Open Thread 21

The previous Open Thread has gone past is off the BNC front page, 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.


There are two very important articles now posted on The Guardian website. The first, by Duncan Clark, is titled New generation of nuclear reactors could consume radioactive waste as fuelThe new ‘fast’ plants could provide enough low-carbon electricity to power the UK for more than 500 years.

It talks about Britain’s options for plutonium (Pu) disposal, and the GEH proposal to build a pair of S-PRISM reactors (311 MWe each) to rapidly ‘spike’ the weapons-grade Pu inventory, and thereafter consume it and spent fuel for energy. The alternative option, a new MOX plant, is far less desirable.

Tom Blees wrote a detailed explanation of this plan on BNC here: Disposal of UK plutonium stocks with a climate change focus

To accompany this piece there is an excellent new essay by George Monbiot: We cannot wish Britain’s nuclear waste awayOpponents of nuclear power who shout down suggestions of how to use spent waste as fuel will not make the problem disappear.

As usual, George writes persuasively and gets to the heart of the matter. In this case, he poses a simple question for the critics:

So which of these options do you support? [IFR recycling, MOX fuel, or immediate deep geological disposal]. None of the above is not an answer. Something has to be done with the waste, and unless you have invented a novel solution, one of these three options will need to be deployed. But it is a choice that opponents of nuclear power are refusing to make – and that is not good enough.

The essay provides more details, and some examples of people who wish to shut their mind to reality. Which option would you choose?


  1. UK has nearly 100 tons of reactor grade plutonium. Treating it as waste is a criminal waste.
    Modular fast reactors (Prism) would be a good choice if they are part of an IFR plan for nuclear energy. Using them as a device for once through disposal of plutonium will only give a feel of a fast design for further consideration.
    For once through use of plutonium, the Indian ideas are more cost effective:-
    Thorium-RG Pu can be used as fuel in their existing gas cooled reactors or future EPRs.


  2. I think you might mean the first article is by Duncan Clark, not Flinders University biologist, or Australian author, Duncan Mackay. ;)

    It’s a good article all the same – as is George Monbiot’s. It really is a no-brainer. You cannot logically complain about nuclear waste and oppose fast reactors with fuel recycling. And you cannot seriously oppose nuclear development if you are genuinely concerned about climate change, even if you don’t see it as a main part of the solution.

    Ed: Right, fixed.


  3. Jagdish, yes I agree. The ideal is a three-step process: (1) spike the isotopic purity of the Pu, and (2) use it as startup for IFRs and (3) start recycling and using the DU for makeup. Only the first part is immediately on the planning table, but as you quite rightly note, it would be crazy to just build the PRISMs and not the pyroprocessing plant too.


  4. Using sodium for cooling is very risky because of the reactivity of sodium. If there were no alternative nuclear technologies, perhaps the risk would be acceptable. Fortunately, there is an alternative technology which, in my opinion, would be far superior, i.e., the liquid fluoride thorium reactor. Potentially it could circumvent the problems associated with uranium reactors.

    For more information, visit the following site:

    Although thorium can be used in a reactor which is very similar to our current uranium reactors, that doesn’t appear to be the best approach since it would require forming the thorium into fuel rods thereby increasing costs and complicating recycling the spent fuel.


  5. I tend to have a different view than the most of the contributors here, who are fast reactors enthousiasts.

    There are in fact 3 sensible options a priori: moxing, building a fast reactor, waiting.

    Waiting is another version of bulding one (or more) fast reactors. It’s waiting for the technology to mature and to make economical sense as a means of production of electricity.

    Moxing allows to use in today’s reactor fleet, especially by the biggest customer of Areva, EDF, in a country just right over the Channel. Areva already owns a facility for mox production that is currently running. In other words, it can be a solution with little unknowns.

    Building fast reactors means that the consortium led by GE will repay itself by selling electricity. As far as I know fast reactors do not make economic sense today, so when GE says it will not ask for any money if the reactors don’t work, that may mean it will ask for a feed-in tariff. So the british citizenry will pay in another way, which may or may not make sense.

    I readily concede that I do not know the specific costs and exact conditions on offer to the UK government.

    I know that using only 235U is not a sustainable way of producing electricity. I also know that if we wish to use fast reactors, moxing will have to stop in the future. One need 20t of plutonium to start a 1GW sodium cooled fast reactor. That’s about what is produced by the french fleet of PWRs in a year. Today’s french civilian Pu stockpile is about 300t, and for depleted uranium, it’s 300 000t.
    (source: french parliamentary hearing: search for “Sylvain David”. Sorry it’s in french, but google translate may help you)

    But today, fast reactors do not make economic sense, uranium is not expensive enough.


  6. The following link points to a pdf of an article written by a Dr Gunther Keil . In it he shows why and how the shutting down of the nuclear industry in Germany is a total disaster.Also that wind and solar simply don’t cut the mustard.
    This is a better attempt at citation but you should, in future, provide more of your own analysis to ant ref/link.


  7. For both the MOX and IFR pathways I would like to know how many Mwh per tonne of original uranium can be generated until effective fuel exhaustion. Secondly what are the levelised costs associated with either pathway in terms of additional facilities needed.

    Changing topic I notice Queenslanders are refraining from describing every recurring flood as once-in-a-hundred years. Their thinking requires them to disconnect the cost of weather woes from the profits of new coal mines.


  8. Quote
    But today, fast reactors do not make economic sense, uranium is not expensive enough.

    Fast reactors and recycling is not only a substitute for uranium fuel. It is important
    1. For long term energy sustainability.
    2. Disposal of DU and LWR waste.
    3. more compact reactors.
    4. reactor core free of high pressure resulting in safety.
    Use of highly chemically active sodium coolant is the only negative. It can be changed.


  9. Jagdish,

    When we ignore the economics, we are spinning our wheels. The economic case has to stack up or the argument will go nowhere. The business case, with all the costs and benefits, has to be made. And it has to be made on reasonable, conservative grounds. The costs and benefits of the whole package, including the long term benfits you point out in your list, must be presented as a business case.


  10. As invited in yoour introduction, Barry, I would like to suggest a thread. Would anyone like to comment on the two articles in The Australian this week (Feb 1) “Climate Change “heretics” refute carbon dangers”, many listed signatories including some important scientists, and (Feb 3) “Expertise a prerequisite to comment on climate” Kevin Trenbeth plus 38 unlisted signatories. (I have the impression the latter article has been edited by the newspaper to abbreviate it.) I would also like comments on the assertion by Vincent Gray in his Greenhouse Bulletin article ‘Atmospheric carbon dioxide” that despite the increasing rate of CO2 release into the atmosphere due to human activities, the average rate of CO2 increase in the atmosphere (in ppm/year) has remained constant for many years. Is he correct? I haven’t been able to check this with any precision because most graphs are pretty small scale. Also, I am finding it incredibly difficult to persuade my friends and relatives that climate change is real and worth doing something about. Just look at the current record low temperatures in Europe and the floods in NSW and Queensland. Don’t the scientists predict drought? – they say! So I would hesitate to argue in public when I cannot convincingly counter these simple objections. OK – I’ve shown my ignorance of the finer points, so I am looking forward to your comments, if any!


  11. I don’t understand why there isn’t an intermediary neutral coolant loop between the water and sodium. CO2, Helium, molten salt if it’s hot enough. Anything will work, given the right engineering. Just get those two separated and the only layman-obvious safety issue in the PRISM is dead.


  12. More talk of a second underwater HVDC cable under Bass Strait
    The converter at the Victorian end is actually at Loy Yang brown coal fired station. It seems wind developers are certain they will be getting RECs or the Greens proposed national FiT for the foreseeable future. There’s talk of 500 MW new wind build in nimby sparse Tasmania. Combined with a 20% RET for all Australia they know they could make money. I wouldn’t be surprised if soon to be heavily carbon taxed Victoria argues that they should somehow get extra credits for windpower imports.

    A business model would have to incorporate hydro balancing that lowers water levels harming more lucrative spot sales, low power price contracts for smelters and the likelihood of Tasmanian wind while parts of the mainland are becalmed. My prediction is it will never happen unless the Feds see it as a German style vote winner.


  13. Commentators above have made several assertions which may not be correct:

    1) IMO, absenting FOAK issues, it is not obvious that the IFR will produce power more expensively than existing designs – the reverse could ultimately prove to be the case.

    2) The suggestion that one requires 20 tonnes of fissile to start a IGW IFR is, I think, a very significant overestimate.

    3) I know that it has been reported that the UK’s plutonium stockpile costs £2 billion/annum to store, I have also read that this is orders of magnitude too high.


  14. @Douglas Wise,

    the 20t (or rather the estimate was 16-20t) for starting a GenIV sodium cooled 1GW reactor was given by a representative of a french research agency on the subject. I guess he knew what he was talking about.

    I agree it is surprising, old designs could start with between 4 and 5t per GW (that was the case at superphenix). I do not know the reasons for such a dramatic increase. The GE reactors should be able to start with the smaller figure of 5t/GW as it is an existing design.


    I agree fast reactors have many advantages. However, the reactor core is likely to be bigger because of lower cross sections for fast neutrons compared to thermal neutrons.


  15. This is good thread to publish my reaction to the book: : “Plentiful Energy” by Till and Yang.

    Great book. it brought up a lot of emotions for me as I kind of started in the same “lab test” and “report” environment but it was gas turbines starting in 1972.

    Here’s what I got from the book (so far).

    Please remember it is written by a retired engineer that has a BSME and worked his career in GT’s as opposed to someone w/ experience in the NUCLEAR profession/ industry..

    1) I did not know that Eisenhower did the “Atoms for Peace ” program w/ Nuclear power production. This makes me respect the man even more.

    2) I did not know that Rickover basically side tracked the IFR program to Oxide fuel and “non pool” vessel geometry.

    3) I had forgotten that Clinton killed the program…Very disappointing.

    4)) We should just get moving on 20 years of research that has already been documented. It is a horrible waste to do otherwise

    5) We need LCOE numbers for IFR in production, of course they will be difficult to interpret since there is no production experience, plus you have to put the value of the recycling into the analysis in order to make a good comparison.

    6) I hope the UK goes ahead w/ Prism..

    Maybe someone from the UK could update on PRISM project.


  16. What I have a hard time grasping is how Biomass electricity generation is classed as a renewable, it’s just subbing out one fuel for another that happens to be a waste by-product. Which ties in nicely with this current discussion; If Biomass is considered a Renewable generator, then so must Gen IV Nuclear reactors as they can chew through Nuclear waste. If it’s good enough for effectively a gas turbine, then it’s good enough for Gen IV nuclear.


  17. @ GeorgeS- I agree with your points.

    I purchased Plentiful Energy and Prescription for the Planet recently and chose to start with the former because I wanted the comprehensive historical background before reading the rest.

    I’ve only read up to the history part of Plentiful and agree that the on-again off-again directions the IFR took from various directors and politicians must have been very frustrating!

    A pity that such a promising technology was so constrained by silliness. But, then again, hindsight….


  18. Barry – Maybe you could give some thought to John Patterson’s suggestion that we might need a thread on the current sceptical articles doing the rounds – European weather, Australian floods, CO2 levels etc. I see that you have linked via Twitter to many articles covering these topics so – John – please check those out. However, we haven’t had an up-date on BNC on the state of climate for a while.


  19. @ Irregular Commentator Biomass is classified as renewable because the plantmass being converted into energy, in its previous incarnation as a living plant, converted co2 into a form of carbon.So it is a virteous circle if you like. (And if I understand correctly) As for your comment on nuclear reactors, personally , I continue to be amazed what e=mcc actually means for the production of electricity.


  20. In the case of wood products the sustainability depends on the logging rotation (80 years is better than 40 years) and the durability of the product with furniture timber locking up carbon longer than paper pulp and of course direct burning of offcuts or sawdust, The issues are discussed here for example

    Click to access Forests,Wood&CarbonBalance.pdf

    However a curious omission seems to be the large amounts of diesel used by machines and trucks. The major impact could be we must start thinking long term
    1) the person who plants a tree won’t be cutting it down 80 years later
    2) oil var. diesel will be gone in 80 years
    3) concentrated phosphate will be gone in 80 years
    4) the climate may no longer suit that tree species 80 years later.

    Forget oilseeds they are a niche. That’s for transport energy but the same goes I think for stationary energy using bagasse or straw. If algae based lipids don’t work then synfuel will have to be made from trash bio-carbon and nuclear hydrogen. E=mc^2 once again. Think dollars per litre of synfuel which will make the EU airline fuel tax look like a pittance.


  21. The IFR wiki could do with some work. The section on Proliferation risks sounds far too negative compared to what I learned here. EG:

    Because reactor-grade plutonium contains isotopes of plutonium with high spontaneous fission rates, it is more difficult, though not impossible, to produce nuclear weapons from high-burnup spent fuel. This also could be circumvented with isotopic separation, but this is more difficult than uranium enrichment due to the high radioactivity of the plutonium.

    Proliferation risks are not eliminated. “The plutonium from ALMR recycled fuel would have an isotopic composition similar to that obtained from other spent nuclear fuel sources. Whereas this might make it less than ideal for weapons production, it would still be adequate for unsophisticated nuclear bomb designs. In fact the U.S. government detonated a nuclear device in 1962 using low-grade plutonium typical of that produced by civilian powerplants.” [9] “If, instead of processing spent fuel, the ALMR system were used to reprocess irradiated fertile (breeding) material in the electrorefiner, the resulting plutonium would be a superior material, with a nearly ideal isotope composition for nuclear weapons manufacture” [10]


  22. The Grattan Institute has just produced a large and detailed report on Australia’s clean energy generation options, rather grimly titled

    No easy choices: which way to Australia’s energy future?

    I’ve just had a quick flick through it, and I think this is a pretty good bit of work. I have some issues with it in places but on the whole I think it is well informed and without obvious bias for or against any of the clean energy generation technologies it covers. There is a lot of data in it, and I think Peter Lang will find many useful reports referenced.

    In particular, it includes an analysis of nuclear that is unbiased and seems reasonable. I could quibble with parts of it but I think the authors are to be applauded for doing their research. It is aware of gen IV nukes and their role in the fuel cycle and as the ultimate means of dealing with nuclear waste. The key issues for nuclear deployment in Australia are the high upfront capital, which puts it out of reach of private companies here, and the long lead time – they estimate a lead time of 15-20 years, ignoring the sociological dimension. They do take as the basis for a lot of their analysis just Western regulatory institutions and downplay the Chinese and other asian processes, unreasonably in my opinion.

    The report examines:

    Solar PV
    Transmission infrastructure

    Definitely worth a look.


  23. An excellent article by George Monbiot. In only one major area do I disagree. That is the feeding of hysteria over the “waste problem”, kicking the can down the road and rush to fixes. Not only is the waste not really waste – almost all of the isotopes are very valuable with various industrial and medical uses – it is also not a problem to store the stuff 10 or 100 years. Immediate geological disposal is in fact not even possible, since the fission products make too much heat and the ground is an excellent insulator. After 100 years the activity of the “waste” is about 1000x less than the moment the reactor stopped. That factor of 1000 is very helpful. Why rush into some expensive geological repository when waiting rationally reduces the activity orders of magnitude? Even if we decide on geological disposal we’ll first have to wait for several decades using above ground storage.

    As for reprocessing, this does not make the fission products go away, and they are too hot for quick geological burial. So again this does not mitigate the need for above ground storage such as dry storage. If done well it gets rid of the need for long term storage but you still have a century or two at least needed for the fission products, and geological storage isn’t optimal for this (likely unfeasible altogether due to the heat load).

    What’s wrong with a cask sitting in a concrete pack, losing heat to the air passively? Why does everyone feel the need to exaggerate this “problem”? For those who think it is a problem, I suggest visiting a dry storage facility – you’ll wonder what you ever worried about, just a bunch of concrete casks that sit there, losing heat, becoming ever less radioactive. The cost of doing this 100 years is not much bigger than doing it 10 years – and we need to do this anyway because fresh fission products can’t be buried.

    It is curious that people talk about the “long term waste problem” and how it will be solved by using the transuranic wastes as fuel. The truth is, the waste is only an issue when it is fresh since it has sufficient self-heating to push radionuclides into the environment. Transuranics just don’t make enough heat to destroy the containers they’re in (ie fully passive simple cooling). If there is a waste problem, then it is a short lived one, and even then, only with insufficient design (Fukushima being a recent case in point).

    What really makes the long lived transuranic waste interesting to me is the fact that it is such a good fuel to startup gen IV reactors – IFR, LFTR, insert your favourite. Does this however warrant hysteria over the “waste problem”? Can we lie about a non-problem being a problem in order to get the public support and justification to use this – yes, granted – excellent startup fuel ASAP? Climate change might justify it, but keep in mind that mined low enriched uranium can also be used to startup IFRs…. And that’s likely a faster and bigger startup resource.


  24. Because reactor-grade plutonium contains isotopes of plutonium with high spontaneous fission rates, it is more difficult, though not impossible, to produce nuclear weapons from high-burnup spent fuel. This also could be circumvented with isotopic separation, but this is more difficult than uranium enrichment due to the high radioactivity of the plutonium

    1. No one has ever made bombs with plutonium with less than 85% Pu239. Reactor grade plutonium has much lower Pu239 content (50-70%).

    2. No one has ever succeeded in isotopically seperating plutonium. This is because plutonium has no stable volatile compounds so you can’t make a gas out of it. (isotopic seperation requires a gas – liquids and solids interact too much, making isotopic enrichment impossible). National labs including US national labs have tried, using lasers, and billion dollar budgets, and failed.

    3. IFRs keep the plutonium with the minor actinides americium and curium. TThese are horrible materials to have in a bomb, making lots of heat and spontaneous neutrons, and being difficult to seperate chemically from plutonium.

    On the con side: plutonium can’t be isotopically downblended as easily as uranium. With uranium you can just add a lot of U238 that makes it unsuitable for weapons. However, it is possible to add thorium to the IFR fuel cycle, which makes three things that resist proliferation further. These are U233 bred fissile that is downblended instantly with all that U238 in the fuel, U232 that makes hard gamma rays hurting would be bomb builders, bomb electronics, and sending off signals to sattelites, and Pu238 formed from neutron captures, that acts as “spike” for Pu239, like Pu241 having a lot of spontaneous neutrons. In fact Pu238 makes a lot of heat making weapons manufacturing even more difficult. So a combined U238-thorium cycle would be even more proliferation proof.


  25. The point on bombs is that one ‘can’ take 50%-70% Pu239 and make >85%. Anyway…

    Barry…or anyone part of the IFR community…what ARE the costs for an IFR? I know that some, not all, fast reactors were very, very expensive to not only build but to operate. The French closed theirs *in part* because of costs. What advances have been made to IFR techonlogy that has lowered costs? Also, are the Russian reactors the Chinese are building “IFRs” or something other form of fast breeder?



  26. Here is a presentation put together in 2003 on GE Prism reactors being used to ‘burnup’ the US commercial nuclear waste stockpiles.

    it has some interesting figures and time frames for a ‘cost effective’ rollout. I.E. for the fuel reprocessing facility to be financially viable there needs to be a large stockpile of waste and a matching 25 year ‘build rate’ commitment for IFR reactors.

    Click to access pad0305dubberly.pdf


  27. The point on bombs is that one ‘can’ take 50%-70% Pu239 and make >85%.

    Any reactor can be modified to have depleted uranium blanket fuel elements added. This then makes very pure Pu239 – easily >95% Pu239. However this requires a difficult change in the reactor fuel layout and refuelling, that is easily detected (lots of shutdowns, suspicious). Though an IFR with a blanket would be more readily adaptable to make this pure plutonium, the fuel processor technology that is available in the plant can’t make pure uncontaminated plutonium. It’s actually much easier to take some graphite chunks and some mined natural uranium and make a small weapons production reactor (plutonium).

    That’s actually the main problem with the nuclear power increases proliferation argument: it’s actually very easy for a country to make a nuclear bomb, with or without power reactors. It’s important to distinguish between national and subnational groups. Subnational groups such as terrorists don’t have power reactors handy, but they could build small graphite moderated natural uranium fuelled plutonium production reactors if they are well funded.

    If we close all reactors today, we don’t solve the proliferation problem. If countries need a fig leaf, they’ll have other options than power reactors, notably research reactors (“science is important”) and medical isotope reactors (“we must be able to cure our people of cancer”). You don’t need a big reactor to make a bomb; that’s just an inconvenience.


  28. The point on bombs is that one ‘can’ take 50%-70% Pu239 and make >85%. Anyway…

    Please say how. My first impression is that if one can do that, one is amazing enough that one might better just make a magnetically contained antihydrogen bomb using energy from wind turbines. Easier to smuggle to a target, too, because antihydrogen is not at all radioactive, and per megatonne of yield, it is much, much lighter than plutonium.


  29. I have no idea. I was being somewhat obtuse. We can get into the silly proliferation discussion. There is no doubt that a reactor can be built and reprocessing established to out put exactly what one wants in terms of WMD. . .

    . . .so what?

    My answer is, “then don’t do that”. It’s all about policy. We get the same sort of “issues” that popup in the LFTR community as well with U233. The answer, always, is a political, not technical one. Ugh.

    Thanks for the links on costs. I’d still like to see some discussions on costs for the IFR.


  30. Well there are some things we can do in the design of the reactor and fuel cycle that make weapons production unplausible. That’s when it is much more difficult to use the power reactor to make bomb grade material than to just build a small plutonium production reactor.

    For example deep burnup results in poor plutonium isotopic quality. Keeping the plutonium with americium and curium in the reprocessor unit by selecting reprocessing steps that intrinsically keep these together is another example. We can do lots of these things that actually don’t hurt economics but improve on them (deep burn makes it more economical, less clean reprocessing is cheaper, etc.).

    Deep burn U233 results in considerable U232 buildup, especially in a fast reactor. Thorium also has lower reactivity swing. I’m thinking a hybrid Th-U238 cycle would be economically attractive and higher performance than U238 only fuel (slightly lower breeding is offset by lower fissile startup).


  31. unclepete wrote:

    The following link points to a pdf of an article written by a Dr Gunther Keil . In it he shows why and how the shutting down of the nuclear industry in Germany is a total disaster. Also that wind and solar simply don’t cut the mustard.

    This appears to be a link and little else (which is not particularly helpful to readers on the site). Care to provide some analysis for this lengthy article? Such as … what are the stated goals of Germany’s energy policy, and how do results presented in the paper contradict or confirm these goals? I took a quick look … the article claims: “The fundamental claim used to legitimize “renewables” is the replacement of coal-fired plants, mainly with wind and solar plants.” According to this source, between 1990 and 2010, coal use in Germany decreased from 131 million tonnes of oil equivalent (MTOE) to 76 MTOE (for a 58% reduction in coal use). During the same time period, energy use from nuclear decreased slightly as well (40 MTOE to 37 MTOE), but renewables increased and appear to be filling in the gap (rising from 1 MTOE to 32 MTOE). Data includes all inputs for both imports and exports. If Germany isn’t retiring these old and obsolete coal power plants, are they running them at much lower capacities for significantly less (58%) coal consumption, and associated emissions from coal. Is this operational and energy consumption data mentioned in the article?

    In addition, does Germany “legitimize” it’s commitment to domestic renewable energy goals on any other basis besides reducing coal consumption (where it has already achieved significant results): how about economic competitiveness; global manufacturing of wind turbines and solar equipment; regional economic benefits in jobs, skilled trades, and taxes; less long-term radioactive waste; research and development (and any associated spin-offs); leadership in energy storage technologies (such as adiabatic CAES), leadership in smart grid technologies, increased public attention (and global environmental negotiations); coalition building and democratic leadership (by pursuing energy choices that are attractive to local constituents); and more. Has Dr. Keil deliberately overlooked some of these concerns and national policy outlooks in his analysis, or does he intend to look at them elsewhere (and with relevant new insights, data, and analysis)?


  32. Further to John Morgan’s comment on the just released Grattan Institute report, I wrote the following before reading John’s comment:

    An interesting and comprehensive report was published last week by the Grattan Institute “No easy choices: which way to Australia’s energy future?” by Tony Wood et al.

    I haven’t read it but after a quick initial scan of the first few pages I have these comments (scattered thoughts in no particular order):

    Lead author, Tony Wood’s background is

    Tony joined Grattan Institute after two and a half years as Program Director of Clean Energy Projects at the Clinton Foundation. Before that he spent 11 years working at Origin Energy, which included a secondment to the first Garnaut review.

    That raises alarm bells warning me his work may be influenced by alliances and, therefore, not entirely objective.

    Seems to believe renewables will have more of a role to play than I believe is likely (on a purely economically rational basis).

    Realistic about the costs of nuclear and impediments to nuclear given existing government policies (See Table 3.1). But does not draw the conclusion that we need to focus on removing the impediments to low cost nuclear if we want to reduce GHG emissions by the amount being advocated by the Australian government.

    Without government support beyond a carbon price, none of
    the technologies is likely to be developed to be commercially
    competitive, demonstrated, or deployed in Australia.

    CCS and nuclear are unlikely to be demonstrated in Australia
    in the near future unless government takes on most of the
    material risks of the project.

    I don’t understand how so many of these reports come up with a low LCOE for ‘Hot Rock’ geothermal when it has never been successfully demonstrated anywhere (by which I mean commercially viable at scale and the transmissions costs for Australia would be very high).

    Wants government to intervene. Government intervention is unquestionably good if it applies direct action to remove the impediments that have been built with 50 years of bad energy policy (i.e. bad direct actions). But intervention to pick winners is fraught with problems as demonstrated by the government picking:

    • the $50 to 80 billion NBN project
    • the ‘pink bats’ home insulation program
    • massive and ongoing subsidies and protections for the car industry
    • $10 billion clean energy fund for the Greens to subsidise their technologies (nuclear and CCS are banned)
    • green car subsidies
    • subsidies for transmission to support renewable energy projects

    There is no end to the political intervention and pork barrelling when governments get involved in committing taxpayers funds to their pet projects (mostly in marginal seats to win elections).

    It is not easy for governments to steer a course between, on the one hand, inadequate support for low carbon technologies, and on the other, picking winners or favouring one technology over another.

    True. It is virtually impossible.

    At present low emissions electricity costs significantly more than current electricity market wholesale prices. The estimates shown in Figure 2.3 range from three to five times the current wholesale price for electricity in Australia of between about $30 and $40 per megawatt-hour.

    This is not quite a fair comparison. Any new generation capacity, even black or brown coal without CCS, will cost at least twice the current whole sale cost of electricity.

    In Climate Spectator yesterday, Tony Wood wrote: “The carbon price is a good start but it is not enough.”

    I am far from convinced of this. Is this rational? I am not sure? I have not seen a reliable analysis that has properly evaluated the costs and benefits of the carbon price. I have not seen a risk analysis that has properly evaluated the risk that the carbon price will not achieve what it is supposed to achieve (reduction in global emissions and measureable change in the climate), versus the costs to societies of imposing such a government intervention (wealth redistribution to penalise the most productive and reward the least productive). For one thing, raising the cost of electricity in the western democracies is exactly the wrong policy; we need to reduce the cost of low emissions electricity if we want developing countries to take up low emissions technologies instead of fossil fuels. Raising the cost of electricity in the western democracies is exactly the wrong policy, IMO.


  33. harrywr2, @ 7 February 2012 at 3:11 AM

    Thank you for the link to the cost estimate for the processing facility.

