Depressing climate-related trends – but who gets it?

I saw two particularly depressing trend lines this week. Both were confronting enough to make me stop, sit back and just contemplate. It was not as though these came as a great surprise — I’d been following these data for years. But for some reason, the seriousness of them really struck home like never before.

The first was a report on Arctic sea ice volume. Here is the graph that shocked me:

It shows the minimum northern hemisphere sea ice volume yearly from 1979 to 2011, and a simple time-series forecast based on a fit of the exponential-decline model. You can read about the details here: PIOMAS September 2011 (volume record lower still), where various related charts are also shown. One can argue about the precision of the projection line, but the general fit is remarkably robust and, on this basis, it is reasonable to conclude that unless some remarkable turn around occurs, the Arctic summer ice volume will be near-zero by 2020.

One explanation for this greater-than-expected decline is given in this new paper in Journal of Geophysical Research. Rampal et al. show that as the ice thins, it drifts more — increasing ‘export’ of ice to lower latitudes and accelerating melting. This may also explain the deviations seen between sea-ice extent (see left chart) and volume (both are bad, but volume is looking worse). Perhaps the gaps between small aggregations of ice are not showing up in the satellite data, with the mushy residual ice spreading out evenly to close gaps, thus appearing to maintain or even increase its extent, especially as the thinning summer ice becomes more ever more vulnerable to wind dispersion. As we approach zero volume, we will obviously get a clearer picture on positive feedbacks, but all that we can be sure of for now is that we are entering unknown territory.

The second depressing trend that disturbed me was the latest global carbon dioxide emissions data. The core problem is summarised here:

The world pumped about 512 million tonnes more of carbon into the air last year than it did in 2009, an increase of 6 per cent. That amount of extra pollution eclipses the individual emissions of all but three countries – China, the US and India, the world’s top producers of greenhouse gases.

A decent graphic that tells the ‘onward and upwards’ story is this:

Another more detailed chart, emphasising the magnitude of the recent spike in emissions, can be seen here. Most countries reported rises in their emissions, including many European nations (so much for the Euro carbon price), and of course the rising industrial powers of the developing world. The march to embrace new coal and the relentless push to access all of the world’s liquid hydrocarbon reserves, continues unabated. As this recent paper in Nature Climate Change reports, this path takes us towards a very different world:

Folks, we are failing badly, and our failure continues to compound each year. I tweeted this news (restricted to 140 characters) as: “Global CO2e emissions rises >500 million tonnes over 2010 – 2011 period, an increase of 6 % on 2009 – going backwards, need nuclear + renew!“, and pretty soon afterwards, solicited a typical tweet-based reply from someone saying: “//100% Renewables possible. Nuclear unnecessary!“.

Wake up. Smell the roses. This is extremely serious, and people who can look at these sea-ice and emissions data and still say: “We don’t need nuclear!” are, frankly, dangerous and delusional. Only hard-nosed rationality will fix this problem — and that will be built on policies that focus on reducing the cost of non-fossil energy (of any kind), such that it becomes an economically sensible decision to built these preferentially.

Folks as philosophically diverse as The Breakthrough Institute experts and Peter Lang get this. Indeed, it is almost certain that you — each and every one of you — can find someone you respect who gets it. The concept is really not that hard to understand, but we desperately need widespread education and a healthy dose critical, pragmatic and realistic thinking from the general populace. Will you help make this happen?


Finally, some articles on the Fukushima nuclear accident that are worth reading. First there is The Nuclear Power Safety Record by Ted Rockwell, which looks at the global nuclear safety record, its comparison with other industrial activities, and a review of background radiation.

Second, there is a the IEEE Spectrum article 24 Hours at Fukushima, which provides a detailed blow-by-blow account of events, and draws six lessons learned:

1. Emergency generators should be installed at high elevations or in watertight chambers.

2. If a cooling system is intended to operate without power, make sure all of its parts can be manipulated without power.

3. Keep power trucks on or very close to the power plant site.

4. Install independent and secure battery systems to power crucial instruments during emergencies.

5. Ensure that catalytic hydrogen recombiners (power-free devices that turn dangerous hydrogen gas back into steam) are positioned at the tops of reactor buildings where gas would most likely collect.

6. Install power-free filters on vent lines to remove radio-active materials and allow for venting that won’t harm nearby residents.


  1. It’s like Groundhog Day for climate awareness but in five year cycles. This cycle Al Gore didn’t appear which is no loss. Back in 2005 I spent $20k on PV. Since then I’ve realised it will barely make a difference on any useful scale so I think I’ve gotten wiser. On the other hand millions of people who think they are tuned in to the big issues seem happy to delude themselves. As in when we don’t have baseload any more we’ll just have to adapt. As soon as the world gets real about CC and future energy we can devise ways to share the pain and the risks. The first step is to stop kidding ourselves about phony solutions.


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  3. And in September, PBL and the European Commission’s JRC published a report on the same trends in which the underlying regional and sectoral trends that cause the long-term increase and the 2010 recovery in more detail: Long-term trend in global CO2 emissions; 2011 report
    Report available here:
    The trend data 1970-2010 and per capita and per USD of GDP can also be downloaded from there:


  4. It is received wisdom that the ocean conveyor belt is driven by the salt-enriched, cold brine sinking down as its sea ice forms. Now, without the sea ice surviving into summer, there will be many voices saying that the ocean conveyor belt will shut down .

    The hydrocarbon industries will be delighted, because the possibility that the North Atlantic cools can then be presented as proof positive that global warming is a commie lie. However the people of the North Atlantic won’t want to go back to freezing cold winters either.

    The rest of us certainly don’t want that subduction to stop, as it is a major sink for atmospheric CO2. Admittedly it will only stay down for 1000 years or so, but it is a buffer so big, that it is commonly called a sink.

    However, with a surface of the sea open for much longer to heat transfer from polar winds, it may well be the reverse. If the sea water becomes colder than the water below it, we must expect that the surface will subduct anyway, taking the CO2 down with it. Something similar might be happening off Antarctica too, because CSIRO is finding that the subducted waters are cooler and less saline .


  5. Happy times. The only possible positive I can draw from this is that it may (a very uncertain may) shock the world enough to do something meaningful about climate change.

    On the other hand, perhaps people will say “isn’t that shocking?!” and then go back to eating their dinner. While oil companies see new drilling opportunities due to a lack of summer ice.


  6. Nearer to home than the Arctic is the threat to our own Great Barrier Reef, in the longer term from climate change and more immediately from coal based development. Synopsis;
    That will be broadcast tomorrow night. Perhaps marine ecosystem damage should be compared point for point with Fukushima.

    I suspect Joe Public is well aware of the issues but doesn’t want the fossil fuelled party to stop.


  7. Barry, I told you a year ago the ice melting was accelerating. You didn’t believe me. Apply an 8%/year acceleration into the future and all of Greenland’s ice is gone by the end of this century. This is what Jim Hansen has come to realize in his latest papers on this subject. The acceleration component is whats constant, not the gigatons per year that is melting. Glad to see you are coming to realize the short time frame this melting problem puts us in.


  8. It’s interesting to note that France isn’t on that global chart despite having the same energy consumption as Germany, because of, you know, 75% nuclear. France has half the emissions of Germany.

    It works. Nuclear works. We need to hold up France as a rolemodel more. Sure, that will cause the anti-nuclear crowd to come up with examples of shady management, problems with handling the waste, safety violations, water shortages during the summer, etc. And I’m sure that’s all true, but it’s also irrelevant as such problems are minor compared to the problem of climate change and there’s no reason we can’t improve on it. But overall, France proves that nuclear power is effective at reducing emissions and that unlike Germany’s green zealotry, it actually gets shit done.


  9. clarification on the numbers:

    In one graph, the increase for 2010 is 9.138 gtc.

    But the CO2 equivalent is much higher, at around 48 gt carbon dioxide in one graph, 13 gtc in other (the latter two being equivalent).

    Is carbon equivalent that much higher than straight carbon emissions?


  10. For the unreliable renewables crowd, a challenge: using just scalable low cabron technologies (solar, wind, underground pumped hydro), energized my reference grid which is the same every day (7/52), 10 GW from 11 pm to 6 am and 14 GW otherwise.

    Now compare the LCOE cost to energizing this grid using just NPPs.
    David – I think you inadvertently posted this on the wrong thread. Please re-submit


  11. Re possible negative feedback mechanisms in the Arctic, I’ve mused in these pages before that the loss of sea ice insulation should lead to increased loss of heat during the Arctic winter, at least to the extent that refreezing is delayed from what it would have otherwise been. Never seen anything much written about this, though.


  12. This is a train wreck in slow motion. We’ve lost the Arctic sea ice and the ecologies it supports. We’ve lost the albedo protection it affords, and one more bulwark against Arctic methane release falls away, opening the door a crack further to some truly frightening positive feedbacks.

    I try not to think about these consequences too much these days lest paralysis set in. The most effective thing I can do is advocate for the most effective strategies for emissions reduction. There are things we should be doing today to limit the worst outcomes – the same things we knew to do thirty years ago – and those battles serve to focus energy on practical actions. But every now and then I look over my shoulder at whats coming our way, and I don’t like what I see.

    They flutter behind you, your possible pasts,
    Some bright eyed and crazy, some frightened and lost
    A warning to anyone still in command
    Of their possible future
    To take care.

    — Pink Floyd / Your Possible Pasts


  13. The continuing information from observations and climate science is increasingly depressing. But the solutions are by no means so clear. In your assertion that those against nuclear power are “frankly dangerous and delusional, is quite frankly, dangerous and delusional.

    There are 2 or more reasons, one is logistical. We don’t have the time, expertise, energy and materials to replace our energy infrastructure in the time required, ie 2035- 2050 time frame. Theoretically, yes several thousand nuclear power stations could replace existing coal and other stationary energy sources. The second is that even if we did it would not solve our emissions problem. Nuclear power does produce emissions. A large proportion of these are “up front”. In the mining processing of ore, the production of cement and steel etc. If it tkes 10 years to build a reactor, it takes a further 8 years to pay back the embodied energy debt. A failure of nuclear advocates is that they tend to focus on the emissions from the reactor generating electricity. Non-industry assessments paint a very different picture of full life cycle emissions.

    Then there is water. We can build reactors on the coast and we have to consider sea level rise, earthquakes and storms. Or we can build them inland and as we have seen in the US and France, hot weather compromises their function. And we are likely to face increasing pressures for diminishing freshwater in a warming world.

    Then there is the economics….you know the arguments. Ditto, proliferation and waste. The proposal for gen VI reactors really is delusional as a solution, because they do not exist as a commercially employable technology, you may as well promote fusion.

    The only non-catastrophic solution to our energy future is a controlled and planned energy descent using renewable energy that is clean and quick to build to replace stationary energy, and greatly reducing liquid fuel dependent transportation. Growth will be over.


  14. Gene Preston said: “Apply an 8%/year acceleration into the future and all of Greenland’s ice is gone by the end of this century.”

    Sure, on that extrapolation, the consequence would be dire: sealevel rising by 7 m worldwide!

    Whereas the melting of the sea ice can be seen as a single process to be fitted with a single exponential function, the breakup of the much thicker, much more complex structured Greenland ice cap will involve many processes, each of them with their own decay curve, some taking centuries.

    Even so, if a single such event over ten years produced a rise in sea level of say, 300 mm, it may nevertheless provide the global wake-up call needed for an effective global response to carbon emissions.


  15. I see your “100% renewables is possible” twitter correspondent is opposed to gas fracking, and follows the “Lock the Gate” movement.

