Open Thread 20

The previous Open Thread has gone past is running of the recent posts lists and getting tough to find, so it’s time for a fresh palette.

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

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

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


A new temperature reconstruction by Foster & Rahmstorf (Env. Res. Lett.), which removes ENSO signals, volcanic eruptions and solar cycles, and standardises the baseline.

I’m currently in Auckland, New Zealand, attending the 25th annual International Congress on Conservation Biology. A 4-day event, it’s a great chance to network and catch up with my colleagues, hear the latest goings on in the field of conservation research, and also give a few presentations (me and my students). I’m talking tomorrow on the impacts of climate change in Oceania — this covers a co-authored paper I have coming out in an upcoming special issue of Pacific Conservation Biology (which was actually the first journal I ever published in, back in 1997), entitled: “Climate change, variability and adaptation options for Australia”.

A conversation starter: George Monbiot has written a superb piece on nuclear power and the integral fast reactor over at The Guardian. It is titled “We need to talk about Sellafield, and a nuclear solution that ticks all our boxes” (subtitle: There are reactors which can convert radioactive waste to energy. Greens should look to science, rather than superstition). My favourite quote:

Anti-nuclear campaigners have generated as much mumbo jumbo as creationists, anti-vaccine scaremongers, homeopaths and climate change deniers. In all cases, the scientific process has been thrown into reverse: people have begun with their conclusions, then frantically sought evidence to support them.

The temptation, when a great mistake has been made, is to seek ever more desperate excuses to sustain the mistake, rather than admit the terrible consequences of what you have done. But now, in the UK at least, we have an opportunity to make amends. Our movement can abandon this drivel with a clear conscience, for the technology I am about to describe ticks all the green boxes: reduce, reuse, recycle.

George’s essay includes details on the integral fast reactor and the S-PRISM modules that GEH hope to build in the UK (to, as a first priority, denature the separated plutonium stocks, and thereafter generate lots of carbon-free electricity). The fully referenced version is here.

Although the comments thread contains the typical lashing of misinformation and vitriol one would expect from such topics in a relatively unmoderated stream, it’s also clear George has created some converts — or at least people who are willing to reassess their preconceptions. Great stuff. Feel free to leave a few comments yourself on that post — Ben Heard has certainly weighed in a few times! This is becoming an inescapable reality for rational Greens now. I really feel some momentum, at last.


  1. I’ll post the info that most concerns me the most about climate change. Its a report appearing in the National Geographic magazine October 2011. Here is the article and there were a couple of graphics appearing in the article that are important. Here is the cover page artists view showing what the US would likely look like with a 220 ft ocean rise and there was also this graph that is important . The other photos are on line. Its suggested that this ocean rise could happen within roughly a 200 year period. The last time Nat Geo correctly predicted an event like this was a year before Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. The article printed in Nat Geo magazine a year before that disaster happened was eerily accurate. I think they have done us a favor by revealing that this ocean rise happened in the past and is likely to do so again sooner rather than later.


  2. I’m so happy George Monbiot finally discussed the IFR. A Green putting the argument right in front of the Greens. I have a feeling that anti-nuclear environmentalists are not quite as immune to rationality as AGW denialists. They’ll come around, at least enough of them to make a difference.


  3. A few quick questions, prompted by the need to give a little bit of context to this youtube video, featuring Masao Tanaka of Nagoya University which has gained some prominence in Japan:

    In summary, he calculates how TEPCO, the utility supplying Tokyo with power can co without nuclear power. Pumped hydro storage is part of the mix – but fossil fuel plants provide the most.

    So the questions: what is the typical energy storage capacity of pumped storage dams – i.e. how long can they run at rated max power? How long to replenish the dam? Not looking for exacts here – just whether they’re orders of hours, days, or weeks.

    What is a typical capacity factor for the various fossil fuel plants? I’ve searched for this and only gotten figures on nuclear, wind and solar.

    Eamon – do you have a link to this video with an English translation or a transcript? Most folk on this blog would not be fluent in Japanese which makes it hard to comment or answer your questions.


  4. Eamon — Pumped hydro capacity depends upon the local topography to be sacrificed to form the upper and lower reservoirs. Ordinarily such facilities are designed to pump overnight when electricicty is inexpensive and generate during the day. There are a few such facilities whch happen to have a very mcuh larger capacity; a luck of geography.

    Fossil fuel burners have an availability about the same as for NPPs, slightly upwards of 90%. That is the maximum capacity factor (CF) but the obtained CF depends upon how the facility is operated. Often CCGTs (used to be) operated only during the day, lowering the obtained CF; older (so inefficient) coal burners are used only as necessary with quite a low resulting CF.

    Some such plan is certainly possible for Japan, just considerably more expensive than turning back on the (increasingly idled) NPPs.


  5. David, thanks.

    Moderator, the best I can come up with it this:

    [TEPCO area]

    水力hydro 2,180,000kw

    揚水pumped hydro 6,810,000kw

    卸電力事業者揚水Wholesale Electricity Utility pumped hydro 2,530,000kw

    稼働原子力nuke 0kw

    火力thermal 38,190,000kw

    卸電気事業者火力Wholesale Electricity Utility thermal 5,450,000kw

    緊急設備電源emergency power supply system(thermal) 2,000,000kw

    合計 total 62,070,000kw

    Used electricity at peak time (2010) 60,000,000kw

    If you see boxes to the left of the English – they’re Japanese Kanji which your browser doesn’t support.


  6. I wanted to point out an important development at the Olympic Dam mine. They’re getting a licence to increase the uranium production four-fold, from 3800 tU to 16100 tU:

    This would be about 10 billion/year worth of metal. Though the uranium is only a byproduct, it provides sufficient electricity in light water reactors to run about 100 GWe. If used in a denatured molten salt reactor (once through running on low enriched uranium and thorium) it can provide all of today’s US electricity supply, or about 900 Hoover Dams worth of electricity.

    I just think that this is amazing. Powering entire countries from the byproduct of a copper mine. This is testament to the great energy density and potential of nuclear fission.


  7. Alternatively, the 16100 ton U contains 114 ton (0.71%) U235 which is enough to start up about 20 GWe of IFR per year. In 40 years of the mine operation, that means 800 GWe of IFR started up from the output of this single mine – a copper mine mind you!


  8. During last weekend’s ALP conference , Senator Conroy was relating a story , told to him by his uncle who worked at Sellafield. The uncle was supposed to have stated, ” If there is a choice, don’t pick nuclear”.
    The inconvenient truth we are facing though, is that we do not have a choice. As explained on this blog many times over.


  9. Pablo the reason for so few rooftop solar is because they produce too little energy for the currency investment.

    Eamon you asked about capacity factors. I don’t see the posting above. The answer is that the lowest cost fuels get loaded to the hilt, so nuclear would probably 90% on average if base loaded all the time. Wind and solar will be as high as their sources can produce, which vary from site to site. Coal is usually cheaper than gas so coal can be either mid range or base load so the coal CF can vary from 90% to a lower value such as 40% probably would be a minimum for coal because the capital cost of coal has to be paid for and if the energy drops too low on coal its cheaper to go with gas, even if its imported. Gas CF can be all over the place from nearly 0% to base loaded 90% depending on how its used in the specific utility. Any utility that is burning oil now is crazy and shouldn’t be doing so. I did generation planning many years at Austin Energy.


  10. Gene Preston, you say you think that National Geographic article says

    ” a 220 ft ocean rise … Its suggested that this ocean rise could happen within roughly a 200 year period…. and is likely to do so again sooner rather than later.”

    It doesn’t say that and I don’t see anything that “suggested” it. What are you reading from to get that idea?


  11. I don’t see how the Olympic Dam expansion can proceed without a new power source. Deposits of gas and already mined coal within hundreds of kilometres of OD are nearing depletion. There is also considerable opposition to the preferred site for a desalination plant in a narrow gulf 300 km from the mine. If the company proceeds with either a fossil fuel power source or the nominated desal site it will face headwinds.

    The original publicity said U3O8 output would expand to 19,000 tonnes a year from OD. Interestingly Australia could produce more ThO2 than that without major effort as a byproduct of hard rock mining of rare earths and from monazite sand. I don’t see any progress on OD since governments can’t bring themselves to promote any proven power source that isn’t wind or solar. I suspect the OD expansion will spend another decade in limbo, a victim of paralysis-by-analysis.


  12. John Newlands, I don’t think so. All the main analysis has been done (ref. the World Nuclear News article). The Australian minister of environment approved the Olympic Dam extension. The regulator approved it. There are many conditions that must be met along the line. It is, and continues to be, a highly bureacratic process. That’s what you get with projects this size. It is a political hot potato.

    Yet the stakes are also high. With 10 billion a year revenue, the commercial mining industry stakes are high. By extension the government stakes are high since they get a lot of tax money on this revenue. A lot of new light water reactors are being built around the world and secondary supplies from recycled bombs are getting low. So the nuclear industry stakes are high as well. If the price of uranium triples, the nuclear powerplants won’t shut down. Uranium is too cheap for that. They will all continue running, and just pay half a cent per kWh more, but that means even more pressure on expanding uranium mining (Olympic dam could at that point make just as much money on the uranium sales as the copper, making it a main rather than byproduct).

    The problem with ThO2 is that it has no fissile. Nature’s curse that will continue to make this material unattractive on the near term (until we get Gen IV IFR and LFTR/DMSR). Fertile is worth less than lead, fissile is worth more than gold.


  13. “Earth was hot and ice free at the end of the Paleocene epoch. With sea level 220 feet higher than now, the Americas-not yet joined by continental drift-were smaller. Look in vain for Florida.”

    This was the front page caption which seems to not have been posted on line. Other passages are:

    “as the Paleocene epoch gave way to the Eocene, it was about to get much warmer still—rapidly, radically warmer”

    “The cause was a massive and geologically sudden release of carbon.”

    “Today the evolutionary consequences of that distant carbon spike are all around us; in fact they include us. Now we ourselves are repeating the experiment.”

    “the most popular hypothesis is that much of the carbon came from large deposits of methane hydrate”

    “large deposits of methane hydrate found today”

    “warming by burning fossil fuels could trigger a runaway release of methane”

    “You can’t wait 100 to 200 years to see what happened”

    Putting these idea together you arrive at the conclusion they are warning us that a runaway condition could happen creating a spike in CO2 causing ice melting at an accelerated rate resulting eventually in a 220 ft ocean rise. When you combine this knowledge with the acceleration of the ice melting we are seeing now, and looking at the graphs Jim Hansen is proposing at the end of this century we could easily have a 220 ft ocean rise in two centuries because of the acceleration effect.


  14. CR I’ve discussed the OD expansion with some mining industry insiders. They say it has to happen because of the money at stake. One suggested a new coal mine and coal fired power station could be opened to provide the 700 MW. That flies completely in the face of the whole carbon tax thing. Another option is to force gas rich parts of Australia to share enough gas for a new power station, either at the mine or via improved transmission. Another possible power source would be small modular reactors.

    After all the antinuclear histrionics at the recent Labor Party conference I don’t like the chances of SMRs. Some even want to ban uranium mining altogether so that copper and gold would be removed from OD but uranium re-buried. That’s what we’re up against. My point about thorium is we have plenty without even trying. If there was a way to use it somehow.


  15. Cyril R said: “Powering entire countries from the byproduct of a copper mine. This is testament to the great energy density and potential of nuclear fission.”

    It is also testament to the cheapness of the fuel. Yet the established designs emphasise fuel efficiency, preparing for a 1960s world where uranium threatened to become increasingly expensive. This despite the fact the more we look for uranium, the more we find, and the cheaper it gets, until it is nothing more than a byproduct of something more lucrative to the miner.

    Maximum fuel efficiency is achieved with maximum size reactors, with all the attendant problems from being gigantic in the public eye, the public purse, the fears of the ignorant, etc. The high capital cost makes planning excessively conservative, so that the planners must assume unchanging climate, industry and public values.

    There are many other criteria which we could use to select from the zoo of reactor designs. Water efficiency, deployability, transportability, ease of construction, mass production, low maintenance, autonomous running and so on. In particular, small is flexible, and we need to be flexible to respond to the unfolding future in a changing climate.


  16. Will (@LancedDendrite) — The second link (a pdf file) offers little regarding balancing agents (backup) for when the wind fails. One has to go the the references to see what happens on various grids; here in the Pacific Northwest the usual response is to generate more from hydro but sometimes natgas generators are dispatched for a short time instead.

    Best illustrated by the Iberian experience is the desirability, approaching necessity, of controlling wind generation so as to not have to accept all that is offered. With that, some modest level of penitration by wind generation can actually be beneficial to grid stability (wand the wind farm operators should be so compensated, not just an energy only market).

    I found of interest the Irish studies mentioned which indicated a definite upper limit to wind penitration. For BPA here in the Pacific Northwest a variety of factors conspire to keep wind generation for which BPA is the balancing agent down to (just) under 20% of total nameplate capacity.


  17. Two interesting tid-bits I came across this week. First is a report on energy security for Australia done by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute that outlines some analysis on renewables in the energy sec context. Particularly how they (80-100% plan) won’t be able to provide that secure generation capacity and the amount of area that they require.

    The second is this quote from the South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill on Nuclear Power in South Australia. It is a no, but its only on economic grounds (SA is in debt, and FOAK is costly in that context). When he said this on 891 ABC he did not even acknowledge any other reason, not even stating “and other issues”. Just economics….interesting.

    With the Olympic Dam project it is projected to produce 19,000 tpa of Uranium from the mine which will be 95% of the projected production of upcoming Uranium mine projects (not including current mines). Also the Jacinth-Ambrosia Heavy Mineral Sands mine on the West coast of SA does separate out the thorium but it goes into waste as there is no market for it. When the mine is rehabilitated this material will go back into the hole it came from, I am pretty sure that is the rehab arrangement but will have to check the MARP (rehab program) for it.


  18. I agree on the lack of info on covering backup, but I must note that the report is about integrating wind into the larger grid, not using it to replace the grid. “Backup” is virtual in most grids because generators can just be told to wind down their output to the pool – mind you this is assuming that wind is not a majority or near majority (>40%) generation source on the grid.

    The info on being able to provide ancillary services such as reactive power to the grid as an alternative to adding the output to the electricity pool and using turbines as a fault ride-through for local distribution systems are interesting. Another thought is perhaps using wind farms with short-term backup such as Vanadium Redox Flow batteries or flywheels as potential reserves for black starts – mind you, wind + storage is expensive compared to diesel gensets or hydro for this role, but another specialised role that it could additionally fill.


  19. Will (@LancedDendrite) — Unfortunately, it is nowhere near as simple as you seem to think to ‘wind down’. Even worse is ‘winding up’ when the wind fails.

    The short-term backup solutions you mention are very expensive. Some wind farms encourporate a small amount of battery storage so as to even the power provided; however, I am under the impression this is rare.


  20. My understanding is that the Ambrosia heavy sand concentrate will be trucked to Ceduna (they call the wharf part Thevenard) and shipped to Iluka’s main depot in Geraldton WA. There the components will be separated into rutile, ilmenite, zircon, monazite etc. At Ceduna the concentrate is mildly radioactive, I’d guess a few thousand Bq per kg. Link. When I lasted looked Iluka were seeking buyers for the monazite separated at Geraldton. Maybe it would suit either the just built Malaysian or proposed Whyalla rare earths plant

    I think SA is between a radioactive rock and a hard place. They have the Torrens Island baseload station which is Australia’s biggest gas user, yet Cooper Basin has only a good decade left unless fracking delivers. To cap it off they must have desalination when El Nino next dries up the main river. My suggestion is to cut the federal NBN budget in half and soft lend twenty bill to SA to construct NPP. In my opinion around half the SA population would approve but they don’t make all the noise.


  21. I wouldn’t call a few thousand Bq per kg “mildly radioactive”. This is only a few times more than normally occuring radionuclides in soil (typically 500 Bq/kg soil worth of natural radioactivity). I would qualify a few thousand Bq per kg as “normal soil”. I would not mind using this soil in my garden.

    Regarding the OD mine expansion powering, let’s get some perspective here. This expansion can power 100000 MWe of light water reactors. So you need a 700 MWe coal station to get it. Even if you use 100% diesel, it is a small energy investment for such a huge amount of uranium.

    That said, there does appear to be good prospects for geothermal power near Olympic Dam mine (northeast of it is a big geothermal area). Also not bad solar resources using CSP with molten salt storage (much more expensive than coal but with 10 billion a year worth of metals maybe you don’t care so much about power costs. Slightly cheaper than hauling in expensive diesel, too.


  22. Hmm, I looked at the Compact Linear Fresnel Reflector but that looks too expensive and too poorly performing to power a mine.

    The Kogan Creek solar booster project is a concentrating solar plant added to a coal plant. You’d think this is cheap, since neither energy storage nor steam turbines have to be installed.

    The project is a 44 MW peak electricity solar plant. Unfortunately it only delivers 44000 MWh/year worth of electricity. That’s only 5 MWe average, a capacity factor of only 0.11. Project cost is $AUD 104.7 million, that’s $AUD 21/Watt average electricity flow. Clearly this is pure greenwashing coal plants, since the Kogan Creek plant, at 750 MWe peak capacity, delivers over 100x as much electricity from coal. That is, the solar boost adds less than 1% to the energy flow of the coal power station. It is still over 99% coal. This money is much better spent in improving the efficiency of the coal plant by retrofitting the turbine, generator, steam boiler, etc. and adding better, modern pollution controls (baghouse filter/ESP, DeNOx and DeSOx)


  23. Cyril R you seem to be well informed on Australia. My understanding is that Olympic Dam started out with diesel generators but then transmission was built to Pt Augusta which has two adjacent coal fired stations. Coincidentally the current plan is to demolish one plant (Playford) and make it a solar steam boost for the other. If more coal or gas fired capacity is built to enable the OD expansion it plays right into the hands of nuclear critics who point to indirect CO2.

    Despite generous government funding granite geothermal has yet to contribute a single watt to the grid. Therefore 700 MW output seems a bit of a stretch. Even though hundreds of kilometres apart both the uranium mines and the geothermal wells are on essentially the same slab of granite. Politicians who once said that geothermal would supply power for mining now look foolish.

    However diesel could still be the Achilles Heel of the project. It is said the open cut excavation will use 19 bn litres of diesel. I’d guess a large amount of diesel will also be used in ANFO explosive. It would be good if a lot of that haulage could be done with electric trucks powered by a low carbon source. Since they mine 24/7 I doubt solar fits the bill.


  24. Electrification of the mining operations as far as possible is definately the way to go. But most of the machinery that they need is really heavy, using batteries would be tough. Can’t go and recharge half of the time, the machines have to do work all the time. Hydrogen might work, there are already hydrogen fork lifts available commercially. Serial electric drive with a diesel generator and electric motor for traction (like a diesel electric locomotive) is probably easier, and saves a lot of diesel.

    Biofuel could be a good application for mining. There’s not enough biofuel to run all cars and airplanes by orders of magnitude, but there should be enough for remote powering mines. Biodiesel is the most suited fuel. Australia may have enough waste vegetable oil and such, to make biofuel for its mines.

    Most likely the OD mine will continue to use lots of fossil fuels for at least the next 10 years. BHP Billiton will certainly not risk delaying the 10 billion a year mine revenue for a high profile first build nuclear plant. If the greens object, tell them that using a little fossil fuel gets a hundred times more nuclear energy generated elsewhere. So your lifecycle emissions are 1% that of coal. Also this is a copper mine – they built it for the copper – and the uranium is just a byproduct, albeit an increasingly important one. It wouldn’t be fair or accurate to put the fossil energy consumption of the mine on the balance of the nuclear power plants that use its byproduct. Mining and refining copper is energy intensive business.


  25. I doubt biodiesel could really help the huge mining industry as it is a niche product. I use it for about 80% of my car fuel. One form made locally (Tasmania) from opium poppy seed oil is said to cost $9 per litre. However I’m sure CNG could power mine trucks provided they didn’t drop rocks on the 220 bar tanks. Maybe LNG is the way to go
    The gas for trucks is freed up by not being used in a power station.

    In my opinion the Olympic Dam expansion is the ideal justification for the first commercial nuclear generation in Australia. Others have agreed with this idea but not my specific suggestion that it be co-located with desalination on the coast 300km from the mine. As somebody put it to me recently ‘who gives a s.. if they have a Fukushima type accident out there’. Unlikely since the last big rumble out that way was British A-bomb testing after WW2.

    I regard this line of thinking as fanciful
    Mining needs massive grunt, not fickle wind and solar or nonexistent geothermal.


  26. The conversation appears to be focusing on the question of, “how to power the mine haulage trucks?” However, may I suggest that the useful question is, “how to get the material up?”

    After all, if there is copious electricity, then we need to look for electric solutions. One that comes to my mind immediately is conveyor belts. Such a mine may not need to have heavy haulage trucks at all. Where heavy trucks and other heavy equipment such as excavators and needed, overhead power lines might provide power.


  27. David B. Benson wrote:

    The second link (a pdf file) offers little regarding balancing agents (backup) for when the wind fails. One has to go the the references to see what happens on various grids

    Regarding this AEMO study, there’s an interesting finding in the section titled “Experience of wind during faults” (p. 28). This document appears to be a survey of available research, and is quite extensive so far as I can tell. For the individual cases they have reviewed (with wind penetrations from 5 to 30% of total output), they state:

    “The vast majority of the time electricity grids are operating in a normal manner” (p. 28). They equate positive results with a “significant effort both at a planning and operation stage.” There are exceptions, however, and the authors describe several instances where a failure did take place, and the reasons for this failure (poor demand forecast, unexpected loss of conventional generators, poor wind forecasts, inadequate fault ride through capability, and more … almost always a combination of factors). From the available research and case studies, they conclude:

    “The growth of wind energy with its variable and predictability characteristics coupled with its technical characteristics (e.g. lack of inertial response in the more modern devices and lack of reactive power control in the older designs) have led to concerns and claims that that it is adding too much uncertainty to the system and will result in blackouts. There is so far no experience to support this claim, however there are a number of instances where wind has contributed negatively. These events are important as lessons can be learnt so as operating and planning practices can be further improved to avoid these in the future” (p. 5 and p. 28)


  28. Prism is a sodium cooled fast spectrum system. With UK’s large recovered Pu stocks, it can burn a lot of recovered or depleted uranium to produce power. It is not clear if pyroprocessing for further recycle of the used fuel is also planned.It should be included.
    Sodium, the highly problematic coolant is the weak point. Too many fingers have been burnt in sodium fires. There is a need to replace sodium with a more stable molten salt coolant.


  29. @Jagdish,

    According to George Monbiot’s piece, pyroprocessing is not part of the current proposal.

    Here is a presentation from Argonne on sodium as a coolant for fast reactors

    Sodium has a lot of advantages (including safety advantages) and there may well be good reasons for it being the coolant of choice in most fast reactors that have been built so far.

    Incidentally in PRISM, the reactor vessel is surrounded by inert Argon.


  30. As I understand it, the high thermal conductivity of sodium is essential for the large safety margins and passive safety of the IFR. The Argonne presentation above lists thermal conductivity of Na as 76 W/m-K. According to this document (p11) the salts investigated at Oak Ridge have thermal conductivity in the range 0.5 – 1.0 W/m-K.

    Which strongly suggests that while a molten salt cooled solid fuel fast reactor might be possible, it would be something quite different from the IFR and would certainly require years of development. One would also have to ask the question of whether the degree of passive safety achieved with the IFR would be possible with a molten salt coolant.


  31. Incidentally in PRISM, the reactor vessel is surrounded by inert Argon.

    Loss of inerting cover gas is considered a design basis accident. You’ll have to deal with it.

    As I understand it, the high thermal conductivity of sodium is essential for the large safety margins and passive safety of the IFR. The Argonne presentation above lists thermal conductivity of Na as 76 W/m-K. According to this document (p11) the salts investigated at Oak Ridge have thermal conductivity in the range 0.5 – 1.0 W/m-K.

    It’s a nice advantage, but not as great as you’d think. With liquid coolants, the convective heat transfer dominates over any thermal conductivity of the fluid, itself. Convective heat transfer coefficients for rapidly pumped liquids easily range >1000 W/m/K.

    Also keep in mind that large differences in thermal conductivity between one side of the heat exchanger (sodium) and the other (steam/CO2/helium power cycle) results in a high thermal shock potential.

    Fluoride salts have higher boiling points (1400-1600 degrees Celcius) than sodium and 4-5x the volumetric heat capacity. Those are far more important safety (and economic) advantages. No strong exothermic reactions with air and water is also a great advantage that helps a lot in a loss of cover gas scenario.

    Lead is also a great coolant for a fast reactor. Even higher boiling, higher volumetric heat capacity and less extreme thermal conductivity than sodium. It also allows bigger coolant channels since it moderates less (void coefficients issue). I’d like to see an IFR with lead coolant.


  32. Maybe LNG is the way to go

    I like it, LNG can be delivered by truck or train and is much safer and more energy dense than CNG. This is a good application of using natural gas. Far more realistic and cheaper than hydrogen. Too bad we’re wasting so much natural gas in electricity generation (and its growing rapidly) when this stuff is far more useful for transport and remote powering mobile large machinery.


  33. Good news from the old continent:

    According to an article released in the German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung, the EU Commission fully endorses nuclear power as a tool to fight climate change, calls for more support for Gen-4 research and commercialization, using subsidies if necessary, similar to those used for unreliables. They also say that 40 new nuclear power stations should be constructed within 20 years.

    This puts the EU Commission with its German energy commissar (who apparently got it) on a direct collision with the anti-nuclear German government.


  34. Cyril R, on 9 December 2011 at 8:20 PM said:

    I like it, LNG can be delivered by truck or train and is much safer and more energy dense than CNG. This is a good application of using natural gas. Far more realistic and cheaper than hydrogen

    LNG is a good stepping stone to hydrogen.


  35. Cyril: probably an elementary question by non scientist. but how do the lead and fluoride coolants avoid the thermal shock problem?

    do convective properties of lead and fluoride have anything to do with this?

    seems like you’d have a large temperature difference in either case.


  36. David Walters, are you saying the COL of the Vogtle units is finally issued now?

    Gregory Meyerson, lead has less thermal shock because of the lower thermal conductivity than sodium. Still quite high though. Thermal shock is caused by sudden temperature changes over components. It’s okay if there is a big temperature drop across the heat exchanger, because the heat exchanger develops an equilbrium where each area is more or less at the same temperature. But when the heat exchanger changes flow (eg suddenly shuts down) then the temperature profile will change. The rate of temperature change in one area of the heat exchanger determines the potential for thermal shock. The rate of temperature change is determined by the efficiency of the heat transfer. Part of that, in turn, is thermal conductivity. So if you have a heat exchanger with highly conductive sodium in one side and nonconductive steam or CO2 on the other side (power cycle side) then that can give a lot of thermal shock. Basically the sodium responds quickly to the flow stoppage, but the power cycle working fluid CO2 or H2O is responding only slowly and will stay at the initial temperature profile.

    Thermal shock can be mitigated by selecting thermal shock resistant materials and by making sure that the design does not allow a sudden flow stoppage. Lead is quite heavy so gets you a lot of moving inertia, that’s good. But lead, sodium, and fluoride salts all have a high heat capacity compared to a gas or steam in the power cycle side of the heat exchanger/steam generator. Liquid coolants are just must better in heat transfer, no matter how high or low their thermal conductivity, that means there will always be the thermal shock issue that needs to be designed for. With PWRs, both sides of the heat exchanger (steam generator) have the same fluid, water. That makes it fairly easy to design out the thermal shock issue.


  37. A tonne of LNG can cost $8 and it has about 55 GJ heating value, hence costs .015c per MJ thermal. Unsubsidised diesel costing $1.40 for a litre with 35 MJ works out at 4c per MJ.

    While liquefaction seems inefficient compared to piped gas it has the advantage of being pre-packaged for heavy vehicle applications. A giant outback mine could get LNG trucked or railed in from multiple sources. The delivery truck or locomotive gets fuelled by the vapour that boils off. That may be ultimately more secure than building a 400km pipeline from an ageing gas basin hoping the supply outlook improves.

    It seems crazy to burn so much gas in baseload power stations when we will need it for so many other things, perhaps indefinitely.


  38. I agree with you John Newlands.

    Liquefaction is actually quite efficient. You invest a one time energy sink and then you can ship or train transport it efficiently. Whereas with pipelines, the losses are zero at first but increase greatly with distance. Running the compressors along the pipeline is surprisingly inefficient. The pressure keeps falling along the pipeline and has to be re-energized along the line with compressor stations. The result is that pipelines are really only more energy efficient over short distances.


  39. I read somewhere that piping gas from Siberia to the UK about half the gas will be used to drive compressors. That’s what happens when you squander a resource. Another development is that some offshore gas may not be piped to shore but processed on large ships
    Tanker ships pull up alongside and sail off with the oil and LNG.

    Back in the 1970s the politician RFX (Rex) Connor predicted that southern Australia would run out of gas before the northwest. He couldn’t have known about coal seam gas though he was a nuclear advocate. Anyway he tried to raise the cash for a transcontinental gas pipeline without going through the proper channels and it backfired, bringing down the government. I wonder what Rex would make about today’s situation, including the fact we still don’t have nuclear nearly 40 years later.


  40. One question (or drawback) of the IFR that keeps popping up:

    “If it’s so good, why did the US Government shut it down?”

    Now I’m not too interested in the reasons if they were political, rather than technological- I understand even a opponent of the project admitted it had ticked all the boxes. I am however interested to know what the problem is in starting the project back up? Or, another country starting it back up?

    I imagine there are some ownership/rights issues, are they mainly IP related?

    What will it take to unlock this technology?

    I really think IFR’s will be a good accompaniment to renewable technologies in the future, whenever that may be.


  41. “If it’s so good, why did the US Government shut it down?”

    There are 2 answers to this.

    1.) The government funds the R & D of the IFR. It is finished with the R & D so the government decided that it no longer needed funding.

    2.) It is unnecessary for the U.S. to pursue commercial operations because it has little apparent benefit. 3 major issues the IFR solves are fuel utilization, passive safety, and waste geneartion.

    All there are not significant issues in the U.S. Uranium reserves are in plentiful supply. The APR1000 addresses passive safety and the NRC is familiar with it. Dry cask storage has been determined to be good enough.

    For this tech to get progress in the U.S. it will take a change in the view of the need for it.


  42. @ Jason Kobos “For [IFR] to get progress in the U.S. it will take a change in the view of the need for it.”

    One such event might be a high level decision for an emergency rollout of nuclear electricity. A sudden expansion of slow-neutron start-ups would require a similar sudden expansion in enrichment activity, which may be unpalatable to the non-proliferation people. On the other hand, a sudden expansion of fast-neutron start-ups such as the IFR could be seeded using reprocessed and ex-military plutonium.


  43. NRC Chairman voted in favor of licencing the AP1000, the other commissioners have to vote as well for it to actually get licensed. This licences for the four new AP1000 builds will be given separately at a later date.


  44. With liquid coolants, the convective heat transfer dominates over any thermal conductivity of the fluid, itself. Convective heat transfer coefficients for rapidly pumped liquids easily range >1000 W/m/K.

    But what happens in a station blackout scenario, or worse, failure to scram and coolant pump failure? Could molten salt cooling offer the same passive safety as the sodium cooled IFR? Is it even possible?

    I’m no nuclear engineer but I would be the first to acknowledge that very careful detailed safety analysis is needed so that compromises, advantages/disadvantages and tradeoffs may be properly and objectively assessed.

    What I am seeing is that the sodium issue is being used as a stick to beat PRISM with – something the antis will jump on with glee. But this “debate” ends up at a level of little more than high school chemistry and can become just another reason to be scared of nuclear power. This is territory to be approached with caution.

    Of the two initiatives you mentioned for LFRs, SSTAR apparently is dead in the water with no new work being done and is now just limited to cooperation with the European counterparts. The European initiative is unlikely to be in a position to build a full size demo until sometime in the next decade.

    It seems to me that the outlook for getting a genuine Gen IV full size plant operational this decade is limited to PRISM and it deserves support.


