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


  1. Financing really should not be a problem in the US. But loan guarantees are being derailed by bureaucratic processes and by failure to recognize that the sovereign risk which these projects are subject to should NOT be costed into the guarantee fees. Indeed, for me, that is part of the point of offering them, that the risk posed by legislative bodies and policy shifts should be excluded from any such calculation, as distinct from a commercial loan.

    So far the US govt has shown no urgency at all – similar to many other governments worldwide. I wonder whether the zealots referred to are the root of this problem or whether it is a more deep-rooted issue of government processes.


  2. Joffan, on 29 April 2011 at 1:50 AM said:

    So far the US govt has shown no urgency at all

    The Chinese appear to be content to be the ‘first adopters’. Why not let Areva, Westinghouse, GE et al work out construction ‘teething pains’ in China at Chinese expense?


  3. harrywr2, there is often some merit to stepping back from the “bleeding edge” if, as you point out, someone else is willing to be there. However I do not feel this will address the entirety of the problem; the reactor constructors can be twice as good as today and many of the non-engineering roadblocks will remain.

    And I think the issue is more urgent than that; cooperation on the early adoption would be no bad thing and might mean better lessons learned earlier.

    In fact, what you describe is probably what will happen anyway now. There are so few US plants likely to complete in the next five years that the lessons from the Chinese will be available by the time any serious construction program gets underway.


  4. Barry – thanks for posting Dr. Meneley’s presentation. It’s great that you’re going to be at the Waterloo Global Science Initiative conference; enjoy your dinner! I sincerely hope dv82xl can join you as well – I’d love to hear that conversation.

    WGSI describes the conference this way:

    A global conversation about how cutting edge science can help us build a more sustainable future.

    Don’t let them get away with limiting the conversation to “cutting edge science” – whatever that means. Remind everyone that thermodynamics is the law, and “nature always bats last”. Hit it hard!

    One thing struck me in Dr. Meneley’s presentation. I live in Alberta, and the oil sands are on my mind; I had wondered about the composition of the sand tailings. This image intrigued me greatly:

    Sandstone is show as having anywhere from 200 to 2,000 ppm uranium, and presumably proportional amounts of thorium. That sounds like mineable ore to me. Google Scholar turned up US Patent 5,387,276 Method of leaching mineral values from oil sand tailings
    John S. Rendall
    , which shows that there’s interest. Does anyone know how much U and Th are in the Athabasca sand?

    Even at average crustal concentrations there’s more energy in the sand than in the bitumen. How much better is it?

    IMO we’ll need all the reactor technologies – IFR, molten salt, uranium and thorium. Social aspects and entrenched interests will dominate in the near term. We can only do our best to start turning the juggernaut towards an energy rich future.


  5. “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.”

    This is a non-starter, the bar is not going to be lowered. I am being kind by calling LNT a controversy, but clearly this is the inevitable result of giving the industry an inch, the bar would be lowered.


  6. Barry, Dan,
    Great presentation, but was surprised that the figure of energy share to 2100, doesn’t seem to have any increase in hydro from the present <10% of world hydro resources. Surely if nuclear has an optimistic projection should have the same for hydro(say 300% increase).


  7. Neil Howes,hydro is a very finite resource and the limit has been reached in many parts of the world unless building dams in sensitive locations is to be considered.
    Hydo storage has a large footprint and is extremely destructive.

    The article is a welcome beacon of sense in the dark landscape of ignorance.

    However,I would call into question the proposal to build energy parks close to the ocean or waterways.
    If this is done it must take into account flooding from various causes and also rising sea levels which are happening now and will accelerate no matter if we get even a best case scenario in carbon pollution reduction.


  8. Pingback: Comment on Nuclear energy challenges for the 21st century by Joffan « SeekerBlog

  9. On ABC Catalyst nuclear engineer Glen Green argued that Australia would take at least 10 years to build a large reactor and that the country lacks both the expertise and heavy loading equipment. In contrast he says combined cycle gas plant takes 3 years to build and saves 65% of the CO2 of the pre-existing coal. Well gas it is then. Note Green worked on Phenix but made no mention of advanced fuel cycles.

    I understand the Brightsource CST project in the US has got a loan guarantee for around $2bn. If it means loans can be secured at lower interest rates then I guess it is a subsidy on the capital cost. Perhaps in future low carbon energy technology can get help from just two basic sources; carbon taxes and loan guarantees. That cuts out the more distorting per-Mwh subsidies like feed in tariffs, renewable energy certificates and production tax credits.


  10. environmentalist,
    The nuclear power industry is already safer than other major technologies for producing electricity. While it is already much safer than it needs to be, nobody is advocating lowering the safety standards; rather the reverse is true as new designs have the goal of improving safety still further though innovations such as passive safety systems.

    While the LNT controversy is interesting it has little relevance to NPP safety unless you are one of those people who conjure myths about large numbers of people dying from the long term effects of radiation.

    To illustrate, consider Chernobyl the worst NPP accident to date, fewer than 50 people died as a direct result of acute radiation exposure.

    When it comes to long term exposure the scaremongers like Caldicott can dream up huge numbers. The attached link mentions a bunch of different scary estimates but they can’t tell us where to find the bodies.

    This subject has been beaten to death on other threads at BNC.


  11. Guys, bioaccumulation is a problem for both fossil fuel and nuclear fuel, for the same reason. Why do you think coal is full of heavy metals? Because the living organisms that became the coal had collected the heavy metal. That’s how bioaccumulation works.

    We’re adding transuranics to the mix, producing a very large rapid change in the amount of heavy metal available to the biosphere, along with a wide variety of innovative new persistent organic chemicals.

    Comparisons that focus on short term health miss the whole point, often intentionally, for the whole energy industry’s purposes. We’re making our mark:


  12. @ Hank Roberts:

    Why do you think coal is full of heavy metals? Because the living organisms that became the coal had collected the heavy metal.

    Do you have a source for that? I ask because I was under the impression that coal was actually a good filtering material, and so tended to accumulate various elements as they were transported through it by groundwater.

    We’re adding transuranics to the mix, producing a very large rapid change in the amount of heavy metal available to the biosphere,

    Extensive deployment of nuclear power should reduce the amount of mining and heavy metals needed to sustain our power generation.


  13. I found this paragraph in the MIT study to be quite revealing:

    There are large incentives for cooperative international programs where different nations build different facilities with agreements for long-term sharing. Unlike in the past, most new nuclear reactors and most fuel cycle research will be done elsewhere (France, Japan, Russia, China, and India) there are both financial and policy incentives for cooperative programs.

    A pretty strong indication of which way the authors think the wind is blowing and they may well be right, at least in the short term.


  14. “To illustrate, consider Chernobyl the worst NPP accident to date, fewer than 50 people died as a direct result of acute radiation exposure.”

    From your own link

    Reports by the UN Chernobyl Forum and the World Health Organisation in 2005-06 estimated up to 4000 eventual deaths among the higher-exposed Chernobyl populations and an additional 5000 deaths among populations exposed to lower doses in Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine.

    A study by Cardis et al. reported in the International Journal of Cancer estimates 16,000 deaths.

    British radiation scientists Dr Ian Fairlie and Dr David Sumner estimate 30,000 to 60,000 deaths.

    A 2006 report, commissioned by Greenpeace and involving 52 scientists, estimates a death toll of about 93,000.

    So where do Monbiot and Caldicott fit in the context of these scientific studies of the Chernobyl death toll? They don’t fit anywhere at all.

    Caldicott relies on a Russian report titled “Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment”. Suffice it here to note that the study uses a loose methodology to arrive at an unlikely conclusion.

    Monbiot sides with the marginal scientists in arguing that low-level radiation is harmless. He cites the UN Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) to claim that the “official death toll” from Chernobyl is 43.”

    9000 is the accepted minimum

    As for bodies, well they are buried.


