Emissions GR Nuclear Policy

Greenpeace’s plan for India

Guest Post by Geoff RussellGeoff is a mathematician and computer programmer and is a member of Animal Liberation SA. His recently published book is CSIRO Perfidy. This article follows on from his previous: What price of Indian independence? Greenpeace under the spotlight


In my previous BNC piece I examined the feasibility of two ways of producing a per-capita electricity supply in India which was roughly equivalent to that in Australia in 2011. The assumption was that such a supply would reduce vast amounts of suffering and transform India into a first world country over an implementation period of about 40 years.

I was also critical of Greenpeace India for its Euro-centric view of nuclear power. There is something bizarre about Greenpeace India identifying with the wave of street marches in Europe over a non-fatal nuclear reactor failure under extraordinary circumstances in Japan when a quarter of a million Indian children between 1 and 5 years old die every year due to cooking smoke because they don’t have electricity.

This post is a continuation. Part II if you like. It will have two goals:

  1. Motivate the scenario approach in more detail.
  2. To examine a third scenario. This isn’t some straw man of my own making, but comes from Greenpeace and the European Renewable Energy Council.Greenpeace International has a detailed conceptual energy plan for India which involves a phase out of nuclear power and building a sustainable energy infrastructure for a projected 1.6 billion people in 2050. Page numbers below are from that plan.The global sustainable CO2 emission level, as defined by Greenpeace, is about 1.3 tonnes of CO2 per person (ignoring non-CO2 forcings for now) (p.8). This is a little higher than the 1 tonne figure I used in my BNC piece, but near enough not to be an issue. In any event, Greenpeace’s plan for India would result in greenhouse gas emissions from energy production of 1 tonne per person per annum in 2050. The plan is cogniscent of India’s biomass cooking problems and has sufficient detail (52 pages, including a full energy spreadsheet) to expose all the assumptions behind its non-nuclear future. This is a professionally produced report done by EREC (European Renewable Energy Council, a body representing the European renewable energy industries) in conjunction with Greenpeace International. The Indian plan is part of a global vision with similar reports and recommendations for other regions.

I’ll call this plan the EREC/Greenpeace (ERGreen) scenario and discuss it shortly, but first there were comments in response to the previous post which indicate that I need to at least motivate, if not fully justify, this kind of high level scenario thinking when people are anxious to go straight for detailed costs of specific projects.

Scenarios, goals and mountain climbing

Getting to the top of a mountain from some point down below is a tricky problem when you don’t have a map. Even worse when nobody has a map; and worse still when nobody has ever done the climb. Early explorers failed in attempts to cross the Blue Mountains in Sydney by following rivers up-stream and getting stuck at water falls they couldn’t climb. If you are sitting in your tent in a densely forested base camp and you can’t see the summit, what do you do? Even more of a problem is that even if you can see a peak, it may not be the summit you are looking at but just some little pimple obscuring your view of the real top point.

This is a pretty good metaphor for energy planning. My strategy of looking at simple scenarios is like trying to get the lay of the land before heading off. It’s picking a few points seen dimly through the fog and estimating their relative height. Otherwise the tendency is to head off in the steepest direction in the hope that it will get you somewhere high.

But the 3-dimensional mountain climbing analogy isn’t perfect. What we really face is a problem with many more dimensions. We are simultaneously concerned with CO2 emissions, short lived emissions of things like methane and ozone, financial cost, job creation, biodiversity impacts, health impacts, disaster risks and construction speed. Mountain climbers have it easy.

Comparing two scenarios

The ERGreen document is very much a scenario document, but far more detailed than my blog piece. It’s a money document rather than a physical feasibility document. There is no specification of the area of Solar PV (Photo Voltaic) farms, or of wind farms. There is no estimate of the required amount of steel or concrete needed. Average factors are used to estimate emissions from each technology rather than physical simulations. It is assumed that a properly structured feed in tariff will drive adequate investment with the developed world guaranteeing the tariff for the next two decades. Living in a country where greed is the dominant cultural artifact, I suspect this is a questionable funding strategy … but nor is it clear that India can totally self-fund a transition to a first world standard of living without using the same cheap and dirty technologies which the current first world used and is still using.

ERGreen express electrical energy in terawatt hours and overall energy in peta joules. I’ll use watt hours for everything … terawatt hours (TWh) for national figures and megawatt hours (MWh) for per capita figures. One TWh is a million MWh.

Here’s a summary table comparing my thumbnail nuclear (TNNUKE) plan with ERGreen. Firstly, note that FD=final demand. Energy statistics are complicated by all kinds of losses between energy as produced (usually called primary (P)) and the energy actually consumed (often called final demand(FD)). There are a few (P) figures below just to stress how much fossil fuel remains in ERGreen, but its generally only final demand that concerns me here.

ERGreen aims for 13,000 TWh in final energy for India by 2050 with 4,600 TWh coming from electricity. My nuclear scenario delivered 14,000 TWh of electricity and I didn’t specify any details about non-electrical energy.

I was hopeful that India’s population could be pegged to 1.4 billion. ERGreen is using 1.6 billion as their estimate by 2050. I’ll use their estimate in what follows. My 14,000 TWh is about 8.7 MWh of electricity per year for each of 1.6 billion people. This is rather less than the current Australian level of 11 MWh, but rather more than the current levels of 6.3 MWh in Spain and Denmark and 7.7 MWh in France.

TNNUKE’s goal was a modest but adequate first world electricity supply, plus some extra to deal with declining levels (or high cost) of oil availability. ERGreen is 2.8 MWh per person of electricity with the remaining energy from biomass and fossil fuel.

As you can see, ERGreen expects Indians in 2050 to manage with less than half the electricity of Spain and Denmark. This isn’t just an issue of household consumption but of the electricity to run factories, produce aluminium, mold plastics and all the other things required to develope the country’s housing and plumbing infrastructure. I’m all for frugality and efficiency, but the ERGreen electricity figure looks very low. I’ll discuss the energy efficiency aspects of ERGreen later.

Solar Photo Voltaic (PV) matters

Under ERGreen, Fossil fuels will provide 1,730 TWh of electricity coupled with a mix of renewables, the biggest being Solar PV which will provide 1,530 TWh per year by 2050. Based on current German technology, with 2 hectares producing 3.1 GWh per year, this is about a million hectares of Solar PV. The nuclear scenario was for 166 sites of 1000 hectares per site with an output of 14,000 TWh.

In a country as crowded as India, space is at a premium and even desert areas are seldom vacant. In any event ERGreen places a premium on having local energy supplies, so they wouldn’t just stick a million hectares of Solar PV panels in the Thar desert with HVDC connections to the rest of India. Nor is such a plan likely to be feasible. The Thar may be India’s biggest desert, and there’s 20 million hectares of it, but it is heavily used. Ber fruit trees grow in the Thar and can yield 10 tonne of fruit per hectare. Guar trees provide gum for the world’s ice cream makers and the Thar is also the home of India’s largest wildlife sanctuaries.

Finding spaces for a million hectares of PV panels will be tough, however you partition it. The entire area of India’s National Parks system is just under 4 million hectares. India’s average human density is currently 3.6 people per hectare, so a million hectares of panels will displace roughly 3.6 million people or a sizeable chunk of wildlife or domestic animals or a combination of the three. Displacing wildlife is usually the cheaper of the three options since their demands for compensation are zero.

It might be argued that using the average human density like I’ve just done is unrealistic, because India has many big cities which reduce the average density in the rest of the country. True enough, but ERGreen’s policy of keeping energy sources close to population centres guarantees they will be in denser rather than more sparsely occupied areas. This probably makes 3.6 million an under rather than an over estimate.

Energy Efficiency

There are plenty of references to energy efficiency in ERGreen, but rather less that is concrete. We have had energy efficiency labels on white goods in Australia for decades and they have done nothing. Our per capita energy consumption has been rising for decades. Elsewhere it is the same. Among International Energy Agency (IEA) countries per capita energy consumption doubled between 1974 and 2006.

More careful climate corrected measures in these countries of per-capita final energy use (not just electricity) show a per-capita rise of 2.9 percent over the period 1990 to 2006, when climate change and energy efficiency were well and truly front and centre. Such a small rise looks promising for people who think efficiency can be more than just a slogan, but a recent study by Steven Davis of Standford University in the US shows that the real per-capita energy use was actually significantly higher because of the import of energy rich goods by the developed world. For example, Europeans imported goods generating 4 tonnes of CO2 per person per annum in 2004. This means that we need to add about 4 MWh of extra energy onto the usage of each European which turns a 2.9 percent rise into something more like a 30 percent rise. Another study found a 1.2 billion tonne transfer of greenhouse emissions from the developed world to the developing world between 1990 and 2008.

Nobody can reasonably be opposed to energy efficiency but betting the planet on it is naive. For many people, profligate consumption is a matter of pride. In my hometown of Adelaide, there are many small groups of energy efficiency enthusiasts but their voice is drowned out by hoons burning rubber in a thousand back streets every night of the year. An energy efficiency display draws small groups of the earnest while the V8 supercars pull crowds in the hundreds of thousands with celebrities and politicians from both major parties milking the photo opportunities.

Will India be different? I desperately hope so. But it would be a foolish to assume so.


ERGreen estimates transport energy requirements in India to rise by a factor of 6 by 2050. This is about half the increase predicted by the IEA in its reference scenario. ERGreen predicts the increase will be met by an almost doubling of crude oil use to 2,632 TWh.

Is a factor of 6 reasonable? India has 12 cars per 1000 people. Clearly most Indians walk, cycle of use public transport now. A factor of 6 increase by 2050 would see them at 72 cars per 1000, still well below the 2008 Chinese rate of 128. Of course, they could put most of their transport increases into public transport. What kind of policies will be required to prevent a rise in motor car use? None are suggested.

If ERGreen’s transport estimate is reasonable, then under the nuclear plan, there is capacity for electric vehicles recharging off peak from nuclear plants running at or close to full power 24×7. If the IEA demand forecast is closer to the mark, then we would need some 5000 TWh flowing from nukes to electric vehicles. This would constrain other energy uses but still looks possible. It would be totally impossible to meet such a demand from the ERGreen energy infrastructure.

Cooking and biomass

ERGreen mentions the biomass cooking health impacts but their scenario postulates an increase in biomass use. Of course, it is possible to cook and heat with wood in a way that doesn’t kill and sicken people. In the US, the Government is subsidising the cost of clean replacement wood heaters to the tune of $1000 each. Electric stoves and microwave ovens can be much cheaper than this. They simply don’t need the amount of material required by a well sealed wood stove with a proper flue.

So it isn’t at all clear that the ERGreen plan actually solves the wood smoke problem, nor is it clear where the expansion in biomass is going to come from. ERGreen makes the common mistake (p.37) of thinking of crop residues as fuel. But crop residues have essential functions of protecting soil structure and reducing erosion. Removing them exacerbates the negative nutrient balance of cropping.

