Cobalt 60. I know I have posted this before but “Environmentalist” probably missed it:

Again guys you are letting your confirmation bias blind you, had you read the study you would see that the correlation of the cancer rate between the young residents and the avg Taiwanese population, here is a subsequent study

Hormesis is extremely controversial, we are talking natural medicine controversial, LNT is the standard and wishing it will not make it go away.


@Cyril R. I see no reason why not. There is a synergy that can be established between a LWR and a CANDU known as the DUPIC fuel cycle that has spent LWR fuel re-burned in a CANDU that may be of interest to a country like the Netherlands. South Korea is already using it in a pilot program at the moment, as they have both types in service.


Hmm yes, perhaps we can use DUPIC to help acceptance – people here seem to worry a lot about ‘the waste’ as they ignorantly keep calling it.

ThO2 – PuO2 fuel is also kind of interesting. Its a better and safer fuel and works better with CANDU, plus it would put us in a decent position for getting thorium molten salt reactors started by fluorinating out the bred U233 from the spent thorium fuel rods.


harrywr2, on 2 May 2011 at 1:28 AM — I think 33GW is a typo and 13GW is closer to the correct figure.

Notice the number of CCGTs recently added!


galloping: can you explain what your graph means in a little more detail?

what’s the definition of “irradiated people” in the graph?



@Environmentalist – LNT is still an unproved hypothesis, calling it a standard will not make that fact go away ether.

Invocation of the precautionary principle is not science – it is politics.


Gregory Meyerson,
The original study on the Taiwan Cobalt 60 accident , published in 2004 can be found here:

Subsequently some of the researchers (notably Y.C. Luan) have urged that studies be made that do not assume “a priori” that ionising radiation has no beneficial effects. See:

I am impressed by the fact that you took the time to read some of the papers relating to the Taiwan Cobalt 60 accident.

For 12 years I was responsible for a high radiation facility operated under North Carolina laws. It would have been simple for me to increase my exposure to ionising radiation but instead I chose to minimise my exposure.

While it is clear that the LNT hypothesis is wrong when applied to low radiation doses, the hormesis hypothesis needs much more study before I would recommend selling bracelets containing Cs137 to the general public.


Gregory Meyerson,
Good to have you back! My reply did not show up so this is my second attempt.

The original study on the Taiwan Cobalt 60 accident was published in 2004 by W.L. Chen et al.

More recently other researchers have recommended that studies be done that include possible beneficial effects of ionising radiation:


As you will see from my previous comment I am having problems. Please be patient.

I am impressed by the fact that you read some of the other studies of the Taiwan Cobalt 60 accident. If you read my earlier comments carefully you will see that they are not unequivocal endorsements of the hormesis hypothesis.

For 12 years I was responsible for operating a high radiation facility under North Carolina laws. It would have been easy for me to increase my exposure to ionising radiation but I chose to do the exact opposite.

While the LNT hypothesis is wrong when applied to low doses of radiation it will take many more careful studies before I will be advocating the sale of bracelets containing Cs 137 to the general public


@Harry2, 2May, 1.38am.
No argument that the NW needs more grid connections to other parts of US.
Your statement “the wind doesnt blow during heatwaves is the same observation that occurs in Australia, presumably due to high-pressure systems. However, high pressure systems do not extend over the entire N American continent, so it would more correct to say”the wind doesnt blow in the regions experiencing a heat wave”.
Would note that these events are associated with high solar output, just as low pressure systems are associated with cloud cover, and low solar output but higher wind speeds.
Have a look at the web site to see how combined wind and solar output looks.


@ Neil Howes:

It is too simplistic to say that high pressure loss of wind is compensated for by low pressure cloud and that somehow wind and solar work together towards a happy ending, thanks to non-existent high voltage cross-continental interconnectors.

You have already given a hint: We need wind PLUS solar to even be in the race. You said it. Double the capital, and then some.

Then, by your own admission, more transmission lines than would otherwise be required must interconnect these regions of disparate weather patterns across thousands of kilometres. This needs more capital expenditure and embedded energy and land use and time and effort.

But that is certainly still not enough. The solar collectors, both PV and concentrating thermal, do not produce usable power for the morning peaks and will also be absent during the evening peaks and overnight, especially when those loads which are continuous have been taken care of, and the wind will tend to drop in the evenings and not rise again till after the morning peak.

So, thanks for the link to Oz energy analysis, but no thinking person could be convinced by this line of reasoning.

Or, perhaps, are you going to switch back and say that transmission lines are not needed because we have batteries, and that batteries will not be needed, because we have dams, sufficient of which will never exist in a flat land such as Australia. When the pumped hydro storage option has been ruled out on the basis of cost and impossibility, do you then switch to demand management which truly a phrase which means “failure to supply the market’s needs”. It also means blackouts, but we won’t worry about slipping back to worse security of supply than even after the Second World War, will we?

After all of these have failed, the next bright spark will again say, “But it’s easy, because wind blows in a low pressure region and the sun shines in the high pressure region” and the whole circular nonsense goes round and round while nothing effective is being done about climate change.

Yes, climate change.

Climate change promises to be the driver of more social upheaval and war and loss and concern than anything that humans have yet seen, but we waste our time trying to devise ways to avoid energy policies which include fair consideration of nuclear sources along with the other options. But we cannot allow nuclear, can we?

Because there is a new religion, a religion called “Renewables”, which forbids consideration of heresies such as the only power sources which can bring this apocalypse to a halt.

This religion distorts the language and avoids the truth. It wastes time and money and diverts the efforts of the many into alleys leading nowhere, so that the few, the true believers, can continue to delude and to be deluded.

No, thanks, I want none of that religion.

I want the freedom to investigate and to work and to plan and to avoid that apocalypse by any means possible.

If, after nuclear options are considered fairly and honestly, they are found to be required as part of the energy mix that emerges as society’s rational goal, then that is what I will want. Full stop.