  15. Finrod, I have old sources — one made it online that I recall from coursework that gave me the bioaccumulation story, it’s here:
    but you’re right, current sources differ on that. I found support for your impression here:

    “The three major contaminants in coal (mercury, arsenic, and sulfur) were not a part of the living organisms that made the coal. These elements seeped into the coal beds through ground water or during a time when the land was flooded with ocean water.”

    The next round of coal looks to be getting its load of metals from the atmosphere (assuming the current peat bogs eventually become coal):

    More complicated than I thought (no surprise there).

    Point remains, the rate at which heavy metals and transuranics are going into the living environment is extremely high, they will bioaccumulate, and that will have consequences not well understood but not likely beneficial. The stuff doesn’t just go away.

    Interesting methods are being used to track this stuff — a Swiss project collecting baby teeth for example detected strontium from atmospheric nuclear testing, but a barely detectable result from Chernobyl.


  16. Swiss baby teeth cite:

    “… Activity peaked at 0.421 Bq g− 1 Ca at the beginning of the sixties, coinciding with the detonation of many large nuclear devices. Following the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty that ended atmospheric nuclear weapon tests, a steady and significant decrease in 90Sr activity in milk teeth has been observed—down to a value of 0.03 Bq g− 1 Ca for children born in 1994. ….The effect of the 90Sr deposition from Chernobyl is barely measurable in milk teeth, and no effect is seen from the five Swiss nuclear reactors. …”


  17. Environmentalist, I sometimes have to describe and justify why some sorts of conservatism are a dangerous delusion of safety, not the real thing. What I call “random conservatism” – where your margin is not based on an accurate knowledge of consequences – simply causes you to pay attention – time and resources – to certain possibilities that are not actually the most pressing. By implication you spend less attention on the real highest threats – so accuracy is more important than conservatism. Become accurate and only then add a safety margin.

    Your description of the ratcheting of regulation is often sadly accurate, but can sometimes be influenced by rational argument.

    In the specific case of the linear no-threshold model of radiation harm, I think the author went a little further than reality allows when he described it as “now discredited”. There is still work to do there, but I would say it is now seriously challenged.


  18. @ Hank Roberts

    If the nuclear process, like coal, involved the indiscriminate introduction of heavy metals into the atmosphere, causing broad, consistent distribution into the biosphere, in turn allowing for the bioaccumulation you warn of, I might be persuaded by your argument. Happily, this is not the case… certainly not under normal operations. Even under accident conditions, to my knowledge only Chernobyl managed to distribute “transuranics” in any appreciable quantity. Fukushima, which raises valid bioaccumulation concerns, is dealing primarily with daughter products, not transuranics.

    Nuclear material in the power generating sector is very well managed and accounted for… it is simply not available for bioaccumulation. For the most part, examples of uncontrolled nuclear material are legacies of plutonium production military purposes (including Chernobyl, BTW).

    In light of this, I find the following statement unsupportable, “We’re adding transuranics to the mix, producing a very large rapid change in the amount of heavy metal available to the biosphere…”

    Presumably, in order for the addition of transuranics to produce “a very large rapid change in the amount of heavy metal available to the biosphere” there must have been a recent “very large and rapid” addition of transuranics to the biosphere… can you provide evidence for this claim?

    How much of this heavy metal contamination is a product of coal burning? How much is a product transuranics? How do they compare? Have their relative proportions changed recently to an extent that transuranics are suddenly causing a very large and rapid increase in heavy metal bioaccumulation?

    On a side note, I heard something interesting recently pertaining to bioaccumulation (sorry, no reference). It appears that cesium reactes chemically similar to certain fertilizer that sunflowers absolutely love. I understand plans are afoot to use sunflowers to remediate some of the cesium contamination in Japan. Very cool…


  19. John Rogers,
    While I think we are on the same side I am troubled by your comments that seem to suggest that “daughter” elements are somehow less of a problem than transuranics, many of which have low activity (long half lives). Elements with shorter half lives are often more dangerous.

    Cs137 has a 30 year half life and emits a lively gamma ray (0.6 MeV if my memory serves me). Sr90 has a half life of 29 years and it produces a lively electron (546 keV). This isotope can be a serious problem if ingested because Strontium is retained in bones because it has chemical properties similar to calcium.

    In spite of its volatility and chemical properties, I131 is of less concern owing to its short half life (8 days) and the availability of effective treatment to reduce its retention in the human body.


  20. ABC’s Catalyst program did a a great hatchet job on nuclear power last night. It’s not going to happen any time soon , if ever, according to catalyst. It was more of a cheersquad for hot rocks (Never mind the acid that also bubbles up together with the steam)


  21. I think litigation over groundwater damage will be a severe body blow for shale gas. SBS TV will show this doco on Sunday night

    Re TV (I don’t think I’m an addict) I did some community work today and last night’s ABC Catalyst came up. People sort of know oil is on the downward path they don’t want to talk about it. I think most people also suspect that wind and solar are not coal or oil replacement technologies. Trouble is that view is overwhelmed by a strident minority.


  22. John Newlands, on 29 April 2011 at 7:14 AM said:
    “On ABC Catalyst nuclear engineer Glen Green argued that Australia would take at least 10 years to build a large reactor and that the country lacks both the expertise and heavy loading equipment. In contrast he says combined cycle gas plant takes 3 years to build and saves 65% of the CO2 of the pre-existing coal.”

    If you compare the options of running a coal plant for 10 years then switching to a nuke, with running a coal plant for 3 years and switching to gas. The cumulative Co2 contribution from my over simplified math shows the nuclear plant winning after 23 years from the start of construction or 13 years of operation.

    I just used coal =1, nuke = 0 and gas = 0.35 (percentages in decimal form).

    People pushing for the quick fix of gas just don’t realized that 35% of a big number is still a big number. 0% of a big number is a very small number.


  23. @Hank Roberts (about heavy metals accumulating in coal)
    In groundwater uranium is common in its soluble oxidised form, U+6, but is less soluble in reducing soils, such as peat bogs, where it accumulates U+4 compounds.
    Thus coal smoke contains uranium and its daughters, whereas wood smoke does not.


  24. @unclepete, 29 April 4.32pm.
    The ABC’s Catalyst program raised the very same issue that Dan has raised here; the time to build additional nuclear and the manufacturing capacity. Australia has the additional handy-cap of few trained nuclear engineers, although one Australian company has experience in building nuclear power plants in other countries.
    The clean energy gap is large we cannot afford to ignore any low CO2 energy resource, nuclear, hydro, wind, solar or geothermal. None are appropriate for all regions, all have issues, but all are needed.
    Most telling is China’s demand for 1000GW of clean energy by 2030. Current plans are for five-fold increase). Hydro could be 300GW capacity(100GW av), and at last years build wind would be 360GWc(100GW av), but if this rate was to also increase five fold by 2020, wind could account for 500GWav, still leaving a 300GW clean energy gap.


  25. If I recall the chap on Catalyst said that NPP needed to be around 1500 MW to get average costs down. That seems to rule out mini nukes delivered in a few shipments. The trouble with a 10 year build time is that people get hysterical within weeks if things don’t go right, either another Fukushima or say a $200 oil panic.

    On coal and uranium it is thought the coal basin that partly overlies the Olympic Dam basement rocks could have U-rich sandstone layers
    That area was being investigated for underground coal gasification.


  26. Thanks for the article.
    I would like to draw attention to a couple of points I find debatable:
    ‘It is not practical to mine uranium from seawater to fuel thermal reactors, because of the very large required extraction rate. ‘
    If so the argument needs making.
    Here is part of the debate:

    It seems to me that uranium can certainly be extracted from the sea, that the costs given efficient use should not be excessive, and that there are in fact no scaling issues.