    I would have thought Lock the Gate would be a natural ally of nuclear power. But I’ve been frustrated to observe that LtG campaigners frequently tout renewable energy as the alternative to csg. Someone should explain to them that expansion of renewable energy will drive expansion of gas turbines and increased fracking. Unfortunately the LtG supporters I know are counterculturalists not amenable to rational argument on the nuclear question.

    However, I assume many supporters are more pragmatic farmers with a keen awareness of the impacts of climate change on their livelihoods and a more pragmatic approach to energy, and perhaps without an antinuclear cultural background. These people may be very open to an energy strategy that holds fossil fuels in check, keeps gas exploration and wind developers off their properties and out of their communities, supports economic development for their markets and offers a response to climate change.

    Is anyone in a position to make this appeal to Lock the Gate?


  16. @greenpractice
    Obviously you have not read any of the posts on BNC about nuclear power otherwise you would be aware that all your objections/assertions have been dealt with in detail and rebutted. . It might be a good idea to do some research before commenting again.


  17. @greenpractice

    The only non-catastrophic solution to our energy future is a controlled and planned energy descent using renewable energy that is clean and quick to build to replace stationary energy, and greatly reducing liquid fuel dependent transportation. Growth will be over.

    Try telling that to the Chinese and the Indians!


  18. @greenpractice, you make Barry’s point beautifully.

    Feel free to either tack around here, or come and find my presentation at Decarbonise SA where I show how I explored every single one of those issues from the position of a nuclear opponent who was getting very worried about climate change, and found them to be either total furphies, actually positives for nuclear when compared to other power sources, or the genuine impacts are highly acceptable compared to the alternatives.

    And as for your Gen IV nay-saying… Do you want a solution? Honestly, do you? If you look around, you will see that Barry is not saying that you can pick up the phone today and order a Gen IV, but he is on the board of an organisation who are trying to bring such a situation forward, rather than push it back as you are by writing it off.

    Part of a possible solution. Part of a catastrophic problem. This issue has become distressingly binary in nature, because we have been so late to act and the solutions promoted by the environmental movement have failed so spectacularly to respond to the demands of the real world. It’s time for greens to step back, take a breath, reappraise and choose teams in this fight. If continued blind opposition and obstruction to nuclear remains the choice, become less surprised if others start to regard you poorly.


  19. Yes Barry, I’ll help get the population educated to the need for a big world-wide dose of nuclear. In fact I’ve been doing it for the past 12 years. Check out my Ockham’s Razor piece of Sept 4th in which I made it clear that the renewables sun and wind and the still developing technologies will probably, if not certainly, NEVER be concentrated enough to power the planet. Several people, including Peter Lang posted positively. The majority of comments were negative and in response to that, Robyn Williams has asked me to do another talk. I’m recording it here in Port Lincoln on Nov 23rd and it’ll go to air sometime later. I’m going to bust some of the myths surrounding nuclear power and will be giving the anti nukes a serve at the same time .Greenpractice, make sure you tune in on ABC Radio National when it goes to air [I’ll let you know in good time]. Meanwhile, you other bloggers could usefully start pressuring your local MP’s and the community in general to look at just how serious the problem is and understand that a big dose of nuclear gives the planet its best chance to beat the warming problem. Get stuck into it guys. Start talking to the masses. in


  20. @ Decarbonise SA

    “Part of a possible solution. Part of a catastrophic problem. This issue has become distressingly binary in nature, because we have been so late to act and the solutions promoted by the environmental movement have failed so spectacularly to respond to the demands of the real world.”

    Don’t blame the environmental movement – it is not the environmental movements fault that politicians, corporations and the wider community have failed to follow their advice. And anyway, it is primarily the climate scientists we should be listening too. If we had started acting in accordance with environmentalists when the alarm bells first started to go off, we would likely be much closer to a solution.

    “And as for your Gen IV nay-saying… Do you want a solution? Honestly, do you?”

    Actually, yes I do. I would really like to believe that a safe and workable gen IV reactor would be available in the time required to assist in addressing our future energy needs. I certainly do not oppose further investigation and research into this area, in fact I support it. But that is not the same as tying our future climate action to the development of a technology that may well not deliver. That I think you would agree would be mindless.


  21. @ John Morgan,

    “a simple question for you: Do you judge the risks of nuclear power to be worse than the risks of climate change?

    I assume you must. Am I right? Very interested in your response.”

    No, as amedical doctor with an interest in climate change, I think the risks of climate change, particularly to human health, are orders of magnitude greater than the risks of nuclear power.

    I do however think the consequences of nuclear war would be even more catastrophic for health even than unmitigated climate change, although it is a moot point as either outcome is likely to be civilisation ending and resultng in the majority of the world population starving to death.

    I do assept that future nuclear designs may help reduce the risk of proliferation, but that it is not a given, as it depends on the intention of the powers that oversee nuclear regulation. you will probably be aware that currently many billions of dollars are earmarked for new nuclear weapons.


  22. @ greenpractice

    Are the links between nuclear weapon proliferation and nuclear power production stronger than the links between biomedical research and the manufacture of biological WMDs?

    Do nuclear weapons pose a greater threat to humanity than biological or chemical weapons?

    Should we, on this basis, outlaw further biological research?

    What makes you think more nuclear power will result in nuclear weapon proliferation, anyway?

    Wouldn’t energy security and raised standards of living reduce the probability of nuclear war in the first place?


  23. I think the risks of climate change, particularly to human health, are orders of magnitude greater than the risks of nuclear power.

    Then on this we are agreed. Your concerns then run to nuclear war, which you judge to pose a similar existential threat to climate change.

    Your decision to reject nuclear power therefore amounts to a judgement that it is more likely that we can very rapidly retire all fossil fuels without nuclear power, than we can expand the nuclear power industry without causing a world ending nuclear cataclysm.

    I don’t understand how you can hold this position. There is clearly such grave doubt that non-nuclear sources can retire fossil fuel plant that your choice appears to be a guaranteed fail. There is no real world experience that supports this position, and no engineering analysis that stands scrutiny that indicates that it is possible. If you disagree feel free to point to an example or sketch out how it might be done.

    Equally, there is no credible argument that cutting emissions with nuclear power commits us to thermonuclear apocalypse. The nations responsible for 90% of CO2 emissions already have nuclear weapons or nuclear power reactors. Developing nuclear power in those countries does not expose us to incremental risk. These questions have been discussed in this post:

    Carbon emissions and nuclear capable countries

    The materials and technologies associated with power generation are not by themselves capable of delivering a nuclear weapons programme. This question has also been discussed here at length, I’ll simply quote from the FAQ that sits below the tab at the top of the page:

    Nuclear power is not a precursor to nuclear weapons.

    Nuclear weapons were developed before nuclear power, evidently nations do not need nuclear power in order to develop nuclear weapons.

    None of the weapons that currently exist will disappear with a dismantling of our nuclear power fleet.

    There are many nations (Japan, for example) who have nuclear power, yet do not have nuclear weapons.

    Nuclear power can replace coal in all nations who currently have nuclear reactors, nuclear power or nuclear weapons without increasing any imagined proliferation risk, and that would take care of more than 90% of our stationary energy emissions worldwide.

    Feel free to articulate reasons if you disagree with this.

    In short, you’re playing brinkmanship with the planet on the strength of a proposed cure for climate change that no evidence based doctor would prescribe for their patient, to avoid a clinical outcome for which no evidence based approach would indicate intervention.


  24. Greenpractice said: “nuclear war would be even more catastrophic for health … than unmitigated climate change”.

    May I suggest that nuclear reactors are no longer preferred by bomb makers?

    Check out this list, as nuclear states and wannabes stopped their Pu239 production:
    Iraqi reactor gets shut down before producing Pu 1981, US shut down Pu production 1987 at Hanford,
    China shut down plutonium production 1990, Russia shut down its last plutonium-producing reactors 2003, UK shut down Calder Hall 2003, Pakistan shut down its Candu reactor 2002, North Korea shut down its Pu producing reactor 2007. So what replaced Pu239 for big bangers ?

    What has changed significantly since the Manhattan project, is the ease of enrichment of U235. This material would be much preferred by people who work with the stuff, as it is less radioactive, less toxic and a lot easier to weaponise.

    “The recent spread of one technology — the gas centrifuge — from the Netherlands to Pakistan and on to Libya, Iran, North Korea has brought enrichment to the forefront of proliferation” (Physics Today , September 2008)

    It is depressing that the anti-war movement is unaware that nukes are now on the side of the environment. The risk of nuclear nightmares out of reactors is trivial compared to the global warming nightmares they’d prevent.


  25. @ Tom Keen

    “Are the links between nuclear weapon proliferation and nuclear power production stronger than the links between biomedical research and the manufacture of biological WMDs?”

    The links rather depend on the nature of the regime that holds power. Neither nuclear proliferation nor biological weapons happen by chance.

    Nuclear technology provides the opporutnity for proliferation and historically
    nuclear weapons and power have been highly correlated. in fact nuclear power can be seen as a consequence of nuclear weapons development.

    “Do nuclear weapons pose a greater threat to humanity than biological or chemical weapons?”

    As I understand, as few as 50 detonated modern nuclear weapons ( eg a pakistan – india conflict ) would likely result in a global nuclear winter. There is not much worse than that. From a terrorism perspective chemical and biological weapons can probably be as destructive than a single nuclear device.

    “Should we, on this basis, outlaw further biological research?”

    Is that a serious question ? Most aspects of biologic research absolutely no application in the field of biological warfare. it is a very specific area of research and one that I believe should be banned. ( Same goes for development of chemical weapons ).

    “What makes you think more nuclear power will result in nuclear weapon proliferation, anyway?”


    “Wouldn’t energy security and raised standards of living reduce the probability of nuclear war in the first place?”

    Energy security is dependent on many things including insatiable demand and limited resources. The US has a quater of the worlds nuclear power stations but is faced with an impending energy crunch. They have also been responsible for the majority of wars in the last 50 years.


  26. @ Roger Clifton. I don’t dispute your comments. But I might suggest you look at which countries are still planning to build new nuclear power stations and which ones are developing new nuclear weapons. Very similar list. Coinincidence ?


  27. @greenpractice I do (now) blame the mainstream environmental movement for the calamitous state of climate affairs, more and more with every passing day. Not for having been anti-nuclear in the first place. I respect and am sympathetic to the origins of the movement, and certainly acknowledge the early alarm that was raised on the problem side of the equation. But rather I blame it for ditching fact, reason and critical thinking regarding the solutions in favour of ideology so long ago, and for now holding in their hands the political balance of influence that is necessary to deploy a major, scalable solution to carbon emissions in this country and around the world, but instead holding us to ransom with a suite of solutions that CAN NOT WORK on their own. The fossil fuel industry are peddling us the poison. They have the political class in their thrall. We all know that and we hate it. Yet the immense power of the environmental movement, which could change this situation overnight, is directed to promoting solutions this fossil fuel industry adores, because they know that there is not one hope in hell of renewables seriously displacing their primacy without nuclear to do the heavy lifting.

    That is why I am trying to craft a new movement, of pro-nuclear environmentalists, eco-pragmatists, promethean environmentalists, call it what you will. You will see some of the figureheads of this new movement in the list Barry has linked too. If it is climate scientists you listen to, you will find some of the world’s best on that list. We are the people who get it. Environmentalists can sit on your hands if they like and expect the world, against every indicator possible, to make a decision to de-power and cease growing. Or, they can get on board with implementing the only solution we have in sight. I urge you to stop, think, and make your choice. If you choose to continue rolling out fragile arguments to stand in the way of nuclear, anticipate growing numbers of people turning their backs on you, as the evidence continues to roll in that this is a high road to climate hell.