Until you can clearly and honestly affirm that the absolute cheapest, safest, quickest, least resource-demanding, highest availability, highest reliability, schedulable, power comes from a mix of electrical energy sources excluding nuclear, then please focus on those sources which have those attributes, for they are where the answer will be found.

The answer will certainly not be found in doing things three times over, just to get one partial answer: wind + solar + and mega-transmission, all working part-time and at only 20% capacity, plus or minus a bit. That is not the answer to my question and it will not provide a safer world heading into the 22nd century.


@ John Bennetts, on 3 May 2011 at 1:20 AM

Great post John, I sense a frustrated practical engineer here who has spent a lifetime having to deal with the latest impractical ‘bright idea’ from upper management or idealistic government.

@ Steve Darden, on 3 May 2011 at 9:14 AM

Great link, and very well put by George Monbiot


John Bennetts,
Thanks for a great post. The only folks who take large scale solar seriously are those on the receiving end of government subsidies.


Steve Darden,
George Monbiot writes really well but I don’t buy his gloomy vision.

We used to light our homes using whale oil and that led to some bad consequences for whales and also for us as the price of whale oil kept rising. Back then there were folks like Monbiot writing about a gloomy future without whale oil.

Then kerosene was found to be an excellent substitute for whale oil at one tenth of the price so our future suddenly became brighter.

Now fossil fuels are beginning to run out, so fearmongers like George Monbiot are predicting all kinds of horrible consequences.

Much more likely the world will be better when we can no longer afford to burn fossil fuels. It is highly probable that the main affordable energy will be electricity provided by NPPs. Hydro and other renewables will always have some role but nuclear will be the work horse when fossil fuels become expensive.


gallopingcamel, I agree (about the quality writing and the gloomy vision of Monbiot). He concludes that:

All of us in the environment movement, in other words – whether we propose accomodation, radical downsizing or collapse – are lost. None of us yet has a convincing account of how humanity can get out of this mess. None of our chosen solutions break the atomising, planet-wrecking project.

I beg to differ. Tom Blees did it. He, along with Jim Hansen’s write-up of his book, got me looking at nuclear in the first place, and with the IFR + boron fuel + plasma torches + GREAT, I really do see a way out of this mess.


By the way, this is a killer argument from Monbiot, and should be used with great frequency to the “renewables only, close nuclear” crowd:

The case against abandoning nuclear power, for example, is a simple one: it will be replaced either by fossil fuels or by renewables which would otherwise have replaced fossil fuels. In either circumstance, greenhouse gases, other forms of destruction and human deaths and injuries all rise.


I suggest Barry that you’ve moved on from the vast bulk of the “Environmental Movement”… Mr. Monbiot’s gloomy vision is accurate if the future were to be dictated by the direction the “Establishment” environmentalists advocate.

Modern environmentalism is sorely in need of a Reformation… its current manifestation resembles a utopian, 60’s era, hallucinagen inspired fever dream.

They’re intent on taking us on the “bad trip” with them, and they refuse to be “talked down”.


BTW… you and Mr. Monbiot are both evidence that the Reformation is happening, but the “old school” leaders are still too lost in their “flashbacks” to ever come around.


Loved that book! I’ve always considered it an important work, but was quite disappointed at the nonchalant treatment of nuclear. After all the stellar analysis of the psychology of a rational environmental basis, the requirement to bring the developing countries along, etc, etc… I found the practical solutions in the final analysis tepid, at best. Still, my copy is tattered from re-reading, and filled with highlighted passages and notes. I am delighted that they have seen the light!

I wonder if they’d consider an updated version…? They should conscript you into a collaboration… and you should accept. THAT would put a marvelous (and necessary) flourish on an already wonderful (if incomplete) book.

BTW – how cool is it that you’ve attracted them to your site? I don’t doubt that you’ve contributed your mite to their conversion. You’re really getting attention and making a difference, my friend… keep up the good work!


John Rogers said:

“…….but the “old school” leaders are still too lost in their “flashbacks” to ever come around.”

How true! At least in the USA it is time for the science establishment to leave the stage and make way for younger people with better ideas.

I am reminded how the 19th century science establishment led by William Thompson (Lord Kelvin) became a barrier to progress in physics.


Macfarlane fumbles factoids. Opposition energy spokesman Ian Macfarlane says carbon tax will hurt South Australia’s dependence on coal and curtailed LNG exports apparently means foreigners will burn more coal instead.

I think most of what he said is convoluted or simply wrong . SA’s Leigh Creek coalfield will be depleted in 30 years as will the Cooper Basin gas field. He says Cooper Basin gas will help LNG exports via Gladstone Qld. My understanding is that most SA natgas goes to Adelaide where it is blended with Victorian natgas, also in decline. What will be exported from Gladstone is liquefied coal seam gas from the Qld Surat and Bowen basins. If anything SA could soon take some of that coal seam gas from Qld if fracking doesn’t pan out.

SA does have large deep untapped coal fields and yes maybe carbon tax would inhibit their development. It also has the world’s largest uranium deposit but for some reason that is not being fully developed either. Nor was it mentioned as a possible beneficiary from carbon tax.

Why is the standard of our politicians so abysmal?


@ John Newlands, on 3 May 2011 at 3:40 PM :

If Macfarlane is worried about exports, he needn’t be, because I understand that carbon tax on exported coal and gas will be NIL.

Regarding domestic consumption, SA is neither remarkably less nor more CO2 intensive than the remainder of our country. What’s the real reason for his gripe?