    The total cost per kW is about 1/3 the cost of an OCGT plant, so obviously not the whole plant. Furthermore, the costs are in 1997 $ so too far out of date to be useful. Escalating using inflation would be a serious underestimate.

    Are there any recent, authoritative estimates for the cost of a complete IFR plant?


  34. EL, here’s some analysis for you.

    Germany’s coal production decreased in the early 90s, very little afterwards. That is to say, not due to wind and solar, which were insignificant even in the 00s. The biggest growth in that period was seen in natural gas – far bigger growth than all the wind turbines solar panels and geothermal wells together. More recently we can see that higher energy prices have chased away industry out of the country and forced people to conserve, reducing primary energy demand. Even today, those costly sources deliver very little energy; it is a mere sliver in the total primary energy supply pie. Most of the “green” energy is actually from burning trash and agriwaste, and ecosystem gobbling biofuels. Oil use is barely reduced at all, those nice efficient cars are not really that efficient when driven on the Autobahn at 200 km/h, stuck full of gadgets. In two words, I’d describe the German energy history as forced paralysis. Fossil lock-in would perhaps be two better words.

    Click to access DETPES.pdf

    By the way, Germany is the world’s biggest user of brown coal – the dirties type of coal if you recall.


  35. Source for the higher electricity prices (to support my contention that this forces conservation and expensive energy efficiency measures that would not otherwise have been taken). This matches beautifully with the dip in the iea reference above.


  36. Regarding the Grattan Institute report, look at Figure 7.3 here:

    It shows:

    1. Overnight capital cost of nuclear in USA is about twice what it is in Asia.

    2. The enormous variation in the overnight capital costs, even within a region

    3. The larger range of costs in Asia and Europe than in Asia.

    The text states:

    Each project is unique, being exposed to local factors, such as political and planning processes, environmental conditions, project management, local labour and regulatory requirements. The closest analogy may be a coal power-plant with CCS capability. But the construction time for a CCS plant is likely to be lower, and safety/quality regulations less stringent, which substantially reduces the project’s financial exposure.

    Such conditions can vary significantly between countries with different political systems or standards for labour and environmental protection. In fact, the estimated costs of nuclear power vary significantly by location, as IAEA figures show

    Recent experience building nuclear power plants is particularly limited in North American and European countries, where the economic and regulatory conditions for nuclear power projects are closest to what they might be in Australia

    A point I’ve been making for a long time is, if we want low cost nuclear in Australia, we will have to investigate what are all the impediments that are making it higher cost than in Asia.

    7.6 What are the obstacles to the large-scale roll-out of
    nuclear power in Australia?

    Uncertainty is set to continue until there is a weight of practical project experience deploying current reactor designs

    Those who believe IFR and PRISM can be rolled out commercially any time soon should take note of this last sentence. Even Gen III costs are highly uncertain and that is after 50 years of evolutionary development of LWR’s. Why should we believe the IFR will be much faster to reach the same level of maturity, reliability, average life time capacity factor, etc?

    See the components of capital cost and Owners Costa at top of page 7-11, followed by this statement:
    Published cost estimates for nuclear power do not always make
    clear which factors are included in their assessment.

    That is for sure! What an understatement.

    I’ve only had a quick look at the section on nuclear. It looks good and realistic at first glance.


  37. I have to agree with Peter Lang’s observation that they can find the money if they really want to. Some of the green car funding went on the Holden Commodore… possibly that was for more efficient ash trays to offset the V8 engines. The Feds will put up nearly half the money for the solar flagships but I’m fairly sure the spot for the Moree PV farm is currently under flood water. I’m sure the sun will shine one day.

    I’m on capital cost subsidised satellite internet (thanks Kevin07) yet they still had the cash to put a fibre optic cable through the scrub nearby. Minister Conroy found $36bn for this extravagance but somehow because his uncle works at Sellafield there will be no money for nuclear.

    Australia’s high emissions high cost energy system is the way it is because the powers that be can’t see much wrong with it. At least nothing that can’t be PR managed with a few solar panels and windmills here and there.


  38. Bio energy

    No mention of “gas turbines running on biofels”. The technologies mentioned are steam plants and reciprocating engines.

    Maximum potential 10% of electricity generation by 2020

    For Bioenergy to provide 10% or more of Australia’s electricity needs it will have to use the large amounts of energy embodied within cereal crop residues

    <blockquote For a 30MW power plant at a 70% capacity factor the land area would be around 240,000 hectares and involve nearly 500 average sized wheat farms. </blockquote

    Here we go again (as in ZCA 2020) we’d need electric trains running all over our wheat growing areas picking up wheat stalks and taking them to the local generator unit. I can just see it. Any day now :)

    Many barriers to making it commercial in Australia at the scale that would be required

    Capital cost estimate: $5,500/kW for 5 MW plants, $3,500/kW to $4,000/kW for 30 MW plants.

    Fuel costs about $100/tonne.

    Conventional steam turbine combustion power plants can be used to generate power from cereal crop residues and from crops grown on marginal land or for salinity mitigation such as eucalypts. Analysis suggests that such plants could generate power at less than $150 per megawatt-hour, with a capacity factor higher than 70% and fuel delivered on a secure and reliable basis for around $5 per gigajoule). A review of a range of studies and discussions with Bioenergy experts suggests that there is potential to realise large quantities of cereal crop residues and energy crops at this cost, but vastly improved supply chain capabilities will be required.

    Note, these plants have to be run with capacity factors of around 70% to be economically viable. They are certainly not ‘peaker’ plants.


  39. JN,

    I certainly did not mean to imply I support the view “they can find the money if they want to”. The decisions should be made on an economically rational basis (alone)
    Please leave your personal opinions about other’s ideologies out of your comments or expect them to be edited out.


  40. The Grattan Institute Report, section 7.7 (p7-24) says:

    7.7 Implications for Australia

    Australia should wait and watch the economics of new-build nuclear power in other countries

    Click to access 125_energy__no_easy_choices_detail.pdf

    I think they present a strong case for this. I believe this is correct advice. The first we step we need is education on nuclear (especially on the costs of nuclear power, and the consequences and likelihood of accidents). I also believe we need funding for research, much of which should be aimed at investigating how we can reduce the costs of nuclear. To me that means, what do we need to do to remove the impediments that would prevent Australia implementing low cost nuclear generation in Australia. I want nuclear at a cost similar to in Asia, not similar to in USA and Europe. What do we have to do to achieve that. That seems to me to be a task the universities and CSIRO and other research organisations should be funded by government to tackle.

    We need to educate the public and get strong support before we should risk money on investment, subsidies, or anything else to do with building nuclear in Australia (or CCS, or solar thermal or any other major winner picking exercise by governments).


  41. Cyril R, on 6 February 2012 at 11:43 PM

    Can we lie about a non-problem being a problem in order to get the public support and justification to use this – yes, granted – excellent startup fuel ASAP?

    I don’t think it’s a matter of lying. It’s a matter of being pragmatic and accepting that there are many people out there who view spent fuel as waste. Some view it as a dangerous problem, others view it as an opportunity (e.g. ‘Australia can benefit financially by taking the world’s radioactive waste and storing it geologically here’). Either way, both mentalities advocate the view that there is no further use for it – which is incorrect and wasteful.

    And whether it’s a technical problem or not isn’t really the point. It’s definitely still a sociopolitical problem (did I read £2 billion per year to store plutonium stockpiles in the UK?).

    Also, I think the ‘yesterday’s waste; tommorow’s clean energy’ type lines are quite effective. This could also be applied to plasma arc converters.


  42. Are there any recent, authoritative estimates for the cost of a complete IFR plant?

    The most recent LCOE estimate I’ve seen for fast reactors w/ indefinite fuel recycling is an MIT study, here:

    8.7 c/kWh (in US$), compared to 8.4 c/kWh for a new LWR with once through fuel cycling.

    I note that Tom Blees pointed out that this estimate is higher than GE’s estimates for mass-produced fast reactors, and that cost of the pyroprocessing facilities are speculative.


  43. In 2000, Germany introduced the Renewable Energy Act (EEG). The Act mandates utilities to purchase renewable energy, pay above market rates and apportion this additional cost to all consumers.
    Under this Act, Germany added 25GW of wind, 25GW of solar and 3GW of biomass, a total of 53GW by the end of 2011. In 2011, 62GWs of renewable energy produced just 20% of Germany’s electricity or 120TWh out of a total of 610TW.
    A significant amount of this electricity, about 45% was generated by 4GW of hydro and 5GW of biomass due to high capacity factors of 50% and 70% respectively.
    It took 29GW of wind and 25GW of solar to generate 55% due to the low capacity factors of just 20% and 10% respectively.
    The capital cost of this renewable energy installation is $150B, plus feed in tariff subsidies of almost $100B accumulated to the end of 2011, a total of $250B.
    The 2011 subsidy payment was $20B, as a record number of solar panels, were installed in 2010 and 2011, most imported from China.
    For $250B, 50 GW of nuclear power could be installed. With a capacity factor of 80%, 50 GW of nuclear could potentially produce 350 TWh of carbon free electricity or 60% of Germany’s annual requirement of 620TWh.
    Germany’s electricity charges are the second highest in Europe, after Denmark and are twice those of France.
    Germany’s annual CO2 emissions from energy generation in 2000 and 2010 are the same at 10 tonnes per capita.
    The lesson to be learned for Australia is that renewable energy means very high electricity prices for no reduction in carbon emissions.
    Data obtained or extrapolated from and


  44. Peter Lang, chapter 13 (page 274-299) of Till & Chang 2011 is devoted to the economics of the IFR (capital costs of fast reactor and fuel cycle costs). I’d strongly encourage you to read this. This includes a discussion of prototype FBR costs, a generic comparison with LWRs (see Table 13.2), and detailed FC analysis (recycle with pyroprocessing vs once through).


  45. I don’t think it’s a matter of lying. It’s a matter of being pragmatic and accepting that there are many people out there who view spent fuel as waste. Some view it as a dangerous problem, others view it as an opportunity (e.g. ‘Australia can benefit financially by taking the world’s radioactive waste and storing it geologically here’). Either way, both mentalities advocate the view that there is no further use for it – which is incorrect and wasteful.

    Tom Keen, I’m in two minds in this issue. Yes I realise that it is good public relations to take a waste product and make something extremely useful out of it. At the same time I also get the impression that the ignorance of nuclear technology and what is a real risk or not (what makes nuclear risky and what is not relevant) is an important contributor to the lack of support for nuclear technology. Looking at a dry storage cask for spent fuel assemblies, its just a chunk of concrete that sits in a parking lot. This is clearly not a “problem”. It’s jokingly easy to do. Any other technology than nuclear waste storage is more complicated and more difficult. Not addressing this simple fact means continuing the ignorance on the risks of nuclear power.


  46. Cyril R, David Walters, G.R.L. Cowan,

    The argument against proliferation risks from reactor-grade uranium assumes that a would-be proliferator would not accept a weapon that won’t reliably deliver a desired yield. This is probably correct as far as national actors are concerned, but it does not mean that reactor-grade Pu is unusable for bombs.

    For example, J. Carson Mark’s 1990 paper “Reactor-Grade Plutonium’s Explosive Properties” (available from e.g. states that even with simple designs, the isotopic composition of Pu does not have any great effects to the minimum fizzle yield. Other reports I’ve been able to find agree.

    A fizzle wouldn’t be a “successful” nuclear weapon if the benchmark is a full-yield explosion. But we shouldn’t forget what the “fizzle” actually means: even relatively simple designs would very reliably yield a kiloton-class explosion from reactor-grade uranium. Such an explosion – 1000 large truck bombs going off simultaneously – in any major city center would very likely be the worst terrorist attack ever in terms of casualties and damages.

    For this reason, I think some of the concerns about the security of the Pu supply are well warranted, if separated plutonium exists in larger quantities. (Having the terrorists clandestinely acquiring Pu-containing fuel elements and then equally clandestinely processing them seems to me a rather remote possibility.)

    Note that I don’t know enough about IFR design (or about nuclear engineering, for that matter) to be able to say very much about potential loopholes in the system – just wanted to clear this proliferation issue.

    As for this,

    That’s actually the main problem with the nuclear power increases proliferation argument: it’s actually very easy for a country to make a nuclear bomb, with or without power reactors. It’s important to distinguish between national and subnational groups. Subnational groups such as terrorists don’t have power reactors handy, but they could build small graphite moderated natural uranium fuelled plutonium production reactors if they are well funded.

    I heartily agree. For scientific interest, I actually sent a RFP for reactor-grade graphite in sufficient quantities for a Hanford-style pile. Got the quote from a Chinese supplier in 10 hours; the price would have been $4022/ton + freight. According to the supplier, there would be no need for any special paperwork or anything.


  47. J.M. Korhonen – thanks. Good points. The plutonium in the IFR fuel cycle is kept with the transplutoniums and some fission products, which provides very good protection against proliferation. The plutonium from the thorium cycle is mostly Pu238, which makes so much heat it will fry any bomb, including the explosive charges, even if they manage to actually build one.

    I think we should also explore processes that keep all actinides together – including the fertile Th232 or U238. Possibly distillation (the actinides in metal form are all extremely high boiling).

    BTW nuclear grade graphite for $4/kg is really cheap. Those Chinese are so cheap!


  48. Mark Duffet, I saw Mark Diesendorf’s comment on that New Matilda article:

    Current simulation modelling at UNSW indicates that 100% renewable energy could have supplied the National Electricity Market during 2010 with the same reliability as the existing polluting supply mix. The modelling is based on actual hourly electricity demand and hourly solar and wind data.

    Watch this space.


  49. It would be good to have complete details on the modeling.

    Exactly how did they determine how much electricity would be available at all possible instants if it were derived exclusively from renewable sources? Was the “modeling” based on assumptions or was it based on actual data collected on a CONTINUOUS basis from all locations where it would be practical to instal renewable sources of power? And over what period of time was it done? Six months? One year? Three years? What?

    It is common to find errors in studies in multiple fields of endeavor. So, unless modeling, surveys, and studies are carefully reviewed by a number of qualified people, I am inclined to question them. Probably the public would strongly express its displeasure if for a month or so, because of unusual weather conditions, the power fell 25% below demand.


  50. John, yes, I toyed with the idea of responding to that as well in my New Matilda comment, even had a paragraph written but decided it was better to stay focused on Eltham’s egregious statements. It was getting very late, but even my only-half-functioning-at-that-hour brain was able to identify half a dozen serious shortcomings in the Elliston et al paper referred to by Diesendorf, in about five minutes.


  51. John Morgan wrote:

    Germany’s stated policy goal is to build as many new coal plants as fast as it can, plundering its previous commitment to domestic renewable energy to fund them.

    Looking at this a little closer, the actual policy commits 5% of climate change funds to replacing older and dirtier power plants with more efficient coal plants. The government estimates this will result in a total emissions reduction of 14% (here). In addition, 95% of the remaining funds are still going towards “reducing carbon dioxide emissions from buildings, developing renewable energy sources and storage technologies,” which is hardly a plundering. Do we want all these coal plants taken off line, yes. But coal politics in Germany are very complex, especially in the east. This looks to me to be a middle ground proposal, one looking at achievable goals and provides for some heavy lifting from energy efficiency and conservation programs in replacing energy from nuclear phase out and meeting Germany’s ambitious goal of 40% reduction of GHG emissions below 1990 levels by 2020). What else is in the mix … lots of CHP, biomass, wind and solar, new production processes in industrial sector, building retrofits, transportation (biofuels, CO2 emissions vehicle tax, expansion of rail), limits on future power plants without CCS, off sets where emissions can’t be improved, new research and development, and each with it’s own carbon budget attached to it (here).


  52. EL, if Germany can do all those things you list, it can do them without turning off its reactors!

    The bar by which we should judge Germany is not “did they manage to offset the CO2 emissions from their reactor closures?”. And its not “did they achieve their goal of a 40% reduction by 2020?”. Its whether they could have achieved much more but chose not to. If they really can achieve 40% GG reduction by 2020 even if they close their reactors, they should be condemned for not achieving so much more by keeping them running, and further, improving their renewable and efficiency contribution with the money that will otherwise be wasted decommissioning the reactors and building new coal plants.

    So I stand corrected and amend my previous statement as follows:

    Germany’s stated policy goal is to burn as much additional natural gas and build as many new coal plants as required to cover their reactor closures, using only as much of their climate change funds as necessary to do so.


  53. Tom Bond, @ 7 February 2012 at 8:24 PM

    That is a very informative comment. Thank you for assembling those numbers and presenting the case so clearly. I’ll be keeping a link to your comment for future use.


  54. What would it take to get real price reductions with electricity?

    The nominal retail price of ADSL broadband fell by 69 per cent between 2005 and 2010, according to figures compiled by the OECD [6]. Between 1997-98 and 2008-09 inflation-adjusted prices fell 34 per cent for fixed-line telephone services and 49 per cent for mobile services, according to the ACCC [7].

    Wouldn’t it be great for Australia if we could achieve even half these sorts of price reductions with electricity? What would that do to productivity and Australia’s international competitiveness? If that was done with low emissions electricity generation – e.g. with nuclear – imagine how quickly low emissions electricity would replace fossil fuels in non electricity applications – like transport and heating. And imagine what a boon Australian consulting organisations could get from assisting developing countries – such as in Africa – to implement low cost low emissions electricity instead of fossil fuel generation.

    What is the key to doing this? This article explains it very well. The key is to facilitate competition and remove the regulatory and policy impediments to low-cost, low emissions electricity generation.

    The key is certainly not to continually add more and more regulation, taxes and carbon prices, and the massive regulatory and compliance costs that will come with such government mandated schemes.


  55. Regarding this comment;

    “even relatively simple designs would very reliably yield a kiloton-class explosion from reactor-grade uranium.”

    Are you saying 5% uranium 235 can produce a 1kt explosion? I do not believe that. Perhaps you meant “even relatively simple designs would very reliably yield a kiloton-class explosion from reactor-grade plutonium.”

    The Mark paper claims claims that reactor grade plutonium substituted into the fat man design would produce a minimum yield of about 700 tons TNT. That assumes no deleterious effects from the high heat and radiation of the reactor grade plutonium (a poor assumption).

    The fat man design compresses a sphere of plutonium to about twice normal density while maintaining spherical geometry. Any design that does that cannot be described as “relatively simple.”

    My guess is that a simple design using reactor grade plutonium would have a yield much lower than 700 tons, but still enough to do a lot of damage and kill a lot of people.


  56. What will be the real cost of CO2 tax and ETS compliance? What will emissions monitoring, reporting, analysis, and updating systems and legacy data cost?

    Last year the USA EPA said they would have to increase their permanent staff members from 17,000 to 250,000 at a cost of $23 billion per year for full time staff to comply with the existing requirements for monitoring CO2 emissions. I expect the cost to industry to collect and report the data could reasonably be assumed to be at least ten times as much as it will take for EPA to stamp it as received and write letters to those who have not performed the way EPA judges they should.

    What does this mean for Australia? Well, initially Australia does not intend to monitor or measure its emissions. It will simply estimate them. The system set up by AEMO to estimate electricity system emissions is very crude. It is nowhere near the standard the USA or even the Europeans are doing. I am sure we will have to get up to best practice eventually. That means big increases in compliance cost as time goes on.

    There is also the issue of the carbon cops, and then the court cases, lawyers, accountants, consultants, trainers, OH&S and everything else that grows exponentially once started.

    Today’s Australian reported:

    The [ANAO] report found that costs associated with NGER reporting were higher than originally anticipated and that one company was spending up to $1.5 million a year on compliance.

    If that is the average cost for 500 companies required to report compliance, the annual cost of this totally unproductive exercise is $750 million per year. But that’s just the start. The number of companies required to report will grow. The complexity of the requirements and demands will grow forever. The regulation will be continually changing, just as they do in the USA EPA every few years. The number of carbon cops will grow. As the numbers grow they will become more officious. Over time they will become like the ATO tax audit teams.

    The ANAO found that the Climate Change Department had completed its first pilot audit program two years later than the scheduled date of August 2009.

    “This delay has meant that the department has not been able to obtain a reasonable level of assurance over compliance with certain requirements of the NGER Act or the integrity of NGER data behind the reports submitted by registered corporations,” the ANAO found.

    It’s going to costs us a bundle. It will keep growing. It will sap the strength out of our businesses and our economy.


  57. Reactor grade plutonium has a considerable heat profile. Pu238 in particular generates lots of heat. In quantities sufficient for a fizzle bomb of hundreds of tons of TNT, it makes enough heat to melt the plutonium (which has a low melting point) when it is assembled. That’s excellent proliferation protection – and it almost certainly kills the bomb builders as a bonus. Also the minor actinides provide further proliferation protection, increasing spontaneous neutrons and also providing further heat sources. This method can be used for the U-Pu cycle which has less Pu238 protection than the U-Th cycle.

    Click to access 32_sagara.pdf

    The easiest way to increase the amount of Pu238 is of course to add thorium to the fuel. Thorium is, today, popularly associated with the LFTR, but is also quite attractive as an IFR fuel, having a much higher melting point (no need for zirconium additions) and greater chemical and swelling stability than uranium. The best way to go would probably be a reactor grade plutonium startup fissile charge, and thorium as the main fertile (with enough U238/depleted uranium to dilute the U233 fissile bred from the thorium). Such a hybrid fuel cycle has superb design proliferation resistance.



    The ‘key’ is right-wing market principles? Too simplistic. Which country is *actually* building AP1000’s? That would be China.

    The ‘key’ is the right technologies, however they are funded and whatever the context of of political economy.
    Your sarcastic comments have been edited out without changing the substance of the post.


  59. Eclipse Now, on 8 February 2012 at 8:38 PM said:

    Wow, the ‘key’ is right-wing market principles? Too simplistic. Which country is *actually* building AP1000′s? That would be China.

    As a rule of thumb Nuclear is ‘cost competitive'(not considering externalized costs) in a ‘new build environment’ with coal at $4/MMbtu and Natural Gas at $6/MMBtu.

    Those conditions exist in China and the US Southeast. That is where AP1000’s are being built. Those conditions also exist in the UK where the government position is ‘nuclear without subsidy’. They also exist in a good many other places in the world.

    Australia and the US West have considerable quantities of coal that can be extracted and delivered a reasonable distance to market for well under $4/MMBtu. The discussion as to how to make cleaner technologies financially competitive with coal is therefore a much more difficult discussion.
    The quote has been altered to reflect the editing of EN’s post.


  60. If we want to keep aluminium smelting in Australia the only way we could do it would be with cheap nuclear power.

    MANUFACTURING unions are urging the federal government to fund an automotive-style bailout of the aluminium industry to save Alcoa’s Point Henry smelter from closure.

    Australian Workers Union … said while Alcoa must reinvest in its 49-year-old Geelong plant to make it globally competitive, there was a strong case for federal and state assistance to ease what he described as a short-term crisis. “It is an ageing plant but it had been making money until six or seven months ago,” he said. “It is not a chronic problem. It is a matter of weathering the storm.”

    But this is nonsense. Aluminium needs cheap electricity. With government intent on shutting down brown coal power stations in Victoria, replacing them with gas and imposing a carbon tax on top of electricity prices, there is no way aluminium smelting can remain viable in Australia. It will have to move to countries where electricity is cheap.

    If we want to keep industries like aluminium smelters – or many other industries for which energy is a significant cost driver – AND we want low emissions electricity, the only way it can be done is to allow Australia to have low cost nuclear power.

    Victoria should take the lead and say: “OK, we’ll ensure you, Alcoa, can get long term, low cost electricity contracts but only if we can get agreement from all levels of government to allow Victoria to build a nuclear power station near Geelong, and only if we can remove all the impediments to low cost nuclear electricity generation so that the contracted prices will be competitive with coal fired generation.


  61. Harrywr2

    The discussion as to how to make cleaner technologies financially competitive with coal is therefore a much more difficult discussion.

    I certainly agree with that statement. It is a subject that is far too hot to handle, not just in Australia, but in most of the western democracies.

    But if we want to cut world GHG emissions, then one day we will have to tackle it.

    It is not about changing the designs of the Gen II, Gen III, Gen II+ plants. It is about changing the regulatory environment and the investor risk premium that make them far more expensive than they could and should be. For Gen IV ist is about changing the focus from excessive safety (excessive compared with other industries) to one of least cost.

    I know that sends many readers here ballistic, but that is the reality we will have to face eventually – just as aircraft industry has faced it and improved safety by building lots because costs are cheap enough to allow people more travel. We need to get the costs down to what they could be, not keep pandering to the anti-nuclear crowd. I posted a comment up thread a couple of days ago in reply to the Grattan Institute report. My comment accepted that nuclear is too expensive for Australia for now and pointed out the way to get over this is for government to fund education and research into how to implement nuclear in Australia at least cost.


  62. My reading of the business press is that 4 of the 6 aluminium smelters are thinking of closing. A tonne of aluminum ingot requires 15 Mwh energy input, I presume that’s just at the smelter not mining and transport. I think it would be insane if other countries picked up the slack using Australian bauxite or alumina and Australian thermal coal.

    Perhaps the smelters politely refer to ‘input costs’ as a catch-all for wages, electricity and carbon taxes which will include perfluorocarbon emissions (PFC) as well as coal fired electricity. This is where the carbon tariff comes in. Suppose an Australian smelter generates 15 tonnes of CO2 or equivalent per tonne of aluminium. That’s 15 X $23 = $345 hardly a trifling amount on top of recent raw aluminium prices of $850 a tonne. Suppose the alternative supplier (not mentioning China by name) has a $10 carbon tax and uses coal fired electricity. The import tariff should be the difference of $195 per tonne. If they use hydro or nuclear electricity the tariff would be less but an administrative headache to calculate.

    I think for security reasons Australia should have at least one aluminum smelter using low carbon electricity. After all we’ve got the most bauxite; it would be like teetotallers owning a vineyard but not the winery.


  63. Aluminium smelting is so energy intensive that even captive nuclear power plants may be worthwhile. There was once a report of Russians setting a NPP for a new aluminium smelter. Australia, rich in uranium as well as bauxite should produce and sell aluminium as a value-added product using both.
    Most cost effective reactor for Australia right now may be Indian PHWR. It uses natural uranium as fuel.
    Another path, also leading to an integrated nuclear fuel cycle, could start with Russian SVBR fast reactors using enriched uranium as fuel. Enrichment could initially be in Russia and later set up in Australia.. Either could be followed by an integrated fuel cycle.
    The effect of CO2 as a greenhouse gas is widely accepted but still debated. Ill effects of suspended matter and other poisons released by coal burning are beyond controversy but quietly accepted. Coal use should be curbed in major industrial activities like power production, aluminium smelting (through use of fossil fuel power) and, to the extent possible, in steel smelting.


  64. I’d argue that aluminium smelters already have captive power plants, either covert or overt like Anglesea power station fuelled by brown coal. Even the smelter with nearby hydro seems to have plenty of nearby gas fired capacity for backup. The smelters which seem safe for now have NG or CSG fired generation close by, coincidentally less vulnerable to carbon tax.

    I agree about Australia value adding here not sending all our best rocks overseas if it can be avoided. On the weekend I met some visiting German scientists who made the same point but I wish they’d tell politicians.


  65. It is now looking increasingly likely that the world has peaked in the total amount of energy provided by all three fossil fuels. Especially when declining EROEI is taken into account. The Patzeck study predicted peak coal for 2011, worldwide. Growth has now ended.