Climate constraints on biomass use

The latest climate science has shown that in order to avoid dangerous climate change, the atmospheric concentration of CO2 must be reduced to about 350 ppm by the year 2150. This is explained in a 2008 paper by NASA’s James Hansen and 9 other authors.

The Hansen paper explains that 3 simultaneous constraints we must satisfy to enable us to achieve this 350 ppm goal by 2150:

  1. Phase out unsequestered coal use by 2030.
  2. Halve non-CO2 forcings like methane, ozone and black carbon.
  3. Rollback 200 years of deforestation to draw down additional CO2.

The picture tells the story, but for the details, you really need to read the actual paper. It’s worth the effort.

The first constraint one is looking globally doubtful and ERGreen fails to satisfy this constraint for India.

ERGreen contains nothing relating to constraints two … the short lived climate forcing constraint.

The reforestation constraint, number 3, places severe restrictions on any use of biomass. Some land deforested in the last 200 years is now cropped or settled. So land most available to be reforested is grazing land. Some grasslands will never reforest if destocked and choices will need to be made between grazing and biomass (for biofuel, not wood stove cooking) use.

All three actions are necessary. No single action is sufficient.

ERGreen shows no understanding of these climate science constraints.

India’s methane problem

India has a very serious methane problem due to the place of cattle in the Hindu religion. It’s 100 million buffaloes and 185 million cattle are much smaller than the feedlot monsters of Europe and the US. The methane output of India’s 185 million cattle is about the same as that of the US’s 95 million. I have no idea how to reduce these populations, but it’s a tough problem that needs addressing.

About 30 percent of Indians are vegetarian. But they aren’t vegan, so if they get wealthier, they may tend to consume more of those foods that are currently luxury foods … dairy products … more methane.

The other 70 percent of Indians are not vegetarians but eat very little meat because India doesn’t produce much. Average per capita meat consumption in India has declined by over 20 percent during the past two decades with the population increasing faster than the meat supply. Of the 57 grams of protein per person per day in the Indian food supply, meat provides just 1.2 grams (FAOstat). Nevertheless, animal fat consumption has increased by a similar percentage. The per-capita averages conceal differential intake changes in the rich and poor so India has an obesity epidemic among the rich while the poor are still stunted. The climate however, doesn’t care much about per-capita figures and will respond to forcings from increased animal numbers, particularly ruminants.

The bottom line here is that the ERGreen just squeezes in at the 1 tonne sustainable CO2 emissions figure and allows no room for any possible expansion in animal related climate forcings. Such an expansion is highly likely if the 70 percent of 1.6 billion Indians who eat meat want more of it and the 30 percent of vegetarians haven’t switched to being vegan.

The nuclear scenario has a reasonable buffer to allow for such an expansion in animal numbers, although any expansion would violate the strict climate constraint to reduce methane and tropospheric ozone. If the Indians must keep their bovines, then someone else will have to lose theirs! All of them.

Costs and footprints

My goal in considering rough scenarios was to avoid cost arguments. First see what is feasible and then worry about the money. If a plan won’t deliver a reasonable energy output for less than the 1 tonne of CO2 per-capita constraint, then it doesn’t matter how cheap it is. Likewise if we deal with CO2 and fail to reforest and cut non-CO2 forcings, then we are similarly in trouble.

Ultimately, however, cost will be critical. Money spent on energy infrastructure is money not spent on clean water or other essentials. But how can we estimate costs of technologies 20 and 30 years into the future? I would argue that physical constraints are the best guide to such guesstimation.

Andasol 1 is worth revisiting. This has a peak power output of 50 MW. To build it required 65,150 tonnes of concrete, 20,300 tonnes of steel and 6650 tonnes of glass sitting on close to 200 hectares with its power plant and appropriate spacing between the 50 hectares of mirrors. Efficiency gains are limited by the diffuse nature of the energy it is harvesting.

In TNNUKE, I postulated 166 sites of 1000 hectares for huge nuclear power sites. Most of that 1000 hectares could be wildlife preserve. The actual reactor and turbine building footprints are just a small part of the site. Water cooling pond areas could be significant depending on design choices.

If you really want localized power sources with a small footprint, then a small scale nuclear scenario is also possible.

The SSTAR is a design for a nuclear reactor which produces double the peak power of Andasol 1 and will produce it 24×7. The reactor plus steam generator weighs 500 tonnes. Couple it to an electricity turbine and it could occupy a large suburban block, with the reactor in a 30 metre hole underground. It would run for 30 years before being recycled. It will produce the same amount of energy annually as 4.8 Andasols built with 313,000 tonnes of concrete, 97,440 tonnes of steel and 32,000 tonnes of glass occupying a thousand hectares. Build enough SSTARs and each one will be much cheaper than almost anything weighing close on half a million tonnes. It’s that simple. The Toshiba 4S is another in a string of small nuclear reactor designs.

The top image is not of Andasol, but a large PV farm in Germany. Note the double decker bus in mid frame! The bottom image is of an SSTAR reactor.


An alternative way of estimating costs is to run some sort of regression curve through historical costs in an industry. This gives you a number instead of an estimate of relativities. This is what ERGreen does.

ERGreen (p.17) assumes that the cost of electricity from Solar PV will be similar to electricity from coal by 2030. This is based on a statistic called the learning rate. A learning rate of 0.8 indicates a cost reduction of 20 percent with a doubling of installed capacity. Thus suppose you have 10GW installed and the cost is $D per GW and the learning rate of 0.8. Then after 3 doublings, with 80GW installed, the cost will halve (D*0.8*0.8*0.8=0.512D). After 3 more doublings, with 640 GW installed, it will halve again. However, according to a study by Manfred Lenzen, more recent data puts the learning rate at 0.9. This means it takes over 6 doublings to halve the price and Solar PV will never be as cheap as coal. To expect the learning rate to stay at 0.8 indefinitely is unrealistic.

Decentralisation ideology

ERGreen is predicated upon an unsubstantiated assumption that decentralised energy systems are more efficent and have security advantages. “Security” is a word with many meanings so I’m not quite sure how they are using it. There are certainly transmission loss reductions in decentralised systems but it isn’t obvious that they are not counterbalanced by the extra replication costs. E.g., is it always more energy efficient to build 5 power plants for 5 population centres than 1 big power plant and an appropriate distribution grid? I’d be very surprised if that question had the same answer under all configurations.

I won’t discuss the matter in detail, just provide a few motivating examples to show that this decentralisation dogma needs proper justification.

For example. How often have you received an email to the effect:

“Sorry, my hard drive died and I lost all my emails so …”.

Sound familiar?

Among people managing their own computers with email stored on their own hard drive, such events are common. Once people use a corporate email account with servers managed by people who know what they are doing, it becomes less common. As the size of corporations running servers gets bigger, you tend to get better computer system engineers designing failsafe data storage systems.

If you want robust systems, then big centralised ones work extremely well, precisely because brilliant engineers recognise the problems of having a single source of catastrophic failure and fret over the problems until they are solved.

Multiple points of failure mean multiple failures and nobody solves the problems because few people know enough at the local level to do things right. Is it any different with energy systems?

Here’s an energy based example of what I’m talking about. It concerns a solar power system in northern South Australia. In February 2011, Sarah Martin of the Adelaide Advertiser reported:

A SOLAR power station in the state’s Far North has been idle for more than a year. The station has been out of action for four of the past seven years.The Government-owned $3.7 million power plant at Umuwa, in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands, was upgraded in 2008, but was switched off just over a year later because of safety concerns.

Originally built in 2003, it also was shut down in 2005, for three years, before receiving a $1.2 million taxpayer-funded upgrade.

The report went on to quote various people finishing with the appropriate Minister, Grace Portolesi:

Ms Portolesi said the plant had been out of action because of “complex issues relating to meteorological conditions,” including electrical storms and wind-blown dust.

Wind-blown dust in outback Australia? Who could have anticipated that! Note carefully. In 2005 the system was shutdown awaiting an upgrade. Why do you shutdown a system in need of an upgrade? You might shut it down while actually doing the upgrade, but just while waiting for the money? That’s beyond me. No matter, in that same year the system won an Engineering excellence award.

A zillion little power stations is a recipe for a mass of problems like this. Each may be trivial to solve if you had the right people on the ground, but in outback Australia or villages in India, this isn’t always possible. Does anybody really think that profit oriented businesses want to pay very expensive engineers to drive or fly huge distances to fix modest sized installations serving a small community?

Distribution design decisions should be made using proper data. They should not be made on the basis of some knee jerk ideological slogan about local being best.


ERGreen only tackles one of the three areas in which we need action to avert dangerous climate change. Their plan involves plenty of fossil fuels, relies on both natural gas and oil being affordable and available and condemns India to staying well below first world standards by 2050. I’d much rather aim far higher.

Both TNNUKE or a small scale nuclear power plant scenario involving SSTAR or Toshiba 4S style technologies gives India a fighting chance of achieving a first world standard of living while allowing expansion of forest areas in line with the reforestation climate constraint. Removing biomass should substantially reduce black carbon emissions and go some way to meeting the constraint to reduce short lived climate forcings, although I have no clues on how to tackle India’s methane problem.

By Barry Brook

Barry Brook is an ARC Laureate Fellow and Chair of Environmental Sustainability at the University of Tasmania. He researches global change, ecology and energy.

97 replies on “Greenpeace’s plan for India”

Someone recently explained to me what Greenpeace is about.

Greenpeace, he said, is about village thinking. They want to live in a village where they make everything they need themselves. They don’t want to hear about how unrealistic this is, such as that they can’t make their own coffee because they can’t grow coffee beans in their climate. They don’t want to hear that big centralized power plants are much more efficient and better run than your neighbour that does not understand the difference between a watt and a joule.

They actually don’t care about reasonable comparisons at all. They just want to live in the village. Big powerplants scare them because the big powerplants service far more than their own little village.

This ideologue really shows in all of Greenpeace’s analysis. They claim to do scientific reports but they start out with religion and bias. Unfortunately they keep pretending that their work is scientific, and are well funded so can buy Faustian bargains with engineers that write biased reports but because they’re engineers it has a superficial aura of credibility.

Only the biased and credulous are uncritical of such reports. Unfortuantely it appears most people are either biased or credulous.

Let’s face it people. As long as the public at large is incapable of even the most basic of energy analysis, perpetuating lies from Greenpeace et al will continue to deceive.


Thanks for the article, Geoff – good reading. This is the kind of analysis I like to see. Quite informative.

Rather disappointing to see the Greenpeace plan with so much fossil fuels in it.

Cyril R.: not everyone in Greenpeace is like that, I’m sure, but it wouldn’t surprise me if a surprising number were (while nevertheless enjoying the lifestyle enabled by cheap consumer goods made halfway around the world). Didn’t the original founder state that he thought that nuclear was the best option to avoid global warming? (Mind you, I think he copped a lot of flak from the current leadership over it…)


This article completely misses the point of India’s predicament. It isn’t the availability of cheap energy that plagues India but the troubled and insecure state of its freshwater resources. It is water that poses the fundamental challenge to the future of India and that of its neighbours, China and Pakistan.