  45. But what happens in a station blackout scenario, or worse, failure to scram and coolant pump failure? Could molten salt cooling offer the same passive safety as the sodium cooled IFR? Is it even possible?

    Yes. The fuel dilatation and other reactivity coefficients that shut down the reactor (or, if you don’t have negative coefficients, blow it up, as in Chernobyl) depend on the fuel type, fuel geometry, and coolant void worth. With volatile coolant such as water, any overheating or primary pressure boundary breach causes voiding of the coolant. So you want a negative void coefficient that shuts the reactor down. This is possible with fluorides, lead, and sodium but does require care in the design. If the scram fails, you will get more temperature rise since that is what the coefficients are bound to. But after that the chain reaction is shut down. One has to design for this, in particular the fuel and primary loop components must be able to cope with a number of such temperature rises. Note that this is exceptionally rare, Fukushima control rods worked just fine.

    Now the reactor is intrinsically shut down. The question then is how do you make sure you can cool the decay heat away. It can’t be turned off.

    With nonvolatile coolant and a passive decay heat cooling system such as the IFR has, you essentially have no possibility for voiding. (Still you can make sure that the overall coefficient is negative so that if there is some local voiding it doesn’t start the fission again.) As long as the fuel is covered in liquid coolant it can’t melt or even damage much at all. It is like having a pot of water on your home kitchen stove. As long as there is water in the pot, it won’t damage. So it makes sense to have a coolant with an extremely high boiling point, that means it is always liquid. No boiling = no gross fuel damage. No boiling = no pressure rise that can damage the containment. So no containment venting required, that means no fission products released. No evacuation required.

    No water = no hydrogen to form. With sodium there is a lot of chemical stored energy – sodium is a fuel. Sodium burns in air and concrete, and explodes in water. I’ve been looking at different reactor incidents and accidents around the world. There was always a common denominator: a big energetic chemical reaction made it worse.

    At Simi Valley it was chemical reaction of pump coolant with sodium that blew up the reactor.

    At Chernobyl it was the combination of positive coefficients (stupid design, easy to inherently prevent) with stupid reactor shutdown (graphite tips on the control rods, this is like an accelleror pedal attached to your braking system), reactor control system (this should have automatically shut down the reactor when it became unstable), and an inadequate containment (only partial containment).

    At Fukushima it was lack of passive cooling (or waterproof active cooling), and volatile coolant combined with hydrogen (explosion disperses fission products).

    So what we need to do is go with the reactor design that has negative coefficients to shut down the reactor even with failure of scram, no means of big chemical reactions and is passively cooled. The IFR meets 2 out of 3. Lead cooled fast reactor and fluoride cooled and fluoride fuelled reactors meet 3 out of 3.

    I’d support a PRISM build because it beats fossil by orders of magnitude. You have to convince a lot of people about sodium’s safety though. We had a recent sodium fire in a chlorine production plant (electrolysis of NaCl). It had interting cover gas and everything, but still had a big fire. There was also a fire in the sodium boiler building at the INL. This doesn’t install cofidence. Look at what minor incidents do to the industry. It really hurts our case. Fukushima has been a massive blow – unjustified, I agree – but it will slow nuclear buildout. It’s so much easier to convince people of the safety of lead and fluorides than of sodium. Most people know sodium from high school or college experiments – drop it in water and that’s firework. I think its easier to go with an AP1000 buildout.

    Or you can try to build the PRISM reactor in the middle of nowhere.


  46. Of the two initiatives you mentioned for LFRs, SSTAR apparently is dead in the water with no new work being done and is now just limited to cooperation with the European counterparts. The European initiative is unlikely to be in a position to build a full size demo until sometime in the next decade.

    The ELSY design is more pragmatic, I think. It focuses more on near term deployment SSTAR uses a power cycle that isn’t commercially available. That’s never a good thing for near term deployment.

    Personally I’d say the next 10 years are lost no matter what. We are still in a state of complete energy innumeracy and it will take decades for people to get perspective. We could build quite a few light water reactors in the next ten years, mostly in Asia, and that’s about it. A gigawatt of Gen IV more or less isn’t going to make the difference.

    Why would a lead coolant in a PRISM be such a delay? Lead is compatible with zirconium so you can use the PWR fuel and cladding. You can use an exact fuel material and setup/handling system of a modern PWR. That by itself speeds up deployment, compared to barely used metallic fuel and stainless steel cladding – though metallic fuel has long term advantages in pyroprocessing. Lead and sodium are both liquid metal coolants. Lead avoids stringent cover gas guarantee (you in fact need some oxygen in the primary coolant to protect the components by passivation). Sure lead is heavier but its a simple vessel and pool mechanical exercise.


  47. Cyril R., Simi Valley was built starting 1954 – before Shippingport even opened (!) — and the incident itself occurred in 1959. Referencing that somewhat obliquely as a concern for S-PRISM is a very shaky chain of logic indeed, and indeed hints at being a scare-mongering tactic — something I’ve commonly observed among those who favour the MSR-type design, and which I think is a very unwise move. The IFR design includes double-walled pipes, and the sodium-water heat exchanger is in an entirely different building to the primary vessel. The net feedbacks — what is important — are very clearly negative. Lead is a difficult coolant, and I doubt molten salt is viable either for a commercial fast reactor — certainly not one that would be commercial in the medium-term. I will have more to say on this (with a very specific reference), in an upcoming post, and I’d like to request that you to hold further technical speculation on what is best for fast reactors until then.


  48. The simi accident was caused by pump coolant (oil) reaction with sodium. It’s an example of a seemingly insignificant issue causing a nuclear accident. It is not scaremongering, it is pointing to some devil in the details with a chemically reactive and opaque coolant.

    Lead isn’t a difficult coolant. The Russians had operating nuclear submarines using lead-bismuth coolant, far more corrosive than lead and making thousands of times more polonium. Yet they worked fine and were the most powerful submarines of their time.

    Fluoride coolants should also be attractive for fast reactors, fluorine being a poor moderator, and fluorides having 4-5x the volumetric heat capacity of sodium, and being transparent over an even longer wavelength area than water, helps with in-service-inspection using conventional technologies such as videocameras on glass fiber optics. ORNL’s MSRE had great success with fluoride coolant (secondary loop) and fluoride fuel (primary loop) before fast reactors were even developed, using 1960s technology.

    I agree that a coolant switch for a PRISM would entail 10+ years of delay, and that is one of the biggest downsides. It’s a tough call, going the quick way with a sodium PRISM but risking public non-acceptance delaying the project, or switching coolant risking technical delay but with an easier public relations case.

    I’m looking forward to your post on this issue.


  49. In germany, the Klimaschutz-Index 2012 from germanwatch, ranking countries how good they do at protecting the climate got a lot of media attention like,1518,801937,00.html

    Unfortunately their manipulativ calculation methods got no attention:
    They deliberately calculated nuclear plants with the emissions of a modern coal plant to discourage people to build them!

    The original quote is: “Als besonders risikoreicher Energieträger wird Atomkraft mittels sogenannter Risikoäquivalenzen pro Energieeinheit in die Betrachtung mit einbezogen (sie entsprechen etwa den Emissionen eines modernen Kohlekraftwerks). Dadurch wird verhindert,dass der Neubau von Atomkraftwerken belohnt wird.” (source:

    @moderation: This is my second try to post this, am I doing something wrong? My previous post should have been comment-145285 in this thread, but I can’t see it.
    Your comments are being caught in the Spam. The last one may have slipped through our check of a large number of Spam comments. Apologies.


  50. As no doubt the most tech. challenged guy in this discussion I can at least add 2+2. What that adds up to as far as I can see is that the nuke power solution appears to be a no go. It’s pretty simple if you take your lead from the implications of this voice-over slide show from respected climate scientist Kevin Anderson.

    What he is saying to me is to avoid hitting that 2 deg C rise that will then unleash catastrophic feedbacks, essentially meaning game over as far as avoiding a 6th extinction event, we, the world, will have to begin dropping our carbon output 10% next year and continue a rapid yearly rate of drop to a level that will have us more than 90% below our high by 2030.

    Nothing in Barry’s nuclear substitution scenario that I have read contemplates such a time line. KA recommends drastic cutbacks on carbon energy use, particularly among the rich, like almost immediately. It may not seem practical but he seems to see no other choice.

    Any thoughts?


  51. David M, your point more seems to be one about a crash programme in voluntary energy deprivation vs continued growing energy consumption. It has little to do with whether nuclear or renewables are the alternative energy source, I’m sure you’ll agree. If a crash programme is required, then I think failure is already guaranteed (how do you propose this would be implemented??). If a more gradual reduction in carbon emissions is sufficient (e.g. cut by 50% on 2000 levels by 2050, 80% by 2080 and 100+% by 2100), then some mix of nuclear, renewables efficiency and other techno-fixes.


  52. Barry, your argument is not with me, it’s with Kevin Anderson. Did you look at his slide show? He’s saying a 90+% drop by 2030 or we shoot past 2 deg. C limit and feedbacks take over. He seems to be drawing on mainstream climate science projections.

    If you don’t mind I’ll also use this post to see if I can manage a hyperlink. This is for a more limited written version of the slide show.


  53. David M, mainstream climate forecasts do not say this. You can prove this to yourself by running some scenarios in MAGICC/SCENGEN. This tool, developed by my colleague Tom Wigley, is used by the IPCC in their assessment report modelling. Nor does the most recent work suggest a 90% drop by 2030 is required. I suggest you consult Rogelj et al. 2011, Emission pathways consistent with a 2 °C global temperature limit, published last month. Yes we need to peak our emissions before 2020 to have a reasonable chance of staying below 2C, but this does NOT imply 90% by 2030 (more like 50-80% by 2050 — depending on what went on in the previous decades).


  54. Sorry Barry, I didn’t get any guidance from either of your links. Perhaps you can come up with something simpler and more specific. Here’s an excerpt of KA, from my second link, that might move the discussion along.

    Anderson is adamant that the familiar targets almost all politicians and many scientists use in public — e.g., “80 percent reduction in the rate of emissions by 2050” — are deeply misleading. As far as the climate is concerned, the rate of emissions in 2050 relative to the rate of emissions today is meaningless. CO2 stays in the atmosphere for over a century; the atmosphere doesn’t care what year it arrives. (Though targets in the distant future are comforting to politicians, for obvious reasons.)

    The only thing that matters in limiting temperature rise is cumulative emissions, the total amount we dump into the atmosphere this century. When the total concentration of GHGs in the atmosphere rises, temperature rises. That is the correlation that matters.

    If we want to limit temperature rise to 2 degrees C or less, then there’s only so much carbon we can dump in the atmosphere. That is our “carbon budget” for the century, the amount we have to “spend” before we’re in the danger zone. As best we know, the global carbon budget for this century is between 1,320 and 2,200 gigatons (There are too many uncertainties in the science to be more precise than that.)


  55. I need to modify what I said earlier. The 90+ % drop by 2030 was for the wealthier nations, the main polluters. The poorer countries would turn things around more slowly as they are starting from a lower foot print base.

    What would it mean for the U.S. and other developed countries to peak their emissions in 2015 and decline them by something on the order of 10 percent a year thereafter?

    It’s safe to say that no carbon tax is going to do that. It’s tough to imagine any “market mechanism” that could ratchet things so quickly, at least on its own. We won’t get there through innovation or new technology, even if we spend a trillion a year for the next few years. We won’t get there by tweaking our current system. The only conceivable way to produce that level of reductions is a full-scale, all-hands-on-deck mobilization, what William James called “the moral equivalent of war.”

    The vast bulk of the reductions available in the near-term are on the demand side. Of course this means driving efficiency as fast as possible while taking measures (like raising prices and setting standards) to avoid the rebound effect. But it also means (gasp!) conservation. Actually, “conservation” is too polite a word for it. It means shared sacrifice. Climate campaigners have sworn until they’re blue in the face that reducing emissions is compatible with robust economic growth. And it’s true! But reducing emissions enough? Maybe not, at least not for the next little while.

    This is the stark conclusion drawn by Anderson and Bows: “The logic of such studies suggests (extremely) dangerous climate change can only be avoided if economic growth is exchanged, at least temporarily, for a period of planned austerity within Annex 1 nations and a rapid transition away from fossil-fuelled development within non-Annex 1 nations.”


  56. An interview with me, from Singapore, on the Durban talks. Full article here, along with the podcast:

    Keval Singh speaks to Barry Brook, Professor of Climate Science at the University of Adelaide.

    He starts by asking about the importance of a new pact after the Kyoto pact.

    “It’s clear that globally we have to reduce greenhouse gas emissions significantly. If we look at today’s emissions, they’ve risen over the last few years compared to our hopes and expectations. And so the Kyoto Protocol which was designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from developed countries through the years to 2012 has not been successful. So we need something new going forward, and the last few years of climate talks have been trying to come up with some new type of protocol or agreement between governments.”

    Has the Kyoto Protocol been successful in achieving its goals to begin with? Is there really a point in coming up with something new if you have nations which won’t ratify the plan?

    “A big issue with the original protocol was that some countries were not included. Places like China and India which have historically not contributed to global gas emissions, but today and in the future will certainly be very large contributors, they weren’t included within in. And that caused a lot of disagreements and originally stopped Australia from ratifying the treaty, and stopped the US from ever ratifying it. Australia eventually did when they had a change of government, and Russia did under some duress.”

    Can we afford to continue the blame game?

    “From the perspective of climate change, we can’t because its continuing greenhouse gas emissions are rising, the earth is getting warmer, the impact are getting worse and it’ll get a lot worse if we don’t do something about this problem. So just blaming each other is not really very helpful. What we need to do is work out what nations can do to help each other to reduce their emissions while also getting the benefits from doing that. Just having an agreement that different countries will do different tasks and some will do nothing, I think it’s not going to work.”

    It’s often said that China and the US are the biggest polluters. But what about other countries? What can they do?

    “Together China and the US account for almost half of global CO2 emissions. And if you add the countries of the EU, then you’re over 70 percent of emissions. But the other 30 percent is spread over a lot of countries. In places like Australia and Singapore and those with smaller populations have still got a responsibility because per person they’re still producing a lot of emissions. So other countries have to be incorporated within this. But because a solution and an agreement, doesn’t occur between China and the US, the EU and other countries like Russia and India, then it’s sort of pointless what other countries are going to do.”

    Is there an alternative?

    “I think there is and it has to focus on technology. The solution to the problem is so urgent that we can’t wait for things like the human population to reduce. And we’re not going to overall reduce the energy demand because so many countries currently suffer from energy poverty. So what we need to do is focus on technologies that can deliver that energy demand with essentially no carbon emissions. The two obvious technologies to do that are nuclear power and renewable energy. The problem is there are political, technological and economic and social issues around those technologies that make it difficult to displace fossil fuels.”

    It has been said that if the planet were a bank, world leaders would have scrambled to save it. What are your thoughts? Do you think we’re being myopic?

    “I think we’re being very short-termist. So the bank crisis was obviously going to result in economic upheaval within weeks or months. It risked going into an economic depression, governments could see that and they felt there was also a possibility that they could intervene. They could see an immediate problem, with an immediate impact and an immediate solution. The problem with climate change is that the problem is slow to build up. Most of the impact hasn’t been observed yet. And any change you implement today, won’t have strong consequences for many years. So if the climate system were a bank, in that it started to change very rapidly such that within an election cycle it would make a big difference, then I think governments would have intervened much more quickly.”


  57. Jason, Roger, thanks for your replies.

    Could you (or Tom Blees/Barry Brook if they’re around) comment further on the continued commercial development of IFR’s in other countries?

    Presuming the US has no interest in the near future, say a joint project between Aus/GB/France for example?


  58. Saw a post on a forum where someone was all but jumping up & down screaming, with a link to a website claiming that Fukushima #4 reactor building was “collapsing” in aftershocks, and the entire spent fuel pool was about to come tumbling down dumping all those fuel rods on the ground.

    It was kind of scary reading (because of the tone taken, not the content) – “The wall of the south side is falling apart at reactor 4.
    Reactor 4 is in the most serious situation. It is assumed that if another aftershock hits it to drop the spent fuel pool hung in the building, the entire area in eastern Japan would be too contaminated to be inhabitable.”

    I came to the conclusion, by looking at the photos, that the change in the building profile is due to removal of wreckage (i.e. part of the cleanup operation).

    I’ve lost track, where can I find up-to-date info on how the cleanup is progressing?


  59. The video on the AP 1000 nuclear power plant under blackout conditions was very instructive. Thank you Gregory, it answered some of my questions. Still for all the passive protections, if a cooling pipe or water tank is breached or feedback systems jam it still seems like you are up a creek.

    To change focus, If somebody thinks we are on a moderate timeline as far as hitting the critical tipping points they might want to check this out.


  60. Mark: if you read the whole article, there’s the “he said/she said” section featuring arnie gundersen:

    To many, Gale’s figures, however well documented, may not tell the whole story. One month after the meltdown, the Fukushima disaster was upgraded from a 5 to a 7 on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale, the only accident to have been given that highest rating other than Chernobyl (the accident at Three Mile Island, in 1979, by contrast, merited a 5). One day before Gale spoke with the workers, a study of the Japanese disaster contended that, in the first few days of the meltdown, Fukushima released more radioactive noble gas than Chernobyl by a factor of 2.5. Earlier, Arnold Gundersen, a former nuclear-industry executive who served as an expert at Three Mile Island, had asserted that Fukushima has the potential to release 20 times as much radiation as Chernobyl.In the weeks immediately before Gale’s recent trip to Iwaki, one worker checked into a hospital after only 46 days on the job and was dead the following morning. The Japanese government lifted its “evacuation advisory” for those living more than 20 miles from the plant, but at the same time radioactive plutonium 238 was discovered in the soil up to 30 miles from the plant. And The New York Times reported, in mid-October, that citizens’ groups had found more than 20 “hot spots” in and around Tokyo contaminated with potentially harmful levels of cesium.

    Me: this is supposed to be an article featuring Gale, whose point is that the real danger here is fear. And then the author inserts this paragraph, which reinforces the fear. The reference to plutonium 238 has no context, which means it will carry the context most people have with plutonium: most dangerous substance ever, etc.

    No discussion of source of plutonium, amount, risk, nothing. sucks.


  61. David, the key to addressing things like breached cooling pipes and jammed feedback (I’m assuming you were talking about the return gutters) is redundancy. Have two, three, even 4 lines any one of which can do the job. This way if one were to fail, you have additional lines.

    Even still, if the AP1000 were to still find itself up a creek, the defense is ancillary equipment. US plants are required to have a B5B pump (B.5.B being the federal code requiring it). Those are portable gas fired pumps that can be quickly deployed during a station black out. The consumption of water to cool an AP1000 is the volume of a few garden hoses. A B5B pump and even a bucket brigade could easily produce that flow.

    Lastly, the station blackout at Fukushima disabled ALL core cooling (no passive systems at Fukushima). This allowed the fuel to heat up to the point where the zirconium-water reaction produced hydrogen leading to the explosions you saw on TV. Those explosions destroyed the pipes, valves, pumps, etc such that when they finally got power restored, there was nothing to hook up to. This is what sent them up a creek as you put it. The single best way to deal with the zirc water reaction is to not have it in the first place. That’s the main reason for the passive systems of this reactor. An AP1000 wouldn’t have melted down, even after that 45′ tsunami because the station blackout the tsunami caused would not have disabled the core cooling and so that hydrogen would not have been produced.


  62. Jack, I’m assuming a major earthquake, like Fukushima, enough to crack a water cooling pipe or cooling tank or disable any of the myriad of feedback mechanism(much more than simply the gutters – think of the ocean floor interface on the burst gulf oil well pipe which had backups).

    You can have all the outside water you want but what does it feed into when the cooling pipe is broken? The alternative to prevent a melt down appears to be flooding it from the outside for years. That doesn’t strike me as being very practical. I hope they would have some protocol for fixing the cooling water pipe etc. under these crisis conditions but I haven’t seen it discussed.


  63. let’s recall here that Daichi 6 was okay because of an uprate that safeguarded the diesel generator.

    This diesel generator was able to provide power to cool D 5.

    AP 1000s would have to be designed specially for earthquake areas, but it could be done. Dave, you make it sound a bit too easy to have a meltdown. [is it really meltdown vs. flooding from outside?]


  64. Gregory, a term that is often used with modern nuclear power designs is “fail safe”. So given two truisms that I think you will agree with:

    1. Human beings are fallible.

    2. If things can go wrong they will.

    What happens in a severe earthquake if the cooling pipe cracks and starts spilling the coolant water and there is a black out? Where is the fail safe? Simply saying the pipe won’t crack because it will be so well designed strikes me as a faith statement, not a fail safe scenario.


  65. There’s a document that I’ve read online before that I can’t find again and I’m hoping somebody here might have it bookmarked or something.

    It was produced by Argonne National Laboratory, I think, and it’s all about liquid sodium as a coolant, the physical and chemical properties of sodium, and how it is a well characterised and useful fast reactor coolant.

    Anybody have any ideas?


  66. Thanks for the follow up link David B. I’ve learned more now. Just to dumb it down to my amateur level:

    1. If there is a blackout the system is set up to maintain on its own for a week.

    2. If there is a breach in a cooling pipe the system is set up to maintain on its own for 3 days.

    3. If there is the beginning of a core melt down immediate human intervention is required.

    In all scenarios if outside water is not eventually available a core melt down is assured. Air cooling is built in but only as a temporary measure. Finally outside water must be available after temporary defenses are exhausted.

    It may seem obvious but I think that point nevertheless needs to be hammered home. There is a serious vulnerability here. Water supplies are not always assured.


  67. @ David M,

    1. If there is station blackout the system can maintain itself for 3 days after which human intervention is required to refill the PCS. However some earlier AP1000 documents state that containment should stay intact on air-cooling alone[1][2]. I’m not sure what consequences this would have though – they wouldn’t add a PCS tank for no reason.




    3. Flooding the reactor cavity is supposed to stop the core from melting through the pressure vessel which is done by gravity draining the refueling water storage tank. I presume a human needs to press a button for this to happen although maybe computers could do it.


  68. Thanks Scott but my primitive computer won’t download the pdfs. The problem of a disaster driven outside water cutoff remains to be addressed.

    Ms Perps’ link to Barry’s article and the comments elicited this comment:

    In 2008, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that humanity has eight years left to prevent the worst effects of global warming. There is no possibility of building a significant number of new plants in that time;

    That’s along the lines of what I said to Barry. Severe austerity with regard to fossil fuel at this point appears to be the main way we avoid passing the line into uncontrollable feedback from unleashed CO2 and methane release. Even a thousand new nuclear plants say between now and 2020 would be a drop in the bucket and would detract from resources for efficiencies and radically changing supply chain infrastructure and travel – think virtually no plane travel for starters and although people don’t like to hear it, mandated lower population targets. Sorry, I don’t make the rules. They are real world challenge generated.


  69. @David M,

    A thousand new nuclear power plants by 2020 would expand world nuclear generation capacity to the point of generating ~50% of the worlds electricity and replace most coal fired generation. It would have a much more important effect on emissions than banning all air travel, which in any case is not going to happen anytime soon.


  70. I see Qantas want some carbon tax proceeds to fund a $300m bio jet fuel plant
    Overseas airlines think they can get a whopping 2% of their liquid fuels from biomass. However if they use the Finnish NExBTL process it seems to be a mystery where they get the hydrogen booster which I gather is trucked to the refinery in cylinders.

    As passengers fly over vast crops for biofuel they might also ponder
    – is it making food more expensive?
    – do diesel tractors, irrigation and nitrogen fertilisers help?
    – injecting bio-CO2 at 10km altitude is not carbon neutral.
    I suspect air travel passenger kilometres will be seriously lower in 2020 than now. Of course if no coal was used in electricity generation we might be able to use small amounts in making jet fuel as well as steel and cement.

    When the former middle class cannot fly, eat steak or drive private cars as before they will take energy issues seriously.


  71. Quokka, factor in all our fossil fuel energy needs, which is the more meaningful goal, and a 1000 new nuclear plants would fall short of even covering the majority needs of the US, assuming we had all electrical transportation and all electrical home, business and government energy sources. And natural gas is not a bridge. It’s just as bad as oil.

    As far as eliminating most of the plane flights, that was just an example of what would be needed. Walking, biking and using limited public transportation would have to be in the mix. High taxes on fossil fuel use would be another. More local sourcing of goods and services obviously. And remember the world population is increasing at over 200,000 a day. Factor that in.

    And you and I know that 1000 new nuclear power plants, even if they were approved today would probably not in most cases even come on line by 2020 and even if they did, almost all would have a negative EROI within that timeline.

    That said, I’m not a nuclear hater. As a substitute for fossil fuel for the next few decades it would normally seem to be the principal logical choice. I would like to see them both eliminated eventually but fossil fuel first. I think the Germans are insane to go for a nuclear phase out presently. That commits them to substantially greater fossil fuel. Even their own estimators graphically seem to admit it.

    It’s just that for now, drastic austerity appears to be the priority if we are going to avoid going over a critical tipping point.


  72. @ JN derides Qantas for decorating its fuel useage with shallow biomass claims. Then wonders if in future coal will still be needed “in small amounts in making jet fuel as well as steel and cement”.

    Jet fuel — The production of transport fuels using nuclear pyrolysis of coal has been commented on BNC as a process to ease the coal-extracting communities into the nuclear age. Eventually the coal has to be replaced with something else. As JN implies, we cant ask the biosphere to supply the biomass.

    Steel — Carbon monoxide is certainly one way to add electrons to Fe3+, but a quite inefficient use of coal. However that could also be done by electrolysis in say, a chloride melt. Considering that electrolytic aluminium costs about 2 $/kg, that suggests a ballpark for (the 2x heavier) iron of about 1 $/kg.

    Cement — Carbon isn’t essential to make cement clinker, although the reduction of some stray ferric iron to the ferrous form creates a flux that reduces the sintering temperature by 50 deg or so. However, it isn’t an essential requirement, because white cement is sintered with minimal iron, ~0.3%, at the higher temperature .

    The limestone used in cement manufacturing still gives off CO2. Perhaps when redesigning the kiln, we could pipe off the CO2 to make the jet fuel!


  73. Hydrogen is another alternative reductant for steel making, as described in this BNC post. Steel making is responsible for about 7% of global CO2 emissions, about 80% of which is from coke oxidation during smelting. Knocking out that chunk of emissions by using nuclear hydrogen is definitely worth chasing.


  74. David M. wrote:

    I think the Germans are insane to go for a nuclear phase out presently. That commits them to substantially greater fossil fuel. Even their own estimators graphically seem to admit it.

    Along the same lines, have you looked at the GE visualization tool for the German energy mix from 1950 – 2030. Data comes from a variety of sources: AG Energiebilanzen; Kalert; BPB; BGR; Eurostat; Kohlenstatistik; IPPNW; Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology Leitstudie 2010; Prognos AG; and Plan B 2050.

    From 1985 to today, it suggests coal use has declined from 42% down to 23% total energy consumption. To 2030, it projects a further decline to 8 – 12% (with different metrics in range depending on elevated contribution from renewables and energy efficiency). Natural gas remains relatively stable at 22-24% to 2030, with a high case of 38% in the low coal and low consumption alternative, for a lower carbon footprint. Presentation includes all data on imports and energy dependencies to rest of Europe, US, and Africa (with nuclear fully phasing out around 2020 – 2025).

    A paper with greater detail is presented here: Energieszenarien 2011 (from Federal Ministry for Economics and Technology), click here for Google translation.


  75. This looks like it might be blowing up into something a little bit ridiculous.

    It doesn’t really make sense, though.

    Sodium-22 is an unstable, artificial radionuclide with a half-life of 2.6 years. It has one neutron less than natural, stable Na-23, and accordingly, it decays by positive beta decay (positron emission).

    Like most other proton-rich radionuclides, it is not produced in fission reactors, and it is instead produced with a particle accelerator, by irradiating Mg-24 with a beam of deuterons in a cyclotron.

    It has no relevance or usefulness for nuclear weapons or peaceful nuclear energy generation.

    It has an unusually long half-life for a positron emitter, making it very useful as a radioactive source in any kind of research where a source of positrons is required, say for physics experiments. It’s the most common radionuclide used for that kind of thing where a positron source is required, since it is not extremely short lived like some of the other positron emitters such as C-11 or F-18 commonly used for PET. Na-22 sources can also be used in medicine for calibration, setup and testing of PET imagers.

    Why would it be exported from Russia without proper customs authorisation? I don’t know.


  76. I haven’t read The Drum since yesterday but a couple of comments linger in memory. One was that nearly a million people have already died as a result of Chernobyl and another half million are doomed. For Japan it’s even worse. Another comment suggested in effect Barry hadn’t done his homework and should put in some effort getting up to speed.

    I wonder how widespread such views are. Even if in the minority there is a leverage effect since political candidates need to talk tough then they may hold the balance of power in an alliance.


  77. I would like someone from the gubmint to explain why Australians are being discouraged from burning Australian coal and gas while foreigners are being encouraged.
    The name of the project says it all. They say they will have a CCS based power station to run the show. Since governments and industry are committed to carbon reduction we can be sure they wouldn’t omit the CCS part because it was a hassle.


  78. DBB:
    Thanks for a link to an emotional, biased and clearly campaigning site.

    Objectively, just what is it that was said there? That a number of fly ash sources in USA are suspected of seepage of water containing pollutants. There are ways to avoid damaging seepage, whether from rubbish dumps, ash dams, tailings dams, spoil dumps, slag heaps and all of the myriad other scars that mankind is responsible for on this earth. Fly ash is only one of the possible source products, perhaps one of the easiest to monitor and to manage. If it is arsenic that worries you, then perhaps in-situ leaching and spoil dumps associated with gold mining should rate higher as a concern. Besides which, since this discussion appears to be targetted at arsenic, what form is it present as, arsenite or arsenate, because this greatly affects the toxicology? Is it bio-available? Will the proposed remediation make things worse or better, eg could previously chemically immobile arsenic become mobilised due to well-meaning yet ill advised actions such as exposure to air?

    To say something akin to “Look here! Arsenic! Huge problem!” answers none of these questions and thus cannot lead to an answer, especially a cost-effective, environmentally and toxicologically sufficient response to whatever real risks exist.

    Essentially, return of seepage water to the dam via seepage interception and small pumps will often do the job at little cost. Disposal of surplus ash in old mine voids results in the materials listed going right back where they came from, provided that the studies have been done and the containment appropriately designed, eg with clay lining.

    As I said on another thread on this site yesterday, it is essential that perspective be maintained. Over-the-top ranting, as at the linked site, does nothing to improve outcomes for mankind or for the planet. It relies on the squeaky wheel effect – make enough noise and even small problems can be made to appear huge.

    This squeaky wheel effect is the primary tool of anti-science ravers, especially the antinuclear campaigners. The downside is that real problems are not attended to because effort has been diverted to lower ranked or insignificant issues.

    A more balanced report into fly ash storage would avoid use of the term “toxic flyash” unless the flyash involved is actually and correctly classified as a dangerous good, which is simply not the case for most (all?) fly ashes. I know that some will disagree with me on this point, but consider the following.

    What is doing greater harm to humans today, fly ash or cane sugar? Which one more deserves the adjective “toxic” by this yardstick?

    Manufacture of which product causes most damage to the environment today, fly ash or cane sugar? One, if poorly handled and stored, can be responsible for local environmental damage and perhaps threats to some forms of life. Sugar cane farming, on the other hand, through runoff containing phosphate and many other pollutants, is clearly reponsible for significant environmental degradation of the Australian Great Barrier Reef in a World Heritage Area, a supposed wilderness reserve unequalled anywhere else globally.

    Where is De Smog Blog’s campaign against sugar cane?

    Perspective and balance are absent from De Smog Blog’s site.

    One of BNC’s values is its perspective.

    For a link to the MSDS for a typical Aussie fly ash, see


  79. Arsenic.

    To put into perspective the issue of arsenic in fly ash, check out

    This 11,000 word discussion of the properties of arsenic, its toxicological effects, and much more does not even rank mention of fly ash as a source, although it does rank many other potential sources, across many industries.

