Nuclear Policy Renewables

Draft Energy White Paper – Discussion Thread


Guest post by John MorganJohn runs R&D programmes at a Sydney startup company. He has a PhD in physical chemistry, and research experience in chemical engineering in the US and at CSIRO. He is a regular commenter on BNC.

Energy minister Martin Ferguson has today released the Draft Energy White Paper 2011 (The Australian, ABC). The Government is soliciting submissions , so with a quick review, I’d like to open some discussion on possible material for a submission.

So what’s in the white paper? In short, lots of new gas development, energy market privatization, and “…the Gillard Government unambiguously does not support the use of nuclear energy in Australia”.

But Ferguson does seem to be determined to inject some ambiguity into the matter. Elaborating on this unambiguous position he explained:

Nuclear for Australia is always there as an option. We don’t have to invest in R and D and innovation on that front. Other nations are the specialists. But if we get to the end of this debate some years in the future and we haven’t made the necessary breakthrough on clean energy at a low cost outcome, then nuclear is there for Australia to blow off the shelf after a debate in Australia.

His Opposition counterpart Ian Macfarlane is singing from the same song sheet:

We haven’t had any active consideration of nuclear energy in Australia but the fact remains that nuclear energy is the one base load technology that is clean energy and until we find a better alternatives to clean, zero-emission energy than nuclear, then it’s going to remain on the agenda of other countries.

And of course the Greens are furious.

The white paper itself expresses this unambiguous position in remarkably equivocal terms. The full position on nuclear power is buried right at the back of the document on page 223 in a text box aside from the main text, where it is offered as a ‘contingency’ consideration. I will quote this in full:

• Australia’s plentiful natural endowment of a range of low‐cost energy resources has played a major role in shaping our energy generation base around coal and gas.

• Other countries have chosen to adopt nuclear power often as a way of diversifying their energy mix. As one of the world’s largest uranium exporters, Australia has respected and supported this right through trade under strict safety and security safeguards. Nuclear‐powered electricity generation currently produces around 16 per cent of the world’s electricity – around 10 times Australia’s total annual electricity generation. Undeniably this results in lower global carbon emissions.

• The government has chosen not to permit the use of nuclear energy in Australia and the use of nuclear technology for power generation is expressly prohibited under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. At the Australian Government level, advice on this issue was most recently commissioned in 2006. There has, at different times, been passionate debate on this issue.

• The Gillard Government unambiguously does not support the use of nuclear energy in Australia, noting that at present there is no necessary social consensus over this technology nor is there currently a compelling economic case, even taking into account the need to reduce our national emissions. Australia will invest heavily in renewable and other clean energy technologies such as carbon capture and storage as preferred alternatives to conventional high‐emissions generation.

• However, noting the multi‐decade focus of this draft Energy White Paper, it cannot simply be assumed that future Australian governments will necessarily hold this view. To provide a comprehensive assessment of future possibilities, it is prudent to consider under what circumstances a future government may conceivably wish to revisit this position, and what would be required should such a choice be contemplated. This suggests the following observations:

• Given our diverse energy resource base, there does not appear to be a compelling energy security argument in support of future adoption of nuclear power for electricity generation in Australia.

• The best case supporting future consideration of nuclear power would be the failure to commercialise new low‐emissions baseload energy or energy storage technologies within the timeframe that economic analysis suggests is necessary to meet long‐term global and national emissions reduction objectives (from 2025 onwards). (My emphasis)

• Estimates of future costs for representative electricity generation technologies suggest that nuclear might then represent an economically competitive backstop baseload energy option.

• However, given the long lead times for plant approval and construction and for development of appropriate regulatory frameworks, this would necessitate a decision to move ahead considerably in advance of expected deployment – lead times would be at least 10 years, with 15 years more probable. If this were the case, such a decision would need to be taken by the latter part of this decade if deployment was required by 2030 or 2035.

• This would require the development of new institutional and regulatory arrangements and development of a local nuclear engineering skills base.

• Realistically, such a decision would also have to attract broad community consensus. Australian history suggests that this would require bipartisan political support and, in the wake of the recent tragedy in Fukushima, the prospect of new safer nuclear generation technologies and waste disposal options.

• While there is no intention to change its well‐established position on this matter, the Australian Government continues to support open public debate on all of Australia’s energy options, particularly in light of the desire to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

i.e., We don’t need nuclear for energy security because we have enough coal and gas. But we will need it to meet emissions targets if baseload renewables fail.
 It almost reads like the alternative white paper the minister would have liked to have written, in an alternative reality where sanity prevailed over the politics.

So there seems to be some mixed messaging in this unambiguous stance. And there is a challenge in Ferguson’s statement:

But if we get to the end of this debate some years in the future and we haven’t made the necessary breakthrough on clean energy at a low cost outcome, then nuclear is there for Australia to blow off the shelf after a debate in Australia.

…namely, how do we quantify the precondition? How do we make it finite and actionable?

How many years do we allow? What specific breakthroughs do we need? What cost do we require? What reliability do we require for clean energy “baseload”? What is the drop-dead date for renewables performance beyond which national policy must commit to nuclear?

For my part I’m satisfied that point in time is in the past. But many obviously disagree. I’m interested in a milestone that a reasonable person would agree that, if not met, its time to pick up the phone, call that supplier in China, and place an order for a bunch of AP1000s. We can’t hold off forever from making that call, on promises of “soon” and “if only”.

Submissions on the white paper are being solicited. Anyone inspired to contribute might therefore focus on:

• the potential, or otherwise, of commercial base load renewable power to be developed,

• any objective milestone that could be set on baseload renewable development, which if not met would trigger a review of the antinuclear position

• strategy for developing the necessary community support should this eventuate.

I’m particularly open to input from those who favour a renewables only strategy: What specific time bound milestone could be set that if met would confirm with confidence the ability of the non-nuclear strategy to decarbonize our energy supply; or if not met, prompt that phone call?


By Barry Brook

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

82 replies on “Draft Energy White Paper – Discussion Thread”

Before considering the circumstances which would count as a failure of renewable technosolar and thus act as the trigger to abandoning it as a mainstay of energy policy, perhaps there needs to be a set of goals which technosolar must demonstrably achieve before it deserves consideration as such a mainstay in the first place.


definately following this one. and for the record. imo the time for renewables to have prooven themselves as viable options should be very short. they have been promising without delivering for many years and billions in investments now.
deliver or get out of the way of. real solutions that do deliver the goods. (i.e. nuclear).