Thanks for the email analogy. Local is not always best.

If fact “cloud computing” really is all about centralized computing and storage. The “cloud” just works. Who cares where it is? As long as I don’t need to worry about my local disk or software version or computing power, I’m happy. The same is true about electricity. I don’t care where its generated. I just want it to work all the time. I don’t want to worry about my local solar panels on my roof getting hit by hail or getting dirty or even knowing where my inverter is.

Some things are just better when they are centralized!


I’m always slicing and dicing the ‘distributive generation’ and ‘decentalizers’ on the Daily Kos and other blogs. But…again, like almost every “mitigation” scheme wind/solar advocates advance: HVDC, pump storage, efficiency in building insulations, and so on, ALL work better with nuclear. And, oddly, this is true for distributive generation as well:

I’m glad Geoff advanced this idea of the SSAR reactor. While I’m one of the few Gen IV advocates who do NOT want only small reactors, I believe especially in developing countries, they provide the best of both distributive and decentralized, but NOT diffuse energy generation and distribution.

Countries like India, and especially on a continent like Africa, these small 100MW (plus or minus 70 MWs) are *ideal* for developing ‘nuclearplexes’ from which all energy needs can be generated, including localized high tech, high energy consumption industries, including agro-industrial processing like frozen vegetables (which retain all their nutritional values).

Nuclearplexes are the center of small, urban or rural grids which snake out from them to help in localized development of the grid. At some point, they connect to each other in larger regional grids, then national. The smaller reactors can be *added to* with additional reactors increasing the capacity of the grids. At large tie-ins around the country, the larger, 1GW+ reactors can be built for grid balancing, load and VAR control.

Individually these small..and smaller reactors can be placed along freight and high-speed rail (India’s vast spiderweb of railroads are is largely diesel and coal driven) every 50 miles or so, which become themselves the hubs of small industry service by the reactors and the railroad.

But the important thing is what Geoff alludes to as the failure, by negative example if Indians DO start eating more meat: growth because of a change in habits. The nuclearplexes concept and the small reactor concept is based on growth, the ability to scale up *incrementally* the generation to match increases in load *as they need it* wiithout placing outside imposed restrictions on that growth.

I think Geoff ought to go back the drawing board and add in more potential growth scenarios that allow for an increase in per capita energy usage more than he does. Say, bringing India’s per capita energy use up that of Latin America’s and they parse the numbers.


For the UK they have this nifty “pathway calculator”

There is an “example pathway” from Friends of Earth — which is presumably similar to what Greenpeace would do.
It meets the climate goals without nuclear power but requires reduction of energy use.

The tool can display the land area for offshore wind which looks quite hefty,
but the “circles” for nukes also look big.

It would be interesting to see such a tool for India and other


I like your photo of the PV farm in Germany with the tour bus visible.
To give a scale comparison, it is interesting to note that the reactor you show in the picture below is just 4 metres longer than the bus pictured above.


The engineering excellence award was also for 3 other power stations of the same type (concentrating PV) in the Alice Springs region of the Northern territory.It would be interesting to know how these are faring.

The Adelaide Advertiser article doesn’t specify what the actual problems were with the Umuwa facility and I suspect there may be an element of political correctness in what is unsaid here.A lot of aboriginal settlements have monumental social problems largely related to alcohol and other drugs.

Any solar system,wherever located, using mirrors or PV collectors needs cleaning periodically.Unskilled labour can be used but it needs to be done by responsible people otherwise damage will occur.

The electronic components of solar systems are rugged and low maintenance.My SMA inverter and backup are designed to be mounted outdoors so they are waterproof and presumably dustproof.Most installlations have them under cover.All of the larger settlements have airstrips so it would not be a problem getting technicians out from the regional centre to fix electrical problems as they arise.

Until small nuclear reactors are commercially available and there is the political will to utilize them the best available way of reducing diesel consumption in remote settlements in Australia is some form of solar power.


There are elements of this topic which stand to create very interesting reading.
However, not being Indian, that organisation’s plans for India should be ignored, not discussed.

Is there anyone, perhaps momentarily glancing at this thread, could provide us with URLs for India’s plans for India?


podargus: I very carefully said that lots of small stations can be a cause of problems, and I think this is true of any technology if the poor design decisions
are made. A mass of 1MW nukes could also be a headache if regular maintenance was required. Country mechanics in Australia can fix anything that can go wrong with a simple diesel generator. If a solar technlogy is simple and robust then that expertise will develop similarly, but electronics is intrinsically more flaky. A modest engineering workshop can make any part of a diesel motor if it has to, but most electronic components simply can’t be made without deep expertise and very
fancy gear. And electronics permeates everything these days, making reliability in remote areas a challenge.
Where something like SSTAR shines is that you just bury it and not touch it for 30 years and the stuff above ground can be fixed by modest
engineering workshops.

I have sent a request to Solar Systems who built the Umuwa system for their
side of this story. Their website doesn’t mention ANY problems at Umuwa or
any of the downtime.


Roger Clifton, on 19 June 2011 at 9:36 AM said:

Is there anyone, perhaps momentarily glancing at this thread, could provide us with URLs for India’s plans for India

The Uranium embargo by the Nuclear Suppliers Group only ended in late 2008. I’m not sure even India has managed to formulate plans for India yet. The last I checked Australia was still refusing to supply India Uranium.


Roger: I linked to India’s planning commission in the previous article

If nobody was taking any notice of ERGreen then I certainly wouldn’t have
spent so much time on it. But … the forward was written by the
head of the IPCC, Rajendra Pachauri. And if you haven’t seen it you, you
should look at Mark Lynas’s piece on IPCC and Greenpeace.

You can’t just ignore the solar/wind people and hope they go away. They have to
be addressed. If their plans aren’t feasible, then this needs to be demonstrated.


Another great article, Geoff.

I just stumbled upon this article from the United Nations University, which is not directly relevant to this thread, but definitely related: Rural Pakistan lends insight on energy poverty.

It discusses the impacts of energy poverty, particularly the amount of time and effort spent in rural Pakistan on collecting energy or working to buy energy. Probably no surprise to most readers here, but it’s good to see some some quantitative analyses of this sort.


Geoff Russell: I agree that having the IPCC WG3 report on renewables following the Greenpeace ‘script’ is troubling. However, as Mark Lynas notes, it doesn’t change the conclusion all that much – it *is* possible to supply world energy needs with renewables.

I’d say that it’s also possible to get by with far, far less primary energy consumption than people in developed countries (especially the US & Australia) do. Much of our consumption is very wasteful – e.g. running air-conditioners or burning gas/oil to cool or heat poorly-insulated houses, excessive inefficient lighting, driving 2-3 tonne SUVs to & from a desk job, etc. Many industrial users are similarly wasteful of energy, thanks to it being historically very cheap.

However, I still agree with the points you make in your article – why go uber-frugal with energy, when there are options that allow more reasonable usage levels with considerably less carbon emissions?

BTW, what’s the emergency behaviour of those 100MW mini-nuke plants? E.g. if one was in a big quake that ruptured the steam pipes leading to the turbo-generator, what happens inside the cask? Obviously an emergency shut-down would lead to thermal power dropping to only a few MW within minutes, but is the system able to passively deal with that? Not insurmountable problems, but they’d need to be well addressed if these sort of things were to be widely deployed in developing nations.


This quote from the James Hansen et al. paper really hits it home for me.

“A rising price on carbon emissions and payment for carbon sequestration is surely needed to make drawdown of
airborne CO2 a reality. A 50 ppm drawdown via agricultural
and forestry practices seems plausible. But if most of the
CO2 in coal is put into the air, no such “natural” drawdown
of CO2 to 350 ppm is feasible. Indeed, if the world continues
on a business-as-usual path for even another decade without
initiating phase-out of unconstrained coal use, prospects for
avoiding a dangerously large, extended overshoot of the 350
ppm level will be dim”

Click to access 2008_Hansen_etal.pdf

That paper is definitely worth reading


Bern: Which Lynas piece did you read?

Here’s a quote from the piece I linked above:

How is this achieved whilst also reducing carbon emissions at the same time, which is after all the supposed point of the whole exercise? By assuming a totally unrealistic global consumption of energy, with total primary energy use in 2050 actually *less* than the baseline of 2007. The magic trick of getting rid of nuclear whilst generating 80% of the world’s energy from renewables is performed by making an absurd assumption that primary energy use will fall (from 469 exojoules today to 407 in 2050) even as population rises from 7 to 9 billion and GDP per capita more than doubles. I doubt this is even thermodynamically possible, let alone the basis for good policy.

I haven’t read the IPCC statement and don’t care too much who wrote it, but
based on Lynas’s quote above, it amounts to a decision to leave the
poor poor and to give up on global poverty. I don’t believe that will happen. I don’t believe that should happen.


Re Geoff Russell on 19 June 2011 at 9:54 AM.

I don’t know what diesel mechanics,country or otherwise,have to do with solar systems,apart from the backup generators.

Solar systems are the province of electricians and any competent tradesman with the appropriate training and tools can diagnose any fault in the system. If the sparky can’t effect a remedy it is then a matter of replacing the offending part or module,not fixing it on site.Quite often the whole problem unit will be replaced and then sent to the city (or overseas) where the facilities for this are located.

This is the way all sorts of complex machinery is maintained.And I doubt whether there are more than a handful of machine shops in Australia who could make the parts for a diesel injection pump or turbocharger,for instance,given the very fine tolerances and special materials involved.

As for the SSTAR,your Wickipedia link states that no prototype has been built but one is expected in 2015.A prototype is a long haul from a commercial unit.
There are also the matters of cost,scaling the installation to the required load and the political barrier which still has to be hurdled.

It is nice to dream but I think that this is not the site for such pleasures.


podargus: my point is simply that some technologies take more skills than others to maintain and plenty of technology is deployed without proper maintenance planning. Clearly nobody at Umuwa can fix their solar unit. When you don’t have
a good maintenance plan, you better have devices that don’t need any.
ERGreen and me are both thinking out to 2050, so something like
an SSTAR or Toshiba 4S can be planned for on that timescale.


Greenpeace is neither about “green” nor about “peace”. It envisions a concrete megalith that destroys natural greenery and pushes sensitive ecosystems to the brink. Its policies perpetuate a reliance on natural gas, which is the primal cause of global geopolitics and war today.

An apt name for greenpeace could be “concrete-war”. That word also symbolizes how inflexible the ideas of its members are.


Geoff – sorry, I misread a sentence in the article. Lynas was stating that “Greenpeace think it can be done, which we we already know”, which I misread as ‘we already know it can be done’.