    Conservation will be key for decades to come as the transition is made to fuel efficient breeder reactors. We will need Integral Fast Reactors and/or thorium reactors after 2020. They are unlimited by fuel supplies, but the rare 235 isotope is finite, and subject to the Hubbert peak logistic distribution phenomenon.

    So, we are running out of coal, oil, gas, and uranium 235, but uranium 238 and thorium 232 are unlimited. Especially uranium 238, since it can be extracted from seawater.


  66. I certainly agree with that statement. It is a subject that is far too hot to handle, not just in Australia, but in most of the western democracies. But if we want to cut world GHG emissions, then one day we will have to tackle it. It is not about changing the designs of the Gen II, Gen III, Gen II+ plants. It is about changing the regulatory environment and the investor risk premium that make them far more expensive than they could and should be.

    Or we could just use a carbon tax.


  67. Bill Hannahan, Cyril R:

    Regarding this comment;
    “even relatively simple designs would very reliably yield a kiloton-class explosion from reactor-grade uranium.”

    Are you saying 5% uranium 235 can produce a 1kt explosion? I do not believe that. Perhaps you meant “even relatively simple designs would very reliably yield a kiloton-class explosion from reactor-grade plutonium.”

    my apologies, I obviously had a slip of mind – should read “plutonium” of course.

    I absolutely agree that even duplicating the Fat Man with reactor-grade Pu is no small undertaking, and I’m not losing any sleep over the minuscule chance of some fanciful terrorist scenario out from a Tom Clancy novel. But the Fat Man design is quite well-known and even its exact dimensions are public, and I would say it’s certainly doable.

    What’s more, if the Nuclear Weapons Archive’s remarks on bomb design are good (I’m basically taking them on faith), even simpler linear compression – perhaps achievable with explosive welding equipment even – might be good enough to produce tremendously large (100 tons or so) explosions. The operative word here is “might,” naturally.

    The point about heat generation is a good one. I cannot seem to find the relevant papers, but I distinctly remember arguments claiming that there are workarounds to that problem, though. Active cooling and storing the pit in a separate cooled compartment and inserting it just before detonation are perhaps the most obvious.

    Radiation from unwanted isotopes is another problem, and another reason why I’m not actually worried. But I wouldn’t say a reactor-grade Pu bomb is impossible or unfeasibly difficult, either.

    The problem here is that those who know, cannot talk. So the subject will probably remain controversial for the foreseeable future. I would however take the arguments of real bomb designers such as J. Carson Mark and Richard Garwin quite seriously – I find it hard to believe they’d be “coming out” in this matter unless they had a reason to think reactor-grade Pu is indeed usable in some manner. They very likely know something we don’t, even if they are restricted in what they are able to say.


  68. Eclipse Now, on 9 February 2012 at 9:51 PM said:

    Or we could just use a carbon tax

    That is one approach.

    Scana(South Carolina Natural Gas) which is building the VC Summer nuclear plant recently offered some debt with a yield of 4.3%

    The concerns of investors as to ‘financial risk’ appear to have been assuaged without a ‘carbon tax’.

    I find the idea that a ‘carbon tax’ is somehow a ‘free market’ approach somewhat puzzling. If we put a ‘punitive tax’ on a product or service we are ‘regulating via taxation’. Why not just ‘regulate’ directly?

    One could simply say ‘30% of the electricity’ on the grid needs to be CO2 free by 2020 or some other arbitrary date or percentage or a have a CO2 grams per Kwh standard by some arbitrary date.


  69. Zachary Moitoza writes,

    So, we are running out of … uranium 235 …

    Necessarily true, but its truth is not demonstrable in any currently very impressive way, such as one year’s “Red Book” uranium reserves estimate’s exceeding the estimate of two years earlier by less than a million tonnes, or prospecting costs exceeding a penny per barrel-oil-equivalent, or more than a fifth of average continental crust’s 235-U being required to pulverize the hard parts of said crust.

    In short, not true from a thousand-year sustainability point of view. Far from it.


  70. Contrasting views on how Germany has weathered the recent cold snap. This normally pro-renewables site said they paid through the nose and it will get worse
    This article says it can’t have been too bad as Germany won some military contracts

    That article fails to mention the German economy shrank in the 4th quarter of 2011 and 2010 emissions were higher than 2009. That is both a weaker economy and higher emissions, not a good trajectory. I’d say Germany has one or two years left to sort it out.


  71. Implementing good energy policies may first require extreme financial disasters to occur. Until people are hit hard in their banking accounts, those insisting on impractical “solutions” to our energy problems will have undo influence. Too many people are swayed by emotional appeals rather than by sound science and economics.

    If Germany and / or other countries demonstrate, by unarguable example, that solar and wind power are not practical, then we in the U.S. may be able to avoid, at least partially, the same mistakes, provided that the mistakes receive sufficient publicity.

    This does not mean that wind and solar power should be completely abandoned; there are places and situations where they are the best sources of power, but not as a primary source of power for large countries. Solar power can significantly enhance the quality of lives for people in small remote African villages and in small Pacific Island countries where connecting to the grid is not practical.


  72. harrywr2, on 10 February 2012 at 3:28 AM said:

    “I find the idea that a ‘carbon tax’ is somehow a ‘free market’ approach somewhat puzzling. If we put a ‘punitive tax’ on a product or service we are ‘regulating via taxation’. Why not just ‘regulate’ directly?”

    The attraction of a carbon tax, according to economists, is that it should be more cost-effective than regulation.

    Here’s Milton Friedman, writing in 1980:

    “Most economists agree that a far better way to control pollution than the present method of specific regulation and supervision is to introduce market discipline by imposing effluent charges.” Free To Choose, p. 217.


  73. I agree with the late Milton Friedman regarding effulent charges. The fact that Friedman suggested them is not a valid reason to oppose them. Moreover, he is not the only economist to assert that that is the most efficient way to control pollution; many other economists have made the same suggestion. The idea is to increase the pollution tax gradually until the amount of pollution is reduced to an acceptable level.

    Perhaps even before 1970, economists generally agreed that the most efficient way to control pollution is to tax it. Controlling pollution is not free; it costs money. It can be shown that if it is controlled via taxation, and people behave rationally, the money spent to control pollution will be spent more efficiently. Even if people do not behave entirely rationally, the money spent to control pollution will be spent more efficiently than if regulations require all sources of pollution to be reduced by the same amount.

    The objection to a pollution tax is largely emotional; people claim that it is a license to pollute and object to it on that basis.


  74. Frank R. Eggers — This is an open thread but the question of whether (or even just extent to which) economic theory has any bearing (or the degree thereof) seems increasing remote from what I take to be the purpose of Brave New Climate. So I’ll simply note that there are serious obbjections to your analysis, none original with me. I’ll not persue this further except to note that AFAIK no society today allows paying (a tax) as penance for intentional homicide; that seems to have gone out with the vikings.

    I do pay attention to estimating the costs of various forms of energy generation. First of all, these are generally acceptable and offer persuasive argument. Second, such estimates seem to me to fairly well grounded in physical reality and so I find such to be rational starting points; only actual experience with one or another generation method offers reliable data.


  75. I have a new article on Energy Bulletin showing that peak oil is very imminent. That same is true for coal. Natural gas may be the one wild card thanks to shale, but I am still skeptical. Robert Bryce strongly believes in “N to N,” natural gas to nuclear, but I am still skeptical. Nat. gas may be able to help a little, but not much, and the fugitive methane emissions are disturbingly high for shale gas. Even u-235 is peaking. It really is just IFRs, thorium, or conservation.


  76. Hi Zachary,
    Great to have another peaknik on board!

    You’re convinced we’re already passed peak coal? I didn’t even think Heinberg was at that point. Or has he shifted?

    If we are, will geological limits enact a ‘carbon price’ of it’s own in time to stimulate new thinking about ‘unreliables’ and good reliable GenIV power?


  77. John Newlands;
    I would not refer to those links as containing contrary, or even related, views. The Euro ties Germany’s currency to less productive countries, which keeps their currency from finding the higher value a market would put it at, and the burden of renewables is primarily spared industry, who are exempt from the surcharge that pays for the tariffs.
    According to ENSO, France is an importer during the cold spell, and Germany is an exporter – but Germany hasn’t taken any coal/gas capacity away during the renewables build out, so this could indicate massive use of coal and gas. A link I found interesting has a prominent UK renewables advocate arguing:
    “It’s not accurate and I think it stems from a misunderstanding about what wind energy is for. It’s better to think of wind as the back-up for gas, allowing us to make much better use of our existing fossil fuel power plants than relying on gas alone.”
    Which seemed to me refreshingly honest


  78. John Newlands, something else that latter article about the European cold snap failed to mention was that, as can be seen here (, French peak demand was at 7 pm. So of the electricity imported from Germany, you can be sure exactly none of it came from their much-vaunted gigawatts of PV capacity. Not that author Matthew Wright didn’t do his level best to imply otherwise (“the country with the fastest growing renewable sector was propping up nuclear powered France”).


  79. Ah, political economy, something that will always divide our ‘community’ here. No great industrial project was ever accomplished without massive gov’t intervention. No nuclear plant, no dam project, no nothing. The US’s still going strong and massively big aerospace industry, like Airbus in Europe, were all essentially massive gov’t projects. Boeing is an invention, essentially, of the US Army Air Force.

    Free capital (investor owned capital) always flows to the investments with greatest returns in the quickest amount of time. This is why the western economies are essentially speculative in nature, far profit is to be had pushing paper than milling it and producing it.

    For nuclear power plants to proceed, major degrees of costs, since return on the dollar is a minimum of 48 months, have to be assumed by the tax payer. I think this is a good thing, not a bad thing.


  80. Eclipse Now, on 10 February 2012 at 8:57 PM said:

    If we are, will geological limits enact a ‘carbon price’ of it’s own in time to stimulate new thinking about ‘unreliables’ and good reliable GenIV power?

    I also subscribe to the theory we are on the cusp of ‘peak coal’.
    Geologically we couldn’t burn all the coal in the ground if we tried.

    Here is a 1997 report on US Coal mining productivity

    Click to access RFF-DP-97-40.pdf

    Key sentence –
    Labor productivity in U.S. coal mining increased at an average annual rate of slightly over four percent during the past 45 years.

    Here are the latest figures. Productivity is going backwards. More miners producing the same amount of coal.

    Click to access c_trends_mining.pdf

    Then some interesting facts on Chinese coal

    Click to access coal_bohai_report.pdf

    The average depth of China‘s coal mines is 456 meters. Whereas northern China has the most abundant and highest quality coal, Xinjiang province (in far western China) has more than half of coal reserves located less than 1,000 meters below the surface. Only 27% of northern Chinese coal is located less than 1,000 meters below the surface, compared to 40% of total Chinese coal.8 Mines in eastern China are particularly deep, with an average depth of 600 meters.


  81. Chinese AP1000 at Sanmen Behind Schedule

    A miss-titled article really says that the AP1000 is behind schedule –

    China AP1000 nuclear plant on track after delay-Xinhua

    “Construction slowed following the tsunami, to allow for design adjustments and “stricter construction requirement for endurance concerns”, the Xinhua news agency said, citing remarks by Wang Binghua, board chairman of the State Nuclear Power Technology Corporation (SNPTC) on Saturday.

    The tsunami badly damaged reactors in Japan and led to questions over the safety of China’s ambitious nuclear plans. China plans to start building new capacity almost equal to Japan’s entire nuclear power sector by 2015, to reduce its dependence on coal.

    “Both the SNPTC and Westinghouse have agreed that the new reactors are able to survive the same shock experienced by the Japanese plant,” Wang said.

    The two companies are still mulling over further efforts to ensure nuclear safety, he added.

    Wang said an optimized construction schedule would allow the No.1 unit of the Sanmen nuclear power plant, in east China’s Zhejiang province to begin operation in 2013.”

    The first four pumps were originally scheduled to ship to eastern China in November. Making the change and retesting will delay that until the second quarter of 2012, Benante said. I’m not sure whether the pump delay cause the build delay or just added to a bunch of other problems. Here is what the pump maker says, ”

    Read more: Nuclear plant equipment to get revamp – Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

    The most visible mile stone is the dome of the containment vessel scheduled for Dec 2011. It is not there yet. If it is placed in June 2012, the project will be 6 months behind the original schedule.

    It is irritating that the Chinese press and Westinghouse say, “Sanmen #1 is on schedule”. What they mean is that Sanmen #1 is on a new schedule.


  82. SL on wind as backup for gas or perhaps a gas saver this is where we have to assess the cost of CO2 avoided. By comparing emissions and cost of the wind-gas combination with gas alone we get (Δ cost)/ (Δ CO2). Peter Lang has done this exercise (Link) concluding that windpower costs from ~$100 to $1000 per tonne of CO2 avoided.

    However as gas depletes towards mid century that could seem like a bargain. A follow up exercise might be how much of already installed wind capacity can be used as gas depletes. For example South Australia has 1100 MW of wind capacity but perhaps 10 years of reliable gas supply left.

    Re China coal peaking note Clive Palmer’s new mines in the Galilee Basin Qld will be called ‘China First’, totally immune to carbon tax. I see new coal loaders approved for the US Pacific northwest coast. Maybe China is running out. Quoted in TOD the BP Energy Outlook 2030 says China will burn 3 Gtpa of coal until 2030 at least. Thanks for cooking the planet.


  83. John Newlands, on 11 February 2012 at 6:10 AM said:

    I see new coal loaders approved for the US Pacific northwest coast

    There are issues with rail line capacity in the US Pacific Northwest.

    Washington State rail capacity study – Page 29

    Click to access RailFinalReport.pdf

    The Wenatchee to Port of Everett line is currently operating at 100% of practical capacity. It passes thru a 7 mile long tunnel.

    The Pasco to Port of Tacoma line is operating at 60% capacity but is unsuitable for ‘heavy loads’ due to greater then 2% grades and also has a 10,000 foot tunnel.

    The Pasco to Port of Vancouver line is currently operating at 70% of capacity.

    Undoubtedly there will be some expansion of coal export facilities in the US Pacific Northwest. The expense of expanding rail capacity thru Mountainous terrain will be a limiting factor.


  84. It never ceases to amaze me how we maintain the disconnect between emissions reduction and coal industry growth. Every day we are supposed to brush our teeth, be kind to animals and use less carbon. On the other hand we are supposed to gasp in approval when big new coal mines are announced

    I find this more than slightly weird, perhaps even insane. A world of mayhem has been described as ‘helter skelter’ what we have in Australia is ‘carbo schizo’. Others agree

    I have a strong suspicion that carbon tax will be watered down between July and the 2013 Federal election with some major giveaways, for example to smooth the higher burden on brown coal vs black coal vs gas fired States. Longer run, say 5 years, I think gas rich parts of Australia will be forced to share with the gas poor regions. In my view both policies are likely to happen before nuclear is considered.


  85. ´´windpower costs from ~$100 to $1000 per tonne of CO2 avoided.

    However as gas depletes towards mid century that could seem like a bargain. ´´

    Wind locks us into natural gas, so how do you figure wind to be a bargain in a gas depletion scenario? If gas depletes then the entire wind power grid notion is out the window.


  86. @JL : Totally agree with your comment, Perhaps I could add to your words that our politicians suffer from cognitive dissonance in their attitude to fossil fuels , especially coal. I would argue that in an ethical sense they have totally lost it, what with saddling us with a totally ineffective carbon tax , while at the same time aiding and abetting the coal industry in shipping Megatonnes of the stuff to China.


  87. The Chinese are using up half the world coal production and are digging deep for it, according to postings above. No wonder that they are building a major part of the world’s nuclear power plants. I am sure that they will go for a closed cycle first as they are less well-endowed with uranium than Australia or Kazakhstan. IFR is, of course, fast reactors plus a closed cycle.
    Regarding deep coal mines, I wonder if they are trying to cut life and energy costs by underground gasification. They should also use high temperature nuclear steam for gasification to avoid burning a part of coal to convert the rest into gas.
    Oil and gas rich middle east is going for nuclear power with, or without OECD approval. Perhaps the coal and uranium rich Australia should go straight for enriched uranium fueled fast reactors, to be followed by pyroprocessing. (Inspired by IFR). Recycling of Transuranics can follow.


  88. Would someone from the BNC Gen IV department like to address this comment on The Conversation:

    Joseph Bernard commented:

    “Whoops, Fukushima, your soaking in it! no problems, should see the the size of the mushrooms growing near the core, almost big enough to be seen from space and it glows in the dark.. No need for lights anymore, bonus. Pity everyone has to move. So if the quake does not crack you up? Just watch the evil fast breeder of the west – Monju.. Just when you stop and take a breath, well then quicker than you can say.. Faster Breeder technology, another accident happens.. Seems like everytime there is an accident, the stakes go up. ”


  89. Sorry to have left you to it, EN, but I concluded some time ago that the peculiar combination of ad hominems and postmodernist claptrap (all that tripe about ‘value systems’ etc) that is Paul Richards wasn’t worth any further effort. That type is, quite literally, impervious to rational argument.


  90. Harry, just to be really clear about what I am thinking. I think that the Sanmen 1 reactor is 6 to 12 months behind schedule. I also think that the Nov 2013 “go live” date will not be reached.

    I am not very concerned that the first-of-a-kind plant is late. The rest of the Chinese plants might even be completed on the 50 month schedule once the pump and other first-of-a-kind problems are solved. I am concerned that the Vogtle plant is on schedule to prove US competence. The Chinese could do the world a favor by picking and completing a shorter build schedule for the second round of AP1000 builds (maybe 42 months instead of 50).


  91. As expected the aluminium industry is proving to be a litmus test for carbon pricing. Smelter employees have visited the PM to plead their case
    Some smelters say they are unprofitable now and carbon tax will be the killer blow. That’s for bought in coal fired electricity but the smelters themselves emit fluorocarbon gases. Maybe we should pay more for aluminium, including refundable deposits on soft drink cans. Free riders like China should be slapped with a carbon tariff on aluminium imported here.

    While a commercial secret it is rumoured that aluminium smelters pay 3-4c per kwh, electricity prices we’ll never see again. If smelters close then generators can get higher average prices. The discount on normal industrial power prices is said to be worth $133,000 per employee in the case of one smelter. As an emissions intensive trade exposed industry (think EITEIs are sweeties) they were going to get a partial carbon tax holiday anyway.

    If carbon tax is further watered down to help the smelters everybody will have their hand out. Coupled with the coal export boom people will wonder what is the point. In my opinion big emitters have to get used to the new conditions with the main help in the form of import restrictions. As a small country maybe we should never have acquired so many (6) aluminium smelters.


  92. George Orwell predicted we’d be talking in doublespeak by now. It seems that what will be dug up in the Galilee Basin is ‘minerals’ or ‘resources’
    If we can’t say ‘coal’ any more I’d like to call it ‘pre-sequestered carbon’ that is carbon drawn from primordial atmospheric CO2 millions of years ago and about to be re-released.

    Note the link says the preference is for an imported workforce. A year from now when carbon tax inflates the cost of everything (as it should) we’ll wonder why we’re giving foreign interests cheap carbon while making it hard for ourselves. Answer; because it’s ‘resources’.


  93. @ J. M. Korhonen, Bill Hannahan, Cyril R:

    Recommended reading – “A new scientific solution for preventing the misuse of reactor-grade plutonium as nuclear explosive”, Kessler et. al.

    You can’t even begin to try and make a “simple” (Trinity or Fat Man style) nuclear weapon out of reactor grade plutonium – the decay heat from the WGPu pit immediately melts or ignites the HE lens assembly.


  94. If you are the boss of a multinational aluminium producer,then it would make sense to shift production to a truly low cost / low emissions environment such as Canada (hydro/nuclear) or Russia (nuclear). Would be interesting to know what the actual price is that Rio Tinto or Rusal pay for their electricity in the aluminium sector. JL , I love “pre sequestered carbon” . Also Barry, the above chart says it all really, who knows some of our opponents might even wake up. (Jeremiah 5:21)


  95. A few questions from your visiting lay-person:

    1. The Breeder Reactor wiki has a final section called “Future Breeder Reactors”.

    How many of these are in effect protoype IFR’s? Do they breed from specially prepared new uranium, or can they breed from varieties of waste?

    (This is useful for a ‘debate’ I was having with a dreamer over on The Conversation: lay-person to lay-person.).

    2. What are the new nukes being built in America? Would they be classified as Gen3? Will they have the latest in passive safety?


  96. The way Queenslanders euphemistically refer to coal as ‘resources’ reminds me of the old Monty Python skit about woody words and tinny words. Take away Mt Isa and Weipa from the map in this link
    and it’s just about all fossil fuel.

    The header says
    This map shows most of the resources projects in production in Queensland…
    Let’s make it
    This map shows most of the pre-sequestered carbon projects in production in Queensland…


  97. Elipse Now,

    2. What are the new nukes being built in America? Would they be classified as Gen3? Will they have the latest in passive safety?

    We have 4 Westinghouse AP1000 at some stage of construction in the US. Vogtle Units #3 and #4 and VC Summer Units #2 and #3.

    We also have two older designs that were ‘moth balled’ prior to completion in the 1990’s that appear likely to be finally completed.

    The Westinghouse AP1000 is classed as a Generation III+ reactor according to US DOE and they do have ‘passive cooling’ built in.

    A graphic from US DOE as to which designs belong to which ‘generation’.


  98. Apologies if you are already across this:

    Essentially this is just suspicions confirmed; the Heartland Institute is funding voices to intentionally muddy the science of climate change.

    This leak contains budget documents and internal communications discussing strategy and participants, including everyone’s favourite WUWT. Not particularly revolutionary, but this makes it even harder to deny the conspiracy to cloud climate science in public debate.


  99. Wow indeed! Near universal condemnation of Green’s tasteless opportunism. Whether or not broader attitudes to nuclear are changing, I think it says the old style of antinuclear shenanigans is not going to get mainstream traction again.


  100. @ Luke Weston – thanks, very interesting document. However, unless I missed something, I think its thermal analysis has a serious oversight: first Pu bombs (Fat Man, Mark 3, Mark 4) were not stored or transported with Pu pits. The arming process required the manual insertion of the pit and the initiator.

    Cooling the pit while separated is definitely a solvable problem.

    But this may be a minor quibble. After reading Mueller’s “Atomic Obsession” last week (, I tend to agree with his assessment of the difficulty a non-state actor would have if trying to assemble even a uranium bomb, much less a plutonium one.

    Therefore, reactor-grade Pu – while theoretically usable – would be ridiculously difficult for a non-state actor, while I see no reason why a state actor would bother, as creating weapon-grade Pu might be one of the easiest steps in the project.


  101. I think it says the old style of antinuclear shenanigans is not going to get mainstream traction again.

    I really do hope so. I’m appalled the ABC published an article like that. Utterly irresponsible, and I hope people actually are seeing through it (and reading the comments!).


  102. There’s a letter in today’s Japan Times online from Steven Starr from Physicians for Social Responsibility that makes various grim predictions for areas contaminated by Cesium 137, such as:

    Because cesium-137 has a 30-year half-life, the land seriously contaminated by the Fukushima disaster will remain dangerously radioactive for up to 300 years….Once radioactive cesium makes its way into the soils, it will bioconcentrate and biomagnify in foodstuffs, particularly mushrooms, berries and wild game.


    The Belrad Institute, after nine years of research and hundreds of autopsies, found that cesium-137 concentrates in the vital organs, particularly the heart and endocrine system. Professor Yuri Bandazhevsky discovered that children contaminated with cesium-137 that produced 50 atomic disintegrations per second (becquerels) per kilogram of body weight caused irreversible heart damage in a child.

    Anyone got any good background material on this? Doesn’t seem to mesh with official reports on Chernobyl, and the first quote has the rather vague “the land seriously contaminated by…” which could mean anything.



  103. discovered that children contaminated with cesium-137 that produced 50 atomic disintegrations per second (becquerels) per kilogram of body weight caused irreversible heart damage in a child.

    Here is today’s radiation readings from the sub drains at Fukushima

    Click to access subsurface_120216-e.pdf

    The highest cesium reading is 6.4 Bq * 10-1/cm3 in the sub drains under unit #2.

    So 0.64 Bq/cm3 = 694 Bq/kilogram if I got my math correct.

    So someone is citing a single study that if a child were to somehow consume enough cesium to raise the concentration of cesium in their body to around 10% of the concentration in the sub drains at the nuclear power plant it would be a health problem.

    The whole problem is further complicated by the fact that cesium has a relatively short biological half life of 110 days.

    Click to access Cesium.pdf


  104. @Eamon:
    The human body contains about 100Bq/kg of radioactivity at any given time, about 2/3 of it from K-40.

    K is chemically similar to Cs, and K-40 has a bit higher decay energy than Cs-137. Add the short biological halflife of Cs, and I’m going to go so far as to say that 50 Bq/kg Cs-137 is totally harmless.


  105. Question for Peter. I perhaps could have posted this on open thread but I wanted to make sure Peter saw it. PL: I have always been confused by claims of high wind EROEI. Usually on the order of 30 to 1 or higher. Along same lines, wind EROEI is often calculated as higher than current LWRs. Never understood this either since material requirements for wind are comparable to nuclear (material requirements per GW of actual electricity are 10-40 times higher, with the difference evened out when we factor U mining into picture). Is it that wind EROEI is calculated on the basis of a single turbine in isolation (from reliability requirements etc. so that in effect EROEI ignores what we might call wind’s “externalities)? I have by the way read Barry’s piece on nuclear’s EROEI and find it persuasive. But I still don’t get the wind claims. They sound fishy to me.
    Thank you for moving the comments. I have deleted the originals.


  106. From Martin Nicholson:

    A comprehensive study titled THE ENERGY BALANCE OF MODERN WIND TURBINES was published by the Danish wind industry in 1997.

    Hardly an unbiased source but the material is very detailed if rather dated.

    The result was that for onshore wind turbines the energy payback period was 3-4 months including scrapping the turbine at the end of its life. It seems unlikely that modern turbines would be less efficient than those of 1997. Assuming wind turbines last say 20 years and the paper is not serious flawed this would be an EROEI of 60:1.


  107. What do you think, Martin, of this number? I don’t understand how it can be higher than nuclear (and it isn’t if we follow barry’s numbers but is when you look at some studies other than Stern/Smith). and I still wonder if this metric refers to wind turbines in isolation.
    something is not computing for me. all the costs that peter details for integrating large amounts in percentage terms of wind would need to be figured into EROEI. In article below, when wind utterly fails to do the job in winter, shouldn’t the energy required to do the job wind could not be chalked up to wind’s EROEI?
    Thank you for moving your comment to the appropriate thread.


  108. Gregory Meyerson,

    Thank you for moving these comments from the “100% renewable electricity for Australia – the cost” thread.

    I have not taken much interest in EROEI discussions. To me, they are just academic discussions. I do not see them as important or relevant to the issues we really need to address. We have ample fossil fuel energy and virtually unlimited nuclear energy, so what is the issue? (And, yes, I am familiar with the “Maths” post or whatever it is called about falling off an energy cliff. But I don’t see it as a priority issue.)