“Given the long lead times…” Yes– the time to start moving on nuclear is past. Every reasonable assessment of future needs points to a need for increased energy supply. Only in some fantasy world where humans actually reduce their energy consumption might 100% renewables cover our needs. Carbon emissions are a global problem and we need to start thinking about energy solutions that include the entire world picture.

The problem is that many Greens equate energy use with harm to the environment. We need to figure out a way to illuminate the idea that abundant cheap energy is a way to preserve and restore the environment.


I’ve just read the executive summary and I think it should be retitled ‘gas will save us’ perhaps subtitled ‘we’re going to make lots of money’. The liquid fuels import problem is acknowledged but I didn’t catch any emphatic suggestion that gas could help solve that problem. Nor does it seem to discuss the fact that children alive today will need to live in a world with affordable gas beyond 2050.

I’m also troubled by the presumption that Australia must forever remain a net fossil fuel exporter. That seems highly irresponsible given calls to hasten global emissions cuts. Another assumption seems to be that renewables subsidies and quotas will continue indefinitely. My preferred model would be nuclear baseload, gas conservation, cap based carbon pricing but no per-Mwh subsidies. That seems a long way from current bureaucratic groupthink.


“…the Gillard Government unambiguously does not support the use of nuclear energy in Australia”.

Must be the best news we could have from this government which appears to do everything it says it will not.


From what I just recently read in the WSJ a company in Austrailia is signing up to supply Japan with huge quantities of LNG.

From the article

Inpex Corp. of Japan said Tuesday that it will sell liquefied natural gas valued at $70 billion from its Ichthys project in Australia to five Japanese utilities and expects to make a final decision on whether to begin construction within weeks.

The 15-year sales agreements will help meet Japan’s surging demand for imports of LNG, which has been driven by the closure of most of the country’s nuclear reactors as a consequence of the March earthquake and the subsequent Fukushima Daiichi radiation crisis.

Inpex said the first shipments to the buyers—Tokyo Electric Power Co., Tokyo Gas Co., Osaka Gas Co., Kyushu Electric Power Co. and Kansai Electric Power Co.—are due to begin in 2017.

Also from many articles here on BNC I understand Australia ships tons of coal offshore.

It seems somewhat hypocritical for the Australian government to be worrying about their electrical generation’s greenhouse gas emissions when the Australian continent just ships GigaTons of CO2 to be burned overseas.

Since it will get burned somewhere anyway (whether or not you have clean electricity), why not take some of the gas for yourselves and burn it in combined cycle natural gas plants.

Then use some nuclear as baseload and you have it licked.

Spending lots of effort on renewables seems like an utter waste of time and money.


What the coal companies know that most people don’t:

As long as you keep messing around with wind, solar, geothermal and wave power, the coal industry is safe. There is no way wind, solar, geothermal and wave power can replace coal, and they know it. Hydrogen fusion could, if it worked. Hydrogen fusion has been “hopeful” for half a century so far. I don’t expect that to change any time soon.

If you quit being afraid of nuclear, the coal industry is doomed. Every time you argue in favor of wind, solar, geothermal and wave power, or against nuclear, King Coal is happy. ONLY nuclear power can put coal out of business. Nuclear power HAS put coal out of business in France. France uses 30 year old American technology.

So here is the deal: Keep being afraid of all things nuclear and die when [not if] civilization collapses or when Homo “Sapiens” goes extinct. OR: Get over your paranoia and kick the coal habit and live. Which do you choose? Nuclear is the safe path and we have factory built nuclear power plants now. A nuclear power plant can be installed in weeks. See:


GeorgeS I couldn’t agree more. Hypocrisy is not the word for it. We are supposed to bust our nuts getting net domestic CO2 under 500 Mt by 2020 yet CO2 from exported coal alone is over 700 Mt a year and rising. The plan is to eventually export 100 Mt of LNG up from the current 20 Mt, thereby overtaking Qatar in export volumes.

The Icthys gas field off Western Australia is close to Timor thus Asia but we claimed it. The gas will be processed at Darwin in the Northern Territory which currently receives gas from the dwindling Mereenie gas field in Central Australia. Presumably when the latter runs out desert towns like Alice Springs will also get gas from the Timor Sea. Why not extend the gas line to the uranium mines in South Australia? Apparently it’s unthinkable to have nuclear power in Australia but not uranium mining. Ironically some of that LNG will probably go to replace the output of derailed Japanese capacity like Fukushima.

To put it politely energy policy in Australia is muddled, utopian, contradictory and short sighted.


What could be done immediately, is an acceleration of nuclear education in Australia. The establishment of schools of nuclear engineering, including radiochemistry, would take time as researchers were collected from all over the world and teaching began to expand. The supply of these researchers and teachers is already limited, and we can only expect it to tighten as global nuclear conversion gets under way.

Students who graduate before Australia eventually lurches forward will certainly find jobs elsewhere in the world. Those who return with international experience will be very valuable graduates indeed.


John Morgan,

Thank you for this article and for your prompt to make a submission.

Your point out that neither major political party is advocating nuclear at the moment. I’d suggest the main reasons for this are:

First, it would be electoral death for the Coalition to raise it. Labor will maintain its anti-nuclear position so it can use it in an election winning scare campaign.

Second, given the projected cost of nuclear generated electricity in Australia it is not a viable option. I suspect this situation will remain the case until someone can generate interest in investigating the reason nuclear is not an economically viable option in Australia.

BNC is a place that could get that investigation started. There are many very bright and very knowledgeable contributors. However, they have never focused on: What would Australia have to do to allow nuclear to be cost competitive with coal in Australia?


@Roger Clifton: A nice thought, but I suspect if we were really going to move down a nuclear path in Australia we would be sponsoring students to study nuclear engineering overseas instead in the short to mid term. It would take quite a while to build up world-class nuclear engineering schools here unless we did some very expensive poaching of foreign talent.

Additionally, I would think that at least the first generation of reactors that we buy will be an entirely off-the-shelf job, with most jobs (excepting some parts of construction) coming from overseas. Local development will come later with a more benign attitude towards nuclear power here.