Again, I think it *can* be done with renewables, but at much greater cost than with nuclear, and if the anti-nuclear brigade get their way, with a great reliance on fossil fuels for backup. I’m still not convinced of the utility (or cost-effectiveness) of these ‘self-contained, fully automatic’ mini-reactors, but they’re at least worth keeping in mind.
Security of reactors is a serious issue that would need to be addressed, though – I’d be a little nervous about putting a nuclear plant in Indonesia or Thailand, let alone some of the tinpot dictatorships in Africa… Sure, blowing the lid off a reactor cask wouldn’t exactly *benefit* the people doing it, but they’ve done crazier things in the past in the name of hurting their enemies.


Bern: It’s on my “wish list” that someone who knows more than me would do a
post on the safety of tiny nukes in politically unstable parts of the world. There
are oil and gas pipelines by the zillions of kilometers through politically unstable
regions and they are simple to attack and carrying a locally valuable
commodity. Certainly there are attacks, but how many? and how sophisticated?
These little nukes are intended to be tamper resistant. But I’d like an opinion from
an expert.


I think the developing world needs big nuclear due to urbanization. There are some really big urban areas that need lots of electricity. China is building nuclear power plants with four to six reactors per plant. These power plants service large urban areas. I think they are better off building four big reactors than to build 24 small reactors.

Sometimes I wonder about the phrase “can support a million households”. What does that mean in terms all the electricity needed to support a city of say 3 million (residential, commercial, and industrial)?

These days undeveloped does NOT mean rural and small.

Best link would be to Stewart Brand’s book, “The Whole Earth Discipline”,


Geoff: I’m definitely not an expert, but IMHO, if you can build it, they can blow it up. It would be very difficult to crack open the reactor & extract the fissile material to build, say, a nuclear weapon (even assuming the right isotopes were present), but just cracking it open to release a plume of radiation? Not so hard. Just requires a bunch of explosives. An anti-tank rocket warhead (even the humble RPG) might be able to get through the cask skin.

You could get around that by entombing it in concrete, but that’d make end-of-life recovery & processing that much harder.

Big plants would have similar security issues, but being concentrated, may be able to be defended if required.


Thank you for your careful report about Greenpeace in India. (deleted inflammatory comment)
It seems counter-intuitive, but about half of the world’s 1,200 largest coal burning power plants are in developing countries. These plants alone produce about 30% of ALL Global Warming CO2.

India, very rich in thorium, is moving ahead with nuclear, placing its nuclear bet on thorium heat, which, if they used liquid reactors – about 250 times more efficient than solid fuel reactors – would be about 7,000 times cheaper than coal and about 1,000 times cheaper than uranium heat. However, at the present time, India remains stuck in the solid nuclear fuel mire along with almost everyone else in the world.

China, also rich in thorium, recently initiated a program to develop liquid reactors – picking up where the U.S. left off in 1972.

Thorium is as common as lead, uranium 235 as common as gold.
As per BNC Comments Policy,(apart from the Open Threads) please supply links to substantiate your statements/opinions.


Thorium-fueled molten salt reactors are an entirely different way of doing nuclear and are not much fun to vandalize either.

I happen to think they are ideal for developing countries like India and am actively engaged in helping developing countries move away from coal electricity.

Back to the security issues. Consider a one gigaWatt (e) molten salt reactor. It’s fuel salt is like watery-hot molten lava, has zero vapor pressure so it can’t disperse radioactivity into the atmosphere, and, as it cools, the salt quickly reverts back to a dull glowing lava-like hot solid.

Most likely any attack will activate the freeze plugs and all the fuel salt will end up in the dump tanks in about 10 seconds. Then what’s a terrorist to do?

Its not just thermally hot. Unlike plutonium, which you can be around for thousands of hours (as long as you don’t eat it) you can get a bad dose of gamma from the U-232 in it in as little as 0.04 hours – really keeps those hands out of the cookie jar.

There is a paper by Edward Teller (inventor of the H-bomb) describing a very secure thorium converter (not breeder) molten salt reactor.

There are also ways the reactor can be rigged to be instantly denatured if threatened. But that could ruin the reactor forever.

Check out what I’m saying on any of the thorium web sites or Google LFTR. Links to many of them are available on my site.
As per BNC comments policy, please supply links in your post e.g. to the Telford paper as opposed to general instructions on where to find links.


…I _still_ fail to understand why this site is consistently, actively, and specifically anti-wind and anti-PV. It’s mindboggling. It is true that power-per-unit-area is one of the major advantages of nuclear power and one of the major disadvantages of wind turbines and photovoltaics. That’s really not anything new or particularly revolutionary–can we please check off that box and move on to more productive conversation?

All-or-nothing comparisons between 100% nuclear versus anything else will naturally lead to substantial differences footprint. Where are the reasonable analyses of reasonable mixtures of energy technologies? For example, David Mackay does a decent job of laying out example “toy” scenarios (25% each of wind, nuclear, biomass, and solar energy) but, at least when I saw him speak, he readily acknowledged that such a scenario is neither particularly plausible nor necessarily desirable. Useful as a scoping exercise? Yes, absolutely. More useful than all-or-nothing, us-versus-them polemics? I would argue “yes”.

So, why the continued and consistent anti-wind and anti-PV message? Is it a reflexive thing–“They hate my team so I’ll hate them back”? It’s counterproductive, and in any case banging on about the same points (e.g., footprint differences, concrete and steel requirements, etc.) doesn’t materially advance the discussion. It’s ground that’s been covered before. Why is the discussion limited to all-or-nothing scenarios? Is a 100%-nuclear world, or a 100%-wind-and-solar world, even desirable? I would argue “no”, just as a 100% meatless world is not a particularly efficient or desirable food scenario.

Regarding the comments above by Jim Holm re: elemental abundances, and the subsequent edits by the moderator, here is a link to crustal abundances of the elements:

It happens to be fairly relevant to the discussion. If one looks at the graph of crustal abundances: one might note that carbon, calcium, oxygen, silicon, and iron are quite abundant–roughly one million times more abundant than uranium or thorium, for example. If I were designing a system of any kind (energy or otherwise), I would personally generally favor a system that relied heavily upon abundant (and, if possible, recyclable) elements over scarce ones (especially scarce ones that are actually burned as fuel in the nuclear fuel cycle). But of course, I’m not an idiot–I might also choose to make use of scarce resources that were available to me, at least for a time (such as uranium or thorium, or stockpiles of plutonium).

Where are the analyses for the rest of us, who are interested in real, and realistic, solutions and don’t have any interest in being activists or boosters for our favored racehorse?


Mike, I’m not personally anti-wind or anti-PV any more than I’m ‘pro-nuclear’. I’d happily have a wind farm on the hills over my house, and I already have PV-panels on my roof. My overriding principle, however, is that I’m pro-CO2-mitigation. Whatever is most effective, and that includes, as a strong economic underpinning, CO2-abatement cost per unit of energy delivered. I agree that societal will is also important, and that most people ‘like’ wind and solar. Fine. That is a point in their favour. But ultimately, how do you determine relative effectiveness, unless you make comparisons? And who pays?

I guess in Germany, we are about to find out many answers like this. Unfortunately, the current results seems to be simple: coal and gas win when nuclear is shut out of the game. It will be a sad lesson, but perhaps a necessary one.


If I were designing a system of any kind (energy or otherwise), I would personally generally favor a system that relied heavily upon abundant (and, if possible, recyclable) elements over scarce ones (especially scarce ones that are actually burned as fuel in the nuclear fuel cycle). But of course, I’m not an idiot–I might also choose to make use of scarce resources that were available to me, at least for a time (such as uranium or thorium, or stockpiles of plutonium).

Where are the analyses for the rest of us, who are interested in real, and realistic, solutions and don’t have any interest in being activists or boosters for our favored racehorse?

Here you go:


Also relevant to my post above is the following:

“A polemic is a form of dispute, wherein the main efforts of the disputing parties are aimed at establishing the superiority of their own points of view regarding an issue…unlike debate, which may seek common ground between two parties, a polemic is intended to establish the supremacy of a single point of view by refuting an opposing point of view.”

Isn’t there some way to find common ground, and shouldn’t we as a community be pursuing that rather than screaming into the echo chamber?


Finrod wrote,
“Here you go…”

Sorry, but I must be missing the point here (unless the point is “irony”). The link you provided discusses the sustainability of a 100% nuclear future. That’s exactly what I’m _not_ looking for–there are plenty of those to go around.

Whether the sustainability of nuclear power is a settled point or not, I don’t particularly care–assuming that nuclear power _is_ part of a sustainable energy future (which is an assumption that has already been extensively discussed and debated), the interesting question to me is “What part?” (which is a question that has hardly been touched, including on these pages). “100%” is, to me, an overly-simplistic and naive answer (almost comically so).

I know nuance and subtlety aren’t exactly the “in” thing in the 21st century, but come on, there has to be something more productive than this.


Bern: I’m trying to find out more about the attackability of a small reactor like an
SSTAR or Toshiba 4S. Rod Adams (Atomic Insights) thinks (via email) that neither an RPG or an Oklahoma type fertiliser bomb would be a serious threat but and I have a request in to get an official position from Lawrence Livermore.

Mike: I’ve presented two “all nuclear” Vs “all solar” scenarios and it seems to
me that the nuclear scenario is feasible but the solar one isn’t. But I’m not anti-solar in the same way I’m anti-meat. Energy systems aren’t direct moral
issues, but spending money on a system that won’t work becomes a moral
issue because inefficient choices mean less money for important things like
health care. It becomes a moral issue when poor choices damage climate mitigation chances. I wouldn’t rule out any energy system based on ideology. Solar+storage in outback Australia should be a perfect fit. The Umuwa
stuff up is just that, a stuff up, not particularly the fault of it being solar.
What I am angry about is people who rule out a technology, nuclear, for irrational reasons. I’m also obsessively conscious about issues of scale. No small nuke will be cheap until they are built and installed in quantity and that won’t happen while people are making decisions based on ideology. Almost as important is too many types of system. We don’t need 100 small nuke designs each with its own fuel types any more than we need 100 incompatible computer text document formats.
There are plenty of solar heat collector systems that also make great sense.


@ Mike

The problem with what you are arguing is that there are still so many people out there who are actively anti-nuclear and are in no way interested in seeking common ground. Their arguments need to be countered at some point.

I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who is actively anti wind or solar power (apart from the NIMBY cases). There are plenty of people who are anti disproportionate subsidising of low-carbon technologies that simply aren’t effective. And the fact is, without nuclear, these technologies are almost certainly incapable of decarbonising global societies. The fact that a “100 % renewables” world is little more than a pipe-dream needs to be illustrated and made clear, or the climate and energy debates are going to go nowhere.


Barry Brook wrote,
“I’m not personally anti-wind or anti-PV any more than I’m ‘pro-nuclear’.”

Well, it’s true that you don’t have a “Wind power? No, thank you” badge on your site under the “Nuclear power? Yes please” badge, but your site _is_ full of anti-wind and anti-PV posts, some from guest posters, some from yourself. The evidence appears to be mixed.