    As @John Morgan and others are is zeroing in on, if proliferation is your main concern, as it was mine and as it is for many the anchor of their anti-nuclear position, honest engagement with the facts should clear up that concern pretty fast. If wondering whether Gen IV is actually “real” or not is a sticking point, well, ditto. Barry himself did not throw in fully behind nuclear until he understood this adequately.

    Changing your mind on nuclear is a painful attack on one’s identity. I know because I did it over a grinding process of years as an ideological young environmental consultant who could not reconcile the problem before me with the solutions that were “approved” by my peers. But it has to be done. Let me know if I can help, I am easy to find. I would love, absolutely love, to add you to the list :)


  28. @Roger Clifton, that is great information, thank you. I have a presentation in Mannum this Thursday and proliferation is always a biggie, I have been looking for some quick ways to explain that technology preference and you have done a nice job.


  29. I once thought the breakup of Greenland’s ice would take a long time. That notion changed when I saw what was actually happening. Ice melting at the surface forming water lakes, and then the ice cracks and the water drains quickly to some intermediate level or all the way to the bottom of the ice. Greenland ice is becoming filled with water and is beginning to float on the water. Its mechanical strength is being compromised rapidly by this water. Some of the water makes its way outward and accelerates the glacial breakup at the edges. The ice at the edges feeding the glaciers is weak and falls undeer its own weight. Extra thickness may be a liability in breaking up because of the extra weight. This process is accelerating according to GRACE satellite data at about 8% per year. I just wish the GRACE folks would talk more openly. I suspect they are worried their funding will be cut off considering the senate here in the US is loaded with climate change deniers and they could vote to cut funds to scientific agencies wishing to show that climate change is real. It seems as though NASA is showing climate change is real but does so carefilly. Anyway its not going to take centuries for ice riddled with holes and frilled with water to break up. Keep an eye on those lakes each summer to get an idea of where the ice is being made weak. You know that this lake in the summer thing is recent, only since about 2000.
    Gene – as per BNC preferred policy can you supply a ref/link to GRACE data.


  30. Some thoughts on the ABC Four Corners program on marine ecosystem damage from building six new coal and gas loading ports on the Queensland coast. First up
    – if so many countries signed the Kyoto Protocol how come carbon exports are booming?

    A longer term question is
    – will we need this gas for ourselves rather than selling it overseas?
    In particular we will soon need a replacement for expensive oil imports. Other eastern States SA, Vic and Tas will run out of gas in 15 years or less at present rates.

    Another long term question
    – will the permanent damage outweigh short term gains?
    If the Barrier Reef is ruined as a tourist destination it will cost many jobs that already exist now. If CSG wells ruin agricultural water supply in the hinterland that will come at a cost.

    Yet another
    – does it exacerbate extreme weather?
    Cat 5 cyclones and once-in-a-century floods now seem to be recurring on a regular basis. If Australia exports 300 Mt of coal and Queensland alone eventually exports 40-60 Mt of liquefied CSG it won’t help.

    A final carbon carbon tax question
    – should gas burned to run compressors get 65% exemption?

    In my opinion Australia is not only scoring an own goal but is an accomplice in environmental crime.


  31. Thanks Roger Clifton for all the links about proliferation you provided us with.

    On the use of the atomic bomb, I can understand that it is a very painful subject to touch, but we have to be aware of the fact that probably 99.999% of people worldwide believe that the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were killed by the radiation emitted by the bombs, not by the incredible amount of energy unleashed by the nuclear fission that happened in mid-air.

    Ignorance is a difficult theme to touch, and ignorance in science is very much widespread these days. And the lack of understanding for basic science in the average citizen only help the fearmongerers. Unfortunately.


  32. @greenpractice

    Below is the last part of Ben Heard’s (Decarbonise SA) presentation. It begins with mining, then covers cost @ 2.44 mins, build time @ 5.10 mins and the growing acceptance of nuclear power amongst those most knowledgeable on climate change and the environment @ 6.20 mins.

    Some of the slides are a little hard to read on the video. To read the whole slide presentation go to:

    Ben analyses all your concerns and more through the eyes of a nuclear power opponent. I think you’ll find it interesting.


  33. @greenpractice:

    If you will, I have a question to you. As a practitioner, suppose that a patient with a serious, quite possibly life-threatening condition comes to you for advice. The condition is at least partly caused by the patient’s unhealthy lifestyle. Although better diet and more exercise would help, the patient’s condition is very severe, and there is a chance he will not survive without medical treatment. There are two treatments available.

    One of these has side effects, which may be nasty. In fact, there is a theory that the side effects may even be fatal. However, the treatment has been tested for decades and is known to help most patients, and at least not worsen their state overly much. However, the treatment has many opponents, who point to its side effects.

    The other treatment is experimental. There are no large-scale experiments at all; few, on a limited scale, show inconclusive or negative results. The proponents (and manufacturers) of this experimental medicine have a persuasive theory and are very certain it will work, at least if the dose is large enough. They explain that the lack of results so far is due to a too small a dose. If the treatment works, they say, it wouldn’t have any negative side effects.

    Which treatment or a combination of treatments you would recommend?


    Additionally, I suggest you take a look at a history of biological weapons, e.g. Regis’s “Biology of Doom.” As far back as in 1942, a team of four U.S. scientists, with some help from a construction crew, cultivated tons of anthrax and weaponized it rudimentarily yet successfully. The equipment they needed was basically from a brewery, and the total budget was less than what the Manhattan project was spending in a day. The estimates in that book, and others, suggest that the amount would have killed at least as many as the Hiroshima bomb. Furthermore, the anthrax spores would have contaminated swathes of land and made it uninhabitable perhaps for centuries. As an example of the latter, I suggest you take a look at the Gruinard Island off the Scottish coast.

    The weaponization of biological agents is a non-trivial task, as the repeated failures of Aum Shirinkyo terrorist cult suggest. But it’s certainly easier than enriching uranium or building nuclear weapons. Furthermore, the advances in bio- and nanotechnology are likely to make the crucial weaponization part even easier in the future.

    What’s even more scary, delivery methods such as lightweight GPS-guided drones are becoming cheaper and cheaper. Packaging a functioning nuclear weapon into a 500-kg warhead is extremely difficult; packaging, say, ten drones with 50 kg of biowarfare agents each will be within capabilities of a single well-funded individual in the near future.

    Nevertheless, even these weapons of mass destruction are fundamentally a political (and a police) problem, not something that can be solved by technological fixes or neo-luddism. The genie cannot be put back into the bottle; the same applies to nuclear weapons.

    A state willing to acquire nuclear weapons will be able to do so, whether or not other states forfeit nuclear power. It is doubtful that even a complete ban of nuclear power (even if politically possible) would present much of a hindrance to a potential proliferator; at very best, it might slow her down somewhat. Even this would be in doubt, as the IAEA inspection teams and their crucial expertise of nuclear technology currently seem to be the best line of defense against would-be proliferators. Forfeit nuclear power, and you will eventually forfeit this expertise as well.

    Yes, there is a risk that nuclear power technology will cause proliferation. But the risk of not using nuclear power technologies seems to me orders of magnitude greater.


  34. @John

    No, your assumption of my reasoning is not correct. And consequently I absolutely disagree with your interpretations of my thinking.

    I did not refute nuclear power on the basis of weapons proliferation. If you read back through the posts my initial post clearly states the primary reasons I question nuclear power as a solution to our energy needs, they are time and logistical reasons. Proliferation is just one of several other issues I listed at the end.

    I was asked the question about the dangers of nuclear proliferation by you and @ Tom.

    I terms of a solution, it is quite clear from climate science that we need to drastically reduce our emissions ( around 30 – 40% by 2020 and 90% by 2050 ) and, as Tim Jackson in “Prosperity without growth” calculates, this means reducing the energy intensity of our economy from over 750g/ $ GDP to around 10g. I do not think building several thousand nuclear power stations will fit into this equation.

    That said, I am always happy to continue to look at all new information as I do not believe there is room for complacency or dogmatic stances. I rather hope that you will do the same.

    We are going to have to accept that addressing climate change means reducing the amount of energy we use and therefore produce. Contraction and convergence is probably the most agreeable way to achieve this.


  35. Greenpractice, thank you for your clear challenges, I causes me, at least, to clarify my answers. Now, your challenge, to look at which countries are still planning to build new nuclear power stations and which ones are developing new nuclear weapons. Very similar list.

    I found one of the two lists at WNN:

    Some 60 countries are considering the use of nuclear power, in addition to the 30 that already do so.

    Fewer would be “planning”. However, if a majority of them actually go through to production, there is hope yet for the environment. On the other hand, if there really were “a very similar list” of countries developing nuclear weapons, the prospect would be very depressing indeed.

    In my limited understanding of the mad men of war, Pakistan is their current doyen, the source of the know-how and perhaps the materiel. Yet Pakistan has no reactors at all. The modern mad men of war don’t need them any more.


  36. A 6 percent increase in one year if continued at this rate would lead to a doubling of CO2 in 70/6 = ~12 years. That is worse than most of us have imagined and the consequences must become pretty dire quite soon.

    It is very hard to convey to friends and family the seriousness of the situation because in most of our experience the weather appears pretty normal. Nevertheless, I won’t be buying any more electric blankets!

    While the Australian government’s plan to reduce our emissions is doing something, I cannot understand the lack of moves by other countries – the US, China and India. They appear to be at war with science!

    California is one bright spot and all of these use nuclear power. Yet, looking at their totals (US almost 1500 Mtonnes/year – US generates ~20% of its electricity by nuclear, whereas we generate zero of ours) it seems pretty hopeless. Things can change though. Let’s hope they will.


  37. @greenpractice

    I terms of a solution, it is quite clear from climate science that we need to drastically reduce our emissions ( around 30 – 40% by 2020 and 90% by 2050 ) and, as Tim Jackson in “Prosperity without growth” calculates, this means reducing the energy intensity of our economy from over 750g/ $ GDP to around 10g. I do not think building several thousand nuclear power stations will fit into this equation.

    I presume you mean emissions intensity and not energy intensity. Refer to Fig 2 in the PWC report I linked to above which clearly shows the French economy, at a little over 200 g CO2/$ GDP to have the lowest emissions intensity of the G7 countries. There is only one plausible explanation and that is nuclear power. The evidence does not support what you think.


  38. @greenpractice, in your initial comment you made much of the emissions of the nuclear cycle and reactors, yet went on to invoke renewables as a key part of a “non-catastrophic energy future… a controlled and planned energy descent using renewable energy”.

    Why do you completely discount the embodied emissions of renewable energy? In reality, full lifetime and decommissioning considered, emissions from nuclear per kWh generated are similar to those from wind, and considerably less than from photovoltaics. This is not least because renewables use several times more cement and steel than nuclear, per kWh generated over facility lifetime.


  39. Barry Brook wrote:

    Another more detailed chart, emphasising the magnitude of the recent [from 2009 to 2010] spike in emissions, can be seen here. Most countries reported rises in their emissions, including many European nations (so much for the Euro carbon price), and of course the rising industrial powers of the developing world.

    Europe doesn’t appear to be a part of the problem (if the problem is the very high percentage increase in global emissions despite global attention, new technologies, and policies addressed to tackle the issue in the developed world). Of those countries signing on to 1997 Kyoto protocol, the developed countries on that list “have reduced their emissions overall since then and have achieved their goals of cutting emissions to about 8 percent below 1990 levels” (here). Their emissions profiles, energy intensity (from efficiency and conservation efforts), and global competitiveness (by many measures) appears to be improving.