Roger Clifton, @ 14 December 2011 at 9:28 AM:

What could be done immediately, is an acceleration of nuclear education in Australia.

I agree. If the government could just get that started it would be a very important step.

I would ask that a large part of the focus of research should be on addressing the question: what would Australia need to to to remove the impediments in our energy system that are preventing nuclear being cost competitive with fossil fuels in Australia

As all BNC regulars know, I am strongly opposed to raising the cost of energy through government intervention, such as a CO2 tax and ETS, while:
1. there is no international agreement on how to price emissions, and
2. we have not removed all the impediments to a level playing field for electricity generation, transmission and distribution.

I believe my opposition ot CO2 tax and ETS is widespread and rational.


“the Greens are furious”.

That’s ok with me. I’m furious with the Greens for undoing virtually every gain in Europe by killing Germany’s nuclear program, and keeping Australia the highest per capita emitter in the OECD by maintain their nuclear blockade.

More and more, it seems that making the Greens “furious” is the surest sign that someone is talking about something that might make a difference to climate change mitigation.

Its truly depressing, when the Greens can make Ian McFarlane look like and environmental champion by comparison.


Thanks for the introduction John. The discussion of nuclear seems to be a step forward from the last energy white paper in 2004 – it’s a reminder of how slow these things move.

Australia has large resources of energy, such as gas, hydro, wind uranium and solar, which have lower emissions intensities than coal….(but) impediments exist to the use of some of these sources. … Australia’s large-scale hydro potential is largely exploited, with little scope for expansion. Wind and solar are intermittent, which will limit their penetration in the longer term unless affordable electricity storage becomes available. Use of uranium reserves raises cost, safety and waste disposal issues in power generation. While industrialised countries on average generate 24 per cent of electricity from nuclear power (IEA 2002 b), Australia is not contemplating the domestic use of nuclear power. Other potential low-emission electricity sources, like electricity produced using ‘hot dry rocks’ or fossil fuel generation with capture and storage of emissions, are yet to be commercially demonstrated.

page 135

I doubt anyone seriously believed the ALP would move onto the front foot with this – with nearly half the ALP delegates voting against permitting uranium exports to India, it seems a lot of delegates live in a parallel universe – but it at least provides a good opportunity to get get some public debate.


I’ve tried to comment on Bernard Keane’s piece at Crikey today:, however it’s currently stuck in moderation. I don’t know if I have the time to give it the full response it richly deserves, so the following will have to do for now.

I want to see a cage match: Bernard Keane v Martin Nicholson. The latter had an op-ed in The Australian today, ‘Nuclear power can save billions’, Both cannot be right. I reckon a head-to-head contest would be the best way to determine who is putting up a well-reasoned, quantitative analysis, and who is regurgitating a long-debunked farrago of misapprehension, misleading, cherry picking and outright untruths.

In any case, though, Bernard, if you’re that confident renewables can do the job required, why not take up the challenge? As this much-needed alternative perspective ( puts it: What specific time bound milestone could be set that if met would confirm with confidence the ability of the non-nuclear strategy to decarbonize our energy supply; or if not met, prompt that phone call to China or Westinghouse for a job lot of AP1000s?

Further correspondence is undoubtedly warranted. Crikey do have a good reputation for publishing longer comment pieces in their main daily e-mail, in reasonably unedited form.


A related issue, given Ferguson’s ‘coming out’ about nuclear power if renewables don’t deliver – I have an op-ed published in The Australian on the paper I published here titled Cutting Australia’s carbon abatement costs with nuclear power

You can find the op-ed here:

Some very interesting comments posted on the Oz site. I suspect they have been moderated. No green death threats :).

For those that don’t have access to The Australian online material, I have loaded the op-ed up on my website:


Sorry Mark, I hadn’t read your comment before entering mine. In one respect I would actually agree with Bernard Keane that the White Paper does have a rather confused approach to nuclear power.

I suspect different parts of the report were written by people with differing views on the subject. I suspect Ferguson is the strong advocate in the team who is fighting his fellow politicians.

I sent by original research paper to Ziggy Switkowski who passed it on to the Energy White Paper team. Perhaps I have had some influence on the White Paper after all :)


Ferguson says,

But if we get to the end of this debate some years in the future ..

The main thing I want to know is, how do we know when this debate has ended, and therefore must act?

Obviously the debate itself will never end, as must be obvious to anyone who has followed some of the determined discussions on this site. There will always be someone wanting to offer contention.

So the question must be, when must debate end, and a commitment to action be made? A difficult question, when the answer is really decades ago.

Maybe its best to address this in the terms of the white paper itself, using its own assumptions. The timeframe the report identifies as requiring emissions reduction from clean energy technology is from 2025 on. And it identifies a lead time of 10-15 years to develop a nuclear power capability. Lets give our decision makers the benefit of the doubt at the expense of the planet and say:

Our drop dead date for action is 2015. At that point, we act on the clean energy option that is available to us at that time, no matter what it is.

“Available” must mean we can sign a contract with a supplier on December 31st 2015, pay cash money and build a clean energy generator that we can connect to our grid.

It must be at a scale that moves the needle on our CO2 emissions – no 50 MW technology demonstrations please. The resulting grid must meet an acceptable level of service (reliability). And the cost must be viable.

So the trick is to get the government to commit to buy, say, 1 GW of clean energy in 2015, without specifying the technology. If solar thermal fits the bill, so be it. If not there’s always the nuclear contingency if it doesn’t. But a commitment of this sort would put a desperately needed closure date on the debate.


John Morgan,

The main thing I want to know is, how do we know when this debate has ended, and therefore must act?

You must have an idea on this. Give us a lead?

My suggestion is, the decision as to which technology to proceed with in 2015 would be decided on:

1. least cost of electricity in Australia (all costs including transmission) for baseload supply, with CO2e emissions less than 0.1 t/MWh CO2, and

2. lowest cost of CO2 avoided ($/tonne CO2 avoided)

These costs to be provided by three authoritative sources, such as :
– BREE (formally ABARE/S)
– ACIL-Tasman


@John Morgan

So the trick is to get the government to commit to buy, say, 1 GW of clean energy in 2015, without specifying the technology.

Also need to specify what “clean” is. Less than 100 grams CO2/kWh perhaps? This is not only a question of emissions reduction (eg coal to gas), most importantly it’s a question of genuinely low emission technology.