    My second point is in respect of the amount of power we need, which seems to be based on the idea that we have to replace all the energy embodied in the oil we use.
    For the light vehicle fleet electric power is much more efficient, so that for the UK for instance we would only need around 7-8GWe to power it that way.
    In general we should be able to run society on an energy flow of only around 1.5kw per person.
    Here are flows shown for the UK:

    Within the limits of the model I set savings high, as better insulation etc by 2050 are a no-brainer, but convenience levels to high, so that the average temperature of homes etc rises, not falls as some who are keen on renewables argue for.
    It is very difficult or impossible to eliminate nuclear power given restricted fossil fuel inputs, but the needed nuclear build is surprisingly modest, around 90GWe to provide most of our power
    The main weakness shown is high import dependency due to uranium, but even on a once through basis only around 16,000 tons/yr of uranium is needed, at $100kg that is $1.6bn, compared to imports of around $8bn in 2009 for oil and gas alone

    So it seems to me that uranium is likely to be much more abundant and that the needed build of reactors is much smaller than the article indicates.


  27. David Martin:

    The link to the UK 2050-calculator that you give is presumably the result of your own deliberations. I would note that you have failed to meet the target level of 80% emissions reduction while still, according to the calculator, supplying more electricity than required. I must admit that my attempts to hit target were equally unsuccessful without the adoption of a much greater hair shirt approach. I suspect that this is because the calculator programme doesn’t allow one to replace certain energy uses with electrical power or “hydricity”. Equally, I am not sure that the programme factors in population growth associated with high immigration levels and the high fertility rates of first generation immigrant females. Nor, I believe, does it consider the extra energy needed (in retrofits and premature retirements of existing energy producing and using plants and equipment) that will be associated with transitioning to clean energy generation.

    Having said that, I’m unclear as to whether you believe that Dr Meneley has, in general, overestimated the global need for energy by having failed to factor in the fact that electrical energy can often be used more efficiently than chemical energy. After all, what happens in developing countries is vastly more important than what happens in the UK in terms of carbon emissions.

    As far as I’m concerned, the UK, along with the US and most European States, have the option of going flat out for nuclear and, in so doing, hoping to maintain living standards or to plunge towards living standards more typical of those currently extant in underdeveloped nations.


  28. Great post, thanks.

    There are two points that bother me in Dan’s presentation:

    1) Gain public acceptance. This is the number one issue. I don’t see *how* this could happen in the short term. It requires a massive education effort. This is likely to take a generation to complete.

    2) Energy parks. One lesson learned from the Fukushima accident is that problems on a reactor can prevent other emergency work at nearby reactors. I think it would be safer to keep a large distance between reactors, which is the opposite of the energy park concept.


  29. Hank Roberts:

    I have great respect for your diligence and attention to detail which I have experienced both on this site and at RealClimate. However, while I know you are a great supporter of establishment climate scientists and their advocacy, I continue to be perplexed over whether or not you support nuclear power as a means of emissions reductions. Your posts here seem to be heavily on the side of cautioning against nuclear risks or over-exuberance of nuclear advocacy rather than on any consideration of the possible (and IMO overwhelmingly greater) benefits that nuclear power can contribute to global warming and peak oil issues. You may accept these benefits to be a given and thus not worthy of comment from you. However, I would find it reassuring if you occasionally acknowledged them. Alternatively, have you opinions on alternatives that, in your opinion, would more satisfactorily address our looming planetary dilemmas?


  30. @ Enviromentalist

    the World Health Organisation in 2005-06 estimated up to 4000 eventual deaths among the higher-exposed Chernobyl populations and an additional 5000 deaths among populations exposed to lower doses in Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine.

    The WHO report clearly states that up to 4000 people total may die – and that is not just among the “higher exposed”. Where you got the other 5000 is beyond me.

    Even still, up to 4000 + up to 5000 does not equal “9000 is the accepted minimum” as you say. It is actually about 5000 above the accepted maximum.

    WHO report: 5 September 2005 | Geneva – A total of up to 4000 people could eventually die of radiation exposure from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant (NPP) accident nearly 20 years ago, an international team of more than 100 scientists has concluded.


  31. @ François Manchon, on 29 April 2011 at 7:30 PM:

    François advocates single unit power stations. While I agree that all aspects of plant layout will need to be reviewed in light of Fukishima, were not Units 5 and 6 largely unscathed?

    I see a valid argument against cheek-by-jowl construction of reactors, but not against multi-unit power stations, where reactors are somewhat further apart than, say, Fukishima 3 and 4. Multi-unit stations can benefit from the added reliability of shared resources such as emergency power supplies and O&M staff.

    A reasonable case can be made for siting at least two reactors reasonably close together adjacent to industrial parks which use heat as well as electricity produced by the generators, since otherwise the factories would lose their heat during maintenance and refuelling shutdows.

    Similarly, high standards of security and waste management are much more economical to ensure on shared sites.

    Thus, there is need to provide space between individual reactors, sufficient to ensure that malfunction of one reactor will not endanger the safe working of the remainder, but not a need to mandate a limit of one unit per site.

    One lesson I see emerging from Fukushima is that spent fuel should be removed from the spent fuel pool associated with individual reactors as soon as practicable and transferred to a common spent fuel pool, sited a safe distance from each of the reactors on site. There is value in making these pools large enough to hold all of the spent fuel which will be the produced during the life of the station, say 60 years, unless there are irrevokably committed plans in place to reprocess this fuel sooner.


  32. John, I understand your points, but how much is a “safe distance” between reactors? How large should those energy parks be?

    If I remember correctly, on several occasions Tepco workers had to retreat out of the whole complex. This means the “safe distance” would be several hundred meters.


  33. John Bennetts, there is a good track record of safe storage of spent fuel in excess of five years old in (air-cooled) dry casks. I would prefer that for longer-term storage.

    I was speculating on the process that would see fresh spent fuel – and especially temporarily off-loaded fuel like that at F1#4 – moved to a location further away from the reactor, and what risks might be involved in that process. I guess it depends on the view you hold of likely future incidents, whether the extra operational risks are worth the reduced risks in accident scenarios.


  34. @ Joffan:

    Of course dry storage is preferable, once it can be done. Come to think of it, once in dry storage casks, it is probably safer for the spent fuel to be centrally stored, country by country. Even better, returned to the country of origin for storage under a contract arrangement, thus ending up with 10 or 12 dry storage facilities world-wide.

    I take it that you agree with the general thrust of the remainder of my last post – several reactors are OK, provided that separation is adequate. It ends up being a bit like the case of large transformers, which are separated from each other by fire walls or blast walls, or the equivalent in relation to the various classes of dangerous goods storages such as flammable liquids and gases.


  35. Neil Howes, on 29 April 2011 at 5:41 PM said:

    The ABC’s Catalyst program raised the very same issue that Dan has raised here; the time to build additional nuclear and the manufacturing capacity.

    Australians fly in wide body aircraft even though Australia has no wide body aircraft design engineers or construction companies.

    Domestic content on a nuclear power plant regardless of vendor is 60+ %. Cement is cement.

    Even the US doesn’t have the manufacturing capacity to build a nuclear power plant with 100% domestic content.


  36. @HarryWR2:
    I have been in the power station construction game for over 30 years. With the exception of one solar thermal array, no power station on which I have worked has been of Australian design. The world is essentially one marketplace for large items such as 660MW power stations, with the possible exception of China, although even China uses technology transfer arrangements when the desired technologies are not available domestically.

    I’m sure that many Australians would be shocked to learn just how many things such as pumps or power transformers are manufactured overseas for use in Australia and how few are home grown. Now I am certainly off topic.


  37. Prof. Brook, I do not see this as an effective counter for the MIT study. It doesn’t really answer its points at all. For example, it doesn’t justify anything remotely like an urgency for a closed fuel cycle (on the contrary, his own numbers show how absurdly non-urgent it is). There’s nothing to dispute MIT’s “wait and leave options open” thesis. Nor does Dr. Meneley’s specific recommendatino of fast breeders (IFR) address the countering arguments from MIT: that they are not essential and the same results can be gotten with converter reactors (CR <= 1). And that this is preferable, because it leaves slew of alternative reactor options open (gas-cooled fast reactors, even light-water converter reactors).

