Nuclear Open Thread

Open Thread 19

The previous Open Thread has gone past 650 comments, so it’s time for a fresh palette.

The Open Thread is a general discussion forum, where you can talk about whatever you like — there is nothing ‘off topic’ here — within reason. So get up on your soap box! The standard commenting rules of courtesy apply, and at the very least your chat should relate to the general content of this blog.

The sort of things that belong on this thread include general enquiries, soapbox philosophy, meandering trains of argument that move dynamically from one point of contention to another, and so on — as long as the comments adhere to the broad BNC themes of sustainable energy, climate change mitigation and policy, energy security, climate impacts, etc.

You can also find this thread by clicking on the Open Thread category on the cascading menu under the “Home” tab.


A conversation starter: I recently delivered a talk at the Australian National University (ANU) on nuclear energy and climate change. This was the Director’s Colloquium at the Research School of Physics and Engineering (I thank the staff for being such gracious hosts). Further details about the event can be found here.

What I particularly like about this recording is that the slideshow is matched to my speech, so apart from not seeing me (who needs to?), you feel like you are actually at the lecture.

Edit: A high resolution PDF of the slideshow can be downloaded here (6 MB file)

The talk goes for about 50 minutes (plus question time). I trust you will get some useful information out of it.

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.

448 replies on “Open Thread 19”

@ EN

I definitely do not think that acceptance of nuclear power as a necessary alternative to fossil fuels is a minority position among energy experts. There certainly doesn’t appear to be a consensus position among them though, as with climate science, but I think when you have the IEA projecting more fossil fuel use in a low nuclear energy future scenario, you’ve got a broad acceptance that nuclear power is necessary to ameliorate the effects of climate change.


@Scott Luft

The German paper is based on the “Excuse Trick Scheme” fallacy in their criticism of feed-in tariffs. They say that since carbon emissions are fixed anyway in the ETS, it doesn’t matter that feed-in tariffs reduce carbon emissions.

That very same fallacy is used by the German government to deflect climate based criticism of switching of nuclear power. They say that carbon permits are fixed anyway, so it doesn’t matter that Germany will build new coal plants.

The problem with that is that those levels of permits are obviously fixed to a certain level because that level is needed, and the next decisions on these levels will depend massively on how much is actually used. “Carbon emissions don’t matter” doesn’t make sense, even with ETS in place.

They also overlook the fact that the German feed-in tariffs are the main reason for the cost reduction by about an order of magnitude for solar photovoltaic. It is not just the TWhs produced in Germany that matter. The fact that solar will be the cheapest form of generation in less than a decade will have massive effects world wide.


Hi Tom,
that’s good to know. What other benchmarks would indicate to you the status of the nuclear campaign? Nuclear certainly doesn’t seem to be on the agenda for Australian energy suppliers. Or have I missed some new groundswell?


@Karl-Friedrich, the criticisms are based on economics.

I really think Germany – and my province of Ontario – are missing the point entirely. Whatever Germany did, it didn’t stop coal being the big market share winner, globally, over the past decade.
Nor are the rich nations the key drivers of growth in forecasts.

You note what the price of solar will be in a decade. I’ve already noted in our exchanges (and you already knew) that at 8% of total annual generation solar produces more supply than the grid demands at times. If you are telling me that in a decade’s time solar will be cost competitive in meeting peak demand (which I believe will occur around 7pm on a cold winter’s night), I’m not 100% convinced.

So again, while Peter Lang’s challenges deal with Australia, they aren’t Australian challenges – they are global challenges. The challenge is how to make non, or low, emissions energy cheap.
The paper suggests this is done with proper market structure (I don’t know how anybody selected the ETS over a carbon tax), and, separately, research programs to develop low cost, low emitting, sources.
Spending lots to accomplish little is pointless at best – and an advert for coal at worst.


@Scott Luft

Exactly because it is a global challenge, just looking at German solar generation figures misses one of the important points of the feed-in tariff legislation, as stated in its first Article. Getting prices down. The German feed-in tariff was the single most important reason that has happened at a massive scale.

Getting prices down to the point where they can compete with coal will lead to more solar energy pushing coal out everywhere. Especially in China, where they have their own feed-in tariff and are just starting to build some capacity.


@Karl-Friedrich Lenz, on 13 November 2011 at 10:38 PM said:

Getting prices down to the point where they can compete with coal will lead to more solar energy pushing coal out everywhere. Especially in China, where they have their own feed-in tariff and are just starting to build some capacity.

The 2011 LBNL China 2050 projections –

Click to access 2050_Summary_Report_042811_FINAL.pdf

In the ‘best case scenario’ in 2050 China ‘Renewable’s has 70 GW Solar, 500GW wind, 550 GW nuclear and 400GW of Hydro


Karl, the feed in tariff hides the value of unreliable power that is not there 90%. PV in Germany can’t be turned on when the sun is out, which is 90% of the time on average.

The feed in tariffs completely hide this. It just gives money to marginal energy. It doesn’t matter how cheap solar will be in Germany, if it is not there you’re stuck with generating fossil back up. Non-dispatchable energy sources that are not there 90% of the time will lock Germany into fossil fuels even if solar costs 1 cent per kWh.

This is not a complicated thing to understand. It requires that you look at the numbers, at energy storage cost, at when PV energy is available, and at the German electricity demand pattern. We’ve done all these things on this website, why won’t you understand?


To facilitate comparisons of generation technologies, I propose considering availability (A) as distinct from capacity factor (CF). The latter depends upon system operator choices while the former depends only upon the generation technology [and the ability to keep the equipment in operating condition].

To illustrate, consider first the Areva/Mitshubishi Heavy Industries’ ATMEA1: the availability is advertised as up to A = 0.978 but CF can run as low as 30% if the operator so chooses. Both are physical limitations [and possibly that high an availability cannot be maintained for 60 years].

Now consider wind farms in the Columbia Basin. The advartised availability of the wind is 30% but experience has demonstrated that wind farm operators cannot maintain more than A=0.26-. As wind is scheduled first under all but the rarest of circumstances, a 5–6 year average gives wind power a CF of 25+%.

SOmehow these two figures, A and CF, should be used to determine a Quality of Generation (QoG) figure for the various generation sources. I am open to suggestions as to how to determine, quantitatively, QoG.


The CEO of the world’s largest wind turbine manufacturer agrees that, without tax breaks, sales fall off a cliff (Wednesday 9 November 2011).

See the foot of page 3 of:

“Global wind turbine makers said this week they are already bracing for what could be a major dip in turbine demand if a key U.S. tax credit for wind development is left to expire at the end of 2012.

Wind energy markets “tend to fall off a cliff” when such tax credits run out, Ditlev Engel, chief executive of Denmark’s Vestas Wind Systems, the world’s largest turbine manufacturer, told Bloomberg on Wednesday. At issue is a [USA] production tax credit that allows wind farm operators to shave 2.2 cents off of each kilowatt-hour of wind power their turbines generate.


DBB an alternative approach is given in Chapter 2 of this report by the Royal Academy of Engineers in the UK

Click to access Cost_of_Generating_Electricity.pdf

If I understand it right the basic approach is
x(LCOE intermittent source) + (1-x) (LCOE open cycle gas)
where x is the average capacity factor. However if the intermittent has some firm capacity it assumes an equal amount of combined cycle gas in the standby fraction.

Anyways it comes up with some plausible looking numbers and highlights the sensitivity of renewables to the gas price.


@ John Newlands:
“Chapter 2 of this [7 years old] report…”

You use the expression
x(LCOE intermittent) + (1-x)LCOE Open gas cycle).

My reading differs.

We are not discussing LEAST cost of energy, but the cost of energy, which is the terminology used by PB.

The PB report limits (1-x) the OCGT support fraction to 35%, with a footnote on P15 stating that the Royal Academy of Engineering recommends a figure of 20 to 25%. I will use PB’s figure.

Let us adopt the following variables:
x: Average capacity factor of the wind source.
(NB The study excludes other intermittents, so extend to PV, ST, etc at your own risk.)
y: The level of support of wind using OCGT.
z: 35%, The level of support via OCGT but with credit for the avoided CCGT. PB, in the report, cost this at 1 pence per kWh – essentially the additional fuel usage due to efficiency differences between OCGT and CCGT, with both running on natural gas.