The Gillard Government’s argument against nuclear power has similarities to their approach on Australia becoming a republic. In short, we’ll decide on our republican status when the current QE2 vacates. or dies and Charlie steps up to the plate. We won’t bother determining anything – appointed or elected Head of State etc, – until Liz goes.
Similarly with renewables proving their capacity to perform. It’s a nonsense course of action in both cases and we will be left behind when either happens.


Peter Lang, I don’t think the debate will ever end, as a debate. (Are we in a debate? Do we need a political leader to fire the starting gun? If we weren’t before, I think Martin Ferguson just pulled the trigger.)

We know that this debate will run forever. I’m looking for a way to short circuit that “debate” by asking, when must we make a decision?

A subtle point about the White Paper’s separated nuclear policy box is that it shares the same assumptions as the rest of the document. Its not as if the nuclear policy is offered in case other assumptions are wrong, or other arguments are invalid. It sits comfortably within the logical framework of the document. It is correct in itself and consistent with the rest of the document.

Nuclear power is separated from the rest of the document by a line of ink on a page, not by substantive reasons. The insubstantial reason it is separate is because “the Gillard Government unambiguously does not support the use of nuclear energy in Australia”. And this is an axiomatic input, not a derived position, which sits uncomfortably with the rest of the text.

Therefore I think the White Paper can be challenged on its own logic. In fact, I’m pretty sure that is what the Minister wants to happen.

At the point in time where events overtake talk, I think your methodology is a good one for determining technology pathways for the future.


Is there no merit in my suggestion that ‘renewables’ need to be examined to determine whether or not they are worthy of occupying their current favoured policy position? Frankly, it seems an obvious line of attack given the way Martin Ferguson put things in the white paper.


An excellent reading of the Minister’s intent with this White Paper comes from Katherine Murphy of The Age. A choice quote:

When you put a concrete, near-term timeframe on potential nuclear power generation, it sounds less like contingency planning and more like a road map.

And the strategy?

Ferguson’s intention is clear – fresh from his victory persuading the PM and the Labor conference on the merits of uranium exports to India (another banned policy), he’s not in the business of closing off any options. He is a realist on nuclear power.

And just as it was for Howard, putting a price on carbon is the policy game-changer that makes nuclear – once too expensive to contemplate – economically viable down the track ..

Ferguson chose to delay the white paper until the government sorted out the detail of the clean energy package. Now, the country can have a debate.

Listen. What you hear is a call to arms.


John Morgan @ 14 December 2011 at 10:03 PM

I don’t understand your reply to my comment. Perhaps you misunderstood my comment? The word “debate” was in the quote from your comment – the second sentence of your comment at 14 December 2011 at 4:14 PM. I used it as the question you wanted answered and then offered some suggestions to address it.


I notice Ferguson kept his job in the ministerial reshuffle, having had the same job since being appointed by Rudd. I think Ferguson had his fingers burnt with CCS and geothermal. I understand those boondoggles got hundreds of millions of dollars of Federal help under his watch with so far nothing to show. I seem to recall Ferguson arguing the case for gas as a partial oil import replacement but that is downplayed in this white paper.

It must be strange being an energy minister. One day solar lobbyists want more subsidies the next day the lobbyists for the nuclear industry just want their industry to be legal.


In the story on “The Greens are furious” link, it talks about the recommendation to sell the generating plants to private industry. Why on earth would you want to do that, apart from some capitalism is wonderful ideology. I live in California, where privatization and deregulation of the electrical supply resulting in ridiculous gouging and brownouts and stratospheric electricity prices. Meanwhile, 25% of Americans get their electricity from nonprofit cooperatives, with better results and lower prices.

Electricity is not much different than health care in that when you need it you need it, and you don’t really have a lot of options. “Oh, I see electricity’s expensive today, I’ll just wait till later this week to turn my lights on and run my refrigerator.” It isn’t a free market, so free market ideology shouldn’t be employed in its production and distribution.

In the USA we’re still struggling with getting our health care system free of for-profit insurance companies. We pour about 35% (conservatively) of our health care dollars into the pockets of completely unnecessary insurance companies, plus vast amounts into the many extra employees needed at virtually every health care provider’s office who are there simply to navigate the paperwork and hassle with the insurance companies. The upshot of it all is that the USA pays about double what the rest of the world pays for health care even as millions go uninsured.

Privatizing power generation and distribution is the same: All you’re doing is adding a middleman that will siphon off money into the pockets of investors, while in no way improving on the performance of the system. Why on earth would you want to do such a thing? Surely you can look at what’s happened in other countries that have done the same thing. What is it about free market ideologues that they can carry the day in the face of so much evidence that their plans are detrimental to the country? In the USA it can be somewhat explained by our money in politics, and the fact that there are so many millionaires in Congress that it’s somewhat unsurprising that they vote in ways that favor their class. Lamentable, but understandable.


@Tom Blees, on 15 December 2011 at 11:29 AM:

Electricity privatisation can be a good thing, provided that it is done correctly. The first thing is to recognise that an electricity market does not function like a normal free market – it must have a guaranteed supply to meet demand – there is no option to simply not contribute any power if a generator is allowed to operate as a scheduled generator. The other issue is that ancillary services like frequency control, reactive power management and voltage regulation need to be provided, where as a free market would not necessarily be bale to provide these services effectively.

I would suggest therefore that privatisation similar to what has happened in Australia and in particular Victoria is the way to go if it is to be pursued. Private companies own, construct and manage assets, but the ‘market’ is managed by an independent operator that also handles some long-term planning functions.
In addition, there is a separate, government regulator to enforce rules. This means that an Enron-style event is much less likely to occur- there is a significant amount of oversight within the National Electricity Market. Enron was allowed to do what it did because the deregulation was poorly done – no long-term contracts could be made and retail prices were semi-fixed under the California system. See:

However, I am still of the view that privatisation is unnecessary for electricity grids, and can be a detriment to long term planning (which is sorely needed at present with the need to decarbonise electricity generation) without government intervention.

However, freeing up capital for governments by selling off these assets is rather enticing for some politicians, particularly in times of fiscal restraint. If a market is well operated there are much fewer problems – as with most of these things, the devil is in the detail.


John Morgan,

Your post is an excellent thought provoker, as always.