@John Bennetts 3 May, 1.20am,
Perhaps you didn’t read the article at the head of this post by Dan Meneley, where he is saying even with very optimistic projections of nuclear power, and considerable expansion of renewable energy we are going to have a “clean energy gap” until 2080!
You also seem to think that I oppose nuclear energy which is incorrect, I think we should build nuclear power as fast as possible but also build renewable energy especially wind and CST with thermal storage, and expand pumped hydro storage and retain all of the NG peaking capacity-UNTIL ALL COAL-FIRED POWER IS SHUT DOWN, and all NG used for domestic heating and oil used in land transport is replaced by electricity. After that is achieved we can fine tune the balance of various renewable energy and nuclear and how much NG makes sense to retain.
Anyone thinking this can happen in 20-30 years are using both nuclear and renewables are very optimistic, thinking that it can be done alone in 30 years with just nuclear or just renewable energy truly dreamers.


Neil, I agree with basically all you wrote above at 6:03 PM. I want to shut down the coal plants as fast as possible. We are resource constrained as to how fast we can do this, so “as fast as possible” means we must aggressively optimize our spending on clean energy to achieve the greatest emissions abatement per dollar.

With that in mind I turn to Barry’s Energy paper, Tables 4 and 5.

The only renewable power technology assessed as fit for service was concentrating solar thermal. The average lifecycle emissions for CST was 179 kgCO2/MWh, and for nuclear it was 20 kgCO2/MWh. So a MWh from nuclear has 9 times more emissions abatement power than solar.

Then we look at the costs: the averaged of assessed LCOE for CST was 165 $/MWh, and for nuclear, 53 $/MWh. You can have 3 times as many nuclear megawatt hours as solar megawatt hours for the same price. (And I believe these studies are highly favourable towards solar because they discount the reduced reliability of solar.)

Put them together and a dollar spent on nuclear goes 30x as far towards coal shutdown than a dollar spent on solar. Our annual budget for clean energy will shut down coal thirty times faster if we spend it on nuclear. For the value we’d get if we spent the money on nuclear, we’d only get three cents in the dollar if we spent it on solar!

So I don’t understand the “every bit helps” argument for inclusion of renewables in the energy mix. Including renewables imposes a horrendous opportunity cost drag on our clean energy efforts. Apportioning any significant part of our budget to renewables is simply not compatible with your “fast as possible” intention. We shut down coal fastest if we spend our budget on nuclear.

You could make a case that we could build renewables now, but nuclear will take time to get started. Should we spend our money on renewables now? Or should we simply bank it, put it in a Clean Energy Future Fund? If nuclear lags solar by 10 years, we could spend a dollar on solar now, or $1.60 in 10 years on nuclear. A bird in the hand now, or 48 dollar equivalent birds in a decade? Even given the urgency of emissions reduction, don’t we get a better climate outcome by saving our money and investing in nuclear than spending it on solar now?

I think your “fast as possible” stipulation leaves no place for solar or wind in the energy portfolio. Renewables slow down the death of coal.


@Barry Brook, on 3 May 2011 at 12:33 PM

The case against abandoning nuclear power, for example, is a simple one: it will be replaced either by fossil fuels or by renewables which would otherwise have replaced fossil fuels. In either circumstance, greenhouse gases, other forms of destruction and human deaths and injuries all rise.

I think that quote better captures Monbiot’s theme (which is why I quoted George in the first place). I did not like the downbeat way George wrapped his essay, but I read that last paragraph not as his “gloomy vision” but as a sermon to his environmentalist mates who reject the nuclear solution, while proposing nothing but feel-good policies. His sermon would have been better had he closed with an optimistic outlook similar to yours:

… with the IFR + boron fuel + plasma torches + GREAT, I really do see a way out of this mess.


John Morgan,

Whilst the general thrust of your contribution is correct, there is one error which must be corrected.

You said:
“The average lifecycle emissions for CST was 179 kgCO2/MWh, and for nuclear it was 20 kgCO2/MWh. So a MWh from nuclear has 9 times more emissions abatement power than solar.”

Not so.

The average lifecycle emissions for black coal is about $1000/MWh (Table 5).

Thus, the savings relative to black coal for nuclear is pretty close to 100% and for CST is about 82%.

Thus conversion to nuclear is about 25% more carbon-effective than conversion to CST.

This leads to a price effectiveness differential of 3 or 4 to 1, not 30 to 1.

It is the same message, but more believable.


@ Neil Howes:

Neil, you misunderstand my real thrust. I do work for the renewables industry, via CST. I have nothing against any renewable, provided that it is used for an appropriate purpose and not to the detriment of achievement of success in the war against climate change.

As soon as renewables proponents suggest that their product can/will replace nuclear, then they are wide of reality. CST is fine as a partial replacement for coal in the existing coal-burners, for example. That will not result in a single MW of coal capacity being retired from service.

Concentrating solar stand-alone stations are excellent, if the commercial stars align with availability of land and access to transmission.

PV is fine, at a price, but not with my money thanks – it is simply too expensive.

And so the story of renewables goes.

If real action to protect our climate is needed, then it must be either demand management or nuclear. DM is fine in theory, but its current proponents appear hell-bent on mandatory blackouts and assumption of the existence of high speed rail and electric cars and so forth, which simply do not currently exist and will not exist for decades to come.

That leaves me with nuclear. Not because of its aesthetics, but simply because it is the last, best and only option which is capable of preserving this world in something like its current shape for those who will follow me.

Anything which gets in the way of this clear goal is an impediment, so by all means, have the solar and wind and and DM and biofuel and geothermal and ocean power and whatever else sideshows, but until they can pay for their admissions, they should not be allowed in the venue where the main debate is being held, and that is regarding coal to nuclear, asap. Preferably, this will be on the existing coal fired stations’ sites and using the existing cooling water supplies and transmission infrastructure, perhaps with upgraded conductors and switchyards and a modicum of air cooling.

Think along the lines of pulling down the oldest coal fired units one or two at a time and building 50% bigger on the same site immediately, with most of the existing workforce switching to the new plant.

In time, about 20GW of Australian coal units could be replaced, for ever, by 30GW of nuclear power, as a straight swap. What’s there not to love about that idea? Timeline: 20 years, after which only the very newest of the current coal fired units would be still in service, mostly two-shifting for peak loads.