The following relationship can be derived, where the COE is expressed in pence per kWh and energy units are kWh:

The average cost of production of additional energy to the full extent of the nameplate rating of additional wind plant is
= av. cost of wind fraction plus av. cost of straight OCGT fraction plus av. cost of the fraction which is OCGT substituting for CCGT (1 pence/kWh)
= (COE (W) * CF(W) + COE(OCGT)*0.35 +1*(1-CF(W)-0.35))/CF(W)
=(COE(W)*CF(W) + COE(OCGT)*0.35 + 0.65 –CF(W))/CF(W), expressed in Pence per kWh as at 2004.
Illustrating this with typical figures from elsewhere in this same report, we may have as inputs:
COE(W) = 3.7 pence/kWh for onshore wind with CF 35%.
COE(OCGT) = 6.2 pence/kWh (Page 8).
The average cost of power production using onshore wind and including backup thus becomes
= (3.7*0.35 + 6.2*0.35 + 0.65 – 0.35)/0.35
= 10.757 pence per kWh.

The difference between 3.7 p/kWh and 10.757 p/kWh is attributable to the need to provide and operate intermittently additional OCGT to part-support wind when not available and for substitution of OCGT for CCGT for the remainder of the support.

N.B. In the above, the only assumptions apart from data and assumptions obtained from the PB report is that onshore wind operates at a CF of 35%.

The hidden cost of new UK on-shore wind is thus close to double the calculated COE from the wind turbines alone. This cost is currently borne via market mechanisms by the energy retailer as part of the cost of gas-fired energy and is passed to retail customers as part of the standard tariffs applicable to non-renewable electricity.

The above analysis could be extended to any generation mix for electricity. Any contemplated next generating unit (in this case, onshore wind) will require a mixture of additional balancing plant, transmission upgrades, storage, etc, each of which involves lifetime and operating costs. Each will have operating effects on existing plant, eg as above, periodically forcing CCGT out in favour of a percentage of both old and new OCGT.

Note that LCOE figures are only applicable to proposed new plant. Existing plant have existing average COE’s which will typically be higher than the anticipated LCOE for new plant.

The above analysis, by adopting a 1 pence per kWh differential (fuel only) price between existing CCGT and existing OCGT is an initial attempt to recognise the capital-independent nature of differential operating costs for existing plant, as against the need to include capital costs for new plant. It ignores other operational factors such as increases or decreases in labour and maintenance costs per kWh sent out.

Differential operating costs are not allowed for by using standard LCOE calculations and must be determined on a case by case basis which recognises and allows for operational inefficiencies due to load-following Vs static loads, especially when baseload designed plant is involved.

The average inclusive cost of onshore wind in the above scenario, at 10.757 pence/kWh, is thus still an underestimate of the real cost to the system, despite the LCOE for this new wind power being 3.7 pence/kWh.


John Bennetts — You lost me when you divided by CF(W). From what you wrote I conclude (close to)

3.7*0.35 + 6.2*0.35 + 5.2*0.30 = 1.295+2.17+1.56 =
5.026 pence/kWh.


JB I need to puzzle over this with respect to dividing by c.f. and weights not summing to unity. We could just multiply onshore wind costs by 100/35 or nearly triple but I’m not sure what this would mean.

However I think we can agree that enthusiasts for intermittents cannot get away with quoting very low LCOEs when they are useless without hydro, gas, draconian demand management or permanent smallness.



We are talking about storage elsewhere. I was making a point about the purpose of the feed-in tariff here.


Predictions are a tricky business, especially if one is talking about the future. Let’s just agree that all things equal having solar photovoltaic beat coal prices will help deployment of solar.


DBB and JN:
Yep, I was wrong. Thanks for the time that you two have taken to work through my musings.

For each new kW of power based on onshore wind, we thus provide 1kW (nameplate) of new wind and fluff that up using OCGT for the other 65%.

The project becomes akin to a consortium of wind and OCGT gas, with some additional cost to existing plant as handles the increased intermittency.

Wind fraction: Cost = CF*LCOE = 0.35*3.7 = 1.3p

New OCGT (next 35%) = 0.35*6.2 = 2.2 p

More OCGT, plus 1p penalty for cycling existing CCGT = 0.3*(6.2 +1) = 2.2 cents.

Total = 5.57p/kWh.

The final factor may be an overestimation, because as PB indicate, existing standby OCGT capacity will probably be available for the cost of fuel plus O&M, plus the penny for forcing CCGT off line.

Not knowing the 2004 operating costs for existing UK OCGT’s, 5.7 cents per kWh is thus an upper bound for the true price of onshore wind.

This tallies pretty closely with the 5.4 cents, from Fig 1.1.

LCOE is appropriate only to new plant and that market costs (COE) for existing plant used for balancing new intermittent generators are relevant when evaluating their contributions.

It is noteworthy that the direct costs of wind’s 35% of the additional power are only 1.2 pence in 5.7, ie 21% of the cost of the extra 1kW. Any analysis which does not include costs for flexibly supplying the remaining 65% of the new (nameplate) load and incur 79% of the costs is not credible.

The PB study clearly demonstrates that wind is balanced not by CCGT or baseload generation, but by OCGT, which has a relatively higher carbon footprint than either CCGT with or without CCS.

Having already got egg on my face once today through poor calculations I won’t dig out the info now, but the carbon budget is probably going backwards even faster than the dollar budget.


Agreed, up to a point. Your ref does not identify costs accruing to existing generation, such as the 1 penny per kWh for forced switch from existing CCGT to new OCGT and the limits at which this takes place.

Now that my wooly thinking has been addressed, the used car salesperson’s cost for onshore wind (3.7 pence as at 2004) is seen to have an upper bound of 5.7 pence The paper’s authors suggest 5.4 pence, which indicates close agreement. It is nice to be able to derive this from a paper issued by such authoritative sources as PB and the Royal Academy of Engineering.

If only the full economic models submitted to and/or used by AEMO were publicly available! They would disclose actual O&M&Fuel costs, finance costs and more. These types of costs for existing plant are well shielded corporate secrets.


@ Eclipse Now, 13 November 2011 at 3:19 PM

Sorry for the delayed response. What other benchmarks could indicate the status of the nuclear debate in Australia? I’d say properly done polls, such as the 2011 Lowy Institute Poll, probably give a fairly accurate summary of the current state of acceptance of nuclear, in Australia at least.

The prognosis doesn’t look good, obviously. And obviously the barriers are socio-politcal, not technical – when I said “broad acceptance” above, I was referring to those who have some expertise in energy (e.g. utility operators, researchers, academics etc.), not the general public.


Does money matter, or are renewables programs justified by a “just do it” approach?

Example 1. Californian Consumer Advocate Division Decries Approval of “Overpriced” CSP Project.

Strong words objecting to approval of two new renewables projects on the basis that they are too expensive and including an objection that Abengoa Solar subsidiary Mojave Solar LLC has gained approval for their project, although the transmission network upgrades necessary for the project to provide resource adequacy… would not be completed until several years after the project was scheduled to achieve commercial operation. Does California really have enough money not to worry about waste and impracticality in its energy programs?

Example 2.
Relatively new German taxes levied on nuclear fuels and amounting to many hundreds of millions of dollars annually have been challenged on several grounds. The legal fight goes on, but this round has been decided in favour of the nuclear power industry. Apparently the tax was levied against nuclear fuels in order to provide capital for uneconomic green projects which are also supported through feed-in tariffs and market precedence on the basis of “must take” entry. I hope that the nuclear generators win, first in the courts and then in the arena of public opinion by drawing attention to the waste of public money in a time of fiscal stress… the EU does have monetary problems, does it not?


John Newlands — There may be several vendors of CANDU style NPPs. In particular, check out the Argentinians (who sem to have export asperations).


Tom Keen,

I’d say properly done polls….summary of the current state of acceptance of nuclear…prognosis doesn’t look good

As this is an open thread I will yield an opinion.

In my own State of Washington in the US if a statewide poll were taken today about the future of nuclear the ‘prognosis’ would not look good.

A) We are not currently planning a nuclear plant
B) The challenges of wind turbines are just beginning to appear.
C) If another nuclear plant were to be built it would most likely not be near an urban population.The positive economic impacts of a nuclear plant to a rural community are enormous. Funding a rural school, police department, hospital etc out of the budget for a 1,000 MW nuclear power plant is only a ‘minor expense’.