    That is; given the staggering uranium resources available at low cost (and chapter 3 really is eye-opening), there’s perfectly reasonable alternatives to an IFR breakout which accomplish all the same goals and more:

    * Build vast amounts of LWRs, then start up converter reactors on the reprocessed plutonium

    * Start converter reactors on ~20% enriched uranium

    I think MIT’s core rebuttal against IFR is simply this: the necessity of high conversion-ratio breeders was an idea from a time when uranium was thought to be scarce, but subequent exploration showed this to be false. Conversion ratio is not a limiting factor for massive nuclear deployment.


  38. Harrywr2, 30April 1.43 am,
    The comparison of building a nuclear electric power system with using wide-body aircraft, would be if we had no long runways, no trained pilots or ground crew and had to wait for the ordered A380 or dreamliner to come of the production line, and they arrived in 100 pieces that had to be assembled by construction crews. I am not saying it cannot be done, but it is no accident that originally most nuclear power was built in nations with a nuclear weapons program.
    Probably the most relevant issue is how long a back-order is likely to develop if nuclear power is to provide even 30% of the worlds energy by 2050, about 2500 GW capacity in Dan’s figure of the clean energy gap. This is an argument for getting started now, but have to plan on a fairly slow replacement of coal-fried by nuclear. That’s why wind and solar are also essential, although they will also have back-order issues, but China has demonstrated how quickly capacity can be ramped up compared with its very vigorous nuclear program.
    At least Australia will have some leverage for getting nuclear and wind, being a future major uranium and rare earth supplier.


  39. What about the proposals for seaside facilities? There were some articles floated a while ago, maybe I can dig them up. The basic proposal was to mix power, desalination, heating etc into a single large campus; further a fast thorium-breeder system could potentially manufacture fuel cells for large ships. The vessels would only be refitted at one of several coastal facilities, with the argument that a cell could be made exceedingly solid to prevent tampering by third parties.


  40. This is why I like Ceduna SA for an energy park. It has a port for loading zircon, was 1000km from the nearest Richter 7 quake, not too many NIMBYs, some resident scientists at an observatory, is an alternative coastal site for the cancelled Olympic Dam desal and new transmission could tie in with a unified national grid. Even the ZCA people like the area for seawater pumped storage.


  41. @ quokka

    Thanks for the reference!

    @ gallopingcamel

    Perhaps I was clumsy in making my point.

    I don’t mean to minimize legitimate concerns about the release, and subsequent bioaccumulation, of daughter products… I freely acknowledge and share these valid concerns. Nor do I wish to come off as indulging in tedious semantics by parsing Mr. Roberts use of the word “transuranics” and pointing out that daughter products are a different species.

    The point is that there is no impending crisis, associated with uncontrolled distribution of transuranics, contributing to the industrial heavy metal burden of the biosphere (as Mr. Robert’s statement suggests). Like Douglas Wise commented above, I find myself at a loss as to Mr. Robert’s stance on nuclear, and I echo his curiousity… it might shed some light on why he would make such a claim.

    On the other hand, that’s his business. He is clearly engaged, exceptionally prolific, and highly adept at cutting/pasting/referencing volumes of information from the internet… good on him. Whether his “drinking from a firehose” approach to posting serves to clarify or confuse the issue I remain undecided… but I won’t speculate as to his motives.

    As for me, I am unabashedly pro-nuclear… for what I consider obvious reasons. In my small circle of friends and family, I am considered the resident nuclear expert, and so I spend a lot of time talking about the subject with folks unacquainted with the topic… especially since Fukushima. As a result, I am familiar with the common misconceptions of the nuclear neophyte, and spend a lot of time repairing the damage when these misconceptions are preyed upon and reinforced (whether through the media, or anti-nuke propaganda).

    I’ve taken it upon myself to actually comment here (instead of lurking in the shadows, as I have done for years) because I suspect that there are many readers here like my friends and family… curious, intelligent, concerned, non-technically oriented… who have been saturated for decades in a spurious anti-nuclear narrative that make them easy marks for the cleverly phrased assertion that reinforces the deplorable public baseline of “what they already know”.

    I agree with the source article that public acceptance is the most important hurdle to a rational, nuclear-centric global energy infrastructure. My experience suggests to me that an overly technical approach to public education simply exacerbates their confusion, and hence their fear. With that in mind, I try to keep my postings founded in common sense and accessible to normal logic, rather than requiring recourse to technical reports or primary scientific studies. Whether I am having any success I’m having doubts… obviously I’ve managed to confuse you on this point! Let me try again, not to pick a fight with Mr. Roberts, but to prevent the “general” audience from being led down the primrose path…

    Hank Roberts made the following point in two seperate posts before I responded. His words…

    “We’re adding transuranics to the mix, producing a very large “rapid” change in the amount of heavy metal available to the biosphere…”

    “Point remains, the “rate” at which heavy metals and transuranics are going into the living environment “is extremely high”, they will bioaccumulate, and that will have consequences not well understood but not likely beneficial. The stuff doesn’t just go away.”

    Both of these statements suggest that there is an alarming “rate” of uncontrolled “transuranic” contamination going on within the rather undefined and broad domain of the “biosphere”/”living environment”. I presume nothing as to his intent, but there is much that is misleading in these assertions, and since they flatter generally understood public misconceptions about nuclear, they are destructive to generating a clear understanding in the public mind.

    Every durable falsehood contains a germ of truth, and Mr. Roberts statements are a good example. There is indeed an actual/ potential heavy metal bioaccumulation crisis looming for the “biosphere” at large, and it is in fact accelerating… but it has nothing to do with transuranics or nuclear power… it has everything to do with coal.

    Under normal operations, nuclear power generation contributes zero transuranic heavy metal contamination to the “living environment”.

    Under normal operations, in a single day, a typical coal plant aerosolizes and sends to the four winds more raw uranium into the “biosphere” than a nuclear plant would consume for the same amount of output, not to mention lead, chromium, mercury, etc…

    In accident mode, once, in the entire history of nuclear power generation (Chernobyl), a nuke plant was responsible for the uncontrolled distribution of transuranics in any appreciable amount, and in terms of problematic heavy metal concentrations, the contamination was limited to a relatively small fraction of the “living biosphere”.

    During the entire time that Chernobyl was busily contaminating its little corner of the biosphere with heavy metals, just in that short span of a few weeks, around the world, thousands of coal plants chugged out vast quantities of heavy metal pollution over every inch of the globe, dwarfing into insignificance any volume of heavy metal contamination to the “biosphere” that Chernobyl was ever capable of… just as they had for decades previous, and just as they have for all the decades since.

    To lump general biospheric heavy metal pollution with transuranic contamination from nuclear power generation, as if to imply that the two are even remotely related, would require that you believe a grain of sand is eqivalent to an ever growing volcanic mountain.

    It is even more perverse when you consider that the false equivalence presented demonizes the only viable solution (nuclear) to the actual source of heavy metal bioaccumulation in the “living environment” (coal).

    To be clear, uncontrolled releases of radioactive contamination are always to be avoided, and should never be minimized when they occur. Equally as important, uncontrolled releases of radioactive contamination should not be exaggerated beyond any semblence of reality.


  42. Neil Howes says:

    The comparison of building a nuclear electric power system with using wide-body aircraft, would be if we had no long runways, no trained pilots or ground crew and had to wait for the ordered A380 or dreamliner to come of the production line, and they arrived in 100 pieces that had to be assembled by construction crews.