Meanwhile, renewables and their associated backup power supplies can do their own thing elsewhere. That isn’t even the same issue. It’s not the same money. There is no clear link between nuclear and renewable.

In short, this is a war. All battles must be fought and won or the objective will not be attained. The coal to nuclear battle must not be lost because resources have been diverted to less effect elsewhere.


Since April 2005, I’ve addressed many professional and community groups on the need for Australia to include nuclear in our future energy mix. A great majority of the over 2000 I’ve reached have accepted my argument. There is already a majority in Australia who are prepared to give it a go. Were our pollies brave [sensible]enough to give it the go ahead, we’d have any number of nuclear countries wanting to help fast track us into the nuclear age, especially as we have at least half of the world’s recoverable uranium in our country. Most of that is in South Australia. DV8 makes a good suggestion that we adapt the CANDU technology here. I would actually like to see BHP Billiton with the Federal Government develop some PBMR’s or something similar on site at Olympic Dam to provide power for their expansion, power for other mines on the Gawler Craton and also the coal to liquids industry which is likely in the Arkaringa Basin. SA is the obvious place to start development of the full nuclear fuel cycle. It’s now 10 years since I first suggested that.


Terry something’s cooking (preferably not a vat of coal tar) since the Federal energy minister, the Federal defence minister, the SA premier and SA mines minister (who likes enrichment) were all in the area yesterday–35b-uranium-and-gold-secrets-20110503-1e61q.html
I suspect the defence establishment (ie Daddy Warbucks types) wants to go with NP. Perhaps the PM should have a look around that way as well.

That area could end up with 5 or 6 copper-gold-uranium mines all needing electricity and water. Ditto the zircon mines to the west and coastal aquaculture. I have no problem with C-to-liquids but I think the C should be organic carbon that was in recent circulation, not from deep underground like coal. Nuclear hydrogen could possibly make it economic.


@ John Bennetts, on 4 May 2011 at 12:17 PM

I’m not sure I understand your reply to John Morgan.

Table 5 from Nicholson et al. shows exactly what John Morgan said – a life cycle emission intensity of 20 kg CO2eq/MWh for nuclear and 179 kg CO2eq/MWh for CST.

You said “The average lifecycle emissions for black coal is about $1000/MWh”. Now unless you’re talking about the external cost of GHG emissions per MWh, I don’t understand why you’re talking in $/MWh for life cycle emissions.

Please note, I’m not trying to argue anything here – I just don’t get it…


Yes John, I’m with you on all of the points you raised. Tom Koutsontonis has made the right noises and pretty obviously a few of the saner ones in the government are coming on side with nuclear. I reckon that within 15-20 years, SA will be the world leader in future clean [emissions free] energy supply and use. I just hope I live to see it. Cheers John.


John Bennets clearly meant 1000 kg/MWh of CO2 lifecycle emissions.

Nuclear’s lifecycle emissions go down as you power the grid with nuclear and use centrifuge enrichment. France for example, about 80% nuclear, switching to centrifuge enrichment, in this case in point saving three GIGAWATTS of electricity in a couple of years from now:

Who ever said efficiency and nuclear are opposed? Clearly they work very well together! Three gigawatts, no othere efficiency projects can beat that!!!

I’m holding out a quiet hope for CST but my favorite player, Ausra (now Areva Solar) has not achieved its cost targets and is still selling the same expensive plants. In fact the more recent project is more expensive than previous ones:

105 million AUD for 5 megawatts of average electricity flow, that is around 20 dollars per average electrical Watt delivered. And that’s with a coal hybrid system which is supposed to be the cheapest – turbine already installed, no storage cost.

These figures are not encouraging.


@John Morgan, 3 May,8.41pm,
While their are limits on what governments are prepared to spend on energy investments, large amounts of private capital are available for spending on energy investments if they are profitable. RECs have made wind and solar PV profitable. A carbon price of $20/tonne may also make OCGT more profitable than new coal-fired. CST and geothermal are in a different class because they are not yet proven technologies and are thus worthy of a small amount of government investment. To start building nuclear in Australia we would need either direct very large government investment or loan guarantee. This would prevent us from starting construction of 10 nuclear power plants( even if we had the capacity to do this).

Not sure why you state that a $ spent on nuclear rather than CST goes X30 towards replacing coal-fired? Each MWh from nuclear or solar is going to replace one MWh from coal, so each MWh nuclear will save 980 Kg CO2, each MWh CST(if existing technology doesnt improve)will save 821Kg CO2. Its also likely that CST would be used to provide peak demand so actually would be competing against OCGT, while nuclear and wind would be competing against coal-fired.

In any case CST is unlikely to account for very much of the clean energy mix until prices decline to where it can compete with OCGT at a reasonable carbon price.

New wind capacity is being built by private capital with fairly low REC prices(much lower than PV effective price), and it can be built quickly (1-2 years), and in Australia a large capacity is in planning stages. We are not going to have significant nuclear in Australia in 10 years, most optimistically one or two reactors could be near completion in 2021.

World wide wind has been expanding 25-30% per year for last 20 years because manufacturing and installing capacity can expand rapidly. Its no wonder that China is building a lot more wind in last 2years than nuclear, even though nuclear capacity expansion has been underway for last 7 years.


Neil, I’m a bit flabbergasted by the CST prices. They’re almost exactly the same as they were decades ago, around 15-20 dollars per average Watt electrical. It seems there’s zero development to lower prices, despite significant new project activity recently.


Tom Keen:
I did not mean to say $/MWh. I was always referring to kg CO2-e/MWh. My typo.

Table 5 includes several median figures for the lower emitters, but not for the higher ones. Someone picked them up and called them averages… close, but not correct.