So I would postulate that if the challenges related to wind intermittancy can not be worked out in an economic manner and a rural community were found to be in favor of hosting a nuclear power plant were found the prognosis would be different.

The fact that the Chinese have recently contracted with Exelon to help set up a training program for nuclear power plant operators would seem to indicate the answer to the question is ‘no that long’.


John Newlands, AECL doesn’t actually exist anymore – which is precisely why there could be multiple vendors.
It was purchased by SNC Lavalin earlier this year (one of the larger engineering firms in the World)- for next to nothing – but the Canadian government reportedly did retain intellectual rights and a commitment remained to complete planning on an Enhanced CANDU 6 (EC6).

SNC Lavalin is pursuing the bid in Jordan, and signed a refurbishment agreement of an existing reactor in Argentina. That contact seems to be more managerial and licensing, leaving the bulk of the refurbishment employment (and expenses) in Argentina. SNC Lavalin would likely be happy to collect engineering and project management fees, and be less interested in maintaining intellectual property costs:


The Wiki article on CANDU is quite unflattering; see for example the section on economic performance
The new vendors will need to erase those impressions. Perhaps a life cycle analysis will conclude Australia should have at least one CANDU facility to get abundant thorium into the fuel loop.


John Newlands, I don’t want to dwell on a Wiki, but … most of the endnoter references are to the Ontario Clean Air Alliance, which is primarily a lobby group for the natural gas industry. Some valid points- Pickering is not the cream of the crop, Point Lepreau was bungled in the first attempt at retubing, and Bruce … well, I think the Bruce situation is greatly exaggerated, as that private operator receives less for their output than end consumers pay for it, with much of the difference going to private operators of natural gas plants (the OCAA have been very effective lobbyists!).
Hydro-Quebec just released a forecast containing 20TWh of surplus generation capacity a year by 2020 – so the Gentilly II decision is not as straightforward as it is being presented either.
The history of Canada’s CANDU’s contain elements of truth, but, for instance, Korea refurbished the Wolsong 1 CANDU reactor in 839 days –
Wolsong 2, 3, and 4 were constructed on time and on budget. Investigating a CANDU option would involve SNC Lavalin’s international group, and likely contractors from Korea. Canada’s experience wouldn’t be the precedent to attempt to follow.
Korea decided to follow a different technology, so studying that choice may lead you away from CANDU’s.


A question for climate experts.

What is the significance of rising atmospheric methane levels apparently following a protracted period of stasis?
A friend of mine has translated it as a signal that a tipping point has already been reached and that we have have now passed the time when solutions can do any good. He considers the tundra to be emitting its methane in excessive amounts. Fugitive emissions from the gas industry could also be involved, but concentations are higher over the Arctic than over Hawaii.
Can anyone provide solace or should we head for the hills?


Seems that rather well known anti-nuclear campaigner Dr Chris Busby has finally shot himself in the foot, though perhaps not in the wallet

Dr Christopher Busby, a visiting professor at the University of Ulster, is championing a series of expensive products and services which, he claims, will protect people in Japan from the effects of radiation. Among them are mineral supplements on sale for ¥5,800 (£48) a bottle, urine tests for radioactive contaminants for ¥98,000 (£808) and food tests for ¥108,000 (£891).

The tests are provided by Busby Laboratories and promoted through a body called the Christopher Busby Foundation for the Children of Fukushima (CBFCF). Both the pills and the tests are sold through a website in California called, run by a man called James Ryan.

…the prices being charged by are far greater than those of other mineral supplements on sale in Japan. Chemists in Tokyo sell bottles of 200 pills containing similar combinations of ingredients for ¥1,029 (£8.49). James Ryan’s website also charges a minimum shipping cost of ¥2,300 (£19).

It looks like the UK Green Party is (quite rightly) dissociating itself from him. This surely must be the end of Busby as a credible “authority”.


Much publicity in the world press has been given to Italian researcher Andrea Rossi’s ‘cold fusion’ technology, reportedly now tested and affirmed as viable and due to go into commercial production in the next two years. 8 units of energy out from 1 unit of energy in.

I know there have been many hoaxes in the energy field, but searches on this one seems to come up mainly with commentary that Mr Rossi has stumbled upon an unexpected and verifiable energy technology that has the science community scratching their heads, albeit not discounting it.

I would not normally give these things a second thought except that normally level headed colleagues of mine are giving the technology credibility.

Though ‘cold fusion’ may not be an apt title, I’m wondering if any BNC readers have better information. A search of this site doesn’t seem to come up with any reference.

Here is one reference – from the Journal of Nuclear Physics:


Apologies for being off-topic comments in other thread. I’ll repost the first one here. The follow up, sent prior to moderation is lost unless copy was kept at BNC.

Barry, I think the focus of this site needs to return to fighting climate science denial instead of endlessly arguing the relative advantages and disadvantages of renewables vs nuclear. After years of it, climate science denial, endorsed and promoted by mainstream Australian political parties continues unabated, the climate problem remains unaddressed and nuclear power is in a deep hole that no amount of logic and evidence can dig it out of.

The discussion, sorry, needs to delve into the murkier realms of politics and motivations to know how and why nuclear is where it is and why, faced with the great challenge that looks made for nuclear, it’s struggling to even get the minimum traction to get it onto the table as an option. Out of that a real route to action on emissions might emerge. It sure isn’t from the current debate.

I want to suggest to readers here that focus on the anti-nuclear green-left as the cause of nuclear’s woes is misplaced; yes they are the unreasoning and implacable enemies of nuclear they claim to be but it’s the Right’s decision to back fossil fuels all the way that has put nuclear where it is. The Right chose to deny science based reality for fossil fuels! In the process they betrayed nuclear. Even the truth about climate wasn’t and isn’t enough to get them to give up on fossil fuels and look to nuclear. The fossil fuel guys pointed and called out ‘Look out! Over there! Irrational and dangerous greenies!’ – as they stabbed nuclear in the back! It seem like most proponents of nuclear are still looking over there and still think that was who was responsible for the permanent injuries resulting.

So if the Right doesn’t care about ‘facts’ and ‘logic’ and ‘reason’ when it comes to defending fossil fuels and insulating them from carbon pricing or other regulation, why would pro-nukers imagine the green-left can be moved that way? Or imagine that if anti-nukers would just shut up and go away, opposition to nuclear would inevitably dissipate? Past time you work out who your true enemy is. If renewables and nuclear share one thing, it’s a well resourced, well connected, well organised and implacable enemy in fossil fuels.

Without the collapse of support for climate science denial the problem will remain stalled. It’s very irrationality makes it the weak point of the Right’s strategy to save fossil fuels – yet the Right, if it can be persuaded to abandon denying reality as a strategy, will turn to nuclear as if there was never a bad moment between them and be insisting that if they’d only known that the climate problem was real they’d have gone to nuclear first!

The choice of the Right, to back fossil fuels over nuclear or anything else, have stolen 2 decades – so far – of effective action on climate from the world and gutted nuclear at the very moment pro-nukers must see as nuclear’s golden opportunity.

There will be no nuclear in Australia as long as centre politics enables and gives fuel to climate science denial. ie the Right.

Without climate as motivation, Australia will not adopt nuclear.

The moment the Right drops it’s phony denial campaign nuclear will get itself onto the table – at a time when all the public support favours renewables. Renewables will have to get their day in the sun, so to speak, supported and subsidised, to prove they can deliver. Or not. ( added later – I think they’ll do a lot better than people here believe but I am not interested in debating the technical pros and cons of that here. Complete waste of everyone’s time. But I am interested in how the end of climate denial impacts perceptions about what’s good enough, what’s essential and how much sacrifice people may feel appropriate in preventing extreme climate change.)

I’ve suggested here before that the only route that can realistically lead to take up of nuclear is a bipartisan appreciation of the seriousness and urgency of the climate problem and steep carbon pricing. For pro-nukers to oppose such policies until everyone just comes to their senses and agrees with them is giving aid and comfort to fossil fuels. The fossil fuel interests need to know the game is up, firmly and emphatically – and soon. Whether nuclear is ready or not. Whether the lion’s share of carbon tax money goes to renewables or not.
Most Australians have worked harder and contributed more than I ever have and they deserve respect. Those who intend to vote against carbon pricing are not stupid but they have been systematically lied to about climate by mainstream political leaders and organisations they trusted. And that they should be able to trust.