    The problem appears to be in the developing world and with the expansion of coal (and once again, rising emissions in the US … or among those developed countries that did not sign on to Kyoto). Yes, nuclear can help reduce emissions from coal in places like India and China (where they are rising the fastest), but nuclear is not going to solve the problem alone (especially on an intermediate or peaking basis). We also need zero emissions, sustainable, and low cost energy options for the developing world, where such simple things as cooking fires and charcoal production are leading to widespread deforestation, and diesel power generation is the technology of choice for rural electrification and an estimated 2 billion people who do not yet have “access to electricity or modern energy services” (here and here). Nuclear is unlikely to be much help in any of these regions. One might also point the finger at rising consumption practices worldwide (as a result of cheap consumer goods coming from China and India) and the downward pressure this places on global land and resource sustainability and conservation worldwide. Do we need more global consumption of non-sustainable natural resources, driven by very dense and low cost energy resources such as coal or nuclear, or less? Thinking of this as an either/or proposition is not going to get us very far … presumably, we’re going to be needing everything in the tool kit, a combination of approaches to meet very diverse global energy needs (renewables and nuclear), and a great deal more global cooperation on such things as pollution and carbon controls, efficiency and sustainability measures, technology innovation and sharing, trade and pricing mechanisms, environmental risk assessments (especially looking at long term costs), and a great deal more. We don’t just need more energy (and the right kind) to lower global resource and emissions pressures, we need to use the energy we have in a much better (and sustainable) way. It seems what we need is a paradigm shift in energy, and not just a tweaking of the general theory (if stabilizing global carbon emissions is truly going to become an operating structure or collective discipline utilized by current and future generations).


  40. EL, I know you do note this, but don’t underestimate the magnitude of the “Pass the Parcel” of exported emissions, as George Monbiot laments lucidly here (and in “Carbon Graveyard“). China’s emissions growth can be linked strongly to demand for goods, and exported high-EI tasks, from the West to the East. Fact is, everyone is currently failing — indeed, it is a positive feedback of failure. Not sure how you imagine the paradigm shift will be invoked.


  41. @greenpractice:
    “Don’t blame the environment movement – it is not the environmental movement’s fault that politicians,corporations and the wider community have failed to follow their advice.” Well, if anyone is to blame, the environment movement can certainly take a share of it, perhaps the biggest part. Through their consistent anti nuclear stance over at least the last thirty years and by making unrealistic claims about what the renewables can deliver, they have effectively caused much greater development of fossil fuelled power, especially coal around the world. Unwittingly, they have been responsible for the massive build up of greenhouse emissions thus causing the problem the world now faces. They have been wrong headed in their opposition to nuclear power. (Inflammatory remark deleted.)


  42. @Barry I would argue that making carbon more expensive for Asia, both as buyer and seller we are sharing the pain between East and West. We pay more they lose some business but also burn less.

    Until carbon tax actually starts the public hasn’t grasped the incongruity of restricting our own carbon use while helping unrestrained use overseas, both as a carbon supplier and goods importer Monbiot includes proxy carbon in imports for the UK. In Australia the IPA tries to remove CO2 embodied in aluminium exports. Maybe so but we got the cash benefit.

    However the EU proposes a first step in international carbon pricing by charging airlines that land there. A plane departing New York has to pay for emissions en route to Heathrow or perhaps on refuelling; the details are vague. I think that international carbon pricing will creep in as the inconsistencies become intolerable. The big loser will be China.


  43. @ greenpractice

    Thanks for your response. I’ll offer a few comments on your responses to my questions.

    The links rather depend on the nature of the regime that holds power. Neither nuclear proliferation nor biological weapons happen by chance.

    Exactly. Any technology can be misused by the wrong people or state. That doesn’t warrant an overall ban or dismissal of a technology – particularly one with so many demonstrable benefits.

    “Should we, on this basis, outlaw further biological research?”

    Is that a serious question ? Most aspects of biologic research absolutely no application in the field of biological warfare. it is a very specific area of research and one that I believe should be banned. ( Same goes for development of chemical weapons ).

    There are numerous areas of biology that allow us to better understand the nature of (for example) bacteria, viruses and fungi. Just because the motivation for this research is not for biological warfare, it does not mean the findings won’t have implications for those who are developing biological weapons.

    “What makes you think more nuclear power will result in nuclear weapon proliferation, anyway?”


    I’m surprised by this response. The links, historically, are extremely tenuous. I thought Roger Clifton’s comment (above) demonstrated this very well.

    You avoided properly answering my last, most important question: Wouldn’t energy security and raised standards of living reduce the probability of nuclear war in the first place?

    You pointed out that the U.S. was responsible for most wars over the past 50 years. I suspect their most recent wars in the middle east had a lot to do with securing their own energy security – i.e. oil. Most wars are fought over resources, and energy is one of the most valuable resources.

    Nuclear fission fuel is inexhaustible, and there’s enough to go around for everyone.


  44. Guys, @greenpractice doesn’t get it. Plenty of others will, and by February next year I will have spoken to around another 400 people in South Australia. Check my updated list of speaking engagements at DSA. I have never had stronger interest than the last couple of months. I suspect pressures are converging and people are finally taking notice. A sliver of good news I can offer.


  45. greenpractice — I’ve become presuaded that energy is a very big part of the solution — provided, of course, it is low carbon. Right now energy derived from wind and nuclear fission are about the same price; prehaps solar PV will become as inexpensive. Finding the right mix of these three scalable technologies is something of a challenge, but it appears to me that wind, being so unreliable, ends up actually costing more than one first supposes based solely on energy prices. So one looks to nuclear fission to do most of the heavy lifting.


  46. I am sort of fascinated by the fact that different people will see the same information but have have very different interpretations.

    Wind energy has been an interest of mine, particulary fighting the false belief that wind turbines cause ill health ( there is zero evidence for this, although they do cuase “noise” which can be annoying and some people don’t much care for their appearance – though I think coal mines and large concete power stations look far worse ).

    The new Colgar wind farm in WA has a capacity factor of near 50%, similar to some older coal fired power plants. It is quite clear that wind is now largely predictable and when distributed over larger areas is more consistent. Nuclear plants are also unreliable in the sense that hot weather can interupt available water ( eg France and USA ) , or that unexpected interuptions occur due to technical faults. Nothing has a capacity factor of 100%.

    If wind really is so unreliable, why is Denmark pursuing 40% wind ?

    We just need smarter grids and appliaces, such as electric cars to balance these loads. Several studies here and overseas find that we can replace all of our electricity generation needs with current renewable energy technology and that wind can contribute up to 40% of that.

    We also need to look at energy provision that does not involve electricity, eg hot water / cooling etc. whci can be powered from solar and low temperature geothermal sources.
    As BNC is an evidence based blog references are needed to support your assertions. Please check the About page for the Comments Policy before posting again. Future violations may be deleted.


  47. greenpractice — Denmark has the highest electricity prices in all of Europe [which is most impressive considering the competition]. Denamrk is only able to achieve the appearance of high energy contribution from wind due to the Nord Pool connections to the pumped hydro, principally in Norway.

    There are other threads here on Brave New Climate which offer the argument, based on actual data, that wind makes for a much more expen$ive solution than one first imagines. [By the way, a CF of 50% for a thermal generator is solely a reflection of its current use, not its availability.]

    I have yet to find a single creditable study which demonstrates, using actual demand data, that current ‘renewable’ energy sources can energize a reliable, on-demand grid. “No arithmetic, no argument.”


  48. @greenpractice –

    Denmark’s “success” with wind (I wouldn’t perhaps use the term, given their rather pathetic emission reductions) is almost completely made possible by using Norway and Sweden as a giant battery. Norway provides some 90% of their electricity from hydro; the Swedes some 45%. This gives them pretty substantial capability to sell back-up power to Denmark and Northern Germany.

    However, there are grave doubts whether the Denmark’s feat can be repeated elsewhere.

    I would suggest you to take a look at the emissions history of Denmark and Sweden. The countries have relatively similar natural resources of wind, although Sweden has very considerable hydropower resources which flat Denmark naturally doesn’t have. Yet Sweden’s emissions per capita are less than half of Denmark’s, although Denmark’s economy is more energy efficient. In fact, Sweden’s emissions per capita are lower than China’s!

    The big reason for this is the fact that what electricity Sweden doesn’t get from hydro, it gets from nuclear. Nuclear and hydro combined provide about 90% of Sweden’s electricity.

    As an example of what renewables are capable of in places where significant hydropower backup is not available, take a look at Navarre, Spain. A study by Faulin et al. (2009) is instructive.

    Click to access Energy%20Policy%20in%20Renewables%20and%20its%20Economic%20and%20Environmental%20Consequences.pdf

    Look at the figure 15 on page 31 in particular. Despite the fact that over 70% of Navarre’s electricity comes from wind and the area houses fully 50% of Spain’s not inconsiderable solar capacity, its emissions have increased lockstep with global emissions. I also checked the Spanish average emissions and found that there is very little variation from the trend. You can see the graph in a blog post I made (in Finnish, sorry) in

    (Maailma = the world, Espanja = Spain. Red horizontal line: Spain’s Kyoto target for 2010.)

    If Denmark and Navarre are the best renewables can do, and nuclear is out of the question, were quite frankly doomed.


  49. Greenpractice you don’t understand the pro nuclear folks. Your statement

    “Some in the pro-nuclear camp seem to be more interested in promoting nuclear power than they are about addressing climate change and other planetary boundaries and limits to growth”

    shows an important belief many green activists think is true but is not. The only reason nuclear proponents want nuclear is because they see the non nuclear world as being woefully energy deficient to the point anarchy and starvation will result without nuclear power. So we pro nuclear folks see nuclear as a necessity. Even though nuclear potentially has some problems, we feel that we can work through those problems. This article by the ex president of India states very well the need for nuclear power in India’s future.
    I just wish we had a government here in the US that was as long range looking as India’s government.


  50. I don’t think any group is homogenous in that respect. I have no doubt that there are those, perhaps yourself included, and certainly others like Hansen, Lovelock, Monbiot, Lynas etc., who undoubtedly have arrived reluctantly at nuclear power as part of the solution to address climate change. But there are those, some who post on this blog, whose motivation is far less clear.

    There are also many similarly eminently qualified people who believe that nuclear power is neither necessary nor suited to provide for our energy needs, but that renewable sources are. ( Again, I’m sure you know the names ).

    The article you refer too highlights another very important point of difference and it’s exemplified by the opening quote: ” Economic growth will need massive energy. Will we allow an accident in Japan, in a 40-year-old reactor at Fukushima, arising out of extreme natural stresses, to derail our dreams to be an economically developed nation?”

    It is the “economic growth at all costs” sentiment that is the problem. That we would do, and risk, everything for growth itself.

    We have to find a way or progressing and prospering without growth. I think many in the pro-nuclear, and some in the pro-renewable groups, believe that we can just replace our exploitative and wasteful use of fossil fuels with some other unending energy source.

    And that is patently obviously false. Our consumer-based culture demands ever-increasing growth. We cannot expect, nor have, ever-increasing energy and things because we live on a finite planet. We will, in fact already have, run into planetary boundaries. ( “A safe operating space for humanity – Rockstrom et al. Nature Sept 2009 ).


  51. greenpractice, if I got the wrong end of the stick on your comments I apologize. Its not my intention to put words in your mouth. So let me go back to your original comment and respond to some of the issues you raised there.

    We don’t have the time, expertise, energy and materials to replace our energy infrastructure in the time required, ie 2035- 2050 time frame.

    I don’t disagree that what is required is a stupendous effort at which we may well fail. But the possibility of failure does not relieve us of the obligation to aim for success. And the 25-40 year timeframe you nominate for complete decarbonization of electricity is doable. We know this because it has already been done.