I looked at Column 3, PF Coal without CCS.
9 Estimates listed: 960, 974, 933, 847, 1070, 863, 762, 1004, 830 kg CO2-e/MWh.
Average: 8243/9 = 915 kg CO2-e/MWh.
Median: 933.
I used a nice round 1000 kg CO2-e/MWh for comparison with the average/median figures mentioned above.

Hence, my comparisons are that nuclear saves 1000 – 20 = 980kg CO2-e and CST saves 1000 – 179 = 821 kg CO2-e per MWh of coal power.

The ratio of avoided emissions due to conversion from coal for nuclear Vs CST = 980/821, which is close enough to unity for general discussion. That is, the difference is not great.

It is certainly nowhere near the factor of 9 which was quoted.

Cyril R: Thanks for detecting my typo.

Neil Howes:
You correctly state that wind is reliant on the REC market. REC’s will likely be phased out when carbon pricing is introduced because otherwise it is a double dip.

I agree that world wide wind capacity is growing at a furious rate. You say 20 – 25%. However, this is not because of mysterious and unstated factors. It is clearly due to the REC’s and other subsidies, including in China’s command economy where the price of anything is essentially set at whatever the State says that it will be. Again… wind is reliant on the distortion of the market in its favour due to RECs. Phase out RECs and wind will lose favour overnight to cheaper low-carbon alternatives, especially those with significantly higher capacity credits.


More for Neil:
I see where you are coming from in your post at 9:15, May 4 regarding CST being reserved for peaking duty. First, that argument does not hold true if, as in Kogan Creek, the steam is used to replace coal in a coal fired power station. The CST will not imporve either capacity or availability of the system.

Stand-alone CST with thermal storage is another breed. There is none in Australia and no current proposal that I know of, but I am not across market development issues. Even if CST + Storage was available, there are issues relating to time-related losses from storage which limit its potential as peaking plant. I’d like to know more before I categorise it fully.

Further back, on 3 May 2011 at 6:03 PM, you repeated your belief that we should push ahead on all forms of low carbon, on the basis that nuclear cannot be constructed fast enough to do the job.

Well, nuclear will cost multiples of the alternatives which are on the table and cash is limited, so I do not agree with wasting scarce money.

At the very least, there should be an outcry every time public money is directed to less cost-efficient ways of attacking the CO2 problem than is achievable with nuclear. As to the supposed impossibility of constructing to a timetable – if we cannot, given the opportunity, commission new 800MW units at a rate of 3 or 4 per year nationally once we get going, then we simply aren’t trying hard enough.

In NSW over 25 years ago, Bayswater’s 4 units of 660MW were commissioned in 1984, 1985, 1985 and 1986. All 660MW units. All on time, on budget. That was only 1 state. Construction time on site: 1980+.

This isn’t rocket science, it is straightforward engineering and management of projects with the political support of the (Wran?) government.

We need to stop saying that the task cannot be done and just get out and do it. Assemble a team, line up contracts for the first 10 and get started. Allow 4 years for design, engineering and approvals, then commence site works. Expect to hand over completed, commissioned generating plant 4 years later and regularly thereafter.
Y 9: 1 unit (FOAK for Australia)
Y10: 2 units (Same site)
Y11: 3 units (On two sites)
Y13: 4 units
Y14 – Y20 inclusive: 4 per year
Total: 38 at 800MW = 30.4GW

My hopes for 30GW in 20 years – say 38 x 800MW units, in groups of 2 or 4 per site, perhaps 6 – are clearly possible and practical, but only if the political will is strong enough and organisations with a can do attitude, such as the Snowy Mountains Authority and the former Electricity Commission of NSW are in charge.

Does anybody have a lazy $100B to drive this project? Can we afford NOT to?


John Bennets, you are of course correct. Neil, please derate my previous comment by a factor of 9, while noting the point still stands.


@John Bennetts, 5 may 12.53am,
Its true that no CST with thermal storage has been built in Australia, and for this reason alone I wouldn’t be suggesting that more than one or two should be built and once experience is gained, costs determined, additional units could be added at existing sites.

You would also be correct that no nuclear power reactors have been built in Australia and for similar reasons it would not be wise to start building 10 reactors simultaneously. No other country has started a nuclear program that way, or for that matter started to built ten LNG or similar sized projects simultaneously from zero base.

Its my understanding that molten salt storage has a heat loss of about 1% a day, not an issue if CST is to be used for supplying peak power. If molten salt is the heat collection medium ( ie solar towers), time shifting daily solar peak supply to daily peak demand would be more efficient than pumped hydro(20% loss). The reason I am suggesting CST be used for peak only( with nuclear and wind providing base supply) is that peak prices are higher and there is little sense in storing solar heat to use during lower demand periods, even though it would be possible.

The issue of cost is only critical if you are expecting the government to fund all nuclear and all renewable. The first full scale reactor, geothermal and CST projects may need direct funding but private capital should be prepared to fund future building if long term pricing(say for 20 years) can be guaranteed( REC or carbon price or both). Government assistance may also be required for liability insurance and loan guarantee for nuclear.

What I can guarantee is that no government is going to fund 100Billion nuclear construction program (or geothermal of CST) without at least one power plant successfully operating in Australia. Now if you think that private capital could be convinced to spend 100Billion on building nuclear in Australia with similar incentives that wind power receives(REC or a carbon price or both) then best of luck to those investors.


@ Neil Howes:

The renewables industry seems to be determined to gain subsidies far in excess of $100B in Australia so that they can flog their stuff.

NSW’s IPART Director, only this week, reported to the new government that the existing size of domestic solar (only part of this industry) is costing almost $1B in that state alone, via elevated tariffs. Add to that the Federal subsidies and we are talking perhaps twice as much – certainly more than $1B per year, per state, right now, and for what? Not a single coal fired unit has been challenged, let alone made redundant and retired from service.

$1B for nothing.

For years, repeated across the land, the only measurable outcome being the flow of money into private hands from governments and retail electricity customers.