For those politicians of the Right that just went along with it, they’ve proved themselves gullible and driven by group-think and those are unforgivable in a member of parliament. But those who knew, and still know perfectly well that the climate problem is almost certainly real but who support and encourage climate science denial anyway… maybe that should wait until after the post mortem of the biggest and most irresponsible hoax that could be perpetrated in the face of a world changing global catastrophe.

Without the collapse of support from the Right for the phony doubt, delay, deny campaign the climate problem will not be effectively addressed.

Without climate as motivation nuclear will never be built in Australia.

Nuclear is the backup energy plan and will not step straight from the pit it’s in straight into the drivers seat.
Thank you for the re-post. While the OT may be used to express personal opinions and is more relaxed in commenting policy, BNC still prefers that commenters, from either side of politics, avoid long political discourses. History has shown that these types of discussions quickly deteriorate into acrimonious tit for tat.


Dear Moderator, Overlong, granted. And thank you for allowing it. I admit I did intend to be a cat amongst the hawks but I do want to try and make people think and, maybe, (who knows – it is possible) to change some minds.


Amazing how this long ideological rant from the Left is allowed on BNC, even encouraged, but attempts to balance these types of idelogical rants and tirades and dog whistles are deleted.

If the left are looking for reasons why their Left ideology (including CAGW) has lost credibility they need to look no further than their attempts to censor all opposition.
Peter – your reply was deleted because the comment to which you referred had also been deleted as it was on the wrong thread and a re-post was asked for on the Open Thread. The commenter complied so you may now reply to the comment on this Open Thread. Please read my remarks to KF, under his post, which explains that it is BNC’s policy to curtail political rants from both sides and not to “censor all opposition”.


Also Peter, if your comments were phrased more cordially, they might have a better chance of surviving moderation. The one I deleted on the CEDA thread was an out-and-out whinge and yet another attack on climate scientists, and I won’t put up with that, as I’ve said before. As I also said, take a bit more care, or I’ll be forced to put you on permanent moderation.


Ken Fabos,

I admit I did intend to be a cat amongst the hawks but I do want to try and make people think and, maybe, (who knows – it is possible) to change some minds.

I would also like to change minds. I would like to get the Left to open their minds and recognise what is causing the block

You are not being a cat among hawks preaching Left ideology on BNC. Nearly everyone who blogs on BNC shares your ideology.

So, please humour me for a minute, while I provide an alternative view to yours. I urge the Left to drop their demands that they prescribe the solutions for cutting GHG and allow the Right to propose and implement the solutions.

First step is to understand why you are getting such strong resistance and push-back. I’ll post below a comment I posted in reply to John Bennetts’ comment on the CEDA thread (but it was deleted).


@Ken Fabos,

There is a very complex interaction between the politics of climate change and the political economy of energy and it happens on a global stage. It’s far too simplistic to assume that “if only” more people could be convinced on the urgent seriousness of AGW, all would be well. It hasn’t happened yet and there is no real indication of when it might happen. Taking this further and assuming some progression from this hoped for awakening and support for renewables to ultimately a preparedness to accept nuclear if renewables prove insufficient is a very dangerous path to tread.

If the anti-nukes had their way, they would shut down nuclear power globally. There would be no Plan B, no R&D, no nuclear industry, no supply chain, no trained engineers and scientists – and nowhere to go. Quite likely a blunder of truly historic dimensions.

Issues of energy deserve the same attention to critical thinking in public discourse as issues of climate science and if this treads on the toes of some anti-nukes, well that’s tough luck.

PS I consider myself to be on the left and there is nothing I would like more than to see the Murdoch press simply vanish.


(Comment deleted)
As I said it would, this conversation has deteriorated into a political tit for tat so I am drawing a line under it right here.


This is become a terribly boring rehash of what various contributors have said (repeatedly) before.

For quashing the ‘denialists’ there are many other sites available with possibly Skeptical Science being foremost.

For ‘what to do about it’ there are many prespectives on a vaarieity of sites. Brave New Climate does well (with substantial visitors) by concentrating on electricity.
Agreed – see my comment below.


regulatory risk — a risk to which private companies are subject, arising from the possibility of legislation or regulations that will affect business being adopted by a government. from
which is the most authoritative source I can readily find. Someone might care to attempt OED.

So what is (mistakenly) called soveriegnty risk (which my search engine changes to soveriegn risk as used here is in fact regulatory risk [that the rules regulating an industry] may change.


DBB: agreed.

Peter is not alone in his misunderstanding.

Precision in english language usage has its place.

Lots of people don’t know what sovereign risk really means, especially mining types and journalists who want to use high-sounding words and phrases.

Without clarity, how can the differences between sovereign risks be discussed in the context of the full range of commercial risks, especially when there are perfectly good, accurate terms to describe the anxt which foreign miners feel from time to time when they aren’t happy with individual governments? Australia, by any international assessment, presents effectively zero sovereign risk, despite pundit’s comments to the contrary.

See, for example,, for Country Risk and its subset, Sovereign Risk.

And, for several perspectives:

Colonial First State’s Global Asset Management Team is quite specific about this:

“There is a distinction between regulatory risk and credit risk. The term ‘sovereign risk’ has recently appeared in the media not only in relation to the issues with Greece and other European peripheries, but also in discussing Australia. For the former, it’s a default probability related issue; for the latter, it’s a matter of perception about how certain are the ‘rules of the game’ for doing business in Australia. The Resource Super Profits Tax has been represented by some commentators as an example of heightened sovereign risk in Australia. We believe this is a misuse of the term, but in any case it needs to be clearly distinguished from the more common use of the expression as they are very different concepts. For assessment of the Oz sovereign risk… [etc]“ (Bolding added.)


@ harrywr2, on 20 November 2011 at 3:56 AM

Just saw your comment. Thanks for some food for thought.

I think the main difference between here in Australia and your state of Washington is that we’re not fighting for the approval to construct a plant here – we’re fighting for nuclear just to be allowed. Legislation needs to be changed (from memory, 2 or 3 pieces), and it’s a political minefield.

I think in Australia we need at least a majority (i.e. > 50 %) of the total population not to oppose moves to repeal current legislation on the matter. Then we can talk about which communities would accept them. You certainly raise a valid point about the potential benefits to any community which accepts them.


Barry, if you ask I will stop it here and take it elsewhere. I know my long rant might seem brutally provocative but that was the toned down version.

It scares me to think that I actually could be right about the Right. I’d like to hear your reasons why if you think I am not.


Tom Keen, on 22 November 2011 at 6:34 PM said:

I think the main difference between here in Australia and your state of Washington is that we’re not fighting for the approval to construct a plant here – we’re fighting for nuclear just to be allowed

A significant number of the states in the US have laws on the books excluding new nuclear from consideration until a ‘permanent waste repository’ is running. A number of them have repealed those laws at the request of a potential ‘host community’. Without a willing host community a lot of NIMBY laws stay.


The latest Quarterly Essay 44 makes interesting reading and provides explosive commentary for a traditionally left-leaning publication.

Andrew Charlton, Man-Made World: Choosing between progress and planet

Andrew was senior economic advisor to the prime minister from 2008 to 2010. He provides an informative insider’s account of Copenhagen. He is quite blunt in stating that the Kyoto-style targets and time-tables approach has failed and should be buried, and that we need cheaper clean energy, not more expensive fossil-fuel based energy. There is little in his energy analysis that is new for regular BNC’s but Andrew’s courage in spelling it out for the masses deserves recognition.

But these climate campaigns miss the most fundamental element of the equation: the world need more energy, not less. (pg 34)

trying to roll out large scale renewable energy with current technology would be a terrible waste of money.(pg 33)

Nuclear is cheaper and more reliable than renewable energy.(pg 39)

For over forty years, some green activists have unwittingly made the climate problem worse through their opposition to hydro and nuclear. The consequence .. was that coal fired plants were built instead. (pg 41)

Green groups .. say.. “green growth” will create “green jobs”..(but) delivering the mail eight times a day would mean numerous jobs but these are not good policy areas. (pg 41,42)

In Australia, the objective of transferring to 100 per cent renewable energy in the near future is a pipe dream. (pg 47)

A carbon price will help us reach the “low hanging fruit” .. but we will make more progess on climate change with policies that make clean energy cheaper than with policies that make fossil fuels expensive. (pg 53)


Barry, my intent, combatative as I may seem, is genuine and not malicious. I meant to get your attention and rattle a few assumptions. I do urge you to look past the tone to the content of my rant.