Many of your points have prompted my thinking, but I’ll mention two here:

1. You suggest the government should be ready and prepared to sign a contract with a supplier by 2015. I suggest it will take much longer than this before we could be in a position to sign a contract with a supplier. I suggested a fastest practicable schedule (milestones) here:

2. When might Australia be ready to seriously consider nuclear again? Looking at precedent, I’d say we’ve probably delayed nuclear being offered to the electorate at an election until about 2021. This is based on past trends. Nuclear was seriously offered to the electorate at elections in 1993 and 2007, i.e. 14 years apart. On this basis it will next be offered in 2021.


Let’s be realistic. Many people are not yet persuaded that GHG emissions, or indeed a small increase in mean global temperature, is a major problem. Their main concerns are:

1. energy security
2. energy reliability
3. energy quality (voltage and frequency)
4. low cost energy
5. health consequences of energy production, distribution and use

Therefore, to meet the requirements of these people and also meet the requirements of those who want to deep cuts to GHG emissions, we need to implement energy supply that meets both requirements.

To do that we need to remove the impediments that are making low emissions electricity generation higher cost than fossil fuels. In practical terms what this really means is we need to remove the impediments to low cost nuclear.


When might Australia be ready to seriously consider nuclear again? Looking at precedent, I’d say we’ve probably delayed nuclear being offered to the electorate at an election until about 2021. This is based on past trends.

I would submit that if the UK accepts GE’s offer and a pair of PRISM reactors is up and running at Sellafield by 2015 or so, Australia and many other countries will quickly see the compelling advantages of the technology. Low-cost modular nuclear power will then be demonstrated in a way that will be mighty hard to ignore.


Will, while the caveats you offer about successful privatisation have their merits, ultimately it’s somewhat academic since you too see that privatisation is not only unnecessary but possibly (I would say certainly) detrimental. Freeing up capital by selling off publicly-owned assets is a temptation for many governments, as we’ve seen all too often in the USA, “particularly in times of fiscal restraint,” as you say. Meaning that when cities or states are having trouble meeting their budgets they try to take the easy way out by heading to the pawn shop. States have sold highway systems (toll roads, with ever-rising tolls), cities have sold their parking meters, water systems, etc. In most cases it’s been either a mostly negative experience or a complete fiasco. In every case the citizens got screwed. They paid for the infrastructure up front with their taxes and were now benefitting from its utilization, only to have their leaders agree to their long-term exploitation for short-term political gain. So why sell out and then have to create a separate regulatory structure that you HOPE will keep the new owners from screwing everyone too badly? This is free market lunacy.


The idea of nuclear power being eligible for subsidies on a par with wind and/or solar is anathema to renewables-only advocates, but look at what would have happened if that approach had been taken in Germany, where they’ve already committed at least 75 billion Euros to solar. That amount of money would build enough nuclear plants to provide all the electricity Germany needs (more or less, depending on the price of the nuclear plants, but certainly within the ballpark), with some left over for export. Instead they get about 3% of their needs met (intermittently, of course, virtually none in the dead of winter).


That figure 6 graph in the post above: Note that it shows nuclear as being the vast majority of baseload backup in 2045. Since no actual experience to date has demonstrated even a glimmer of hope that wind and solar can act as baseload (in long calm periods in winter), does that mean that we’d have sufficient nuclear power to meet peak demand? If so, and if that nuclear is predominantly IFRs (with essentially free fuel), then I would submit that the green portion (wind and solar) will be a fraction of what it shows there, simply because it will be unnecessary. With peak capacity being about 3X average demand, why muck about with wind and solar if you’ve got free fuel for your 24/7 peak capacity nuclear system?

There are many many graphs of future energy supply that hopefully (for all our sakes) will be proven laughably wrong come 2040 or 2050. They come from the IEA, the OECD, national governments, etc. Virtually none reflect the game changing nature of modular economical nuclear power systems.


I think the saddest aspect of this report is that most people will probably never read past the executive summary, and this is remarkably gutless. It talks in several places about the need for a “muture debate” and an “informed debate” on our energy sector but then fails completely to mention the nuclear issues – except in the context of Australia supplying uranium for the “continuing expansion of nuclear power in rapidly developing economies”.

I was also surprised to see no discussion at all on underground goalseam gassification, given the large focus on coal seam gas.

A mature and informed debate might start by tabulating the costs of subsidies and research grants etc for the various energy options then summarising their current state of play.

On the bright side, Martin Furguson continues to encourage debate while retaining his job in a party where his views are not mainstream.


Tom Blees,

Low-cost modular nuclear power will then be demonstrated in a way that will be mighty hard to ignore.

We’ve been “IFing” like this for at least 20 years. But we still show no interest in trying to define what are the impediments to low cost nuclear in Australia – like investor risk premium for example.


Peter Lang:

“We still show no interest in trying to define what are the impediments to low cost nuclear….”

This is a point you have been making ad nauseam, but you never seem to accept that most of the impediments to which you refer have been identified repeatedly on this site.

You raise the problem of investor risk premium, for example. This, I think- with my limited economic understanding, translates into high discount rates. We know that the private sector will demand approximately double the discount rate than that applied by the state. This is partly due to the need for private investor profit as well as to cover uncertainty over whether the state or litigious individuals within it will change policies or create delays during construction. There will also be private investor uncertainty over the proportion of nuclear reactor output that will be purchased, particularly when it has to compete with power from other generating technologies, some of which, like gas, may be cheaper in the short term and others, such as wind and solar, whose subsidised outputs are guaranteed to be used by the grid.

(Personal comment deleted)Liberalisation of energy markets may have been a mistake and, in fact, that it created many of the impediments of which you complain.

Cheaper nuclear power requires the following:

1) A determination by the state to implement and use it it.
2) A level playing field for clean energy technologies.
3) Either initial loan guarantees or subsidies for clean energy implementation or, alternatively, penalties for fossil fuel use.
4) Introduction of inherently safer and cheaper reactor types.


Peter, I arrived at the 2015 date by backing out what the white paper implies we need to do. If I started by asking how soon we could consider nuclear, I might arrive at your 2021 date. Therein lies the cognitive, and credibility, gap with this white paper.


Thinking of Peter Lang’s 2:12 PM comment, that people are more concerned with energy security than emissions reduction.