    What is important to me is to try to get people to realise that the economics is what governs decisions. If we want to change from fossil fuels to a low CO2 emissions technology, then we have to focus on the costs of the alternatives to fossil fuels – alternatives that are fit for purpose. We have to get the costs down to lower than fossil fuels. Raising the cost of fossil fuels in developed countries will have the wrong effect. It will not reduce global emissions. It may actually increase them. It forces us to displace manufacturing from the developed countries which are imposing the carbon prices to countries that have low costs for fossil fuels. That does not reduce global emissions.

    We have all of Africa and much of Asia to lift out of poverty. These countries will use the least cost electricity generation available. If we raise the cost of fossil fuels in the developed countries, they will not follow our example. So it is the wrong policy.

    The correct policy, IMO, is to remove the impediments we have imposed that prevent us having low cost, low emission nuclear generation. We can remove the impediments, make it more economic and have huge benefits in a safer and cleaner environment.

    BNCers know all this. But what they do not seem to be able to take is the next step. That is to seriously look into what is causing the costs to be too high.

    Based on energy density, nuclear should be far cheaper than coal. But it isn’t. It is already 10 to 100 times safer than coal, so why can’t we allow it to be cheaper?

    Until people like BNCers are prepared to seriously face up to the economic issues, progress will be very slow.

    The government’s recent Energy White Paper has delayed consideration of nuclear for at least another four years. That aligns with what I’ve been saying for four years – i.e. nuclear has been delayed for at least another three elections.

    I hope that is a satisfactory answer to your question about ERoEI.


  109. Reposting on the simple life. Ender says:

    “If you accept that wealth and economic growth are just a function of energy then increasing energy allows more economic growth and wealth.”

    Wealth and economic growth are not JUST a function of energy. But if this is a core assumption of the Limits to Growth people, I’m glad you informed me of this. Thanks. Increasing energy does ALLOW MORE ECONOMIC GROWTH but does not dictate it. Nor does increasing energy dictate what we choose to grow and what we choose to reproduce.


  110. Peter, I’m not exactly satisfied with your response. I suspect though you are right about this EROI stuff with renewables being an academic argument.

    But the people making them don’t think so.

    It seems to me that hi capacity factor solar thermal is a fake number derived from moving the fundamental inefficiencies and unreliabilities around.

    I think high EROEI for wind is also a fake number, dependent upon not counting “externalities.” If wind is more expensive (cost as proxy for energy under certain assumptions) per real gigawatt (due to low capacity factor and other perhaps more important unreliabilities) than nuclear and potentially a lot more expensive–were nuclear’s high costs not significantly political– and wind turbines last one third as long, how can its EROEI measure anything significant?

    If wind’s CO2 avoidance costs can be a proxy for its real EROEI (I’m slightly modifying Barry’s shorthand for calculating EROEI based on LCA), then the stated EROEI of up to 60 to 1 would be fraudulent.

    (assuming inputs and externalities are powered by fossil fuels)

    Am I missing something? (always possible: my day job consists in teaching students how to critique post modernist readings of James Joyce’s The Dead).


  111. The unstated assumption in the high EROEI cited for wind power is that power supplied equates with power demanded. If the EROEI is adjusted for carbon or storage backup and/or substantial overbuilding and transmission it won’t look so good. Thus the modified formula would be
    (lifetime energy used)/(energy in)
    Curtailment or unavailability decreases the numerator, overbuilding increases the denominator.

    Even the advertising industry seems careful these days not to overstate the case for a product. TV ads for breakfast cereal include the proviso ‘as part of a balanced diet’. The TV ad for wind power should read ‘as a part of an energy mix that can always meet demand’.

    If high EROEI is all it takes then I suggest the wind industry renounces targets and per-Mwh subsidies since they already have the low carbon advantage. Here in Tasmania new wind build seems to be regarded as a bailout for the construction industry.


  112. Thanks John:

    This seems right:

    “Curtailment or unavailability decreases the numerator, overbuilding increases the denominator.”

    So high EROEI is based on input/output ratios for turbines in isolation.

    Peter: seems to me, whatever we call it, you’re doing proxy EROEI studies. High costs of CO2 avoidance is, among other things, another way of talking about ERetc.


  113. Gregory Meyerson: seems to me, whatever you call it, discussions of ERoEI are a diversion from what is important; i.e. the economics. It’s a distraction. For some reason it is near impossible to get BNCers to focus on the economics.


  114. Gregory,

    That’s gone over my head. What is the point you tried to make in that last comment?

    If we can’t focus on what is important, aren’t we just wasting time? There are continual diversions to irrelevant side issue, that people then follow and discuss for ages for no useful purpose, other than to have a chat. That is not a valuable use of bright peoples’ time. Especially, if you think this catastrophe stuff is so important.


  115. Hi Peter,
    I disagree. Barry’s Youtube video plainly explains that nuclear power is the cheapest way to generate clean baseload power. BNC often discusses the economics of nuclear power compared to renewables.

    So I guess you are complaining that BNC doesn’t obsessively focus on (economics) BNC’s approach is compatible with almost any political economy.

    From my impressions as an occasional visitor here, BNC authors and comments are more concerned with the fact that culturally, and therefore politically, nuclear power is not on the agenda. Apart from a few moments under John Howard, our parties are just too scared to go there. BNC is trying to change that. That’s our main focus, not your obsession with market forces. What good are market forces if nuclear power remains illegal in this country?

    We want to put it back on the agenda by any means possible under any party possible. That includes under a Carbon Tax regime if that should come to pass. As China demonstrates, nuclear power does not have to be installed by an ultra-right market mechanism because it is suddenly perceived to be the cheapest form of power possible. While I might prefer that were the reason, as it would certainly be a very powerful motivator, it is not the dominant reason people object to nuclear power. The perceptions of danger is, especially after Fukishima.

    I think, by and large, everyone else here just wants to inform the ‘average Aussie’ about the benefits of nuclear power, change the cultural bias against it, and get the job done — under whatever political party or political economy that happens to involve at the time.

    You have me pigeonholed as a Socialist just because I’m prepared to think of nuclear power under a Centre-wing government, but the sad irony is that I’m closer to your politics than you know. I’m just not obsessed with it. There’s a job to be done, and I’m prepared to see that happen under a variety of political scenarios. Climate change is too important to wait for the ‘perfect’ nuclear scenario when a ‘good enough’ one might arise.
    Inflammatory comments have been edited out.


  116. Before nuclear power can be put back on the agendum, a sufficiently high percentage of the public will have to be convinced that it is safe and economical and that renewable sources of power are impractical as a major source of power for large prosperous countries. To do that may require TWO changes:

    1) Preparing a better nuclear technology for implementation, i.e., one that creates less nuclear waste, is more economical, and is safer, and

    2) Making it clear to the public that only nuclear power is capable of safely providing adequately abundant, environmentally friendly, and economical power.

    Probably 2) is the most challenging. The mass media are not geared towards educating the public, especially when the subject is complex and requires considerable time and effort to understand adequately. PBS is the most likely candidate to provide the necessary education, but at present, they seem to be opposed to nuclear power. They receive substantial donations from companies in fossil-fuel related businesses for which shifting to nuclear power would be likely to reduce profits.


  117. Greg,

    No worries. Sorry, I just didn’t get it. I knew there was no venom, because none of your comments to anyone ever contain venom. You are a nice person – even if you are from the wrong side of the tracks. :)


  118. Peter,

    I can see that our thoughts on the matter are very similar.

    You’re in Oz; the problems of educating the public in the U.S. and in Oz may be somewhat different. Commercial TV in Oz doesn’t seem to be greatly different in Oz (I’ve been there a number of times), but if you have more educational channels with a large audience, it would be easier to educate the public there. I really don’t know how to educate the public here, but surely a major portion of the effort should be devoted to that. I educated myself when, through observation, I noticed that at many wind farms, the blades were stationary. It took many hours of effort, buying books, searching the Internet, etc. The public cannot be expected to be that committed to gathering information; it has to be made readily and conveniently available somehow.


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  120. Assume for argument’s sake that the EROEI cliff argument has some validity. After all it’s what distinguishes us from the Neolithic. Then if the value 8 is the shoulder of the ‘cliff’ as claimed then we can immediately throw out several pretenders to stationary energy generation.

    According to this table coal with CCS comes in at 1.5, therefore not worth the bother. PV scrapes in at 8.3 but as I’ve said that figure should be adjusted to energy on demand, not only when available. The table also gives internal rate of return and plant life.

    Nuclear isn’t all that great at 10.9 but I presume that includes decommissioning effort which I hope they did for wind and solar. I think it should include the effort needed to build its replacement facility so subtract 1.0 for each value. Then see if it’s still >8. Still I can’t see windmills at 25.0 unadjusted eventually powering cement and aluminium factories to make their replacements when there are no fossil fuels left.


  121. John N,

    Do you have any figures that compare PV with solar thermal electric? What I have in mind is the power tower system although there are other types, including ones that use parabolic mirrors and Stirling engines. All are supposed to be significantly more efficient than PV. The power tower type, by storing heat in tanks of molten salt, can be used to produce power for limited periods when the sun is not shining.

    Of course a higher efficiency in converting sunlight into usable energy is only one factor to consider; return on investment is generally more important.

    A google search brings up information on these systems, but I don’t know how reliable the sources are.

    It would also be interesting to determine the internal rate of return for solar systems used to heat buildings. Also, using solar heat to drive absorption air conditioning systems might be a reasonable thing to do.


  122. Moderator,

    I haven’t a clue what that attack is about. It seems like more paranoia on your behalf (yor words commonly directed to me). I don’t recall having posted anything that doesn’t fit your policy.
    Your comment was removed for several violations of the Comments Policy :
    Endless repetition of political biases. Ad hominem attacks on scientists.
    Speculation about motives or what ‘sort of person’ someone is.


  123. I would like to recommend a resource that has not been mentioned on BNC. This is Stanford University nuclear physicist and Nobel laureate Burton Richter’s 2010 book: Beyond Smoke and Mirrors: Climate Change and Energy in the 21st Century. The book is my current favorite introduction to both climate change and energy policy. It is very accessible to the non-technical reader, and balanced in the presentation of energy policy options. Dr. Richter calls energy-policy winners and losers as he sees them, and has a real talent for making the complex understandable. E.g., for a sample of Richter’s no-nonsense style, he was interviewed by Mark Golden for Power Engineering. Excerpt:

    If you got one wish on international policy on climate change, what would it be?

    That we would abandon the stupid notion of legally binding agreements on emissions. What are the fines for not meeting your agreements? Who levies the fine? Where does the money go? There are no sanctions, so what does “legally binding” mean?

    Also, 15 countries are responsible for more than 80 percent of the world’s emissions. Why are we trying to get a deal with 196 countries, most of which are spending all their time trying to figure out how to get the richer countries to pay them money? What we really need is to get these 15 countries, which includes some developed countries and some rapidly developing countries, to agree on a deal.


    Your book takes a middle ground between the deniers of climate change and what you call “ultra-greens,” who insist on drastic action immediately but reject nuclear power and some other low-carbon solutions. Can you talk about that middle ground?

    What I tried to say is: Here is what we know, and here is how we know it. Here’s what the uncertainties are. Here’s what I think we ought to be doing. But the reader should think about what we ought to be doing, too.

    The future is hard to predict, because it hasn’t happened yet. For some, this is an excuse for inaction. “We don’t know enough. Since we don’t know enough, we shouldn’t do anything.” Whereas there are a lot of things we can do now that don’t cost much at all and that can have a relatively large impact.

    Richter continues the pragmatic policy theme by showing why Calfornia should cancel its USD 2. billion subsidy “Million Solar Roofs” program. Instead for less than 20% of that cost, twice the CO2 emissions could be eliminated by covering the Four Corners power station to natural gas. I don’t like the lock-in effects of new investment in gas plants – but I think he is correct. In the light of what is politically feasible today, this is good policy.


  124. For those of us who need energy policy teaching aids, there is a very useful new resource Organized by theCarnegie Institution’s Ken Caldeira, climate scientist and co-founder of FICER (Fund for Innovative Climate and Energy Research). As a communications effort Near Zero has invited five domain experts to each do five short video talks – most are under five minutes. I particularly recommend Stanford’s Burton Richter on energy policy and nuclear energy, and Stanford’s Sally Benson on CCS (Carbon Capture and Sequestration).


  125. Steve D,

    I may purchase the Richter book. I see that it is available for Kindle and I am considering purchasing a Kindle.

    Interfaith Power and Light is pushing solar PV installations for homes and churches. I would really like some method to persuade them that their resistance to nuclear power may delay our phasing out of fossil fuels. It could be helpful if produces some good material. Although I’m impressed with the DVD “Thorium Remix 2011,” it’s really too long to expect a group of people to sit through it. It would be helpful to have something shorter to provide basic information and interest people in doing further study.


  126. Frank those are big questions and I’m not sure my googling would produce better answers than yours. However speaking of Google it is interesting that company withdrew from the air cooled solar tower development at Ivanpah
    saying that PV not CSP was the way of the future.

    However if you can find a plausible EROEI and IRR for solar thermal the ‘Do The Math’ website suggests an up-to-date levelised cost figure for battery backed PV. That came out at 30c per kwh for collection and storage. I guess no solar panels for aluminium smelters.

    For IRR on rooftop solar water heaters I think online calculators may be available but I’d like to see how they incorporate say winter gas or electric boost. I understand solar absorption chillers for houses are the size of a bus. My old home town of Adelaide is proud that 2% of houses have a kw or so of PV but I’d say 80% of houses have a 2kw aircon powered by the fossil grid. I recommend cellars; mine was 18C when the surface was 37C recently but that was dug in a well drained spot with no pipes or cables.


  127. Steve Darden,

    Richter continues the pragmatic policy theme by showing why Calfornia should cancel its USD 2. billion subsidy “Million Solar Roofs” program. Instead for less than 20% of that cost, twice the CO2 emissions could be eliminated by covering the Four Corners power station to natural gas

    Unfortunately, the 4 corners power station is not within the boarders of the State of California.It is in New Mexico….to make matters more difficult it sits on Native American land. Native American lands are for the most part regulated by Native Americans.

    Only 1% of the electricity generated with the borders of California comes from coal.

    Here is today’s California demand forecast…a low of 19GW to a high of 26GW.

    Come next summer…the high will end up being 50- 60GW.

    A substantial portion of California’s generating capacity will only be used during daylight hours in the summer.

    Pretty much any generating capacity that is being used as a ‘seasonal peaker’ will end up being expensive. It costs the same to build and maintain whether it is being used 24 hours a day 465 days a year or 8 hours a day 90 days a year.

    Solar PV has a good correlation with California’s demand curve. It works best during the day in the summer when their loads peak. As such as a ‘California’ policy of ‘a million rooftop solar panels’ is not an ‘insanely unreasonable’ policy.

    From a national perspective I would agree with Richter that subsidizing Californian Solar Panels isn’t the most cost effective answer.


  128. CAISO excludes all the municipal, regional irrigation and Federal generation so usually one has to add 25% to the total you see on their outlook page.

    19GWs is the lowest I’ve seen in 20 years. Usually it hovers slightly above 20GWs in winter.

    The City of San Francisco has a minimum evening low of about 30MWs. During the day it’s close to 600MWs. This presents major challenges to the ISO and why minimum load capability/availability is so highly valued.

    For the State itself, having a low of 20GWs approx at 4am and having the load at 40GWs plus at noon is also a major headache. This will be a major technological hurdle for those that advocate, as most of us do on this list, a nuclear economy where nuclear, like in France, can provide the overwhelming majority of all electrical generation.

    Paying for load changing nukes is certainly on the agenda. We need to get away from the belief that nukes have to run flat out 100% of availability to make money. We need nukes that can drop down to at least half their maximum generation or less and not suffer financially for doing so.

    This involves newer, better load changing capabilities, lower and stable min. load reactors, etc.


  129. Shirley Birney (pejorative deleted) EN, I wouldn’t descend to her level. I debunked the whole I-129 thing that she raised on an earlier Conversation thread (as even another nuclear skeptic on the thread acknowledged), but it’s obviously been water off a duck’s back to her. Classic climate denialist M.O. – ignore or selectively forget the rebuttal of your point, so you can raise it all over again in another forum a little while later.


  130. David W.,

    According to what I’ve read about the LFTR, it is very well suited for load following so if we were to develop the LFTR to be ready for production and installation, it could go a long way towards solving the load following problem. For PWRs, it is a more serious problem because using the control rods to modulate the power results in uneven “burning” of the fuel thereby reducing fuel usage efficiency which is already lousy for PWRs with our current fuel cycle.

    But, the reactor is not not the only limitation for load following. Turbines, generators, and transformers also have to do load following, which they can do, but the resulting thermal cycling shortens their lives; that’s especially true for turbines. The problem is thermal stress. The problem is especially bad if they have to change power repeatedly and quickly; very gradual power changes are less of a problem. Presumably changes in design could, at least to some degree, reduce the damaging effects of load following.

    Considering the above, the fact that running at partial load reduces the return on the investment is not the only problem caused by load following; reduced equipment life is also a problem, but I don’t know how serious it is. I’m not an engineer; my degree is in business administration, but I’ve had the good fortune to have a good background in physics.


  131. If this is not overly political I think it is interesting to speculate which Australian States might consider NP;

    Queensland seems set to change government next month with combustible resource billionaire Clive Palmer rubbing his hands with glee. The premier-in-waiting is an engineer so might be troubled by climate change . After once-in-100-year floods most years perhaps public opinion could change but not for a decade.
    New South Wales Premier O’Farrell has cut solar tariffs and has made wind farm siting more difficult. He is encouraging uranium exploration. Note NSW needs 2-4 GW of new baseload plant.
    Victoria will be hard hit by carbon tax. The Feds will throw money at the two aluminum smelters but when they close eventually that will free up several hundred MW of brown coal power. The Vics might dine out on that emissions cut for a few years. The need for costly desal in dry years will hurt.
    South Australia might go nuke if someone puts up most of the money. Uranium is their biggest potential new money spinner.
    Northern Territory saved by the bell with Icthys gas. Seem OK with a low level radioactive waste dump. SA yellowcake will shipped out of Darwin harbour.
    Western Australia Too much gas but they have killed a new coal mine.
    Tasmania Seemingly a basket case but already low emissions unless metals industries want to expand. Nothing will happen.

    Logic suggests SA should go first followed by Vic however NSW seems less hesitant. A change of Federal govt would see the carbon tax repealed but presumably would allow NPP to be built.


  132. Thanks Harry,
    That SEDS | State Energy Data System that you linked is quite a resource – thanks for that.
    I take your point about plants located inside CA state borders. CA politicians like to talk about that:-) I don’t think that Richter had in mind accounting for abatement cost with an artificial state boundary slice of the atmosphere. I thought his point was “tackle the big problems first (coal); second, even America doesn’t have infinite money to waste on feel-good”. So replacing coal with gas is a simple example of that which is easily understood by the average citizen (who will get instantly lost in discussions of true cost of unreliables).

    Solar PV has a good correlation with California’s demand curve.

    True, that increases the PV capacity credit. But PV still costs the taxpayers much more than alternatives, and is relatively dangerous in terms of injuries and fatalities. It is major construction activity compared to the high density power options. From what I read California taxpayers are in a world of hurt.


  133. David W.,

    What is your pick for the most economical NPP design that can load follow from 50% to 100%?

    Is there a layman-level source that shows the required response-rate profile? E.g., 5% of peak capacity can adjust power at a fast rate, 20% medium rate, 25% slow rate?


  134. Hi John N,
    You said ” Note NSW needs 2-4 GW of new baseload plant. Victoria will be hard hit by carbon tax”. Can I just ask why we need it and how that need shows itself? Have we had rolling brownouts somewhere, or is it to meet expected population growth, etc?


  135. Hi Frank,
    if I understand what you are saying about ‘load following’ LFTR’s it seems the benefits of load following might actually be massively reduced by shortened plant life?

    I wonder how those costs might be reduced by Car-to-grid Electric Vehicle schemes, hydro-batteries, and other combinations of storage to then dump back into the grid during peak demand? I wonder whether the economics would work out in favour of load following the LFTR’s or ‘storage’ out on the Nullarbor plains hydro-dam-battery, for example?


  136. EN I think the plan is to replace both Bayswater and Mt Piper with lower emitting plants
    with the nominated methods being either supercritical coal or combined cycle gas, the gas presumably being CSG. Maybe in the Big Australia they’ll operate new and old side by side.

    I wonder however if the planners see increasingly tougher carbon pricing, local fuel depletion and public opinion as permanent obstacles. Few people seem convinced we’ll suddenly cut back on CO2 from July 1. I can’t read B O’F’s mind but he seems to be making pronuclear noises without saying so directly. A closet nukularist. Come out Barry.


  137. Eclipse Now,

    I didn’t say that load following would MASSIVELY reduce plant life. I have read that it would reduce plant life, but I don’t know by how much. Changing the load very gradually helps. Changing the load rapidly is much more destructive. I think that a google search would bring up some information on that.

    There has been publicity about electric car to grid schemes. Of course for that to work, we’d need a very large number of electric cars. I don’t doubt that if there were enough electric cars it could be made to work, but it would, at least to a certain degree, shorten the battery life. Deep cycling batteries is especially destructive. It would help to have the numbers, but unfortunately I don’t.

    Hydro storage works fine for load leveling but unfortunately, it is highly dependent on geography. There have been all sorts of schemes suggested, including compressed air storage by compressing air into underground cavities or caves when there is excess power and using the compressed air to generate power when it is in short supply. Compressed air storage tends to be inefficient and whether such a scheme would ever be economically practical I don’t know.


  138. Harry,
    I’ve located a bit more data on California’s dirty coal legacy. I knew there was something goofy about the 1.2% coal-fired electricity that we discussed up thread – because California has a reputation for exporting their pollution to neighboring states or to other countries. In brief, the actual coal proportion for 2004 was about 20%.

    In 2004, coal plants located in the interior West supplied an estimated 20% of all electricity in California, which is twice the share that comes from renewables. Large quantities of air pollution are discharged from these coal plants.

    I just wrote California’s dirty coal legacy to show the key graph showing how CA hides the pollution out of state. Or if you don’t mind downloading the whole 56-page PDF, go direct to the Environmental Defense Fund report.


  139. John Newlands @ 19 February 2012 at 9:30 AM – With regards to the Victorian situation (the only one I am really familiar with) the outcomes I predict will be:

    – The Alcoa Point Henry aluminium smelter will shut down soon but the Portland one will not. This is a business rationalisation, as Pt. Henry is a bit older than the Portland facility. This will free up some capacity on the grid, but the smelters are baseload consumers so the result will be a peakier grid. That’s not good for coal but is good news for OCGT power station owners.

    – The current plan is to replace Latrobe Valley brown coal with Latrobe Valley gas power plants. Hazelwood will probably get partially decommissioned in the very short term and fully replaced within 5 years, Yallourn W will need replacement at the start of the next decade. Loy Yang A & B will be around for quite some time, to around the 2030s-2040s.
    TRUenergy is going to build a 1GW CCGT at Yallourn some time soon, it’s just waiting for the political situation to sort itself out first.

    – Victoria has 20 years worth of gas reserves at current consumption rates. After that, we’ll need interstate imports. This means that in 20 years we’ll either be back to brown coal or have sky-rocketing power rates because of our imported gas consumption. 20 years is a decent period of time to ramp up a domestic nuclear power program.

    The SECV did studies into nuclear power at various stages of its existence. All of them concluded that brown coal was much cheaper. The two studies I know of were a proposal for a 600 MWe one at French Island (politically untenable now) in the 1960s and a 2 GW AGR facility at Portland in the 1980s. Some people I’ve talked to about these studies (ex-SECV) informed me that the studies were commissioned to justify building more brown coal power stations using the SECV’s well developed engineering expertise in this area.


  140. Anyone know what Shirley Birney is raving about over on “The Conversation”?


    “Eclipse Now, please rest assured that I do not support anyone who supports an industry that is deliberately and wilfully burning a hole in the ozone layer. Be assured that I do not support an industry that “already had some 150 significant radiation events at nuclear power stations throughout the world before the Chernobyl fire” (Mikhail Gorbechev). Be assured that I do not support an industry which has increased the natural background level of I-129, forty fold by dumping their radioactive junk into the Earth’s hydrosphere. (1-129 half-life,15.7m yrs) But hey, with your expertise in all things nuclear and for the “sake of your kids,” what can you tell us about rusty valves v. public safety? (See infographics below).


  141. Dendrite my understanding is Hazelwood won’t be retired til 2031. The Mortlake hybrid brown coal gasifier-natural gas plant said it was looking at $7 per GJ for gas. That seems too expensive to start a 1 GW combined cycle plant elsewhere although the Feds may put up most of the money. That is fuel cost high, carbon tax medium, cost of capital very low.

    Remember Otway Basin gas goes to Adelaide as backup for SA reserves. An underwater gas pipe (used by seals to navigate) goes from Longford to Tasmania then overland to Hobart. Basically all of south eastern Australia will experience the gas shortage at the same time well inside 20 years I think. I understand combined cycle plant can last 40 years.

    What I think is a possibility if nuclear is forbidden if the Feds compel eastern Queensland to send coal seam gas via SA to Vic and Tas. If the Japanese are happily paying $10 per GJ for LNG that will be the new gas price. Brown coal at $6/t for 10 GJ is 60c per GJ. I doubt anything will change until it is well into crisis.


  142. Hi Mark D,
    so is I129 not a big deal? Is it one of those things where it *is* toxic, but there’s so little produced at such low concentrations, it’s not a real issue? That’s like the uranium in seawater, yet we all still go on seaside holidays and swim at the beach?


  143. John @ 19 February 2012 at 4:44 PM – my understanding (from industry knowledge) is that the Federal Government’s high polluting coal decommissioning fund will be targeted towards two power stations with a total nameplate capacity of 2000 MW. Those stations are most likely going to be Thomas Playford B and Hazelwood. Yallourn W is safe for the moment because it was built slightly after Hazelwood and is a little more efficient. Northern is safe because SA needs that power still.

    The Hazelwood retirement by 2031 plan is the absolute final date to decommission the plant – that’s when the coal in the current mine reservation runs out. The plant will be gone long before that.

    As for the Mortlake “hybrid brown coal gasifier-natural gas plant”, I think you’re confusing Mortlake for Morwell. Morwell is in the Latrobe Valley and where the HRL IDCG (with CCS capability) plant was going to be built. I refer to it in the past tense because the lack of finance for it and threats of legal action by activist lawyers have effectively killed off the project.
    Mortlake is in Western Victoria and is where a 500 MW OCGT (convertible to CCGT if needed) has just been built.

    As for the gas, we already have a decent gas transmission network so we could begin importing Queensland (and perhaps NSW) coal seam gas right now if need be. The conflict over exporting gas or keeping it in the country for domestic use is going to be huge soon – WA is the first battle ground (it’s already begun), Queensland and the rest of the eastern seaboard is next.


  144. Dendrite yes I should have googled Mortlake vs Morwell. My understanding is that a decision on the fund for 2000 MW of gas power should be made before July i.e.within weeks. If I recall the proposal for Playford was to make it a solar steam boost for the newer Northern coal plant next door.

    There will be drama if they build a large gas fired power station in the Latrobe Valley. This link suggests gas plant has an average lifespan of 32 years. From the get go critics will argue they had too much financial help compared to other projects. Then I suggest the local gas supply will look parlous within a decade as the plant itself will help deplete reserves by a couple of million tonnes (?) a year.