If you don’t want this debate at BNC, that’s your call but if you have anything you want to say but not here you should have my email address. I do have more to say about this and I’m not sure I can be sufficiently concise without loss of important content, but I will try my best if you will allow this discussion.


I second Graham Palmer’s comments re Andrew Charlton’s Quarterly Essay. Extensive free views of it can also be gained via Google Books, but I’ve seen enough there (including many more choice quotes along the lines Graham has reproduced) to convince me to spend the $10 for an e-book version.


Ken Fabos, I don’t find your suggestions confronting, I find them rather banal. I’ve been over this many times on BNC, and John Bennetts and David Benson explained my position well. If you are looking for toe-to-toe combat with climate sceptics, go elsewhere — there are plenty of boxing rings where it gets nice and bloody. As to sceptics and deniers (many apparently like to be called this), I consider these people to range from the misguided, to the ideologically blinded, to the uneducated and ill-informed (and everything in between — they’re all, in their way, unique), but all in all, they are not really the problem. The problem is the psyche of the human species (explained in my recent paper), and we’re not going to win a fight with ourselves. The fight to win is to get the right technologies in place, in time, so that the “T” part of the IPAT equation is given the latitude to fix the “P” and “A” components. Hence the focus of this blog, which is not about to change.


@ Graham Palmer,

Thanks for that. $8.99 well spent on my Kindle. Great that Quarterly Essay published this. It’s a fairly widely read publication, let’s hope that it gets people talking!


Barry, I think any assurances from the Right about supporting nuclear are as hollow now as they were after the IPCC’s first report came out, when they didn’t decide to turn to nuclear. Until the Right gives up climate change denial/doubt/underestimation it’s hot air. Trusting the judgement of anyone in politics who goes along with it has to be a poor choice, even if in other areas they appear rational. A higher standard has to apply; they have the resources for expert advice, ought to have the good judgement to know when to use it and how to discriminate between a commercial assessment and answer to whether climate change is real and disruptive change is worth the effort, and a scientific one. And to at least know which one will most accurately describe reality. I urge you not to trust any politician who can’t do that even if are genuine enthusiast for nuclear power.

I think the everyday climate change denier is all those things you say and banal besides but I do believe the full depths of the phenomena haven’t been revealed yet. Your reluctance to peel away it’s protections of free speech and democracy to get a real look at the uglier side one of the agents of your woes is something I find puzzling. It’s time people did go back there because I believe the 3 d’s(doubt, deny, delay) are a far more potent tool to protect the fossil fuel status quo than you credit it with. And it’s very irrationality makes it a weakness.


There is an excellent article in The Guardian by George Monbiot, featuring more unmasking of the shyster Busby: “Christopher Busby’s wild claims hurt green movement and Green party
The Green party adviser’s theories on the Fukushima nuclear disaster and a ‘leukaemia cluster’ in north Wales are baseless scaremongering – even the anti-nuclear lobby must oppose him”. There is also this highly relevant plea (near the end), with an important maxim bolded by me.

Those who oppose nuclear power often maintain that they have a moral duty to do so. But it seems to me that moral duties cut both ways.

We have a moral duty not to spread unnecessary and unfounded fears. If we persuade people that they or their children are likely to suffer from horrible and dangerous health problems, and if these fears are baseless, we cause great distress and anxiety, needlessly damaging the quality of people’s lives.

We have a moral duty not to use these unfounded fears as a means of extracting money from frightened and vulnerable people, whatever that money might be used for.

We have a moral duty not to divert good, determined campaigners away from fighting real threats, and into campaigns against imaginary threats. Dedicated and effective activists are a scarce resource. Wasting their lives by encouraging them to chase unicorns is a disservice to them and a disservice to everyone else.

We have a moral duty to assess threats as clearly and rationally as we can, so that we do not lobby to replace a lesser threat with a greater one. If, as is already happening in Germany, shutting down nuclear power results in an increase in the burning of fossil fuels, especially coal, far more people will suffer and die as a result of both climate change and local pollution. If, as now seems likely, we wildly miss our carbon targets and commit the world to runaway warming, partly as a result of the nuclear shutdown, history will judge the people who demanded it harshly.

So this article is a plea for people to try to step back from their entrenched positions and see the bigger picture. It asks you to be as sceptical about the claims you like as you are about the claims you dislike. It asks you to subject everyone who makes claims about important and contentious subjects to the same standards of enquiry and proof.

I know that’s a tough call, but it is not as tough as wasting our lives inadvertently campaigning, on the basis of misinformation, to make the world a worse place.


Graham Palmer and Quadrant.

My son gives me a gift subscription to Quadrant each Christmas. It can at times be a challenging read so I put each one aside for long, quiet evening.

I recommend both the magazine and the gift.


@ Ken Fabos

Your political musings are utterly pointless and unhelpful. You could equally say that any assurances from the [insert one false dichotomy political group here] of being legitimate about addressing climate change are hollow because they oppose viable solutions such as nuclear.

James Hansen recently made it quite clear that he thinks by far the greater barrier to addressing the climate crisis is not climate sceptics, but a lack of support for plans that add up from those who accept the reality of climate change. See:

To use an analogy: the Catholic Church accepts that AIDS exists and that it is a problem. Their solution? Abstinence! It doesn’t add up, but they promote it anyway. This has contributed significantly to pandemics in several parts of the world.

How is this relevant? It is the lack of promoting viable solutions that is the main obstacle to addressing the problem, and ideology plays a huge part in it. And this is exactly the same with addressing climate change.


JB, do you mean Quadrant or Quarterly Essay? Quadrant has been famously climate skeptical, but I’ve enjoyed its diverse, if controversial articles from time to time.


Somebody must have had a memory lapse on the way home from the climate conference. Australia is making just about the biggest possible effort to turn underground carbon into atmospheric CO2. New mines, railways and coal loading ports are being constructed with the help of the State and Federal governments, the latest being Queensland’s Galilee Basin

So what is the point of the domestic carbon tax? Australia’s 300 Mt coal exports create X 2.4 or at least 720 Mt of CO2. That is steadily increasing with government blessing. Yet we are supposed to bust our nuts getting domestic net CO2 from all sources down to 480 from 580 Mt. Hypocrisy is hardly the word for it, it’s more like criminally insane.

See also the article on China, Coal and CO2 linked in the sidebar.


John Newlands,

So what is the point of the domestic carbon tax? Australia’s 300 Mt coal exports create X 2.4 or at least 720 Mt of CO2.

Roughly half of Australia’s coal exports are metallurgical coal accounting for 1/6th of global metallurgical coal production.

The world doesn’t yet have a suitable substitute for steel.


JN and Harry, Vaclav Smil has a good take on metallurgical coal.

The Iron Age & Coal-based Coke: A Neglected Case of Fossil-fuel Dependence

Here is another challenge for the energy transformationists: steel’s fundamental dependence on coal-derived coke with no practical substitutes on any rational technical horizon.

Arrival of the non-fossil world has a great appeal for green energy enthusiasts: they see the transition as highly desirable because of its environmental impacts, they are convinced it will give us sustainable energy supply, they claim that it will pay for itself, and all agree that it will leave us all better off.

But ask where the steel for all those turbine and transmission towers,
… all those biofueled vehicles, all those solar-heated buildings, all those rails and carriages for rapid trains running on wind and solar electricity …

No amount of renewable electricity and no amount of bioethanol can smelt a billion tonnes of iron –- and all the charcoal that could be produced in a responsible and truly sustainable manner could be used to reduce only a small fraction of today’s iron needs, and even a smaller one of the future demand. There can be no doubt: coal-derived coke will be with us for generations to come.


No viable replacement for coal-derived coke. No viable replacement for jetliner kerosene. No viable replacement for fossil fuel based fertilizers.