    France has all but eliminated fossil fuels from its electricity grid. It did so over the course of roughly 30 years. And it wasn’t driven by the urgency we now perceive, it was achieved under business-as-usual conditions at a cost that went basically unnoticed. And on a leisurely Gallic schedule the task you say is impossible was achieved in the time you’ve nominated.

    Any country could follow France’s lead, and with a similar proportion of GDP decarbonize a similar proportion of their electricity supply in a similar time. The historic precedent makes this clear.

    Nuclear power does produce emissions. A large proportion of these are “up front”. In the mining processing of ore, the production of cement and steel etc. If it tkes 10 years to build a reactor, it takes a further 8 years to pay back the embodied energy debt. A failure of nuclear advocates is that they tend to focus on the emissions from the reactor generating electricity. Non-industry assessments paint a very different picture of full life cycle emissions.


    In the years I’ve been looking at climate change, from being a onetime advocate of renewables its become very clear to me that nuclear industry analyses are quite scrupulous in including all lifecycle contributions for costs, energy produced, CO2 emissions, from mine-mouth to decommissioning. In contrast, the renewables industry plays some very shady games around where they define the bounds of their systems. Be that as it may ..

    The emissions of nuclear power are very low. Nicholson, Biegler and (Barry) Brook published a meta review of authoritative peer reviewed studies of full life cycle emissions of a variety of electricity generation technologies (Nicholson M, et al., How carbon pricing changes the relative competitiveness of low-carbon baseload generating technologies, Energy (2010), doi:10.1016/ – email Barry for a copy).

    Nuclear power is far the lowest emitter examined – about 10% that of solar thermal, and about 1% of conventional coal. (Wind wasn’t examined.)

    The breakdown of embodied energy in the Forsmark nuclear reactor, for example, looks like this (units in petajoules,

    Mining 5.5
    Conversion 4.1
    Enrichment 23.1
    Fuel fabrication 1.2
    Plant operation 1.1
    Build & decommission plant 4.1
    Waste management 4.3
    TOTAL 43.4 PJ

    The energy sent out over a 40 year nominal plant life is 3226 PJ. Input is therefore 1.35% of output. The payback period for this plant to pay off its own energy requirements is 6.5 months. Not 8 years.

    Then there is water.

    When we’re talking about decarbonization, we are mainly talking about substitution of coal plants with nuclear. A coal plant has the same water requirements as a nuclear plant of similar output. So the fact that we have already figured out how to supply the necessary water to our coal plants tells us that water does not today constrain replacement of all coal by nuclear. Replacement of the balance of fossil plants, and management of increasing water constraints does not seem to be a constraint, given possible coastal siting (your remark notwithstanding) and availability of air-cooled systems if absolutely required.

    Note that solar thermal plant would have the same water requirements as a nuclear plant of equal output.

    Then there is the economics….you know the arguments.

    Yes indeed. In fact it was these very arguments that prevented France from replacing fossil fuel with nuclear in the 80s.

    Oh wait .. no, they didn’t.

    Ditto, proliferation ..

    See my comment and others above in response to this.

    .. and waste.

    Its late. Someone else can deal with this chestnut.

    greenpractice, I’m sure we want to see the same outcomes for our biosphere and for human wellbeing. But Barry’s assessment in the post was correct – the path you advocate is very dangerous, because of its almost certain failure, and it is delusional, because it is disconnected from the objective, measurable facts.


  52. @greenpractice

    If your main objection to nuclear power is that it can’t be deployed fast enough:

    Which way is faster, renewable only or renewable plus nuclear?

    If you think there are some serious security concerns (I would disagree), are these not much less serious than global warming?

    If you think China and India should refrain from growing their economies: Is there any chance for that to happen?


  53. Renewables are faster than nuclear – no question. Faster to plan, do not require protracted community consultation ( which is 5 years in France ), faster to build ( eg Olkiluto ), faster to repay carbon debt.

    Nuclear is very expensive to build, with cost estimates now commonly in the $8-9000/kWe installed range, depending on what is being included.
    Progress Energy’s estimates for its new planned AP1000 units in Florida were particularly startling ( 2008) – a price tag of $14 billion plus another $3 billion for necessary transmission upgrades.

    That money could be far more profitably spent on renewable energy and would be displacing fossil fuels in a fraction of the time.

    As I have said before I think climate change is the greatest risk to health and security and therefore the most urgent challenge ( Lancet 2009 – Climate change is the greatest threat to human health in the 21st century ), though it is incontrovertible that nuclear war ( which could happen without further proliferation ) would be as bad as any other apocalypse.

    Economic contraction and convergence is likely to be the most equitable and acceptable policy. The West should be reducing emissions immediately and deeply, the mid range countries should be able to grow economically whilst improve energy efficiency as China is doing, and then level off and contract, the underdeveloped countries still have a long way to go and can grow and make this transition over 3 -4 decades with help from the developed countries.
    greenpractice – you are still espousing personal beliefs (especially in your first sentence) and this vioates BNC Comments Policy which requires refs/links to support your assertions. The counter claims by othe commenters have been backed up by numerous posts and comments on BNC and have provided the necessary evidence.Further instances, by you, of this violation will be deleted.


  54. @greenpractice –

    The Olkiluoto 3 project is a sad case and certainly not an advertisement for nuclear power. Nevertheless, are you aware how much energy, exactly, that single reactor will push out annually, once it’s in operation?

    It will be around 13 terawatt-hours.

    Do you know how much your success story, Denmark, gets annually from all the wind turbines they’ve been building since 1990?

    It’s around 6 terawatt-hours.

    We’re now in the initial stages of building two more reactors. Once complete, the new build will push out some 30 TWh annually – about five times the entire non-carbon electricity of Denmark.

    The largest single wind farm under construction? In Sweden. 12 TWh. And that’s because they had a singularly well-suited place for that – an expanse of Lappish wilderness with hydropower backup and two very high capacity power lines crossing.

    As Karl-Friedrich Lenz put it: which way is faster, renewables or renewables + nuclear?
    Please supply refs/links. See my remarks to greenpractice above.


  55. Greenpractice, the greenpractice of Germany is that they get a small portion of their power from renewables and they use 50% coal, and the dirtiest type of coal no less. After 30+ years of development and 100 billion dollar in guaranteed subsidies over the next decades plus guaranteed buydown of all renewable power installed. It is renewable power wonderland.

    Yet after all this time and money and favorable non-free market legislation (you MUST buy my solar power all the time!!) Germany only gets 20% of its power from renewables. They are using just as much coal as before they got started.

    France, in 19 years, got to about 80% nuclear power, at much lower cost and excellent nuclear plant reliability. Germany got unreliable power and has now locked itself into using a majority of its power from fossil fuel for the rest of this century.

    It takes a long time to build a nuclear plant.

    It takes forever to switch to renewables without a majority fossil backup.

    No matter how cheap solar panels become, they will not generate power in the night, in the winter, and when it is cloudy. Which is most of the time in Germany. In fact, 90% of the time.

    That’s right. Germany’s PV systems get a 10% capacity factor. That means no power on average, 90% of the time.

    The AP1000 project you name will generate an average of 2 GWe. For 17 billion.

    How much solar does 17 billion buy? It buys a peak capacity of about 5.6 GWp. With power only available 10% of the time you get 0.56 GWe, almost 4x less than the AP1000 project you say is not affordable.

    Then add the batteries or other energy storage, the fossil backup, which by the way is huge with your power not available 90% of the time.

    These are the facts. You may not like them. I did not like them when I first calculated them. But we must be honest and scientific about this.

    Solar is expensive and will lock fossil fuels in forever. Batteries are even more expensive than solar and are barely coming down in cost. In stead of using expensive batteries we’ll just use natural gas forever.

    Grid connected solar = a fossil grid with a tinge of solar for pretty pictures.


  56. John Patterson, on 8 November 2011 at 8:57 AM said:

    A 6 percent increase in one year if continued at this rate would lead to a doubling of CO2 in 70/6 = ~12 years

    I am curious as to where an additional mining capacity of 6 billion tons of coal per year is located. China is a net importer(at current production rates china runs out of coal in 35 years), India is a net importer, the EU is a net importer.

    BP World coal data –

    Click to access coal_section_2011.pdf

    73% of the worlds coal reserves reside in 5 countries. US,Russia,China,Australia and India.

    2/3rds of US coal reserves are in the Powder River Basin in Wyoming which is 1,000 miles from the nearest boat. Power River Basin coal suffers from a low heat content.

    Russia also has similar ‘location’ and ‘quality’ issues with their coal reserves.

    In 2000 the Japanese paid $34/tonne for imported steam coal. In the year 2010 the Japanese paid $105/tonne for imported steam coal.In 2000 US Central Appalachian steam coal cost $29/tonne. In 2010 it was $71/tonne. The 2010 Northwest Europe price for coal was $92.50/tonne.


  57. Cyril R. wrote:

    Germany only gets 20% of its power from renewables.

    20% is a lot (that’s some 118.94 GWh/year … or about the total electricity consumption of the Netherlands, Indonesia, Norway, or Poland)!!! This beats nuclear power generation in most countries, and with current high costs, technological limits, subsidy and policy supports, learning curve, and other disadvantages of early stage development technologies. If Germany’s 20% was a country, it would be 24 on the list of countries with the highest net electricity consumption, and have a estimated population of 18 million utilizing electricity from an energy source that is entirely independent, renewable, low waste, zero emissions, and with no marginal fuel costs.

    Wind is currently very close to the cost of conventional coal (for new power plants constructed in 2016). Solar has the potential to achieve the same by 2020 (or so says Emanuel Sachs, MIT professor of mechanical engineering, who is pioneering a molten silicon direct wafer manufacturing process that has the potential to reduce current solar PV costs by 80%, and with very little waste). The only missing part of the picture is low cost and scalable grid (or highly distributed) energy storage options. If our energy systems are in search of a game changer, I would place my bets on energy storage breakthroughs (since we already have a slate of cost effective and zero emissions generation technologies). Simply producing more (of the right kind of energy) and wasting more is not going to be a model that works for many countries, independent system operators, power producers, or consumers in the future. I have my doubts whether it was ever a workable model, and simply pushed off for another day (36 million days in the case of nuclear, or 100,000 years) costs and impacts that we are unwilling (or unable) to deal with today.


  58. @EL
    According to IEA Monthly Electricity stats, from Jan-July 2011, Germany got 11% of it’s electricity from solar/wind/geothermal etc. I assume that the balance of the 20% renewables comes from hydro, biomass etc.

    It is the 11% that is the most interesting because that is where expansion must come from in the context of issues with scalability and cost. Lumping together all renewables to make the numbers sound good is not very helpful.

    As for costs, they are nation and region specific. In China, for example, coal, nuclear and hydro are substantially less expensive than wind on an LCOE basis. The IEA 2010 Projected Costs of Generating Electricity is much more useful than EIA for building up a global picture.

    Click to access Projected%20Costs%20of%20Electricity.pdf


  59. greenpractice — Ever been to India? I have and I rather think that people who live in glass houses should not throw stones.

    The fact is that people everywhere want to have a certain amount of reliable on-demand electricity. Pick Lahore, Pakistan. [I only know about this from an article in a recent issue of the Notices of the American Mathematical Society, AFAIK not available via a web link.] The electricity is quite reliable (except during flooding); it goes off abruptly 5 times a day for an hour each time. One obtains a schedule from some government office since the off hours change by neighborhood each day. But one can rely on this schedule.