I think this is true. The white paper directly states though, that energy security will not drive the introduction of nuclear power:

Given our diverse energy resource base, there does not appear to be a compelling energy security argument in support of future adoption of nuclear power for electricity generation in Australia.

This is basically saying, “don’t make a submission advocating nuclear power because we need the energy”.

Instead, it steers us in the direction of the submission that will gain traction:

The best case supporting future consideration of nuclear power would be the failure to commercialise new low‐emissions baseload energy or energy storage technologies within the timeframe that economic analysis suggests is necessary to meet long‐term global and national emissions reduction objectives (from 2025 onwards).

This is saying, “make the case that alternatives to nuclear will fail to deliver clean baseload”.

The Minister has done a great job of taking us by the hand and telling us in the plainest language how to draft the submission he needs to get. A bigger clue stick you will not be clubbed by.


John I fully agree with you (and the EWP).

Unlike other countries, Australia does not need nuclear for energy security. We have plenty of coal and gas to last probably well into the next century.

Australia will only ever go nuclear because of GHG emissions. The irony is that the greatest supporter of lowering GHG emissions to 80 per cent below 2000 levels by 2050 is the Greens and they will be the biggest barrier to nuclear – as we see in Germany. This means they will need some convincing that renewables can’t deliver in time or are so expensive that nuclear is clearly a better choice.

We have a long challenge ahead.


Thank , Douglas Wise for your very concise essay on what needs to be done.

The political vulnerability of nuclear power stations is clearly set out. May I suggest that its resolution could be a fifth point in your summary list?

Before and during the Three Mile Island uproar, I am my friends considered nuclear to be in the category of Big Business and probably part of the dreaded Military-Industrial Complex that Pres Eisenhower warned us about. Small had to be better. We could endlessly produce reasons, often rather tenuous, as to quite why small is beautiful .

It may well be an eternal verity. The man in the street can always muster up a reason why Big is Bad, and similarly why Small is Better. Small is easier to sell to a suspicious public. Perhaps the word “small” should be in Douglas Wise’ list.


Peter Lang has said:

“We need to figure out why Nuclear is so high cost in Australia”

I think the numbers are wrong on Nuclear in Australia.

Seems to me the Chinese are getting their PV’s from Korea from a company that specializes in huge steel ocean ships and also PV’s (Hitachi??).

Australia and Korea are fairly close so you would have an advantage in that dept because of lower shipping costs. If the report is using US numbers than this would help correct inaccuracies.

Your labor costs are another issue of course.


Well done John Morgan. If nothing else, your piece should inspire more of the bloggers on BNC to actually start doing their bit by contacting Ferguson, and other pollies in both the Coalition and the ALP and tell them that the rest of the world has had the debate and have for the most part decided that if they want a secure, emissions-free energy supply then nuclear WILL be in their energy mix. Then tell them to grow up and get on with it. I’ve been doing it now for 13 years and have made some progress.
@Antice – Please read my and Tom Beigler’s letters to the editor in yesterday’s [Dec 15th] Australian.
@ Edward Giersch – Well said Edward
@Roger Clifton I called for the establishment of schools of nuclear science and engineering in Sydney and Adelaide 6 years ago. I think BHPB are working on it
@ Decarbonise SA.The Greens are a pain in the arse and have done more than anyone to cause the greenhouse problem.They’ve forced countries to build coal power stations through their mindless opposition to nuclear.I’ve had two letters in the Australian in recent times calling them an irresponsible menace and calling for the Coalition and the ALP to come together on nuclear power and sideline the Greens.Tune in to Radio National on Sunday Jan 15th 2012 at 8.45am for my second Ockham’s Razor talk which explodes many of the anti-nuclear myths and takes a swipe at the Greens.
@John Morgan Ferguson has pulled the trigger.i shall be contacting him again. He always replies but now might be prepared to admit that he will push the ALP towards accepting nuclear.
@Tom Blees–I took two Californians on a tour of the Flinders Ranges two years ago and asked them what it was about Americans that they could not see that it was in their and the countriy’s interest for everyone to have basic health cover.Their reponse? Americans are ignorant and uneducated And yes Tom, What a confused and misguided lot are the Germans. Dial up, click on Past Programs and bring up September 4th programme called Climate Change and Australia’s energy future. You can read or listen to the transcript


From an advocacy point of view, you guys down under need to come up with more concrete, and specific plans. And I would focus directly on the need to phase out coal.

At, the state:

Electrical Power is a fundamental requirement of a modern technology society. Australia has enjoyed cheap and reliable electrical power for many years. However our energy needs are forecast to grow by 2% per year for the next 15 years to 2020. Meeting this demand requires building 1 GW of new generating plants every year until 2020. If Australia does not build this capacity we will suffer large scale blackouts if demand grows as it has historically. Our previous strategy of employing coal-fired Power Stations will increase our Greenhouse Gas emissions which contribute to global warming. Substantial investments in energy efficiency can mitigate this energy growth but it will require aggressive intervention on the part of the Australian Government. The cost of investing in this energy efficiency is comparible to the cost of building state-of-the-art Nuclear Power plants.

Nuclear Power is the cheapest form of non-Greenhouse Gas emitting electrical power production and when used at the world’s Best Practice, supplies safe, cheap and environmentally clean energy

Let’s use this. Not leave it up to the gov’t. Lets propose using currently existing Gen III technology the 1 to 1 replacement of coal with nuclear? Along with a plan to phase in Gen IV reactors.

The key is that this should be gov’t policy not some sort of mythical private investor who can see their way to invest billions wihtout a return on that investment for more than 10 years.


In a 2005 speech delivered several times, reaching about 2000 people in total, including Engineers Australia [SA Branch], I called for, among other things, Australia to develop two schools of nuclear science/engineering, one at Lucas Heights, the other in Adelaide which I labelled the uranium capital of the world. I suggested that BHPBilliton and the Government might work on it together through a PPP arrangement. I sent a copy of my speech to BHPBilliton and was replied to by Mr Roger Higgins at the request of Mr Chip Goodyear, the then CEO. In the current SACOME journal [Dec2011/Jan2012] I read today that: “The University of Adelaide and BHP Billiton have signed a memorandum of understanding [MOU] to establish a long term education,research and development alliance. Included in this MOU, the university will consider establishing a new chair in nuclear science and engineering. That’s very positive even if it’s taken six years to reach that point.