Aluminium smelting is another interesting category. Even more important than steel owing to its importance in the manufacturing of light weight vehicles, wind turbines and solar panel frames. There’s no way to smelt aluminium except by using up stupendously large quantities of electricity. It’s an industry that’s been environmentally on the nose for decades owing to its consumption of power, yet it is this very same industry that will be very much in need in an energy transformed world.

There’s no easy fix.


(Comment deleted)
Please read Barry’s comment to you and respect Barry’s stance. No more comments on this subject will be posted.


BTW the CO2 mass multiplier is 2.71 for coking coal and 2.39 for thermal black coal according to BHP documents, 2.8 for natural gas according to Engineering Toolbox. If steel smelting and future jet fuel are the unavoidable uses for coal then we should keep coal use to that alone and not use it in the production of electricity or cement. However increased scrap steel recycling is an alternative to primary steel production and fast rail is an alternative to flying.

Increasing carbon penalties (absent loopholes) should shrink coal use down to the indispensable applications. I helped deliver a load of scrap iron to a recycling centre the price at the time being a respectable $305 per tonne. Business was brisk to say the least. With aluminium at 15 Mwh electrical input per tonne I think we should pay more, such as 20c deposits on soft drink cans. I think the Australian government has erred by giving aluminium smelters a partial carbon tax exemption on the grounds of being ‘trade exposed’. A better approach is to assume other countries generate 15t CO2 per t Al then impose a carbon tariff of 15 X $23 = $345. That will help the industry afford nuclear electricity as in Russia.


(Comment deleted)

As per BNC comments policy, the blog is not to be used for posting denialism of the scientific consensus of AGW/CC including quoting fulminations from known denialist individuals and organisations. I remind you of Barry’s comment to you:

The comment I deleted on the CEDA thread was an out-and-out whinge and yet another attack on climate scientists, and I won’t put up with that, as I’ve said before. As I also said, take a bit more care, or I’ll be forced to put you on permanent moderation



However increased scrap steel recycling is an alternative to primary steel production

The recycling statistics for steel appear to be 83%.

Page 23 – Aluminum Can Recycling Rates

Click to access fl0000181.pdf

Interestingly, the recycling rates don’t appear to be necessarily tied to a ‘can deposit’. I know where I live we don’t have ‘can deposits’. However ‘garbage/trash pickup’ is quite expensive and the city provides recycling pickup which is free. The motivation being to dump as much as possible into the recycling bin.


@ Graham Palmer, on 23 November 2011 at 5:22 PM said:

JB, do you mean Quadrant or Quarterly Essay?

OOPS again. Quarterly Essay, of course. Great stuff.


@ chrisharries:

All the examples you brought up of supposedly irreplaceable resources have acceptable substitutes as long as we have access to plentiful nuclear power. Your attempt to lump aluminium production in there is particularly puzzling. Surely if there is one metallurgical extraction industry amenable to nuclear power, it’s aluminium production, given its high reliance on copious electricity. Likewise with fertiliser production. Prior to WWII, nitrate production involved hydrogen electrolysed from water using cheap hydroelectric power. This is an industrial process made to order for nuclear power, once the natural gas (the current source of cheap hydrogen) runs out.


chrisharries, John Newlands etc.

Could biofuels be used for air transport? The idea of using biofuels for land-based transport definitely doesn’t add up, but for air travel it appears that it really is either fossil fuels or biofuels. So perhaps there may be a niche use for biofuels here? It may come down to which of the two options is the lesser evil.

I agree with chrissharries that there is no easy fix. But there is a difference between not easy and practically impossible (e.g. “100 % renewable” economies).


John Newlands, on 24 November 2011 at 7:32 AM said:

BTW the CO2 mass multiplier is 2.71 for coking coal and 2.39 for thermal black coal according to BHP documents

The mass multipliers provide one measure.

US EIA – table FE5 – coal emissions by BTU/use.

When using an emissions/unit of energy measure then the different grades of coal end up being pretty close to each other.


Thanks Tom,

Agreed. Low cost aviation kerosene comes from light sweet crude and that’s the oil that’s vanishing most quickly, Libyan oil being the world’s highest quality in that regard. Converting planes to run on bio-fuels will mean significantly greater cost and I would suggest marine algae may be the only viable source for the quantities that would be required.

I absolutely agree that it is impossible for renewables to fuel a highly advanced technological society, especially one that is on an exponential growth path. Several thousands of posts on this website have made that point. But I also disagree with those who seem to flippantly believe that if we go nuclear all problems will just disappear.

There is a palpable angry frustration expressed by many who interact with this site because old nuclear is stuck in the public imagination. The day that a new generation, ‘safer’ nuclear technology becomes not only a possibility but a proven commercial success will be the day that much of that problem, I believe, will dissipate. I think it will always be very hard to win many people over to traditional nuclear power technology – there’s too much locked-in history behind it.


@Tom Keen I doubt there will ever be enough biofuel of the current types to maintain cheap aviation. It’s unlikely biodiesel could replace otherwise similar kerosene as it has viscosity like water at 20C and honey at -5C, no good for freezing conditions. World aviation must shrink to due to fuel costs.

@finrod I understand aluminium smelters are paying 3-4c per kwhe which can’t continue as electricity contracts expire. It would be perverse if any of our six smelters moved to China using Australian alumina (=purified bauxite) and Australian coal simply because of lower wages and carbon penalties.

@harrywr2 I use the mass multiplier for tonnes as it fits the export data. The three main fossil fuels from memory are coking coal ~ 160 Mtpa, thermal coal ~150 Mt and LNG ~20 Mt, each set to massively increase due to Asian demand. There was talk of brown coal (lignite) pellets going to Vietnam. CO2 from exported fuel is at least 25% higher than domestic emissions.


@John Newlands,
It would be perverse if any of our six smelters moved to China using Australian alumina (=purified bauxite) and Australian coal simply because of lower wages and carbon penalties.
Coal with an energy value of 5,500 kilocalories per kilogram at Qinhuangdao port slid 0.6 percent to a range of 845 yuan ($133) to 855 yuan a metric ton yesterday from a week earlier

My math works out that Australian thermal coal exported to China ends up costing $6/MMBtu. If I put 1 MMBtu is a 35% efficient coal plant(1,000,000/3412 * 35% efficiency) I end up with 102 KWh for a fuel cost of 6 cents/KWh.

My best ‘guess’ as to where the Australian Aluminum industry will run away to is Canada –
An October 31st 2011 press release
The Alouette aluminum joint venture is investing more than $2 billion over 15 years to expand the Quebec smelter following the allocation of 500 megawatts of cheap electricity by Hydro-Quebec…..The third phase of the Alouette expansion will increase the production capacity by more than 60 per cent to 930,000 tons of aluminum per year from 575,000 tons.
Another company located in Canada in May 2001
Novelis said it will build a new plant in North America to increase total North American aluminum capacity by 20 percent, and is expanding its plant in Brazil to increase aluminum production for cans.
Another company in Canada
Alcoa Inc. announced Monday that it would forge ahead with the second phase of a $2.1 billion investment in new smelters in Quebec, Canada

Then this news from China –
Smelters in China reduced output last month to the lowest level since February because of power costs and low prices, a National Bureau of Statistics report today showed.


Aluminium smelting shows what is good for local jobs may not be best for the world as a whole. The signs point to China no longer becoming the cheap energy country. Some think China is peaking in coal now hence the global push for coal imports including from the US. Others say Mongolian coal will defer China’s coal supply peak til nearer 2030.

Cheap electricity prices to aluminium smelters are regarded as a virtual subsidy. For example Tasmania’s Bell Bay plant is said to be ‘subsidised’ each year $133,000 per employee. I think it gets back to rivalry between States to attract heavy industry. There’s also the strategic argument that a country should have a home grown steel and aluminium industry in case of international turmoil.

All this is not an academic exercise. Energy prices to the metals industries reflect what is happening right now in Federal politics, this issue being one of the triggers


“No viable replacement for coal-derived coke. No viable replacement for jetliner kerosene. No viable replacement for fossil fuel based fertilizers.”

There is a not-uncommon misconception that fertilizers are based on fossil fuels, or are somehow derived from fossil fuels and that they require an ongoing supply of fossil fuels for their production.

That’s not really true.