    In many parts of India, the electricity may abruptly go off at any time and remain so for hours not predictable. (I didn’t experience this during my week in India; the data are from graduate students here from other parts of that large country.)

    So many Indians appear to want NPPs but others oppose for some reason. Countries with new NPPs either under construction or with completed contracts include Bangledesh, Belarus, Bulgaria, Turkey and Vietnam. More on the way. {Data from following World Nuclear News.]


  60. greenpractice, in addition to what others have said (including the excellent summary by J. M. Korhonen), please take the time to look at these two recent BNC articles (two of many on these topics):

    How fast for nuclear?

    How costly compared to other available options? (how to spend that $14 billion that would go to those 2 AP1000 reactors [2 GWe average power] you mention):

    Please avail yourself of the search button on this website — there is plenty of information to find, if you are willing to look.


  61. Yes, twice. Including working in a Hospital in Calcutta. I know exactly what it is like.

    That is why we need convergence and contraction. India, with 1/20 the per capita emissions of Australia, must have help and leeway to improve living conditions and I believe we are duty bound to assist them. It is also why we are duty bound to act first.

    They are also likely to be far harder hit by climate change due to monsoon effects, sea level rise, melting glaciers and air pollution – which will impact on health via food and freshwater insecurity increased vector borne disease and increased microbial proliferation rates worsening air quality ( eg ground level ozone ). ( to name a few ) as well as less ability to adapt ( high population, poor infrastructure and poor ).

    Electricity is certainly part of that process. Renewable energy which can be built quickly, in an already heavily polluted, water stressed country where corruption and poor management practices would exacerbate dangers of both reactor operation and waste would make non-nuclear technology seem preferable.

    You must also be aware we are not selling uranium to India as they refuse to sign the non-proliferation treaty.

    Thorium may well become a solution to many of these problems, but not ( at least commercially ) for 20 years.


  62. greenpractice,

    Renewables are faster than nuclear – no question.

    No, they’re not.

    It might be quicker to put up a single 1 MW wind turbine than a 1 GW nuclear power plant. Its not quicker to put up 1000×1 MW turbines than a 1 GW. Its not quicker to put up ~3000 1 MW wind turbines for equivalent average power output (at 30% capacity factor). And its not quicker to put up 12-30 000 turbines for equivalent instantaneous reliability (wind turbines have a 3-8% capacity credit in the South Australian and Victorian networks).

    Faster to plan, do not require protracted community consultation ..

    Once again, no. How long do you think it would take to achieve planning and community consultation for 1 GW of wind power? Lets just stick to 1 GW average power and ignore reliability. Assume 2 W/m^2 available wind at 30% capacity factor, and you need 1500 square kilometres. How many landholders do you think you need to negotiate property and access rights with for roads, construction, service access, transmission lines, etc. in 1500 non-contiguous square kilometres?

    The planning timelines with examples were described here in a comment by bryen. Lets pick the eyes out:

    The implementation time is the sum of licensing, site acquisition, planning, construction and connection to the grid. This depends on guidelines and the application process of the responsible agencies, the specific design, the location and many more aspects of this process. .. future prediction of these is ambiguous at best..
    Windfarm projects also require lease agreements, environmental assessments, community consultation, planning application, public exhibition, developer comments, planning dept decision (much of which won’t be happening until the site is known to be feasible).

    Estimating the site potential for wind requires monitoring ideally through several seasonal cycles:

    Wind resource monitoring for the feasibility study is a minimum of 1 to 2 years.
    Wind resource monitoring is not done by simply looking at the BoM data for the nearest weather station. No financial backing is feasible without proper wind resource monitoring being done *at the exact site*.
    [according to CSIRO this takes] 21 to 39 months (over 3 years!) in this early stage alone! No bank will loan the money otherwise.

    Some actual examples of real developments:

    Silverton 600 turbines, approval for 282 turbines granted on 24th May 2009 with construction required to begin within 5 years according to the approval document. First community newsletter went out on Oct 2007, the wind resource monitoring started much earlier. No planning application yet submitted for remaining portion of wind farm. Construction not yet started. Note they anticipate project completion in 2015, thats at least 7 years from start to finish.

    Taralga wind farm is 10 years down the track, construction has not even started. Feb07 – development approval, construction estimated to commence 2011, thats 4 years after approval. Then it still requires construction time to be added.

    Conroy’s Gap wind farm was approved 31-5-07 – construction still not begun.

    That Silverton wind farm claims “operational capacity” (whatever that means) of 1 GW. If the project completes in 2015, thats 7+ years. If the wind monitoring commenced on the time scale the CSIRO advises, add 2-3 years. So a wind farm of similar scale to a nuclear plant takes ~10 years to complete. That is longer than current average nuclear build times.

    Renewables are faster than nuclear – no question.

    (Deleted inflammatory remark) Point by point your assertions are proving to be factually incorrect.


  63. I disagree, firstly you have selected examples of delayed wind farms. We now have a regressive state government in Victoria that has imposed unnecessary and inappropriate conditions on new wind turbines in Victoria ( with NSW looking likely to follow suit ) that hasn’t helped in some cases.

    There are many wind farms that have been established in shorter time frames. The Colgar wind farm in WA was completed several months ahead of schedule and under budget ( contrast to nuclear ? ).

    The world largest ( so far ) wind farm Roscoe Wind Complex in Texas, started construction in 2007 and the farm just opened in October 2010. It has 627 wind turbines over 100,000 acres of dual use farmland, cost $1 billion and generates enough power to support 230,000 homes.

    China plans for 100 GW of wind power by the end of 2015 and will generate 190 billion kWh annually from wind power. ( )

    Repayment times are generally within 3 -4 years and therefore free up finances to reinvest. Unlike nuclear.

    Similarly, you ignore the fact that you must wait until the whole nuclear plant is completed and tested prior to the first kWh of electricity. If you build 1000 mW of wind and ( just say ) it takes 10 years, by 5 years you will have a significant proportion of that total in production.

    And, you have avoided the comparison with solar PV – where installation is even quicker and more modular.

    Renewable energy is still maturing. Wind turbines are becoming more efficient and cheaper, as are solar technologies, consequently more capacity can be built for the same $ and financing times will get shorter.

    Compare this with the ongoing requirements for massive state funding ( loan guarantees and liability / insurance ) even though nuclear power is a more mature technology it has got more, not less, expensive. So economic conditions are not moving in favour of nuclear.
    (The comment to which you refer has been deleted)


  64. @greenpractice

    It will probably be rather difficult to convince the regulars here that renewable energy can be deployed faster than nuclear energy. It is probably true at least in some situations. Germany just did a major solar photovoltaic project in three months.

    But it is of course impossible for renewable energy only ever to be faster than renewable energy plus nuclear.

    The reverse is also true. It is impossible for nuclear only to be faster than nuclear plus renewable.


  65. What a depressing thread.
    Auditors are starting to get it. PwC just reported on emissions intensity (as a ratio to GDP) not only didn’t decrease in 2010, it increased in every G7 country but Canada. The report shows that the only prolonged periods of reduction came in France during the nuclear boom (particularly the 1980’s), and the UK in the 1990’s as natural gas bumped coal.
    Days later reports are circulating the KPMG is set to announce choosing wind over nuclear will cost each person over 500 pounds annually, and Greenpeace immediately jumps on stories referencing the report as not noting the escalating gas price driving household energy costs. The two would seem related if the electricity study champions gas (as a recent study for the Oxford Institute of Energy Studies indicated)
    I looked at monthly production figures from Germany on the ENTOE site (to end of July 2011). In the past 12 months the output of renewables grew about 10.6TWh, while nuclear shrank 10.9TWh. Since 2005 ended, wind production increased 12.1TWh/year, solar 15.7, and nuclear is decreased 35.2TWh/year (other renewables, presumably biomass, also increased about 14.5 TWh).
    I see no evidence renewabes/unreliables are accomplishing anything – except selling gas and displacing nuclear.
    The KPMG study notes the lowest cost, low carbon, option as being 70% nuclear:


  66. Karl, the problem with wind and solar is that the network becomes more unstable as wind and solar are increased. Lack of transmission is slowing down wind investments. The capital cost of solar is slowing down the implementation of solar as well as nuclear. We are going nowhere fast with any of the non CO2 sources. I am not against any of these sources. But we cannot expect to eliminate the nuclear option because that leaves us with a network that cannot be made to operate on 100% wind and solar.


  67. Yes, the greatest tragedy of all this is that the fossil fuels industries are getting the benefit of the antagonism and stalemate between nuclear and renewable industries.

    Coal ( which James Hansen descried as 80% of the problem ) and then gas and oil, are the primary enemy of the environment and human health. The idea that they are benefiting from this situation is the ultimate horrifying irony.

    Will there still be bitter nuclear vs anti-nuclear arguments being played out as our civilsation disintegrates under the strain of environmental collapse?


  68. greenpractice — Assuming you want a reliable, on-demand electric grid, the only low carbon replacement for the coal burners is NPPs; wind + solar + massive underground pumped hydro (or another storage scheme) is vastly more expen$ive and the money can be better put to use elsewhere.

    If you doubt this, there are plenty of resources available here on Brave New Climate to aid you in designing your own sample power grid of the future. If you go to that trouble you’ll agree. I started here on Brave New Climate as a wind supporter and have completely had my stance changed. “No numbers, no argument.”


  69. In 1999 the German Government introduced feed in tariffs to stimulate investment in renewable energy with the aim of replacing nuclear power and I assume reducing carbon emissions. At this time Germans CO2 emissions were 10 tonnes per capita from energy generation see IEA 2008.

    Feed in tariffs guaranteed above market rates for solar and wind power for 20 years and apportioned this additional cost to all electricity consumers.

    By 2010, 27GW of wind turbines 17GW of PV solar were installed at a capital cost of $150B, plus apportionment electricity costs to date of $130B, a total of $280B.

    In 2010 this massive energy infrastructure produced just 8.2% of Germany’s electricity with capacity factors of just 17% for wind and 10% for solar. For the time (windless cloudy days and windless nights) these intermittent energy sources are not available, duplicate gas generation is required to maintain grid stability.

    Thus for 2010 per capita emissions from energy production was unchanged at 10 tonnes, the cost of electricity the second highest in Europe (behind Denmark) and no nuclear capacity replaced.

    In 2010 Germany’s electrical energy production was 603 TWh with an energy mix of 60% fossil fuel, 23% nuclear and 17% renewable (biomas 5.5%, solar 2%, hydro 3.2% and wind 6.2%).

    Using the latest Oikiluoto 3 cost, it could be assumed that 1GW of nuclear power could be constructed in Europe for $5B and thus for $280B, 56GW of nuclear capacity could be constructed.

    With a capacity factor of 90%, 56GW of nuclear energy will potentially produce 440TW of electricity annually or 70% of German electricity needs, replacing all their fossil fuel, solar and wind generation.

    Between 1975 and 1995 France constructed 58 nuclear reactors replacing nearly all their fossil fuel electricity generation. If Germany had duplicated this model in 1999 and planned a roll out of 56GW of nuclear power over the next 20 years, all their electricity production would be carbon free by 2020 for a fraction of the cost of the renewable energy rollout.

    Today France’s per capita emissions from energy generation are 6 tonnes.

    Following Fukushima, Germany has decided to close all their nuclear reactors and generate their energy from additional fossil fuels, coal and gas capacity in the short term and renewable energy in the longer term and also meet their CO2 reduction commitments. Given their record to date good luck!

    Refer to


  70. greenpractice, the Collgar wind farm development commenced with site monitoring after the site was identified in mid 2006. I understand its now completed. Thats 4-4.5 years. In other words, it was built in about the same timeframe as a nuclear power plant. If its faster, its not faster to a degree that makes much practical difference. I can’t find a project timeline for the Roscoe development so can’t comment.