Like you, I’m pro-CO2-mitigation. And wind turbines and photovoltaics do seem to fall in that category, and they have some advantages (people “like” them, and we can build them yesterday without a lot of the…Baggage…That comes with nuclear power). So, like I said above, I just don’t get all the anti-wind/anti-PV posts. Ultimately, though, it’s not my blog, and your audience seems to like it, so good on you I guess.


your site _is_ full of anti-wind and anti-PV posts, some from guest posters, some from yourself

Where? You don’t mean a post that tries to calculate the CO2-abatement cost of them, do you? Why this this anti-x, as opposed to trying to answer a serious question?


Geoff: thanks, I’d be interested to hear what they’d have to say. Even the humble RPG-7 can get through 260mm of armour plate, with some of the newer warheads capable of getting through more than half a metre of steel. And that’s just a small shoulder-fired job.

Burying the thing will certainly help somewhat, but if attackers got access to the cask wall, it wouldn’t be too difficult to place a shaped charge there.

Agree with the rest of your comments in your post. Horses for courses, and for an energy-hungry society in the high lattitudes, solar is a difficult proposition at best. In combination with wind, it’s still going to be challenging. As Barry notes, Germany is running the experiment for us, with the answer shaping up much as we here expected.


Tom Keen wrote,
“Their arguments need to be countered at some point.”

Unless I’m misreading this blog, they’ve been countered, extensively, over and over. Who is “right” seems to be a fairly subjective thing, though. So, why keep repeating things in a vain effort to force the “other side” to surrender? I don’t get it.

Tom Keen wrote,
“The fact that a “100 % renewables” world is little more than a pipe-dream needs to be illustrated and made clear, or the climate and energy debates are going to go nowhere.”

Well, Tom, in case you haven’t noticed, the climate and energy “debates” _are_ basically going nowhere, perhaps partly because everybody is arguing for “100%” this or “100% that”. Honestly, I’d be happy with a 30%, 40%, or 60% de-carbonized world (meaning 30-60% of current fossil energy is replaced with something else, or not consumed as a result of improved efficiency), because that would be substantial progress over what we’ve got. But we’re too interested in being “right” to care, it seems. I’d be happy with baby steps–worry about the rest of it after we get started. Like many things, getting started is likely most of the problem. Why not get started yesterday, with what we can do?


I know nuance and subtlety aren’t exactly the “in” thing in the 21st century,

Clearly so, or you might have picked up that my link was posted to address the very specific concerns about ‘scarce’ resources you raised yourself as an explanation for your antipathy to a nuclear-dominant approach.

Sorry, but I must be missing the point here (unless the point is “irony”). The link you provided discusses the sustainability of a 100% nuclear future. That’s exactly what I’m _not_ looking for–there are plenty of those to go around.

It might not be what you were looking for, but it’s something you needed to see, if your stated concerns are genuine.


So, why keep repeating things in a vain effort to force the “other side” to surrender? I don’t get it.

You’re missing the point. Greenpeace (the “other side” in this post, if you will) will almost certainly not give up their stance on nuclear energy in any meaningful timeframe. It’s about countering their claims so that the majority of society, who aren’t particularly interested in such things, don’t get sucked into these fantastical worlds. It’s about trying to keep reality in the debate, which hopefully (eventually) translates to policy. That’s how I view it, anyway.


Barry Brook wrote,
“Where? You don’t mean a post that tries to calculate the CO2-abatement cost of them, do you? Why this this anti-x, as opposed to trying to answer a serious question?”

Well, I’d start with “Solar Power in Florida”, and the related “Danish Fairy Tales” from guest posters. Perhaps my statement was a little harsh on your own posts (cf. the prologue to “Energy Debates in Wonderland”), but it’s a matter of degree.

Admittedly, whether these qualify as “anti-solar” or “anti-wind” depends on one’s interpretation–but you certainly succeed in leaving the issue open to interpretation.


Finrod wrote,
“It might not be what you were looking for, but it’s something you needed to see, if your stated concerns are genuine.”

Well, thanks for that, then. Seen and read. Check. Moving right along to the more interesting questions…?


Well Mike, before you do move on to those more interesting questions, I’m curious to learn what effect it’s had on you. Do you accept the basic thrust of my article and acknowledge that your concerns about material scarcity in relation to nuclear power have been misplaced, or do you reject that contention? In either case, how has it affected your previously stated position?


Tom Keen wrote,
“Greenpeace (the “other side” in this post, if you will) will almost certainly not give up their stance on nuclear energy in any meaningful timeframe.”

No, you’re right, they won’t. So is the point of the exercise to be anti-Greenpeace, then? That’s certainly how you paint the issue (“It’s about countering their claims…”)

I guess in my case, it’s not about that. It’s about, you know, that little niggling issue of making progress toward a lower-CO2 world.


Mate, you’re not listening. It’s not about being “anti” anyone. It’s about not allowing misinformation to rule the public debate. That is the only way “that niggling issue” will ever be addressed.

Imagine if everyone just stood back and let climate change naysayers spread misinformation, and never bothered to respond to their claims.


Finrod wrote,
“I’m curious to learn what effect it’s had on you. Do you accept the basic thrust of my article and acknowledge that your concerns about material scarcity in relation to nuclear power have been misplaced, or do you reject that contention? In either case, how has it affected your previously stated position?”

Well, like I said, Finrod, I don’t find your link particularly enlightening. I’d say your analysis supports the conclusions made by others, such as David Mackay (mentioned in your post). Recent literature also comes to a similar conclusion on a similar point (see, for example, Tendall and Binder, 2011, in Environmental Science & Technology, though their analysis was regional rather than global). However, they also note, “…if Europe continues with nuclear energy…it should focus on further development of new technologies (e.g., fast reactor systems), which require less raw materials and are able to recycle waste materials. However, increasing material efficiency is not correlated with the reduction of other impacts.”

That is, “it’s more complicated than the mass balance”. Which is basically my point.



How do you see making progress towards a lower-CO2 world, when most of the people who are most concerned about it (such as the Greenpeace followers and all the rest with similar beliefs) want solutions that are econoimcally irrational and totally impractical – like wind farms, solar power and no nuclear?


Tom Keen.

Imagine if everyone just stood back and let climate change naysayers spread misinformation, and never bothered to respond to their claims.

Imagine if everyone just stood back and let the economically irrational and economically illiterate spread misinformation, and never bothered to respond to their claims.


@ Mike: I’m not going to play 20 Questions with you in an attempt to coax out details of your vague objections to nuclear power. State them clearly, or be revealed as an anti-nuclear FUD peddler.


On the issue of elemental abundance, average crustal values tell an interesting story (“uranium and thorium are not that common”) and the mass balance tells another story (“uranium and thorium are common enough”). That ground has been covered and re-covered, with basically no resolution (for good reasons, probably). Which is why my thinking is, “Okay, simply _assume_ that supplies are sustainable. Now what?”

The trivial answer is, “Great! Let’s go all-in, then!” But the trivial answer rarely survives contact with reality, which is most likely the case here. So why not advance our thinking, instead of covering old ground?

Anyway, it’s past my bedtime. Cheers, and thanks for the discussion. I’ll pop in again when I am able.


Finrod wrote,
“I’m not going to play 20 Questions with you in an attempt to coax out details of your vague objections to nuclear power. State them clearly, or be revealed as an anti-nuclear FUD peddler.”

This is seriously frustrating. Christ on a bike, I’m not anti-nuclear. I’m pro-wind, pro-solar, pro-CCS, and yes, even pro-nuclear. This is yet another example of the “with us or against us” ridiculousness that prompted me to comment on this post in the first place. Just because I’m not a hyped-up nuclear booster, I’m the subject of your ire?


That ground has been covered and re-covered, with basically no resolution (for good reasons, probably).

If you know of any reason for thinking that my article and its conclusion are not correct, lay it out for all to see. Otherwise, you’re just waffling in the hope some people might mistake your verbiage for discourse.


Finrod wrote,
“If you know of any reason for thinking that my article and its conclusion are not correct, lay it out for all to see.”

Well, I think your conclusion (“a global mass balance suggests that there is enough fissile material around to power society for a while”) is sound. However, I think making the jump from this to “100% nuclear, all the way, baby!” is missing a few important things, such as heterogeneous distribution of fissile material, heterogeneous distribution of alternatives, and water quality issues…To name a few. I’m sure I can think of more but please give me a break–it’s late and I have to be up for work in a precious few hours.

Though this is dangerously close to being off-topic, I think it’s relevant by analogy (and in response to part of Geoff’s comment above): For the same types of reasons, I’m not onboard with the anti-meat people. Large parts of the world are perfectly-suited for grazing animals which can be eaten–indeed, some societies in areas with poor soils depend almost exclusively on this to survive. Grazing should be a part of a “sustainable” future, just as the often-maligned (on BNC) renewables should.


Finrod wrote,
““I’m not anti-nuclear, but…” is a song we have heard too often to throw you a coin.”

I could say the same of “I’m not pro-nuclear, but…” (cf. Prof. Brook’s post above). That certainly seems the more welcome viewpoint, around here. It’s kind of sad that someone who wanders into your village and says, “Why can’t we all just get along?” is attacked by “the natives” as being anti-nuclear.


I think the future of the nuclear renaissance really depends on the development of small, modular power reactors. At the moment, large reactors have better economies of scale, but their construction is extremely capital intensive and the approval and construction processes take a lot of time in most countries, which makes utilities think twice about new nuclear power plants.
Factory produced modular power reactors may not only be safer (convective cooling), but also more economical if regulatory hurdles preventing flexible, large-scale deployment in a reasonable time frame are moved out of the way. What we need are demonstration reactors. After that, multiple units could be installed at existing sites to gradually replace conventional fossil and nuclear power plants. You would need 16 100MW SSTARS to produce the same power as a 1.6GW EPR. With factory mass production, the SSTARs could potentially be much cheaper.

A very interesting technology, we need it as soon as possible.


Finrod: Energy systems are about sustainability (in many senses) and cost, food is about sustainability, cost and ethics. I don’t kill animals without good reason.
Of course micro-amounts of meat are sustainable, but I don’t know many
meat eaters who want micro-amounts. They want unsustainable amounts.
Plenty of grazing land was cleared for the purpose and must be
reforested. What’s left won’t produce much meat.


Geoff, have you received any kind of response from Greenpeace to these articles? I haven’t seen anything like an overt Greenpeace member response in the comments yet.

Surely such a broadside would provoke *some* sort of reaction.


Finrod: Sorry, should have been to mike.
Turnages: I have informed one of the Greenpeace people in London with whom I’ve had some email contact. He has said he will inform EREC … so we shall


RPGs…ugh. So…you dig a tunnel and you come up against the cast wall…a wall how many *feet* think?