“Design Certification Applications for New Reactors”
copied from:

“By issuing a design certification, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) approves a nuclear power plant design, independent of an application to construct or operate a plant. A design certification is valid for 15 years from the date of issuance, but can be renewed for an additional 10 to 15 years.
Design certification is achieved through the NRC’s rulemaking process, and is founded on the staff’s review of the application, which addresses the various safety issues associated with the proposed nuclear power plant design, independent of a specific site. During this process, the NRC notifies all stakeholders (including the public) as to how and when they may participate in the regulatory process, which may include participating in public meetings and rulemaking activities related to design certifications. See our Backgrounder on New Nuclear Plant Designs for an overview of new nuclear plant designs and the status of their respective reviews.
The links below provide information on the design certifications that the NRC has issued to date, as well as the applications that are currently under review. The activities associated with reviewing these applications are reflected in the individual links for docketed design certification applications.
Issued Design Certifications
The NRC staff has issued the following design certifications:
Advanced Boiling Water Reactor (ABWR)
General Electric (GE) Nuclear Energy
System 80+
Westinghouse Electric Company
Advanced Passive 600 (AP600)
Westinghouse Electric Company
Advanced Passive 1000 (AP1000)
Westinghouse Electric Company

Which means: If you want a nuclear power plant in a short time, like under 3 years signing to turn on, we Americans are open for business.


Several commenters on this thread are reverting to accusations of other’s motives and denial of the science of AGW/CC. Please desist. You know the Comments Policy precludes this.



Why do you leave the personal opinions of those advocating Labor-Green-Left ideology but delete and ammend comments that do not support that ideology? By allowing the comments that advocate Left ideology, but deleting and censoring those that don’t, it gives the appearance of an ideological bias, rather than of being objectiv and science based.
It seems you view the scientific consensus on AGW/CC as a Labor/Green/Left ideology. It is because BNC IS an objective, science based blog that we do not share your views. Comments are edited as per BNC policy. A couple of commenters, whom you assess to be left wing ideologues, have also had comments deleted where they violate BNC Comments Policy. I suggest you read the policy again before your next post.


(Comment deleted.)
Please re-post your comment minus any reference to climate change denial and supposed Green/Labor/Left ideology.


(Comment deleted)
Please re-post your comment minus any reference to climate change denialism and supposed left wing ideology.


A signifcant factor in the cost of NPPs is the cost of capital (discount rate in the NREL sLCOE calcuator). For example, using a 30 year loan @ 10.8% as in the USA, a $4410/kW capital cost NPP has an LCOE of US$0.0905–0.0912/kWh for the life of the loan. With a discount rate of 4% the LCOE drops to around US$0.0585/kWh.


I have just been apprised of a most useful unit of measure – the a href=””>Friedman unit.

The Friedman unit is defined as the timeframe for “any event or “critical period” which is repeatedly expected to happen in the near future, but repeatedly fails to occur”.

The term derives from

Thomas Friedman’s repeated use of “the next six months” as the period in which, according to Friedman, “we’re going to find out…whether a decent outcome is possible” in the Iraq War. .. Friedman had been making such six-month predictions for a period of two and a half years, on at least fourteen different occasions ..

As different events may be expected to occur in different timeframes, we should perhaps refer to the “Friedman period” for a particular outcome. And the Friedman Index would be the ratio of the actual time for the event to occur to the Friedman period. In the example above Friedman himself sustained a Friedman Index of at least 5 on the Iraq question.

So I could pose my original question as, “what is the Friedman period for developing confidence in a renewables only solution to our energy and climate problems?”

And for extra credit, what is the current value of the Friedman Index for this question?


Hilarious John.

But serious too. What would have to take place for all renewables proponents to see real technological barriers to their plans?

It’s not clear that any near term (next 20 years?) will convince them since such an event or series of events would have to be relatively free of the renewables fallback position for failure: political will (lack of), etc.

On the other hand, I see no real prospects for a massive nuclear build either, but for the very reasons renewables proponents fall back on to explain the lack of any coordinated effort to build 5 million 4 MW windmills (for starters).


The term “fossil nukes” is interesting – and as a term of abuse it packs a double punch.

Fossil nukes are probably on the payroll of fossil fuel vendors (as well as living in the past) and certainly nuke supporters (probably including nuclear weapons!). Sounds like the “energy from the desert” debate may be heading for the lowest common denominator.


The grist article cited by K. Lenz argues that as of 2004, for a mere 700 dollars (the cost of 30 pounds of silicon—silicon panels?), you can get enough silicon to cover your house in a 5.3 kw (1400 panels at 3.8 watts each) system which will produce the European average of 4000 kwh or .45 kw on average, for a capacity factor of 8.4 %. Of course, “you need to cover the cells with some glass and add a frame, a support structure, some cables, and an inverter.”[some of the math is mine so beware]

When I do a little research, costs for California solar are about 8000 dollars per installed kilowatt (not sure what the point of that 700 dollar figure is except to mislead). That would make it 42,000 dollars for .45 kw of power on average under European insolation rates.

With three doublings of production globally, according to the articles’ assumptions about a learning curve (can we count on moore’s law for energy costs in the age of peak oil?), costs will halve. The article expects this halving of costs to take place in 8 years. In a place like Arizona, solar will thus be the cheapest energy source/kwh by 2018.

Those more familiar with solar hype than I, how misleading is this article?


In a 2008 analysis by director of the UC (U Calif) energy institute, S. Borenstein notes that:

the discounted net present value (a financial tool to calculate the value of a dollar in the future compared to its value now) of power produced by a 10 kilowatt solar photovoltaic system and then compared that to the cost of installing and operating such a system over its lifetime. He found the cost for an installation ranges from nearly $86,000 to $91,000, while the value of the power produced ranges from $19,000 to $51,000.

These costs resemble what I found above.

I figure some of this stuff should go elsewhere but John Morgan posted the Friedman thing and then the eloquent Lenz riposte.


Lenz is quite a case. The guy just started even looking at energy issues after Fukushima and began to pillory nuclear power advocates less than a month ago, yet seems to feel perfectly comfortable telling people what to think when it comes to the subject of nuclear power. And to add insult to ignorance, he adds insults(deleted pejorative)Just another know-it-all lawyer giving his profession a bad name. The fact that he so vehemently attacks Barry and BNC is a left-handed compliment.