    The route to get Qld gas to Vic would be Ballera-Moomba-Adelaide-Pt Campbell which might require some pipe duplication and new compressor stations. My impression is that Qld has plans for every ounce of CSG with the Gladstone Harbour developments. They won’t like being forced to share. I wonder if Timor Sea (Icthys) gas could get to Adelaide via Darwin-Alice Springs and a new section of pipe. Then there’s LNG boats which wastes a lot of energy compared to pipelines.

    I think it’s remarkable that Rex Connor predicted this back in the 70s with his proposal for a NW-SE pipeline. Admittedly a big new gas plant for Victoria will cost less and build faster than NPP but will guarantee future resentment and conflict.


  145. Just had a heated discussion about carbon tax with the garbage collector who raises an interesting point.. what happens to all the Gillard instigated projects if there is a change of Federal government next year? Suppose plans are well advanced for a large, heavily subsidised gas fired power station in Victoria. The alternative government could say there is nothing wrong with brown coal (1.4kg CO2 per kwhe) and the gas plant is therefore unnecessary.

    Possibly the same goes for climate change research. The new Federal government could decree that climate change is not human influenced. The Bureau of Meteorology might have to modify their climate change web page and CSIRO researchers find other jobs. Even department names would have to change with the CC in DCCEE being removed.
    On the other hand an alternative Federal government might allow nuclear power.


  146. Steve Darden, on 19 February 2012 at 3:19 PM said:

    I’ve located a bit more data on California’s dirty coal legacy. I knew there was something goofy about the 1.2% coal-fired electricity that we discussed up thread – because California has a reputation for exporting their pollution to neighboring states or to other countries.

    California doesn’t just import coal power, they also import wind, hydro and nuclear power. Californian Utilities own a substantial share of the Palo Verde Nuclear Plant in Arizona. A significant portion of the Wind Turbines in the Pacific Northwest are contracted to Californian Utilities as well.

    If I look at the Documents provided by the Western Electric Coordinating Council

    Click to access 2011%20Power%20Supply%20Assessment.pdf

    Southern California is projected to have 10GW winter capacity surplus in the year 2020.and more then a 6 GW Summer deficit after accounting for imports.(Chart on page 4)

    Converting the Four Corners coal fired plant to gas isn’t going to address the problem that without additional summer generating capacity there will be rolling blackouts in Southern California beginning as early as 2016.

    California needs to build 6 GW of summer peaking capacity no matter what. Wind doesn’t reliably blow during heat waves, nuclear power plants are too expensive to be used as ‘summer peakers’.

    That pretty much narrows the choices down to more natural gas plants or rooftop solar panels.

    The goal of the ‘California Solar Initiative’ is to add 2 GW of solar generating capacity by 2016.


  147. A couple of interesting articles from RenewEconomy, which I have only just discovered.

    Both from Germany; one an interview with a politician talking about his vision for an all renewable grid by 2030, and the form that might take
    I broadly agree with the predictions; the old dichotomy of ‘baseload’ and ‘peaking’ will fall by the wayside, replaced with ‘despatchable’ and ‘inflexible’. Something like that. Smart grids too.

    The other, which you guys will *love* talks about how French nuclear plants had restricted supply, and glorious France was on electricity rationing, because the nukes couldn’t keep up during a cold-snap. German solar power to the rescue!


  148. Must have had warm nights in France so they didn’t need the German solar panels so much. €130bn well spent by the Germans. I guess it wasn’t the cold snap some other reason they restarted the oil fired power plant in Austria,1518,809439,00.html

    The credible element to this story is that gas heating is best for cold snaps. Maybe every house should have an LPG or wood pellet stove on standby.


  149. @evcricket

    Debating points aside, I seriously doubt that German PV kept the lights on in France during unusually high seasonal demand. Demand would almost certainly peak in the early evening in winter as is typical for Europe. Not much output from PV then. Your second link also mentions the start up of German coal fired plants to meet the demand peak, which actually may well have more to do with things.

    More importantly, Europe’s electricity industry association – Eurelectric – has recently sounded some quite load warning notes about grid stability issues in Northern Europe caused by the increasing amount of intermittent renewables. According to the Guardian report in the last year serious incidents increased in number from 300 to 1000 in northern Europe. In November, German wind almost put the lights out in the Czech Republic. Eurelectric suggests that at best, grid inadequacies will slow the deployment of renewables and at worst cause blackouts with the accompanying backlash in public opinion.

    Of course, this does not mean such problems are ultimately insoluble. But the questions are if, when, how soon and what will it all cost. The climate problem has a pretty tight timeline and carefully examining all the all systems issues relating to electricity supply would seem prudent.


  150. evcricket, I read the article about France importing electricity from Germany during a cold snap. Here is a quote from that article, “This meant that when demand reached a new all-time high last Wednesday, France was forced to import from Germany at full capacity in nearly all hourly blocks, according to grid operator data.

    At the same time, Germany, which houses 37 per cent of the world’s solar plants, relied on its growing renewable energy output and resurrected idled coal-fired plants to cover a rise in electricity demand, says Reuters.”

    I am wondering how much of the French imported electricity came from solar and how much came from idled coal-fired plants. Of course, I am thinking most came from coal which would disprove you original point.


  151. Quote: “The credible element to this story is that gas heating is best for cold snaps. Maybe every house should have an LPG or wood pellet stove on standby.”

    Does that mean that electric heat is common there? If so, why?

    Electric heat is extremely inefficient. Of course electric heaters themselves are about 100% efficient, but power plants are not. So, from the overall efficiency standpoint, burning fuel for heat is more efficient. For that reason, it would seem puzzling to me if electric heat were common there.


  152. Yep Frank, the French use loads of electric heating:
    “France, whose electricity demand has been reaching new record highs nearly every winter, relies heavily on electric heating developed by successive governments to meet supplies generated by the country’s 58 nuclear power reactors. According to Reuters, 30 percent of homes use electric heaters and as many as 65 percent of new homes are heated using electricity.”

    From the second article I linked to. I would wager this is a far larger part of the problem than the type of supply.


  153. It depends how you look at it evcricket – the alternative to electricity for heating is gas, which is not such a great idea from various perspectives (general and European). It all comes down to the fundamental issue of how much one overbuilds a generation system (and what one does with the excess power in low-demand periods), and it is a more complex issue in a place like Europe with lots of scope for energy trading, compared to the NEM in Australia, which is isolated.


  154. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say ‘AN alternative to electricity for heating is gas’. There are others. Many in fact, as you are no doubt aware.

    And I’m not sure I see the difference between the NEM and Europe. Much trading goes on in Australia, and each state functions much as a country in Europe would, limited by the capacity of the interconnects and proximity of supply.

    Anyway, this story is really little more than an interesting quirk. The Germans have made their decision (to go renewable) and it will be an interesting test case. I will watch this with interest, and consider it somewhat damning if Germany were to achieve 100% renewables before Australia, which must be close to the best place in the world for renewables.


  155. Evercricket,

    When nuclear power is able to provide all the electricity, then electric heating may make sense. But when using electricity for heat results in burning fossil fuel to generate it, then, at least from the environmental sense, it is not a good idea.

    Regarding Deutschland, I strongly suspect that it will eventuall demonstrate that renewables are not practical as the major source of power for most large prosperous countries. Because of the large uninhabitable areas in Oz, renewables might actually work there, although probably at a very high price.


  156. There are 2 ways to use electricity for spaceheating. One , where you use standard barheaters (you know , glowing red) and as such , consuming electricity in large amounts. The other is using heatpumps, much more efficient. Would be interesting to know what is used in France predominantly. Anyone?


  157. Heat pumps use a fraction as much power as resistance heating, especially if they are ground source heat pumps. In fact, heat pumps, even considering the inefficiencies of electric power generation, can can use less fossil fuel than gas heat.

    For my new house, I considered a geothermal heat pump, but because it would have been so expensive, it could not have been justified. As a crude measure, if the interest on the investment exceeds the savings, probably the investment should not be made.


  158. Speaking of heatpumps… my favourite use of heat-pumps and passive solar to negate energy use has got to be the marvellous, completely hippie and eccentric earthship.

    The principles are sound, and becoming more mainstream, and less ‘hippie’, everyday. There was even a borough in England looking at building medium density council housing something like this.


  159. Ev, did you see my comments at those RenewEconomy sites? Regarding the first, a near-contemporaneous Reuters story ( makes it clear that the only reason Germany was able to export to France at the height of the cold snap is that the former relies far more on (increasingly Russian) gas for direct heating, whereas in the latter, heating is electricity-dominated (as you correctly indicated @11:27am).

    On the second, the suspicions of others above are also correct – the French demand peak occurred at 7 pm (, so the contribution of German PV to meeting that was zero.


  160. Steve Darden

    Thank you for recommending Burton Richter’s “Beyond Smoke and Mirrors.”

    I read the Kindle version and have to say that it becomes irritating to use this format when the Figures and Tables are several pages away from the relevant text. Notwithstanding, I believe that the book is one I would recommend to newcomers to the subject, not least because it was written by an established authority who has been instrumental in advising US politicians on energy matters. I learned more from reading MacKay’s “Sustainable Energy without the Hot Air”, but this may, in part, have been caused by the fact that I read the latter at a far earlier stage of my education such that Richter’s views seemed less educational.

    My one criticism is that most experts, Richter among them, appear to insist that global warming can only be addressed by multiple solutions, including non hydro renewables. Despite his praise for nuclear and criticism of renewables, it seems perverse that Richter refuses to admit that the former begins to look more and more like a silver bullet solution.


  161. Douglas,

    I am considering buying a Kindle, but am concerned about the problem you experienced when reading a book containing figures and tables.

    Unless it is possible to view charts and graphs with the associated text, the Kindle has very serious limitations for people who are interested in science, technology, economics, etc., since charts and graphs are important for those subjects.

    Do you know of a work-around for that problem? Is it conveniently possible to transfer the charts and graphs to a computer to expedite viewing them together with the related text?

    I hope that this post is not considered to be off-topic.


  162. Is there an agenda behind today’s announcement by two metals industries? OneSteel seems to be losing interest in making Australian steel and may change its name
    Alcoa wants to take key staff from Point Henry and get them to start up a new gas powered aluminium smelter in Saudi Arabia

    I suggest the common thread is that big capital has decided that Australia is no longer the place to do carbon intensive business. However I suggest there should be a catch in that the goods now made overseas be carbon taxed on re-importation. According to Wiki a tonne of steel co-generates 1.7t of CO2 and a tonne of aluminium requires 15 Mwh of electricity. Other countries should not get a free ride on Australia’s carbon restraint. I think the carbon tax architects blundered with the notion of partial carbon tax exemption for export metals industries as it is demonstrably inadequate.

    I don’t think we should go it alone on carbon tariffs but form an alliance with the EU, Scandinavia, California and some others. Some entities who have argued for carbon tariffs include France, Bluescope Steel, the US Energy Secretary and a Nobel economics laureate. This issue is certain to blow up within a year or two.


  163. Douglas Wise

    (…) I learned more from reading MacKay’s “Sustainable Energy without the Hot Air”

    Don’t you wish you had written that book? Personally, I think that MacKay and Richter are complementary in several ways. MacKay’s strategy led him to exclude cost information, and to largely exclude any policy-related discussion. Richter wrote very much in the context of evaluating policy options, where cost is central.
    I read MacKay in the same order as you did – it’s a good sequence, at least for the wonkish community. However, most of the people we meet are not wonks and are not willing to invest the learning time – so far, very few are game to tackle MacKay. For them I think I have a better chance of moving the needle by recommending Richter. Another way to use Richter’s knowhow is via the CCST report California’s Energy Future: The View to 2050. I was surprised to see such a well researched result come out of a California group. It is really quite excellent, and Richter chaired the nuclear section (that sub-report alone is useful).
    If they then have questions (and if they are fairly numerate) we can suggest MacKay. Or alternatively that they experiment with MacKay’s DECC 2050 pathways analysis. That is less formidable than the book. BTW, the Excel version of the calculator has been upgraded to include costs, but not the web tool.
    For the folks who are really drinking the 70% renewables Kool Aid, I’ve also recommended the UK Climate Change Committee renewables report. That has provoked some exclamatory feedback.

    My one criticism is that most experts, Richter among them, appear to insist that global warming can only be addressed by multiple solutions, including non hydro renewables. Despite his praise for nuclear and criticism of renewables, it seems perverse that Richter refuses to admit that the former begins to look more and more like a silver bullet solution.

    Frustrating, isn’t it? My speculation is that Richter’s experience in the political arena teaches that politicians’ ears close up to an all-nuclear scenario. Even if we had the King-seat we would likely reach for the low-cost renewable options, like onshore wind that makes sense given the geography and the cost of grid realities. Wasting public resources, like Germany has on solar PV, leaves us less flexibility to make real cuts in coal, transport, buildings, etc. But if I can offset coal with CCS, onshore wind, efficiency I will go for progress-at-a-price.
    Which reminds me, the Oxford Physics TrillionthTonne is another useful set of education resources. I’ve been hoping that Barry would comment on how useful that framing is. I find it compelling, and don’t see any major problem with the way they derive the 50% chance of 2° C or less. I find the 10^12 tonne carbon limit illuminates a lot better than X% reductions in Y% “except for blah, blah, ….”
    Check out Ken Caldera’s videos, see if you think it is a useful resource.


  164. I am considering buying a Kindle, but am concerned about the problem you experienced when reading a book containing figures and tables.

    Strictly FWIW, I’ve been reading Kindle books for ~16 months on iPad 1 and iPad 2 and using the Kindle software on various Macs. I’ve not been disturbed by the presentation of graphics, tables, etc. I’ve little experience using a Kindle-brand device, so can’t directly address what those limitation may be. The screen is smaller, and not color.

    I don’t wish to read paper any more at all. The iPad is so much more convenient and efficient. Hopefully the Kindles are too.
    Do you have a friend who has say a Kindle Touch that you can try out?


  165. To John Newlands: Unfortunately, those who can sign up for the alliance to ensure imports are taxed to make them carbon-neutral are not the biggest importers. You are right, with lots of carbon-emitting manufacturing processes shifting to the developing countries (what is now happening with Australian metal producers), it is going to be quite a challenge for the rest of the world in trying to make them reduce CO2 emission. It seems that this process of manufacturers in OECD countries starting to suffer from CO2 taxes and, as a consequence, moving operations to countries without the tax is going to escalate over time.


  166. RG the increasing wave of resentment will reach a crisis point at some time. In my opinion a country the size of Australia should have at least one viable steel smelter and one aluminium smelter in case of some kind of international tension. I also think we should have a uranium enrichment plant once we have a Gen3 nuke up and running.

    While I agree with imposed carbon pricing I think the planners could have predicted the manufacturing exodus and the carbon offsets scam we are yet to experience. By adding to the landed price a carbon tariff hurts both the greenhouse rogue country and the importer. Therefore it shares the pain. China has few second thoughts about export restrictions (rare earths for example) so will understand if we slap a carbon tariff on their steel. That would be 1.7 X $23 = $39 per tonne. Maybe that will help OneSteel and Bluescope to hang on locally.

    The EU airline tax is just the warmup exercise. This link is brand new


  167. Re: Kindle, I have a device (the large screen version) and use it for white-paper novels (it’s very nice for this – easy on the eyes, battery lasts for ages), but find it is not good for anything else (PDFs, images, etc.) and of course can’t be seen in colour. For these, the iPad 2 excels. Overall, if I had a choice of only one device, I would choose the iPad first, second and third. It is brilliant, and even works very nicely for white-paper novels via the Kindle app. So both are good value for money, but really, the iPad rules unless you need your reader to last more than 8-10 hours without a charge (and are on a budget).


  168. Steve & Barry,

    Thank you for your information.

    This evening, I bought a Kindle 3G, but I’m still learning how to use it. As near as I can tell, it should be possible to read electronic books on either a PC or a Mac. For ordinary material, the Kindle is handier because one can read while relaxed in a chair, on a recliner, or even in bed (which I often do). I believe that I will be able to find a way to display chars, tables, and graphs on the computer.


  169. And… she’s back with more claims about I-129. Anyone help out here? I’m no scientist, let alone oncologist, so how do I know how deadly I-129 is, and what quantities can kill, or significantly raise changes of ill health and, da da da doom!, MUTATION!

    Her (rather hysterical) claims follow.

    To add your say go to


    Shirley Birney commented:

    “Eclipse Now, beta emitters are biologically damaging. Further,beta particles are fast-moving electrons that are much smaller than alpha particles and can penetrate up to 1 to 2 centimetres of water or human flesh. Your trivialisation of Iodine-129 is either a result of ignorance or deliberate deception. The USEPA states that “Iodine-129, if released into the environment, its water solubility allows its uptake by humans, where it concentrates in the thyroid gland.” Further, I-129 contamination is a US priority listing due to its permanent pollution of the biosphere due to its long half life. Not only must we endure climate denialists, and creation scientists, – we must now endure “radiation denialists” including Alex Cannara spinning unscientific rubbish about radiation hormesis. Role up folks and get your hormesis fix from a nuclear reactor. “The theory of “adaptive response”, (not to be confused with hormesis) shows that a low dose can reduce the effect of a higher dose when administered after a short time delay. And it is that theory that is based on substantial evidence.” ( L. De Saint-Georges – Secretary treasurer of European Radiation Research Society – Senior scientist) Eclipse Now, now that you’ve already dug yourself a big hole, stop digging: 1) Nuclear industry discharges I-129 and contaminates forage, soils and deer thyroids – all now several orders of magnitude of background levels: 2) “The contribution of marine discharges and transport by water mass of I-129 from reprocessing plants to the Baltic Sea can be estimated to be >30% in the south Baltic and >93% in the Kattegat.” 3) “Dounreay pleaded guilty at Wick sheriff court to a “failure to prevent fragments of irradiated nuclear fuel being discharged into the environment”. The plant’s operator at the time, the UK Atomic Energy Authority, was fined £140,000, somewhat less than the previous year’s fine of £2 million. 4) 09/2011: “Scottish nuclear fuel leak ‘will never be completely cleaned up. The Scottish Environment Protection Agency has abandoned its aim to remove all traces of contamination from the north coast seabed.” And while you assure readers that commercial waste gobbling Gen.IV reactors are imminent, the dirty diggers are getting at the uranium. Hey that’s some contradiction Eclipse. And just last week, Japan’s nuclear safety chief, Haruki Madarame said the country’s regulations were fundamentally flawed and the nuclear industry was shaped by freewheeling power companies, toothless regulators and a government more interested in promoting nuclear energy than in safeguarding the health of its citizens. And we’ve know about France’s brazen assault on humanity’s collective health and well-being for years: “The two enemies of the people are criminals and government, so let us tie the second down with the chains of the Constitution so the second will not become the legalized version of the first.” -Thomas Jefferson And no worries Eclipse that you dodged my question in my previous post on rusty valves v. public safety. It’s less grist for an ecocidal nuclear mill that never flinches from an opportunity to bob, weave and scheme while its sticky fingers are in the taxpayers’ money pots. “


  170. Smelting Iron

    As we all know, the usual way to smelt iron from iron ore is carbon intensive. I don’t know whether it is ever smelted using using hydrogen instead of coke, but it should work. However, doing so would require plentiful inexpensive energy to electrolyze water to get the H2. A side benefit would be the production of O2.

    Whether the H2 would combine in some undesirable way with the Fe I don’t know, but if it did, presumably there would be a work-around. Normally Fe is converted to steel by burning out the carbon from it. But if the Fe were smelted using H2 instead of C, presumably that step would not be necessary.

    In any case, there should be ways to smelt Fe without emitting CO2.


  171. @EclipseNow

    There is an ANL fact sheet on health risk from various radioisotopes that is quite useful. I don’t have time to go through the number now, but it does say this about I-129:

    The very long half-life of iodine-129 (with its subsequent low specific activity) combined with the low energy of its beta particle and minimal gamma radiation limit the hazards of this radionuclide.

    Click to access ANL_ContaminantFactSheets_All_070418.pdf

    The radiological risk coefficients for the various radioistopes can be compared against each other, but keep in mind that these are defined in terms of activity not mass of the amount of each isotope ingested or inhaled.

    The bottom line is that anybody claiming that I-129 presents any environmental hazard at all, needs to show that there is a plausible scenario where there would be sufficient uptake to present a tangible risk. Just waffling on about several times natural background says nothing about risk.


  172. Barry, I liked that article. And it looks as though my rather elementary knowledge of chemistry was correct.

    Your article contained information indicating that blast furnaces using coke are much more efficient than they were when Andrew Carnegie was a steel magnate. His biography, by Wall, which I have almost finished, indicates that even while Carnegie was a steel magnate, blast furnaces had significantly increased in efficiency. From you article, it appears that a conventional blast furnace could easily be converted to using H2 instead of coke. All that is needed is an economical source of H2, which perhaps nuclear power will eventually provide.

    The article didn’t say whether using H2, because it doesn’t add carbon to the Fe, would eliminate the need to convert the output of the blast furnace from iron to steel, but it seems to me that it might.


  173. @EclipseNow,

    Quick back of envelope calculation (which definitely should be checked).

    From the ANL risk coefficients, ingesting 1 gram of I-129 would incur a cancer mortality risk of about 0.006. ie 6 in 1000.

    The highest measured I-129/I-127 ratios appear to be about 10e-6. At such concentrations, you would need to eat a tonne of iodine to incur a 6 in 1000 risk of cancer mortality.

    Please check the figures before using.


  174. Barry,

    Congratulations on your Breakthrough selection. The 2012 Breakthrough Dialogue should be able to power the resort on pure brainwave energy – on a quick scan I see eight Senior Fellows listed that have already earned my respect (Brook, Long, Richter, Wigley, Kareiva, Rayner, Sarewitz, Pielke). By association the other Fellows must be of similar quality.

    Personally I hope the conference results include some highly effective “policy marketing” ideas.


  175. It is my understanding that the millisievert includes both a quality factor (higher quality factor for alphas–if emitted internally– and neutrons) and tissue sensitivity of particular radioisotopes. so the key issue is dose. what’s the dose in miilisieverts or millirem?

    I’ll discuss with radiologist pal and email you.


  176. The discussion on hydrogen for steel making made me wonder what happened to the HIsmelt process that can use non-coking coal. Surprise surprise it is relocating to a country that doesn’t have carbon tax

    The big end of town seems to think ‘out of sight out of mind’ is the way to go with carbon emissions. While Australia is still scratching itself in disbelief wondering why the metals industry is up and leaving the Europeans saw it coming Airlines and tar sands proxy for bigger climate battles.

    Of course if we didn’t burn coal in power stations we could keep using some for making steel or even jet fuel.


  177. I’m enjoying RenewEconomy; Giles Parkinson’s latest media venture.

    Interesting article today on how much coal corps are investing in R&D as a % of revenue

    It is a small number. The comparison with Kodak is interesting.

    They quote some numbers for renewables and not surprisingly the % of R&D is relatively high.

    Anyone seen similar for nukes? My suspicion is that plant operators, market participants might not be doing much research, but Governments and related agencies are? Then again, I bet Westinghouse and GE are pouring some coin into it.


  178. John Newlands, my understanding is that not much thermal coal is suitable for coking?

    Also, this “While Australia is still scratching itself in disbelief wondering why the metals industry” seems a tiny bit disengenuous. The companies in question (Al smelters) said themselves that the reason they are closing is NOT due to carbon pricing, but more over due to a high dollar and high wage prices. Perhaps another victim of the mining boom?


  179. Ev, indeed the bifurcation between RenewEconomy and Climate Spectator (which Giles Parkinson edited until a couple of months ago) has been an interesting development in this media niche. RE looks very similar to CS in its architecture (so much so that I wonder if Parkinson encountered any IP issues), but the name says it all – it allows Parkinson to indulge his clear predilection for renewables, without feeling a strong imperative to accommodate alternative perspectives on climate and energy issues.

    In contrast, it seems to me that Climate Spectator’s new editor, Tristan Edis (ex-Grattan Institute), is making it subtly but firmly clear that he intends Climate Spectator to be a broader church than it was under Parkinson’s stewardship.


  180. ev the HIsmelt process at Kwinana WA aimed to take coal with high volatiles content and somehow cook this out. All academic now since the plant has closed and presumably sections will be taken to India. $250/t low volatiles coking coal is 25c per kg. I read one estimate of the cost of electrolytic hydrogen as $8 per kg at which price it can’t compete.

    The high $A is a secondary effect of our exports notably including coal exports which appear to be increasing despite all the climate pledges. A global carbon price could correct that. Apart from low wages Asian metals producers may offer economies of scale or newer plants. On the other hand heavy ores, fuels and products have to be shipped across oceans. One reason why Peak Oil may ironically slow coal demand.

    The Saudi Arabia aluminium smelter will use newer plant, Pt Henry staff, their Middle East bauxite and gas fired electricity. Less CO2 than Victoria but not 80% less. Hence carbon taxing Middle East aluminum if we have to import it.

    By not value adding here we will end up with big holes in the ground where rich mineral deposits used to be and just a few dollars from royalties. The plasma TVs we bought with the high Aussie dollar will have long been thrown on the tip. Perhaps we can mine the tip next time round.


  181. David Lewis, @ 19 February 2012 at 4:42 PM on the IFR FAD 10 thread asked

    I’d be interested in more detail on what a civilization that was on a war time footing now that it had realized how badly it had blown its climate problem could do.

    This might be relevant to this question:

    Click to access 5564.pdf

    In 1943-44, the US built Hanford B reactor. It was built in 18 months from first earth moved to going critical.

    It then ran for 24 years. During that time its power output was increased by a factor of nine.

    That was the first ever large reactor. I repeat, it ran for 24 years and its power was increased by a factor of nine over those years.

    If we could build the first ever in 18 months, way back in 1943-44, what on Earth has happened to our productivity and capacity to innovate that they now take 5 years and some take 20 years to construct?

    I think this shows what we could do if we wanted to.

    I am also convinced this experience show we could have cheap nuclear power and rapid roll out across the world if we wanted to. Focus on irrational policies like Kyoto and carbon taxes is one of the main causes of the problem.


  182. BNC’s stated aim is to focus on policy relevance and to try to help guide development of polices that will be practicable and can achieve the desired results.

    To achieve that aim means we need to focus on what can make nuclear energy affordable. The cost and the cost / safety trade off are critical issues to discuss, IMO.

    I think Geoff Russel’s comment in reply to mine is insightful and spot on. [Unfortunately it has been deleted, so hopefully Geoff will repost it]. His comment explains one of the main reasons why nuclear is more expensive than fossil fuel generation. IMO, the technology has become buried in bureaucracy, over-regulation, over engineering and excessive complexity.

    I think the success of Handford B demonstrates what I am saying is correct.

    Therefore, I’d urge people to move their sights from safety to cost. They will be plenty safe enough once they can start running through some development generations. But we’ll make no or slow progress if we insist on excessive levels of safety. Let’s get used to the idea there will be accidents; they cannot be entirely avoided. History shows that nuclear accidents are no worse and far less damaging than many industrial accidents. For example, almost every airline crash causes far more fatalities than all the civilian nuclear accidents that have occurred in the past 50 years. Let’s get some perspective and let’s move the focus to what is important – making them economically viable.


  183. Steve Darden,

    Thank you for responding to my comments on Richter’s book. It seems that we hold nearly identical views on MacKay and Richter.