    Once the political decision to go ahead with nuclear power is made, there will necessarily be a period of preperation before we can open the throttle completely on construction. We should spend about one electoral cycle on the establishment of regulatory frameworks and their overseeing authorities while simultaneously educating the workforce and making special arrangements with nations currently using nuclear power to provide us with technicians and academics to kickstart our programme. We can leverage this by assuring both fuel supply (including domestic enrichment) and waste disposal services. Once this is done, we can build our first few plants over a period of about three years, then continuosly expand our domestic construction capacity, eventually building a base of expertise for export to assist the rest of the world go nuclear.


  43. Canadian nuclear power stations like Bruce, Pickering, and Darlington are multiple reactor facilities. Spacing between the units is not very large, however the distance, but the degree of isolation designed into the plant that provides a safety barrier between units.

    CANDUs also are designed so that passive convection cooling can used for the primary systems to keep reactor cool in the absence of power. They are also equipped with large dousing tanks high in the reactor or containment building that work on gravity, which can be used to replenish water inventory and refill the steam generators, as required, to continue heat release in the event of an extended loss of power. And they use ceramic uranium fuel pellets that tolerate very high temperatures.

    Finally they sit in high-density, reinforced concrete containment walls, around a metre thick.

    Making a multi-unit nuclear power station capable of riding out a power failure is very possible, and has been done.


  44. @ François Manchon, on 30 April 2011 at 12:05 AM:

    Remembering that the problems had already been made more complex due to the reactors’ proximity to one another, I would think that 200 metres is excessive separation. How about pairs of reactors, separated by say 50m, with hardened structures to prevent debris from damaging the containment of adjacent plant, with further pairs somewhat more distant? That enables such things as shared control rooms, which is always handy when an additional operator needs to be borrowed from Unit 1 to help out with Unit 2 and for training, etc.

    The pairs could have interconnectable AC and DC emergency power supplies and other emergency services, thus reducing enormously the risk of loss of essentials.

    As a comparison, Bayswater Power Station in NSW has a turbine hall about 500 metres long and has 4 x 660MW coal fired units, operated from two control rooms. Four nukes could be laid out safely and comfortably in about the same area – say total site say a 1.5 km square. If the land is available, then something more like 3 km square would enable flexibility of siting selected industrial plant, etc.

    My point here is that the area is much less than that which is required for a fully coal fired station, including coal storage and so forth. Again, Bayswater is about 3km by 2 on a total site much bigger for ash disposal dams, etc and is surrounded by feeder coal mines stretching for many kilometres each way. Nuclear power stations, even generously proportioned, have a much smaller footprint than wind, solar thermal, solar PV, coal – you name it.


  45. Me, 11.40 am:

    We can leverage this by assuring both fuel supply (including domestic enrichment) and waste disposal services.

    To clarify, I mean we should set up an Australian uranium enrichment capacity as part of an integrated nuclear fuel production and waste management service for the international nuclear power industry.


  46. South Africa is (re)starting their entry into NPPs by sending engineers to France for training in matters nuclear. Chile is doing the same, but also plans to send other to the USA. Chile will establish an NRC from the trained engineers; I don’t know about South Africa.


  47. South Africa is (re)starting their entry into NPPs by sending engineers to France for training in matters nuclear. Chile is doing the same, but also plans to send other to the USA.

    As far as leveraging advantage goes, I often wonder what Australia could do by partnering with South Korea.


  48. @ unclepete:

    @Finrod : that would be a no-brainer . Imagine we swapping X amount of iron ore and LNG for a couple of reactors.

    Yeah, but I’m thinking more of the difficulty they’re having trying to get the US to give them the go ahead for fuel reprocessing under the NPT. If we can provide a good alternative for them regarding waste disposal, fuel supply and so forth, that could be very attractive to them. We could reasonably expect a lot of assistance in return.


  49. @David B. Benson

    Finrod, on 30 April 2011 at 12:02 PM — Or Japan? What about China? India?

    I’m sure they’ll all be worthwhile partners in times to come, but S Korea is in the export game right now, and looking to expand.


  50. @Finrod, 30 April, 11.40am.
    China is completing reactor construction in about 5 years, we would have to expect a longer period at least for the first few reactors. I cant see any government starting to build at more than 2 locations until first and second are completed, and past initial start-up phase. The problem would be if many countries try to expand nuclear at same time, causing long delays in critical components, a shortage of engineering contractors, increases in costs and a longer construction period.


  51. Finrod, on 30 April 2011 at 12:23 PM — A Japanese company is building 2 Westinghouse AP-1000s in China and has contracted with the Vietnamese to build one NPP there with the possiblity of 2 more later.

    Neil Howes, on 30 April 2011 at 12:46 PM — Chile is planning on 3, built sequentially with pauses in between and at 3 widely spaced sites.


  52. @ NH:

    China is completing reactor construction in about 5 years, we would have to expect a longer period at least for the first few reactors.

    Three years is the expected construction time for an AP1000 once the bugs are sorted. Part of setting up the regulatory process would be to ensure that spurious grounds for delay are not permitted to hold up work.

    I cant see any government starting to build at more than 2 locations until first and second are completed, and past initial start-up phase.

    Of course you can’t. This is why I would not wish to see you in any position of responsibility for the programme.

    The problem would be if many countries try to expand nuclear at same time, causing long delays in critical components, a shortage of engineering contractors, increases in costs and a longer construction period.

    Hence the need for Australia to leverage its considerable advantages.


  53. @ David B. Benson:

    Finrod, on 30 April 2011 at 12:23 PM — A Japanese company is building 2 Westinghouse AP-1000s in China and has contracted with the Vietnamese to build one NPP there with the possiblity of 2 more later.

    Good for them. Just because I specifically mentioned S Korea doesn’t mean I’m not open to others.


  54. John Rogers,
    While I am probably at odds with most of the denizens of this site when it comes to the CO2 that coal power plants produce I share your concerns about the radioactive elements and heavy metals they put into the bio-sphere.

    NPPs on the other hand put no significant amount of materials into the environment; no CO2 save that related to the concrete used in construction; no toxic elements or compounds of any kind; no stable elements, nor any radioactive ones. Of course they are guilty of “Heat Pollution” but that is an unavoidable consequence of using heat engines to generate electric power.

    What about the highly radioactive spent fuel? What about the “radioactive water” in cooling loops? What about Xenon isotopes and Tritium vented from reactor cores?

    Contrary to the practice for coal waste, nuclear waste is not released into the environment; everything is stored on site or in repositories. We do this because we can, whether it makes sense or not.

    What about reprocessing? Even though this is now legal in the USA, nobody is doing it so it is not yet an issue here.

    Prior to retirement I was responsible for managing radioactive materials so trust me when I say that at least in the USA these materials are under control at all times and that government oversight is highly effective.

    The problem with NPPs is that accidents happen and accidents can cause containment to fail. Even minor accidents such as the Tritium release at Vermont Yankee cause widespread alarm to the general public and irrational responses by legislators.

    Slide #11 in Dan Meneley’s presentation contains the following bullet point:

    * Restore Realism in the Assessment of Radiation Risk

    That is a truly difficult task when the “Main Stream Media” are determined to publish only the most extreme views concerning the health effects of radiation.

    That link I sent you quoted estimated fatalities from various NPP accidents ranging from a few thousand to 850,000. I was hoping that the absurdity would be obvious to you!

    As someone trained in radiation safety, I do not share James Goldsmith’s view that we should be prepared to accept more radioactivity in the environment as the price for building more NPPs. I contend that NPPs have no significant effect on radioactivity in the environment unless containment fails and in the long term the consequences can be made insignificant through improved safety systems.

    Looking to the future, Generation IV reactor designs are available with the capability of consuming over 90% of the spent fuel that is currently regarded as nuclear waste. Once these reactors come into service it will be possible to shrink the high level nuclear repositories around the world.

    Turning “Transuranics” into stable elements and electricity is a wonderful way to make the world safer! With a little ingenuity “Muck” can be converted to “Money”.