    I’ll also note that the Collgar output is equivalent to 90 MW (206 MW at a quite impressive 44% CF). Thats not much. How long would a gigawatt scale wind development take?

    A nuclear plant may take a few years before electricity starts to be generated. But once you get past that first build time, you start to build capacity very, very fast, and this is capacity that directly displaces fossil fuel plants. I’ll remind you that France pretty much retired its fossil fuel sector in about 19 years. That is an achievement that is not possible for a non-nuclear renewable-only approach.

    France got to the finish line while Germany is still spinning its wheels on the starters mark. Thats the reality of renewables and nuclear. As Tom Bond nicely describes above.

    And as Gene Preston points out, a rapid build rate isn’t much good if you hit an integration wall at about 20% penetration and can’t carry through to complete decarbonization. Partial solutions are non-solutions.

    Early partial electricity production is not really important for climate change. See point two of this particularly compact summary of climate dynamics from Ray Pierrehumbert:

    Here’s all you ever really need to know about CO2 emissions and climate:
    – The peak warming is linearly proportional to the cumulative carbon emitted
    – It doesn’t matter much how rapidly the carbon is emitted
    – The warming you get when you stop emitting carbon is what you are stuck with for the next thousand years
    – The climate recovers only slightly over the next ten thousand years
    – At the mid-range of IPCC climate sensitivity, a trillion tonnes cumulative carbon gives you about 2C global mean warming above the pre-industrial temperature.

    If it takes a year or two longer to get power from a nuclear build, thats a reduction in cumulative emissions that is not really significant in a 40-60 plant life. The capability to displace coal and gas, however, is.


  71. There are some genuine issues of contention regarding nuclear power and renewables, but that is not one of them.

    There are many limiting factors that affect the time it takes to build infrastructure: Community acceptance and planning requirements, technical and design issues, limitations of expertise / workforce, limitations of fabrication, limitations of raw materials and energy, limitations of transmission and grid infrastructure. How many companies around the world can build a plant? How many can factories can make the containment vessels ?

    Just have a look through the list and consider the difference between many small scale units such as wind and solar that are easy to install and large highly complex structures. Can you really say in all honesty that building not one or two, but 2000 – 3000 nuclear plants, the amount required to retire our coal fired power stations will be “quicker” that comparable renewables.

    It plainly isn’t. There is another factor that is gong to come into play very soon, in fact it probably already has, and that is “peak oil”. It will affect the production of both renewable and nuclear facilities.

    Not only will diminishing ‘cheap and easy oil” inhibit and undermine economic growth, there is also an “energy trap”; the longer we leave it the less energy we have available to get ourselves into new energy sources. This would appear even more problematic for nuclear power as we probably should have embarked a decade ago to avoid this.


  72. So where are we at with this technology?

    Several prospective projects including one in China ( most advanced ) and a modular helium reactor in USA and the notorious Pebble bed reactor. I think we know this lats project has been well and truly put to bed. The remaining contenders are all still in the development stage.

    And what about scale ?

    Quote from your reference: “A 2009 assessment by the IAEA under its Innovative Nuclear Power Reactors & Fuel Cycle (INPRO) program concluded that there could be 96 small modular reactors (SMRs) in operation around the world by 2030 in its ‘high’ case, and 43 units in the ‘low’ case, none of them in the USA.”

    Not really going to solve the problem is it?

    So might be little premature to declare that I am wrong.

    And then there is cost. How do you arrive at 5.5c /kWh for a technology that has not been developed? And why would it be so much cheaper than large scale nuclear?


  73. @Asteroid miner “how about installing two weeks?”

    Unless you are talking about a floating power barge pulling up alongside existing power buses, this time does not seem feasible. The fastest build time I am aware of is the 4S, taking 12 months from first concrete to first electricity. That is approximately the same timescale that you would expect power-consuming industries to establish and develop their demand.

    The covert backup for a renewables project could easily be an open cycle gas turbine, a ready-to-go unit which could be wheeled into place, plugged into its gas pipe and produce power immediately, even before the renewables guys have put their overt generators into action. That would be very hard to beat. Assuming, of course, that somebody needed power that fast.

    I checked out the link you gave, but it does not seem to support your assertion. Please give us more detail on any NP installation that can deliver power within two weeks of its arrival.


  74. Pingback: Create the future | Decarbonise SA

  75. There are some genuine issues of contention regarding nuclear power and renewables, but that is not one of them.

    Well consider it contended. The 90 MW wind farm you cited as your preferred example took as long to build as some 1000 MW nuclear reactors are being built. Thats data. That means you can’t say wind is much quicker to build than nuclear.

    There are many limiting factors that affect the time it takes to build infrastructure: Community acceptance and planning requirements, technical and design issues, limitations of expertise / workforce, limitations of fabrication, limitations of raw materials and energy, limitations of transmission and grid infrastructure. How many companies around the world can build a plant? How many can factories can make the containment vessels ?

    These are all real issues that will limit the rate of nuclear development. They mostly cut much more deeply against renewable energy than nuclear power.

    Renewable energy is much more material intensive than nuclear power. It takes about eight times as much concrete and thirty times as much steel to build wind power as nuclear power (TCASE4, using assumptions unrealistically favourable towards wind). If material production and conversion is limiting, renewable will be constrained before nuclear.

    Nuclear power, to a rough approximation, fits into the current transmission grid. Renewables beyond a trivial penetration require a massive expansion of the grid to accommodate the wide geographic distribution and redundancy required to improve reliability.

    Just have a look through the list and consider the difference between many small scale units such as wind and solar that are easy to install and large highly complex structures. Can you really say in all honesty that building not one or two, but 2000 – 3000 nuclear plants, the amount required to retire our coal fired power stations will be “quicker” that comparable renewables.

    Yes, in all honesty, I can. You seem to not be considering that you must compare these generation technologies on the basis of equal power sent out. 2000 nuclear power plants sounds like a lot. But the alternative would be something like 6 000 000 wind turbines (1 GW reactors, 1 MW turbines, 30% CF). Using 8x the concrete. Using 30x the steel.

    And thats generous. On the one hand, you need more generators than indicated by the capacity factor to achieve reliability. As the penetration increases adding more wind means the fraction of time generation exceeds demand increases – there is a diminishing return in added wind as penetration increases. To achieve the required total displacement of coal requires far more renewable power than the simple calculation above. To the point where it appears to become very difficult to add more wind beyond about 20% penetration.

    This is all alluded to in post above, particularly from Tom Bond and Gene Preston. At a high level perspective its possible to say nuclear is a faster route to decarbonization than renewables simply because renewables cannot achieve this goal. And again I remind you that France did it in about 19 years with nuclear alone.

    Peak oil is a big deal. But again, due to the vastly higher material inputs (not to mention the shorter plant life and higher maintenance requirements) of renewables, peak oil will be more constraining to renewables, in a material sense. Economically, I don’t know what may transpire – we are entering uncharted territory. Maybe the large upfront capital requirement for nuclear makes it very difficult. All the more reason to get on with it.

    I think its worth quoting Barry’s closing comments on the TCASE4 post as they seem apposite:

    The main point of this post, TCASE 4, is to take a one step in quashing the absurd ‘bait-and-switch’ meme that some disingenuous anti-nuclear folk repeat: That because the energy replacement challenge facing nuclear energy is huge (a 25-fold expansion on today’s levels), it couldn’t possibly do it, so renewables are our only sensible option. On the basis of this post alone, any objective reader can see that this is pure, quantitatively unsupportable, nonsense.


  76. The first of those SMRs to receive its NRC type license will be the Nuscale 45 MWe unit. While estimated construction cost is US$4000/kW there might be enough other costs that the total capital cost is US$4490/kW which.using other figures appropriate for the USA, gives an LCOE = US$0.090 for the 30 year life of the mortgage and about US$0.055 for the remainder of its useful life [which might be another 30 years]. From Nuscale sources construction time is estimated to be 40 months which is much quicker than for larger LWRs. Assuming adequate water and transmission are available, an energy park of 12, 24 or 48 of these units could be constructed, sequentially, as rapidly as the power is required, but otherwise a rate of finishing one unit each two months might well the optimal. As soon as the number of orders becomes high enough a rather efficient factory can be constructed [the casting and forging requirements are easy to meet] and the cost may then drop by 10% or just possibly more.

    A capacity factor of 92% is both realistic and conservative. Comparing to 26% wind [all that can be realized around here despite the advertised 30% wind], on a energy basis alone one would have to build a 159 MW wind park for each Nuscale unit (and obviously the quality of power is much lower due to wind variability).


  77. It seems to me there are several different questions that are getting confounded in this “which is quicker” enquiry. Let me try to break them apart.

    Which is quicker – building the next wind turbine, or building the next nuclear power plant? Wind, obviously.

    Which is quicker – building the next 1 GW nameplate capacity? Most likely wind.

    Which is quicker – building the next 1 GW annual average realized capacity? Probably nuclear, especially if the wind site is less than very good.

    Which is quicker – building the next 1 GW of reliable capacity? Definitely nuclear, if we use the capacity credit value (5-8%) as a rough indication of the wind redundancy required.

    Which is quicker – achieving generation equal to 5% of demand in a grid? Maybe wind, depending on location.

    Which is quicker – achieving 10% penetration? Don’t know, but my bet would be on nuclear.

    Which is quicker – achieving 20% or more penetration? Nuclear.

    Which is quicker to retire the first coal fired power plant? Nuclear.

    Which is quicker to retire 20% of fossil fuel generation? Nuclear.

    Which is quicker to retire all fossil fuel generation? Nuclear.

    So the question of which is quicker depends on what you are trying to achieve.

    What I want to achieve is mitigation of global warming. So the question is,

    – what is quicker to achieve a meaningful reduction in the burning of fossil fuels; and,
    – what is quicker to start retiring fossil fuel plants; and,
    – what is quicker to complete the job of retiring fossil fuel plants.

    The answer to all of these climate-relevant questions is nuclear.

    If you look at the situations where wind is quicker, they can be summarized as,

    Wind is quicker only for some small number of initial units, and only for low penetrations that have no relevance to global climate.

    If you want to do something about climate change, nuclear is quicker than wind.


  78. greenpractice, on 9 November 2011 at 4:52 PM said:

    “A 2009 assessment by the IAEA under its Innovative Nuclear Power Reactors & Fuel Cycle (INPRO) program concluded that there could be 96 small modular reactors (SMRs) in operation around the world by 2030 in its ‘high’ case, and 43 units in the ‘low’ case, none of them in the USA.”

    IAEA’s projection were apparently wrong. 6 SMR’s in the US are planned.
    Generation mPower (GmP) – a partnership between Babcock & Wilcox (B&W) and Bechtel – has signed a letter of intent with the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) which defines the project plans for constructing up to six small modular reactors (SMRs) at a site in Tennessee.

    The US EIA 2009 projections for 2030 Appalachian coal prices was about $2/MMbtu

    Click to access 0383%282009%29.pdf

    The US EIA 2011 projections for 2030 Appalacian coal prices is closer to $3/MMBtu

    Click to access 0383%282011%29.pdf

    The price of Central Appalachian mine mouth coal on Sept 23 was $80.15/ton or $3.20/MMBtu.

    Add to that a substantial increases coal transportation rates in the Eastern US.

    Click to access waybill.pdf

    If you are an electric utility in the Eastern US $4.00/MMbtu isn’t an unreasonable projection as to how much delivered coal will cost in 2020.


  79. I should add one more important local dimension to my list above:

    Which is quicker to build in the next decade?