    If respected authorities such as INCHEM, the International Programme on Chemical Safety, are so unconcerned, then where is there support for the noise generated by De Smog Blog on this topic?

    This is an excellent example of how overblown claims and noisy campaigns can divert attention, and thus action, away from the things that really matter.

    It is similar to the results of well-meaning argument which lacks perspective, about statistically insignificant risks from very low levels of ionising radiation whilst the earth is warming.


  80. John Bennetts — You might have read the linked EIP report first. They seem to have a sufficiently solid case to pass the data to the (US) EPA as failures to meet federally set (EPA again) water quality standards.

    [Of course not all coal, hence fly ash, has the same chmeical contaminents in the same proportions. Certain sources in the USA seem to be causing the problems.]


  81. DBB, I read the linked article. You chose to criticise me for not following further links, which you did not cite. I find it odd that, despite the comments policy of this site, my supposed failure to follow unreferenced links could be construed as valid grounds for criticism.

    Two links further on, in the actual report, we find that the real problem lies not with the 10ppb concentration of arsenic in groundwater, but the adoption of drinking water standards when clearly they are not relevant.

    As I said – making a lot of noise about small problems is not the way to achieve optimal outcomes.


  82. I beg to differ. (on substance): in the USA the expectation is that well water is saffe to drink. Therefore, ground water usede as drinking water needss to at least meet the 10 ppb standard:

    Note from the EIP report that several monitoring wells express water with arsenic in excess of 100 ppb, clearly a health hazard for arsenic alone.

    [I have considerable repect for my anatgonist on this matter when he stays within the areas with he knows (and clearly knows very well). However, water quality standards are a matter on which both of us needs to respect the staqndards set by experts.] Responsible disposition of fly ash is one matter, indeed one up for current EPA rule making review. The manner in which fly ash has been traditionally disposed of, at least in the United States, remains IMO a serious mark against all coal-comsuming industires; it is not a matter to be shrugged off as ‘too small to mention’.

    [My antagonist on this issue is welcome enough to having the last word if he so choses; all here generally recognize the weight and quality in an argument.]


  83. Contrary to affirmation, I have, through necessity and a modicum of postgrad study, had to become reasonably familiar with regulations affecting water and with management of contamination of land and water. Perhaps not expert, but certainly in possession of a working, practical knowledge of licence requirements and of means of testing and of compliance.

    In NSW, it is certainly not automatically expected that the quality of bore water is adequate for human consumption. Distinction is made between water’s various purposes, eg process water, recreational, stock and human consumption. I am astounded to discover that “…in the USA the expectation is that well water is safe to drink.” My recommendation would be to be aware of which aquifer was being tapped, to test before use, to retest regularly and to assume nothing.

    That said, I happily accept DBB’s olive branch. Different regulatory regimes clearly have different approaches.


  84. @ Paul , Jek R – So the beautiful designs of 40 years ago are coming under attack, just when they should be paying off the last of their capital and producing electricity at maximum profit.

    Much as we might want to defend them, the fact is that they were designed for the values of 40 years ago, so we must expect that sooner or later someone will be able to pick fault on a newly popular sentiment. Similarly, we must expect that the reactor designed to everyone’s satisfaction today, will one day be derided because it is old. It would seem logical to select designs that pay off soon enough to be written off before their welcome is up.

    Fast neutron reactors don’t need particularly good thermal efficiency (as U238 is aplenty), which allows simplification of design. Molten salt reactors don’t need pressurised containment, which would similarly simplify costs.

    Simplification of design allows for mass production too. The Liberty Ships were only designed to last five years, but many lasted 20 years. The world might benefit if we shortened reactor life to that of a work horse, instead of a museum piece.


  85. John Bennetts the problem with fly ash collection is that it just keeps growing and growing and growing and eventually the original site is not able to contain all the tooth paste like toxic stuff that has an infinite hazardous waste lifetime. Over the long haul leakage is inevitable. Also if you try to store on the surface the CO2 capture stuff you wind up with more material being stored at the plant site than the original train loads of coal itself. The most compact way to store carbon is in the form of the coal itself. The moral of the story is we should just leave the coal in the ground because thats the most efficient form of storage..


  86. Gene, I agree with your observations re storage properties of fly ash.

    What I was addressing was the principle that I hold dear, which is that our criticisms and our supporting arguments must stand rational scrutiny, whether of fly ash or nuclear power or solar thermal salt storage or an whole slew of things.

    Emotion is not sufficient, whether for or against things which we value or desire.

    Our climate issues must be dealt with via principled, rational, nuanced, honest, inquisitive, numerate and objective analysis. Anything less is essentially politics or fluff.

    There, that’s enough emotive fluff for one post. But that is where I stand.


  87. I’m afraid we are stuck with the politics. There’s no way around the politics. Forget the rational approach. Lets hope that our best outcome will be to educate the public and our political leaders. Unfortunately they are being fed a lot of junk knowledge, such as the idea we can solve our energy supply problems with wind and solar. Another junk idea is that human CO2 release is not significant, it is. Another junk idea is that nuclear to too expensive to develop which is nonsense. Its the only valid path to the future. The main problem with nuclear is that there are too many options and we do not yet know the perfect solution, but its out there, believe me. Whereas solar is forever locked in low performance due to the low density of sunlight and fossil fuels are doomed and will be our downfall unless we get off fossil fuels as soon as possible.


  88. @David M

    It may seem obvious but I think that point nevertheless needs to be hammered home. There is a serious vulnerability here. Water supplies are not always assured.

    Here is an actual licensing supplemental information request for an AP1000 dealing with the availability of water

    Click to access ML11194A008.pdf

    Assuring water supply is a question that gets asked and answered as part of the US Nuclear Licensing process. In the case of the proposed William States Lee III project in North Carolina that will involve building some onsite man made ponds/lakes.


  89. I think coal mega mines (see link in sidebar) will prove as big an embarrassment as buying foreign offsets. Families hard hit by rising power bills will ask why foreign buyers of our coal and gas aren’t sharing the pain. More pointedly do those other countries have any real intention of cutting carbon?

    My suggestion; invite foreign buyers of our coal and LNG to pay carbon tax on a voluntary basis as a gesture of solidarity. Since c.t. is revenue neutral they can ask for the money back for green programs. On thermal coal the tax would be about $55 per tonne and on coking coal about $62. However there is a major catch in that when we move to a CO2 cap in 2015 the absolute tonnage sold must reduce. That means other mines must close for the new mines to stay in business.

    Funnily enough Abbott can see this but Gillard can’t i.e. being serious about global carbon cuts must mean reduced coal exports. I think there’s a good chance it could end up with those two swapping jobs as a result. It’s not hard to see media stories of 2013 asking ‘why are we doing this?’ with contrasting footage of homes getting the power disconnected the same time mega mines are going ahead.


  90. It’s actually agriculture that gobbles up all the water. Power plants consume very little. Here’s a pie graph of the water consumption by sector in South Australia:

    Total industry, manufacturing, and services is only 6% of water consumption.

    Irrigation is 80%, the next biggest is domestic water, at 9%. Dryland farming and rural living is 4% but much of that is also for irrigation or other agricultural use.

    Powerplants just aren’t the big water hog that you’d think they’d be. It’s irrigation. If we want to save water we need to innovate in irrigation systems, eg drip irrigation, closed greenhouse/aquaponic farms etc.


  91. @ Cyril R raises the question of how much water would be needed by NP. That does assume the standard practice of raising steam to drive turbines.

    If each of us consumes 1 kW of electricity, then about 2 kW of heat must be dumped. If that is taken away by evaporation of water at 2.45 MJ/L then 23.8 m3/a must be evaporated for each of us. We really should not be wasting 24 tonnes per annum per capita if we can avoid it. Currently each Australian uses about 150 m3/a of once-through fresh water (ABS) . In most places we have exceeded sustainability.

    In an average year, the biggest river in Australia no longer reaches the sea, and its farmers are being pushed off the river. Most of the country has no brackish water to spare. We must find other ways of dumping heat. It would be pretty brainless to put our power stations beside the sea and have long powerlines that lead to a limited number of consumers in the near hinterland.

    I reckon we should use air to drive our turbines. If we can do away with water, we can take the power to where it is needed and do away with a lot of transmission lines. If that power station is a nuke then that town doesn’t need a gas pipeline, a coal-bearing railway line or a water pipeline. It can even desal its own drinking water.


  92. Of course you’re right, it is hopeless pie-in-the-sky to think of designing and proving a specialist (air heating) reactor for such a small market as inland Australia. However the case for a water-less reactor can be made for a majority of the worlds’ current industries. Even in the relatively wet US, existing power plants’ use of river water is under pressure from their EPA . In future, if industries can move away from existing water, then pressure is taken off the river valleys and coastal plains. That is particularly true of developing countries such as India that have no water to spare for any purpose, with many places in overdraft.

    If there is ever to be a global rollout of a standard reactor design, water reduction would be a criterion with some priority.


  93. The South Texas Nuclear Plant O&M is 1.6 c/kwh and Austin’s debt on 400 MW coming on line in the late 1980’s is about 200 million US dollars. There is apparently no hurry to pay off that debt considering current cash flow is going into solar panels, wood burning plants, wind, and spot purchases of power off the grid, all very expensive compared to the energy from the nuclear plant.


  94. @ Roger Clifton,

    Once through cooling doesn’t actually waste water: the issues are thermal pollution, chemical pollution, and sea-life kills due to the water intakes. The new EPA rule has nothing to do with wasting water, as the water just goes through once and is returned. The rule would force some of the effected power stations to install evaporative wet cooling to decrease the mentioned issues.

    But, I don’t see why this is such an issue. Australia has an enormous coastline which is also where most of the electricity is required, any nuclear power station should be able to be located on the coast, with diffusers or screens to limit the damage to sea-life. If this is not permissible then they could use evaporative cooling or be located inland and utilize dry-cooling if required.

    South Africa has many coal power stations that use dry-cooling, however they are more expensive (how much I don’t know) and they also have lower net efficiency of 35% compared with 37% of wet-cooling, which in turn is a few percent lower than that of once through cooling.

    Click to access environbenefits.pdf

    Click to access 260.pdf

    Click to access fossil_fuel_fired.pdf


  95. Localized thermal pollution from once through condenser cooling is just that: localized. Where it plays a more significant role is on river locations where the high temp effluent can cause major fish kills by funneling hotter water down stream. This is a major regulatory hurdle in France where most of their plants are on rivers.

    Ocean based plants don’t have nearly the same issue and the local ecology adapts pretty quickly the slightly warmer temperatures.

    Actual sea life damage through such thermal excursions, traveling screen kills and “fry” killed by overheating as they travel through the condenser tubes often sound high due to absolute numbers “Billions and billions” but are actually a small, single digit percentage of any localized ecology.


  96. Air is not anywhere near as effective a coolant as water. If final heat rejection must be done with air, that means a bigger condenser with more tubes and a lot of big powerful fans. This does cost extra, not terrible but definately noticeable in the per kWh price. Worse, with air cooling a higher condenser temperature is needed, especially for the hot and arid Australian outback. Once through cooling is the most efficient, it does not consume water (well ok there is a 1% increased evaporation rate from the heatup) and it is possible to limit the ecological impact by various techniques such as replacing pulse chlorination with UV light, diffuser pipe systems to distribute the heat load, etc.

    If you don’t have a sea or big lake/river handy, then there are two options. Cooling towers with air. Cooling towers with water. Water cooled reactors operate at lower temperatures and there is a big penalty on efficiency for dry cooling heat rejection. Especially if it is in a hot place like the Australian outback, you can lose over 5% of your output and combined with higher investments it means you can add over 10% to the cost per kWh. Roger says wet cooling towers use too much water. I somewhat disagree since agriculature uses almost all water (80-90%). Any investment made in dry cooling could also be made in drip irrigation systems where you might save a lot more water.

    But it is possible to reduce the efficiency penalty with hybrid dry cooling wet cooling. Save water by using air fans but still use water to get to lower condenser temperatures leading to high efficiencies.

    A good reference on this is a study on water consumption (and reduction) for solar power plants. Different technology but you can see how the numbers change for hot versus cold areas, high versus low steam temperature in the power cycle, etc.

    Click to access csp_water_study.pdf

    Check out figure 6 and you’ll see that a hybrid wet-dry cooling system can reduce water consumption by 80% compared to pure wet cooling towers, while only costing 2% of your output.


  97. An alternate source of cooling water is a designed ‘lagoon’ with the warm water inserted at one end and the cool water pumped from the other end. There is such an NPP somewhere in the southeast USA and harrywr2 recently posted about Duke Energy’s plan for another.


  98. My calculation, that each person’s 1 kW (e) requires 24 m3/a of cooling water to be evaporated, assumes that low-grade heat from a steam cycle is dumped into the environment mainly by evaporation of cooling water, either directly in cooling towers, or subsequently in cooling ponds.

    WNN have a good summary page on page , which includes the line: “Sometimes in a cool climate it is possible to use simply a pond, from which hot water evaporates”. It seems that even a cold climate, heat loss by evaporation dominates conduction direct to the air.

    Of course, heat diluted into a deep or fast flowing river may well stay in the water until it reaches the sea, but I was thinking of drier countries like Australia. In an earlier thread, I argued that small reactors could export their heat as clean water, hot from a desalination process. If a rough measure of the amount of heat dumped to air and water during desalination (perhaps by flash distillation) is equivalent to raising the water temperature by 100 K, then 2 kW (th) would be carried out of the plant by a flow of 150 m3/a of desalinated water — the average person’s water requirement. The overground hot pipe would be something of an environmental hazard for an unknown distance before it had lost its heat to the air — by conduction this time.


  99. RC this reference says 23-27 kwh thermal per kL

    whereas if I recall reverse osmosis needs 2-4 kwhe per kL. I guess if the heat was going to be dissipated anyway it could be used if it doesn’t reduce efficiency too much. I also understand the ideal RO inlet temperature for normal seawater is about 27C. Seaside thermal plant could be using seawater well under 20C most of the year so there is some leeway for pre-warming RO inlet water.

    I seem to recall an aquaculture project on the NSW central coast was going to grow warmth loving sea worms in power station outlet water. I haven’t seen the packaged worms at the supermarket yet.


  100. Roger Clifton, yes good points. Heat loss, other than evaporation, from a warm water pond is not very effective. However big blower fans are very effective. Especially in a cold climate. You can have full dry cooling in winter, and use some extra water to evaporate in the summer. Yearly water consumption can be cut 80-90% with low efficiency penalty.


  101. John Newlands — thank you for the figure of 25 kWh/kL — in that case 2 kW per capita of exhaust heat from the reactor would supply a maximum of 700 kL/a of water warmed by 20°. A less efficient (perhaps less multi-) flash distillation would provide less water, but hotter. A range of choices, depending on the industry that town served.

    Per capita arguments obscure implications of scale. A mine site and village consuming 20 MW (e) and dumping 40 MW (th) would hardly be worried about a few kilometres of hot pipe between the two plants. A city needing to dump 1 GW (th) probably could not send that amount of hot pipe into the suburbs, and might need to delay the water through a tangled pipe farm first.

    Perhaps the piped heat would allow growth of a light industry, park, maybe including a thermal worm farm…


  102. @ Cyril R., on 21 December 2011 at 4:35 AM and a few others:

    Are there two different definitions of dry cooling?

    Cyril appears to say that dry cooling involves transfer of reject heat from the spent steam in the condenser directly to air. I am not aware of such an arrangement being used in power generation anywhere.

    For example, at Kogan Creek dry cooling involves a conventional water filled tubed condenser. The water is circulated by pumps through super-sized radiators similar in function to car radiators, through which fans blow air. This air becomes heated as it passes across the surface of the radiator. The cooling water does not come into contact with the air. That is why it is called dry cooled. South African dry cooled units and the proposed Bayswater 2 Power Station, also dry cooled, are similar.

    Am I correct in thinking that this is what is generally meant in the power generation game by “dry cooling”? Is there an operating example of dry cooled power plant as defined by Cyril R, with air in the secondary side of the condenser box?

    A reasonable Wiki article is at


  103. Yes John Bennets, that’s how it works. Steam in condenser tubes. Air on the outside of the tubes, cooling them down. In the industry they are often called air cooled condensers, ACC.

    There are many examples of this technique, most are used in combined cycle gas turbine plants, for the bottoming steam turbine. Such steam bottoming turbines operate at high temperature, and thus need less cooling, making dry cooling more attractive.

    According to a 2006 Department of Energy (DOE) report discussed in the Appendix, in the USA 43% of thermal electric generating capacity uses once-through cooling, 42% wet recirculating cooling, 14% cooling ponds and 1% dry cooling (this being gas combined cycle only). The spreads for coal and for nuclear are similar. For 104 US nuclear plants: 60 use once-through cooling, 35 use wet cooling towers, and 9 use dual systems, switching according to environmental conditions. This distribution is probably similar for continental Europe and Russia, though UK nuclear power plants use only once-through cooling by seawater, as do all Swedish, Finnish, Canadian (Great Lakes water), South African, Japanese, Korean and Chinese plants.

    Gas combined cycle (combined cycle gas turbine – CCGT) plants need only about one third as much engineered cooling as normal thermal plants (much heat being released in the turbine exhaust), and these often use dry cooling for the second stage.*

    * CCGT plants have an oil or gas-fired gas turbine (jet engine) coupled to a generator. The exhaust is passed through a steam generator and the steam is used to drive another turbine. This results in overall thermal efficiency of over 50%. The steam in the second phase must be condensed either with an air cooled condenser or some kind of wet cooling.


  104. The footnotes to the WNN page on cooling are revealing…

    Kogan Creek PS (750 MW coal) uses air-cooled condenser (ACC), whose fans consume 1.0-1.5 % of its power output. “South African experience puts ACC [capital?] cost as about 50% more than recirculating wet cooling and indirect dry cooling as 70 to 150% more.” However it does not say what that amounts to in $/W, though Scott’s comment above gives some idea.

    WNN goes on to say that air cooling is unlikely in a large nuclear plant because of the value of copious supplies of water for emergency cooling. However, JM’s comment above points out that (small) Hyperion is air cooled. At shutdown, Toshiba’s (small) 4S is passive air-cooled.


  105. Well, that all amounts to good news. Next time someone asserts that nuclear consumes too much water, we can reply that — nuclear power stations don’t have to have water for cooling, they can go wherever power is needed.

    It is particularly important for our capacity to adapt to climate change. If the world’s industries can move away from the water’s edge, then the world’s population can move away from riverine floods, storm surge and sea level rise.


  106. It’s certainly possible to have large amounts of freshwater stored onsite for emergency cooling, and still use dry cooling or hybrid cooling for normal operation. Increasing the demineralized feedwater supply in the condenser for example is really cheap. This would only be used in an emergency, for example in a PWR you can boil off the steam generator water inventory to cool the core without any AC power. In BWR the isolation condenser can perform the same function.

    In a BWR it is less attractive to have dry cooling because the steam is radioactive and if there is no water on top of the condenser tubes then any leak could go outward without getting scrubbed out by the water. It wouldn’t be a safety issue but people will wine about any microcurie that comes out of a nuclear plant. The Vermont Yankee plant being a case in point.


  107. Roger Clifton writes:

    Perhaps the piped heat would allow growth of a light industry, park, maybe including a thermal worm farm…

    And none of you technofix fantasists is fazed by the prospect of a countryside overrun by thermal worms.

    The Twitter sidebar includes a link to an “Economic and energetic analysis of capturing CO2 from ambient air” that seems to be badly designed and misleading in that it doesn’t deal with enhanced weathering.


  108. Backing wind with NPPs —
    Prvided the NPPs are as agile as an ATMEA1, cycling at 5%/minute between 30% (minimum) and 100% with ‘instant’ return to full power, it appears that some penitration of wind power into a 100% NPP grid appears feasible. The economics, however, are a bit odd as a result of the necessity of providing backup to the variable wind generation combined with the lack of any signifcant variable costs associated with running NPPs; periodic replenishment is required irrespective of the attained capacity factor (CF).

    Including reserves for NPPs undergoing replenishment & refurbishment, an additional 6% reserve margin for generator tripoffs and using believable (but approximate) costs and financing suitable for the USA, the NPPs daytime LCOE is US$0.0912/kWh (CF=86%) while the nightime LCOE is US$0.135/kWh (CF=60%) [assuming the load is 70% of the daytime load]. Suppose that customers and the NPP fleet operator are satisfied with this arrangment but that wind farm operators now want a piece of the action.

    The difficulty is that all the NPPs must remain to act as balancing agents, i.e., backup, for the wind farms even though the NPPs will, on average, operate at lower CFs and so hgher LCOEs. Assuming an average of 5% of the energy is supplied by the wind farms: for the NPPs the daytime LCOE increases to US$0.0968/kWh (CF=81%) and the nighttime LCOE increases to US$0.1423/kWh (CF=55%). Since the NPP fleet operator cannot increase prices, she expects the wind farm operators to pay an integration fee to cover the difference; US$0.0056/kWh in the daytime and US$0.0073/kWh at night. Therefore so long as the wind farm operators can collect their LCOE and also the integration fee, everyone is satisfied at this level of wind penitration into the market. In particular then, the wind LCOE cannot exceed US$(0.0912-0.0056=0.0856)/kWh in the daytime and US$(0.135-0.0073=0.1277)/kWh at night. [For around here, both figures are more than enough; this might not be true in locations where the wind blows only at night.]

    The limitation on wind penitration is set absolutely by the minimum CF of 30%; for 25% wind with an average of 5% penitration the maximum is 20% penitration during especially windy spells so half again as much wind could be accomidated provided the ever increasing integration fee can be met.

    Unless someone finds a error, I’ll revise my prior claims to follow this analysis: if the LCOE for wind is low enough a modest penitration of wind into a low carbon grid can be accommidated.


  109. Thanks, team!

    Yesterday, I clarified that dry condensers are much more common than I had thought.

    Today, I received bid drawings and tech spec for the next power station I will work on. Guess what? Yep, ACC’s.

    Unfortunately, it will be coal fired. My initial expectations were that it would be an air cooled fission station, but that will not be the case. Don’t ask – I won’t say where, at least not yet.


  110. DBB: Spelling. Penetration, not penitration. Yes, I know I’m being picky.

    Interesting post, though.

    A table of calculated integration fees rising through 5% penetration steps will be very interesting. I expect that there will be two penetration limits.

    The first will be technical, when NPP loads drop below 30%, or whatever the lower limit is.

    The second will be commercial, which is reached when the anticipated marginal value of wind power first exceeds the anticipated marginal cost of nuclear, due to reducing average CF of wind as wind turbines are forced to spill due to oversupply. These are tricky calculations.

    I look forward to reading how the integration fee is calculated, or at least how it is determined to be at the various levels of wind penetration. Is that fee a given constant, as set by the system operator, or is there a sliding scale?


  111. JB explicit factors in the optimum wind fraction and the integration fee must include the price of gas, the pre and post 2015 carbon price and the continuation of REC/FiT in the event the Greens decline politically. Santos said the price of gas will double in 20 years but I’d bet it will be faster. Here in Tas everyone is saying isn’t it wunnerful all the new wind farms being built to which I would reply take away the RECs and mandates and see what happens.

    If the new air cooled coal station has made no promises on CCS and it is in Australia then Ferguson was wrong to say no more direct to atmosphere coal burners would be built. We’re living in carbon groundhog day.


  112. Not Australia. No more hints. I guess that makes me a sell-out in some people’s eyes. Gotta eat.

    Re FiT’s and REC’s. I’m with Garnaut. These tools of bribery and waste will go, the sooner the better. They are essentially irrelevant.

    I have just read Paul Gilding’s “The Great Disruption – How the Climate Crisis Will Transform the Global Economy”. I expected to disagree with someone such as him who has a very long history of left wing environmental activism, at times, even by his own admission, as an extremist.

    Surprising (to me) i found a very logical and persuasive book which, though much in need of a better editor, makes a very good case that climate damage and economic collapse are now inevitable and tries to articulate an alternative to the current view of the economy as something which must always grow GDP. I recommend it as holiday reading. It’s on the shelves now, at $33 – or less, via the internet and after a wait.

    Perhaps BNC can accommodate a discussion about economic models and post-collapse economics, but like most economics, it would probably degenerate rapidly into factional name calling and clashes of opinions.


  113. An interesting discussion about wind.


    The Danes have long planned the elimination of oil, gas, coal and nuclear energy from their society. Their new government has increased the targets for doing so from 20% to 40% on a whole of nation basis by 2020, with complete phasing out by 2050.

    The linked article itself is critical of the proposal. The real value of this link is in the comments, which parallel much of the similar discussions on this site. We are not alone in considering intermittency, subsidies and much more. We also have company in the nature of the comments from both sides.

    Some of the linked articles appear to be interesting, but I do not have time to check them out today.


  114. Hmm, many of the commenters have shallow thinking.

    “wind power works so we should do it”. And other nonsense.

    A simple reality check is enough. Denmark is powered by fossil fuel; they just swapped some coal and oil for natural gas and burning more trash. Wind power is peanuts.

    Click to access DKTPES.pdf

    Any look at wind power production graphs shows you that wind is a natural gas lock-in. Denmark is empirical evidence.


  115. John Bennetts — Thank you for the correction. I’m now not convinced by my own argument; I’ll attempt a more precise version. {Maybe even have all the spelling right as well.]

    Cyril R. — Wherever wind farms go natgas burners are sure to follow. The Pacific Northwest and ERCOt are two more examples.


  116. Agreed, Cyril R.

    I wonder how long a nation of 5.5M people with a currency supported by a GDP of about $US200B (PPP) can continue to support its uncompetitive wind turbine manufacturers. It is comparable in size, population and GDP to Greater Sydney. There must be a limit to the direct subsidies for wind turbines, which include feed in tariffs. Ditto, indirect subsidies such as fixed sky-high domestic tariffs, used to pay neighbouring states to absorb surplus energy at zero or negative rates and then to purchase equivalent or greater amounts back later at peak market rates.

    My guess is that Denmark will hang onto their dream until its North Sea gas runs out in 6 years ( and the Danish Krone comes under pressure, as surely it will due to declining terms of trade. By then, it will be far too late to avoid substantial decline in their standard of living.

    Perhaps Danes will discover their mistake when their reticulated gas networks are progressively shut down, leaving Danish home heating dependent on imported woodpellets being burned in as-yet nonexistent community heat boilers.

    The question is “How can we ensure that Australia does not follow Denmark along a ZCE2020 style pathway leading to unmet energy demand, waste of capital and gas lock-in?” At present, there is no politically or socially accepted answer.


  117. # John Bennetts

    I would very much like to endorse your suggestion that Barry invites a post from an economist. IMO, it should be one who accepts the scientific conclusions relating to global warming and its consequences and who has thought about the economic implications.

    Can our existing capitalist model continue to exist in the absence of GDP growth?
    Can liberal democracies exist in a system of zero or negative economic growth?
    Can GDP growth be obtained in a biologically sustainable manner such that discretionary incomes can stabilise or increase?

    If the answers to all three questions are negative, it would seem that our species, after a temporary escape from normal constraints made possible by fossil fuels, will revert to a situation in which the “laws of nature” once more obtain.

    Happy Christmas!


  118. Merry Christmas to all BNC regular commenters and readers! I hope you have a wonderful Yuletide celebration of mid-winter (or mid-summer here in Australia), and enjoy the festivities of the season. Although it got to 40C here in Adelaide yesterday, the snow is now falling gently on the blog for a few days…


  119. In the UK it seems the church wants the poor to give to the rich by maintaining high feed in tariffs for PV
    I think a couple of new factors are at play
    1) the need for a hedge against high power bills
    2) a desire to be seen to be doing something.
    If you turn down the thermostat on a water heater nobody notices but everybody gets to see the bling bling of silicon panels.

    Nearly had a white Christmas hereabouts with a violent hailstorm. It caused unprecedented damage to roadworks so in my thinking it was an extreme. The day must come when people start wondering if the weather is changing.


  120. @JN, you may also recall the downpour(16 mm in 12 minutes, or something like that) in the vicinity of Hobart a few days earlier that the BoM described as a “once in a lifetime event”. As I tweeted at the time, I wonder about that assessment; it sure sounds like classic greenhouse weather to me. But I also wonder whether more, similar events will have the impact you suggest. The frog in a slowly heating pot of water story might be mythical, but I think it persists nevertheless because many of us realise that it speaks truth about human nature. On the whole, people are quite good at forgetting what is ‘normal’, and putting up with their new reality, whatever consequences that may entail.


  121. The recent American Geophysical Union newsletter contained the following:

    Reviewers for Climate and Energy Educational Resources Requested

    The Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness Network (CLEAN) is stewarding a collection of climate literacy and energy awareness educational resources for grades 6–16. (Reviewers are needed to confirm the scientific accuracy of videos, visualizations, and lesson plans. Contact Tamara Ledley for more information.

    I thought it appropriate to draw this to the attention of BNC readers, however it should be noted that those without a high-level scientific qualification specific to the area being reviewed need not apply. Also notable is that a quick scan of the educational resources vetted and endorsed by CLEAN revealed none primarily devoted to nuclear energy, though there are many devoted entirely to one of solar, wind or other renewables.


  122. Mark we are in a drought here in Texas that has been going on for a couple of years. Looking at data over the past few decades we should come out of it ok shortly. But the longer thousand year historical record in tree rings shows a couple of occurrences of drought lasting several decades and water planners are now being told they should be thinking about planning for those kinds of events. However I doubt they will be able to raise the capital to build systems for those conditions and then have them sit there unused for long periods of time. Some how we have to build new water supplies that are low cost enough to be used to supply water even during normal short term periods of dryness and not be 100% dependent on rainfall. Possibly nuclear waste heat could be used to produce fresh water. Since water is a bigger issue than electricity in Texas, I think our future nuclear plants on the coast should be fresh water producers also. But its hard to get the water planners and the electricity planners together. We’re just not advanced yet, but we should be.


  123. My comment just gave me an idea. The Canadian report that was posted here the other day i.e. presented an interesting idea for cycling nuclear. it was to keep the reactor running at full output and then dump excess heat when less heat is needed to run the turbine and generator at lower electrical output. I.e. a new way to cycle nuclear power that could potentially have a very fast response time. But the waste heat got me to thinking that both the waste heat and the normal heat could be used in a distillation process. I know that this subject has been discussed before and many planners are saying that more water can be produced cheaper using reverse osmosis. Then other people I talk to dont want to use reverse osmosis because of cleaning and maintenance requirements. I want to present a new idea. The idea is that if we had a variable water supply then the heat could be quickly directed between electricity and water production. This means that the nuclear plant could take up the slack instead of gas plants for cycling purposes. I.e it would be possible to build an integrated wind solar and nuclear system where nuclear plays the role of both water producer as well as electrically stabilizing the power balance on the grid. The nuclear reactor would run at full output all the time producing either water or electricity. You could introduce as much wind and solar as you can to the system and nuclear power could fill in the rest. All fossil fuels on the system would be eliminated. Well its just an idea I thought you might want to consider.


  124. MD I live on a dirt road 70km out of Hobart. The Christmas day hailstorm is the first time I’ve had to fill deep ruts in the road. It’s also weird that two days later people are wearing jackets at the height of summer. Note Onslow WA recorded 49C earlier in the week.

    GP I see the WNA page on small modular reactors refers repeatedly to desalination as an application and sometimes to district heating
    A testing scenario might be a period of extended spring weather when demand is down for both water and grid power. Although normally considered wasteful perhaps surplus power could be used on hydrogen production.


  125. John Newlands — I agree with your assessment of feed-in tariffs for somar PV; actually the situation is even worse than that as I’ll (eventually) explain in detail.

    Gene Preston — I agree that keeping an NPP going (jearly) full bore is a good idea. I’ll soon propose another use for the excess heat, but if desalinization is more productive I’m all for that too.