  55. @Finrod, 30 April. 1.13pm
    We can look at Canada’s track record to see what might be a realistic assessment of what is possible in Australia.
    Canada, a non-nuclear weapons country with a larger population and GDP than Australia started building power reactors in early 1960’s, and ten years later had two commercial reactors( total 1000MW) operating. In the next 22 years they installed another 13,000MW which would have contributed at the time about 25% of electricity( now 15%). But Canada started a strong research and training program in the 1950’s.
    Its more realistic to plan that Australia will require at least 30 years to be generating 25% of its electricity from nuclear, but very realistic to plan that 25% will come from renewable energy in next 20 years, in fact 20%renewable in next 10years still seems achievable. Australia’s clean energy cap is going to be very hard to fill with both nuclear and renewables being expanded as rapidly as possible, that’s the reality.


  56. @NH:

    We can look at Canada’s track record to see what might be a realistic assessment of what is possible in Australia.

    Nonsense. You’re claiming that the only model for us to go nuclear is to build an entirely local indiginous industry from the ground up, including complete local R & D. This isn’t the fifties or sixties. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel. The logical way to do things is to import most of what is necessary, leveraging our natural advantage in nuclear fuel supply to jump the queue ahead of other nations in claiming the attention of nuclear tech exporters.


  57. @Neil Howes, The growth nuclear energy in Canada was inhibited by the availably of cheap coal and gas, and great hydro resources, and less concern for CO2 than is current to-day. Yet in those markets where it made sense, it thrived.

    Australia should, in my opinion buy CANDU because this system would be a good fit for your country, given the lack of a nuclear sector. It has been a good reactor for countries starting out in nuclear power in several instances, however Finrod is correct that you are in a unique position to leverage your uranium to cut a good deal for reactor technology.


  58. Another advantage of the CANDU reactor is no large pressure vessel. It doesn’t require the deep water port facilities for the unloading of large components, that the engineer on Catalyst suggested was a constraint on nuclear power development here.


  59. Actually Australia probably has the facilities to make the calandria (and most other components) in country with, existing industries. That was the whole point of the design – to be able to build one without specialized fabrication facilities. AECL has a licencing program that would allow customers to build their own units, rather than import them.


  60. DV82XL, from what I understand the CANDU reactors would be a excellent choice for Australia. Aside from the pressure vessel the fellow on Catalyst was saying the large power plants were too large for our grid to accomodate. But the CANDU reactors are smaller – 515 MW at Pickering, I understand. The ability to run on natural, unenriched uranium is also interesting. We could start into fuel fabrication without requiring enrichment facilities.


  61. One of the biggest bottlenecks in the global supply chain for new NPPs is still heavy forging capacity needed for pressure vessels. I wonder what sort of investment Australia would need to make a contribution in that area? We have steelworks in Wollongong and Newcastle, after all.


  62. CANDUs are interesting for the reasons mentioned above, and I can quite understand DV82XL’s enthusiasm for his home country’s industry, but I do wonder if we wouldn’t be better off in the long run going down the path I outlined above, tying into the larger nuclear aspirations of south and east Asia.


  63. @Finrod,
    Well what about looking at S Korea, has a lot more heavy industry capacity suitable for building nuclear power, almost no FF so good incentive, started building off the shelf designs in early 1970’s, and over 40 years has installed 19,000MW(av 500MW/year) and produces one third electricity from nuclear.
    Is that what we should expect to achieve? I would call that a very optimistic target, but possible IF at least some state and federal governments work together for next 20 years, we could have 7-10GW nuclear(25% of expected demand), and 40-50% electricity from nuclear in 40 years.


  64. I believe the best way to challenge the issues is the deployment of a huge number of RBMK reactors. They are proven technology, efficient and most of all have a modular design that allows very fast building times.

    Also they can be scaled up pretty well, designs beyond 1,5 Gigawatts per reactor block are easily possible.

    The only major accident I know of was due to some operators conducting experiments in the reactor…. I think we all agree that this is not what reactors are there for and everything can break by conducting stupid experiments beyond design basis.

    I know RBMKs have a bad reputation especially among the renewable fans but they can be build much faster and cheaper than current designs like the EPR and to repeat myself: The only major accident was due to some operators conducting experiments.


  65. @ NH:

    Well what about looking at S Korea,

    What about looking at France? There you will see what is possible with a little determination. And I believe we can do even better than that.


  66. @ lJohn Morgan, on 30 April 2011 at 4:52 PM:

    Two points, please.

    First, ports capable of handling lage lifts are not difficult to find in Australia. That is about the same mass as the large power transformers which regularly are transported by road and previously by rail between various points in NSW and Qld and elsewhere. Tey are also about the same mass as the turbine rotors and stators which were handled through Sydney and Newcastle and via barge to Lake Macquarie during construction and maintenance of the largest dozen or so generators in the NSW system. No doubt the same happened in Vic and Qld.

    Second, the largest generting plant in Australia is at present 660MW. There are a dozen or more.

    The largest power station is Bayswater, which, in conjunction with Liddell across the road, is capable of more than 4640MW. A few miles away is the proposed Bayswater B, another couple of 1000MW units. The sent out power is at 330 or 500 kV. It is not unrealistic to consider nuclear power plants in the 1000MW range. One consideration is the ability of the NEM to manage a tripfrom full load of the largest unit on the grid. A first approximaton is that this requires spinning reserve of at least the same size. This criterion is met most of the time already due to other reasons and is in no way a show stopper.

    Somebody upthread suggested that 20MW of solar and wind intermittent generators should be installed in double quick time. The reserve requirements for this size of unreliable load would be, at first glance, greater than for 1MW NPP.

    Does anybody have access to a study of these scenarios from a system stability point of view? The options would seem to be 20 * 1000MW NPP or 20,000MW solar PV and wind. Surely the AER has an NEM options study tucked away somewhere.


  67. @Douglas Wise:
    We are working within the limits of the model provided, which does not allow more radical reductions in oil and gas use.
    Since I have not got access to up to date versions of Excel, I am not able to alter the parameters.
    Moving substantial amounts of freight transport to rail with delivery from the railhead by electric truck should enable further reductions, whilst high speed rail partially displacing air travel and the use of some nuclear power to produce liquid fuels would enable further reductions.
    Separate calculations by Cyril R indicated that we may need an energy flow of around 1.5kw per capita to provide for a European lifestyle, no doubt more in the US.
    I was interested in keeping the nuclear build to the more modest 90 GWe level, but towards the end of the target period out to 2050 a very large nuclear industry which has got it’s costs down by mass manufacture could surely build whatever additional reactors were needed to provide liquid fuels etc.
    90GWe would seem to break the back of the job though, ie around 1.5 times present French capacity given strong but fairly simple conservation measures such as insulating around 750,000 homes a year up to 2050.


  68. I’m sure AECL could get a nuke plant built in Aus in 4 to 5 years given their track record. AECL has completed 8 new Candu reactor installations over the last twenty years all on time in 4 years and on budget at $2B/Gw.- the cheapest reactor available anywhere outside China. The last one was completed in 2007 in Europe. Best record in the world for any reactor manufacturer.

    And cheaper than any of your coal plants to boot.

    Depends though on Canada’s fascist no nuke PM getting the boot on May 2nd, and the Pronuke Liberals getting some sort of control.


  69. A point on the safety of spent fuel storage in pools of water, its important to consider why the pools in Daiichi were such a trouble spot. There are two reasons.

    One, the reactor unit pools are high up near the top of the building. This makes then hard to access and hard to add makeup water (need powerful concrete pumping machines to get water that high up!). Below grade pools do not suffer this advantage. The central spent fuel pond at Daiichi for example is fine. You can just hang a firehose in the pool an that’s it.

    Two, the damage caused by the hydrogen explosions destroyed the upper building, adding debris which reduced air cooling capability in this severe event. With passive hydrogen recombiners or full containment inerting with nitrogen or argon, this problem goes away.