    Like you, I suspect that “Richter’s experience in the political arena teaches that politicians’ ears close up to an all-nuclear scenario”. However, it is surely the role of an independent advisor with an apparent belief in the overwhelming benefits of nuclear to say so in an unambiguous manner. This is the most likely route to achieve the desired objective in that it would strengthen the hands of those politicians who were willing to be convinced to stand up to antis and renewable lobbyists.

    We appear to have reached a stage when independent energy advisors are tip toeing towards suggesting that nuclear could/should be the least cost supply option for a clean energy transition, but remain reluctant to come off the fence.

    If all clean supply options are being kept open, while the overwhelming quantity of subsidies and privileged access to the market are reserved for non-hydro renewables, nuclear is clearly going to be disadvantaged. This is what seems to be happening. In other words, politicians in western democracies are half heartedly pursuing the most expensive route to transition and, in so doing, they are harming the economic hopes of their own citizens to the benefit of those in rapidly developing nations.

    I have one other gripe. Most expert committees highlight the importance and benign economics of demand reduction. While, in principle, they may be correct, this is not always the case in practice. Advocates of an all renewable strategy need to advocate a maximum demand reduction policy to make their plans even remotely plausible. However,with nuclear, the costs of demand reduction will often not prove to offer value for money. I am thinking, for example, of retrofits in old building stocks and hauling biomass long distances for energy conversion.

    In summary, we are now seeing expert committee reports that point out the potential cost benefits of nuclear, but which back away from anything other than recommending the implementation of a broad range of clean supply options. Their apparent reason is that antis will either partially block their preferred option or render it unnecessarily costly. They are thus moving from scientific judgements to political ones. IMO, they should “stick to their last”.

    Finally, thanks for bringing my attention to the “trillionth tonne” – most impressive.


  184. Regarding the risk of I-129. Here’s a document about handling precautions of I-129:

    The low energy beta emissions from millicurie (37
    MBq) quantities of 129I do not present a significant
    external exposure hazard because they barely penetrate
    the outer dead layer of skin. Gamma and x-ray
    emissions from 129I can present a penetrating external
    exposure hazard. Individual iodine metabolism can
    vary considerably(5). It may be assumed that 30% of
    an uptake of iodine is translocated to the thyroid and
    70% directly excreted in urine(5). Iodine in the thyroid
    is retained with a biological half-life of 120 days
    in the form of organic iodine. Organic iodine is
    assumed to be uniformly distributed in all organs
    and tissues of the body except the thyroid, and
    retained with a biological half-life of 12 days(5). 10%
    of organic iodine is directly excreted in feces and the
    rest is returned to the transfer compartment as inorganic
    iodine(5). The uptake of 129I to the thyroid is in
    practice limited by the physical mass of 129I due to its
    very low specific activity.

    It is very simple really. Weak beta and alpha emissions don’t penetrate the skin, so only internal decay is dangerous. The half life of I-129, at 15 million years, is so much longer than the biological half life after uptake in the body, it doesn’t get a chance to decay inside the body. Unlike I-131, which, with a half-life of just 8 days, decays almost completely inside the body after uptake – depositing all its damaging energy inside your body.

    That is why I-131 is very dangerous, and I-129 not at all. Only when you are handling the stuff in large amounts (megabecquerels) do you have to be careful, which is only if you are a nuclear professional working with spent fuels (in which case you must worry about lots of fission products far more dangerous than I-129!).

    There is no evidence whatsoever of I-129 deaths or injuries. Not from bomb tests, not from Chernobyl, not from cosmic ray produced I-129. Radioactivity is perfectly normal, naturally occuring, with large differences in background radiation yet no higher cancer incidence for these higher background radiation.


  185. Peter, you are probably right to suggest that nukes are over regulated and over engineered. But, democracy being what it is, you’ve got to convince the population that you are right.

    This is the biggest barrier to nuclear power in Australia, and I genuinely don’t see it being fixed, probably ever. Given the scepticism that climate change exists at all, it’s a long way from there to convincing people that less-safe nuclear power is the answer.


  186. “As annual radiation exposure of up to 100 millisieverts poses no specific cancer risks, the estimated radiation is unlikely to cause any adverse health effect,” Fukushima Medical University Vice President Shunichi Yamashita said at the press conference held to announce the figure.

    This is a quote from The Japan Times in an article about the various levels of radiation to which people in the Fukushima area had been exposed. If the power plant workers are included, the number of people who got at least 10 millisieverts rises to 95. 5,636 of the 9,747 residents of Namie, Kawamata and Iitate or, were exposed less than 1 millisievert of radiation over the four months. I intend to post this review on all the doomsayer, anti-nuclear sites I can.


  187. IFR is fast reactor integrated with pyroprocessing.
    Regarding the future fast reactors mentioned in Wikipedia, any one could be a part of IFR if combined with reprocessing. The original document speaks of metallic fuel, sodium coolant, and pyroprocessing. In my (a lay person) opinion, a liquid chloride reactor using isotope Cl37 and chloride volatility and electrolytic separation would be the best way forward.


  188. The thing is Jagdish, ANL has already done the R&D for a metal-fuel, liquid-sodium reactor. GEH could make a FOAK PRISM today if they got the funding and a location for it.

    On the other hand, there has been no chloride fast reactor prototype built or much R&D down that path at all. This means that for all its possible technical superiority it still needs a lot of basic R&D for a proof-of-concept reactor and so on.

    We should be going forward with the solutions that are available to us now. We should be definitely investing in nuclear R&D as well for all of these interesting unbuilt reactor designs, but we can’t put off building any reactors until the ‘next reactor design around the corner’ is proven.

    This means that we need to build advanced LWRs now, PRISM/IFRs soon (once the design is mature and over it’s FOAK building hurdle) and research DMSR/LFTR/Liquid Chloride Fast Reactors all through that period. The LWR is good enough while we still have ample U-235 supplies, IFR-type designs solve the fuel problem and have a bunch of other safety advantages and LFTRs unlock a whole new untapped source of fuel.


  189. GEH could make a FOAK PRISM today if they got the funding and a location for it

    Will, I agree with most everything you say, but the above needs clarification. GEH is a nuclear giant. If they thought FOAK PRISM was low risk and worthwile for strategic considerations, they would have made an exception on their supplier based business model and just built the darn thing already. So what’s wrong? Is GEH lacking courage? Or is the processing plant insufficiently developed to go for a full commercial FOAK unit just like that? It occurs to me that the chem & corrosion/FP cleanup unit for BWRs is about as complicated as the entire PRISM processing unit. A location is easy enough to find, just pick a pro-nuclear country like Sweden and you can select from a phalanx of locations.


  190. Cyril R, on 23 February 2012 at 10:53 PM said:

    GEH is a nuclear giant. If they thought FOAK PRISM was low risk and worthwile for strategic considerations, they would have made an exception on their supplier based business model and just built the darn thing already.

    The fuel cycle and waste issue in the US is an unresolved issue.

    The US Nuclear Power Utilities have paid about $30 billion into a Waste Disposal Fund.

    Obviously…the simple solution would be to use some of the waste disposal money to build a reprocessing facility and a FOAK IFR. Unfortunately coming to a ‘political agreement’ at the moment in the US on anything is pretty close to impossible. I think Australia has rules about ‘hung parliaments’ triggering new elections or something. In the US we have no such rule.


  191. Frank R. Eggers — First consider a BWR so that the water converted to steam by the reactor passes through the Rankine cycle turbine. That water/steam contains a small and harmless portion of tritium via neutron activation by the nuclear reactor. Tritium is a tiny atom, so tiny that a portion diffuses through the condenser into the reject heat removal water outside.

    In an PWR there is another heat exchanger, that between the pressurized water cooling the nucleaar reacotr and the water/steam for the Rankine cycle steam turbine. Still, some very tiny portion of the tritium diffuses through both heat exchangers into the outside environment. Moreover, in PWR operation in sometimes happens that some steam has to be vented. That steam then contains a higher propotion of tritium since there is only one heat exchanger in the way.

    It has only been fairly recently that ionized radiation detection instruments have become sensitive enough to record these tiny tritium doses. The amounts are about the same as if you poured a glass of water and let it sit for a time being bombarded by cosmic rays, AFAIK. The point is the amounts are harmlessly small.


  192. Thank you, David, for the explanation.

    It would seem to me that if instruments sensitive enough to detect the tritium have only recently become available, the amount released must indeed be to small to cause problems. Compared with the natural background radiation, or even with the radiation already present in out bodies, the amount must indeed be tiny.


  193. Tritium can be grabbed in a variety of ways. It can be converted to a stable hydride, by passing it over a titanium bed. It can also be blocked effectively by dense protective oxide layers on metals, such as chromium and aluminium. Tritium can also be oxidised to water by putting some copper oxide pellets in the primary loop.

    For a light water reactor, these are unnecessary, because they don’t make a lot of tritium. The anti-nukes like to scream about picocuries. When you see this word, pico, you must know it is a fancy word for exactly nothing and you have to be on guard since there will be anti nuke propaganda about. A pico is a millionth of a millionth. So a million picocuries is still only a millionth of a curie. Even the entire inventory of a large LWR being released at once, 50 curies, is not going to harm anyone. The stuff will simply float off and rapidly mix in the environment to negligible doses (tritium does not bioaccumulate in any way, even if ingested).


  194. Indeed, tritium exit signs, with 25000000000000 picocuries of tritium in them, are actually allowed in buildings, and even find their ways into landfills from time to time, due to improper disposal.

    The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) recently completed a comprehensive two-year study at 54 landfills within the Commonwealth, testing for the presence of radioactive materials in landfill leachate. The study was performed as a follow-up to DEP’s new requirements for radiation monitoring at all solid waste management facilities in Pennsylvania. Although sample results quantified certain naturally occurring elements within natural background levels, including uranium, thorium and potassium, above-normal levels of tritium were noted in leachate at many facilities. Results of the Department’s studies are available for download from the “Documents” section below.

    The source of higher-than-background levels found in landfill leachate samples was presumed to originate from the improper disposal of self-luminescent exit signs found in construction/demolition (C/D) waste and other solid waste streams. There are no other known sources of tritium in industrial or consumer products that would cause elevated levels of tritium in landfill leachate. Thus, it is apparent that tritium exit signs, which when new may contain up to 25 curies, or 25,000,000,000,000 picocuries (pCi) of tritium, are entering landfills via municipal or residual waste streams. A single tritium emergency exit sign has the potential to cause the tritium levels observed.

    For reference, the Vermont Yankee tritium leak had a total leakage of 0.35 curies. So a single, new, tritium exit sign has 70 Vermont Yankee nuclear accident leaks inside.


  195. Check out this thread on ocean thermal energy:

    Although, in theory, it would be possible to extract energy from oceans because of thermal gradients, the temperature differences are too small for doing so to be practical. I wonder whether the people at Ocean Thermal Energy Corporation are naïve or dishonest.

    It is interesting to examine the various posts at the website. Perhaps people here would like to post comments on it.


  196. Frank R. Eggers, on 25 February 2012 at 7:44 AM said:

    Improperly disposed of smoke alarms containing americium are also a source of radiation in land fills (rubbish tips). I wonder why there has been no publicity about that.

    The local authority…at least in the US, would end up with the ‘cleanup’ costs.


  197. FRE I think the rule is no more than 10 discarded smoke alarms per garbage truckload. With mercury in discarded CFL bulbs the US EPA claims there is a net Hg reduction compared to burning more coal to power incandescent bulbs

    Think of a truckload of appliance waste garbage containing a few micrograms of Am241 maybe half a gram of Hg80. The bulldozer then squishes it then the rain percolates it down to the creek and into the reservoir. Don’t want to sound alarmist though.


  198. The Hg doesn’t alarm me. When I was a kid, we had a jug of Hg and did various experiments with it. Sometimes you could even see the Hg vapor rising when we did electrical experiments. That wasn’t a good idea, but at that time, the risks of Hg were less well understood.

    There was at least one power plant built that used Hg for the first stage. The idea was that by taking advantage of the ability to operate an Hg boiler and Hg turbine at a higher temperature, efficiency could be increased. After passing through the Hg turbine, the lower temperature / pressure Hg was used to boil water for a steam turbine and the condensed Hg was pumped back into the Hg boiler. There was an accident in which Hg vapor was released and at least one employee overcome by Hg vapor, but he recovered.

    The concern with power plant emissions of Hg is probably valid, but I think we’ve become too obsessed with trivial amounts of Hg. And, the amount in CFLs, and probably traditional fluorescent tubes also, is tiny, especially compared with the reduction in power plant emissions achieved by reducing power requirements.


  199. Noting that Hobart is 1,000km closer than Sydney to the South Pole but is also 12C hotter today I think we’re in for a bumpy ride. My suspicion is that we will get both El Nino and $150 oil in the next two years. That should make the public take low carbon seriously.

    However since politicians seem to live on a different planet I expect our carbon abatement efforts will be rolled back. Just look at this weekend’s Murdoch press and it’s not hard to see things getting hysterical in the next few months.


  200. Andrew Orlowski, author of the shale-oil piece above, links to another interesting article on the VERY REAL money going into algae-fuels now:

    After years of watching synthetic hydrocarbons with suspicion, Exxon has put substantial funding behind Venter to the tune of $600m. Venter doesn’t see a return within 10 years, but it has obvious appeal to those still concerned with climate change, and who realise it’s a low priority for BRIC countries (including China and India) that are determined to industrialise as quickly as possible. Venter’s renewable oil kills two birds with one stone: removing CO2 and creating a low-carbon renewable alternative to excavating the stuff.

    But, unlike GenIV reactors where we’re hopefully watching *known* physics get commercialised, this algae proposal seems to assume huge breakthroughs in *unknown* genetic advances. And to me that seems to contain all sorts of unknown unknowns.


  201. EN the author seems not to understand declining net energy which is why oil with EROEI of 30 will not be fully replaced by tar sands, ethanol, hydrogenated synfuel and so on. I’ll believe algae fuel will scale up when we see it at the bowser. My feeling is that natural gas vehicles will become popular as they are in Iran, Pakistan, Argentina and so on. If transport fuel demand surges that will price gas too high for baseload generation.

    Since it’s 40C where I live in SW Tas I’ve retreated to an 18C underground bunker which is online thanks to 25m of LAN cable. Long term cheaper than aircon.


  202. The only rational choice of converting atmospheric CO2 to fuel is photosynthesis as it uses free solar or atmospheric energy. Any other input involves putting more energy than the energy of the fuel. Biomass could be taken as the feed-stock for carbon in synthetic fuel.
    There is an urgent need to start using the greenhouse effect as just that and to use atmospheric CO2 and temperatures for growing more biomass as food and fuel.


  203. Hi John,
    I’m with you 100% on the algae! If we *did* somehow crack that enigma, I’m not sure if the net benefit would offset the cost of enabling the continuation of suburban sprawl. Sprawl is so bad on so many levels that I’m almost relieved peak oil is on the horizon.

    EN the author seems not to understand declining net energy which is why oil with EROEI of 30 will not be fully replaced by tar sands, ethanol, hydrogenated synfuel and so on.

    Maybe, but what’s the *real* difference of an ERoEI of 30 compared to 15 or even 10? Surely that is covered by today’s high oil prices?


  204. EN if the available net energy is ((E – 1) X input energy) then we will need more input to maintain the net yield as E declines. The problems being crowding out of other parts of the economy and physical constraints. Thus more biofuel could mean less food. Oil or near substitutes could be deeper, harder to find, harder to refine, create too much CO2 or simply run out in key regions like Australia.

    Whatever major energy sources we use will probably need an EROEI of 8 or more as tabulated here
    I’d question some entries; for example wind cannot make cement and steel to build new wind towers, PV is too intermittent to be practical and they seem to presume every NPP has to be totally decommissioned.

    I see no way the world can keep consuming the current 85 million barrels (1bbl =159L) a day of finished fuel precursors. I’ve seen estimates of global liquid fuels supply like 65 mbpd by 2030 but that will be less net energy per barrel if it means more fuels like ethanol. If decline estimates are correct I’d say we’re screwed. Where I live the bus to the city is once a week. Everything you can think of (eg battery cars) has major problems.

    However I have a suggestion to make it less worse. Run a lot of transport requiring onboard fuel with natural gas and generate most baseload electricity with nuclear.


  205. For fuel in Australia, you have to think coal or uranium only. Biofuel is for neighboring Indonesia. Any extra biomass you can produce in Australia should be for food or higher value items.
    Peak oil is one thing the world has to get ready for. You can use bio-mass/coal/municipal trash as carbon sources. CO2 need too much energy.


  206. John Newlands, on 25 February 2012 at 10:08 PM said:

    However I have a suggestion to make it less worse. Run a lot of transport requiring onboard fuel with natural gas and generate most baseload electricity with nuclear.

    Concur…converting a ‘natural gas’ vehicle fleet to a ‘hydrogen’ vehicle fleet isn’t all that difficult. The existence of a ‘natural gas’ vehicle fleet solves the ‘chicken and egg’ problem of changing transport fuels. I.E. Nobody will create a ‘new vehicle fuel’ distribution system if there are no ‘new vehicle fuel vehicles’ and nobody will buy a ‘new vehicle fuel vehicle’ without a substantial fuel delivery infrastructure.


  207. Methane at 40 MJ thermal per kg is a rich fuel, is non toxic, has an existing distribution grid, can be made multiple ways and blended. Shame about the GW potential which means we have to be diligent about leakage. By not converting NG to methanol or Fischer Tropsch fuel we save a lot of the starting energy of the gas.

    Since there are so few compressed natural gas pumps at service stations I think CNG bifuel vehicles are the way to go. Example. The number of CNG pumps can build up as petrol or diesel get dearer. I think petrol in Australia will exceed $2/L (as in Europe) in just a few years but our far sighted politicians are likely to cut the fuel tax first.

    Of the 20 Mt of natural and coal seam gas Australia uses each year I’m not sure how much is used in baseload generation but changing to nuclear could free up a lot of gas for transport. Adelaide for example has a 1.28 GW steam cycle only gas fired plant. Replace that with a nuke and use the gas to help long distance commuters like some of my friends and relatives. Some could be looking at over $100 per week in commuting fuel costs.

    BTW I’ve been driving on 80% biodiesel since 2005 and I can see it is a very limited niche.


  208. The problem is how to encourage people to use electrified (or high-efficiency ICE/hybrid) public transport and EVs in the cities and suburbs but save the fossil- or bio-fuels for long-range personal transport. Do we use a carbon tax on those fuels with a rebate for rural users? A heavy urban congestion charge with lesser concessions for EVs?

    As for CNG, I would think that a fuel like DME might be easier to use – requires minimal modifications to burn in diesel engines, only requires a light pressure vessel to store it as a liquid compared to LNG or CNG.

    The big problem with biofuels from my perspective is that the only good way that they can be used is with waste-to-energy techniques like landfill gas, bagasse (from sugar cane processing) and things like biodiesel from used cooking oil. Once you use up those sources they start encroaching upon agriculture.

    Synfuels are better from a production perspective, but the question is how much we want to use them if they are using coal or natural gas as the feedstock. If we are making substantial emissions cuts in the transport sector by electrifying it to a reasonable extent then it might be worth it.


  209. LNG does not require a hefty pressure vessel. Just real good insulation (which doesn’t weigh that much, especially if using the best type of insulation, aerogels). LNG also has more energy per volume, more natural gas molecules can be crammed in per liter of storage. In my opinion, LNG is the fuel of choice for long distance transport – ships and planes.


  210. Notwithstanding what happened to the shark in ‘Jaws’ modern steel scuba tanks are rated to 232 bar. CNG tanks will be rated at 220 bar and can be made of aluminum, steel or fibreglass. I presume as with 15 var LPG (propane/butane) tanks any rupture is meant to direct away from the vehicle cabin in the event of an accident. Adsorbed natural gas ANG doesn’t give heavier vehicles a range of hundreds of kilometres which is what we are trying to achieve. Since LNG requires cryogenic facilities the intention seems to be that trucks that use it will return to base not fill up on the highway.

    I haven’t been able to find a comparison table of EROEI for methane, methanol and dimethyl ether. However according to some sources the world already has 11 million natural gas vehicles. Factors that could instigate a sudden switch from diesel include not only a high oil price but removal of subsidies, in Australia worth about 18c per litre. It may well be that DME is a good diesel replacement but things could happen too fast for it to be considered.


  211. LNG may be suitable for ships and planes assuming that they are in constant use and enough LNG is continually withdrawn to keep the temperature down. However, it would not necessarily be practical for cars and trucks.

    Sometimes cars are not used for days at a time. No insulation is perfect and if a car were not used for a few days, the LNG would begin to boil off.


  212. @ JN Just had a look at that preview for the SBS program on Fukushima (No problem with the sound btw) Looks good, doesn’t seem to be the usual anything nuclear therefore evil type of doco. Will certainly have a look next Sunday


  213. Please note that there is now a separate page (under the About tag) for the Comments Policy:
    New rules regarding political comment and moderator decisions have been added:

    Politics — The BNC blog does not support any particular political ideology. Blatant political tirades (of any persuasion) and attempts to rally support for any political party will not be tolerated. When presenting facts, please frame them in a politically non-partisan manner. Obviously the odd, off-the-cuff political comment is permissible.

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  214. Hi Will,
    if the early peak oil barrel-counters are right, we simply will not need a carbon tax or legislative agenda to reduce oil use. There just won’t be enough. The Pentagon predicts world production will be down 10mbd or 1/8th by 2015!!!

    Instead of wondering how we’re going to reduce driving, start to wonder how we’re going to have *enough* of an economy and liquid fuels surplus to both maintain the society we live in *and* build out the next generation of electric transport systems and nuclear power. I’m just amazed that we are not already 5 years into a crash program of weaning off oil! The ABC screened a number of peak oil specials on their science flagship Catalyst, and the first was way back in 2005. What do Australian’s watch? Big Brother?

    Some days I’m more optimistic than others. Today is not one of those days.


  215. John Newlands,

    Since LNG requires cryogenic facilities the intention seems to be that trucks that use it will return to base not fill up on the highway.

    In the US anyway the number of fueling centers required to accommodate a significant portion of long hauls trucks would be relatively small. For a relatively large trucking firm it’s easy enough to restrict ‘alternative fuel’ tractor-trailers to route X.


  216. Yes, CNG makes more sense for cars and trucks, though LNG is certainly practical enough, with modern insulation materials, boiloff is very low.

    LNG is pretty much the only option for aircraft; they can’t use massive pressure vessels for weight limitations. Ships could, but they typically need much bigger fuel resevoirs and pressure vessels become much more difficult (expensive, heavy) to make in larger sizes. By contrast, a larger size is great for thermal stores (including cold stores): less surface to volume means lower thermal losses.


  217. Thanks Luke. The Chernobyl woman’s tale is sadly all-telling: she talkes about headaches, interestingly this isn’t associated with ionizing radiation at all. It is very clearly associated with stress. She talkes about fear of dying all the time, yet 25 years after Chernobyl she should have contracted cancer already if it were from ionizing radiation.

    I fear we have not learned a very important lesson of Chernobyl: stress kills. Evacuation causes massive stress, media and Greenpeace scaremongering causes stress. History has repeated itself with Fukushima: the stress and general loss of livelihood will kill many.

    Personally I don’t understand why the 13 million residents of Tokyo are not living in great anxiety. The pollution levels there, especially particulate matter, are a massive source of cancer (lung cancer). The entire city should have been evacuated a hundred times already (based on the Fukushima 20 mSv risk criterion).


  218. LFTR factories

    Jim, I can find no mention of a factory to make salt for LFTR but let’s think about it a little.

    The fluid fuel in LFT, flibe = 2LIF-BeF2) contains fluorine, lithium, beryllium, a fission isotope, and a fertle isotope. Of course the lithium 7 will be separated from the normal lithium 6 in a factory but what about the rest of the fuel?

    Beryllium is really poisonous! There is a picture of the original Oak Ridge staff making the carrier salt. They are in full body suits with breathers! I don’t think you want to ship beryllium to each reactor site and include the equipment at each reactor site to mix in beryllium. It is much cheaper and safer to handle and ship the salt from one specially equipped factory. There will be tons of this stuff for each reactor.

    Fluorine is really poisonous! Isn’t this the stuff that eats glass? I suppose the fluorine might be shipped to the reactor as a gas but I would guess that the enriched uranium would be delivered as uranium fluoride directly from the enrichment factory. I think starting the first LFTRs on enriched uranium is more likely than using reprocessed (in a factory) spent fuel.

    Two factories, both with approved processes and safety practices, are needed: one for the salt preparation and one for the U235 preparation.

    It is interesting to think about what needs to be delivered to the LFTR plant on an on going basis. Thorium, of course, but is it in metallic or oxide or fluoride form? The amount of lithium, fluorine, and beryllium would not change much but small adjustments might be necessary. Some chemical engineer will need to balance site cost, safety, and transportation needs to decide what equipment and what size equipment each reactor needs to process incoming materials.

    I can find no Oak Ridge document about which chemical processes would be done in a centralized factory and which would be done at every LFTR site. If someone could point me to such an article, I would appreciate it.


  219. I just received this which I believe some my find to be an interesting and useful resource worth bookmarking. The email is self explanatory


    I’m not sure if this is of any use to you:

    It’s the existing data for all US Power generators, and it’s a large XL spreadsheet of around 6.5MB, so I’ll just send you the link for it, if you wish to download it.

    It shows plants, not as a whole, but as individual generators at each site

    What interested me most was with all this talk of Solar Power, the largest Solar generator in operation is only 75MW. There are a couple of larger plants, but they also include on site Natural Gas backup.

    While there are in fact 185 separate generators, nearly all of them are tiny.

    As it is, Solar Power is barely managing 0.04% of Demand.

    When the chart does show, at the bottom are the tabs for each generating source.

    It lists all 109 Nuclear reactors and what is interesting here is the size of the generators they are driving.

    Looking at the solar plants, what I’d also like to know is their annual MWh output, winter MWh, minimum MWh for 1, 3, 5, 10, 20, 30 , 60, 90 days, and the Capital, Fixed O&M, Variable O&M and any other costs. Also what are their water requirements?


  220. It’s true that beryllium, fluorine, and soluble fluorides are toxic and require contained chemical handling. This however is routinely done with much larger industrial flows such as chlorine production. We currently produce enough chlorine to kill everyone in the world every day with chlorine to spare. This is the anti-nuke argument applied to fission products and plutonium. The fact though is that we know how to safely handle these chemicals and isotopes so it isn’t a big engineering issue. The amount of fluoride salt to start a LFTR is only about one truckload to power a medium sized city, so this isn’t a large material flow and can be handled with great care, in fact laboratory class care, unlike fossil fuel wastes such as bottom ash from coal plants (not to mention CO2, nox, sox heavy metal particles that are not “handled” in any other way than dumping them directly in the environment).

    Beryllium is used today in specialized metallurgical applications. To make it, beryllium ores (such as beryl and chrysoberyl) are fluorinated, making beryllium fluoride. The beryllium fluoride is then reduced with magnesium or other active metal, leaving beryllium as the reduced metal. We simply skip that last step and keep the beryllium fluoride as-is for use as fuel solvent.