  126. Backing wind with NPPs (draft 2, corrected) —

    Assume NPPs are as agile as an ATMEA1, cycling at 5%/minute between 30% (minimum) and 100% with ‘instant’ return to full power. It then appears that some penetration of wind power into a 100% NPP grid is feasible. The economics, however, are a bit odd as a result of the necessity of providing backup to the variable wind generation combined with the lack of any significant variable costs associated with running NPPs; periodic replenishment is required irrespective of the attained capacity factor (CF). As a concrete example we assume a nominal 33 GW [nameplate] NPP fleet for the reference grid.

    Including reserves for NPPs undergoing replenishment & refurbishment with an additional 6% reserve margin for generator trip offs and using believable (but approximate) costs and financing suitable for the USA, the NPPs daytime LCOE (Levelized Cost Of Electricity) is US$0.0912/kWh (CF=86%) while the nightime LCOE is US$0.135/kWh (CF=60%) [assuming the load is 70% of the daytime load]. Imagine that every 24 period’s load pattern is just like the previous, 8 hours at 70% followed by 16 hours at 100%. The diurnal averaged LCOE is, for wholesale, US${(2/3)0.0912+(1/3)0.135=10.58}/kWh. Suppose that customers and the NPP fleet operator are satisfied with this arrangment but that wind farm operators now want a piece of the action.

    The wind statistics are from Pacific Northwest data: the nominal maximum CF of 30% translates into a (rounded down) 25% CF for wind farm operators. Treat wind as equally likely both night and day.

    The difficulty is that all the NPPs must remain to act as balancing agents, i.e., backup, for the wind farms even though the NPPs will, on average, operate at lower CFs and so higher LCOEs. Unable to charge more than US$10.58/kWh, the NPP fleet operator requires a balancing agent fee from the wind farm operators.

    Consider the first 30 MW [nameplate] wind farm. Averaged over the course of an average day this wind farm generates 7500 kWh per hour. The NPP fleet, nameplate 33,222,591 kW, generates the remaining {(1/3)20,000,000+(2/3)28,571,143-7,500=25,706,595.33} kWh per hour so the forgone 7500 kWh per hour (0.00292% of generation) is down in the noise. Nonetheless, some very small portion of income has been forgone and the NPP fleet operator expects a balancing agent fee in recompense; to wit, US${7500(0.1058)=793.50} per day. But this is precisely what the wind farm operator receives on average for the energy provided. Is there another way? Not without some form of energy storage.

    Consider pumped hydro as the energy store. Typical operation is to pump up at night when the cost of electricity is low and generate during the day when prices are high. For a pumped hydro unit with such diurnal activity every day, the cost equation is
    LCOE(out) = f + LCOE(in)/0.8
    where f is the fixed costs to be met and 80% is the efficiency factor. While the fixed costs depend upon location, for new pumped hydro f = US$0.06/kWh is a reasonable estimate. We asssume that the pumped hydro unit pumps 12 hours a day and generates the other half of the day when the demand is highest.

    Suppose wind farms have a LCOE of but US$0.08/kWh, a current realistic estimate. Then the cost of daytime electricity provided by the combined wind + pumped hydro scheme is
    LCOE(w+ph) = 2LCOE(wind) + 0.8f = US${0.16+0.048=0.208}/kWh
    which is almost twice the LCOE from the NPP fleet. Moreover, such pump hydro facilities ordinarily require pumping (almost) daily — I only know of one unit which is capable of generating for at least three weeks without pumping; such would be desirable in regions, exemplified by the Pacific Northwest in December of 2011. However, the reference grid has ample excess NPP supplied energy for 8 hours at night and up to half of the reserve could also be committed to meeting the unavailabiity of wind. In such situations the LCOE(in) for the pumped hydro increases but the demand is met. In summary up to 1.8 GW of this 12 hour demand could be met in this manner, 1 GW from the reserve and 0.8 GW from pumped hydro generation. Of course this means the pumped hydro stations must be able to store at least a total of {0.8(12) = 9.6}GWh; this sets the absolute limit for wind penetration as 1 GW (average), hence 4 GW nameplate. The effect of seasonal periods of high wind has not been considered; the lack of sufficient storage may curtail substantial portions of wind in such periods with a resulting lower average CF for wind and hence a higher average LCOE(wind).

    I conclude that a modest use of wind energy is compatible with a grid supplied mainly by NPPs; this use increases costs due to the pumped hydro then required but at least is entirely low carbon generation which is not subject to the vagaries of fuel markets.

    Note below: The forgoing assumes an all new fleet of NPPs, all still paying down loans for capital construction. After such payment a modern NPP can be expected to have an equally long period of useful service and that for an LCOE of around US$0.0275/kWh, diurnally averaged. Assuming half are old and half are new the NPP fleet average LCOE is but US$0.06665/kWh. This may well be sufficiently low that wind generators are unable to compete into the foreseeable future.

    Good discussion of wind power economics in the European markets although I do not agree with the conclusion:

    More detail on merit order effect of wind:

    Click to access MeritOrder.pdf


  127. Water consumption for power production.

    Macquarie Generation’s two power stations in the Hunter Valley are:
    Liddell, 2000MWe capacity (sent out)
    Cooling: Man-made cooling water pond, Lake Liddell.
    Apart from insignificand events such as periodic testing of discharge valves, Lake Liddell is operated as a zero discharge facility.
    Bayswater, 2640 MWe sent out.
    Cooled by conventional cooling towers.
    Several additional storage dams exist for off stream water storage and there are two ash dams, each of which consumes water through evaporation.

    All station drainage, sewerage and water treatment is managed on site with zero discharge off site.

    Effectively, water in = natural evaporation from storages plus forced evaporation due to heat loads.

    The water licence is for 73GL/a, not all of which is available in any given year – assume 80% = 58GL.
    Add overland flows, which are highly variable, an average of perhaps 5GL/a.

    The annual gross water input is thus balanced via the usage and is of the order of 63ML total. An estimated 10GL/a is natural evaporation from storages.

    Assume a CF of 75%.
    Annual power production is thus 0.75 * 4640*8660 MWh/a sent out = 30GWh.

    Annual water consumption of 58GL consists of:
    10GL natural evaporation, plus
    48GL @ 1.6GL/GWh.

    Note that this is indicative only, but is relatively correct in real world scenarios at 30 degrees S. Note also, that this method of estimating consumption avoids the traditional theoretical thermodynamic method of calculation, which considers only the latent heat of evaporation and may avoid considering other losses, eg seepage from dams or evaporation due to normal action on surfaces of dams – about 1500mm per annum nett hereabouts.

    Dry cooling is thus able to save about 1.6GL/a per GWh.

    A proposed new power station of say 2GW, even if operated at a huge 85% capacity factor, would use about 23.5 GL more water if wet cooled than if dry cooled.

    By comparison, the Murray Darling Basin needs about 3000 or 4000 GL/a returned to the rivers over historic usage to restore health. Discussion of adding or subtracting some water cooling or air cooling of condensers amounts to fiddling with the last percent or two of allocation while diverting attention from 98% of the source of the problem.

    Agriculture must do the heavy lifting in the MDB. The other users are less than marginal.

    (NB There are currently no large power stations in the MDB, nor are there plans for them. This is presented as a real world comparison of water consumption of wet Vs dry condenser cooling in thermal power stations, presented in as non-technical a way as possible.)


  128. Consideration of accuracy of the above:
    Because Macquarie Generation’s stations are essentially zero discharge via waterways and import no water from domestic systems, the foregoing avoids the need to specifically calculate water consumption due to:
    Underground seepage
    Evaporation from standing water storages (Approx 10 ML/a, as stated above).
    Boiler Blowdown
    Operation of safety valves
    Domestic water supplies
    Fire services
    Washdown and cleaning
    Dust suppression on roads and stockpiles
    Sewage treatment and disposal
    Ash and dust collection and disposal to storage, which is returned via pumps or via Lake Liddell.

    There are small other extractions from Lake Liddell and other water sources within the power stations feeding:
    Domestic water to Jerries’ Plains township – several tens of ML/a only.
    Water to adjacent coal mines, etc for washdown or dust suppression. Again negligible, certainly less than 1GL/a.

    Thus, averaged over a period of years, the probable error in the above gross consumption figures is certainly less than 3GL/a, ie 5 or 6 percent.

    My estimate of the water consumption figure for these two sites at the current configuration of associated dams and current load profile, etc, is thus 1.6 GL per GWh, plus or minus 0.1GL per KWh. Say plus or minus 0.2GL/kWh to be on the safe side.


  129. JN: I’m too lazy to look up details of Desertec’s condenser cooling proposal. However, I’d be amazed if they proposed wet cooling.

    Even in an aged power station like Liddell, boiler makeup is not huge.

    Novatec have developed a robotic, dry system for cleaning mirrors in their current ST power plant. I’m sure that adapting it to PV would be practical.

    Desertec will thus need water only for boiler makeup, domestic, fire and dust suppression – at first guess, less than 100ML/GWh-e sent out, stored entirely in tanks and thus somewhat shielded from evaporative losses. While this may be a significant cost, it is within practical reach of desal plant, powered any way they like. A 150NB pipeline, running intermittently, could supply a 5 or 10 GWe nominal capacity facility comfortably, I would expect. Such a facility, with oversized collectors and adequate thermal storage, might operate at 50% CF and say 10% overall efficiency, sunlight to electricity.

    The larger problem would be finding 300 to 600 square kilometres of land on which to place the mirror fields for such a plant, ie a square of 18 to 25km on each side.

    One problem is that each parasitic load, such as dry cleaning systems, reduces the energy available for despatch and thus nett efficiency. Oddly, initial efforts to locate details of Novatec’s cleaning system have been fruitless.


  130. @ JN, on 27 December 2011 at 4:27 PM:

    The last line of this link says the Menindee Lakes in the MDB loses 426 GL per average year…

    At ease, John. It’s not as bad as you think.

    John, 460 of dams, evaporating 2.4 metres per year (ignoring rainfall) and assuming that not a drop of that water will precipitate elsewhere in the catchment subsequently, amounts to only 3GL/d, not the given figure of “5 or 6”.

    That figure is for all 4 pondages in Menindee Lakes. The story says that at least three would be filled if water was prevented from entering the fourth till they were full.

    So, only one quarter of the 3GL per day is additional due to the water being spread out in 4 storages.

    The additional evaporation due to water flowing into the fourth storage is 0.75GL/d, ie one eighth of the scare figure which was provided by Ray Najar, the GM of the Murray Darling Association, who is thus discredited as a source.

    The Adelaide Advertiser is in need of more numerate reporters and less gullible parrotting of unchecked opinion from conflicted sources.

    John, there will be no charge for reducing your problem by 7 eighths. I leave the residual one eighth to you and your local reduce/reuse/recycle campaigners.



  131. Gene Preston — If you are asking me, it does not matter how the reject heat is used (or just wasted). District heating is popular from the low countries across to at least Poland but I assume that the price received for the heat is only just enough to pay for the extra pipes and whatnot.


  132. I feel obliged to enter this discussion after seeing the citation of Ontario’s Society of Professional Engineers paper on nuclear plants supporting wind. It’s a rather nonsensical paper written from the basic understanding of the engineer’s task: the task is how to had 8000MW of wind. Why anybody would try to is beyond me, and nothing in the OSPE paper indicates it is a good idea, but …
    Gene Preston, the OSPE paper did note; “The Bruce A nuclear station provided process steam to the nearby heavy water plant and industrial/agricultural complex from the mid 1970’s to the mid 1990’s. At the time, some electrical generation was locked-in due to a limitation on transmission capacity. The surplus nuclear steam energy offset oil consumption at the heavy water plant.”
    Just to put Ontario engineering might in an historical context — not only did we construct 8 nuclear units at Bruce without the capacity to get the output to market decades ago, Bruce is set to return to 8 operational units next year – without the transmission capacity to get all of the output to market.
    Regardless, agriculture and heating are two uses in northern climates.
    In the south, I read an article out of Jordan some time ago, which is looking to nuclear power both for security. Natural gas supply coming from Egypt isn’t seen as stable, security also in terms of water and food supply in using nuclear power for desalinating water. These uses seem appropriate in many southern climates


  133. Thanks Scott. I am kicking around the idea that nuclear may integrate in well with wind and solar and water production. And without nuclear none of these can be complete non fossil solutions. The solution would have nuclear rapidly switching back and forth between electric production when wind and solar are insufficient and then when electric production of wind and solar is high, then the nuclear plant switches to water production. The water it produces is stored in a nearby lake and is then pumped by individual customers to their areas when needed. The electric pumps that move the water can be used as the spinning reserve of the system, thereby freeing the system of a need to run gas generators at low output. The electric water pumps can be powered by any of the sources wind solar or nuclear. However the water production occurs with the nuclear at reduced levels when electric power is at a maximum and then when the electricity is not needed the water production is increased to take up the excess heat from the reactors. The reactors run at maximum power steady state all the time and are not cycled. I am thinking of trying to design a total system for Texas using this concept and then showing that it can be made reliabile, as reliable as today’s system by performing an LOLP analysis, which I intend to do for Texas anyway, to determine the effective load carry capacity of wind and solar at different locations. ERCOT is currently doing this study anyway but they have not figured out a long range plan that actually works without having a high dependence on natural gas…..more later….


  134. David, its simple for an interruptible load like a water pump to be used as a replacement for spinning reserve. All the operator has to do is turn off the motor and walla, there is extra power available on the network. Get enough pumping load running most of the time that could be interrupted at any time and that is effectively the same as quick start generation.


  135. Gene and David. I agree re pumps. Also aluminium smelters. And air conditioners (if appropriate switching is available) etc.

    That leads us to one beauty of smart meters, which is that they can be used to switch off loads in a discriminating manner, rather than settle for blackouts of whole suburbs and towns, which means that home dialysis will fail, also other high value but relatively low power consumption devices such as the radio.

    Unfortunately, as with many tools, smart meters are able to be used in a ruthless manner by those with authority to do so. For example, if I were in such a position and if I was an anti-air conditioning zealot, then at least hypothetically, my air conditioner might be shut down during the daytime peaks of every day through summer, not because of system security but because I felt like it… or because it saves the retailer money in two ways – (1) by reducing the peak wholesale electricity tariff and (2) by reducing or shifting the load and hence the number of peak MWh’s that must be purchased.

    Smart meters then become political tools for those who seek to ration that which is at present a commodity which is rationed only by pre-set price (tariff) in many jurisdictions. Money will not buy reliability of retail supply in such a world – influence will.

    Extremists of the energy debate occasionally state quite baldly that smart meters are essential ingredients in thier view ot the energy future. I am convinced that taking away from the individual customer the decision whether or not to purchase electricity for any specific purpose is less than ideal.

    I wait in vain for these same folk to say that the buyer should and could determine the values of the parameters which control their smart meters – eg, if the retail tariff goes above X cents per kWh, then stop the refrigerator, air conditioner and pool pump and water heater, then turn them off for 1, 2 and 3 hours, respectively or until the tariff falls back below Y cents per kWh, whichever comes first.

    Perhaps a future BNC thread could look at demand management using smart meters and switchable loads, and the socio-political impacts of different control philosophies, at both the industrial scale and the domestic scale.

    NB. I do not argue that the preset tariff system is efficient or ideal; indeed, it is not. However, where is the debate about the effects of smart meters on businesses and people?


  136. John we might get into a mode of load shedding air conditioners even if we didnt have a demonic individual at the controls. There might not be enough capacity to go around and the loads are put in a pecking order of interruption and the computers decide who gets load shedded. This load shedding automation could be pre determined by humans but most likely machines will eventually make the second by second decisions. Geezz all we have to do to avoid this mad max of grid operation scenario is to build more plants. I just don’t get it when the greens say no more new power plants. Dont they realize the lights are going to go out some day?


  137. Some philosophical points on the discussion.
    A NY Times blog entry around Amory Lovins’ latest book informed us he was paraphrasing Eisenhower’s “if a problem seems to have no solution, the best approach is to enlarge it.”
    That seems to me to also be the best way to really, really, really, mess something up. I think that connects to the work of Thomas Homer-Dixon, one of the speakers at the Equinox summit this summer (, where he notes complexity is how we solve things.
    I’m skeptical, and tend to think simplicity is always desirable, so I would note:
    My understanding is that municipal water treatment is one of the easiest energy intensive uses that can be altered to use low-demand periods (daily). Conversely, letting millions of stoves and refrigerators cycle on and off randomly, instead of operating the individual cycling remotely, seems like an intelligent thing to do.
    All of which is to say that I think Gene is correct in looking for the simplest methods to use generation that can’t be consumed immediately.


  138. There are those who like to tell nice sounding stories about smart grids and smart meters and how we can have our washing machine turn itself on at midnight etc, but what actually matters is how much demand is likely to be moveable, what are the time constraints (eg intra day, multi day etc) and what are the requirements for infrastructure changes over and above just the metering, signalling, control, power switching etc.

    As part of the Renewable Energy Review, the UK Climate Change Committee commissioned a report on technical constraints on renewables:

    Figure 29, page 81 shows projected movable demand in 2030 and 2050. In 2030, essentially all movable demand is intra day for a total of 56 TWh of 400 TWh annual demand being movable.

    But the really important thing is that the 2030 movable demand is almost all heating or transport. Sorry, the smart washing machines don’t matter much. The significance is that the usefulness of the “smart grid” is highly dependent on the rate of deployment of EV and PHEVs and on the large sale replacement of gas heating by electric heating. The latter in particular is no trivial or cheap exercise.

    The bottom line is that it’s not just the “smart grid” that matters – it’s also very much the infrastructure that plugs into it. Changes to the latter will be costly and may well not happen at the rate we may like. Making overly optimistic assumptions could lead to a mess and extended life for fossil fuel burners because the movable demand hasn’t arrived.

    Of course the situation will be somewhat different in countries with predominantly warm climates such as Aus, but in colder climates the UK situation may be representative.


  139. The problem with countries like Australia is that summer heat is going from annoying to deadly. The signs are that southern cities will hit 50C in years to come with temps up to 47 and 48 in Adelaide and Melbourne. A couple of percent of homes with modest PV won’t offset the grid demand for air conditioning which in any case continues into the early evening as the sun sets.

    I’m not sure if proposals for radio switching of aircons (in Adelaide and Geraldton I think) will continue once smart meters are rolled out. Either ways the punters aren’t going to like it. Energy rationing and its many forms is going to be a major issue.


  140. PV and aircon are a pretty nice fit. Not always – you can have hot hazy days – but in most places, especially arid desertlike place, there is a really good correlation.

    The correlation can be much improved by making some cold water or ice. A big insulated tank of chilled water attached to the aircon as energy storage. The PV makes electricity at noon which is used to chill water in the big tank. It doesn’t have to be grid connected, per se. It could be a full standalone system with a small battery for pumps and fans in the evening.

    The grid in aircon heavy places would be much relieved with such a PV cold store system rollout, allowing nuclear baseload plants to take up most of the grid demand. There will still be excess nighttime nuclear generation, we’ll dump that in plugin hybrids and other electric vehicles as nighttime charging.


  141. CR the question must be how much the cold water tank system will cost. At present a tiny 2 or 3% of homes have ~ 1kw of PV which partially exports back to the grid. However most homes (I’d guess 80%) in the hot zone have air cons that draw 2kw or more. We’d want most homes to have this PV and cold water storage system hopefully at moderate cost. Feed-in tariffs would be pointless since every home should be fitted and the cross subsidy would cancel out.

    I presume with advanced smart meters an in-house display will advise customers that electricity rates have gone up on hot days. The customers might have a cycling option for the air con so it switches off temporarily. This will require millions of homes to be rewired. Given Australia’s home insulation scheme caused several heat stroke deaths and electrocutions plus numerous electrical fires it seems unlikely this rewiring program will happen anytime soon.


  142. Hi all. I rarely post around here as I’m not as knowledgeable as a lot of you folks, though I am definitely in the pro-nuclear camp, and learning more everyday.

    I had a question I was hoping one of you could help me out with. First off, I’m part of a community of “traditional” environmentalists (read, do not support nuclear) and I do my best to make a pro-nuclear case to them when they post “we’re all going to die!” articles related to Fukushima. Here’s the latest one. A friend posted this link on their FB page:

    And everyone on the FB thread seems to think now that all Japanese groundwater will kill you, and nuclear is the devil. etc etc. You’ve all heard the emotional rhetoric. This reaction is from a measured reading of 1.3-14.7 Bq/kg of cesium-137 in drinking water.

    It is clear that no one who has commented on the link on FB thread knows anything about radioactivity or measuring dosage, so I want to post something intelligent to calm their fears (if possible!). I know that Bq is not a measure of radiation dose, and my understanding is that the human body is naturally radioactive at about 100 Bq/kg (mostly from potassium?). Also, the regulatory safe level for caesium-137 in drinking water in Japan is 200 Bq/kg. So is there reason to freak out about a reading of 1.3-14.7 Bq/kg in drinking water in Japan? What would you say to clam people’s fears?

    Thank you!


  143. So is there reason to freak out about a reading of 1.3-14.7 Bq/kg in drinking water in Japan? What would you say to clam people’s fears?

    Maybe you could start by expressing doubt of the Japanese government’s truthfulness, then link . The evacuees of FD1 are a small enough fraction of Japan’s population that a cynical government might not mind harmfully evacuating them, when — if the persons making this decision had had to make it on their own behalf — they might have understood that the hazards of remaining would be much less. But by using some unimportant peasants as props in their radiophobia drama, they can get more natural gas revenue for their kind of people.

    I think the advice at is good, but what do I know. If you read it and try to follow it, please share your experience.


  144. @ Chris. One thing you could do is show the natural radioactivity all around us, in the sea and in the soil. Seawater for example contains around 11 Bq/liter of K-40, a similar nuclide to radiocesium. Typical soil even contains 400 Bq/kg, which is around 800 Bq/liter, of K-40. There are other elements in soil and sea water as well, such as uranium and thorium. This is perfectly natural. You certainly won’t have to worry about a few Bq/liter in drinking water. Especially not for cesium which doesn’t bioaccumulate in small organs.


  145. @Chris

    So is there reason to freak out about a reading of 1.3-14.7 Bq/kg in drinking water in Japan? What would you say to clam people’s fears?

    I talk about ‘banana equivalent’ dosing when talking with folks with a poor grasp of radiation. Most people are familiar with bananas and see them as something ‘healthy’ to eat. A typical banana has about 15 becquerels of radiation from K40.


  146. Slightly off topic, but the link below is to a news item which links cancer and breast implants, even though further down in the article, it is stated that no link has been demonstrated.

    It seems to me that the whole purpose of the article is to get the trigger word “cancer” into the headline to attract eyeballs, even though in this case, as with so many other cancer scare items, there is no demonstrated link.

    But the agency stressed that no link had been established between cases of cancer and having PIP implants. It said the number of breast cancer cases in women with PIP implants reported to date “remains lower than the rate observed in the general population”.

    When it comes to presentation of the facts regarding the causes and incidence of cancer, whether in relation to radiation or otherwise, journalists have stirred up a lot of unwarranted fear and anxiety.


  147. It seems clear that the State of Queensland has not the slightest intention of participating in the low carbon push. On ABC 7.30 (no transcript) was a discussion of fly-in fly-out mining employment. It was proposed to run a shuttle flight from the Gold Coast to a mine seeking another 1,000 employees. Commenters were at pains to say it produced ‘resources’ but BMA the company concerned mines coal. I’m sure asbestos was also once described as a resource not a harmful product. I think of coal as CO2 that was sequestered millions of years ago. Funny thing I’m sure all those countries now buying more and more Queensland coal recently put their hands up at the climate conferences to say they were cutting back.

    Now Gladstone harbour wants to be exempted from the heritage area that helps protect the Barrier Reef coastal zone. The harbour dredging will facilitate liquefied coal seam gas export which they describe as natural gas. I guesstimate that CO2 from Australia’s exported coking coal, thermal coal and LNG is now about 800 Mt a year. Add CO2 from LCSG to that in future plus increased solid coal and natural (marine sediments) gas exports. Meanwhile domestic net CO2e from all sources should be around 550 Mt this year, aiming for 480 by 2020. I hope someone from the government can explain why we are even bothering with a domestic carbon tax.


  148. John Newlands is fixated on a link between a domestic carbon tax and export of fossil fuels.

    It does not need a government to explain that domestic release of CO2 is the subject of the CO2 tax and not exports.

    Exports are different – for example, taxing them would apparently breach international trade agreements which must be altered BEFORE any tax can be levied on them.

    I would like to see imported products taxed within Australia on the basis of the CO2-e released in their manufacture, but again, this has difficulties regarding trade agreements, which are enforceable in international courts. There is no magic wand which any one government can wave to unilaterally alter these agreements – that is precisely why they were made to be legally enforceable.

    Those who share the frustrations expressed by John Newlands can draw some satisfaction from the positive aspects of a domestic tax, even if it is too low to immediately drive change. That was, IMHO, the only step available to the government thus far, and they were nearly unable to make even that small progress. It is a small, inadequate, positive response, but it is at least positive.

    One step at a time. What John is advocating is desirable, even essential, but the rules mandate that the international game must be played with different tools and on a different playing field.


  149. My compromise proposal… invite fossil fuel customers to pay carbon tax on a voluntary basis. Using the multipliers 2.4 for thermal coal, 2.7 for coking coal and 2.8 for LNG when we X$23 the export levy becomes about $55, $62 and $64 per tonne of respective fuel. The importing countries can ask for the levy to be refunded into their domestic green programs.

    This lays the guilt trip on them. If they decline perhaps they weren’t serious about carbon cuts after all. Otherwise see how they go sourcing coal from some other politically stable country with 9 loading ports and more under construction.


  150. I share Mark Duffett’s exasperation with BOM’s reference to a severe weather event as “a once in a lifetime event”. (BOM is Australian Bureau of Meteorology)

    Such useage implies that the next lifetime’s weather is going to be the same as the last lifetime’s weather. And if anyone has the authority – and responsibility – of warning the public that it aint gonna be so, it is BOM’s.

    Better to say “Records only indicate a 2% probability of it happening in past years”. This still allows a “gosh-spooky!” inference by the casual listener while allowing the more thoughtful to realise that severe weather is becoming more frequent.


  151. Roger, when you say that severe weather is becoming more frequent, I did a bit of a double-take.

    From somewhere else – source now forgotten – I picked up the notion that severe weather, eg cyclones, will probably become LESS frequent, but that extreme examples of same will become MORE frequent.

    Further, not all extreme weather events are necessarily going to become more frequent/extreme.

    For example, the frequency of cold spells may well decrease and that of hot spells may increase.

    Your basic observation about the BOM’s unfortunate choice of words I agree with, however the reality may be more complex than a simple “She’s going to get worse… much worse”.


  152. John Bennetts — Changes in the frequency and severity of tropical cyclones (hurricanes and typoons in the northern hemisphere) remain speculative.

    Straightforward physical arguments suggest that globally averaged precipitation should increase with increasing temperature. However, over the satellite era [when global data can be acturately obtained] no such trend is observable with statistical significance. This is quite a mystery and may relate to changes in cloud cover.

    What is observable is a marked increase in precipitation in mid and high latitudes; possibly also in the tropics. It follows that precipitation is declining, on average, in the semitropics, which includes the deserts, semi-deserts, savannas and steppes. There is some evidence for this as well, but the coverage is quite poor.

    In regions with increased precipitaion, if all else remains the same [it doesn’t], the proportion of extreme precipitation events remains the same and so such occur more frequently. However, there perhaps is evidence that the proportion is increasing.

    Rather than continuing to conduct this inadvertent experiment for knowledge’s sake, far better to bring it to an end in favor of conditions best conducive to the practice of agriculture.


  153. @JB – you’re quite right in saying that cyclones may become less frequent, but that is because they can be killed by high altitude shearing winds. However the increasing frequency of high winds aloft is itself an example of an increasingly energetic atmosphere above an increasingly hot sea surface.

    My beef with “once-in-so-many-years” is that we should shift from mere extrapolation from past records to “so-many-percent-next-year” so that the trends of the changing climate can be included. For a worsening likelihood of a severe event, we can be advised on how much worse it is likely to get.

    For example, the trends in the records of minor floods going into Wyvenhoe Dam (a flood filter above Brisbane, Aust) could be used to annually publish an updated probability for an overflow that floods Brisbane in the next year. Estimates for decades ahead would warn buyers of real estate how long their purchase is likely to hold value.

    (JB did you really mean 1.6 GL/GWh ? That’s 1.6 kL/kWh, 1.6 tonnes of water vaporised per unit sold ? )


  154. Roger C:
    You got me again. Factor of 1000 error. Work it out for yourself, from the figures I provided:
    Installed capacity of MacGen’s two stations is 4660MW.
    There are 8660 hours per year.
    The water licence is for a max of 73GL/a.
    Subtract for natural evaporation from storages, about 10GL/a.
    Add for overland inflow, which is not much due to small catchment areas.
    Subtract for shortfall on extracting 73 Gl, which is a bit of a moveable feast due to weather and license restrictions. Besides which, if water releases are ordered from Glenbawn Dam and, when they pass the river pumps mechanical failure prevents extraction of part of the released volume, that is lost. Similarly, in the uncommon situation when water is released back into the river, eg due to safety checks of the discharge valves, that is also lost.

    Evaporation from dams is about 10GL/a excluding thermal forcing due to operating plant.

    Adjust for typical unit loading – ranges between 75 and 85 percent, plus a further reduction for planned outages – say 3 x 500MW x two weeks per annum, max.

    The number is of course as rubbery as is the weather, but 1.6kg/kWh is close to the actual end result.

    My apologies – I used a small calculator which has limited significant figures, rather than XL or similar.

    Another rough rule of thumb is that MacGen uses 12 to 14 million tonnes of coal each year. So, for every tonne of coal burned, about 5 tonnes of water are “consumed”, plus natural evaporation of a further 10GL, which is constant and independent of load. Of course, this varies with coal quality and opeally has higher ash content than export coal.

    The main point that I set out to make, but mightily stuffed up, is that power generation uses far, far less water than cities. South Australia’s and the MDB’s water woes are hundreds or even thousands of GL/a. Australia’s largest power generator extracts not more than 73 GL each year from the Hunter River, with a long term average significantly below 70.


  155. Roger, again:

    My experience with hydrology and flood routing, etc, is rusty or worse. One thing I did notice when I returned to the subject in an academic environment the 1990’s and in relation to dam safety management, after a gap of a couple of decades, was that floods were described as 1% instead of “1 in 100 years”. This appears to be, at least in part, a response to the tendency of some to say that the 1955 flood was a 1-in-a-hundred, so the next time we expect to see it will be 2055, so why worry… it is only 2012.

    This terminology also is well suited to reflecting the expectation, in a changing climate, of such an occurrence. It fits well with reviewed probabilities due to catchment modification due to land clearing or development, as well as to climate change and improved understanding of the science behind predicting rainfall and runoff in a catchment, or developments in the engineering disciplines relevant to stream flow. Things change with time, so the best way to report probabilistic events is by using probabilistic language, properly defined.

    Maybe other readers are closer to this subject and can advise more authoritatively, but I am sure that the 1-in-a-hundred-years terminology has baggage which detracts from the probabilistic nature of the concept of the probability of exceedance of an event under current circumstances. The old term, average return interval (ARI), has been superseded by the concept of probability of exceedance.

    I expect to hear that a river hight of X metres or a stream flow rate of Y ML/hr at a certain location has an average annual probability of being exceeded of Z percent. That is subtly and significantly different from saying that its ARI is Z years, which may not, strictly, be true and infers that it is based only on historical observations. Consider also, those years which have several high or very high flows in a catchment. Formerly, only the highest flood in any year of data was considered, because otherwise there would be more data points than there were years. They are now handled differently than was the case when I first studied this subject in the 1960’s.

    Those who use phrases like 1-in-a-hundred-years are using terminology which has been out of date for decades, and this may well include the Australian gurus in this discipline, the Bureau of Meteorology.

    One of the saddest aspects of the Qld floods was that the weather bureau was unable to predict stream heights for streams which do not have gauges. This led to loss of life, because the alarm could not be raised by the SES, which is not equipped to provide such forecasts.