    Older BWRs with spent fuel ponds at the top of the building can add passive autocatalytic recombiners and hardened water spray pipe connections so that water is easily fed in from standpipe connections at ground floor level.

    While it is likely that the industry worldwide will move more spent fuel to dry casks, in many cases this is likely just a PR stunt (which is good though we could sure use some good PR, the industry invests far too little in PR).


  70. Regarding the MIT report, I think it is very interesting that people from MIT are starting to get more and more what many nuclear advocates have long known: uranium isn’t rare.

    The biggest commercial/economic driver for new reactor technology will be investment cost. Its okay to have a slightly higher fuel cycle cost but higher capital investment makes new reactors a non-starter.

    Reactors with low capital cost have a big advantage. Something like a simple fluoride salt cooled converter like the AHTR reactor running on uranium.

    The IFR crowd may also be interested in the following paper which looks at IFR with fluoride coolant technology pros and cons:

    Click to access salt-cooled-fast-reactor.pdf

    Possibly much lower capital investment is a big advantage for this technology.


  71. @Finrod, 30April, 5.22pm,
    “what about France”
    Now lets see what does France have, that Australia doesn’t have? Firstly, a complete nuclear weapons program since the 1950’s, secondly a much larger manufacturing industrial base, capable of building military and civilian aircraft, high speed trains, ships, space vehicles.
    I am not saying Australia cannot build nuclear reactors using CANDU or AP1000 designs, I am sure that eventually we could generate>80% of our energy from nuclear. The issue isn’t whats possible, its whats practical to do in the next 20 to 40 years, based on what has happened in other non-nuclear weapons countries and our limitations. As Dan points out, the world is going to have a clean energy gap for most of this century, even with very optimistic assumptions about the growth in nuclear.


  72. @ Neil Howes:

    Your ‘points’ are garbage. Australia has most of the industrial potential needed for a rapid rollout of nuclear power (heavy construction using lots of steel and concrete) already. The finer technological necessities can be imported swiftly enough. Your attempt to link nuclear power programs to nuclear weapons programs might impress your anti-nuke mates, but to the rest of us you are completely transparent.

    The only things we currently lack (apart from the political will) are the workforce, academic infrastructure and technology transfer agreements. All that can be remedied in less than a decade.


  73. Australia gets most heavy energy equipment from overseas – whether coal boilers, steam turbines, or wind turbines. I don’t see why nuclear is especially disadvantaged here. The uranium mining is already operating in Australia, and CANDU fuel rod fabrication is a very simple process. It doesn’t even require heavy equipment – the fuel elements are small modular rods welded in simple elements, they are all the same, amenable to mass manufacturing.

    A greatly underappreciated aspect of CANDUs is that if your fuel fails due to manufacturing errors, you can simply remove that fuel bundle online, without shutting down the reactor, and replace with a new fuel bundle. That’s a great advantage that makes fuel rod quality much less of a nervous issue (with BWRs for example you have serious trouble if a number of fuel rods fail – have to shut down, cool down, inspect etc.).

    Canada doesn’t have a lot of big pressure vessel manufacturing capabilities. Canada doesn’t have nuclear weapons either:

    Yet Canada was building CANDUs just fine (15 GWe, impressive for a small GDP country), and then some idiots, stimulated by Chernobyl, decided that nuclear was a bad idea and instead continued burning coal and gas is a great idea:

    Click to access CAELEC.pdf

    This is truely unfortunate, as the experience in Sweden and Switzerland shows that hydro+nuclear is a 90+ percent electricity supply solution:

    Click to access SEELEC.pdf

    Sweden got to about half nuclear, from almost nothing, in under 15 years. No nuclear weapons!

    Similar story in Switzerland:

    Click to access CHELEC.pdf

    These are among the cleanest countries in the world!!


  74. Notice that Sweden’s nuclear expansion stopped in 1986. That doesn’t sound like a coincidence! Furtunately the anti nuke crazies were unable to stop the plants already spinning and as a consequence Sweden has among the lowest CO2, particulate, NOx and SOx in Europe. It makes Germany look like the fossil fuel hellhole that it is:

    Click to access DEELEC.pdf


  75. @Cyril R – Canada’s nuclear program has suffered more from the low cost of domestic gas, and the availably of hydro than antinuclear driven fears. Yet Ontario, which has decided to burn no more coal, will build more reactors at at least one of the existing stations to cover base load.

    For the record CANDU’s come in 700 MWe (CANDU 6E) and 1300 MWe (CANDU 9) models, although they are currently run in Canada at 600 MWe and 900 MWe respectively.


  76. Neil Howes, on 30 April 2011 at 3:18 PM — As best as I can determine it becomes quite difficult to have a reliable grid with a penitration of wind/solar above 10% of annualized average power requirements.

    To say nothing of the costs.


  77. Sweden’s referendum on nuclear power -actually in 1980, pre-Chernobyl – was interesting, not to say anti-democratic. The options were effectively “no”, “no”, and “hell, no!” The reason for having two “no” options was probably to split the “no” vote to give the crazy “hell, no!” option a run. It worked, but not quite well enough for “hell, no!” to win, so the plants continued to operate on a slow phase-out basis – until the government came to its senses and reduced then reversed the decision, last year. Even so it is not clear that any expansion would be allowed under the current law.


  78. @Tom Keen

    “A draft version of the UN’s Chernobyl Forum last year suggested up to 4,000 deaths could be linked to the incident.

    Dr Dillwyn Williams and Dr Keith Baverstock
    But this figure was based on the 600,000 people exposed to high levels of radiation.

    The full report suggested another 5,000 of the 6.8 million people exposed to lower levels would also die – but this figure did not appear in the 50-page executive summary.

    All of this data was from a 1996 study.

    Explaining why the 4,000 figure was given prominence in the report, Melissa Fleming, a press officer for the International Atomic Energy Agency told Nature that it was to counter the much higher estimates which had previously been seen.

    “It was a bold action to put out a new figure that was much less than conventional wisdom.”

    It is much lower than the 93,000 figure given by Greenpeace in its evaluation of the Chernobyl impact published this week. ”

    9000 is the WHO estimate.
    “That link I sent you quoted estimated fatalities from various NPP accidents ranging from a few thousand to 850,000. I was hoping that the absurdity would be obvious to you!”

    Yes I am aware that the figures are controversial, but even in controversy one should be able to shut off the noise.

    Coulter says nobody died as a result of radiation (only “Explosions”)
    Moinbot says only ~50 died
    WHO says 9,000
    Greanpeace says 93,000
    Caldicott says 985,000

    Yes its not very precise, but the least we can do is not repeat the talking points of Coulter, Moinbot and Caldicott. Its not “middleground fallacy”, but simple objectivity.

    The minimum is 9000.


  79. Objectivity is based on proof, and if you can’t prove that 9000 people died as a result of Chernobyl, then you don’t have an objective argument.

    What is more, there is not much point in this sort of quibbling. No-one is building reactors like Chernobyl anymore. Those are reactors with strong positive void coefficients, strong initial reactivity insertion control rods, and bad containments. Even then the operators had to screw everything up and the government did a terrible job in not evacuating and covering things up, plus sending in people with real bad radiation protection (often not even proper breathing protection) and despite all of that worst-case scenario stuff, that killed only as many people as air pollution from fossil fuels kills every two or three days!!

    It shows that nuclear technology is inherently not an apocalyptic technology.

    Indeed despite all abuse that nuclear plants had to take, it is by far the safest form of electricity generation.

    Burning stuff kills.