Now, tell me again why no government would choose another option.

A rational government would of course choose to own and operate effective nuclear than to continue to support only ineffective solar PV and its mates and to end up with a stuffed climate, rising oceans, dead oceans and neither money nor ownership of the asset.

Quite obviously, there is no rational argument for continuing the current arrangements, which should be discontinued poste haste with an apology to the effect that “we stuffed up”.

The cash flow could then be directed where it can work best.

Besides which, I didn’t say that all ten NPP’s should be commenced on the same date, only that a bulk buy, somewhat similar to the contracts let by ECNSW in the late 1970’s were for an initial 660MW power plant, then another one or two, then 4 and then 6 more.

Certain designs of fission plants are available and have been vetted, examined and trialled already. Unloke coal fired, there is no difference in fual quality around the world. There is nothing left to trial, so let’s just get on with it. The only issue is the construction techniques, so I have allowed for a ramped start across several years.

Operation training can be completed well before commissioning, so there in no problem there.

I say again:
Let a contract for 10 x 1000 MW NPP’s asap, and go for it. All that stands between this and reality is a fleet of straw man arguments.

Neil, your arguments for delay are nothing more than a sidetrack. You don’t, perhaps, have a commercial interest in non-nuclear non-solutions? Let’s clear the air.



I have no objection to private ownership of NPP’s, it’s just that private capital is risk-averse and has no business supporting public objectives per se.

Thus, I am sure that the first NPP’s in Australia will not be privately owned. After a few years, they may well be flogged off to the public sector, but that’s another story. I would hope to be around to be able to put a little of my own money into such a float, because it has much better future prospects than the fossil fuel industry in all of its forms that my superannuation funds seem to love.


I’d bet London to a brick that renewables subsidies and mandates will continue after carbon tax is introduced. That will be in spite of Prof. Garnaut recommending they cease. The Greens of course want both c.t. and a national feed-in tariff for renewables. In the US Obama suggests gas and nuclear to get the renewables tax credit. What the hell include coal as well.

I also have a sneaking suspicion that big emitters in Australia will effectively have their carbon tax paid for them by the federal govt. The ruses will including ‘benchmarking’, ‘carbon capture readiness’, ‘transitional arrangements’, ‘forward credits’, ‘adjustment assistance’ and other weasel words. Take the case of converting Vic brown coal stations to combined cycle gas. The industry says carbon tax must be $70 to $90 which won’t happen. If Hazelwood gets replaced by gas in the next decade it will be because the Federal govt has subsidised it to the hilt. For a theatrical touch they will probably put some solar devices near the front gates.

All is not lost because I think Peak Oil will get us a 5% emissions reduction by 2020 regardless of politics.


John Bennetts,
I already stated that I was in favor of some government support for nuclear and also for CSP with storage, and geothermal but only to the point where private funding can make a decision on the economics of operation..
Your anger seems to be directed at solar PV., I think PV funding this is a waste of resources but PV should enjoy the same REC and CO2 price advantage as wind and nuclear(not x5 REC benefits).
Your argument for nuclear is that government funds are limited, but private capital is prepared to fund wind but probably not nuclear so in fact nuclear is going to require a lot more of limited government funding.
I am all in favor of a plan to build 10 nuclear reactors but no major project of this magnitude is going to be done in a few years, as far as I can determine comparable countries have started with one or two reactors and added about 500MW av per year.once the first 2 come on line. While that is happening we can also build a lot of wind capacity, and some CSP and geothermal.
Your test for the success of PV (or wind) is if it shuts down a coal-fired power plant. Would that also be the test for the first nuclear plant or would it be that it lowers CO2 emissions/kWh?
Surely managing demand for electricity is separate to the way it is generated..In 20 years we could have 20% of our power from nuclear or 20% power from wind but a 25% increase in demand. Clearly having 20% from nuclear and 20% from wind is going to be the better outcome.


@ Neil Howes:
1. I have repeatedly stated my conviction, one which is shared by some others, which is that some forms of renewable energy are so unrelaible as to require almost 100 percent duplication via FF plant.
2. There is no need for me to respond to your attempts to rephrase my words, point by point. I have said what I have said. Paraphrasing, then twisting other meanings out of my words, is a waste of effort by all concerned, including the readers.
3. I am surprised that a simple question has not been answered. Do tou, perhaps, have a commercial interest in non-nuclear non-solutions? If so, I entreat you to clarify the matter; if not, please say so. I have asked this because I find myself wondering the logic of continually twisting and turning on the same discussion points, as you try to drag discussion away from identifying the real value (or otherwise) of power sources which have extreme capital requirements, are ephemeral or worse, and which ultimately become a smokescreen for OCGT.

Neil, you may have an opinion that I have a hatred of solar PV. This is certainly not true. As an engineer and manager, I seek efficient solutions which are least cost. The very fact that subsidies of PV and certain other technologies are so bloated demonstrates clearly enough that a better way must be found if we are to reduce or discontinue greenhouse gas production due to the electricity industry.

So, Neil. Yes or no? Conflicted or pure?


@John Bennetts, 8 May
I have repeatedly stated my conviction, one which is shared by some others, which is that some forms of renewable energy are so unrelaible as to require almost 100 percent duplication via FF plant.
Sorry for the late reply.
I would agree that solar, wind and hydro all need some form of energy storage OR almost 100% FF back-up(OCGT ) OR OCGT run on bio-methane.
I do not see this is an issue for next 50 years if the back-up is natural gas providing the OCGT is used at a very low capacity factor during fairly rare continental wide low wind and or cloud cover.
Most hydro has very variable rainfall inputs but has enough built in storage(6months – several years) not to need FF back-up. CST with short term thermal storage would need back-up or storage for periods of more than one cloudy day, PV would need 100% back-up or storage virtually all the time, while distributed wind a complex mixture of some back-up or storage most of the time and some storage.
The real issue is can these renewable energy resources dramatically reduce FF consumption over the next 1 to 50 years. I have always stated that nuclear can supply virtually zero CO2 emission energy, the problem is be cannot build enough quick enough for a variety of reasons. Nuclear plus renewables is better than nuclear only, its not an issue of a dollar spent on renewables is a dollar less on nuclear.