1. Firing an RPG in a tunnel will incinerate everyone in the tunnel from back blast.
2. Digging a tunnel like this is going to attract someone’s attention. I think the idea that these reactors are “buried and forgotten” is bogus. The public will not stand for this not matter HOW safe they are. Plus there is very expensive switch gear that needs protection.
3. An RPG or shaped charge is *not* effective against concrete, it’s effective against armor, that is metal. It works by creating a super-heated liquid stream of copper through a very small whole designed to:
a. Kill the crew of an armored vehicle.
b. Set off the ammunition inside the small space of the vehicle.
On concrete, RPGs are not very effective unless they use HE rockets (high explosive). And then it’s not very effective on *thick* concrete.

To blow up one of these suckers you’d tunnel *under* it about 60 feet from the surface, not get noticed, pack the bottom of the containment with, say, a ton of C5, and then set the sucker off. I suppose this could be done. I suspect this muchado about nothing.

We are talking saving the planet here from climate change and we get sucked into these “what ifs”. They are not realistic.


“Factory produced modular power reactors may not only be safer (convective cooling), but also more economical if regulatory hurdles preventing flexible, large-scale deployment in a reasonable time frame are moved out of the way. What we need are demonstration reactors.”
In order for nuclear electricity to really affect global CO2 production we need a LOT of large reactors. The scale needed to save the environment is always hard to grasp. Like 160 large reactors in India. So let me introduce to you the AP1000 reactor from Westinghouse. I will use your words to describe the AP1000 so that you can know and maybe even like the technology that is actually being built.

The AP1000 uses factory produced modules (about 200 of them). In the United States the Shaw factory is in Baton Rouge. Go to the Shaw web site to see a picture of the actual factory. There is also a similar factory in China.
The AP1000 uses convective cooling to passively cool the plant in case of loss of power.
The AP1000 can be deployed on a large scale in a reasonable time frame since construction has already started at 7 sites. The 7 sites will have 28 AP1000s when finished, producing the equivalent of about 1/3 the US nuclear electricity. Two sites are in the concrete and metal stage. Five sites are in the ground prep stage. The first reactor is due to start producing in 2013. The Westinghouse engineers calculate that for first concrete to initial testing will be 36 months when enough experience has been accumulate. How’s that for demonstration reactors with a fast build time?
If you want to know more about factory produced large reactors that are actually being built, check out this link


When those 28 AP1000s are complete, I estimate 2019, more electricity will be produced by AP1000s than is used in Australia today.
Australia production 230,000,000,000 kWh
With 90% capacity factor 24x365x.9 = 7,884 hr/yr.
AP1000 at 1,200 MW max or 1,200,000 kW max
1.2 x 10to6 times 7,884 hr/yr times 28 reactors is 265,000,000,000 kWh Look, even a little growth for good measure!
Now, if it just were not against the law to build them, we have a practical scalable solution to get start on today.


Mike, I’ve been following this exchange and trying to figure out what you’re trying to say.
Mike at 20 June 2011 at 5:41 PM

Unless I’m misreading this blog, they’ve been countered, extensively, over and over. Who is “right” seems to be a fairly subjective thing, though.

(emphasis added)

You may be using the word “right” in two ways simultaneously. In the sense of “right answer in arithmetic”, Brave New Climate gets numbers right. This post critiques the Greenpeace scenario using numbers analytically, based on the physics and chemistry that engineers use to design things that work and don’t fall down. It also fills in numbers that the Greenpeace scenario left out, trying to uncover hidden assumptions, insufficient treatments, or issues glossed over. Anyone who brings scenarios forward publicly has to expect this kind of critique, also public, so we can all look at their analysis and compare their arithmetic.

“Morally right” is, I agree, more subjective. As is “who I think is correctly predicting what will happen”. You haven’t made any suggestions beyond

I’d be happy with baby steps–worry about the rest of it after we get started. Like many things, getting started is likely most of the problem. Why not get started yesterday, with what we can do?

I absolutely agree, and getting off the pot is the most important thing we can do. There are baby steps happening with all the technologies right now, with a lot of results that can be and have been analyzed and critiqued. I propose an exercise for you, to help clarify your thoughts. Assume you have a budget for getting started – a few billion units of your favorite currency (or a few hundred billion Yen). Work out a plan, with a timetable, for how you would spend it, explaining why you made those choices and what questions you would be attempting to answer over the course of the project. Propose presenting your plan here on Brave New Climate as a guest post (I know I’m on thin ice here but I’ll bet that Barry is open to proposals for high quality guest posts). Don’t feel bad if it’s not automatically accepted – you can always fire up a new Blogger account, publish it yourself, and see if it will get noticed. But if you have anything significant to say or a new slant on analysis of any of the issues discussed at BNC, I’m sure we’d all like to see the details. What do you think we should actually do, and why? This will help me understand where you’re coming from.

On this thread, if you could re-analyze any of Geoff Russell’s points about the Greenpeace plan and present your analysis here, it would be a start to building your credibility with me. I have come to appreciate BNC as having very high standards of presentation in the posts, and very high quality of discussion (mostly) by the commenting community. BNC is less formal than a peer-reviewed journal, but I think it’s just what it needs to be.

Moderators – I hope you won’t strike me with lightning for these comments, but I think you can tell I have high regard for BNC.


David: Excellent, many thanks for this. The idea of small turn-key nukes dotted
around areas of Africa/India has a lot of promise in my book and I’m trying (without the appropriate expertise) to consider the safety issues where civil
order has broken down. If the people who want to sell these nukes want to
succeed then they need to produce proper expository material explaining what
“tamper resistant” means. If their safety relies on reasonable civil order then this limits the market … quite considerably. If your C5 scenario is accurate, then I’m happy that C5 in these quantities is not at all likely in a poor country where some warlords are running amok. This is great to know.

In computer security, people talk about “security through obscurity” where you have an insecure system and you rely on people not knowing enough to crack it. This compares with real security where you advertise every fine detail including possible weak points to invite hackers. E.g., with Linux, all the source code is
available for hackers to try and find holes. If it stands up under that kind of openness then it is secure. I’d want the LLNL to publish their ideas on how to bust
their nukes … knowing that it takes N tonnes of a tough to get hold of explosive
and that 5 tonnes of fertiliser is information that needs to be public.


Ten SSTAR modules could replace a single AP-1000. So instead of 300 different factory produced modules assembled into a large complex reactor you will simply set up 10 passively safe, factory produced SSTAR modules in a single location and start producing power. Factory assembly of a full power module is a significant advantage because it happens in a controlled environment.

I agree that all options need to be considered and I’m all for building AP-1000s now, but I believe that the future belongs to smaller reactors distributed across a country and clustered when needed.

Of course I haven’t done a full economic analysis, I don’t know enough about nuclear engineering. But the small power module approach seems intuitive from an economic point of view. Think about the mass production of standard cars vs the production of a customized McLaren supercar.


Andrew Jaremko @ 21 June 2011 at 2:12 AM

Assume you have a budget for getting started – a few billion units of your favorite currency. Work out a plan, with a timetable, for how you would spend it, explaining why you made those choices and what questions you would be attempting to answer over the course of the project.

I love that challenge. I’ll do a quickie here in a comment.

1. Establish the conditions in Australia to get started with moving to a lower carbon economy in the fastest practicable way that is economically rational (that is, it will enhance rather than damage our economy)

2. Define requirements and conduct Options analysis. Requirements are: least cost, low emissions electricity generation, leading to least cost low emissions fuel for transport.

3. [For the exercise from here on I’ll make the assumption that a rapid roll out of nuclear power will be the least cost option until we reach the stage France is at now with its electricity generation.]

4. Establish a project budget and time line (c.f. the proposed budget for the NBN project implementation is roughly 10 years and $50 billion), e.g.:

a. Scope: 25 GW nuclear plus 8 GW pumped hydro (plus a bit of gas)

b. Construction time: 2017 to 2040

c. Budget (in 2011 A$): $120 billion (of which approximately $20 billion would be required from public funds to get over the FOAK stage, remove investor risk premium and sovereign risk issues).

d. These figures are to provide generation to meet our existing electricity demand. It does not include meeting future increases in demand. The figures do not include capacity reserve margin (add say 20%).


( Moderator -I have fixed your earlier error as requested)
Kirk Soensen said:
“Thorium is as common as lead, uranium 235 as common as gold.”
(at 2 minutes, 55 seconds into his talk). The talk can be found on utube at:

Please visit his web site at:

I consider it the English-speaking fountainhead of thorium-fueled molten salt reactor technology. Kirk was instrumental in getting NASA to cause Oak Ridge National Laboratories to make their thorium archives available to the internet. You can find them at:

Small reactors are a big mistake when it comes to fighting Global Warming.

The biggest CO2 sources are the world’s 1,200 supersized coal burning power plants. Only 2% of all power plants, they make 30% of ALL Global Warming. The only low-hanging fruit in the Global Warming struggle. They are big coal burning boilers and can only be replaced with big nuclear boilers. That is why I’m advocating a one-reactor-size-fits-every-site approach.

Thank you.

Jim Holm


Thank you Geoff Russell for an interesting essay. I really liked your idea that small nukes such as SSAR could work well in a country that lacks the means to distribute electric power over large distances. India has the technical sophistication to decide what is appropriate to their situation without much the help from outsiders who are motivated by the need to make a profit by selling their patented solution.

Maybe India will make the small nuke concept work using something like SSAR, LFTR or S-PRISM, with the benefits of getting by with a minimal grid infra-structure while ensuring security through spatial diversity. I look forward to DV82XL’s rebuttal of this argument!

I was hoping you would mount a more effective attack on ERGREEN and others who seek to dictate “solutions” to countries that are rapidly industrialising. Fortunately, China and India are big enough to stand up to the hypocritical nonsense spouted by the likes of Greenpeace and James Hansen.

Anyone who thinks jurisdictions that are serious about growth will let CO2 emissions deter them is simply deluded. Here in Florida our growth in electrical generating capacity is coming from natural gas and coal. Nobody here takes any notice of Hansen’s (deleted perjorative)ideas so how could we ask India or China to do so?


Love the idea, Andrew, but sadly I’m a bit swamped at the moment to put together a high-quality and reasonably complete scenario. It’s a great project idea, though. Of course, I wouldn’t bother to post it on someone’s blog if I was going to put in the effort–I’d send it off for peer review. The blogosphere is not a very appealing place to put out serious, well-thought-out analyses, to me.

As for what I was trying to get at, I’m not totally against first-order, all-or-nothing approximations. Indeed, I feel that they are quite useful, to a point. The “all nuclear” one has been so done to death, though, that it just seems to have outlived its usefulness. Also, in the attempt to specifically construct an “all nuclear” scenario, for some reason some people seem compelled to come out against everything else, which seems irrational to me. Especially when discussions are based on fairly coarse first-order approximations anyway. Basically, I’m perplexed: Why is the “nuclear or bust” hard line even necessary? (cf., for example, Finrod’s “or be revealed as an anti-nuclear blah blah blah” bit above.) Particularly in a place such as India where companies are electrifying rural communities with photovoltaics as I write this? If the shoe fits…

Anyway, I feel like I’ve said what I came to say and am on the fringes of wearing out my welcome…So I’ll stop here for now.