  80. @David Benson, 1May, 9.43am,
    I can see how it would be possible to conclude that no more than 10% wind plus solar could be handled by a grid.
    The factors that are important are(i) the geographical size of the grid, primarily dispersion of wind and solar(ii) capacity of hydro operating from storage reservoirs(iii) amount of pumped hydro( both operating capacity and storage ) (iv) type of CST and amount of thermal storage; solar towers or trough collection(v) other generation components; nuclear, coal, OCGT,CCGT, geothermal.
    The main limitation on having a high % of wind power is the need to save excess power during windy periods (1-2 day periods) or spill a lot of energy, as well as the need for back-up during 1->5 day low wind periods. The main problem of having a high % CST with short term storage is prolonged periods of high cloud cover especially during winter months.
    North America has considerable advantages in using a high proportion of both wind and solar. It has very different weather systems on W and E coasts, arctic and gulf coasts and mid-west. A very large grid( even if poorly connected between the 5 major regions), 4h time zone shift, very large long term hydro storage suitable for balancing season solar variations, large hydro capacity with a lot more potential to up-rate and build more new capacity. Furthermore there is presently a large natural gas peaking capacity that operates at a low capacity factor, more than adequate to back-up rare continental wide low wind or low solar events, providing that daily peak demand can be handled by up-rated hydro and pumped hydro capacity and short term CST thermal storage. But even small countries such as Spain with an area 2% the size of N America indicates that solar plus wind is going to be capable of supplying >10% electrical power. Now if we consider a region that has poor solar resources, poor wind and very little access to hydro storage, 10% wind plus solar may be excessive.
    The major disadvantage of having high wind plus solar would be the need to use a relatively small amount of natural gas( or build a lot more hydro storage). It seems that NG is going to be used for electricity production for at least the next 50 years whatever replaces most oil, NG and coal use(lower CO2 emissions than coal or oil, low capital cost, high flexibility,existing NG power plants are much newer than coal (or nuclear).


  81. Environmentalist:

    It clearly distresses you that pro nuclear campaigners put what you regard as too low a figure on Chernobyl-associated deaths (or deaths still to come). Is this because you believe that wider acceptance of the Greenpeace figure would convince more people to set their faces against more widespread deployment of nuclear power? Alternatively, are you merely seeking objectivity?

    It might be worth trying to understand why there is such disparity in the figures rather than selecting a median figure, having thrown in Caldicott.

    Remember that the WHO report to which you accurately refer concluded that that, in the highly affected areas, one might expect an extra 4000 deaths and, globally, yet a further 5000. Many of these deaths haven’t happened yet, but we know that sooner or later, we’re all going to die. The radiation biologists conducting the study were basing their judgements on officially accepted LNT theory.

    Every year, about 60 million people die and more than double that number are born. Let’s leave aside that you, a self-proclaimed environmentalist, should find the discrepancy between deaths and births highly alarming and, instead, revert to your concern over radiation-associated deaths. Of the 60 million people dying annually, about 10 million deaths will be ascribable to cancer (many of which would have been ascribed to old age before it became important to medical practitioners to avoid acknowledgement that old age, of itself, could be followed by death). Thus, using LNT theory, the WHO’s authors came up with a figure of 9000 premature deaths. Let’s spread them over 25 years – though we could use a longer timeframe- and conclude that, during this period, 360 extra deaths were added to the existing 10million figure.

    Even were one to accept the Greenpeace figure as being more authorative than that of WHO, how do you think a health economist might repond? Put crudely, he is in the business of keeping as many people from dying as possible with a finite pot of resources. Do you believe that he would conclude that nuclear power be banned? He might, but only if he believed that a growing population could be more economically sustained with alternative power sources. This might lead him towards a comparative study in which he looked at other causes of cancer which he could influence for less cost to get his death rate down or, alternatively, he could study the extra deaths associated with other forms of energy use. As you would no doubt concur, fossil fuel use results in vastly more premature deaths than does nuclear power production. In the case of coal, this applies even before one considers premature radiation-associated deaths. Would you care to speculate how many such coal-associated deaths a WHO team of experts, using LNT theory, would arrive at? I venture to suggest that it would dwarf the Chernobyl figure, the consequence of a severe and unusal accident, given that radiation emission is the routine consequence of burning coal.

    Having attempted to put your concerns in perspective, I should go further and add that the consequences of Chernobyl surprised most of the radiation experts who had expected far more problems than were, in fact, measurable and resulted in many to questioning the validity of the LNT approach.

    Of course, you might wish to eliminate both fossil fuel and nuclear power sources and campaign for a renewables only approach. In fact, perhaps you do. You may not accept the fact that scientists such as David MacKay and many others say that current populations cannot be self sustaining on renewable energy alone. Alternatively, perhaps you do accept this, but as an environmentalist, would like to see a major population crash sooner rather than later, but don’y like to say so overtly.

    It would be helpful if you could let us know how you think we should be energising the global population in 2050 and whether you think this a) should be and b) will be 3, 7 or 10 billion.


  82. environmentalist: In 2008, the combined new cancers in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine were about 607,000. With historical population estimates you can work out
    the cumulative number going back 25 years … 10 million perhaps. The bean counters can work out odds of getting a cancer from a radiation exposure, but they can’t work out the odds of getting another cancer before the radiation cancer hits. What I’d like to see is an estimate of the number of suicides, depressions, alcoholism and the like because people are panic stricken about a really really small
    risk. Imagine giving everybody who gets on a plane a little in flight 30 minute lecture about what cosmic
    rays can do to your DNA and the possible outcomes. Combine it with all kinds of fear mongering about “unknown risks” and how your children will be far more at risk of flying because of young cells. etc etc. And make sure that in the in-flight talk you never mention any relative statistics that might allow people to put stuff into perspective.
    Couple that with the captain giving in flight counts of how many of your cells have been damaged at regular intervals.

    With a well designed campaign we could worry the
    hell out of more than a few people and reduce air travel by quite a bit!


  83. @Cyril R. – The Enhanced CANDU 6 (EC6) is the newer and more advanced design. China thought it the better choice, and it fits into AECL’s philosophy of building multi-unit nuclear power stations. There is no international market for the CANDU 9 it would seem.


  84. Thanks DV. Do you think there’s any possibility that CANDU-6s can be marketed here in the Netherlands? Its a bit of a long shot, given the fact that the only electricity reactor here is a PWR, and there’s domestic gas centrifuge enrichment that would support a newer higher enrichment PWR, so the path of least resistance likely will be an EPR or AP1000.

    However, the increased fuel efficiency of natural uranium fuelled CANDUs will appeal here, as there appear to be strong concerns of resource efficiency.


  85. Douglas Wise,
    Thanks for a well reasoned response to “Environmentalist”. One of the consequences of the absurdities of the LNT theory is a growing demand for studies of the benefits of ionizing radiation.

    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:

    Of course this is controversial and will remain so pending more studies but everyone should be aware that radiation in small doses may be beneficial.

    While Botulinum toxin type A is one of the most toxic substances known (300 nano-grams can kill a 100 kg human if inhaled), many people cheerfully use related compounds for cosmetic purposes. For some reason the public can accept the questionable “benefits” of Botox more readily than the benefits of low level radiation.


  86. 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.


  87. 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.


  88. @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.


  89. 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.


  90. @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.


  91. 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.


  92. 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:


  93. Environmentalist,
    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


  94. @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.


  95. @ 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.


  96. Pingback: How can you exclude nuclear if you are concerned about climate change? « SeekerBlog

  97. @ 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


  98. 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.


  99. 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.


  100. 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.


  101. 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”.


  102. 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!


  103. 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.


  104. 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?


  105. @ 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?


  106. @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.


  107. 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.


  108. @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.


  109. Pingback: …there are the fossil fuels and there is nuclear « SeekerBlog

  110. 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.


  111. @ 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.


  112. 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.


  113. 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.


  114. @ 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…


  115. 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.


  116. 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.


  117. @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.


  118. 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.


  119. 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.


  120. 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?


  121. @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.


  122. @ 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.


  123. Further:

    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.


  124. 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.


  125. 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.


  126. @ 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?


  127. @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.


  128. 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?


  129. 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.


  130. 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.


  131. @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.


  132. 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.


  133. >”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.


  134. 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.


  135. 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


  136. 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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