Most of all the fertilizer in the world is comprised of ammonia from the Haber process, nitrates derived from ammonia and oxygen, and a bit of phosphorus and potassium etc. that are mined minerals.

Ammonia synthesis requires nitrogen, which is basically just air, and hydrogen. At the present time, the most popular (read: cheapest) source of hydrogen is the hydrogen which is a byproduct of the processing of natural gas and oil in the process of making other petroleum-based organic chemicals.

But that’s absolutely not the only source of hydrogen, it’s well known that hydrogen can be obtained from water via electrolysis and/or thermochemical cracking.

With thermal energy supplied from clean energy sources such as nuclear fission, it is perfectly possible to make ammonia, and nitric acid and ammonium nitrate etc, with only air and water and process heat.


chrisharries — Gen II NPPs are already about as safe as eating peanut butter. The Gen III NPPs being built are 10–1000 times safer. Isn’t that sfe enough?


@ Luke Weston,

Isn’t the problem with electrolysis that it’s currently much more expensive than hydrogen production from methane? Wikipedia says that electrolysis is currently responsible for only about 4 % of global hydrogen production, though doesn’t state a source, and I can’t find any figures on this.

It’s a big problem seeing as we’re going to need to produce a hell of a lot more of it for a world population of 9 billion +. Though we’re going to have to become much more efficient in using industrial fertilisers, as there’s already far too much reactive nitrogen in the environment, which is wreaking havoc on marine ecosystems (to put it lightly). Better management practices and GM should help here, but I suspect fertiliser production is still going to have to greatly increase to feed everyone.


I’ve just returned from the Thorium Symposium held at Parliament House yesterday and today. There was a lot of material covered, and i’ll get to work soon writing up an article putting my perspective on the event. For now, a few points which may be of interest to people here:

When Martin Ferguson introduced the symposium, a couple of things he said stuck in my mind. First, there was a strong indication that Labor’s anti-nuclear stance was not exactly etched in stone, but he made a firm statement that nuclear power is not competitive with La Trobe coal. I suspect there could be more than one opinion on this, but he certainly presented that view as being solidly held.

Martin Hoffman (Deputy Secretary at the Dept. of Resources, energy and Tourism, Martin Ferguson’s dept.) affirmed the government line, but gave plenty of hints that trhere were some inconsistencies here and there. He also was quite careful to point out that residential electricity consumption only accounted for 7% of energy consumed in Australia not long before explaining some things about residential demand management and the potential of smart grids. His talk was quite wide ranging and deserving of close attention.

Dr. Adrian (Adi) Patterson, CEO of ANSTO, offered a great and insightful summary of the current state of play of thorium, MSRs, various other nuclear technologies, and ANSTO’s involvement with them. I had the opportunity to ask him if consideration had been given to the application of synrock technology to the storage of the high-level fission products produced by thorium breeder MSRs. I’m pleased to report that some consideration has been given to this issue by ANSTO, and there do not appear to be any obvious show stoppers.

For some reason, many attendees are enamoured of the potential of subcritical ADS systems.

There was much more, of course. I shall look at my notes over the weekend. We are also told that the presentations will be made available on their website in about a week.


@ Tom Keen:

Isn’t the problem with electrolysis that it’s currently much more expensive than hydrogen production from methane?

That will be less of a problem after we run out of methane.


Some commenters on TOD are sticking with circa 2040 for world Peak Gas despite the wonders of fracking. Note the complete absence of fracking prospects in Victoria where the govt is going to pay for gas fired power stations to replace brown coal

When we have 9 billion people needing to be fed on Haber process fertilisers I don’t think electrolysis will be helpful at current costs. We should save gas for later by not burning it in power stations. At the moment gas is every bit as trendy as wind and solar.

Finrod in your report on the thorium conference please say if CANDUs for Australia got a mention.


JN: The symposium was basically all about MSRs. CANDUs were mentioned once or twice in passing as an example of current technology, but I don’t recall their Th breeding potential being mentioned. It might have happened in private conversations people were having, but I recall no significant reference to them in the presentations.


John Newlands, on 25 November 2011 at 8:47 AM said:

Some think China is peaking in coal now hence the global push for coal imports including from the US.

Quarterly US Metallurgical Coal Exports by destination

Click to access t9p01p1.pdf

Quarterly US Steam Coal Exports by destination

Click to access t9p01p1.pdf

US Metallurgical coal exports account for 2/3rds of US coal exports.
In steam coal Europe accounts for about half and South Korea accounts for more then half of exports to Asia.

There are various proposals to add to US Pacific Coast coal export facilities. Exporting Powder River Basin coal(Wyoming) has a number of challenges. The BTU content is quite low at 8500 BTU/pound – approx 4700 kcal/kg. It’s 1,000 miles by rail over the Rocky and Cascade mountain ranges to the the nearest port. Then there is the issue of finding a port with suitable channel depth with expansion possibilities. We also have rail track capacity issues – the two main east west tracks running thru Washington State are already at 70+% capacity with a total inbound freight load of 50 Million tons per year.
Washington State Rail Plan according to the Washington State long range rail plan –

Click to access StateFreightRailPlan.pdf

No doubt there is room to export additional coal to Asia in range of 10’s of millions of tons per year. Getting beyond that involves substantial long term investment in rail tracks through mountainous terrain.


If we are now labelling wind and solar as ‘unreliables’ I think we should call gas ‘future food’. The most versatile Haber process nitrogen fertiliser is prilled urea
which currently wholesales for about $500 a tonne. A decomposition product in the soil is the potent greenhouse gas nitrous oxide. What if by 2050 urea were to cost say $2000/t inflation adjusted? This is because most of the gas will have been burned in power stations.

We will have many more mouths to feed by mid century. We will need vastly increased electricity
– to drive cars via batteries or synfuel
– help buildings cope with extreme weather
– to make synthetic nitrogen fertiliser.
Somehow this has to be mostly done with windmills and solar panels. Good luck future generations.


The text of Martin Ferguson’s introfuctory speech to the Thorium Symposium is now up on the Australian government website.

After a quick scan, I can’t see that the minister’s claim that nuclear is not competitive with La Trobe Valley coal in Australia, but I recall him being fairly emphatic on that point in the actual delivery.

@ moderator: Would these comments on the thorium symposium be better in the IFR/LFTR email exchange thread?

I think they are OK for either thread but probably more relevant and easier to find and follow in the IFR/LFTR thread. Re-post them there if you wish.


If I’m using the right data a $6 tonne of brown coal will attract about $18 of carbon tax when burned (less per tonne than black coal) so the effective cost is more like $24/t. However the conversion efficiency is poor. Now I wonder if the secret plan of the Baillieu government is to throw a tantrum next year along the lines of ‘they’ve forced higher power bills on working families when we have no other alternatives’. Since NP is banned and Victorian gas will cost 10X as much per GJ this is sort of correct.

On thorium I wonder if Australia could sustain an annual production of 30,000-50,000 tonnes of ThO2, far more than U3O8 ever will. The Lynas rare earths plant in Malaysia is near completion, Arafura’s plant in Whyalla is apparently drawing up construction plans (aiming for 20,000 tpa of ThO2) and Iluka is stockpiling monazite sands in Geraldton. We’re rolling in the stuff.


John Newlands, I suspect that you are using the wrong data. One t of brown coal generates a couple of tonnes of CO2, which at $23 per tonne amounts to an additional $46/tonne for the original coal. Effectively, closer to $52 per tonne.

NSW power stations apparently buy their black coal at approximately $30/t plus delivery by rail. Say $35 per tonne comparison price and work the CO2 cost out from there. They are still behind Victoria on a cost per GJ, before and after the carbon tax. Somebody posted actual GJ figures for Vic and NSW domestic steaming coal recently. I can’t find that post.

Perhaps another reader will calculate the before and after carbon tax costs for Vic and NSW coal. The comparisons in ($/GJ/efficiency) over time as gas increases in price will be a very strong indicator as to who feels the pain most during the next few years. No doubt every generator in the NEM has this graphed and hanging on the wall because the marginal cost of production of power for most suppliers is essentially the fuel cost. It spells the difference between life and death.


@John Bennetts’

A table of Australian coal grades Gj/t on page 93

Click to access Energy-in-Australia-2011.pdf

Black coal averages 23 GJ/t and lignite(Brown coal) averages 9,8 GJ/t.