@Geoff R and Jim Holm:

If there are only 1200 reasonably large coal power plants worldwide, I am surprised.

I’d like to start with brownfield conversions of the 50 or so in Australia.

NPP steam is at much lower pressure than for coal fired boilers, so the turbines and steam mains are much larger and certainly are not interchangeable in any way. Essentially, each boiler and turbine complex will need to be rebuilt from scratch, which would be required for quality control and safety in any case.

However, the physical site, most services, workforce, cooling water supplies and much more are already available on existing sites.

Transmission systems overall cost more than the power stations, so by not having to construct new switchyards and HV transmission lines the overall project cost is virtually halved.

Local workforces, transport and communication links are also in place, as also are contractors experienced in construction, operation and maintenance of power stations.

I think of this brownfield scenario as a half price, accelerated, low risk approach to a CO2 future. Start asap and the bulk of the work can be completed by 2050, assuming that FOAK issues are overcome early and that from there on it is like churning out sausages – several units per year. Remember, every coal fired power station is slated for retirement or replacement within this time frame – it’s only a matter of getting the right (ie nuclear and renewables) replacements.

By 2050, the only Australian coal fired capacity remaining will be a few surviving relics, operated as reserves and occasionally as peaking plant, with all of the base load being carried by renewables and NPP.

That is my believable dream for Australia and, with adaptations, for the world.

NB Renewables campaigners: I do not rule out renewables of any kind, but I do object to those who seek to pl;ace a blanket ban on nuclear power. It all comes down to analysis of opportunities, timing, safety, environment and cost.

Mike, above, has fairly made his point.



You ask “why is the nuclear or bust hard line even necessary?”

From my perspective, the one word answer is “economics”. David MacKay, to whom I believe you have previously referred, has caculated what are the theoretical upper limits for different clean energy technologies. He concluded that nations such as the United States and Australia could energise themselves with renewables alone, whereas others, such as the UK, could not unless relying on imported renewables. Unfortunately, MacKay’s analysis didn’t concern itself with affordability.

A theoretical, scientifically based analysis aimed at identifying a clean technology with the potential to supply power at a cost less than that from coal generation would, IMO, get stuck with a single contender – nuclear fission. Thus, in my view, your comment “nuclear or (economically) bust” is absolutely correct if one is serious about addressing simultaneously the problems of peak oil, global warming and expanding population.

It is true that many appear to believe either that the risks they perceive to arise from use of nuclear power exceed those represented by the problems I mentioned above or they fail to appreciate the potential for nuclear power to be far cheaper to produce than power from other clean sources. The failure to appreciate the latter is unsurprising, given the fact that, in Western democracies, the actual costs of nuclear tend to be inflated above where thay reasonably could be for a variety of reasons that have surprisingly little to do with safeguarding safety.

Nothing I have written suggests that renewables have no role to play – only that, should one attempt to rely upon them to produce the great bulk of our primary energy, the attempt will probably fail on affordability grounds.


Earlier, I had challenged the thread to post URLs for India’s plans for India.

Tactfully, Geoff Russell pointed out that he already had linked to India’s planning commission . However, Harrywr2 spoke for many of us when he said (of the end of the uranium embargo) “I’m not sure even India has managed to formulate plans for India yet.”

In 2006, I heard Dr Leena Srivastava, also of the IPCC, speak authoritatively on Environmental Impacts of Mega Economies – India , demonstrating that India does not need guidance from foreign NGOs like Greenpeace. At question time, I asked if the central planners of the Indian economy could see solar energy made profitable, with mass production, mass-market and cheap labour. She replied that indeed they had compared solar to coal and dismissed it. Over coffee, she said that hydro was feasible, but coal could only be significantly displaced in the future by nuclear.


Jim –

Your description of existing coal plants as the “low hanging fruit” that should be plucked in an effort to abate climate change is apt and powerful. Do you have a source for the “1200” large plants that you identify?


@John Bennetts

The 1,200 coal burning power plants are a relatively new size class intended to compete with the very powerful nuclear power stations. When the environmentalists persuaded the world to return to coal in the late 1980s, the global market was theirs.

The first power plant I worked on in 1957 had 75 megaWatt turbines, many of today’s supersized coal burning power plants have 750 megaWatt turbines. Place a DC-3 next to a 747 to get an idea. Consider their CO2 emissions.

For the record, there are about 65,000 power plants world-wide, about half fossil fuel, most not terribly large. The 1,200 supersizers account for about 30% of ALL Global Warming CO2 with the remaining fossil fuel plants about another 5%.

About 60% of ALL Global Warming CO2 is produced by the world’s billion or so fossil fuel boilers (if you include your personal hot water heater) with the remaining being internal combustion engines or industrial processes. I am excluding combustion of modern biogenic fuels.

Converting one of the new supersize-class coal burning power stations to nuclear appears both feasible and economic. Power plants have about a 70 year life and, since most are relatively new, one can expect them to be around for perhaps 40 more years.

Steam for modern coal power plants typically is 2,500 psi at 1,000F.

While I know of at least two coal burning power plant boiler conversion studies using conventional 1,000 psi, 550F water-cooled reactors that adjust for lower pressure and temperature by also rebuilding the turbine, I don’t think either will go anywhere.

The thermodynamics of the 950F IFR reactors are much more attractive, and the thermodynamics, pressures, and economics of 1,300F thorium-fueled molten salt reactors are absolutely delightful.

A typical power station has 4 to 6 generating units so the 1,200 stations I mentioned could have over 7,000 boilers that would have to be converted to nuclear to take out 30% of ALL Global Warming emissions.

There is a downloadable Excel file on my web site of these 1,200 power stations that identifies them and also gives their coordinates so you can take a look for yourself via Google Earth (Some Asian plants are miles off).

Thank you for your interest.

Jim Holm


John Holms has raised a sub-issue about reactor size. Like him, I’m not wedded to small reactors at all. There is a belief in the LFTR community that SMRs are the way to go. I challenge that as there is not way to determine if this is fact the case until the first set of small scale and large scale LFTRs ever get built. Some computer modeling would help but to my knowledge, no one at Kirk’s excellent site has done this.

The belief is that because small, say, 100MW reactors can be factory built their is an “economy of scale based on quantity” that will beat out a larger GEN IV reactor say of a 1000MW size.

I think this is wrong for a few reasons.

1. 10 x 100MW reactors, while perhaps cheaply “assembled” also means 10x the number of specific components, especially in instrumentation and controls. You only need need 1 watt meter, 3 potential transformers and 3 watt meters per reactor/generator set, to cite one of many examples. Each reactor, regardless of size, needs the same number, thus the 1000MW big reactors needs a total of 7, but the 10x 100MW reactors need 70. Same meters in fact. There are literally hundreds of these sorts of component question not taken into account by the SMR-only crowd.

2. Assembling LFTR reactors is not like assembly cars. It’s more like assembling passenger airliners. It’s not so much a ‘line’ as a ‘team’. Even big reactors can be assembled in this manner and I show this on John’s web site where I show that ship yards can be used to ‘factory’ build 1000 MW LFTRs…completely.

3. Take a country under discussion like India. SMRs mean you can drop a 50MW one in to a small town and build a small grid around it. It also means you can add *another* one is as the stimulus the reactor gives drives the economy. But you can also add a 1GW one in when the load starts increasing over time to build truly large regional grids with a *combination of small and large reactors*. This is the ideal situation for a country like India to get rid of it’s terrible renewable problem (cow dung, wood/charcoal and paper products to burn for cooking).


Greenpeace and similar religious cults hold as a self-evident tenet of their faith that uranium is scarce, and running out fast. However, from a geoscientist’s point of view, it is much more common than gold.

In have a figure of crustal abundances, uranium is seen to be as abundant as tungsten while thorium is as abundant as tin. Lead is more abundant than both, which stands to reason seeing as it is the endpoint of both of their decay chains, after many half lives since the supernova.


David Walters,
Your idea that instrumentation has a significant effect on reactor cost is way off the mark. Only a few years ago I installed five hundred precision temperature sensors with all the associated data capture to Sun workstations for under $40,000 using EPICS (Experimental Physics and Industrial Control System), developed by Los Alamos Nuclear Laboratory (LANL).


It was more of a metaphor. There are a lot power plant items that will have to be duplicated in multiple units vs one unit for the total amount of energy generated. I can tell you know that potential transformers are far more expensive than $80 temp probes (and transmitters) which, by the way, I am impressed with.

The average vibration meeter on our turbines were about $2000 hardwired installed a piece including labor. But the main point is the belief that factory production can’t be done on larger units. As modular production techniques become more and more common place and the learning curve drops, the price differentials between the two blades of the scissors between “SMR” and larger plus 500MW ones are going to be reversed, IMO.

Some argue that the 10 100MW reactors will be cheaper than than the 1 1GW reactor. I think they are dreaming and miss the whole point about which market each appeals too and how construction is actually carried out.



I agree big reactors are underrated. The SMR is for a big part, hype, popularized by the smaller is better crowd. Problem with that crowd is they don’t know how things work in reality. Smaller usually just means inefficient and huge overhead costs. Take wind turbines; the bigger they are the more efficient and economical. Smaller ones are expensive, inefficient and actually end up using more materials on a per kWh basis. Even where smaller systems make sense because of demand requirements, it still makes sense to have professionals deal with the operations and maintenance, rather than your neighbour that wants to ’empower’ himself with solar panels but doesn’t know that they have to be cleaned when they’re full of birdshit. Or that solar installations actually require a structural wind load analysis.


@Jim Holm 21 June 2011 at 11:33 PM – Thank you for your post and your link to your Coal2Nuclear site. I’ve only begun to go through it, but I’m very pleased to have the viewpoint of a power plant engineer. As you describe it yourself:

This unsponsored educational web site is the pro bono effort of a professional engineer who has spent 40+ years working in and around power plant engineering, industrial strength electricity, and multi-building energy management systems.

First and foremost, I would like to advance a call for entrepreneurs, engineers, and scientists to investigate, report, and build on the idea of the possibility of repowering the world’s 1,200 supersized coal burning power plants with thorium boilers as a way to substantially reduce the cost of electricity production and end 30% of ALL Global Warming. The key first step in this effort is the restarting of thorium reactors.

I am neither a scientist nor a nuclear engineer and this is not a scientific paper. This is power plant talk by a professional Control Systems engineer, not professional engineering advice.

(emphasis added)

I encourage all the BNC community to go exploring Coal2Nuclear. So far one of the most striking things I’ve read is this:

We have yet to design the model T of nuclear power plants.

While the model T (1909-1927) seems crude by our standards, it was actually quite advanced compared to the first car, built by Karl Benz in 1885. Improvements included a 4 cylinder engine, spark advance, a transmission, 4 wheels with pneumatic tires, a steering wheel and many other significant innovations.