    In Australia, its wind. This will continue to be the case until we change our legislation and improve community understanding of the technology and awareness of climate change and coming energy issues.

    However, this is not a reason today to support a long term strategy that excludes nuclear. This is an invitation to change the rules of the game.


  80. @John Morgan’s analysis is quite timely. I for one have to be reminded occasionally to ask, what exactly are we trying to do?

    John says is owned main concern is to mitigate global warming, which also reminds us that the world’s number one concern is just that: eliminate carbon dioxide emissions. Logically, we should replace the big emissions first.

    Nevertheless, I keep an ear cocked for those people who can see niche markets for renewables for small scale power. Repeatedly, they gloss over the need for storage.

    The number one storage around the world is still the lead-acid battery, invented in 1859 and never yet superseded, despite the threat of dissolved lead to the environment. Depressing thought? Maybe, but is also reason for a call for action to develop replacements..

    If there were successful developments in storage technology, we would see them applied to the smallest grids. In that instance, renewables would find its niche. Firstly in replacing diesel generation and diesel backup systems. On those scales, energy stored at a remote collection site could be trucked, rather than transmitted to its demand.

    On a much larger scale, I see energy storage consisting of pyroprocessed (recycled) nuclear fuel being trucked from breeders in the energy parks to small burners on small grids dotted around the world.


  81. Roger Clifton wrote:

    Nevertheless, I keep an ear cocked for those people who can see niche markets for renewables for small scale power. Repeatedly, they gloss over the need for storage …

    On a much larger scale, I see energy storage consisting of pyroprocessed (recycled) nuclear fuel being trucked from breeders in the energy parks to small burners on small grids dotted around the world.

    How about a battery from molten metals, and a cheap and resilient liquid electrolyte? MIT materials chemistry professor feels he has just such a design that can operate at electrical currents “tens of times higher than any [battery] that’s ever been measured,” and can “quickly absorb large amounts of electricity.” Prof. Sadoway feels the device would be ideal for grid scale deployments, and envisions a battery big enough to meet the peak electricity demand of NYC (about 13,000 MWe and roughly 60,000 square meters, or one city block). His liquid battery concept was highlighted by MIT Technology Review in it’s “annual list of 10 technologies that can change the way we live.” I highly recommend the 6 minute video segment that accompanies article, in which Prof. Sadoway talks about the role of stationary storage as an enabling technology for solar and wind, and where the technology stands with respect to commercialization.


  82. Unfortunately the flow battery energy storage experiment on King Island must be regarded as a failure, a frank assessment being
    It seems the preferred approach now is wind overproduction with variable shunting. The diesel generators still burn several million dollars of fuel a year.

    I still don’t understand if people are freaked out by sodium cooled reactors why they would allow liquid sodium batteries in the suburbs. Then again I don’t understand how tapping radon from radioactive granite via geothermal is all that great either.


  83. Gene Preston — Good question, but first up my cost estimate assumes the NPPs are built adjacent to an existing coal burner (to be replaced eventually by the dozen SMRs), say on the existing fly ash storage (which the EPA is going to require the utility to properly dispose of anyway). So the site has a security fence.

    As for the Nuscale (and other) SMRs, a subgrade excavation is required, lined with concrete. In the Nuscale design the reactor pressure vessel (RPV) is lowered into this pit and the pit is filled with water to a depth which completely covers the RPV. So there is no way for so-called terrorists to reach the RPV. There are other safeguards as well of which the main one is convective cooling; insert the control rods, close the steam loop valves and walk away.

    If somebody wants to build just a single such unit the capital costs will be greater and the O&M will go up since I’m rather certain that the NRC will require armed guards 24/7/52. There are other designs, such as Toshiba’s which probably are more suited to isolated areas which only require a modest amount of electricity.


  84. Armed guards ? Such a costly imposition would be result of political cowardice, indulging the fears of the ignorant. I suggest that it is a failure to resist political cowardice that has left the nuclear industry with such absurdly tight emission guidelines that any emission is seen as a disaster, an excuse for hysteria – and perhaps a great evacuation.

    We should resist any suggestion by regulators that an autonomous nuke should have an armed guard. This would be equivalent to requiring a horseless carriage to be preceded by a man on foot, waving a red flag.


  85. Roger Clifton — My understanding is indeed that for current NPPs in the USA armed guards are required 24/7/52; massive security walls as well. For locations with 2+ ~1 GW NPPs in a park the additional O&M is rather modest. But for even a 12 unit Nuscale project, 540 MW nameplate, the additional O&M might begin to be noticable.

    Removing this requirement will be quite difficult until such time that so-called nuclear batteries are available. The typical concept is that the ‘battery’ is underground, under a concrete lid. It generates until replacement is required, maybe 10–20 years. Then the ‘used battery’ is removed to the factory for replensihment and refurbishment. With such designs it appears there is nothing to guard.


  86. John Newlands wrote:

    I still don’t understand if people are freaked out by sodium cooled reactors why they would allow liquid sodium batteries in the suburbs. Then again I don’t understand how tapping radon from radioactive granite via geothermal is all that great either.

    Are you suggesting liquid sodium batteries are not scalable or cost effective engineering solutions, or are you mainly concerned with environmental externalities or associated health impacts with the fault states of renewable energy technologies?

    The Huxley Hill vanadium redox flow battery looks to be a kind of shot in the dark, and is still relatively low down in the laboratory stage of development. NaS molten batteries are a bit further along, discharge their energy faster, have high efficiency (89-92%), long lifetime (15 years), no gas emissions, and can be built quickly and in large configurations. Our very good friends over at Tepco are one of the leading developers of the battery (with some 270 MW in operation at 190 sites), and there are test projects in Mexico (1 GW), Japan (34 MW), Minnesota (7.2 MW), Charleston (1.2 MW), and of course BOB (the 4 MW NaS “Big Ole Battery” in Presidio, Texas, that appears to be providing storage and transmission support for 4,100 people in this remote Mexican border town, here and here). “Calvin Crowder, the president of Electric Transmission Texas, likens the enormous Presidio battery, which occupies an area the size of a big house, to the first digital computer built in Iowa in the 1930s. Subsequent computer technologies, Mr. Crowder said, became “cheaper and more compact” — and the same should happen with batteries.”

    In terms of BOB (or the current cost of NaS storage), a tax of 1/10th of one cent on US electricity consumption would result in 600 MWe of NaS storage/year added to grid (US average rate of $0.12/kWh and 3,741 million MWh annual consumption). At double this rate of spending, we would match DOE estimates for US bulk storage targets of between 10 and 100 GW over the next 5-10 years.


  87. EL, on 10 November 2011 at 10:03 AM

    Every time the storage question comes up, the greenies start talking about some speculative technology, which just hasn’t quite made it into production just yet, while insisting that their adversaries’ case be made with tried-and-tested technology.
    Storing electricity hasn’t moved on much at all in the 200 years since Volta, in fact the principles are still pretty much the same. This despite the fact there’s an enormous crock of gold waiting for someone who can produce an order-of-magnitude improvement: which is what’s needed at least. The improvements which have been achieved (lithium) are not scalable, and have serious downsides.
    Over the years, I can recall many proposals, from flywheels to liquid sulphur, which never get further than the pages of Scientific American.

    How this for some recent realism on batteries, from, of all places, Scientific American:

    no battery on offer can come anywhere near the energy density of liquid fuels; gasoline stores 12,000 watt-hours per kilogram compared to the best of today’s lithium ion batteries at just 150 watt-hours per kilogram. “It’s never going to achieve gasoline. To say otherwise would just be hype,” says battery chemist Linda Nazar of the University of Waterloo. “Nature won’t allow us to go there.”


  88. John Newlands wrote:

    EL if sodium-sulphur batteries are the affordable and logical replacement for vanadium redox why didn’t they do that on King Island?

    Sodium sulfur batteries had only one developer in 2008: NGK/TEPCO. The expansion to the King Island wind farm took place in 2003.

    peterc wrote:

    Storing electricity hasn’t moved on much at all in the 200 years since Volta, in fact the principles are still pretty much the same.

    Not quite. Nanotechnology alone has made quite a big impact on battery design and performance: low flammability, higher energy densities, reduced charge time, low dendrite formation, more charge cycles, affordable and less polluting materials, higher shelf life, better stability at wider temperature range, and more. Sandia Labs reported on the first field study of a NaS demonstration project in Ohio in 2002, and concluded: “The demonstration met its principle objectives … The short-term rating exceeded that required for continuous power shaving operation for the load profile; it represented a scenario in which a larger facility could use the system to protect its full load during utility disturbances, while shaving only the peak power consumed” (p. 21). Project was evaluated on a power quality and peak shaving basis, and was found to be economical with a favorable 9.8% rate of return in 2002. There’s already a fair bit of this around (320 MW by my estimation over the last several years), and NGK/TEPCO appears to be building these things whenever they have the chance.

    You’re right about liquid fuels, but what does that matter? If liquid fuels get so scarce and expensive, why would we want to continue to burn the stuff (and deal with all of the emissions and environmental externalities of extraction as well). You don’t need to be a greenie to see that economics and crossovers, in many areas of renewable energy production, will likely be reached very soon (especially with more research dollars going into development, watchdogs on carbon emissions around every corner, and national energy security goals getting thrown into the mix).


  89. EL,

    Sandia Labs reported on the first field study of a NaS demonstration project in Ohio Project was evaluated on a power quality and peak shaving basis, and was found to be economical with a favorable 9.8% rate of return in 2002

    In a scenario where temporary loss of grid power would have substantial financial impact.

    Page 32

    Click to access 066740.pdf

    Under the technical and economic assumptions described, the system represents an economically favorable investment because it provides a return greater than the cost of money. The present value of PQ benefits was estimated at $791,000, compared with PS benefits of $217,000

    So 21% of the ‘value’ was in peak load shifting. 79% of the value was in avoiding ‘business interruption’.

    Lot’s of very expensive things make ‘economic sense’ in very specific niche markets.


  90. EL –
    you’ve exactly demonstrated my point: nanobatteries are speculative technology with nothing so far anywhere near production at a scale needed to make any impact at national energy levels.
    Energy policy cannot be based on what might be available in xxx years (it usually isn’t ), but what will definitely be available.


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  93. the Arctic summer ice volume will be near-zero by 2020

    It will be interesting to see how the world reacts when the Arctic sea ice disappears. It should be a defining moment in this whole issue. Hopefully if the world is stung into serious action by this event it won’t be too late.


  94. The arctic sea ice nearly melts now in the sujmmer and a thin layer of new ice forms each winter. The world mostly yawns. I doubt that people who don’t care now will care in 2020 When I talk with people about this they tell me they feel helpless to do anything about the predicament and it irritates them for me to continue to talking about arctic ice melting.


  95. CDIAC works in elemental carbon and says multiply by 3.667 to get CO2. That is still way short of Australia’s official greenhouse inventory which says 580 Mt of net CO2e in 2008

    Apparently the outcome of Durban was ‘historic’. They said that about Copenhagen and Rio. It seems the more historic it gets the higher emissions rise. It seems clear that no amount of bad climate news is enough to scare people into action so I suggest we use trickery instead. Thus I’d invite China and India to voluntarily participate in Australia’s 2012 carbon tax and 2015 carbon cap. The idea is a gesture of solidarity just like what they said at the climate conference.

    Whoops that actually means less coal imports for Chindia. See if they can find another politically stable coal exporting country with 9 coal ports that is building 6 more. If that doesn’t work then we and a few other countries put a carbon tariff on their finished goods. It’s all too difficult say the critics. Not if we can keep warming to 2C instead of 3.5C or whatever.


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