    The SES and fire authorities rely on the Bureau of Meteorology for their forecasts, and must use them as one input in their planning. Whether or not to issue warnings to specific communities under threat in any particular event, and when to do so, is likely to remain problematic for many years.


  156. JB – Thanks for the update. It’s good to hear that BOM and planners now use probabilities instead of average-return-intervals, as the latter are instantly outdated in a changing climate.

    Also for the estimated water cost of electric power: 1.6 kg/kWh. Good for that 3-second sound-bite, too: “Every unit costs the rivers a litre of water and the greenhouse a kilo of CO2”.

    That’s 14 kL/a too. In comparative terms, it means that a person using 1 kW of electric power and about 140 kL/a of clean water, has used 10% of one to make the other.

    I wish it were the other way around, that in the creation of 1 kW (e) the exhaust heat created the 140 kL/a — as we discussed earlier.


  157. I’ve just noticed on the ABC news that coal and liquid gas exports are euphemistically referred to as resources not singly or generically as fossil fuels. I hope that AGW attribution of extreme weather damages can be made rigorous. That way instead of
    ‘$2m beachfront mansion wiped out by storm surge’
    if the AGW factor was 50% we’d have
    ‘beachfront mansion resourced by $1m’.

    Yes I am a bit obsessed by Australia’s carbon hypocrisy. The new correct speak is another form of denial.


  158. Integrating solar PV with NPPs —

    Having discovered the value of energy storage in the previous installment,
    we now equip every NPP with a thermbine. A thermbine is a thermal storage equivalent of a small and inexpensive pumped hydro unit. Rather than storing the potential energy of superior position a thermbine stores heat in a thermal store. Some solar thermal generators use much the same but these thermbines have lower efficiency since the thermal store can only be heated to the temperature provided by a typical nuclear reactor.[NB 1] Translated to electical equivalents for simplicity and comparison to a pumped hydro unit, the Levelized Cost of Electricity (LCOE) is given by
    LCOE(thermbine) = US${0.0292 + LCOE(NPP)/.8}
    for diurnal operation.

    With these the reference grid can then be energized by 28 1.1 GW nameplate NPPs of which at any time two are off line for replenishment and refurbishment. The remaining 26 are all on line at all times so that the overall capacity factor (CF) is 86% which leaves a reserve of about 2.1 GW. The LCOE for NPP operations is US$0.912/kwh. Thence LCOE(thermbine) = US${0.0292+0.912/0.8=0.1432}/kWh. The reference grid requires 20 GW for 8 hours followed by 28.57 GW for 16 hours:
    LOCE(day) = US${0.7(0.0912) + 0.3(0.1432) = 0.1068}kWh;
    LCOE(average) = US${(1/3)(0.0912)+(2/3)(0.1068)=0.1016}/kWh;
    this is a cost improvement in comparison to daily cycling of the NPPs to meet to varying load. Suppose that customers and the NPP fleet operator are satisfied with this arrangement for wholesale prices. However, retail markup adds about US$0.04/kWh for customers and as solar PV price come down, eventually LCOE(solarPV) is less than US$0.1416/kWh. What happens to the grid and its market?

    Assume the sun shines enough for full solar PV generation 4 hours per sunny day, between 10 am and 2 pm, and otherwise there is no such generation. On average 90% of days are sunny but cloudy periods may last up to 40 days.

    There are three issues:
    (1) assuring a balancing agent, i.e., backup for cloudy days;
    (2) resolving the matter of displaced fixed costs, if any;
    (3) setting prices fairly so that those without solar PV are not subsidizing those with solar PV.

    For the first few individual customers with solar PV (solars), a small portion of the reserve can act as balancing agent on cloudy days without significantly increasing the risk of load loss. Possibly solars should pay a small fee for the increase in loss of load probability. If these solars can be treated as new load equivalents in a grid with growing load, then there are no displaced, i.e., unbillable, fixed costs. Indeed the price structure needs no modification.

    Now assume a more significant solar PV penetration which displaces existing load during the sunny interval on sunny days. The otherwise unused thermal energy is stored for later use in the thermbines. As this is used 10% of the time on average, to recover costs requires an
    LCOE(backup) = US${0.300 + .0912/0.8 = 0.414}/kWh
    billable to solars on cloudy days. On average the solars pay the utility US$0.0414/kWh betweeen 10 and 2 pm. Using solar PV then becomes financially attractive when LCOE(solar) is less than US${0.1016-0.0414=0.602}/kWh as the retail markup is a wash.

    This works fairly up to 30% of the daytime load. If solar PV begins to displace the remaining 70% then alternate low carbon storage schemes appear to substantially increase the cost of providing a balancing agent capable of operating for 40 days.[NB 2]

    To the extent that solar PV energy unneeded by the solars does not displace energy provided by fixed cost resources, utilities could pay the solars for that energy. The net effect is to keep the thermal storage units well energized. The details depend upon exact circumstances, but the net to solars might average one to two UScents per kilowatt-hour. This could slightly increase net LCOE(solar).

    In summary, some customer owned and operated solar PV is compatable with the assumed NPP+thermbine fleet.

    Questions and commentss are most welcome.

    Notes Below:

    NB 1: Part of the steam produced from the nuclear reactor is directed to a heat exchanger to energize the thermal store. The fraction os directed is not variable so energizes the thermal store whenever the NPP is on-line. At the other end of the thermal store there is anothr heat exchanger to produce steam for the Rankine cycle generator of the thermbine. This is analogous to a pumped hydro unit with a pump which runs continuously and a generator which runs as required. The fixed cost estimate of US$0.0292/kWh is based on costs for a combined cycle gas turbine but the efficiency is just less than the assumed (31/37) in comparison the usual Rankine cycle efficiency for the turbine of an NPP. Other arrangements might well be more efficient but these thermbines are assumed to be readily added to any NPP.

    NB 2: Adding additional storage in the form of pumped hydro ends up being even more expensive than what has been discussed. The only low cost balancing agent appears to be combined cycle turbines powered by natgas (CCGTs) since the variable cost of the fuel is a significant portion of LCOE(CCGT). But natgass burning is not a low carbon source of electricity.


  159. David Benson, they’re using an alkaline polymer (polyethyleneimine), deposited on high surface area fumed silica. Seems like a pretty effective CO2 scrubber, with cheap materials available in bulk.

    As ever, the trick is the whole capture/release & recycle/compression/transport/sequestration process. A new scrubber material won’t necessarily change the big picture. And the fundamental thermodynamic limits on CO2 extraction from air mean atmospheric recovery is incredibly expensive, this PNAS paper estimating $2500 just from the thermodynamics of concentration, independent of materials.


  160. John Morgan — There are two questions which are better separated: (1) carbon dioxide capture from exhaust gases; (2) carbon dioxide capture from air. The article I linked clearly aims only at the first question, a problem currently beset with difficulties. As for the second, I suggest simply growing lotsa trees.


  161. Upthread I wondered if foreign countries buying our coal and LNG might like to pay refundable carbon tax on a voluntary basis as a gesture of solidarity. I’d say not given the reaction to EU airline carbon charges

    This issue is far from over. When we are unimpressed with carbon tax in 2015 and the transition to an ETS looms we’ll have to consider what works and what doesn’t. A key element is assistance to allegedly trade exposed industries. Part of that will be taking away the free ride given to foreign airlines, steelmakers and so on using carbon fuels either mined or refined in Australia.


  162. Nuclear power – exploding the myths
    By Terry Krieg
    On Ockham’s Razor

    My comment:

    Terry Krieg,

    Excellent article. Bit by bit, you and others are getting through to the vast majority of people who have open minds and who just want to know the facts. Keep up the good work.

    What an amazing coincidence in the first line of your article where you said “I converted from an anti to pro nuclear in 1981 …”. I did too*. My beliefs were strongly anti-nuclear. I knew all the arguments against nuclear and believed them. Then I was offered a job on site for the Wolsung Nuclear power plant in Korea. I did a hell of a lot of research before I accepted the job and came to the conclusion that the anti-nuclear scare mongering was fanatical hype by the usual suspects.

    (Actually, it was 1980, so I am a year ahead of you, and decades ahead of most of the ABC regulars)


  163. This twitter update “What if Low Energy Nuclear Reaction (LENR) really works? Interesting speculation on the ‘what if’ part…” really caught my attention and if true very exciting for the future of world energy generation. Does any one out there in BNC land have any more information on this technology or is this article purely spin.


  164. Here’s some numbers that I found a bit interesting. According to this: new world wide PV capacity in 2011 was about 13 GW

    And according to this shipments of PV panels in 2011 was 22.7 GW.

    If these figures are accurate, then the over supply of PV panels on the world market is considerable.


  165. This is an interesting read:


    Click to access 232_Report_Analysing%20the%20technical%20constraints%20on%20renewable%20generation_v8_0.pdf

    Scott – please be aware, before you post next time, that BNC requires you to have read any links and be able to express your opinions on the content. As this is on the more relaxed Open Thread your comment will stand.Future violations of this rule may be deleted.


  166. There’s a new story from an undercover reporter at Fukushima Dai-ichi, touting various shenanagans, most unverifiable. One statement I find odd, though I have no experience in the subject (dosimeters) to judge it firmly. Here it is, and if anyone has any comments on the subject I’d welcome them:

    He says plant workers regularly manipulate their radiation readings by reversing their dosimeters or putting them in their socks, giving them an extra 10 to 30 minutes on-site before they reach their daily dosage limit.

    The full article can be found at


  167. Eamon, on 10 January 2012 at 1:08 AM said:

    He says plant workers regularly manipulate their radiation readings by reversing their dosimeters or putting them in their socks

    Alpha particles can’t penetrate the paper safety suits the workers at Fukushima wear. Wearing your radiation badge backwards or in your sock just avoids ‘clocking’ radioactive particles that aren’t going to penetrate the paper suit anyway.

    On the other hand, I would be surprised if the gamma radiation readings taken at Fukushima were lower at ankle height rather then chest height. The primary contaminant at Fukushima is cesium which tends to bind to the top couple of inches of soil. In theory measuring at the foot rather then the chest would give a higher reading.


  168. Thought some might be interested … review article of LCOE calculations for solar PV across a broad variety of factors and considerations: with particular attention to system costs, financing, operating lifetime, and loan term. Study claims there is widespread inconsistency across research literature on use of these variable inputs and sensitivity factors leading to considerable variability in results. Authors look to document and characterize this variability, and provide a more useful and consistent assessment of solar PV levelized costs.

    They present their results in a case study for Kingston, Ontario. Assumptions are as follows: 0.5% degredation rate/year, 100% debt financing, 1.5% insurance cost, 10 year inverter life (replacement cost 9% of total installed system cost), and solar insolation in Kingston (1270 kWh/kW/year). Their analysis provides a range of results for different discount rates (0%, 4.5%, and 10%), loan lifetime (5 – 40 years), installed system costs ($1 – $7/Wp), and more.

    Results: they find solar PV grid parity with Ontario electricity rates (at $0.06 – $0.17/kWh in major cities) under the following conditions: “A 30 year system at an installed cost of $2.25/Wp–$3.25/Wp with a zero interest loan at the other assumptions has an LCOE of $0.10/kWh–$0.15/kWh, which is able to compete with grid prices at $0.080/kWh–$0.11/kWh. Regardless of lifetime, Fig. 3 indicates that installed PV system prices still need to decrease by a factor of two to be economically competitive in the current economic system in Ontario” (p. 4477, emphasis added).


  169. A study claiming wind turbines actually increase grid emissions has been released.
    Link to the Guardian article, but there are links to the original report and other contributions.

    Pretty obviously a flawed report (compares two hypothetical grids, one only running on CCGT, the other wind/OCGT, only one of those has peaking capability) but interesting nonetheless. If for no other reason than a study in how ‘research’ is being used to further one’s pre-determined ends.


  170. harrywr2, on 10 January 2012 at 3:29 AM said:

    Thanks for the info Harry

    Alpha particles can’t penetrate the paper safety suits the workers at Fukushima wear. Wearing your radiation badge backwards or in your sock just avoids ‘clocking’ radioactive particles that aren’t going to penetrate the paper suit anyway.

    I was wondering about that.

    On the other hand, I would be surprised if the gamma radiation readings taken at Fukushima were lower at ankle height rather then chest height. The primary contaminant at Fukushima is cesium which tends to bind to the top couple of inches of soil. In theory measuring at the foot rather then the chest would give a higher reading.

    Good point!

    Regarding caesium, I would think that the radio-isotopic profile would be different in the plant and its immediate environs – though I am no expert on the matter. We have a lot of caesium scattered across Fukushima, but I’d think there would be also be heavier radioisotopes closer to the plant. That said, they’d be largely alpha-emitters, and so amenable to the dosimetry hi-jinks you mentioned above.


  171. @ evcricket, on 10 January 2012 at 8:51 AM:

    What’s flawed about recognising that OCGT can support wind but CCGT cannot, because it isn’t flexible enough?

    Don’t think of the study as being flawed. Consider that any high penetration wind in a CCGT-dominated system is fatally flawed.

    As someone else said once on this site: “Wind is little more than a trojan horse for gas.”

    See, for example, this 18 month old study which is one of a series of four studies which demonstrated pretty credibly that wind power fails to deliver carbon emission reductions in the real world.

    See also, the very wide ranging Tcase 12 thread on this site, at It is very accessible reading and can be a real eye opener about some of the many factors which affect CO2 emissions from various technologies, either individually or in a mix.

    Or read the critique and comments re the ZCA proposal. Again, on this site:

    Again, I have intentionally selected 18 month old publications, in part because I want to demonstrate that it was demonstrated conclusively years ago that (wind + gas) is carbon intensive and, at best, is only a marginal improvement on Old King Coal.

    The solution to the climate challenge must be much more radical than at first may appear to be the case.


  172. Roger Clifton, on 10 January 2012 at 2:36 PM said:


    Why do you “think there would be also be heavier radioisotopes closer to the plant.” ?

    I was thinking plutonium and uranium would be scattered, but being heavier than radioisotopes like caesium they’d travel less and so be concentrated more around the plant and it’s environs. Please feel free to poke holes in this – this is a subject I’m new to (though I have an old Physics degree lying around…somewhere)


  173. John et al: I got the impression from reading the guardian article– describing the study asserting that carbon is not significantly reduced by adding wind, but increases, then challenging that same study–that the mainstream arguments defending wind power as reducing carbon are almost all based on models, not real world studies. Is this in fact true?


  174. John, my point is that the findings are invalid; they did not compare like with like. Without entering into any further discussions of the formats grids will/won’t take, the actual finding of the report is not consistent. One option can change load to meet a change in demand, the other can not. Comparing the carbon intensity of those scenarios is not useful.

    All of the studies you have provided are interesting at best; they are not informative in an Australian context, which is all I really care about. We do not, and will never, have a grid that is just wind and gas. If we introduce wind in Australia right now, the power produced displaces coal power. Not gas. And contrary to popular belief coal can actually ramp up and down quite a bit.


  175. Weird weather is a novelty at the moment but one day it’s going to be a cause for concern. Mid January is the height of summer and horticulturists plan for temps more like 40C than the sea level 2C we got hereabouts last night. If we have to grow crops like tomatoes entirely under controlled conditions the price of food will go even higher. Some grain harvests suffered because of the lack of a drying period in the wet summer.

    Coal apologists tell us if climate change is real it’s easier to adapt. That’s until we get the really costly weather regimes such as the need to grow summer crops indoors. I wonder if big changes are already underway but we don’t realise it yet.


  176. Hi all,

    I’ve been digging around trying to get a bit of info on skill set requirements for a nuclear energy industry in Australia. Forgive me if BNC has already touched on this, but I couldn’t find much.

    Has anyone had a good look at the state of nuclear education and research required for an industry in Australia? Presuming the ban is lifted on Gens III+ and IV and we decided to pursue such an industry, how are we positioned to deal with such a task?

    Of course there are some undergrad courses with nuclear relevance in such disciplines as medicine and science, though nothing directly pertinent to nuclear energy such as nuclear engineering. Taking a look at relative legislation in the parliamentary library, there doesn’t appear to be any block to it’s teaching. Interesting to note however, if we click ‘Nuclear Energy in General’, two sources are provided; ‘Nuclear power & Australia’ (link doesn’t exist) and ‘Friends of the Earth Melbourne: Anti-Nuclear Campaign’, in the case of the latter, I question if it should really belong on the APH site!.

    Research schools/facilities such as Uni of Sydney and ANSTO exist of course, without the nuclear energy generation.

    The Australian Nuclear Forum has some useful articles on nuclear education with a policy submission to Government. I particularly admire their advocacy for nuclear science to be taught in high school.

    I would imagine if we were to build reactors in the near future, GenIII+ would be a good starting point, with a view to develop such technologies such as the IFR. Some questions based on this scenario:

    1. What are the sufficient size and depth of educational/research needed in Australia for having a nuclear energy industry?

    2. What will it take to modify existing nuclear science/engineering undergrad courses already offered here?

    3. Can existing science and engineering graduates easily supplement their degree with nuclear components, e.g. A mech engineer –> nuclear engineer?

    4. Could we attract nuclear energy experts from overseas to ‘kick-start’ industry and research?



  177. PaulQ — For a comparison of sorts, Chile is seriously considering acquiring 3 large NPPs. The Chileans have no prior training in nuclear power generation. Thye are resolving this by sending some engineers in France for training with EDF or Areva, I’m not sure. They are sending some others to the USA for a tour of duty with NRC.

    What is required is a good understanding of how the operate an NPP. I woud suppose that starting with mechanical engineering is appropriate, especally if there is a course in the relevant nuclear physics which maybe includes some of the helth physics useul in understanding the safety issues.


  178. @Eamon speculated that fragments of heavy metal would fall sooner, and thus closer to the plant.

    As far as I know, the cores did not fragment at all, although two of them did melt. However, as well as dissolving some of the skin on the surface of the cores, the violence of the redhot reaction with steam probably did mobilise tiny flakes that travelled as suspensions in the eventual droplets. These would have been too small to affect the terminal velocity of the droplets. A significant amount of the aerosol would have plated out onto the walls and ceilings of the building panels that were subsequently shattered in the explosions. These fragments, that is, of building materials, can be seen in the video footage falling short as sheets of debris. Almost certainly the decreasing size of the fragments remaining in the air would be distributed in decreasing size with distance downwind.

    As Finrod has pointed out, the clumping of the showers of debris would have made them easier to find, scrape up and leave the soil cleaned for business as usual. However where they fell would have been more to do with the nature of the building product than any radioactive passengers.


  179. David B. Benson, thanks for the info on Chile’s pursuits and the type of skills needed for NPP operation. On the u/grad courses, do you think this is an easy transition? Are there any bridging course examples you’re aware of overseas (I can’t find any).

    I have a suggestion: start preparing Australia for 21st century energy now.

    Nuclear reactors may be banned in Australia, but some of the preceding essentials for establishing nuclear power, are not. By that I mean educating a generation of engineers and scientists.

    The Energy Minister, Martin Ferguson reminded Australia in the 2011 Draft Energy White Paper that if by 2020, renewables and carbon capture & storage were not technically and economically feasible, then nuclear should be considered as an option. Why wait to start from scratch in 2020? A skills base can be established now (if my interpretation of the Acts are correct;).

    I recently partook in a teaching/research planning session in our faculty where I asked the physicists on their thoughts of starting NP courses- it was a unanimous ‘yes’. If we’re serious about mid-long term energy options, I say we stay ahead of the curve, rather than play catch ups.



  180. It appears that a contraction may be looming for Australia’s aluminium smelting industry which has 6 smelters and consumes 11% of all domestic electricity
    They don’t blame the impending carbon tax (from which they get substantial export exemption) but perhaps they see tough times ahead regardless. This could be a good thing globally if the industry recycles more or relocates to hydro based production.

    However it is not good if the industry relocates to another country that uses not only Australian alumina (refined bauxite) but Australian coal to help generate the electricity. Overseas steel makers can use both our iron ore and our coking coal, steel producing about 1.7 tCO2 per tonne of steel. A tonne of aluminium needs about 15 Mwhe to smelt. If our local industries disappear it seems crazy that we would have to import product made with our own ingredients.

    I think the answer has to be something akin to the EU’s proposed airline carbon tax. Right at the moment the public doesn’t see it. However within the decade it seems likely that one or both of Australia’s primary steel producers will close and perhaps half the aluminium smelters. I’ll repeat my 5c worth when that happens.


  181. PaulQ & evcricket — My opinion is that other aspects in the curriculum for mechanical engineers are far more difficult; anybody who does adequately in the (mechanical) dynamics course (and also thermo) will find the nuclear aspects smooth sailing.

    There is a world-wide need for qualified nuclear engineers. The Idian government as started a training program for Idia’s needs but finds that the graduates are hired abroad (for considerably higher pay).


  182. David, yeah I was being a touch facetious; I think a whole nuke engineering course would be a tough sell in Australia, but Mech is a pretty good fit.

    I am a mech eng and can confirm that thermodynamics is hard. I’d be lying if I said I passed first go.

    Agree that many of the skills cross over; a nuke plant is just like any other power system, the heat source is just different. I imagine that 95% of the work would be generic mech eng; keep the pumps running, service the turbine, etc. Just the heat source varies.

    Used to work closely with an ex-French nuke engineer, one of the sharpest guys I’ve ever met. Most of his skills were applicable outside his field, but his nuke knowledge was fascinating. But like you said, it’s just learning a bunch of rules and if you can manage thermo and kinematics (which was mind boggling) then you can probably handle nuclear equations.


  183. David B. Benson and evcricket: are either of you familiar with the course structure of mech vs. nuclear engineering? I wonder if it is possible to do a Post/Grad Dip to qualify a mech eng to nuclear engineer?

    I assume that would be quicker to organize and cheaper to provide!


  184. I have a MechEng MSc., albeit with an emphasis on management side, and had seriously considered another in nuclear engineering. Sadly, at least in my alma mater (Aalto University in Finland) the prerequisite for a MSc. in nuclear engineering is a decent BSc. in engineering physics. While many MechEng skills are transferable or at least useful – particularly if one specializes in power systems, thermodynamics, or some such similar field – at least here the engineering physics curriculum is considerably more math-heavy and, frankly, very demanding.

    While undoubtedly not an insurmountable barrier, the required 3-4 years of very intense mathematics before getting on to the nuclear engineering stuff put an end to my aspirations.

    I remember from somewhere that before nuclear engineering was a speciality in our university, the nuclear engineers came nearly exclusively from engineering physics/applied physics graduates. Mechanical engineers were and are definitely employed in the nuclear power program as well, but (I believe) mostly on the non-nuclear side of the business.


  185. @ evcricket, on 11 January 2012 at 6:07 AM, re wind+OCGT Vs CCGT alone:

    …[M]y point is that the findings are invalid; they did not compare like with like…One option can change load to meet a change in demand, the other can not. Comparing the carbon intensity of those scenarios is not useful.

    Sorry to differ, but straight CCGT probably can do an adequate job at load following. The trick would be to keep the first (GT) stages of at least some of the CCGT plant part-loaded, thus retaining some very quick ramp up capability. Ramping down is a snack for CCGT – just back off the GT stages and re-balance the thermal side of things.

    The Guardian’s article was comparing reasonably equivalent hypothetical generating mixes, of the type which a solar-starved Britain may eventually become after the Greens have forced closure of NPP’s and political reaction to climate change has forced closure of coal fired thermal which could be the case if CCS remains only a dream. Thus, in a British context, the Guardintly framed.

    However, the new twist is to demand that the context be Australian. I cannot go there and this new requirement is irrelevant – the article is from a British newspaper.

    Where I can go, however, is to the recent blackouts in South Australia, which happened on hot days under the influence of a widespread High pressure cell. The wind simply did not blow enough to achieve that which wind spruikers often claim to be a truism – that hot days and high air conditioner loads will be matched by higher generation from wind, if not locally, then from somewhere else.

    Well, South Australia could not drag enough power across the interstate connectors to supplement its flat out coal and gas system to keep the state running.

    If Australian context is what is required, then that is it.

    Let’s get away from the endless search for academic, constraint-bound, artificial analyses of the beauty or otherwise of individual protagonists’ affirmations re competing generation sources.

    What will produce results in the longer run will be removal of tricks such as legislated high feed in tariffs and mandated renewables quotas and billions of green energy iniatives from the public purse.

    It is up to the renewables/unreliables industry to show how they can provide whatever is needed to complete the generation mix – reliable, cheap (ie competitive in a market), safe and flexible. Renewables compaigners have never been able to do this and they know better than to try, except in abstract terms, because the real world numbers don’t add up.

    When the Guardian runs an article which kicks at one flat tyre on the renewables’ chariot, it is not reasonable to then argue that somewhere else, perhaps on another chariot, in a far away land, there may be another flat tyre.

    In my opinion, there are plenty of flat tyres.

    Renewables – They may look good on the showroom floor, but look out for the flat tyres.

    In closing, respond to the affirmation that coal’s ability to ramp up and down is contrary to popular belief. I must enquire just what it is that the public was indeed believing, in a SE Australian grid which historically consists of about 9% hydro with limited water and the rest coal. Of course the public appreciate that coal fired units ramp up and down. It is recent blarney from outside of the industry that has sowed this seed. Why water it?


  186. Okay John, you don’t like renewables.

    So, coming back to the analysis, you say this:
    “Sorry to differ, but straight CCGT probably can do an adequate job at load following. The trick would be to keep the first (GT) stages of at least some of the CCGT plant part-loaded, thus retaining some very quick ramp up capability. Ramping down is a snack for CCGT – just back off the GT stages and re-balance the thermal side of things”

    If CCGT can adequately load follow, why not pair it with wind? So then the study could have considered a grid made of wind and CCGT and a pure wind grid; that would have produced a more widely applicable finding don’t you think?

    Thanks for this colourful phrasing too:
    “Renewables – They may look good on the showroom floor, but look out for the flat tyres.”

    It’s interesting, but I prefer my analysis to be a bit more quantitative. This study could have been just that, but alas….


  187. @evcricket, many of the comments I have read here have been very supportive of renewables, and some of those commenters have put lots of their money where their mouth is. However, they too speak in quantitative terms of the problems for household supply and scaling up for community supply.

    One of the problems discussed (you can find it yourself using the sidebars) is the rate of change of supply from renewables, relentlessly changing, faster than demand changes and out of step with them. The analysis more or less concluded that open circuit gas turbines would be the only backup that could balance extensive unreliables. By implication, any legislation requiring wind or solar effectively favours the gas industry.

    For small grids on the scale from households to townships, you will also find here extensive analysis of storage. Many commenters hope earnestly for a revolution in storage technology. But the 200-year-old lead acid battery is getting to look very much like the other flat tire on the chariot.


  188. @ JB:

    Sorry to differ, but straight CCGT probably can do an adequate job at load following. The trick would be to keep the first (GT) stages of at least some of the CCGT plant part-loaded, thus retaining some very quick ramp up capability. Ramping down is a snack for CCGT – just back off the GT stages and re-balance the thermal side of things.

    I’m guessing that the legendary 60% thermodynamic efficiency of the CCGT plant is not easily maintained when you start deviating from the optimal configuration. Is this so, or do they have a bit of leeway before efficiency drops off significantly?


  189. Finrod… it’s a turbine, so it has a best efficiency point (BEP). Any deviation from this is less efficient, and described by the pump curve. Pump curve are broadly a similar shape, so +/-5% is a pretty small efficiency loss, then beyond that it drops off more sharply.

    Ramp up and down though is probably achieved by baffling/venting with bleed valves. Straight energy loss.


  190. Finrod and evcricket:

    Agreed, totally.

    The fact is, that there are no ways to generate electricity reliably without some form of overbuild to cover peaks.

    To avoid overbuild is to under-supply most of the time. This is unreliable.

    Don’t think of it as inefficiency. Think of it as the real world situation, as against the dreamings and authoritarian nonsense which infects that which comes from some ZCA2020 and other optimists’ thinking.

    I want to be able to turn my lights on when I choose, not just during the daily window when the Rationing Central dictates that I may.

    I drive my car to suit the prevailing conditions, even though that means idling the engine at a stop light and rarely if ever driving flat out. The same applies to generation and distribution of electricity.


  191. Urgh, WordPress crash lost my comment. Anyway, from the top.

    Roger, I have no doubt there are many renewables advocates here, and I probably count myself among them. Note though that no where here have I advocated for renewables; I just want to talk about this study and would love to actually answer the question they sought to address properly.

    I’m, pretty interested in your claim that the rate of change (dP/dt) in output from renewables is greater than dP/dt of demand; this is of course an important problem in grid design and one I’ve been looking for some answers to. Do you have a link to a paper on this? I wonder too if this takes into account CSIRO’s Wind Energy Forecasting project?

    I know quite a bit about storage and in particular small grid stability. I can assure you that lead-acid is probably not the leader in this area any more, thankfully. For some reason as I am much more bullish about the prospects for storage than many people who haven’t studied it; I wonder if that is because it just seems so improbable?

    Surely too the problem of ramp rates exists with nukes? How is this problem usually addresses; by making so much power that the unavoidable efficiency drop doesn’t matter, or by teaming up with some other peaking storage/supply? Interesting problem.


  192. @ evcricket:

    Ramp up and down though is probably achieved by baffling/venting with bleed valves. Straight energy loss.

    Would this process impact the temperature (and therefore the efficiency) of the steam cycle? I imagine that the steam generators are designed for maximum efficiency at a particular temperature.


  193. Finrod, the boiler/heat recovery section will make steam at the temperature the metallurgy in the heat exchanger is designed to handle. Hotter = better here. This won’t change, but the amount of steam reaching the turbine will be throttled to change load. So the temp doesn’t change, but energy is lost through venting steam or throttling the flow of steam.


  194. Perhaps I need to rephraase my question. It should be something along the lines of “Is there any way to isolate the impact of load-following to just one part of the combined cycle, and if so, is it worth doing?”. But really, what I ultimately want to know is what effect such load following has on fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. Up to now, my conventional wisdom has been that load following for technosolar renewables cannot be efficiently performed by CCGTs without significantly compromising efficiency and thus increasing emissions. If the situation is not that bad, then the details are important.


  195. @ evcricket, on 13 January 2012 at 8:32 AM:

    I said: “Sorry to differ, but straight CCGT probably can do an adequate job at load following. The trick would be to keep the first (GT) stages of at least some of the CCGT plant part-loaded, thus retaining some very quick ramp up capability. Ramping down is a snack for CCGT – just back off the GT stages and re-balance the thermal side of things.”

    Response: “If CCGT can adequately load follow, why not pair it with wind?”

    Speed and amount of response are both relevant. A 100% hypothetical CCGT system has 100% of CCGT plant to ramp up and down. That can be adequate, as I said. About one third of the plant consists of the GT sections, the remainder is the boiler fed generation plant which uses the exhaust gas from the GT’s.

    However, in a grid with a large percentage of wind, in order to have sufficiently quick response, the need is for OCGT’s. The smaller percentage of CCGT’s, combined with the off-the-edge-of-a-cliff nature of some wind fades will be too slow, too expensive and, as a sideline, would pay a proportionately higher efficiency penalty, because of the ratchetting up and down of the steam side of things or through excessive gas firing of the boilers to keep them stable.

    OCGT’s, on the other hand, are cheap, quick to construct, handle ramps, both up and down extremely flexibly, but throw away a lot of heat in the form of exhaust gases.

    There is a significant probability that wind will die off across a wide region and need to be 100% replaced by gas, at short notice. This simply not the business of CCGT’s. If anybody wants to pretend that this is not so, then where is there a grid, anywhere in the world, that works this way? There probably is none. For Wind+OCGT, however, there are plenty of examples, including current proposals in Victoria, where the proposals are not for efficient CCGT, but for quick and dirty Open Cycle GT’s to “balance” wind.

    Further: “Okay John, you don’t like renewables.”