  221. Cyril, thanks for the info on the chemicals in flibe. I would like to be able to picture the deliveries to a new LFTR plant and by extension the equipment needed at the LFTR plant. I will imagine and hope you can bring the picture into better focus
    One shipment to the plant will be beryllium fluoride probably in barrels of solid white crystals.
    A second shipment would be lithium7 fluoride directly from the isotopic separation factory (a centrifuge) probably in barrels of solid white crystals.
    A third shipment would be the enriched uranium, UF4, directly from the isotopic separation factory as green crystals.
    A fourth shipment would be the thorium. Since the other ingredients are crystal fluorides, it would be convenient to receive barrels of white thorium fluoride, ThF4, also.

    Now, the plant needs a barrel dumper, a melter, a mixer, and some way to guarantee the purity of the new mix. OK, in my imagination the chemical side of LFTR is coming into view from the semi unloading dock through a small (as compared to an oil refinery) chemical plant.

    Of course, with each better view come new questions. I imagine the LFTR plant will need to have enough equipment to clean it’s radioactive salt in case it is contaminated with oil or something but it may be cheaper to have separate equipment to melt, mix, and purify the initial very low radioactive components. Perhaps it would be cheaper to have one factory to melt, mix, and purify the four ingredients into two mixes; 2LiF-BeF2-UF4 and 2LiF-BeF2-ThF4. Now the LFTR plant would receive two kinds of barrels; one with light green crystals and the other with white crystals. Dump the white stuff into the thorium blanket side and the green stuff into the reactor side.

    Assertion: A flibe factory is needed because the flibe factory can produce flibe without needing expensive radioactive shielding.


  222. We haven’t come to a consensus as to what the online processor would be. Some want to get started with converter LFTRs, called DMSRs, with a focus on early production, that means no online fuel processing. Dr. David Leblanc is working mostly on this. Others want extremely fast and complete processing to take advantage of the liquid fuel processing ease. Oak Ridge worked on this in the molten salt breeder reactor (MSBR). There’s anything between those extremes, too. The French are considering a faster spectrum and very slow processing (years turnover).

    In the minimal processing case, there will still be some fission product and chemical processing required, because some of the noble stuff such as noble metals and noble gasses come out of themselves and need a storage place where they can deposit short term activity before they are removed to offsite locations. There must also be a small hydrofluorinator, this removes corrosion products and such.

    There is really too much to tell and I don’t have time. I must refer you to the library where many documents are kept on MSBR development, including documents with fuel salt inventory specifics.


  223. I’ve just come across a little known organisation called the Energy Security Council
    From various news items it appears its likely role is to provide hundreds of millions of dollars of soft financing to coal generators whose loans may be called in by the banks. It seems the banks may be worried that carbon tax will make the electricity business less profitable.

    I would liken this to smuggling pizza into a weight loss club. The cheap refinancing helps prolong the use of coal. Carbon pricing has been publicly discussed for a decade so you’d think it would have long been factored in to financing arrangements. Thus Friends of the Earth will be justified if they say below-market interest rates are yet another fossil fuel subsidy.

    A specific problem case I predict will be the proposal to build a 1 GW combined cycle plant in Victoria. Even if a major government handout reduces the financing costs gas will have dried up in Victoria long before the end of the plant’s 30 year lifespan.


  224. Peter Lang, you may be interested in a very fresh study by the Oak Ridge National Lab in the US – I read the cheat notes in the form of a NY Times blog entry which noted the study ” found locations for 515 gigawatts’ worth of new nuclear plants — nearly five times what exists now — based on considerations like the availability of cooling water and relatively low population density.” … and
    “potential locations for solar thermal plants, which use the sun’s heat to make steam and then electricity, are far more limited; if the plants are cooled by water, there is space for only about 18 gigawatts, the study said. If the plants are cooled by air, which reduces their efficiency, there would be space for 60 gigawatts, the authors found.”

    Seems to be at the heart of your questioning on the EIA data – the full study is referenced in the NY Times entry at


  225. This is an interesting perspective on the future of oil and gas.

    If we don’t change our approach from demanding nuclear be high cost (i.e. uneconomic), we will continue to use more and more fossil fuels, the development of nuclear will be slow, its roll out will be slow, the rate of improvement will be slow – so the rate of improving its safety will also be slow.


  226. If the Australian population are not convinced they’re getting the state of the art ‘new nukes’ like the super-safe AP1000 with passive safety built in, the roll out of nukes will be… non existent. Better to have *some* nukes than none.

    So what if the AP1000 costs a little bit more? A carbon tax can fund it.

    It’s about what the Australian people will expect. From previous conversations here I don’t think the AP1000 will be prohibitively expensive. We can always buy them from China who seem to be able to make them cheap. They’re planning on over 100 by 2020. I say we just buy some of that action: it’ll be cheap enough.

    The LAST thing my work colleagues (in a major communications industry) want to hear is … “We’re cutting safety to make them cheaper!”

    Anyway, confusing fracking for liquid fuels with nuclear electricity is… well, beside the point. The nuclear conversation is mainly about shutting down coal fired power stations, not replacing the liquid fuel market. That’s a ‘whole nuther’ conversation, as they say.


  227. I don’t see how any of the nuclear supporters “demand” that nuclear be high cost. Rather, it is good to realize that FOAK nuclear is typically more expensive in western countries, but still perfectly affordable. Olkiluoto EPR has had massive cost overruns and delays, yet the levelised cost, at about 8 cents per kWh, is pefectly in line with today’s market prices. It is not ultra cheap and you won’t make big profits, but perfectly affordable.

    Moreover, a larger scale buildout – at the scale required to phase out coal for example – will be much cheaper due to nth of a kind economies and standardization economies. France is a good example of this. They put the engineers in charge rather than the lawyers and shareholders. The engineers chose three standards sizes – small, medium and large reactors. This worked beautifully. In the other countries such as the US where the lawyers and shareholders are in charge, very little happens.


  228. I was reading a sci-pop book and found a reference to a Hydridic Earth theory by Russian geologist V.N.Larin. The theory claims (supported by enough evidence for him be awarded a doctorate degree) that the Earth core is a mix of energy-rich metal hydrides. As in some places around the globe (Iceland, USA, Israel) these come relatively close to the surface ~4-5km, drilling a well and using water to cause a release of hydrogen seems to be a feasible source of energy. The estimated volume (the Earth core) is more that any other source of energy. After a brief googling for Larin’s theory, I found this article http://energy-rich hydrides and lots more. If that is the case then nuclear becomes a secondary energy source. This published in HAIT Journal of Science and Engineering article discusses this hydrogen energy source in more scientific language


  229. CyrlR

    I don’t see how any of the nuclear supporters “demand” that nuclear be high cost. Rather, it is good to realize that FOAK nuclear is typically more expensive in western countries, but still perfectly affordable.

    Nuclear is high cost and high financial risk for investors because of nuclear phobia and the effects it has on making excessive regulations on the industry over a period of 50 years. It is clearly not “affordable” or it would be being built instead of coal and gas for the past 50 years.


  230. CyrilR,

    Further to my previous comment, have you considered why it is that the first ever large nuclear plant was built in 18 months (from breaking ground to going critical) and that was 67 years ago. But now, 67 years later it takes around 5 years (and up to 20 years for some). That demonstrates highly negative productivity improvement. Why has that occurred? Please no superficial answers. I’d urge people to, look into this seriously and carefully. I can make superficial answers too, but how is that helpful?

    The other point is that nuclear fuel is 20,000 more energy dense than coal in a Gen III reactor and much more in future generations. On that basism nuclear shoul,d be much cheaper than coal generation.

    We can bypass these questiosn with superfical, “smart” answers, or we can seriously consider the questions.


  231. Peter Lang, on 1 March 2012 at 8:18 AM said:

    have you considered why it is that the first ever large nuclear plant was built in 18 months (from breaking ground to going critical) and that was 67 years ago

    The Hanford Nuclear Reservation is 1,500 sq km. The ‘evacuation zone’ in the event of an accident was ‘pre-evacuated’.

    If you went out to Idaho National Labs(I think Barry has) you might ask yourself if anyone would notice if the whole facility cooked off. One of the most ‘barren’ pieces of land I have ever seen. There is a national park nearby called ‘Craters of the Moon’…which is an appropriate name.

    There is surely lot’s of money to be saved in nuclear power plant construction is you just designate a large tract of relatively barren land as a ‘nuclear reservation’ and don’t bother with multiple safety systems to prevent the piece of land from becoming a ‘nuclear waste dump’.


  232. Peter, the Hanford B reactor was 250 MWt. I’m pretty sure that is thermal because it did not have a turbine. Would you admit that it takes less time to make a reactor that does not make electricity and does not need to be connected to the grid?

    I don’t see a containment building. Just to be sure, Peter, can you tell us if you are in favor a cement containment building?

    The size is about 15 times smaller than an AP1000. Would you expect the size to slow down the construction?

    The Hanford B reactor was water cooled. (Deleted unsubstantiated personal belief)
    Do you really want to build commercial reactors moderated by graphite and water cooled with no containment. It sounds like your 18 month Hanford B reactor is a sister to the one in Chernobyl. If that OK with you, please say so.

    I have seen your request to talk about how reactors can be made more cheaply. If you are really in favor of building reactors like Hanford B, please say so. I think you are hinting at other factors, but I don’t get the hints.
    Please re-post your unsubstantiated comment re contaminated water with a link/ref which shows it to be the case and not your belief.


  233. The point I made is we are talking about 67 years of negative productivity. The original Hanford B ran for 24 years and its power (thermal) was increased by a factor of nine during those years.

    If we could do that 67 years ago, why can’t we build them economically now? My point is to open your minds and think about why nuclear is too expensive – which it clearly is.
    (Deleted personal opinion of other’s motives.)


  234. From the link, it looks as though the Hanford B reactor was not intended for power production and was of a completely different design from the reactors use for power production. Probably power production reactors are much more expensive than need be, but the experience with the Hanford B reactor seems unrelated.


  235. I went with a tour group to visit one of the Hanford 100-area reactors in the early 1950s. I don’t recall which but the F reactor was closest to the town of Hanford, so that seems more likely than the B reactor.

    Subsequently I learned that the first six were all just for plutonium production. There was no containment structure, just confinement with air filtering. And in other ways the 100-area reactors would no be considered adequately safe today. All have subsequently been enclosed in containment concrete, but this doesn’t work as well as might be hoped [being subsequent to the original construction]. Clean up work at Hanford continues and may actually be ‘complete’ by 2065 CE.

    All told, not a suitable precedent or anaalogy for civilian power production.


  236. I’ll try to present my message a different way.

    Please follow me through for a moment while I present this.

    First, I recognise there are a number of key hurdles to getting nuclear to be acceptable and suitable for rollout at the scale and plant size required to allow it to be suitable for electricity generation at all scales, particularly in the developing countries which are where most of the increase in electricity demand will be for decades ahead. Some of those huyrdles are:

    1. public acceptance in the wealthy countries, which in my opinion is largely due to nuclear phobia

    2. cost

    3. construction duration – which creates financial risk for investors

    4. plant size

    Hurdle #1 on the above list is causing the higher cost and longer construction duration. It is also causing higher O&M costs. It is also causing slower roll out so we have not gone through the development and improvement cycles and the making of small size plants that we would have if we had not been prevented from doing so by #1.

    Therefore, I conclude #1 is the main cause of nuclear being uneconomic.

    But we’ve spent 50 years trying to argue that the anti-nukes have it wrong. And all that time we’ve kept accepting more and more regulations and impediments that increase the cost of nuclear. Yet in all that time, nuclear has proven to be the safest by far of the electricity generation technologies that are fit for purpose.

    So I urge a different approach. Take a clean sheet of paper. Let’s just make the assumption for the moment that the public had never been opposed to nuclear and had been perfectly rational in its choice between nuclear and fossil fuels for the past 50 years (based on health, risk and cost). Then consider, and try to answer with an open mind, the following questions:

    1. What would nuclear power plants be like now?

    2. What sizes would be commercially available?

    3. How widely would they have been deployed?

    4. What would they cost compared with fossil fuels?

    If we conclude that a rational public would have chosen nuclear over fossil fuels (even ignoring the CO2 emissions arguments), then clearly nuclear plants would be much cheaper than they are.

    Furthermore, this demonstrates, IMO, that nuclear can and should be much cheaper than it is, and would be available in sizes to suit most requirements.


  237. By the way, just to address one possible diversion here before it comes up, I’ve stated many times before we cannot change the designs of the existing plants. They take too long to design and develop. So Gen III+ is as it is.


    1. that does not prevent us from changing our approach to the development of Gen IV. In my opinion the main criteria should be cost of electricity for acceptable risk, where acceptable risk means equivalent to what we accept now for other technologies and demonstration that the path to greater safety in the future will be at least as fast as the alternatives.

    2. We can do a great deal to reduce the cost of Gen III+ without changing the design. That is because much of the cost is not due to the design. It is due to the regulatory environment and investor risk premium. That is why nuclear in Australia would cost more than twice what it cost in Korea.


  238. Tell us all, was Hanford B built on a production line? ;-)

    China’s putting AP1000’s up on the assembly line in a factory. No down times due to rain, etc. We’re talking about established safety routines, component lines of supply, inspection protocols, and on-site construction drills. We’re talking about EFFICIENCY in capital letters.

    Any economist can predict the difference between singular construction models and mass production. Safety can be improved while costs plummet.

    But this is completely hypothetical, as in debating how many angels can dance on a pinhead, while nuclear power remains illegal in this country due to public paranoia.

    And the moment the public get a whiff of activists at BNC demanding ‘cheaper, LESS SAFE’ nuclear power, it’s game over. The paranoia will only increase.


  239. PS: Factory construction and mass production also helps reduce the time factor between ordering an AP1000 and having it delivered, and snapped together, on site. This will reduce the waiting period between paying for the nuke and income finally trickling in.


  240. Peter, thanks for switching to the South Korean model instead of the Hanford model for Australia to emulate. One of the unique aspects of the South Korean approach has been the long and continuing dedication to designing their own reactor while at the same time building about one reactor a year.

    So my first ideal would be for Australia to commit to a fleet of reactors built one at a time. Perhaps the new governmental agency would select a model, license the model, and sign a contract to purchase five or so reactors. The local utility would then bid to get one of the pre-approved reactors and handle the site specific licenses. The federal agency would maintain a rule something like “you can’t start one until the one under construction reaches point x”.

    The South Korean model includes “we want to design and manufacture all the parts of our reactor”. Australia needs a different driver. “We want to build the most cost efficient fleet of reactors in the world.”

    It would appear that Small Modular Reactors (SMR) would be a good fit due to the quicker build/cycle time. There are now 20 to 30 efforts underway to design small reactors. They will all have designs that work on paper but most will fail because they will not be able to build the first reactor. These companies would kill for a contract for x reactors to be built end-to-end. So the wise buyer would select the company with care and nurture that company. At the same time, the buyer would get a great deal.

    Of course, a first step would be to make nuclear legal in Australia.

    Just for the record, the fact that I am in favor of a containment building does not make me in favor of burning coal. I think burning coal is really bad for my grandchildren.


  241. Indian 220MW PHWR is a small, cost-effective reactor already in production. It also uses un-enriched uranium fuel. It will take minimum time in starting power production and fuel fabrication in Australia.
    I think it may be the suitable starting point for Australia, once the nuclear power is legal. The manpower trained on this reactor could help in further consideration.


  242. Hanford B was a weapons production reactor. That means smaller than power reactors, low pressure, no turbine, no generator, no fullpressure containment. And it was an inherently unsafe reactor, with strong positive void coefficients – Chernobyl type. The lack of safety, lack of power generating and pressure equipment, and general poor radionuclide management policy (Hanford is now the biggest radioactive mess in the USA) made this a very cheap reactor.

    And if you think safety is expensive, try an accident.

    And like other commenters have mentioned, it is silly to assert that nuclear should be cheaper than coal and so should be taking over their markets, because nuclear is either not allowed or discouraged through mazes of bureaucracies and anti-nuclear interests (mostly fossil lobbies that realize nuclear is a threat whereas wind and solar are toys that do not threaten their business). This isn’t about costs, it is about politics. Coal is cheap because of free dumping of wastes in the soil, water and air, and due to slave labor camps in low wage countries that mine the coal with great disregard for human and ecological life. When nuclear plants store the spent fuel responsibly and isolate it from the environment in simple casks, people call that a waste problem. When coal plants do the same, by filtering out their heavy metals, and storing it responsibly, people call it a solution. Strange – the toxic heavy metals will still be around a billion years from now whereas fission products are only hazardous for a couple centuries (and longer lived actinides can be recycled).

    Here is Rod Adams’ take on the matter:

    The biggest problem with nuclear is not cost, since modern responsible nuclear power is only marginally more expensive than coal plants that can’t contain their waste for 10 seconds.

    The biggest problem with nuclear is that it is the most misunderstood technology of all times.


  243. Peter Lang, on 1 March 2012 at 2:29 PM said:

    If we could do that 67 years ago, why can’t we build them economically now?

    I don’t know that the comparative economics is different. A lot of the design and construction costs of generation III reactors appears to me to be related to the 60 year design lifetime and the accommodation of post construction non-destructive inspect-ability.

    There is very little information related to how much money was spent by nuclear operators in order to upgrade their plants/procedures to achieve the current level’s of ‘availability time’.

    The ‘average’ refueling outage in the US in 1990 was 104 days. In 2006 it was 39 days.

    A quote from an AP1000 licensing document
    The QuickLoc mechanism allows the removal of the RPV closure head without removal of in-core and core exit instrumentation and, thus, decreases refueling outage time and overall occupational exposure

    Without a full accounting for total life cycle costs it’s hard to compare how much of the AP1000 costs are for ‘excessive safety’ requirements and how much is for the longer lifetime and reduced operating costs.


  244. Quote: “China’s putting AP1000′s up on the assembly line in a factory.”

    But what about the pressure vessel? Can that actualy be made on an assembly line? And what about the hugh concrete containment structure?

    One of the attractions of the LFTR is that it could be produced in a factory on a production line. It operates at atmospheric pressure, so it does not need a pressure vessel. And also because of that, the concrete containment structure can be much smaller.

    Although there is no guarantee that the LFTR is the way to go, it looks very promising and in my opinion, considerable resources should be devoted to preparing it for production.


  245. Yes pressure vessels for PWRs can be made on assembly lines. In fact they are made in special forges. Ditto for the steam generator shells (which are pressure vessels themselves).

    BWRs are more difficult because they are much larger (especially taller than PWR vessels). I’m not actually sure what they do, perhaps they weld the cilinder tube sheets in place. The bottom and head is usually made out of one piece using an automated, giant, scary forging hammer.

    LFTRs don’t need a pressure vessel. But they do operate at high temperature which means more thickness. And they need to withstand earthquakes, and seismic stresses from terrorist attack, so they must be thick enough for that reason as well. The earthquake criterion will dominate for a non pressurized vessel. So you want to have more than an inch at least, maybe 2 for larger vessels, despite the low pressure.

    Containment structures are made using different techniques. Some concrete containments are slip-formed, where a hydraulically supported scaffolding-form continually pours the containment up, pulling itself up as it goes. The Canadians are good at this with their CANDU concrete containments. Metal containments like the AP1000 are welded in place, just like large oil storage tanks are. Newer AP1000s in the USA use steel plate concrete construction methods for the outer shield building enveloping the metal containment. These are made up of factory produced modular steel form elements, put in place like giant Lego blocks, then concrete is poured in them. This avoids the on-site laborious work of weaving and working the rebar. In stead the steel pour form is the rebar.


  246. AP1000. I’m afraid a sort of mythology is developing around construction of the AP1000s that is not constructive at all.

    Modularity only means the building of larger sections of the plant offiste rather than one piece at a time. It does NOT mean “factory production”.

    It means that some layering of components can be put together in factories. It means that much can built … next to the reactor itself… and then loaded into place.

    According the Westinghouse, there are about 235 distinct ‘modules’ that compose the AP1000 but this doesn’t mean they built 1000s of miles away and trucked or barged in. It means they can put in a room, next to the reactor site, put in all the stuff that goes into the room in that room or compartment, and then put it into place.

    It is a LOT cheaper than convention non-modular forms of construction but it’s not a panacea. It’s cheaper, but not THAT much cheaper.

    What it allows for is a much better *scheduling* of the build, it makes planning more humanly doable, and it cuts down costs.

    Because of this one can repeat the way the modules are built on a more or less consistent manner that allows for small incremental improvements to accumulate to some big savings and of course *keep to budget* as component modules, for example [say, a pump AND it’s associated vales AND it’s first set of suction and discharge lines AND it’s controls AND have it all in place on concrete or steel beam support ready to go] can be assembled off site under some factory like conditions.

    The Chinese are doing the learning curve on this for the rest of the world vis-a-vis their CAP1400 with Westinghouse/Shawgroup bringing the FOAK lessons on this out to he rest of the world.



  247. A Circulating Water Pump story.

    GE builds large 4160v Circulating Water Pumps (CWPs: used to pump cooling water through a turbine’s condenser).

    These are built in factories, many in the United States. But there really are no assembly lines, per say. They are built in large factory floors on a stationary work pallet. The armature machined one at a time, is hand finished and assembled. It is placed in a machine where the coils, wires, are carefully interwoven around the motor’s armature.

    The casing is hand built around the motor-armature/shaft and carefully checked. Circuitry is checked.

    The pump itself is built in another factory, often near a forge where the steel forging can be machined to extremely close tolerances. The pump blading, two blades that look like an outboard motor propeller, hand polished and inspected as is the inside of the pump casing. The bearings and seals are hand placed into the top and bottom of the pump casing where the pump shaft, with the blades at one end, and coupling for the motor at the other, sits. Inserted, again by hand, this can be a days long process.

    There is a tremendous of amount of hand labor in these very factory built pumps (pumps and motors are shipped separately and joined on site) that can pump out 160,000 gallons per minute.

    I relate this to you to give you a very truncated, but accurate view, about factory built machines of this size. It’ still very slow and while components to the larger components can be ‘automated’ we are not talking about building microwave ovens or toasters.


  248. Cyril, thanks for the info in different concrete containment methods. I have been trying to think through the AP1000 stay-in-place steel forms and what slips up as the containment is built. I would guess that instead of the forms slipping up only the work scaffolding would slip up. Assuming the scaffolding is needed for vibrators to get air out and inspections. Right?

    Have the stay-in-place forms for the containment been used in Japan? Does it reduce onsite construction labor a lot?


  249. David, I agree with your assertion that an AP1000 is not built in a factory but think your description should include the difference between a module and a submodule. A module is assembled on site of submodules. The submodules are often made in a factory about a 1000 miles from plant Vogle. Shaw has a factory just north of New Orleans that makes submodules which are then shipped to Georgia or South Caroline. Shaw is very proud of its large pipe bending capability in its factory. There is also at least one submodule factory in China.

    Is the AP1000 factory built? No. Is the AP1000 built onsite. No. It is some of each. Does anyone know if the South Koreans also make submodules that will be shipped to the UAE?


  250. Martin Burkle,

    Peter, thanks for switching to the South Korean model instead of the Hanford model for Australia to emulate.

    You continue to misunderstand or misrepresent the point I made. I did not “switch”. I am trying to get those who are capable of doing so to think about what the cost of nuclear could and should be if we don’t confine our thinking to what we have now. Think about what could have been without the constraints of 50 years of anti-nuclear advocacy and the effect that has had on the designs and regulatory environment.

    I am suggesting we break this down into two parts:

    1. what can we do to get nuclear at a cost competitive with fossil fuels as soon as possible (i.e. with Gen II and III+), and

    2. what can we do change the focus on Gen IV from excessive focus on safety to focus on cost as the primary focus

    Dealing with the first of these, a Gen III nuclear plant like the Korean plant would cost around $173/MWh in Australia in the existing political and regulatory environment (EPRI ,2010, Table 10-13, p10-5
    We do not have any better cost estimates than that available. That cost is about five times the LRMC of the existing coal fired generation in Australia and more than twice the cost of new coal fired plants.

    I suspect those figures are reasonable, even if we removed the ban on nuclear. There are many fundamental problems with our regulatory environment, labour productivity, labour rates, risk of public disruption to construction and operation, risk of labour disputes and cost increases (as demonstrated by the Victorian desalination plants and many other constructions in Australia) and all this would be much worse for a nuclear plant given our existing political, academic, public perception and regulatory environment.

    There are issue we need to address and we won’t get anywhere by ignoring them or trying to avoid talking about them.


  251. Cyril R

    Hanford B was a weapons production reactor.

    Yes, CyrilR. We recognise that. But you continue to miss the point. It was built 67 years ago in 18 months. That is the point. I am not advocating that design for a modern nuclear plant. Could I urge you to try to understand the point I am making.


  252. Harrywr2

    Without a full accounting for total life cycle costs it’s hard to compare how much of the AP1000 costs are for ‘excessive safety’ requirements and how much is for the longer lifetime and reduced operating costs.

    Barry Cohen gave an estimate back in the 1990’s that the cost of nuclear had blown out by a factor of four due to regulatory ratcheting. I suspect he is correct. In fact I suspect it is much worse than that given that nucelear fuel for LWRs is some 20,000 times more energy dense than coal.


  253. Former NSW premier Bob Carr will become Australia’s Foreign Minister. A couple of years back I recall Carr and unionist Paul Howes made some pro-nuclear statements. I note something in Carr’s blog

    Energy Minister Martin Ferguson apparently keeps his job for now despite displeasing the boss. My impressions is that MF has warmed to nuclear after giving big dollars to geothermal with nothing to show for it.


  254. The passive safety design of Nuscale’s 45 MWe SMR means there is little extra expenditure simply for ultra-safety. Its small enough to actually be constructed in a factory and trucked to site. Nonetheless, the cost estimates remain at about US$4000/kW to build and install in the USA. That is less expensive than a Westinghouse AP1000 and about the same as the South Korean units; I opine those are the rock bottom prices outside of China (and maybe India).


  255. John Newlands — The current standard is a 24 month replenishment cycle. The so-called robotics is simply advanced replenishment machinery, not actually a new concept. The goal is probably to complete the operation in about 16 days; I see no difficulties.


  256. (Comment deleted. Violation of the Comments Policy)
    A statement on the Open Thread regarding the appointment of a new Foreign Minister who is pro-nuclear is regarded, by BNC, as a news item and not a politically partisan comment.


  257. DBB the same link says the Hyperion SMR has the whole core unit replaced every 8-10 years. I’ll see what the fuelling cycle is for other makes which may not be as close to certification as Nuscale. Every fuel delivery is chance for opponents to make trouble.


  258. CANDU or Indian PHWR have 220 GW versions which are good, cost effective SMRs. They can be further simplified as a BWR.
    If we strengthen the outer drum to boiler standards, we can make the tubes as simple as the normal boiler fire tubes. The half-meter fuel bundles can be pushed in or out with existing design of fueling machines. This fuel will not need air but molten lead or salt to transfer heat to water outside. No pressure will be required and online refueling will be easier than existing machines.
    These “Nuclear Boilers”.could be run on LEU like existing BWR’s. They could also be converted to high burn up Thorium-PuO2 CERMET fuel. They would be more compact than PHWR and as compact as BWR.


    Barry decides who to put on the Pending list and for how long. Both you and PL (and others) have been on it sometimes:) To overcome your problem I suggest you ignore any comment which breaches the Comments Policy(re-read it on the drop-down menu from the About tag – especially the new Political rule) as it will be removed once I am on the site.