Neil, we shall have to agree to disagree.

Your statement “I do not see this is an issue for next 50 years if the back-up is natural gas providing the OCGT is used at a very low capacity factor during fairly rare continental wide low wind and or cloud cover.” encapsulates part of our divergence of opinion.

To characterise continental wide weather patterns as “rare” is to avoid the truth. To not mention the crippling amounts of treasure which are needed to provide meaningful transmission capacity to distribute renewables nation-wide is, also. The nation certainly cannot afford such extravagances justified only because of a feel-good aspect and the commercial bias of some participants in the discussion.

A dollar diverted or a week wasted following non-nuclear solutions just delays the nuclear action which, deep down, most of us understand is essential.

Recent news from the Conservative government in the UK is that they see the construction of 8 or more new NPP’s in double-quick time as part of their ambitious response to climate change is the best news that I have heard on this subject for years. It’s inexplicable that our own government has adopted a head in the sand approach to climate change and has invited an even more useless response from the Australian Federal Opposition.

Australia: Failing to achieve even a 5% reduction based on 2000 (?) emissions levels.

UK: Achieving 25% reduction targets based on 1990 and now heading towards 50%.

UK’s efforts may be less than are required, but Australia’s are actively accelerating the speed of change.

I am also heartened by recent announcements by the NSW Premier that he will legislate for a 33% reduction in the rip-off feed-in tariff which retail customers pay (ad hom /pesonal attribution of other’s motives deleted) Again, a Conservative! I am not usually to be found applauding the conservative side of the political spectrum.

The only reason I can think of for this push by conservative forces towards effective climate change action is that business leaders, at long last, are starting to realise the depth of the damage that wasting money and time on non-solutions poses for commerce and industry as we know it. Business as usual, it certainly cannot be, in a world of blackouts, rising tides, high input costs and changing political and economic settings.

So, Neil, keep pushing renewables, (deleted personal attribution of person’s motives), but realise that logic demands a much more rigorous approach in the long run, one which provides reliable and adequate energy where, when and at prices that are appropriate.

Wind and PV never have and never will achieve this goal continent-wide. Biomethane and hydro are destined to provide only a tiny part of Australia’s energy demand. Hot rocks have cost investors two-thirds of their investment and there is no light at the end of the tunnel. Pumped storage is environmentally insane in any more than boutique volumes.

Coal must go.

Natural gas is finite and is part of the problem.

That leaves blackouts or nuclear. There are no excuses, Neil. Your grand-kids will not appreciate our current prevarication and ineffectiveness, no matter how warm and fuzzy the reasoning. Your grand-kids are entitled to the same levels of energy availability and security that you and I have enjoyed for the whole of our lives, along with a safe and inhabitable world.

Are your actions in tune with your grandchildrens’ needs, or with a short term business plan?


Neil Howes

I would agree that solar, wind and hydro all need some form of energy storage OR almost 100% FF back-up(OCGT ) OR OCGT run on bio-methane.
I do not see this is an issue for next 50 years if the back-up is natural gas providing the OCGT is used at a very low capacity factor during fairly rare continental wide low wind and or cloud cover.

Can you provide a cost estimate for your suggested approach? What is your estimate of the capital cost per kW for the wind, OCGT, storage and electricity transmission capacity and the gas transmission system that would be required? What would be your estimate of the LCOE compared with a solution where nuclear provides say 80% of the energy?

We get frequent periods of low wind over all wind farms in the NEM, for example 14 to 21 May 2010 ( ). For about 3 or 4 days, from memory, the capacity factor was about 1% to 2% and there were 65 5-minute periods where all the NEM wind farms drew more power than they generated – up to -4MW.

To connect all Australia with transmission (to link wind farms distributed throughout the continent or along the southern and eastern edges) would cost more than the cost of nuclear power stations to do the same job:

Just the cost of the trunk transmission lines alone ($180 billion) is more than the cost of the whole nuclear option ($120 billion).

A rough comparison of the cost of wind and nuclear to provide reliable power is here:
Wind with OCGT back up would be about twice the cost of nuclear and wind with pumped hydro storage (if we had the sites available, but don’t) would be about 30 times the cost of nuclear. However, wind power and pumped hydro are not a viable match at the scale needed. Pumped hydro storage needs reliable, low-cost, constant power supply during the baseload period and be able to generate during shoulder and peak demand periods. Wind does not provide reliable power, nor is it cheap.

Lastly, Martin Nicholson and I critiqued the ZCA2020 study which makes suggestions along the lines of what you are advocating here: . We concluded:

• The ZCA2020 Stationary Energy Plan has significantly underestimated the cost and timescale required to implement such a plan.

• Our revised cost estimate is nearly five times higher than the estimate in the Plan: $1,709 billion compared to $370 billion. The cost estimates are highly uncertain with a range of $855 billion to $4,191 billion for our estimate.

• The wholesale electricity costs would increase nearly 10 times above current costs to $500/MWh, not the $120/MWh claimed in the Plan.

• The total electricity demand in 2020 is expected to be 44% higher than proposed: 449 TWh compared to the 325 TWh presented in the Plan.

• The Plan has inadequate reserve capacity margin to ensure network reliability remains at current levels. The total installed capacity needs to be increased by 65% above the proposed capacity in the Plan to 160 GW compared to the 97 GW used in the Plan.

• The Plan’s implementation timeline is unrealistic. We doubt any solar thermal plants, of the size and availability proposed in the plan, will be on line before 2020. We expect only demonstration plants will be built until there is confidence that they can be economically viable.