    No, I have nothing against renewables, per se. I object to renewables which are wrapped in handouts and blatant lies. IF renewables were capable of standing on their own feet and delivering the climate outcomes which we need, this site would be about climate change plus renewables. It has evolved differently, as the material posted here demonstrates, to embrace consideration of nuclear energy not only renewablesbecause hard, well thought through analysis via dozens of leading articles have looked every which way at the emerging climate and energy problems and come to the realisation that, absent unexpected major developments in renewables, storage and more, we simply cannot save our globe’s climate system from collapse.

    That is far more important than demands that multitudes of studies be repeated in an Australian context because an individual observer is unwilling to consider overseas experience.

    I am sure that your knowledge of improvements in energy storage options would interest us all. How about a post some day?


  196. Ahhh. My understanding is that CCGT operates in a pretty narrow efficiency band. Two big thermal processes on the same shaft will be extremely sensitive to changes in load. But this is first-principles stuff, not based on findings in a study or anything like that.

    I too would love to see some hard numbers on it.


  197. John, this is something I’ve heard from a number of people:
    “IF renewables were capable of standing on their own feet and delivering the climate outcomes which we need, this site would be about climate change plus renewables.”

    This seems like a different requirement than every other generation type we have used. Why the double standard? Details of this are discussed here, but from a US study:

    No doubt too you acknowledge that nukes will not get up without government assistance, at least in the form of underwriting their insurance? Or would you rather foresake that assistance as you require of renewables?

    And on storage, I keep directing people here: this is a brilliant website.

    Overall, much like renewables, I doubt we’ll see a ‘step change’ in storage tech. Also like renewables, costs will come down mostly through increases in production. For this reason, my money (figuratively speaking, being a public servant I can’t actually invest in any of this stuff) is on an improvement in capacity manufacturing technology or one of the modular battery units, particularly Na/S batteries.

    Further, I also think that we’ll see more integrated renewable installations in the next few years, something like 200MW wind farms with 20-50MW of on site storage. The market is set up so that there is incentive for investors to design their plant in this way, but until the price of electricity goes up the economics don’t make it.


  198. Another story in the gas-is-our-salvation saga ought to raise some questions. Gas from an offshore field between Australia and Timor will be liquefied onshore then sent to overseas customers, Japan mainly I gather.

    I understand Darwin will use some of the gas locally as the Amadeus Basin nearer Alice Springs is fast depleting. Nonetheless that existing pipe could carry gas towards south eastern Australia which also faces a looming gas shortage within a decade. The project will need 3,000 workers. If we import those workers and many stay on we will need to support them. This raises a number of questions.

    For starters is it an attempt to pre-empt gas processing in Timor when field outsides the Australian zone are developed? If the main customer is Japan will it increase their emissions? (I estimate additional CO2 could be about 24 Mtpa) Given that SE Australia is facing a gas shortage and Australia as a whole faces an oil shortage should we selling most of this gas overseas? If it leads to increased immigration where does our extra energy come from? The thinking on the highest level seem to be that gas is a low carbon bonanza. I suggest we’re essentially digging ourselves deeper into fossil fuel dependence.


  199. @evcricket : “something like 200MW wind farms with 20-50MW of on site storage”

    if you intended to say “20-50 MWh of on-site storage”, I would be very interested to hear of the technology used. Such would indeed be a game changer.


  200. @ evcricket:

    Two big thermal processes on the same shaft will be extremely sensitive to changes in load.

    On the same shaft, you say. I’m under the impression that the gas and steam turbines are separate, and drive separate generators. Can somebody help me here? I’m not getting a goood mental picture of this.


  201. Roger, these guys have something similar:

    The little 660kW wind project at Hampton is an example. I wouldn’t like to call it a game-changer BTW… it will probably trickle out slowly as the vaguaries of economics dictate.

    I’m mostly making the point that storage won’t be a grid wide problem in the future, it will be handled on site, and there are benefits there for the smart operator.


  202. Finrod, going from Wikipedia it looks like you’re right; the steam cycle is on a different shaft/generator.

    Makes some sense too when I think about it. Gas turbines combust the fuel and make electricity. Maybe multiple gas turbines on a site. Then the waste heat from multiple turbines can be collected to power a steam cycle, with one steam turbine. They suggest something like 4 gas turbines and 1 steam turbine. This suggests that the gas side could be ramped a bit and the steam will potter along using what ever waste heat it can manage.


  203. @ Evcricket:
    You now have the picture correct. Almost all CCGT’s, AFAIK, are constructed with separate generation for the gas turbine(s) and the steam side. I’m told that they can be run as OCGT’s – that is the way that they are started up from cold.

    So, reserve CCGT’s are essentially high cost OCGT’s for a short time after start-up. I don’t know (no reference and no time) but I expect that at least 30 minutes before any usable energy will come from the boiler side; perhaps a couple of hours, depending on warm-through parameters. The larger, the slower.

    CCG’s are again shown to be inappropriate as a backup in generation mix with a high percentage of wind turbines. Let’s move on.

    I will not further respond to comments re renewables. These issues have been thrashed out here and elsewhere many times in the past.

    Re government providing insurance for nuclear power stations, there are American contributors to this site who have explained that a tiny levy on production has more than amply provided for the government’s share of nuclear power responsibilities re insurance and long term storage of spent fuel, etc. Have you considered that the article which you referenced from Climate Spectator could be peddling old, oft-repeated, untruths? Why trust that rag? They never cite the sources. Besides which, that particular author has moved on.


  204. John, a quick read of the article would show that they have thoroughly cited their source:
    “According to the study by Nancy Pfund, a managing director of VC firm DBL Investors, and Ben Healey, a Yale graduate, the amount of government subsidies for renewables in the US pales in comparison to that of its energy rivals in their early years.”

    Hyperlink has dropped out, but it is there if you would like to challenge their method or findings.


  205. That report looks to be behind DBL investors membership paywall. From what that article states it is clear there are a few questions that are of a concern that need to be addressed (difficult to do unless a member of DBL).

    1) Seeing as we are talking about the end product of electricity production it would be good to see those figures expressed in $/MWh. Because to say that they “pale in comparison” you should be comparing like for like, that $0.4bn for renewables could be representing a fraction of the other generators production. Why didn’t they do this?

    2) Looking past that and looking at what info we do have, is that we have a report written by a venture capital company that targets Clean Tech projects (amongst other non energy related areas) and a graduate who has worked in an environmental and natural resources department who worked on a Green Energy Fund. Is there a motive here? Bias? Seeing there is real venture capital at stake?

    3) These figures are on a news website dedicated to reporting on topics that involve climate change. So it’s not a good peer reviewed source and context can be lost in word limits/journalistic presentation.

    None of this says that those figures are wrong, they may be accurate and my questions will go answered accordingly. But I still have my eyebrow raised at this one until I see the calculations made to get to those subsidy figures. Jury is still out on this one. The Paywall persists.


  206. PaulQ — I would have thought that a good degree in MechEngg would suffice as a starter for some courses in nuclear engineering sufficient for operating an NPP. That probably isn’t enough for design engineering, but nobody is suggesting that. The situation in Finland, as sketched by Janne Korhonen in a prior comment on this thread, suggests otherwise. Or else that is done simply to limit the number of graduates. I’d look at actual requirements in several countries before coming to a definite conclusion; after all, if the Chileans can do it the Aussies certainly can also and more easily.


  207. evcricket & Irregular Commentator — It is certainly the case that the United States government put quite a substantial sum into the advanced development stages of nuclear power plants; it remains unclear how to divvy those sums between civilian & military development.


  208. Yes David, that’s the key to this I suspect; much early ‘nuclear’ funding probably went to military spending. We might have thorium reactors across the country now if they’d spent the money making electricity rather than bombs…

    The thing I found interesting about that study was the amount of help coal received in the early days. Just dig it up and burn it; I can hardly imagine a cheaper mine/power supply scenario than say Hazelwood, yet it was still subsidised in the early days.


  209. I’m yet to see any evidence the CCGT being built in my area (Canada) can operate at less that 60% of capacity, while the coal units can operate at 20% capacity.
    Wind forecasting being, optimistically, a developing skill, that means there needs to be a lot less coal ‘hot’ than gas, if you are anticipating a change in wind output. Most jurisdictions handle that just by exporting more as wind penetration grows. Australia would likely handle it by backing up 1000MW of wind with 200MW of coal, and not 600MW of CCGT (there’s a couple of stories on grid issues during Germany’s recent record wind month at the German Energy blog – both the Czechs and Austrian grids are cited)
    Without actual smokestack emissions, I am extremely skeptical of claims that mixing CCGT with wind is much cleaner than using coal – or even OCGT.
    There was an American report recently that summarized what needed to occur for wind penetration to increase to a certain level (20%) - The big 3 were:
    1. More accurate forecasting
    2. More Flexible conventional supply
    3. More Transmission.
    If the ‘more flexible conventional supply’ emits more, it really begs the question “what is the point?”
    The transmission growth is also a challenging one. One candidate for the Republican nomination opined that a transmission line promised, through the state holding the primary, would be buried.
    A strange claim to make most places – particularly strange when made where the state slogan is “the granite state”


  210. Energy Minister Ferguson has expressed the hope that Australia will overtake Qatar as the biggest LNG exporter
    It is hoped within a decade that annual LNG exports with increase from 20 to 80 Mt. Elsewhere the hope has been expressed that Australia’s coal exports will increase from ~300 to 450 Mt. The article points out Japan’s new found need for coal and LNG.

    Some may recall at the Copenhagen climate conference Obama was to give the closing speech but he handed over to our then PM Rudd who stressed the urgency of global carbon cuts. Ultimately annual CO2 from Australian exported coal and LNG will be well over a gigatonne, noting total 2010 global emissions were around 31 Gt. Think of that coal and gas as carbon that has been safely buried under Australia for a few hundred million years and could happily stay there. Now compare that 1000+ Mt of CO2 from exported fuels with the domestic 160 Mt Australia has to lose by 2020. If we’re not on track apparently we’re obliged to buy foreign carbon credits to make up the shortfall which could cost billions of dollars.

    Thus Australia
    – earns billions selling carbon fuels overseas
    – spends billions buying overseas carbon credits
    Somehow this makes sense in political circles.


  211. @ Scott Luft, on 13 January 2012 at 3:57 PM:

    I’m yet to see any evidence the CCGT being built in my area (Canada) can operate at less that 60% of capacity, while the coal units can operate at 20% capacity.

    CCGT units can operate without the boiler section in service. That is the mode under which they start up. Hence, they can operate in OCGT mode.

    Typical CCGT’s consist of 2 to 4 OCGT sections, each of which could be fired independently and run within a range.

    Thus, I would expect Scott’s local CCGT to be physically capable of operating between about 10% and maximum, although its owners may not like to do so and may choose to bid other units into the system or call on a replacement power option from another generator in preference to uneconomical operation at very low loads.

    Regarding coal fired units, operation at 20% of capacity is, in my experience, quite low for coal – there is a limit below which flame stability becomes an issue due to the small number of burners and burner levels in service. A more typical figure, again in my direct experience – not industry wide – is 25 or 30%.

    During startup and at very low loads, to ensure flame stability it is common practice to support the pulverised fuel burners by use of oil torches. This represents an increased operating cost when the lower load limit is approached.

    In both coal and GT systems, it is good operating practice to be risk averse. I would expect that owners will always like their units to run at a substantial load, not only to achieve optimal efficiency, but to ensure stability.


  212. Hi all,
    this TED talk on nano-solar looks interesting. He’s claiming to have an ‘electron storer’ that they are ‘testing’ that could one day eliminate the grid with on site super-cheap solar being stored by his super-cheap ‘battery’. But once again these promises are ‘in testing’. Whatever else he’s developed with nano-solar, storage seems to remain the fatal flaw.


  213. @John Newlands — “is it an attempt to pre-empt gas processing in Timor when field outsides the Australian zone are developed?”

    The map in John’s link shows the depths . The light blue area is the shallow waters of the Australian continental shelf, that is, the Australian plate before it plunges under the Asian plate. As it bends downward in the Timor Trench, the water (middle blue on the map) suddenly becomes very deep indeed, more than ten times deeper. The ground in the Trench is correspondingly steeper and prone to avalanches. A similar image , with two Z-scales, one for the shallow sea and the other in the deep ocean trench, shows that the challenges of laying a gas pipeline across the trench are more than an order of magnitude greater than laying it across the shelf.

    There is an enormous area of sediments across the Australian shelf, with plenty of thickness to generate gas. The pipeline marked may well be the precursor of a grid of pipelines serving many wellheads. Readers may note that the Joint Petroleum Development Area that provides income to Timor Leste, is well and truly on the Australian shelf.

    On a more familiar note, the 8,400,000 t/a of methane gas (@ 55 GJ/t) amounts to 14 GW (thermal). The quoted expenditure of 33 G$ implies a capital commitment of 2.36 $/W — thermal. The article doesn’t say if that is the amount of gas coming out of the ground, going on board the ship, landing in Japan or being burnt by its consumers. Even if all of that gets burnt efficiently to produce 7 GW (electric), the expenditure is already 4.72 $/W (e).


  214. I’d like a little help here. It’s about nuclear power and global warming. I’m not talking about the mining, transporting, building, maintenance, security, decommissioning part where we know fossil fuel is involved. It’s about the actual production of electrical and thermal waste energy and what contribution it does or doesn’t make to AGW.

    By adding new energy to the earth aren’t you heating up the water and the air and in the process causing more water vapor and indirectly helping to release more stored CO2 and methane? I realize npps don’t directly produce ghgs, which mediate the earth’s temperature, but indirectly, simply by heating and producing water vapor they would seem to generate ghg increases before having the nuclear power source energy radiate out into space.

    I’d appreciate some analysis of this point.


  215. Further to EN’s link, water vapour is short-lived greenhouse gas, so any equilibrium with power plant thermal emissions has been reached long ago (apart from the small increase due to the growth in thermal plants — but as the link EN included shows, this is negligible). More water vapour does not beget more water vapour, whereas more CO2 most definitely does.


  216. Hi Barry,
    I hope my link to the TED talk a few posts back is not interpreted as ‘pushing’ solar. I agree that we can’t postpone real action on climate change in the ‘hope’ that some new super-battery comes out.

    But as I posted to some friends recently:

    “If the super-battery trial mentioned below ever ACTUALLY became a cheap and viable commercial product, I would immediately change my mind about nuclear power. Anyway, ultimately pro-nuclear activists would be swept aside into irrelevance as the marketplace flooded homes and industry with these cheap nano-solar power windows and batteries. Homes and businesses would go off grid so fast that the question of nuclear power would simply evaporate! (Except maybe for submarines and deep space missions). There’s just one problem. How do we know this guy isn’t just asking for funding the way so many other guys have in the past? Do we give up looking at TODAY’s technology, like the Chinese AP1000, in the ‘hope’ of tomorrow’s technology coming to the rescue? The climate people I read say we don’t have the time to wait.”


  217. RC duly noted. It is still along way to Darwin ~900km if I recall. I guess I was insinuating that Australia was muscling in on Timor’s nearby resources and putting them on pocket money. I won’t mention ‘imperialism’. Recall from the SBS program ‘Coast’ there is a 1200 km undersea gas pipeline (Langeled?) from Norway to England. Not sure in that case how much of the heating value is sapped by pumping. I have heard that 45% of the starting heating value of SIberian gas is consumed by pumping to the UK. This evidently troubles the Brits but not the Germans.

    Since there are gas pipes from Darwin to Alice Springs via Mereenie that could be the conduit for gas to south eastern Australia. That would materialise Rex Connor’s vision in the 1970s. Imagine gas from next to Timor ending up in Hobart by pipeline not LNG.

    Interestingly some Canadians are now questioning the wisdom of exporting tar sands syncrude when it will one day be much needed at home. Ditto Australian offshore gas.


  218. JN:
    The original pipeline from Mereenie was 150mm bore, from memory – I managed construction of the tank farm on the receiving end of the line in The Alice.

    The pipeline between Mereenie and Darwin will not be big enough to run much of SA off NT gas.


  219. EN,

    If the super-battery trial mentioned below ever ACTUALLY became a cheap and viable commercial product, I would immediately change my mind about nuclear power. Anyway, ultimately pro-nuclear activists would be swept aside into irrelevance as the marketplace flooded homes and industry with these cheap nano-solar power windows and batteries

    In 1902, 28% of the vehicles in the US were powered by batteries. It has been a long 100 years of ‘next year’ we will finally solve the problems related to batteries.

    I see a Nissan Leaf on a daily basis now. Someone in my office building bought one. They plug it into a ‘maintenance’ outlet in the parking lot and charge it during the daytime peak so they will have a ‘full tank’ to get home on.


  220. If a battery is sufficiently super, it makes more sense to transport it — because it is superlight and superuntroublesome — to a nuclear power plant for charging, and back to the user when it is full, than to require it to bridge periods of reduced availability of solar PV energy at the user’s site. Recall that one of those periods is known as “winter”, and many users have neither roofs nor backyards. I see boron atoms as batteries of just this type.


  221. @harrywr2:

    A few big if’s:
    IF there were enough solar panels to provide provide power to meet daytime peaks, and
    IF the Nissan Leaf owner was smart enough to charge his car between morning and afternoon peaks, say 0930 to 1200, and
    IF the sun shone every single day of the year, and
    IF smart metering systems were able to identify loads of all kinds and switch off the non-priority loads (eg Nissan Leafs – or is that “Nissan Leaves”) to manage demand, and
    IF this authoritarian arrangement did not result in civil war, started by those who would like to be consulted before the central electricity rationing authority pulled the plug on their appliances,
    THEN the Nissan Leaf and its owner would be making a difference, albeit a very small one, towards recovering the energy that is embodied in the Leaf during its manufacture.

    Until then, the Leaf is window dressing.

    The ages of my last 3 vehicles, each purchased new or almost so, when I sold them still running and registered were 22 years, 22 years and 13 years. That is my contribution towards reducing the impact of manufacturing on the environment and on the world’s resources. If I scrapped my cars at 6 years, there would have been not 3 but 9.5 of them.

    How much energy is embedded in an extra 6 tonnes of steel and plastic?

    What’s the bet that the Leaf will not last 22 years?


  222. Civil War John? Central Electricity Rationing Authority? A little Orwellian don’t you think?

    With a slightly different tone: A Leaf owner could have a timer set to charge outside peaks, and be ready to drive when the timer goes off. Residents could choose to defer their large loads when offered a price signal by their smart meter, much like is already happening on Magnetic Island.

    But I agree on the embodied energy stuff. Old cars are best cars.


  223. The Icthys gas project could bring several issues to the the fore including
    – is this a good way for Japan to secure its energy supply?
    – should we have different standards on the same carbon?
    – are claimed carbon offsets illusory?
    Audio segment

    Apparently the processing plant in Darwin will create some 7 Mt of CO2 a year for 40 years, largely exempt from Australian carbon tax. Fugitive CH4 we take to be minor. The Japanese partner intends to offset some of this CO2 by ‘fire management’ in the NT. I wonder if this is the scheme advocated by Garnaut whereby savannah is burned frequently and this somehow absorbs extra CO2.

    Bring it on so we can highlight the issues. If however it does make sense then we’ll all be wiser.


  224. Roger Clifton, on 11 January 2012 at 8:29 PM said:

    @Eamon speculated that fragments of heavy metal would fall sooner, and thus closer to the plant.

    I was thinking of radioisotopes in the microscopic, not macroscopic sense, as some low-level Plutonium and Uranium contamination has been detected within 50km for the Fukushima Dai-ichi Plant.


    As far as I know, the cores did not fragment at all, although two of them did melt. However, as well as dissolving some of the skin on the surface of the cores, the violence of the redhot reaction with steam probably did mobilise tiny flakes that travelled as suspensions in the eventual droplets. These would have been too small to affect the terminal velocity of the droplets. A significant amount of the aerosol would have plated out onto the walls and ceilings of the building panels that were subsequently shattered in the explosions. These fragments, that is, of building materials, can be seen in the video footage falling short as sheets of debris. Almost certainly the decreasing size of the fragments remaining in the air would be distributed in decreasing size with distance downwind.

    Thanks for that. I didn’t know if the radioisotopes were aerosolized initially, or after escaping from the plant. Does anyone know of an accessible source on the transport mechanisms of radioisotopes & fallout – I’d like to learn more (Living in Japan we get so much rubbish in the media these days that it’s hard to sift fact from fiction at times.


  225. Hi Harrywr2,

    It has been a long 100 years of ‘next year’ we will finally solve the problems related to batteries. I see a Nissan Leaf on a daily basis now. Someone in my office building bought one. They plug it into a ‘maintenance’ outlet in the parking lot and charge it during the daytime peak so they will have a ‘full tank’ to get home on.

    Point taken, but the nano-thing isn’t really a chemical battery at all. It’s an electron trapper. Don’t be too flippant in using the term ‘battery’ as you do, because they did NOT have carbon-nano tubes 100 years ago.


  226. @Eamon — more questions. I’ve done some homework for you already — perhaps you could, as a Japan resident, prepare a short summary for us here on the political dynamics after the Tohuku earthquake?

    One of the lessons learnt from the evacuation in Ukraine was how it damaged the health of hundreds and the quality of life of thousands of evacuees. Assuming the lesson had reached his advisers, why then did PM Kan order an evacuation from a 20 km radius of the damaged power station? Did competent authorities get excluded from the advice ?

    Alternatively, the Japanese Cabinet may have been misled by other advice, that more deaths would result if these people were left rebuilding after the tsunami than if they were evacuated. If so, he would have quoted an estimate of the net number of deaths averted. Please advise us of any official estimates of the consequences of action and inaction.

    Or could it be that the order to evacuate was just a placation of a public made needlessly frightened ?


  227. DBB they make it hard by variously quoting gas prices in cubic metres, cubic feet, pounds, tonnes = metric tons, decatherms, million British Thermal Units (mmbtu) and gigajoules. Fortunately
    1 mmbtu = 1.055 GJ so they can often be equated
    Now 1 kwh = 3.6 MJ. Thus
    1 mmbtu = 1,055 MJ = 1055/3.6 kwh = 293 kwh rounded


    I think we should measure gas by weight to cover each of ambient conditions (1bar, 30C), liquefied (-173C and up, vapour pressure dependent on container), compressed natural gas CNG 220 bar and absorbed natural gas ANG 15 bar. Pressure and temperature don’t matter if we go by mass though pressure tanks can add a lot of weight.


  228. I’m not sure what the average thermal to electrical conversion efficiency is for gas fired plant. The couple of combined cycle plants said to approach 60% must be run at ideal capacity with river cooling. Then there’s combined cycle run as single cycle, open cycle and what I’d call closed cycle (steam only) like Adelaide’s Torrens Island station. Some say that ceramic fuel cells (as used in some Google data centres) will be much better still if the exhaust heat is used. If the average efficiency was around 40% then a GJ or mmbtu of gas fuel would produce about 120 kwhe.


  229. @ evcricket, on 17 January 2012 at 5:41 AM:

    Orwellian, perhaps, but isn’t that the direction we are heading? When there isn’t enough oil being offered to USA or China to drive their economies, do you really expect them to sit idly by or to happily share with every other country on the planet? Civil war and war between nations are not out of the question.

    Without rationing, how will the meagre non-fossil fuels going to be stretched? Meeting the challenges of climate change is going to cause enormous social disruption, as the economy is re-tooled around alternatives.

    I am entirely serious about my assessment of military and social disruption ahead. A touch frivolous and melodramatic, perhaps, bur emtirely convinced and Not Happy.

    With a slightly different tone: A Leaf owner could have a timer set to charge outside peaks, and be ready to drive when the timer goes off. Residents could choose to defer their large loads when offered a price signal by their smart meter, much like is already happening on Magnetic Island.

    1. The point, of course, is that there is no such timer on a Leaf.
    2. Many so-called smart meters currently being inmstalled should be called “Purposefully not so smart meters”. It is entirely feasible for market prices to be reflected in retail tariffs, perhaps smoothed to remove some volatility, and displayed via in-home screens backed up by SMS messages when the retail tariff goes out of range, either high or low.
    3. Such meters, if truly smart, would easily be set to knock out pre-selected power circuits as selected by the customer (not a retailer of market administrator) in response to these price signals, yet there is no proposal I know to provide this functionality anywhere in Australia. I would be happy to have my aircon knocked off for several hours, then at a higher level have my fridge and freezer knocked out, etc. If the retail cost exceeds a certain level, I would even be happy to sit in the dark and shiver – for a while. I ask for retail customers to be given real choice about what price they are prepared to pay for energy and to be given access to the tools which will assist them to do so.

    Instead, and in the absense of customer-adjustable options, a central despatcher or system operator will more frequently rotate suburb-wide and life threatening blackouts, as happened thoughout metro South Australia earlier this month. That is what happens right now. That is not melodramatic.

    Regarding old cars being good cars. Caveat: If well maintained.

    It is also avoidable, if technological solutions are implemented.

    But I agree on the embodied energy stuff. Old cars are best cars.


  230. May I suggest that the voltage drawdown might serve as an analogue signal for the price? When a district is drawing a lot of power from a grid of nominal 230 V, the voltage available to a new user is reduced, say 220 V. Power should then be metered at the highest price. Conversely, a district with oversupply may present a voltage of 250 V, when the power should be attractively cheap. No central signalling should be required to tell household meters the obvious.

    A smart meter would only need to taste the voltage to know what the current price is, and advise automatic appliances in the household, so that they can switch on/off according to their own thresholds. On the same basis, any stored energy could be sold back to the grid when the price is right.

    The size of such a responsive district could be quite small, such as at the end of a long rural powerline, where the line resistance effectively isolates the most distant users from the buffer offered by the main grid.


  231. @ Roger.
    At first I thought that you had lost your marbles, so I re-read. There are so many good reasons NOT to allow voltage sags that this suggestion must be ruled out.

    Besides which, the wholesale price of electricity has averaged $5/MWh in the NEM for a couple of years. It ranges from negative to above $10,000. Are you suggesting that voltages also reduce proportionally, down to 1VAC at times of high price and, just as bizarre, that overvoltage be permitted during tim es of negative price? Of course you aren’t, but what exactly do you mean?

    As for low voltages – how does Mrs Builder and Mr Househusband know when to turn off her electrical power tools and the air conditioning and refrigerator? Presumably, they would need an almost-smart meter which reads the voltage and then either raises an alarm or takes the action directly.

    Why not let retail customers determine their own priorities and the prices at which they will exercise them? This is much simpler than trying to convince people to conserve power all of the time, night and day, relentlessly. Feedback from the market can help customers to conserve when it is economical to do so, to load shift (eg refrigeration and pool pumps) on a regular basis and so forth, at minimal loss of perceived value – they still have all of their toys and only play with them under (cost and price) circumstances which suit their value judgement.

    I am entirely in favour of hitting large, peak time users (Volt owners included if they are charging up at the hight of a peak period) in the pocket. I am also in favour of being able to organise my affairs to suit my own priorities and preferences – at full, regulated voltage and frequency, if you don’t mind.


  232. I should add, that the power lines inside a household can serve as signal lines as well. Of course, our incredibly smart meter would handle signal frequency interference from switching spikes, and ensure that chattering inside the household would not leak out to everybody else this side of the transformer. For that matter, the power company may find it profitable to bridge each transformer with its own messages to the smart meters beyond it, such as updates to the lookup table of drawdown versus price.


  233. @JB invites me to clarify. In short, I meant to speak of drawdown/overvoltage as cause and thresholded consumption as effect. With proportional pricing as incentive.

    Despite all the stabilising devices of the power company, drawdowns do occur. If the consuming appliances in that same area are programmed to switch off when the voltage drops down, they will reduce the drawdown.

    Similarly, if there are renewables in the area feeding in, a patch of sunshine or gust of wind will cause a local overvoltage. Again, if some of the consuming appliances in the area are programmed to switch on when the voltage goes high, they will reduce the overvoltage and help protect their locality from the overvoltage.

    Responsiveness may not even need a smart meter, perhaps just a switching plug for each appliance, with a twist dial marked with the voltage threshold. Mr and Ms Householder could thus have control over their devices. That would be a simple solution, but it requires the Householders to have a few smarts themselves.

    Since a smart meter can measure the drawdown, it can advise the appliances directly. That does requires signalling, with an investment to install the transducers. However, a smart meter could display the bill as it accumulates, which may be all that the Householders need for monitoring their costs.


  234. @Roger,

    the primary power regulation in a grid is via frequency control – an increase in load causes the generators to slow down, and every generator uses ‘droop control’ to increase power and speed things up- and of course vice versa.

    Voltage regulation is different and is usually related to the power factor of the loads and varies between phases. This isn’t my area of expertise but I’m not sure whether system operators would want consumers trying to turn loads on and off according to grid voltage – could be a recipe for increasing instability.


  235. David, I recall this but you need to check it out. An oddity in the English system of units is that $/1000 cu feet gas price is the cents per kWh electric price if the plant heat rate is 10,000 BTU per kWh, which is a common heat rate for a not so efficient power plant, such as a gas turbine. Therefore $4/1000cu ft is 4 c/kWh and is also $40/MWh. Also I recall 1000 cu ft natural gas is one million BTUs of heat. This is the one instance where british units are easy to remember and use. You should be able to use any set of units by converting the energy from one form to another. You just have to assume the conversion efficiency. to make the conversion.


  236. Roger allowing voltages to vary as a price signal is an extremely bad idea. The voltage must be regulated to be constant as much as possible to minimize losses and to prevent the burning out of equipment such as motors when voltages drop too low or motors stalling altogether. When voltages sag there is a better chance the whole area will voltage collapse and the lights go out altogether. Also when you start monkeying around with voltages. letting them drift, you run into the possibility of over voltages at light load times which can burn out lightning arrestors, and overload transformers, and cause certain kinds of equipment to fail on overvoltage, such as both LED lights as well as incandescent lights.


  237. @Gene, Graham, John … I am not “allowing voltages to vary” at all, I am suggesting how smartness can reduce the variation.

    The “voltage” that I am talking about is at distant households, a long way from the power station and its nominal voltage. Specifically, it is a long way down a resistive powerline, after Ohm’s Law has done its damage to the official voltage. For the simple reason that consumption varies in space and time across a grid, so also the voltage at any household must vary. (Yes, even when it doesn’t vary much at the power station bus.)

    Until recently, the variations were downwards, so that voltages at the household were a few volts lower than at the power station. Now, with wind and solar feeding in, the variation can be upwards as well. Ohms law does not allow the power station to fully correct for the variation simply because there is resistance between them. However there is much less resistance between households, factories, and windfarms in the same area. They can compensate for each other before the power station has to be involved.

    At the very simplest level, the householder would buy a cheap threshold plug, to go between the appliance plug on the wall socket. When the local voltage reached the threshold s/he had set on its dial, the appliance would be switched off, to avoid buying electricity at the expensive rate. Similarly when the voltage rises above a threshold, another appliance might be switched on take advantage of a cheap rate.

    Yes, it does imply that prices are different at different places on the grid, however if the smart meter either records the (local!) voltage at the time of consumption, then there’s no problem making up the bill. If the smart meter were supplied with the voltage-price lookup table, it could display expenditures in real time. And yes of course, a limit on the rise time could be required to ensure stability. I hope my suggestion (and its echoes) make more sense now.


  238. In a hilarious coincidence, Climate Spectator has an article today about community attitudes to renewables. No mention of nukes.

    The article [] cites two studies, one by CSIRO and one by Pacific Hydro.

    Essentially says community opposition to wind is massively over stated by the media and that survey respondents are overwhelmingly in favour of wind power and overwhelmingly opposed to coal.


  239. @ Roger

    Thanks for the clarification. I did understand that your original post referred to ‘local’ voltages. I can see the point that you’re making but as Gene said, its not a good idea. The grid isn’t based around Ohm’s law of resistance because most things plugged into the grid aren’t purely resistive – the role of inductive and capacitive loads and the way in which they shift the phase between voltage and current has a significant influence on the ‘local voltage’, hence the need for power correction within grids. Voltage control is more about management of power factor than resistive loads, but different loads within different parts of the network are also going to affect the local voltage.

    Power factor correction is used by commercial/industrial customers to reduce their tariff, but I’m not sure what sort of technology/tariff mix would work at a household level. Interestingly, this summary does suggest that solar inverters can perform some power factor correction (only when the sun is out!) (page 13).