Table FE4 from US EIA lists pounds of CO2 per million BTU by coal grade. Basically 210 lb/MMbtu give or take 5 lbs except for Anthracite which is 227.

In terms of a carbon tax there really isn’t much difference in cost/KWh between black and brown coal as the CO2 emissions are a function of heat content(carbon content) rather then the weight of the coal.

2200 lbs divided by 210 lbs Co2/MMbtu = 10.47 MMBtu/tonne of Co2

$23/10.47 = $2.19 = carbon tax per MMBtu.

1 MMBtu divided by 3412 btu per watt * 35% thermal efficiency = 102 KWh per MMBtu.

$2.19/102 KWh = 2.147 cents/KWh carbon tax +- 3% depending on coal grade.

For reference the natural gas people claim 117 lbs of CO2/MMBtu.


Brown coal must contain a lot of incombustible material perhaps silica to have a third the calorific value of black coal. It’s a kind of flammable soil which could be why it is ‘dirt’ cheap. The US DoE data somewhat bears out my earlier estimates. Like the well known authority Dr Sheldon Cooper I wish the US used metric units.


John Newlands, on 27 November 2011 at 6:21 AM said:

Brown coal must contain a lot of incombustible material perhaps silica to have a third the calorific value of black coal

Lignite/’brown coal’ contains 30+% water. There is a drying process by which you can bring the Btu content per ton up to the level of ‘lower grade’ black coal, of course the drying process requires energy which kind of defeats the purpose unless one was looking to export it and reduce transport cost.


Both damp lignite and CO2 rich biogas contain flame retardant unless upgraded. Strange how Germany sees a big future in both.


Karl-Friedrich Lenz — What is feasible is a collection of generators [storage is a form of gneration] which meets the demand together with the reliability requirement. The usual assumption is that the least cost mixture, externalities included, is optimal.

Since NPPs must undergo replenishment periodically irrespective of the achieved capacity factor in the interval the actual cost of consumables [which vary with capacity used] is very low. Therefore there is no economically justifiable incentive to include wind generators in a grid consisting entirely of NPPs.

This conclusion does not change even when some form of storage is included. Assuming one desires to store in the form of methane [you write gas by which I assume methane is meant] the economics suggest that using excess nightime NPP energy to produce methane is superior to using ‘unreliable’ energy from the wind.

The situation for utility-customer-owned solar PV is different and not treated in this comment as not being soley a matter of utility operated generation. However, the prior paragraphs apply to solar thermal as well so long as the LCOE exceeds that for NPPs, which appears to be the case.


John Newlands, on 27 November 2011 at 9:04 AM said:

lignite and CO2 rich biogas…….Strange how Germany sees a big future in both

German Black coal mines are at a production depth averaging about of 920 meters which is pretty close to the maximum economic depth.

The USGS considers coal ‘unrecoverable’ at a depth between 914 and 1200 meters depending on grade and various other factors.

Click to access ChapterD.pdf


@ harrywr2:

I cannot see where the energy cost of boiling all that water off brown coal appears in your analysis.

Presumably, the energy figures you provide for black coal (23 GJ/t) and brown coal (9.8 GJ/t) include the cost of energy spent boiling off the water so one is about 2.5 times as energetic in a nett sense than the other.

Then we switch energy units to MMBtu, for reasons I don’t quite understand. I have an emotional dislike of Btu because it is a nonsense unit, devised for one purpose only – as a jargon term for use within an industry. What’s wrong with SI terms?

After an excursion via US figures using lbs for mass and considering only anthracite energy conversion factors, comes a statement
“CO2 emissions are a function of heat content (carbon content) rather then the weight of the coal.”

Agreed, the CO2 emissions are a function of the heat contents of the coals. However, the carbon contents for different coals are not the same when expressed in terms of mass of C burned per kwh of energy sent out. Each tonne of input C becomes 3.67 tonnes of CO2 @$23 = $84.41/tonne of carbon burned.

To be meaningful, we need to compare tonnes of carbon in coal input per unit of energy sent out (ESO), typically MWh.

This would have the advantage of avoiding use of unfounded assumptions that both brown and black coal generators are 35% efficient. They are significantly different, in part because the auxiliary plant are not the same.

Does anybody out there have either:
… Figures for coal consumption Vs ESO for Vic brown and NSW black coal on an industry wide basis?
… AND average carbon content/tonne for brown and black coal?


… typical carbon intensity for generation of a unit of electricity sent out using Vic brown coal and the comparison figure for NSW black coal?

These, plus knowledge of the costs of coal (Brown $6, Black $35, or whatever) and the carbon tax of $23/t emitted CO2 will give us the numbers we are looking for – fuel costs, post-June 2012, per unit of ESO.


Demand Pushes Power Grid to the Limit,1518,799918,00.html
The reality is that it has become increasingly difficult to construct transmission lines in a timely fashion, if at all, almost anywhere [as almost everywhere is more crowded and the last paragraph of the linked article becomes more relevant].

Grid planners ought to attempt to place generation close to demand [although that might raise other NIMBY issues].


@David B. Benson

I assume you reply to something I wrote in the storage thread.

I answered to Cyril R. in more detail on my blog. In short, if you already have displaced all fossil fuel with a nuclear only system, then yes, it does not make much sense to add wind or whatever, if as you assume the cost is higher.

That situation is not reality anywhere. While there are some countries who run their whole electricity generation on renewable only and some who run it on nuclear and renewable, they all still use fossil fuel for transport or industry.

The low carbon system needs to meet demand for electricity plus demand for transport, heating and industry uses of fossil fuel. It follows that you end up making a lot of fuel. It also follows that there is no such thing as unneeded low carbon energy generation for a long time to go.


Karl, first let me say, that unreliably available wind and solar power won’t be used to make fuels, because of the low capacity factor (productivity) of the fuel factory. These are not cheap and you want to run it as industrial facility (70-80% capacity factor, compare to solar’s 10% in Germany). So if you have excess of these there is simply no economical use for them. You cannot run aluminium plants at 10% capacity factor, even if your power costs nothing. You’ll go bankrupt on capital inefficiency. No investor will spend a dollar in a synfuel plant that operates 10% of the time when they can also spend it in a plant that does run 80% of the time, even if the latter has higher fuel costs.

Why use unreliable and expensive solar and wind to make synfuels if you can just liquify coal or use natural gas?

If you want to cut CO2 emissions, why use unreliable unproductive power that cuts very little CO2 emissions per dollar and can’t run synfuel plants economically or practically? When you can just build a nuclear plant and run it for synfuels 24/7?

There are these pesky things called ‘investors’ that need convincing.

Second let me say something about wind and solar replacing fossil fuels. As pointed out before, they can only replace 20% or so and then the other 80% had better be flexible fossil plants to prevent your grid collapsing and to meet the load reliably. Your argument is that if (or as long as) we can’t get nuclear to meet close to 100% of the load, we must use wind and solar for that 20% and resort to burning 80% fossil. I disagree with this path. It is not strategic, it will lock us into fossil fuels, serve as an excuse to never ever build nuclear, and considering the costs, considering all these things, there is no interim ‘bridge’ transition benefit.

We need to skip wind and solar and go directly to nuclear. Any other plan won’t add up to solve climate change. The sooner people realize wind and solar can’t do the job – because they really just can’t – the sooner they will accept nuclear as the real solution that adds up – because it does.

I’m sorry that this is the truth, but that’s what it is.


As a final note I’d like to point out that we need to be picking the low hanging fruit first to make the most effective transition.

Powering aircraft with synfuels from wind/solar/nuclear is very inefficient. For the time being we must, in my opinion, focus on the low hanging fruit:

– build nuclear plants equal to daily peak load
– use excess nighttime nuclear power to charge plugin hybrids for commuter travel
– reduce space heating by a factor of 4-8 by state of the art insulation, passive solar etc.
– use heat pumps for remaining space heating demand
– use accoustic heat pumps for industrial heat up to 200-300 degrees Celcius.

This gets us 100% solution in electricity systems, about 70-80% of car miles driven, and all space heating demand, and about half of the industrial heat demand (half of it needs less than 300 degrees Celcius).

This would be a good start. We’ll figure something out for long distance transport and “big things that go” later. Let’s be honest, we don’t have any solutions to these right now.


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