Each new technology has a life cycle. It starts with an idea, then a prototype. If the technology involves high energy and/or hazardous materials, the prototype is often the most dangerous example, but there is only one prototype, so its risk to society is low. Risk to the public is greatest when the immature technology is first deployed in large numbers.

During the early days of steam power, steam engines in England were blowing up and killing people so frequently that the government limited boiler pressure to 10 pounds per square inch. If that law were still in effect a power plant that takes two or three trainloads of coal each week would need 17 to 26 trainloads to produce the same power.

Early ships, cars, airplanes, heavy industries and medical procedures were far more dangerous than modern examples, yet previous generations embraced them, accepted the risk, and paid, sometimes with their lives, to evolve the safe technologies we take for granted now.

Today we should be designing fourth generation nuclear plants, building third generation plants, living off the energy of second generation plants and converting our first generation plants into museums. Today no two nuclear power plants are exactly alike. We have yet to build the model T of nuclear power plants. The irony is that our irrational fear of the N word has caused us to freeze nuclear power technology at its most dangerous stage of evolution for 30 years, yet it safely generates about 20% of our electricity.

Jim Holm obviously feels the sense of urgency that I think we all share. Some of the discussions here and on other blogs make me think we’re debating whether to build Ferraris or Lamborghinis first, or maybe just BMWs or Corvettes.

One of Jim’s suggestions is a construction facility for barge mounted and transported NPPs. I can testify to a shipyard’s ability to construct big things – I spent some time aboard both the Arctic drilling platform Molikpaq and the floating drill platform Kulluk in 1988 in the Beaufort Sea, when they were new. Shipyards can handle standardized designs, as demonstrated by the Liberty Ships in WWII.

Eighteen American shipyards built 2,751 Libertys between 1941 and 1945, easily the largest number of ships produced to a single design.

Just less than 2 ships per day on average. Liberty Reactor, anyone?


Here’s a reply from Lawrence Livermore Labs,
the short version is: SSTAR isn’t going anywhere for now … disappointing.

> Dear Mr. Russell,
> Here is some information (below) about the SSTAR effort and nuclear power development efforts in India from one of our researchers.
> Current DOE support for small-medium modular reactors is focused on light-water concepts with industrial support. Because these use conventional technology and standard fuels, they are expected to be more readily deployed than more advanced design concepts. Serious R&D on fast spectrum systems such as SSTAR has been deferred as a longer-term interest, with no firm schedule for demonstration or deployment. Funding support for SSTAR is currently limited to maintaining engagement with the several ongoing international research efforts in Pb or Pb-Bi cooled reactors.
> India has had a small (~10 MW thermal) Fast Breeder Test Reactor (FBTR) for several decades as an R&D facility, and their initial Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR) is under construction. These are sodium cooled fast reactors, and the large (~500 MW electric) PFBR is not aimed at the same market as the SSTAR small, modular concepts.
> Best regards,
> Steve Wampler
> LLNL Public Affairs Office


You’re a real terrier Mike. Good on you. despite your feelings about what the renewables could deliver, they seem to be falling into disfavour around the world. And my research has revealed that sun and wind currently provide 0.6% of world energy total and that’s expected to reach 2.8% by 2030. In late 2010,Spain slashed payouts to wind projects by 35% and denied support for solar thermal projects, France has put a cap on the amount of solar that can be built. Denmark has the most expensive power in the EU and emissions have not reduced, stopped building wind farms, has closed 5 turbine manufacturing plants with 3000 jobs lost. US state regulators in Florida, Idaho, Kentucky, Rhode Island and Virginia have cancelled or delayed renewable energy projects. In Ontario, one one major gas back up plant for wind has been cancelled and others are likely to fall. Why this reduction in renewable support?. Renewables are too costly and do nothing for emissions mitigation. Your confidence in the renewables is misplaced Mike. However, they are with us and we need to get the best we can out of them, but we should not spend too much on promoting them further. The $652 million in Wayne Swan’s budget for them should be redirected to nuclear Rand D because, without being the only source, it clearly needs to be THE MAJOR source of future world energy supply. And with the world’s biggest uranium reserves and the world’s best nuclear waste disposal site here in Australia, we should be making much better use of them for our own as well as the world’s energy future. It’s a no brainer Mike. Cheers. Terry


Terry Krieg wrote,
“It’s a no brainer Mike.”

Well, I guess we’re just going to have to agree to disagree on that one, Terry. My approach is kind of the opposite, in fact: “It’s probably more complicated than we think it will be.” Which is, of course, all the more reason to move on to analyzing the complicated details rather than making more gross first-order approximations.


Andrew (shameless plug to follow) Johh’s barge building idea comes from me :). He picked up on it from one of my blog entries and credited it to me. Here is my original entry. I do not know if this is applicable to IFRs but smaller ones, certainly:

I worked at the Brooklyn Navy Yard for 2 years (1979-1981) as a pipefitter. It’s the oldest ship yard in the US and the original granite-stepped block drydock where the Monitor was built during the civil war is still used there.

I combined this with Johns coal2nuclear because so many coal plants have excellent road, canal/water and rail access, especially water access that it’s a “no brainer”. It also goes to the issue of utilization of balance of plant equipment, grid access, water cooling licensing and tons of other already-been-built money saving aspects.

Hats off to John for his overall approach.



@David – thanks! The barges sound great, and I love the overall idea. I think he’s right on target and needs to talk about it at TED and Google Tech Talks. I find his web site not quite as well organized as it could be. So far,the page that sums up his plan best for me is Converting Large Coal Burning Power Plant Boilers to Nuclear Boilers – Big Bend, Tampa, Florida.

It’s great to see a real plan from a professional power plant engineer. Just as Barry is in favor of any energy system that works, Jim just wants ‘heat in a can’. His plan allows for both molten salt reactors and sodium cooled reactors; there’s room for all the players.

It’s good to hear about your shipyard experience, too. And I have question. My impression is that a ‘steamfitter’ is the highest grade or skill level of pipefitter – is this true? Gasfitters must be right up there as well.

I notice that gallopingcamel, on 25 June 2011 at 2:10 PM in the Clearing up the climate debate thread also mentions the Liberty Ships. Getting traction for the idea.


Pipefitter/steamfitter/gasfitter/sprinkler fitter are all basically industrial plumbers. It’s any pumber not working in residential builds. In addition, and specifically at power plants (as opposed to ship yards) all the people who do piping of any sort are generally “Boilermakers” and it’s the boilermakers union that represents the fitter and welders in new builds.

In shipyards, boilermakers usually only refer to those that do boiler tubing specifically, with all the other piping done by pipefitters.

I never welded, only fit, so I had a qualified welder with me. I was qualified but preferred not to do it.

On some of the high pressure air/hydraulic systems and all the copper nickel piping (CHT, drains, dry air to the radar, and so on) required silver brazing…something I don’t think they do in power plants except fro some pneumatic air fittings, I think. My specialty was silver brazing and at Todd Shipyard in LA, I was actually designated the highly cool term ‘copper smith’, as I only did copper based pipe and mostly just as a brazer. I carried a bandolier across my chest with various oxy-acetate tips and tools on my utility belt. Loved it. But I doubt there is much call for this in the nuclear world…which is mostly stainless I believe.


Great job on the article!

As the discussion about the vulnerabilities of small reactors cropped up, I’d like to offer my viewpoint. I’m far from expert in the Blowing Stuff Up Department, but years ago I did receive some (very limited) training in remodeling fixed targets with high explosives. Based on that and on further reading on the subject, I would say that if the security of the site is based on the idea that it’s difficult to blow up, then it isn’t secure at all. Burial underground helps some, but as I was often told, “there is no obstacle that a sufficient application of high explosives does not remove.”

Unless there are active security measures in place or on call, seriously damaging these things is well within capabilities of any terrorist organisation or even an individual. As an example of what can be done with very crude methods, see e.g.

Modern explosives would only make things easier. I believe that with some extra training and not-too-difficult to acquire components, even I could fashion a shaped charge or a series of shaped charges that would have a good chance of cracking first the reactor pit cover and then the reactor itself. Or one could use small shaped charges to make holes in the concrete for larger charges, etc.

Even these sequences of simple charges can, as far as I’m aware, eat through surprisingly large amounts of concrete pretty fast. If there were no active security, or even if there is but it takes time to arrive to the site, there might be no need to penetrate all the way with one humongous blast (although that too might be an option – one could have a pretty impressive shaped charge if it can be trucked to site). An attacker could simply set up and detonate charge after charge until breach is effected. How long this would take – thirty minutes? An hour? Don’t know. An explosives/demolition expert might have some ideas, however.

Then again, it’s unlikely that anyone would want to crack open such a reactor (your point on oil pipelines is a good one, although there have been attacks in the past), and I cannot say what the effects of cracking one open would be in any case. Nevertheless, I still believe nuclear reactors, whatever the type, will need armed and trained response teams to be available on short notice, just in case. What is actually meant by “short notice” and whether these are existing police/military assets or something that needs to be created alongside other support infrastructure depends on the location, I guess.


Great work on the Article.
I find that Greenpeace and WWF contract people (or their own people) to do some energy planning that would make any real energy planner cry. Very, very weak scientifically.

I would like to ask the author which Energy Planning Model he has used for the TNNUKE scenario? I’m using LEAP.

I know an Indian lady at the IAEA who has done similar research on the role of NP for India and she came to the conclusion that India can not do without (Dr. Anjana Das). She used the UN model MESSAGE.



I like your paper though I think that 1 tonne per person per year for India should be promoted throughout the planet. I thought the target was 2.6 for the planet. Quatar at 45 tonnes per year per person ought to be our first target though there aren’t many people there. Next should be USA and Canada at somewhere between 19 and 24.


Geoff, saw this on wiki’s entry on coal use in China…I think you ought to target China next for a BNC entry:

In cities the domestic burning of coal is no longer permitted. In rural areas coal is still permitted to be used Chinese households, commonly burned raw in unvented stoves. This fills houses with high levels of toxic metals leading to bad Indoor Air Quality (IAQ). In addition, people eat food cooked over coal fires which contains toxic substances. Toxic substances from coal burning include arsenic, fluorine, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and mercury. Health issues are caused which include severe arsenic poisoning, skeletal fluorosis (over 10 million people afflicted in China), esophageal and lung cancers, and selenium poisoning.[20]

In 2007 the use of coal and biomass (collectively referred to as solid fuels) for domestic purposes was nearly ubiquitous in rural households but declining in urban homes. At that time, estimates put the number of premature deaths due to indoor air pollution at 420,000 per year, which is even higher than due to outdoor air pollution, estimated at around 300,000 deaths per year. The specific mechanisms for death cited have been respiratory illnesses, lung cancer, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), weakening of the immune system, and reduction in lung function. Measured pollution levels in homes using solid fuels generally exceeded China’s IAQ air quality standards. Technologies exist to improve indoor air quality, notably the instillation of a chimney and modernized bioenergy but need more support to make a larger difference.[21]


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