    Have a look at this summary from AEMO:

    Click to access SMI%20Discussion%20Paper%20-%20Function%2010%20Power%20factor%20measurement%20V1.1.pdf

    and Voltage Control Ancillary Service:

    Click to access 0168-0031.pdf


  240. Gene Preston — Thank you.

    About communicating electricity price information:
    Around here the advanced digital meters, so-called smart meter, communicate via wireless to transceivers mounted on poer lines; the signals then procedd to the control centers via fibre optic cables strung on the power poles. These devices are lccally read every 5 minutes and there is no reason that the devies could not also read the current price for retransmission in the household. I’m under the impression that some volunteer households are going to demonstrate this ability.

    To maintain grid stabiity requires keeping the voltage regulated within the estab lished limits. This is accomplished via reactive power and must be done irrespective of load or price. Protective relays cut out at over or under voltage conditions so the operator needs to stay well away from those limits.


  241. @ Graham Palmer:
    Thanks for providing referenecs to current and relevant information re AEMO’s position regarding smart meters.

    I note, in particular, that nothing contained in those links suggests that AEMO considers feeding back to consumers, especially domestic consumers, real time information re power factor or load or markets. I say markets, because there are at least two in place: The NEM, regarding wholesale power, which I stated previously to average 5 cents per kWh for the past 2 years in SE Australia.

    The second market, which is much more relevant to retail customers, is the retail market which is set in place by individual retailers, who may notbe, and probably will not be, the same corporate entity as the corporation which owns the wires which bring ower to our doors and thus bears the cost of any reactive power loads which are imposed on their system.

    My goal, which is in no way addressed by these papers, is to provide two classes of information to retail customers on a real-time basis.

    Class 1: Tariff information. This includes the tariff currently applying to the individual customer, plus ideally an indication of tariffs later in the same day, so that the benefit of load reduction and of load shift ing are immediately accessible and apparent. At present, no retail domestic customer knows how many kW he is running at, either resistive or inductive. He knows nothing about the spend per minute or hour. He thus cannot use this information to guide a decision to reduce load, save money, conserve energy – say it however you like. There could so easily be feewdback, but there is not.

    Class 2 is the information I have mentioned several times. It is gathered, or could be gathered, by smart meters at no additional cost (as explained in the first referred article – the meters can do it anyway, so why not?).

    The only additional costs which a proactive consumer would be required to meet would be for transmission (wireless modem?) to the domestic PC or a dedicated PC. From that point, and using data from the retailer, eg via Broadband from their web site, re tariffs, the issue becomes simply one of calculation and communication. The simplest option would be via the home’s PC, but I want to go further – why not via a small screen in a promonent location, perhaps the kitchen?

    At this rate, it’ll take forever to achieve this, because those who are defining the system, AEMO and the retailers, simply do not have this tool for conserving energy on their radar. In the vernacular, they couldn’t give a toss, apparently because it doesn’t put money into their pockets.


  242. @Graham, thank you for your clear explanation of power factor in an A/C grid: variation at the household meter includes phase as well as power, and the switching of appliances can improve one while worsening the other. Wind power, if not solar power, would appear to destabilise the grid.

    My scenario needs to be corrected in (at least) two ways. Firstly, the value to the grid of switching in this or that appliance depends on what it does to the phase, so a proportionate price rate would have to be a two-part (complex) number. Because most appliances are either resistive (e.g. heating) or inductive (e.g. motors), a price opportunity would open up for appliances set to capacitive. In particular, since any renewables feeding in would require synchronisation, it would seem a straightforward extra step for them to supply with the phase shift dictated by the current price signal.

    In this way responsive devices can contribute to phase balancing as well as load levelling. However, wouldn’t it still be local, because it could cause all three phases to drift away from the rest of the grid? If so, another correction is needed, for synchrony. However, Gene has just told us of signalling between the power company and the smart meters, which clearly could include time signal for synchronisation.


  243. Roger Clifton — Actually, it was I who mentioned the Itron meters and tansceivers installed in this town; apologies for puttine too much in one comment.

    First of all, I seriously doubt that a synchronizing time signal could be sent with sufficient reliability over the utility companies equivalent of the internet. Second, wind turbine inverters have no difficulty maintaining frequency and phase with the rest of the power grid. It is true that these are operated from control centers, but the inverter power electronics has been around for many decades and so is designed to operate on electric grids without such control. The same is certainly possible for solar PV inverters but I don’t know the details of what is currently done in the retail market.

    As for stability, wind turbines actually promote stability at around the one second level due to the high controlability. For solar PV again I don’t know, but the Germans seem to be able to integrate quite a bit of solar PV without stability issues.


  244. Here is a paen to time-of-use (TOU) pricing
    which as implemented in California doesn’t require sending market rates to customers every 5 minutes.

    Upon further reflection, the least expense method of sending those market rates to customers (which might also include the instantaneous feed-in tariff) is via the internet. The utility’s server has the ccalculated rates online and customers inquire of the srver what the rates are for the next 5 minutes (and maybe some projections of what is likely to happen over the next few hours). Customers who so desire then have their computer switch off or on various appliances. Less well-to-do (or lazier) customers need not bother with computer control and will do almost as well by seting timers on the individual appliances; much less expensive as well. Finally, the standard Itron meters can continue to be just meters, nothing more, without upgrades or replacements.


  245. The system frequency is maintained by the amount of power being fed into the grid compared to the load. Generators do this, not loads. The concept of resistance dropping voltage with increasing load shows a lack of electrical engineering knowledge. When complex impedances are considered the voltage is mostly controlled by reactive elements of inductance and capacitance, not resistance. If resistance is high enough to cause a voltage drop that is significant, then losses may be too high also.


  246. TOU pricing is generally considered something different from RTP (real-time pricing).
    TOU pricing is generally not a very bright idea, and refers to pricing by hours of the day. With variable supply that would be nonsensical. The case in that article, on LA, is an understandable exception, where it would be nice to bill extra to encourage consumption on the very hottest/highest demand days. But that is more RTP than TOU. Elsewhere in California, they had the brighter idea of rapidly escalated pricing/kWh as usage groupings escalate – if I recall correctly the highest rates are around 40 cents/kWh. That resulted in rich people in big houses having solar panels (to save money!), but powerful folks would like to change that to a feed-in tariff where all ratepayers subsidize rich people to put solar panels up (as in Ontario where).
    Regardless, the computer network tie-in would be appealing if RTP was seen as empowering customers. Thus Google developed Powermeter to track home power use (conceptually real-time with smart meter communication), and Microsoft developed Hohm.
    Both folded their projects a couple of months ago.
    Natural gas is cheap in the USA now – and if utilities are there to serve customers they’ll deliver power when customers want it.
    If not, your bill will go up the more the utility spends (they are guaranteed a rate of return on equity), and their business model will remain to think up ways to justify spending more money – marketing the ideas as empowering customers to save money.


  247. Voltage control is always a local activity at a specific point in the network. A voltage problem at a point in the network must be corrected at that location or very close to that location. Power and frequency is always controlled across the entire network. The steady state frequency across the network must be the same. Rapid changes in power flows across the network can cause temporary frequency differences in different parts of the network, but the electrical response is in seconds, which is far too fast to control using market prices. I am sometimes amused by economists who propose ideas using frequency or voltages as economic signals.

    However for system protection, it would be useful to have applicances that dropped off line if the frequency of the network dropped too low. There would be value in this, but the applicance would be purchased with this capability and the network operator would see this device on the network. The customer would only be aware that his appiance was off because of a network problem if a little light came on indicating that was the problem. This is actually a good idea for the smart grid. I suppose you could hard wire in a low voltage switch also, so that if the grid voltage dropped too low the appliance would cut off. That would also have value for the grid. I guess we are talking about smart appliances that would replace the need to have the voltages and frequency centrally controlled. Thats an interesting topic for discussion.


  248. My over-riding suspicion is that we overthink residential supply. Houses don’t use that much electricity, and any corrective action will be broadly distributed and therefore at large cost. I can’t imagine residential powerfactor ever being cost effective, nor all that needed. PF drops due to large inductive loads; copper-wound motors. I reckon they’ve got to be above 50kW for that sort of correction to be worthwhile, and even then it would be marginal. Keep in mind PF makes no difference to the user experience, except in inflated demand charges; so no demand charges, no difference. There might be an argument for network operators to correct PF at substations, with the incentive being for them to offset their network upgrades, but again I think this would be a fringe case.

    John, up the page, apparently solar feed-in is problematic, but not quite for the reason you suggest. I don’t fully understand this yet, but reactive power performs a regulatory function within the grid. I *think* it’s something to do with how AC power is consumed. If 100MW is produced and used at the same time, is there any bit left over to provide the wave signal to synchronise with? Since reactive power is imaginary, it can oscillate at the same frequency as the VA component, but never be diminished, so provides a strong signal.

    The link with solar panels is that for reasons which are beyond my ken, all domestic inverters are set at unity powerfactor; ie exactly 1, so there are is no reactive power component. I think that powerful conventional generation (anything with spinning turbines) can address this, but I still don’t have my head all the way around the problem.


  249. Evc apparently Germany is looking at solar curtailment on sunny days
    A price responsive smart meter could help but that’s more capital cost.

    An anomaly with grid connected PV is that the inverter will disconnect the panels if it can’t detect 50 Hz from the grid. Farmhouses usually have 400w water pumps drawing from a rainwater tank. If a fire takes out the 240v line to the house that means the garden hoses won’t work even if the PV could produce enough for the electric pump. I had to buy a small petrol driven water pump to cover that situation, a hassle because the motors develop fuel blockages (snot in the carby) from not being used.


  250. @DBB and Scott Luft.

    I agree with Scott’s comment re TOU Vs RTP pricing regimes. In a connected world, the only argument against Real Time Pricing is the potential for transferring risk to unwary customers, who might not be aware that the market price has gone through the roof and thus so has their bill. For this type of customer, TOU makes sense.

    That is why I am so fixated on making the tools available for individual customers of all sizes to be able to automatically track their usage and the market rates if/when RTP is introduced. Preferably, this would be fed into an energy management system which will knock out low priority loads when prices climb above a threshold and all non-essential circuits when the price goes through the roof. This progressive load reduction will also assist system stability and thus marginally benefit every other user.

    The situation where I live is that the incoming supplies are split to 24/7 supply and a separately metered “off peak” supply which is centrally switchable. At present I only have a water heater running off peak. That will soon be replaced by a solar hot water heater without electrical boost. I’ve lived in the bush for long enough not to be scared of cold showers.

    Every kWh I use will then cost me the same, day and night. That is inefficient but at present it is the only option available to me and many others.


  251. Although this is irrelevant to the discussion at hand, it is some rather interesting news on Fukushima.

    TEPCO have released footage of the conditions inside Reactor 2 after giving the Primary Containment Vessel an endoscopic exam, inserted horizontally 7m from the bottom of the vessel through a pipe in the side. The poor vision in the camera footage is due to moisture and gamma radiation. Also a thermometer at the end of the probe showed the temperature to be 44.7C in the reactor, but the water level was lower than estimated. As you can see it is very rusty inside as well.

    Video Link (click on the last tab in the video player, first video):
    Last tab – first video.
    Report on footage link:


  252. One problem I imagine with time-of-usage (TOU) rates is that they are likely to be piecewise constant. Consequently, the criterion for appliances all over the grid to switch on or off is only met a few times of day, resulting in sudden changes of load (and, I hasten to add, phase!). That is quite apart from any switching surges. On the other hand, real-time-pricing (RTP) would or could be changed gradually, allowing appliances to have various criteria to switch on or off, that spread over long periods in the day.


  253. New article in German newspaper Der Spiegel (online edition)

    Solar Subsidy Sinkhole
    Re-Evaluating Germany’s Blind Faith in the Sun,1518,809439,00.html
    Thanks for the link Paul, however, please be aware the BNC Comments Policy requires that you have read and analysed the piece yourself so that you can provide some commentary of your own. Please ensure that you do this next time. Thank you.


  254. NREL considers thermal storage as enabling a greater penetration of solar PV:

    Click to access 52978.pdf

    The study is limited in scope but skillfully makes a case for the virtues of thermal storage. I doubt that 95% efficiency is obtainable but I doubt that using, say, 80% would change the major conclusions.

    Of course, being NREL the thermal storage is supposedly energized by concentrated solar. Any sufficiently hot source will do and I see no obstacles to that source being nuclear fission. I suggested that already in


  255. @DBB:
    Well found. This paper nests fairly well with some of the analysis brought forward on BNC regarding storage and the unreliable nature of PV and wind, in particular.

    I suspect that it displays a certain optimism on the part of the authors, but as a discussion in search of funds for an industrial-grade attempt at modelling, I accept its relevance and general fairness.

    One issue not discussed adequately is the magnitude of the increased capital cost for concentrated thermal power stations in order to provide the large thermal storage and augmented turbine capacities which are envisioned to provide the triple goals of storage (essentially load shifting) and fexibility (providing for ramping up and down to meet demand) and extending these to provide compensating shedulable energy for variability of PV’s unschedulable unreliability.

    I suggest that this article be added to the reference lists of the BNC threads devoted to storage and the unreliability of solar and wind generation capacity.

    Of general relevance is the conclusion early in the article that at penetration of much above about 20% solar PV+CSP, in the absence of thermal storage, these generating plant will start to feel the impacts from curtailment – they will have to dump energy because the grid cannot accept it. (See Fig 4)

    Interesting. I had assumed a rule of thumb of 10%, but perhaps 20% of annual energy is closer to the no-curtailment practical limit in this Californian example, with prospects to expand wind+CSP+PV to 50%, given sufficient capital cost for thermal storage and minimal curtailment.



  256. John Bennetts — Thermal storage is well established and quite inexpensive. I attempted to address that in my prior comment linked at the end. What is expen$ive is concentrated solar; the price is almost the same with or without the thermal storage. I’ve seen estimates of LCOE in the US$0.20–0.25 range; ouch! So energizing with an NPP would be more economic [although I know of no such arrangements].

    My own analysis (with the already linked comment) suggests an upper limit of around 30% solar PV, with the thermal storage, before curtailment sets in.


  257. My suspicion is that PV/wind penetration will be governed somewhat by geography; pumped hydro is the best large scale storage, and can deliver huge MW on demand.

    We’re running out of options for hydro in Australia though, and all pumped hydro is fairly dependent on ‘rain’.


  258. Scenario: Australia bans all export of uranium tomorrow.

    Can anyone provide a study on the net global CO2 emissions as a consequence of this hypothetical ban?

    Ka$h for Kazakhstan! The impact on actual global CO2 emissions would be a matter of how the minor CO2 emissions from the alternative uranium sources stacked up against ours. A more speculative issue would be the political ramifications of such an act, and how it would influence the perceptions of the investing classes.


  259. From
    Germany’s 20 year energy plan is estimated to cost US$ 2.2 trillion (yes, thousand billion)! From
    spending that fabulous sum on Areva EPRs plus supporting transmission, etc., would appear to come close to meeting Germany’s entire primary energy requirement and exceed the electical energy component by a factor of nine or ten.

    I do hope others will do the elementry calculation themselves and post the results. Is a (largely) renewable plan actually that much worse than NPPs?


  260. Roger Clifton, on 17 January 2012 at 6:40 PM said:

    @Eamon — more questions. I’ve done some homework for you already — perhaps you could, as a Japan resident, prepare a short summary for us here on the political dynamics after the Tohuku earthquake?

    No problem Roger, though my call for info was because the people on this forum would likely be able to point me in the direction of scientific studies, rather than the dross that abounds on the Web these days.

    The political dynamics are shaped by two factors: a deeply entrenched bureaucracy that is used to shaping policy-making, and the political-class that appreciates the figurehead position that this creates.

    After the earthquake people expected quick movement on generating and approving finances to help rebuild the Tohoku area. This got dragged out immeasurably by political sniping (some from inside the ruling party) by those wishing to be the next at the reins of power. Also, many minor parties, often needed to form ruling coalitions, have become firmly anti-nuclear, which will complicate things in the future.

    One of the consequences of the powerful bureaucracy is that it is used to sharing knowledge sparingly within its myriad departments, and there has been little need for the public or politicians to challenge this given the Confucian ethos that, until recently, permeated Japan.

    This gave rise to some of the most damaging revelations during the disaster, though typically, an increasing anti-nuclear media is portraying this as an nuclear industry issue, rather than a bureaucracy issue. The revelations include:

    * The Nuclear Safety Commission ignoring information from the SPEEDI System (System for Prediction of Environment Emergency Dose Information, Department of Trade, Industry and Education). This lead to evacuees staying in an area of high radiation, which could have been avoided by consulting SPEEDI.

    * The Nuclear Industrial Safety Agency asking TEPCO to assess the risk of Tsunamis to its Fukushima Plants. TEPCO reported back a few days before the tsunami that there was a risk of a 9-metre tsunami.

    * The Agriculture Ministry banning the feeding of livestock with hay, as it could be contaminated by fallout. They forgot that Japanese farmers also use rice straw to feed livestock. Result – contaminated meat.

    * Bureaucrats forgetting that gravel and other aggregates are stored outdoors. Contaminated gravel was widely used in construction in Fukushima Prefecture after the disaster, one condominium’s ground floor having two orders of magnitude more radiation than the local background.

    * Prime Minister Kan ordering the halting of seawater injection into the damaged cores due to NRC quavering on its pros and cons. Luckily the site manager requested that his staff ignore the order and they did.

    Please note I’m referring to public perceptions here – contaminated meat in small amounts will not have a noticeable effect (if at all) on a person’s health, though there is argument on the sensitive of young children to radiation doses. Also note that an increasing distrust of the bureaucracy (and with good reason) leads people to question what they hear from them – especially with regards to food safety these days.

    One of the lessons learnt from the evacuation in Ukraine was how it damaged the health of hundreds and the quality of life of thousands of evacuees. Assuming the lesson had reached his advisers, why then did PM Kan order an evacuation from a 20 km radius of the damaged power station? Did competent authorities get excluded from the advice?

    I will say first, that I agree with his decision, as a precautionary measure – though I think it should have also been bounded by probable contaminated areas (Using data from SPEEDI) rather than a simple radius. Until a good picture of the actual dangers on the ground are it seems sensible, and moreover, was a political necessity given the public pressures on the administration. There was also the additional factor of having to deal with the tsunami and earthquake damage across Tohoku

    I will add at this juncture that my knowledge of that time is spotty – we were without electricity, kerosine and petrol, and low on supplies. We got general emergency updates over a battery powered radio. So apologies if this seems a broad summary.

    As for competent authorities, it’s very hard to judge, given the bureaucracy’s secrecy and industrial ties (Amadukari#), but when we got our power back the experts consulted on NHK News seemed to be non-activist academics, though that changed as bureaucratic bungling came to light.

    Alternatively, the Japanese Cabinet may have been misled by other advice, that more deaths would result if these people were left rebuilding after the tsunami than if they were evacuated. If so, he would have quoted an estimate of the net number of deaths averted. Please advise us of any official estimates of the consequences of action and inaction.

    That kind of information is not available, as far as I know, and given the lack of solid information at the time of the evacuation order it might not have been reliable enough to accurately weight scenarios.

    Or could it be that the order to evacuate was just a placation of a public made needlessly frightened ?

    Given the advance to INES Level 7 (we really need a 6.5 here!) it probably was the right choice, solidly from a public relations viewpoint, and generally from a precautionary viewpoint. The partial melt-downs that occurred back up the latter, especially given that fact that jury-rigged systems were needed, fed by an erratic power supply, to fight to stabilize the plant in the days and weeks ahead.

    Finally, sorry for the delay in my response. Family, work, and the need to combat anti-nuclear hype in the various fora I’m a part of in Japan kept me from it.

    #Amakudari – the system where bureaucrats retire to cushy jobs in the industries they previously supervised. Serving bureaucrats must ensure they do not affect bureaucracy-industry links so much that they find themselves without a lucrative post-retirement position. This makes for ineffective oversight, and often out-and-out corruption.


  261. Anyone who believes Germany is going to replace its nuclear capacity with wind and solar is a fool. The recent PBS Frontline program on nuclear energy had a German representative say that they would use coal to replace nuclear plants being closed. Based on my experience as a transmission system planner, I think they will have to use the nuclear plant sites for the new coal plant. Maybe they can pull out the reactors and replace them with coal fired boilers to cut costs. if Germany doesn’t use coal to replace nuclear, then it will surely wind up being a member of the new PIIGGS group.


  262. Sand in the gears of GE-Hitachi’s bid to build an IFR in the UK:

    Reuters: UK nuclear watchdog toughens stance on waste reuse

    The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) has repeatedly ruled the multi-billion pound 600 megawatt (MW) reactor out of the running on the grounds that the technology lacks credibility for the purposes of plutonium disposal.

    An email from Adrian Simper, the NDA’s strategy and technology director, to GE Hitachi on November 29, which was obtained by Reuters, cited as a reason that “the market did not expect to deploy them (the plutonium reactor design) commercially for several decades (until 2050).”

    In that email, Simper also told an unidentified official at GE Hitachi that the NDA wanted to use “market-provided reactors” because the government “was not prepared to take technology risk on a new reactor.”

    This despite GE substantially mitigating this risk by an effective money back guarantee if their reactor does not perform as advertised.


  263. It think that means only one S-Prism will be built at a research facility in the US. Sellafield will convert their plutonium to mixed oxide instead.

    I’d liken this to missing the turnoff on a country road. If you have to backtrack you’ve wasted both time and energy. A slight hiccup and you may never get to your destination.


    An IFR design was proposed for the limited purpose of disposing off the Plutonium recovered in the UK by reprocessing the used fuel. In place of extending it to a complete IFR solution by asking for pyroprocessing at a later date (or outsourcing it), the regulators have abandoned it altogether.
    In face of apprehensive view of the fast reactors, the best use of this valuable asset would be for nuclear power in accordance of Indian thesis given in

    Click to access viewer

    It can be used either in the reactors in UK or in Indian reactors with thorium as the fertile fraction of the fuel.


  265. John Morgan, I was skyping with Tom Blees last night about this. The author of this piece wrote a lot — what shall we say — fantastic speculation, ignoring what GEH was actually saying. I wouldn’t read anything into this beyond the author’s wishful thinking. There may be a response coming up. You are right that GE are willing to take on the risk. The 2030/2050 date for fast reactors is common industry parlance for ‘oh, later, when we sort out all the socio-political details with Gen III’.


  266. @ Gene Preston:

    It isn’t feasible to out a nuclear steam generator and install a coal fired one.

    Coal operates at much higher temperatures and pressures and thus efficiency. The steam piping would not cope. The turbines need for large volumes of low temp nuclear power plant steam are proportionately very much larger, as also the condenser losses.

    Brownfield conversion from nuclear to coal fired requires complete new plant alongside where the nuclear plant once stood. I expect that, due to issues relating to demolition of the NPP’s, the result would probably be new coal fired generation and switchyard adjacent to the former NPP site, either a few hundred metres away or a few km’s. Remember, there is also coal handling plant to consider, as well as balancing the coal transopr requirements to the new site, versus construction of the coal fired plant in or close to the coal mine.

    It’s a whole system thing – not just a transmission system.

    If, on the other hand, solar thermal with storage was half way viable, then the NPP’s turbines and condensers would be close to ideal because the condition of the steam is similar or can be made similar, especially if gas boosted.


  267. The life cycle time of UN agendas is 20 years:

    First we had sustainable development (back in the early 1990s)

    Then we had Global Warming

    Then we had Climate Change.

    Now that is dead and the new UN agenda is ….

    Sustainable Development

    And around and around we go :)


  268. History doesn’t support this Peter. Climate change as a term has been around for a long while, I’m not sure there is any evidence that it post-dates ‘global warming’. The scientific journal “Climatic Change” was first published in 1979, and of course the IPCC, which stands for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, was created in the late 1980s (associated with the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC). Sustainable development has been around forever and not gone away.


  269. Barry,

    I was referring to the linked article at Climate Spectator and filling in with the high level, main stream, policy titles of the various eras – such as Bob Hawke’s “Ecologically Sustainable Development” which was their spin on “Sustainable Development” to win the Green vote. The 1987 (or there abouts) Brundtland report advocated “sustainable development” which meant: “economically, environmentally and socially sustainable development” and had strong emphasis on what the developing world’s priorities were. (I may have the order wrong)


  270. (Comment deleted.)
    I was prepared to let this go on the Open Thread but, as usually happens, it prompted tit for tat ideological, political statements. Please leave personal politics out of the discussion.


  271. Will,

    That’s reasonable news about the proposed Prism for the UK. I was a bit skeptical when I read the Guardian report. For one thing, the emails were obtained by an FOI request from an anti-nuclear activist and the Guardian piece had the aura of mischievous quote mining about it.

    A further reason to be skeptical is that the time to reasonably evaluate any GEH proposal would be remarkably short by the normal standards for evaluating any big project proposal, let alone nuclear based on “new” technology.

    The Guardian is so partisan in it’s reporting on anything nuclear that I don’t believe a word they say unless confirmed from other more reliable sources.

    In the end, the only thing that really matters is the official position of the NDA and DECC, which, it seems, is yet to be determined. If they are doing their job properly that could take quite a while. E-mails are just part of the process of arriving at that position.


  272. I see that new excavations and rail tracks will only affect an area of 150 km by 100 km in Queensland’s Galilee Basin

    Since in a few month’s time we’ll be paying penalties on every gram of coal burned in Australia you’d think there would be a coal slowdown but evidently not. Must be foreigners wanting our coal. Therefore I propose the Aussie Mateship Test. If we have to pay carbon tax they should offer to pay it on a voluntary basis, remembering it’s revenue neutral. We’re all in this carbon thing together.


  273. As usual, the comment by Peter Lang initiated the usual tit-for-tat political statements leading to acrimony and insults. This has no place on BNC and violates the commenting rules. If you would all like to re-submit your comments on the Open Thread without the personal attacks and political biases, please do so.


  274. @ Gene.

    …also there is the ash pond.”

    Dry ash and dust handling removes the need for slurry systems and ash ponds.

    There is no need for ash ponds in modern coal fired PP’s. In many cases the ash is quite simply disposed of in the voids left by open cut mines or, probably better, mixed into selected zones with the overburden… or used in concrete production to reduce the need and energy consumption and CO2 emissions involved in making ordinary portland cement.

    One area where the world could reasonably easily clean up its act is to reduce cement demand by substituting high fly ash and other classes of cement wherever possible.

    Those who remember the 2000 Sydney Olympics canoe course have already seen high fly ash concrete. It was used for all primary purposes, eg the channel itself.

    About ten years ago, small, scattered low tech operations in India manufactured high alkali concrete bricks by the billion (yes!Several billion) annually. Again, inputs include fly ash or similar and there is a much lower CO2 impact than for clay bricks or conventional concrete bricks. There is no need for on-site heat, although heating can accelerate strength gain.

    Check also silica fume concrete – again, using a by-product. By-products are very rarely waste… until they have been wasted. Up to that point, they are resources.

    I’d better stop now, before I deliver the whole sermon.


  275. John you point a rosy picture of ash disposal. Thats in stark contrast with the horrendous problems utilities are having in disposing of they ash in the US. TVA and AEP must be going on the cheap in their disposal because they are wrecking the local communities with contamination, leaking and broken dams, etc. They are engaged in several lawsuits. You can say you can make bricks out of the stuff, but those bricks contain some nasty stuff that is toxic to the environment.


  276. Mark: I would be curious to see what you thought of the video after you see it. I just viewed it and it’s pretty informative up to a point.

    A radiation biologist, I forget his name, indicates that there are some spots in the “contamination” zone where the dose approximates “hundreds” of millisieverts per year. Given that earlier numbers discussed were much lower (20 millisieverts), and, even with LNT, increased cancer incidence went from 30 percent chance to 30.2 (there was some confusion in my mind whether it was 30.2 or 30.02) percent, there should have been some attempt to square these two discussions on radiation or at least relate them.


  277. To continue a bit: I like that they interviewed Hansen and some of the MIT engineers were informative. with daichi, while they indicated how easy it would have been to secure the diesel generators, they did not mention that daichi six had an uprate that secured their generators and this saved the plant, at least that’s my understanding.


  278. One more comment: I think the review you post was better than the documentary. I look forward to her book. I wonder about the accuracy of the Indian Point coverage. The doc leaves the viewer anxious, despite useful info about the security of their diesel gens.


  279. Moderator, as is par for the course you allow comments that promote the the Labor-Green-Left ideology to remain; e.g. EN at 11:58 am
    You are wrong again Peter. Two comments by EN, which were answers to yours, were in fact deleted. The comment by EN, to which you refer, makes no mention of politics.Certainly it supports AGW – which is the premise for BNC. We all know you do not support the science but that does not make it a Labor-Green-Left ideology. Re-phrase your comments in a similar fashion and they will probably get through.Your perception of persecution on BNC is becoming wearisome.


  280. U.N. sustainable development summit shifts from climate change – Reuters

    In an attempt to avoid too much confrontation, the conference will focus not on climate change but on sustainable development – making sure economies can grow now without endangering resources and the environment for future generations.

    This argument contains the usual blame game – e.g. blame the oil industry for blocking cap and trade legislation in the USA when in fact what they are doing is pointing out that the world of consumers want cheap energy (Deleted pejorative and political attacks)

    Since the 1992 summit, successive attempts to secure a new binding pact to cut greenhouse gas emissions have failed to produce concrete results, public interest in climate change has waned, and many world leaders are concentrating on upcoming elections and financial worries.

    (Deleted political rant)
    What we need to do is to get rational. Those opposed to open debate are blocking progress. CO2 tax is at the heart of the problem in Australia and the regulars here don’t want it even mentioned. What does that say about objectivity?


  281. Peter Lang:

    We have addressed this before.

    You claim that using a tax mechanism to drive change is irrational (Deleted part which no longer applies to PL comment due to edits)
    Some, such as I, consider that using tax as a mechanism to drive towards less damaging technologies is entirely rational.

    I also consider that taxing polluters in order to establish a fund which is adequate to pay for the huge costs of living with the effects of climate change is rational.

    Of course, this view is based on knowledge that anthropogenic climate change is happening and at an accelerating rate. The veracity of this body of knowledge is not for discussion on this site. If that is what you are after, I suggest that there are plenty of other sites on which (denial of the science) may be aired.
    And yes, Mr Moderator, I understand that this message may have a short life expectancy.
    Edited, as is PL’s, but not deleted. And that would be Mrs Moderator:)


  282. John Bennetts:

    The tax mechanism way of dealing with AGW appears to be failing – see:

    Barclay’s closes US Carbon Desk

    EU, UN Carbon Prices Could Fall ‘Close to Zero

    If the threat of AGW was as great as it is being made out to be then don’t you think that Nuclear Power would be embraced as an interim solution ?


  283. [German] Environment Minister Retreats on Solar Subsidies:,1518,811530,00.html

    This article states that the excess cost of the solar PV feedin Tariffs are passed to other rate payers (who are probably not pleased with Germany’s escalating electricity rates). From elsewhere (I don’t recall where I noticed it) German heavy industry is demanding a subsidized electricity rate schedule backed by the threat of moving to other countries with lower industrial rate schedules.

    So, to my current confusion, all this seems to have almost nothing to do with changes in tax rates. Do I have this properly understood?


  284. Anti-nuclear types are attempting to mount a legal challenge, based on purported subsidies, in the EU to new nuclear power stations in the UK.

    One their main gripes, it would seem, is the proposed carbon floor price in the UK implemented by a contract for difference mechanism. If the market price for carbon is less than the floor price, then the generators pay the government the difference. If it is higher, the government pays the generators. Current market price is about EUR 7 per tonne. Proposed market price is GBP 16. The intent seems to be to provide stability for investors in low emission plant.

    Though some “green” groups back the floor price, it seems that the UK Green Party and Greenpeace do not and are actively opposing it:

    This is an unedifying sight, exhibiting an extraordinary level of political opportunism in the anti-nuclear crusade. Was a $23 per tonne price in Australia (roughly equal to the UK proposed floor price) opposed? Of course not. I doubt that many seeking serious emissions abatement believe that a price on carbon is not necessary (though not sufficient) and I personally find the Greenpeace position contemptuous.