What I can’t figure out is this: How can someone actually living in Germany even imagine that their renewable energy fantasies can have any credibility? If you look at how much their 75-billion-Euro-and-counting solar systems produce in the winter (little to nothing), what can these people be thinking? The data is right in front of their eyes. (Flip through December’s solar production day by day. It’s virtually zip.) Lenz says he’s against nuclear because of pro-nuclear bloggers’ “intolerable opposition to renewable energy.” I guess hard data on actual renewables output and problems constitutes intolerable opposition. Fantasy can’t tolerate reality.


I’ve looked at the solar data in Germany in the winter.

I’ve routinely found daily CFs of ~ 1 percent.

But according to the Grist article, it’s sooo cheap, that even with shit CF annually, you only spend 700 dollars (factory cost) for the silicon–even if this translates into 8 grand per installed kw with no CF in winter.

To get back to the Friedman, it is clear to me that this solar cost is plummeting meme will not go away and will somehow reconcile the data “right in front of their eyes” with their fantasy. No problem.

and of course that’s the problem.


Gregory, I harbor a suspicion that even if solar pv panels were free, they would still not provide the cheapest energy. Lets leapfrog the falling costs of solar pv (if indeed that is the case) to its logical end and say the panels are free, then ask, what would be the cost of solar electricity for some modest but meaningful displacement of fossil fuels from an all-fossil grid?

How much does it really cost, after including storage, transmission lines, cycling costs in existing fossil plant, installation, decommissioning, and redundancy, even if the panels are free? Could free solar panels compete with full price nuclear?

I don’t know the answer but I think its an interesting question.


And to answer my earlier question, “What is the Friedman Index for renewable energy?”, I’m obliged to observe that many advocates believe that it is already proven and available, and that we can be confident today that they are a pathway to a carbon free society.

Therefore, the Friedman period is zero. This view has also been advanced for some time, Amory Lovins being one concrete example should one be needed. So it follows that the Friedman Index for renewable energy is infinite – divergent, undefined.

We can now identify this as the Friedman Singularity, a point where the normal laws of physics and even causality break down. Forever hidden behind an event horizon from which no information can ever emerge, it may provide a wormhole to an alternate universe, perhaps a better place for those unwilling to engage with our present physical realities.


But what is the Friedman Index for renewable energy for the slightly more reasonable claim that solar PV/coal parity is near at hand, say a few (5?) years away? If, as many here suspect, there is no real possibility that technosolar renewables can make a meaningful contribution to our energy supply due to immutable physical law, then it will take forever for the technology to be developed, so the Friedman index is still infinite!


As Gregory says the “solar cost is plummeting” meme will not go away easily.

Unfortunately John, if solar became free and we started asking about the cost of storage, the meme would transfer to the cost of storage. This would be fuelled by some reductions in storage costs over time (which are probably inevitable).

History suggests that such cost reductions take much longer than anticipated. Meanwhile, we need to switch to cost competitive low-emission energy ASAP. We know for baseload this is nuclear power – even at the high prices being paid in some locations. The Chinese and Indians seem to understand this even if Lenz’s birthplace doesn’t.

Perhaps we need to start our own nuclear power meme.


John: you’re becoming the Larry David of energy humour.

Larry David is the Larry David of climate humor:

Folk – you are drifting further and further off topic here. Please continue this discussion on the Open Thread.


Crikey are running a competition in conjunction with to come up with a question that will be put in Question Time in the Australian Federal House of Representatives by ‘a mystery MP’. I hadn’t checked for a few days, but apparently the question I put up is (as of today) running second. The question I nominated is essentially that posed by John Morgan above, as follows:

My question is to the Minister for Energy. The recent Draft Energy White Paper contained the following statement: “The best case supporting future consideration of nuclear power would be the failure to commercialise new low‐emissions baseload energy or energy storage technologies within the timeframe that economic analysis suggests is necessary to meet long‐term global and national emissions reduction objectives (from 2025 onwards)”. My question to the Minister, then, is: What is that timeframe? How long do renewable energy technologies have to prove themselves capable of supporting a low-carbon energy future for Australia, and what is the standard of that proof?

The idea with OurSay is that you head to and vote for the question put by hitting the ‘agree’ icon. Note you have 7 votes to play with. While the current front-runner is undoubtedly a worthy issue, I nevertheless invite BNC readers to deposit as many votes with my question as they see fit, and see if we can’t get it asked of Martin Ferguson in Federal Parliament.


Someone dropped a copy of Thursday’s Australian Financial Review on my desk this morning, open to this article:

Carr sees nuclear as an option

Link is subscriber only (or take out a free trial), so I’ll pick the eyes out here:

New Foreign Minister Bob Carr says Australia should keep all energy options open, including nuclear power, because use of renewable energy was growing slower than expected.
.. it was important to keep all options open, he said. His stance is a significant break from long-standing Labor Party policy of opposition to nuclear power.

“That’s the spirit of the government green paper on energy – keep the full suite of options there for our future,” Senator Carr told ABC TV yesterday. “The fact is, a lot of the renewables are taking off more slowly than I, as a believer in climate change, would have liked and we’ve got to continue to observe what’s happening with the development of fourth-generation nuclear. That’s no big deal, its simply a matter of keeping an open mind”.
Separately, a survey of the finance sector highlights the reluctance of banks and superannuation funds to back renewable technology.
Opposition environment spokesman Greg Hunt said last night the Coalition was happy to have a bipartisan discussion on nuclear power “but it won’t happen at this stage” because of Labor’s policy.

Those are some interesting comments from Carr, particularly on gen IV nuclear.

Notice though the close alignment between Carr’s remark and Martin Ferguson’s, as I wrote in the main post:

But if we get to the end of this debate some years in the future and we haven’t made the necessary breakthrough on clean energy at a low cost outcome, then nuclear is there for Australia to blow off the shelf after a debate in Australia,

and with the Draft White Paper itself:

The best case supporting future consideration of nuclear power would be the failure to commercialise new low‐emissions baseload energy or energy storage technologies within the timeframe that economic analysis suggests is necessary to meet long‐term global and national emissions reduction objectives (from 2025 onwards).

This appears to be the axis along which pressure can be applied to break through on this issue, and we’d be well advised to align with it.


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