• The Plan relies on many unsupported assumptions, which we believe are invalid; two of the most important are:
1. A quote in the Executive Summary “The Plan relies only on existing, proven, commercially available and costed technologies.”
2. Solar thermal power stations with the performance characteristics and availability of baseload power stations exist now or will in the near future.


I note that part of my last post was deleted on the grounds that it contained a comment about another’s motives.

Fair enough… provided that people are open about their biases, especially commercial bias.

I have several times sought confirmation (or otherwise) about that person’s commercial involvement in the renewables industry, because if that is so, then it would go some way towards explaining the otherwise illogical approach to support of high cost, unreliable renewables and overconstruction of transmission lines. In fact, that person has repeated statements without addressing the logical inconsistencies contained therein.

So, by all means, Moderator, take a knife to any of my comments which are not in accordance with this site’s policies, but please implement an additional policy, requiring contributors to be prepared to state when a conflict of interest exists and, if so, the nature of that potential conflict.
Fair comment – but Barry would have to amend the commenting rules for this to happen. I will ask him to look at doing that.


@John Bennetts, 20May 12.42pm
Until today nearly all my income has come from the Canadian government as a defined pension plan. However, I have decided today to make an investment in Infigen( IFN) Australia’s larger wind farm developer that operates about 600MW capacity of wind farms. This was a direct result of wanting to put some cash where it could help reduce CO2 emissions. I considered and rejected investing in PV solar because of the high cost to the consumer. While my investment is modest, I would challenger others to invest in nuclear if they think private investment in nuclear is going to reduce our CO2 emissions. I am confident that at least in this case several thousands of dollars spent on renewable energy are definitely not dollars that would have been spent on nuclear.


Peter Lang,
Hello, good to see you are back.
You may be interested in the OZ EA web site that Barry has provided links to(
Third Story showing a simulation of 50% electricity from wind plus CST(with 6h storage) and 30GWh pumped hydro storage.
One point is that only small amounts of power would need to move between WA and NEM grids( 180MW from memory).
These are simulations but looking at the ZCA plan it appears that they were a little conservative saying only 15% of wind power would be firm.
I didnt have any significant input to the ZCA plan, and agree with most of your criticisms, but that should not condemn using renewable energy to make very large reductions in CO2. Costings are another matter, really depends upon what level of CO2 reductions are planned and when they are to be met.


>”When established these energy parks would be similar to large oilfields in production capacity.”

Indeed. Such energy output is also akin to an oil refinery. Seeing as we already have oil refineries in our respective industrial areas, it makes sense for each energy park to grow up inside an oil refinery.

Consider that an oil refinery throughputs somewhere between 10 and 50 GW of chemical energy as oil and that maybe 20% of that is diverted to provide heat and hydrogen for the refining. It already is an energy park.

Immediately we have a consumer for the power output by a large breeder reactor. Now, with copious heat and hydrogen, the chemistry of the input carbon no longer needs to resemble that of the transport fuel the energy park outputs. The capital infrastructure of the refinery need only evolve slowly as its input changes from light crude to heavier and heavier hydrocarbons, perhaps to biomass and who knows, eventually atmospheric CO2.

In that progression, the proportion of the 10 to 50 GW of transport fuels output by the park, could be increasingly from nuclear breeders on site. But that figure could be in turn dwarfed by the power in freshly manufactured fissile fuel exported to many, much smaller, electricity-producing NPPs around the country.


Hi Neil,

Thank you for the welcome back.

You said:

Third Story showing a simulation of 50% electricity from wind plus CST(with 6h storage) and 30GWh pumped hydro storage.
One point is that only small amounts of power would need to move between WA and NEM grids( 180MW from memory).

My question was about the cost. Until we are talking cost, I find it all rather too hypothetical.

Where will we get 30 GWh pumped hydro storage? That’s a large amount, very high cost, and would not be even close to viable if used with an intermittent, unscheduled energy supply like wind and solar.

I have trouble accepting the point about small amounts of power moving between WA and NEM. Does this refer to peak power or average power? The transmission cost is based on peak power. The NEM wind farms produced about 2% capacity factor for about 6 days in May 2010, and wind has demonstrated it sometimes dies when the going gets tough (peak demand in heat waves). It would seem that the advocates of “the wind is always blowing somewhere” must be expecting WA to make up the deficit. So the transmission system must have the capacity to carry the maximum power output of the WA wind farms. I haven’t read the OZ EA yet, so won’t take this any further until I have.


If using nitrate solar salt binary eutectic in a thermocline, I’ve calculated, using James Pacheco’s work, that a high temp system direct thermocline with a 300 C delta T costs only $ 5 per kWh thermal capacity. This low cost, however, is only possible if the peak salt temp of 265 C can be achieved in commercial operations. This turns out to be very very hard with a solar concentrator. The sun is also very unreliable and is out for days at a time, sometimes weeks. However, the system can be used for a high temperature Gen IV reactor. Such a reactor can provide high priced peaking power from a seperate turbine connected to the storage system, while a baseload turbine operates round the clock.

The nice thing that few people know is that nitrate salts are well proven in various industrial installations; they require very little R&D, its all engineering to specific project parameters. Which is easy, but you do have to pay people like me $ 200/hour to do it

; ) ; ) ; )

Click to access Solar-Coupled_Thermal_Storage-Dracker.pdf

James Pacheco work on thermocline:

Click to access 21032.pdf


For perspective, a 5 dollars per kWh thermal system lasting 10,000 cycles costs 500/10000 = 0.05 cents per kWh, quadruple that for interest & O&M costings, gives only 0.2 cents per kWh thermal. Even with a pessimistic 40% net efficiency heat-to-electric that’s 0.5 cents per kWh electricity. Add 1 cent per kWh for the peaking power block levelised cost and you’ve got peaking nuclear power for just 1.5 cents added costs (peaking always goes for more than 1.5 cents extra compared to off-peak, so this is a very good business case…)


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