    One further “argument” that appears to be doing the rounds is that nuclear fuel is not subject to tax (except in Germany) and this constitutes a subsidy. That’s easily fixed. How about $100 per tonne, regardless of fuel type in electricity generation? Investors would be falling over themselves to build nuclear.


  285. John Newlands — Thanks. So at US$100/tonne the surchange for natgas would be about US$1.82 per trading unit. The US spot price is currently almost US$3/MMBTU so the price would certainly go up; alas, not enough to deter much burning of natgas.


  286. George Mobiot has an amusing and entertaining piece in the Guardian delving into the background of private “weather forecasting services” used by and quoted by some of the tabloids (and the Telegraph) in the endless pursuit of proving global warming isn’t happening.

    A sample of the background of the purported personnel of one of these setups:

    So who are they? A picture search suggests an impressive range of talents. Take “Serena Skye”, for example, listed by PWS as a “contributing weather forecaster”. She also turns out to be a mail-order bride, a hot Russian date and a hot Ukrainian date. How she finds time for it all we can only guess.

    “Emma Pearson”, as well as working as PWS’s assistant weather forecaster, also features on 49,800 hairdressing sites, modelling an emo hairstyle. (Emo, m’lud, is said to be a form of music, popular with certain members of the younger generation).

    “Kelly Smart” has a remarkably busy life: as an egg donor, a hot date, a sublet property broker in Sweden, a lawyer, an expert on snoring, eyebrow threading, safe sex, green cleaning products, spanking and air purification. Perhaps more pertinently, she’s also a model whose picture is available via a company called istockphoto.

    Funny, but also serious because the crap from these outfits is used in a concerted campaign to undermine the credibility of the Met Office.


  287. @ Gordon, on 27 January 2012 at 3:21 PM:

    The tax mechanism way of dealing with AGW appears to be failing – see: Barclay’s closes US Carbon Desk [etc]”

    Not necessarily so. Barclay’s carbon desk would not be in its current predicament if the real cost of carbon emissions, expressed either as a sinking fund to finance 100% abatement , which is of course impossible, or to provide for carbon harvesting from the atmosphere and its secure storage in sufficient quantities for ever and ever was the basis of the tax levied.

    Of course, that is not so. To do so would upset the Captains of Industry and shake the very foundations of the world’s trade and monetary systems. Current winners would become future losers. Can’t have that, can we? So let’s set our tax rates at a figure which specifically and intentionally will NOT drive change, then complain while stifling our temptation to laugh.

    If the threat of AGW was as great as it is being made out to be then don’t you think that Nuclear Power would be embraced as an interim solution ?

    The nuclear power alternative, as an essential component of a response to the threat of anthropogenic climate change is already embraced by an increasing number of people in many countries. The pity of it all is that the tide of opinion is turning so slowly, but given the untruths, halftruths and delaying tactics which have been deployed against nuclear power and the truth about climate trends for the past 4 decades, this is hardly surprising.


  288. @Eamon, thank you for your special view from inside Japan, confirming events and sharpening our picture.

    “…powerful bureaucracy … sharing knowledge sparingly [with other] departments”

    If the Japanese perceive that their rulers conceal crucial information from each other, that it is hardly any wonder that they believe that something horrible had landed all around them, and that the government was ignorant of, or wanting to keep them ignorant of, its terrible threat to them. We did get something of an inkling of that picture, when a historian, Matsumoto, spoke (in link) of an excited mood in the Japanese Cabinet, where they were aware of a terrible threat, fearsome and faceless. Factless too, it seems from outside, despite their authority to command expert advice. Matsumoto allowed us to gather that something terrible is yet to happen, but even now (Sept) he was loath to give details of his fears. Perhaps it would lessen the drama.

    “… the site manager requested that his staff ignore the [PM’s] order and they did”.

    Those people must be heroes, Japanese workers challenging Japanese authority, for the sake of the greater good.


  289. @Peter Lang,

    Quoting your article

    In an attempt to avoid too much confrontation, the conference will focus not on climate change but on sustainable development

    According to the BP Statistical Energy Review

    Click to access coal_section_2011.pdf

    The 100+ billion tonne coal club is very small. US,Russia and China.
    The 50+ billion tonne coal club adds Australia and India.
    The 10+ billion tonne coal club adds Germany,Kazakhstan,Ukraine and South Africa.

    Of the ‘Big 9’ in coal reserves China,India and Germany are net importers.

    For most of the world ‘sustainable development’ and finding alternatives to burning ‘expensive imported coal’ are the same thing.


  290. (Comment deleted)
    BNC no longer publishes or discusses comments denying the scientific consensus on AGW/CC.
    How many times does it have to be said Peter. You are free to go elsewhere if you wish to pursue this theme but do not do so on BNC.


  291. A Nature article says we’ve passed peak oil.

    That has some pretty significant consequences. Of the 11 recessions the US has experienced since World War II, 10 have been preceded by a sudden change in oil prices. The US isn’t alone, either. Italy’s entire trade deficit, which has contributed to its financial troubles, can be accounted for by the rise in imported oil. The world, it seems, has allowed its economies to become entirely dependent upon fossil fuels. “If oil production can’t grow, the implication is that the economy can’t grow either,” the authors write. “This is such a frightening prospect that many have simply avoided considering it.”


  292. More from that Ars Technica review of the Nature piece.

    And it’s not just oil that poses problems. US coal production peaked in 2002, and the global peak has been predicted to hit as soon as 2025. The last time global coal reserves were evaluated, in 2005, the total was cut by more than half compared to previous estimates. Fracking has boosted the production of natural gas dramatically, but even here the authors find some reasons for concern. Recent reports suggest that shale gas reserves have been overestimated, and many fields that have been in production for a while have experienced large declines in production.

    Here’s the question. If coal could peak that soon, and oil will be 20 years into decline by 2025, then … do we really have enough liquid fuel energy to build out the nuclear infrastructure we need? How quickly could we realistically replace both our coal fired power AND oil with nuclear power, especially given how *utterly* addicted we are to oil for everything we make (in the petrochemical industry), nearly everything we mine (in those enormous trucks), and everything we move (by trucks, with 97% of freight by truck in this country), and everything we build?

    I know this question might sound a bit like some Doomer’s I’ve contested in the past, but when I see the general level of ignorance about peak oil in our society… I get really demoralised.


  293. @Gordon seems to suggest that if AGW really is a threat, our leaders would have moved us all to nuclear power long ago.

    The threat of AGW to (those)(personal comment deleted) making all the decisions is negligible. They will be all safely dead and buried by the time the ocean surface warms up to the temperature dictated by the excess CO2 already in the atmosphere.

    At some point along the way, much younger people will be taking to the streets, demanding responsible action such as NP. However that time can be delayed endlessly while there is(personal opinion on other’s motives deleted) talk about whether or not the threat of AGW is real, or whether our leaders can be trusted to respond to scientific advice in the face of public opinion. Those leaders will only be politically capable of adequate action once a significant fraction of the voting public is focused and aroused.

    You’re not splitting hairs about AGW, are you? Younger people will sit in judgement on us … sooner or later.


  294. Eclipse Now

    From your link
    US coal production peaked in 2002, and the global peak has been predicted to hit as soon as 2025

    Actually the ‘peak year’ for coal production in the US was 2008.
    The peak year for ‘productivity’. I.E. Tons per miner was 2003.
    71,000 US miners produced a bit more then 1 billion tons of coal in 2003. 88,000 US miners produced almost the same quantity last year.

    The last 8 years have been a reversal of a very long trend in coal mine productivity increases.

    Click to access c_trends_mining.pdf

    Obviously more workers producing the same amount of coal creates upward price pressures.


  295. Harry, coal prices (global demand) is up from a decade ago. The US has consequently exported more coal.

    I don’t see any peaking behaviour here. It would be strange to see any hard resource peak with coal; its a mined ubiquitous commodity, unlike oil which is well based (geologically declining production profile) and not nearly as ubiquitous as coal.


  296. Good prices for export coal may be a sign all is not well. Some analysts think that China, the world’s biggest coal user, is experiencing a domestic production peak about now, hence the global search for more input. Others think the world and Chinese production peak is about 15 years away

    In Australia new developments in Queensland’s Galilee Basin are aimed squarely at supplying China. In my opinion if China does not drastically cut its coal use (3.2 Gtpa) other countries that are practising restraint are justified in slapping a carbon tariff on goods made in China. That shares the pain since we pay more.

    It also gets around the anomaly that Australian coal goes to China to make goods then exported to Australia. Had those goods been made in Australia with the same coal the CO2 would have been taxed. The few murmurs will become louder and louder; a steel industry view


  297. John Newlands, on 30 January 2012 at 7:42 AM said:

    Good prices for export coal may be a sign all is not well. Some analysts think that China, the world’s biggest coal user, is experiencing a domestic production peak about now, hence the global search for more input.

    IMHO The opinion hinges upon the ability of China to roll out nuclear in large scale. They were putting ‘shovel in ground’ on 8 reactors/year but the Fukushima safety review cost them a year plus some momentum. IMHO THe Chinese will continue a relatively slow pace until throughout 2012 and then begin accelerating when the CAP-1400 design is finalized.


  298. This follows from my remark on the inevitability of carbon tariffs also since the carbon tax thread is inactive; both Australia’s steel makers are to get free candy bars in the form of cash since they evidently can’t keep up with the competition
    Like renewables subsidies after a few years people will wonder if this is the correct approach.

    While I think carbon pricing is a necessary first step the number of bribes, giveaways and disallowed moves (ie nuclear) will make it unworkable. I suggest it is crazy for Australia to supply both iron ore and coking coal to Asian steel mills and then be unable to compete. Same goes for alumina and thermal coal to make electricity for aluminium smelting. Surely we can’t have that many overpaid inefficient workers. The absence of CO2 penalties overseas using our C must be a major factor. Handing out lumps of cash for hurt feelings will never solve the problem.


  299. (Deleted violation of the citation rule)

    Please read the BNC Comments Policy (particularly the ‘Citing references and other sources’ rules) on the About page and re-submit your link with your own comments on it.


  300. Interesting link. I’ve always thought that the next El Nino and $2/L petrol will hasten a nuclear rethink in Australia but a German backdown will really make people take notice. I understand much of their claimed emissions reduction can be attributed to the closure of East German heavy industry after re-unification. I note German GDP declined in the 4th quarter of 2011 so the signs are already there.

    At least the Germans have NPPs to fall back on. We’re stuck with coal and gas for the foreseeable future.


  301. The US NRC released the State-of-the-Art Reactor Consequence Analysis (SOARCA) research study. I haven’t read the entire thing yet, but it seems to confirm the view that a severe accident will have very little health effects and thus the primary concern with a severe accident is that land will have to be evacuated for some time.

    Rod Adams commented on it here:

    The complete report can be found by entering ML120250406 in the ADAMS public data base search engine on the NRC website here:

    Still, I think that if nuclear power is to be mainstream, the possibility of a large release needs to be eliminated. Passive reactors seem to to be getting there as do LWR SMRs.


  302. I attended an excellent presentation at ANU last night, by Roger Pielke Jr.

    Presentation slides here (from a similar presentation from April 2011, but without the slides for the Australian audience):

    Click to access 2010.36.pdf

    Video to be published within a week.

    My take on the main points are:

    1. There is no point in continuing to argue a about ideological positions – warmist/Alarmist versus sceptic/denier. People come at this from different perspectives and all are equally valid.

    2. Instead, what is important is what we would have to do to achieve GHG emissions reduction of any significant amount, e.g. 50% of 80% by 2050 or whenever

    3. The “Kaya Identity” shows there are four factors that define the amount of world GHG emissions:

    • population,

    • GDP,

    • energy intensity of the economy and

    • carbon intensity of energy

    4. We cannot have much effect on population growth. It is politically impossible to reduce GDP growth. In fact, every government is trying to implement policies to maximise GDP growth.

    5. If there is a choice between environment and GDP growth, GDP growth will win every time. (IMO)this is just a pragmatic fact. See Slide 16 in his presentation. Note that most of the people arguing for policies that would cut or reduce GDP growth (like CO2 tax and ETS) are wealthy.

    6. So we need policies that offer both economic growth and GHG reductions

    7. The rate of reducing the energy intensity of the economy cannot be increased much.

    8. The only factor of the Kaya identity that can be significantly changes id the carbon intensity of energy. That must be done with technology. Only fuel switching can reduce the emissions by the amounts we want

    9. He pointed out how many nuclear power stations UK would have to build by 2050 to achieve the UK’s emissions targets. Or even to achieve the same CO2 intensity as France.

    10. He did the same for Australia.

    11. He also showed how many of the proposed Cloncurry sized solar thermal power station (now cancelled) would be needed to meet Australia’s demand (no mention of the problem of meeting night time demand). We’d need to build 1 Cloncurry sized CST plant per day. The estimated cost for the Cloncurry plant was $67 million. So we’d have to spend $67 million per day to achieve the targets (I am doing all this from memory) so may have it wrong.

    12. The world would need to bring on line 900 MW per day of non CO2 emissions energy supply.

    13. His key message is we need to stop bickering and focus instead on getting the technological solutions (with GDP growth).

    14. He showed how the world emissions intensity had been decreasing at about 0.2% pa for the past 100 or 200 years (from memory).

    15. He showed we’d need to reduce at 0.5% pa to achieve the targets.

    16. But the decrease in intensity stopped when Kyoto implementation was running at its fastest. The trend of reducing world emissions intensity has reversed.

    17. He said the Australian CO2 tax and ETS may or may not survive He said the Cap and Trade systems clearly do not work for GHG. He strongly opposed it. He preferred CO2 tax, but said it will have negligible effect.

    18. I felt his (mild) support for the CO2 tax is a case of being politically correct so as not to raise hackles and get the audience off side so it would not hear his main message. From my perspective, the CO2 tax and ETS are exactly the opposite of what he is advocating which is that we must lower the cost of low emissions energy, not raise the cost of fossil fuels. He even said that at one point in the lecture (I think, or perhaps was that my interpretation of what he said).

    19. All in all, I think it was an excellent and very pragmatic presentation


  303. Peter, I object to point 5 on a technicality and false dichotomy.

    No modelling has shown or suggested that the Australian carbon price will stop growth in GDP; it will reduce that growth, but GDP is still forecast to grow. Something like instead of 39 years until GDP doubles it will be 40 years.

    And the choice is not cut and dry, smart people realise there is a balance between both current and future needs. There are many policies in place, which defer current GDP growth for future growth. An example, not implemented yet, is the Murray-Darling basin plan. Sure, it might hurt some farmers in the short term, but it increases the chances of more farmers being able to use the river in future.

    So, no, I disagree, it is not pragmatic fact. It is short sighted opportunism in my view, and I am not alone.


  304. Some people realize the data indicates growth remains stubbornly connected to energy intensity. It’s debatable of course … it’s just that the side debating that the coupling is in full embrace have data, such as the PwC report showing in 2010, all the most advanced countries saw increases in emissions/GDP, with the exception of Canada – who apparently extracted oil from sand somewhat more efficiently.
    There’s also pesky IEA data.
    No doubt there are ‘smart people’ realizing a balance is needed between both current and future needs, but there’s probably some idiots saying the same thing. The danger is that a decade and a half after the world managed to get the Kyoto deal none, all that has happened is tilting at windmills.
    That’s not entirely true. Beyond Australia massive debts are also being acquired – debts that require, if they are to be repaid, a growth in the future that there is little indication will be significantly less carbon intensive than the past.

    On the IFR side, here’s a financing idea to run past Peter Lang and other keen critics. Surely funding the development of operational units should come out of the long-term waste handling funds being built in many jurisdictions (my province alone it is over $10 billion). These funds are just wasting away on things like debt (see comment above), and seem ideal to put to work on engineering away the waste, while providing energy.


  305. “His key message is we need to stop bickering about ideological beliefs and focus instead on getting the technological solutions (with GDP growth).”

    I don’t know why Pielke Jr. and other similar commentators (e.g. Lomborg) keep pushing the R&D argument. The technological solutions already exist (i.e. existing and next-generation nuclear). It’s not a technological problem. It’s a political problem.


  306. Scott Luft,

    PwC report and Roger Pielke Jr. are saying the same thing. The PwC report says:

    Achieving the 2 degrees Celsius goal will now require
    reductions in carbon intensity of at least 4.8% every
    year until 2050. This compares with a 2% per year
    reduction in carbon intensity, to meet this goal, had
    we started in 2000.

    Roger Pielke says: -5% every year and the best the world has achieved over a 5 year period is -2% and mostly -1% to -2% per year. That had nothing to do with Climate policies or emissions policies.

    It is interesting to note that the trend has reversed and is now positive since Kyoto tried to redirect how businesses should operate.

    By the way, I should have made clear the distinction between:

    – energy intensity per GDP
    – emissions intensity per GDP
    – emissions intensity per unit of energy

    See “Methodology of Evaluation” here:

    Click to access 2010.36.pdf

    and for completeness here are the slides again:

    Click to access Pielke.ClimateFix.Apr2011.pdf

    When the video of the prresentation is released, I’ll post the link. He explains far better than I can, and there is obviously a lot I couldn’t say in my short summary of key items.


  307. Yep, agree Keen, also from the renewables perspective. I have seen many people advocate for ‘more money for research’ as if more funding will result in some amazing, cheap, baseload renewable.

    This will never happen. We know the energy gradients and how much energy is in them. We know how to exploit them and Carnot efficiency sets upper limits on how much electricity we will get from them.

    A step change is not coming. Which ever direction we take with electricity generation, the time for talking about is long past. Stop waiting for a white knight and start changing things.


  308. Next generation nuclear does not exist (it is not commercially viable – it is decades away from being so). If you think it does exist (commercially available and proven) then please give me authoritative costs, based on decades of experience, for:

    – Discount rate (baseed on the ROI that investors would demand in order to invest
    – capacity factor (average over plant life)
    – capital cost ($/kW)
    – plant life
    – construction duration
    – Fixed O&M
    – Variable O&M
    – energy efficency (or heat rate)
    – fuel cost


  309. The GE link says they are ready to take orders on the PRISM. If I recall Sellafield was proposing to use two 350 MW units and pay no more than £3.8bn, call it $7bn for 700 MW or $10/w. I’m not sure of the plant life presumably Mackay has worked this out when he says Sellafield waste could power Britain for 500 years. Since the plutonium is already onsite presumably the fuel preparation cost is minor. As a government agency the effective cost of capital can taken as low.


  310. If we don’t want to allow nuclear to be cheap, then there is plenty of gas. It can power the world for a very long time:

    Energy policy in Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries is spurred by concerns that gas and oil are becoming scarcer and that fossil fuel emissions must be curtailed.

    This view is being punctured by technology allowing massive new resources to be developed from shale and coal seam gas. Waiting in the wings for a technology breakthrough is methane hydrate, natural gas that is locked in ice, which is the world’s largest source of hydrocarbons.

    So the message is, allow nuclear to be cheap.

    The message is, also, don’t put taxes on fossil fuels. That is not the answer, because the only thing it will succeed in doing is damaging the economies of the countries that do put the taxes on. As EU and USA have demonstrated, restricting the ability of industry to compete makes the industries move to countries like China. Global emissions go up, not down. Which is exactly what has happened.


  311. There have been several articles recently which show how EU countries, UK, USA and Canada are pulling back from their commitments to subsidise and mandate renewable energy. This article in the TorontoSun lists some with a short note as to what the changes are (so far):

    1. Germany

    2. Spain

    3. Italy

    4. Holland

    5. UK

    6. Canada

    I take this as reality being to set in at the policy level. I also suggest that this is what economic downturns do. They force us all to take stock of our policies and take a new look at the economic realities.


  312. As Peter says, the lure of money and cheap fossil fuel is keeping us locked into buring fossil fuels. Unfortunatley there are two brick walls humanity is about to slam into by staying with this policy. 1) Oil is getting in short supply as we round the peak oil world wide and the downturn in our economies is due to rising prices of oil, which are not avoidable. 2) Global warming will do us in eventually, first with huge ocean rises in the next centruy or possibly this century if acceleration from positive feedbacks continues, and God forbid what happens eventually with the climate. Fear of nuclear and denial of problems are working to make this situation much worse.


  313. Peter here are some good conservative numbers to use for starters:
    – Discount rate (baseed on the ROI that investors would demand in order to invest 5% per year and they also get energy security
    – capacity factor (average over plant life) 90%
    – capital cost ($/kW) use 10,000 $/kw
    – plant life indefinitely long, because once built, no cheaper options exist
    – construction duration use 10 years as a pessimistic number
    – Fixed O&M combine fixed, variable, and fuel as $2 cents/kwh
    – Variable O&M
    – energy efficency (or heat rate) use 10,000 BTU/kWh
    – fuel cos already incluede in the annual O&M

    Now I want you to include the cost of carbon capture and storage in your coal plant estimates Peter and you will find that the above costs are still lower energy costs than coal.


  314. Here are the numbers again since they are hard to read in the above posting.

    5% per year return and 5% loan interest, so 10% per year on capital and also the investors should get get a reliable supply of their own energy. If the investors are the receivers of the energy, then take off 5% per year return and use just 5% per year financing interest. The latest nuclear loan interest rate in the US is about 4.3% interest as I recall.

    90% capacity factor (average over plant life)

    10,000 $.kw capital cost ($/kW)

    indefinite plant life, because once built, no cheaper options exist

    use 10 years construction duration as a pessimistic number

    use $2 cents/kwh for all fuel and O&M costs and put some inflation on it if you wish


  315. James Hansen has posted the two-part Cowards in Our Democracies, slamming governments’ inaction and also personal attacks on himself from deniers:

    Click to access 20120127_CowardsPart1.pdf

    Click to access 20120130_CowardsPart2.pdf

    He finishes with a stong statement in favor of nuclear:

    Using the Fukushima accident as a reason not to build new reactors is as foolish as saying that an airplane accident killing many people is a reason to never build another airplane. A sensible policy is to check what went wrong and build a safer one.”

    Please do not cut and paste large slabs of text from articles you link. In this case I have edited the passage but as this practice violates BNC Citation Rules, I may have to delete any similar post in it’s entirety. Please read the BNC Comments Policy on the “About” page before commenting again. Thank you.


  316. Tom Keen, on 3 February 2012 at 2:13 PM said:

    I don’t know why Pielke Jr. and other similar commentators (e.g. Lomborg) keep pushing the R&D argument. The technological solutions already exist (i.e. existing and next-generation nuclear). It’s not a technological problem.

    The US DOE Next Gen Nuclear Demonstration Project has a $49 million budget for FY 2012.

    Click to access 2012_NGNP_Factsheet_final.pdf

    It’s a long and expensive road from conceptual design to ‘test reactor’ with a limited lifespan to ‘commercial reactor’ with 50 or 60 year lifespan.


  317. Gene Preston @ 3 February 2012 at 11:52 PM

    Now I want you to include the cost of carbon capture and storage in your coal plant estimates Peter and you will find that the above costs are still lower energy costs than coal.

    Yes, if the benefits of doing so outweigh the costs.

    ExternE estimates the external costs of coal and gas generation at about $10/MWh $4.5/MWh respectively (see table at bottom of page 13 here ). That is excluding climate change costs which ExternE did not estimate because, as they say, the estimates have very high uncertainty. Instead they estimated the cost to implement the EU’s climate and environmental policies. *

    I expect Australia’s external costs of coal and gas generation would be much less than Europe’s, and probably less than half Europe’s. The reasons I say that are because of our much lower population density and higher quality coal (e.g. low sulphur content).

    If we are going to include the external costs of coal and gas we must also include the external benefits of low cost energy. I expect these are very high. Raising the cost of electricity does the following:

    It reduces the country’s productivity – that causes us to force industries and jobs to move out of Australia to countries like China. Doing so does not reduce global emissions, it may increase them

    It causes us to have a weaker economy than would otherwise be the case. The result is less funding available for Health, Education, Infrastructure, etc. When that happens more people die, people have a lower standard of living, there is more crime, etc.

    These are some of the consequences of policies to raise the cost of electricity. The benefits of low cost electricity are the opposite. Therefore, if we are going to include the external costs of energy, we should also include the external benefits. I suspect that is why we are selective about what externalities we include.

    I’d also argue, if we are going to include the external costs and benefits of one industry (e.g. energy supply), we should also internalise the external costs and benefits of all other industries. Otherwise we are being selective and further distorting the markets by our interventions. Such interventions have unintended consequences. The forcing of industry to leave USA, UK, EU etc and move to China is one example of the unintended consequences of government intervention.

    *ExternE states (p 13)

    this table, in addition to the damage cost estimates, avoidance
    costs are given for impacts on ecosystems (acidification
    and eutrophication) and global warming, where
    damage cost estimates show large uncertainty ranges.
    The costs for ecosystems are based on the political aim
    (as stated in European Commission 1997) of reducing the
    area in the EU where critical loads are exceeded by 50%.
    For global warming a shadow price for reaching the
    Kyoto reduction targets is used.


  318. I know you’ve all probably seen it already, but in a discussion with (yet another) climate sceptic, I was forced to resort to the “Hungry Beast” rap, “I’m a climate f@#$%ing scientist!” It’s too true!

    (Language warning applies).


  319. I blog in support of Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactore (LFTRs), which I hope will be the breeder reactor of choice before we reach the decades in which breeder reactors become the inevitable source of base-load power. This is in 2 or 3 decades time, as predicted in ‘Atomic Awakening’ when renewables will be relegated to the low, single figure percentage of total energy production – where they belong.

    Currently, my humble efforts are directed towards persuading the 5 million combined membership of Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, that a policy of Energy [R]evolution and the like is profoundly damaging to the environment and impacts badly on climate change.

    The use of steel and concrete in the provision of energy from wind is 50 times greater than that of nuclear power generation, on a closed fuel cycle. See: These are the findings of a Berkley Professor and such is the magnitude of the difference, that the urgency for more effective action by we pro-nuclear advocates ramps up to near crisis level. We can’t let these deluded green activists keep spouting their tripe to our political masters.

    Renewable energy needs to occupy only a low single figure percentage of total power generated and this leaves renewables’ supporters with the choice of opting out of the debate or deciding to support one of the breeder reactor technologies.

    I hope for the sake of safety and affordability they choose the Molten Salt Thermal Breeder (thorium) technology over Liquid Metal Fast Breeder (uranium) technology. I would hope that a sizeable number of FoE and Greenpeace members get behind LFTRs – the best configuration of Molten Salt Breeder Reactor for civil power generation.

    PS: how about adding ‘LFTRs to Power the Planet’ to your Blogroll?


  320. I wonder why Peter Lang’s external cost figures are so low. Pretty much every study that you google will be in the 2-20 cents per kWh range for coal. In this graph for example the lowest external cost for fossil fuel is in the Netherlands, which has mostly natural gas for fossil fired generation, having a range of 1 to 6 EUROcents per kWh. Some countries apparently with more coal/dirtier coal/older coal plants, have up to 34 cents per kWh external costs.


  321. There’s something I’d like to discuss about Germany’s non-transition to renewable energy. Of course we here, unlike most journalists and politicians that can’t do basic math and research, know it didn’t work, Germany is no renewable energy success story at all, it is a fossil fuel disaster (in fact, fossil fuel would have increased if it weren’t for nuclear). Recently there has been the economic crisis combined with the scare-away from high energy prices of industry to overseas imports, that reduced demand.

    Click to access DETPES.pdf

    However, there is one small success in the total coal consumption, which occured in the early 1990’s. Interestingly it has nothing to do with wind or solar; these were negligible at that time (and even today are too pathetic to explain this). So my question is, what caused the coal use to decline in the early 1990s? It’s not in the electricity sector since that only declined slightly at that time:

    Click to access DEELEC.pdf

    And it’s not in natural gas as replacement since that actually decreased from 1991 to 1992, and only grew afterwards:

    So what could explain the lower coal use? Replacement of coal fired steel recycling with electric arc furnaces? Efficiency of the industrial coal users?


  322. Cyril R,

    according to my understanding, the major reduction in coal use was caused by the reunification of Germany: in addition to economic turmoil and closures in the manufacturing sector, this resulted to closing of much of old lignite-fired generating capacity.

    The former East Germany’s economy was more than four times as carbon intensive as the West’s. The fall of the wall dropped this by more than 46% between 1990 and 1995 (but leveled after that), and the share of lignite in total primary energy consumption in the East decreased from about 69% in 1990 to 36% in 1995. Temperature-corrected CO2 emissions related to energy fell by about 43%.

    There were also policy measures to improve energy efficiency, including support for CHP and modernization of existing buildings and heating systems.

    The “wallfall profits” are estimated to be 105 Mt of reduced CO2 emissions, more than half of the Kyoto target for 2010.

    This info comes from a report prepared on behalf of German Ministry of the Environment and the German Environmental Agency: Eichhammer et al (2001). Greenhouse gas reductions in Germany and the UK – Coincidence or policy induced? Fraunhofer institute, SPRU, DIW

    PDF link:

    It’s interesting that the report (which also considers the effects of the energy market liberalization and resultant fuel switch from coal to gas in the UK) concludes thus:

    “The findings indicate that for both countries, a mix of policies at the national and regional levels added considerably to the reduction of greenhouse gases. For Germany and the UK, policy measures accounted for slightly more emission reductions in all greenhouse gases than unification in Germany or liberalization in the UK, respectively. For energy-related CO2 emissions, the contribution of these special circumstances was somewhat higher than the contribution of policy measures.”


  323. Cyril R, similar CO2e reduction can be seen in adjacent countries formerly in the Eastern Bloc too.
    The Kyoto protocol was signed late in 1997.
    1990 is a negotiated base year, and changes between 1990 and 1997 should be viewed with a rock of salt.
    That said, I was exchanging comments with somebody dismissive of my claims that ENTSOE data showed Germany’s net use of all fossil fuels in generating electricity up 12% between 2000 and 2011 (consumption up only 2%), and in rebuttal they sent this link:
    I copied over the final .pdf, and translated it: the data shows a slighter increase between 2000 and 2011, but from 1990 to 2011, the totals (of lignite, hard coal, natural gas and Petroleum products) move from 358.4 (GWh) to 358.5.
    Reductions in emissions would be largely from growth in natural gas, at the expense of both lignite and hard coal – I assume they cleaned up the emissions at the stack too.


  324. Thanks guys for providing the historical context here. Kind of interesting that efficiency reduced coal use much more than the really expensive push for solar and wind so far. Too bad the financial crisis skewed the picture of fossil fuel use in Germany. However, the percentage of hard coal, brown coal, and oil in total primary energy supply have all increased slightly in 2011, according to this Excel file:

    But notice that nuclear still provided 8.8% in 2011 versus 10.9% in 2010. So most of the nuclear capacity is still running in Germany!

    Fossil fuels are up to 78.8% of total primary energy supply in 2011.
    It was 78.2% in 2010. Brown coal has increased slightly in 2011, the dirtiest type of coal if you recall, an inconvenient truth to “green” Germany with its pretty pictures of solar panels and wind turbines.

    In the last 20 years Germany went from 86% fossil to 79% – and most of that was due to the the economic restructuring not due to wind and solar!

    Pretty depressing rate of change.


  325. I dislike the percentage of production figures. Because intermittents are what they are, they generally drive up exports (in a jurisdiction such as Germany with the ties to import and export), and they drive down price. So coal and gas might go down as a % of total production, but that’s because production goes up as exports are subsidized (the feed-in tariff is recovered from only domestic users).
    Germany managed to be a net importer from May to October, but returned to being a net exporter thereafter, most notably in a windy December.
    If the goal is to reduce the use of coal and gas, it should be measured by reduction in the use of coal and gas.
    Which they haven’t done – they’ve replaced some coal with gas. That’s true over one decade, and over two.
    In the US, they seem to have an increasing share of the population noting if you are going to clean up by switching coal to gas, you can do that without using the ruse of renewables – and get far better results for the same money.


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