  260. Jagdish I suspect the only reactors large or small that have any hope of being used in Australia would also have to be approved for use in the US by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

    Changing topic somewhat I’ve noticed a recent trend to build gas fired peaking power stations in the middle of nowhere. Since both pipelines and transmission converge on cities the city outskirts are as good as anywhere. Here’s a site in rural NSW
    If you trace the links it will start at 250 MW then expand to 1500 MW.

    What’s going on? Do grazing sheep and bicycle riding staff make them green? Is it a coincidence they are near wind farms so already smoothed output arrives via transmission ‘from the country’? The city folks won’t know it’s more gas power than wind power. I suspect a greenwash somewhere.


  261. Yes, CyrilR. We recognise that. But you continue to miss the point. It was built 67 years ago in 18 months. That is the point. I am not advocating that design for a modern nuclear plant. Could I urge you to try to understand the point I am making.

    I’m afraid it’s you who has missed the point Peter. Weapons production reactors are simple low pressure things. This is like comparing a simple gas heated thermal oil industrial heating system with a 200 bar coal boiler-turbine-generator set. When you get to these high pressures, everything is expensive, even a little valve costs an arm and a leg and requires expensive specialized personell who know what they are doing. All the piping and vessels are thick and expensive and require special trained welders which most countries don’t even have. All the containment becomes a problem because any break results in large pressure spikes in the containment, etc. so you need big very tight containments. This adds greatly to cost and complexity. Then add to that a need for ultra low emissions, compounding the containment cost issues. Some material regulations are really expensive too; for example there are very strict personell exposure regulations that require that very expensive materials steps are done, eg on reducing the cobalt levels in steel.

    Don’t underestimate the power conversion part of the machinery either. In Hanford B they just had a simple heat exchanger that dumped the heat. If you need turbines and generators and electrical switchyards, GW class power electronics, that is a lot of complexity and cost. Just buying the titanium tubing required for seawater condensers for the power plant has requires more than 18 months, befory you can even get started. The waiting list for turbines can be even longer. Also note that Hanford weapons production reactors didn’t care about emissions to the environment; Hanford is now one of the worst radioactive messes every created by humankind. It’s very cheap if you don’t care much about the environment – no different than a coal plant. Getting rid of all the mess responsibly requires a lot of abatement equipment, modern mining techniques (in stead of slave labor camps in China which cost only a barrel of rice per day) and lots of places to store all the nasty bottom ash. That’s without considering this stuff called CO2, of which a large coal plant makes 200-300 kg per second, every second, and can’t contain that waste for more than 10 seconds.

    I do think you have a good point Peter, I would also like to see a clearer explanation of why nuclear has apparently inflated more than other things. I know that delays are expensive, and I know that mid-construction changes in the design, as happened in the USA where entire cooling piping had to be redone after being poured in concrete already, are two bigger factors in the cost overruns. But how big were they and how big were other factors, it is an important question where I haven’t seen a quantitative answer to.


  262. Peter Lang, on 2 March 2012 at 11:54 AM said:

    Barry Cohen gave an estimate back in the 1990′s that the cost of nuclear had blown out by a factor of four due to regulatory ratcheting.

    My brother in law used to work for Combustion Engineering(once a leader in nuclear power plants) as a construction manager and refused to work on nuclear projects. He is in no way ‘anti-nuclear’.

    The consequences of a ‘weld failure’ in a conventional thermal plant are pretty much ‘lost production’ and ‘cost of repair’. In a nuclear plant you could end up with a ‘cleanup problem’ or worse.

    I spent a few days on a conventional thermal plant construction site with my brother in law. He had endless ‘heated’ discussions with the ‘Union Rep’ over quality of welds and whether or not the person doing the welds was adequately qualified to do them.

    Standard practice in the US for the provision of the bulk of the labor for large constructions projects is to call down to the local ‘Union Hall’ and then the ‘Union’ sends you ‘what they see fit’ based on ‘Union’ selection criteria. Management has very little control over who does what and as the work is temporary in nature doesn’t get much of a chance to evaluate the quality of an individuals skills prior to letting them ‘go to work’.

    The post ‘TMI’ regulatory environment took a hard look at ‘human factors’….I.E. Not just what happens on paper…but what happens in the real world with real people.

    On paper a journeyman welder knows how to weld a joint of ‘X’ complexity. If you hire a journeyman welder the weld will be done properly.

    A hypothetical ‘real world’ example.

    We have a journeyman welder that manages to get 9 out of 10 welds correct. We then have an inspector that manages to catch 9 out of 10 of the substandard welds. We still end up with 1% of our welds being substandard.

    Now lets’ review the objections of the ‘lone’ NRC staff member that dissented in the approval of the AP1000

    Click to access ML103370648.pdf

    An excerpt –
    This is because the NRC also engaged a consultant, who is an expert in testing, a consultant, who is an expert in construction, and a consultant, who is an expert in steel welding,because the WEC shield building with the proposed use of new SC modules not only creates design problems but also problems in areas of testing, construction, and steel welding

    I’m all for nuclear power…but I’m not willing to live next to a nuclear power plant where 1% of the welds are substandard.

    I know the design engineers can design in margins of safety so that 1% of the welds being substandard doesn’t make any difference in normal operation, but I want a margin of safety where 1% of the welds being substandard doesn’t matter in an earthquake as well.

    Quality control on ‘field’ welding is difficult at best.


  263. Harry, we had a serious earthquake a year ago in Japan. So far I haven’t heard about weld damage from the earthquake on any nuclear plant in Japan. Have you?

    Keep in mind also that various pipe and weld breaks are incorporated in the design basis accident and the plant has to maintain cooling in this break scenario as part of the design basis.

    A lot of people live near gasoline storage depots that store billions of liters of gasoline in welded cilindrical tanks. Some contain over 100 million liters per tank. Lots and lots of welds there. I’m involved in the HAZOP and PRA analysis of several of these oil terminals. Using standard eddy current, x-ray, and ultrasound, weld spec testing is done with a lot better reliability than 9 out of 10! Also the welds must be inspected by independent bodies at regular intervals. It works very well, we have very few weld issues and never safety critical ones (but then we have no earthquakes here – we’re all familiar with the Japan refinery fire that burned for days, but journalists don’t find refinery fires as spectacular as nuclear plants).


  264. John Newlands — The Hyperion unit is a form of Gen IV and as such it will be quite a long time before NRC will approve the type. The PbBi coolant has the defect of requiring over 100,000 years of isolation from the environment (current IAEA radiation standards) onve one is done using it.

    Even in countries with active antinukers there is no difficulty over nuclear materials shipments AFAIK.


  265. It seems to me we’re losing the point of having small modules. The original hype for SMRs suggested each module is loaded by crane from the back of a truck then taken away for offsite refuelling after a decade or so. No muss no fuss. If they need be laid out in a large building with machinery for regular refuelling why not have just one larger module? How does that affect load following? With Nuscale instead of 12 modules of 45 MWe just have the one 540 MW unit.


  266. Phew! Cheers Barry. But what is he talking about then? Now I’m concerned that it’s all too good to be true and that there really *is* a ‘waste’ management problem. Even if it isn’t strictly nuclear ‘waste’ as such, but contaminated components or coolants or whatever.

    Can we honestly lay *all* our cards on the table — in English? For a layperson from an arts background? Because now I’m concerned that my non-technical background has deluded me into raving about the ‘waste’ problem being solved when *other* stuff might need to be stored long term.


  267. Eclipse Now — Pb=lead, Bi=bismuth. The Russsians have used PbLi coolant for submarine reactors and are commercially offering larger ones for civilian power production; I don’t know wheather they have any takers yet. I don’t quite know what to term the Hyperion design given its novelty. In any case its not a fast reactor so maybe Gen IV isn’t the best term.

    The equipment used for pyroprocessing to feed a fast reactor [hence consuming all the actinides] will become intensly radioactivity and so when no longer servicable have to be kept isolated for some time. I don’t know for sure how long, but a few centuries ought to suffice.

    The only long term isolation I know about, that is, longer than say three centuries, is for the irradiated PbLi coolant aned of course for unconsumed actinides.


  268. John Newlands — I believe Nuscale has the first SMR but it won’t be a much longer wait for the larger B&W mPower. In that design the replenishment is done conventionally. Hyperion is one of the so-called nuclear battery designs.

    Each module of a non-battery, whether 45 MW or 540 MW, has to undergo periodic replenishment and refurbishment (r&r). One of the advantages of having multiple smaller units is that the r&r crew is kept at it all the time while the other modules continue to supply power. For example, having 24 Nuscale units implies one is down for r&r at any given time and the remaining 23 supply 1035 MW continuously. That’s a capacity factor of 95.8% [which ought to be acheivable and so lower the net O&M cost].

    The Nuscale r&r unit is on-site, at the end of each row of up to twelve [although I see no reason why rows of 24 could not be used]. My understanding is that the module undergoing r&r is held vertically rather than laid on its side; this avoid upsetting the geometry of the various nuclear and control rods.

    Nuscale points out the advantage of their SMR design is that additional modules can readily be added as demand grows while it is not necessary to invest in excess capacity before there is actual need for it. Obviously the same holds for all SMR designs, including the nuclear batteries.


  269. Instead of increasing the cost of electricity via a carbon tax in an effort to make alternatives more competitive, why not just mandate X% emission reduction by X year then set the retail price of electricity so it reflects the average cost of producing electricity plus transmission plus some profit? You know… a regulated system. Seems like it would be cheaper that way.


  270. David B. Benson,

    Nuscale isn’t really a plain old PWR. It is an integral PWR where the steam generator, pressurizer, and reactor is essentially once piece. The possibility of a loca is basically eliminated.


  271. Scott — Yes, the Nuscale unit uses convection to transfer the heat from the reactor to the heat exchanger [making steam on the steam side which is then piped out to the steam room (if any) and the Rankine cycle turbine. So it isn’t a Gen II design and obviously far safer for lower cost. However, it remains a PWR [to contrast with the unproven technology of the Hyperion unit].


  272. Scott we are supposed to be moving from carbon tax to a CO2 cap in July 2015 as discussed here

    Click to access Consolidated-Final.pdf

    I’ve saved a copy to check back in future as the goalposts get moved.

    Details are sketchy such as the actual size of the cap. At one point it was said 2020 emissions it would be 160 Mt below year 2000 levels which were ~500 Mt. Prorata to 2015 that would be 500-120= 380 Mt. Barring recession we won’t get that low and it was said that overseas carbon credits would be bought to achieve it. As Martin Nicholson points out that could cost billions and as the Breakthrough Institute points out they don’t actually reduce global emissions.

    Suppose in 2015 the emissions cap is back to 500 Mt CO2e. Then big emitters would have to bid for CO2 permits in an auction system akin to the US EPA’s NOx and SOx auction. Even if the same political party is still in power federally I don’t see it happening so easily.

    It doesn’t help that the govt’s Clean Energy Future website is riddled with implausible claims. For example they claim that Australia’s metals industry is moving to a lower emissions future. No it’s not. It’s moving to a higher emissions future by relocating to coal profligate China.


  273. I like the NuScale design. We haven’t figured out how they overcome the conventional steam generator pressure drop limitation, which seems to make full power natural circulation PWRs difficult. No doubt the annular steam generator (with a lower average tube length) is a big factor here, but NuScale is being like a chicken on a golden egg in terms of its IP policy.

    The simplicity, modularity, and similarity to PWRs look like winners in the speed of deployment. The passive safety is something everyone can understand – the containment is in a below grade pool of water, so cooling is always assured even if all the recirc valves would fail. When the water has boiled away, weeks have passed and the decay heat has been reduced to levels where simple air passing over the containment will be sufficient cooling. So looks like fail-safe, walk away safe reactors. I thought for a long time about how to get radioactivity out of this thing into the environment, and couldn’t come up with any scenario, excellent.

    Regarding cost they will have an initial disadvantage due to smaller unit size and reactor efficiency (eg need more fissile fuel for smaller reactor cores because they leak more neutrons out). But they should have a faster cost reduction curve in the nth unit, because they can make more units per GW and they are more modular.


  274. Cyril R., on 3 March 2012 at 8:50 AM said:

    Keep in mind also that various pipe and weld breaks are incorporated in the design basis accident and the plant has to maintain cooling in this break scenario as part of the design basis.

    I accept that…but even from a plant owners perspective..a pipe break on a nuclear power plant is going to represent a massive repair bill, . Hence, even the plant owner is going to want an additional level of quality control before startup.

    The TMI accident didn’t harm anyone…but the plant owner lost their entire investment and had substantial cleanup costs. TMI Unit #2 was in commercial operation all of 3 months.

    I wasn’t attempting to make a point that the existing reactors were ‘unsafe’. I was attempting to shed light on why nuclear power plants
    cost what they cost.

    The last progress report on VC Summer

    A significant area for focus related to the project involves module fabrication work at Shaw Modular Solutions (SMS). This work has been delayed due to module redesign, production issues, manpower issues and Quality Assurance and Quality Control (QA/QC) issues.

    Over time the workers at Shaw’s modular facility will get good at what they are doing(given a steady amount of work) and costs will drop.

    If the work at Shaws modular facility ends up being ‘boom or bust’ then they will endlessly suffer the quality control problems associated with having a lot of ‘new hires’ doing the work.

    Achieving the level of quality control that will give investors confidence that they will enjoy a 60 year ‘return on investment’ and the public confidence that the plant is safe costs a lot of money.


  275. TMI was not a weld failure. It was instrument failure (lack of good instruments) combined with valve failure that initiated the event, combined with human operator error (due to the ambiguous instruments readings) causing the operators to think the valve was closed. Though I’m a bit flabbergasted that something similar did happen at Fukushima – at some point operators also thought that too much coolant was in the reactor, oddly enough. Personally I’d suggest to not allow human override in such an event – better to flood the vessel too much than to have insufficient cooling melting down the fuel rods.

    As far as I know, weld failure has never been an issue in any event or accident at any nuclear plant. In fact, the whole LBLOCA design basis thing seems far-fetched: clearly the permanent station blackout scenario, as happen at Fukushima Daiichi, is far more real and dangerous (and not included in the design basis – existing plants are only required to deal with temporary blackouts of hours to days).

    From my experience, welds that are in fact too strong turn out to be more dangerous. For example the wall-roof weldings in a gasoline storage tank must not be stronger than the wall-bottom weldings. Otherwise you can get a rocket in the event of a serious fire. So you must make sure that certain welds are much weaker than others, so any failure will occur there. It’s the same with a PWR pressure vessel. You want the top welds and flanges to be weaker than the bottom welds, so that if an overpressure accident occurs your break will occur well above the top of the core (so it won’t dry out completely and you can still fill it with water).


  276. Instead of using weak welds which are designed to fail in case of excessive pressure, why not use blow out plugs?

    Steam railroad locomotives had a problem with boiler explosions if the water dropped below the crown plate in which case the fire would overheat the crown plate causing an explosion. Excessive pressure could also cause a crown plate failure. The boiler would explode into the fire box to the detriment of the occupants of the locomotive cab and send the boiler rocketing down the tracks for a considerable distance. So for safety, they started equipping the crown plates with numerous blow out plugs. That way, excessive heat or pressure would cause the blow out plugs to blow out thereby safely releasing the pressure in addition to extinguishing the fire.

    Pressure cookers also have blow out plugs.

    Couldn’t blow out plugs for reactor vessels be designed to release the pressure more predictably than welds intentionally made weak? Also, it should be possible to have the pressure released in a more predictable direction.


  277. High pressure systems can have high pressure rupture disks or blowout plugs, yes, I forgot to mention these systems are always installed on high pressure systems, the building code and notified bodies require it. In the case of a reactor pressure vessel, they have high pressure liquid or steam relief valves, lots of them. Even if all of those fail, which is unplausible, the weakest part of the system would be the flange where the top head is connected to the vessel with lots of bolts. Too much pressure will force up the head so that steam escapes, relieving the pressure. Not the way you want it by design, but it is a reversible system – when the pressure drops again the head drops down again, sealing the pressure vent. EL posted a link to a story that suggested this is what happened at the Fukushima Daiichi containment vessels: these also have bolted flanges that would releave pressure (and radioactive volatile fission products with it since there was lots of core damage at that point already). If that is true then we have proof that this is a safety feature that prevents catastrophic failure of the containment vessel. Of course it is bad in that fission products such as iodine and cesium would leave the containment unfiltered, so in stead a passive overprotection system should be used, with lots of filters in it.


  278. Cyril R., on 4 March 2012 at 4:44 AM said:

    TMI was not a weld failure. It was instrument failure (lack of good instruments) combined with valve failure that initiated the event, combined with human operator error (due to the ambiguous instruments readings) causing the operators to think the valve was closed.

    The plant had only been in commercial operation for 90 days. A valve failure seems like inadequate quality control to me.

    From my experience, welds that are in fact too strong turn out to be more dangerous. For example the wall-roof weldings in a gasoline storage tank must not be stronger than the wall-bottom weldings

    Neither over spec or under spec. That takes ‘quality control’ going in both directions.

    Quality control costs money. My brother in law used a portable x-ray machine all the time.

    Here are the requirements to become a ‘nuclear certified’ welder in the US.

    Article 7- Welding examinees must meet the following requirements:
    1. Have at least a middle school degree.
    2. Be healthy.
    3. Can follow welding procedures
    4. Can perform welding activities independently

    A ‘middle school degree’ in the US is 8th grade.

    They also have to take a written and practical test. A score of 60 out of 100 is ‘pass’.

    Then we have this from the US NRC Inspection Guidelines from 1983 –

    Click to access ip55100.pdf

    If practical, sample adequate number of welders taking the
    qualification tests and confirm by positive identification
    that the person welding the test weldment is indeed the person
    being qualified.

    That’s not exactly comforting..if it’s practical the NRC inspector will wander over to the welder certification center and verify that the welders taking the test are actually the people who are getting the certificates.

    Work Observations. The IE inspector should select for work
    observation a sample of welds comprising a combination of
    structures and AWS welding contractors associated with the
    work……..The total number of sampled welds selected for
    work observation should be at least thirty (30) but need not
    be greater than sixty (60)

    That’s the NRC inspector…the builder is also supposed to inspect above and beyond what the NRC inspector does.

    Click to access ML072970562.pdf

    WELDING CORRECTIVE ACTION PROGRAM PLAN…….On February 20, 1985, TVA certified that Watts Bar was ready for an
    operating license. On April 11, 1986, as a result of over 5000 employee concerns, TVA withdrew their certification that Watts Bar was ready for licensing.

    The plot thickens

    Click to access ML082280206.pdf

    The expanded review involved approximately 8,000 radiographic exposures, which represented approximately 1,780 welds. Approximately 170 of these welds in the expanded review have at least one radiograph having indications which may not meet ASME Section III requirements.

    It took 23 years to complete Watts Bar #1. It wasn’t the fault of the ‘anti-nuclear’ crowd that almost 10% of the welds inspected by a single inspector had some evidence of being ‘sub standard’.

    Then we have the leaking VC Summer Hot Leg Saga which was caught during a refueling inspection –

    Click to access ml010740293.pdf

    determined that extensive repairs to this weld during original plant construction in 1978 generated high residual tensile stresses, which contributed to primary water stress corrosion cracking

    So a lousy weld that was caught and reworked at the time the plant was built resulted in an ‘extended outage'(how much money does a nuclear plant lose a day if it is offline?) and I assume expensive repair 22 years later.

    Which brings me back to the original point I was trying to make to Peter Lang.

    Comparing the construction costs of a plant built in 1970 to the construction costs of a plant built in 2012 isn’t possible unless one adds all the premature maintenance costs to the 1970’s era plants that was a result of insufficient quality control and construction practices.

    I think the ‘higher initial quality ends up resulting in lower life cycle costs’ argument is a powerful one.


  279. I read BEIR VII. I am calling into question the conclusion regarding the LNT (Linear No Threshold) hypothesis. The difficulty is the choice to statistical method used to choose between LNT and QNT (Quadratic No Threshold) for low doses of ionizing radiation. Even with a better statistical method [that I will briefly describe] it might be the case that the BEIR panel would still recommend LNT to set standards for exposure to ionizing radiation, but as I hope to make clear, not on the grounds the panel actually used.

    As background, LNT has been used for many decades. In the earliest days one found the dose for LD50 (50% mortality) and noticing the data points roughly fit a straight line, simply drew one from the origin through LD50. In BEIR VIII that slope is set with standard sophistication to obtain the regression line; I have no complaints about that.

    It is easy to devise a highly simplified model of living tissue repair based on known cell biology. Several have noticed this, including me. At low dose rates the mathematical approximation is, in fact, QNT. At moderately high dose rates the exact equation is approximately linear. It is only the low dose response which is in question between LNT and QNT. [I note that recent experiments at LLNL seem to give evidence of the essential correctness of this simple model, but of course the BEIR VII panel could not have known about these.]

    For leukemia, BEIR VII finds that QNT fits the data better than LNT using standard Fisher/Pearson statistical methods. I see nothing wrong with this and the statistical method I suggest below as superior will give the same result.

    For solid cancers, however, BEIR VII notes that while QNT fits the data better than LNT, it does not do so with statistical significance (which I take to mean 95%). The panel therefore recommends continuing to usee LNT for regualtory purposes. I object. There is another way to attempt to select between competing hypotheses.

    Instead of the one-sided nature of Fisher/Pearson hypothesis comparison, in which [in this case] QNT must greatly outperform in order to displace LNT, use a Bayesian (ratio) factor test in which both hypotheses are treated equally. There are information criteria such as AIC and BIC which offer guidance as to whether the two hypotheses perform about equally well, whether one is clearly superior to the other [and which it is], or a muddy middle gorund where one is not sufficiently certain.

    From BEIR VII it is clear that if such a Bayesian factor test were performed on their (overly sparse) data QNT would be found to be superior. Which of the three decision outcomes obtain requires actually performing this test.

    I fault the BEIR panel for not doing so. How to use AIC well was already in a textbook by 1979. To repeat, the outcome might well be in the muddled middle where no easy decision can be made, at least with just the data in hand. But as it is now, I have doubts about the BEIR VII conclusion with regard to solid cancers nor am I willing to just acceed to their expertise.


  280. One of my biggest critiques of BEIR is its omission to treat dose rates in a scientific way. All the data BEIR uses is high dose rate – nuclear explosion flashes, medical imaging flashes, very short lived medical isotopes in the body, etc.

    This is not what is relevant to nuclear power, where exposure is low dose rate, chronic, even during a major accident.

    As a matter of fact, the hormesis model explicitly states that when the bodies capacity to deal with ionizing radiation is exceeded, it’s a downward slope of more and more damage. With a brief flash of radiation, the bodies capacity will always be exceeded and there will be damage.

    Paracelsius said that the dose makes the poison. This is not correct. A more accurate assertion is that the dose rate makes the poison. I drink a lethal dose of alcohol many times a year. But because I take it regularly my body can process it and I am still alive an in good health.

    BEIR does not like to talk about biological DNA repair mechanisms, or any other biology science that is very relevant to the discussion. They only like to talk about statistics, not biology. This is strange. When only looking at statistics, I can see that the amount of crime in a city and the number of supermarkets are correlated. More supermarkets, more crime. That’s simply statistics. I will only know what’s really going on when I know something about cities: bigger cities have more crime and more supermarkets. This spurious correlation can only be brought to light by taking the correct data to compare, which in turn requires knowledge of cities beyond statistics. The BEIR case is similar: they only care about statistics, not about the underlying biological science. As a result they are using a faulty data set. The doses vary but all are extremely high dose RATES.


  281. Cyril, quite right. Rate, not just dose, matters. If you get hit will a dose of 1000 mSv in 5 minutes, you’re in a bit of trouble. Get hit with 1000 mSv over 20 years, and it’s quite probably beneficial. Going back to the old staircase analogy, if you decide to jump down 100 stairs in one go, you’re time is almost certainly up. If you jump off the bottom step of your flight of stairs every day for 3 months, the most you risk is a sprained ankle (occasionally). Same ‘dose’ in both cases, very different rate.


  282. Harrywr2

    My brother in law used to work for Combustion Engineering(once a leader in nuclear power plants) as a construction manager and refused to work on nuclear projects. He is in no way ‘anti-nuclear’.

    The consequences of a ‘weld failure’ in a conventional thermal plant are pretty much ‘lost production’ and ‘cost of repair’. In a nuclear plant you could end up with a ‘cleanup problem’ or worse.

    That is not argument for excessive regulation. The aerospace industry has much worse consequences from a design flaw or production flaw. Yet they don’t address it by excessive regulation. Excessive regulatory costs on aerospace industry would have caused aerospace industry to have been excessively costly and to have been held back in their development just as has happened with the nuclear industry. Air travel would have been much more costly, there’d be less passenger movements, less aircraft operating and the standard of safety would be well behind where it is. Excessive regulation is not the solution.


  283. Peter Lang,

    The aerospace industry has much worse consequences from a design flaw or production flaw. Yet they don’t address it by excessive regulation

    Airworthiness Directives (ADs) are legally enforceable rules issued by the FAA in accordance with 14 CFR part 39 to correct an unsafe condition in a product. 14 CFR part 39 defines a product as an aircraft, aircraft engine, propeller, or appliance.

    Here is a list of airworthiness directives the FAA issued in the last 60 days – I count 45

    Same general process happens in the aerospace industry as the nuclear industry. Something unexpected happens, they do a root cause failure analysis then issue orders to take whatever action is appropriate to minimize a re-occurrence. Sometimes that means an increased inspection schedule…sometimes that means a retrofit.
    ‘Lessons Learned’ are incorporated in ‘New Design’ licensing.

    In 1970 you could probably buy a Boeing 747 for $50 million. They cost about $300 million now.


  284. Occasionally materials scientists and engineers come up from PNNL in Hanford to give seminars about advanced materials for radioactive environments. This work is part of DoE’s efforts directed (eventually one hopes) towards high temperature reactors. The materials in question (mostly) have no or poor defect repair and so after some total dose deteriorate to uselessness.

    I don’t know enough biology, health physics or radiology to be positive that the same does not occur to humans exposed to ionizing radiation. Neither, it seems, is there any useful data collected post-1945. This is true of other health physics research articles I read, not just BEIR VII. That data is of course only whole dose data from one rapid delivery. So AFAIK there is no understanding of low dose rate response by the biological and medical communities.

    The BEIR VII panel did briefly discuss hormesis to conclude that more research was required.

    All told, I’m quite dubious of reasoning by analogy in this case and also point out that the only scientific understanding of low dose effects is entirely statistical.


  285. David B. Benson – here is a link to recent research that flies in the face of the linear no threshold theory:

    Who knew, the body has a certain capacity to repair itself, as long as that capacity is not exceeded (low dose rates) damage can be repaired very effectively. But when the capacity to repair is exceeded (high dose rate, no matter the total dose) the body has to be sloppy in a pinch and do hasty repairs which often fail. It’s almost elementary class biology, so intuitive. Flabbergasting that BEIR doesn’t talk much about such simple facts of biology.


  286. Harrywr2,

    In 1970 you could probably buy a Boeing 747 for $50 million. They cost about $300 million now.

    That makes my point. The Boeing 747 has gone down in real costs and the nuclear poants havew gone way up in real terms.

    Pulling unconparable bits an pieces out like this is not helpful. Show me real costs that regulation has added to nuclear and to aerospace. I understand from Bernard Cohen (1990’s some time) (anmd going from memory) regulatory ratcheting has increased the cost of nuclear by about a factor of 4 in real terms (from memory). Nothing else has suffered this. And I think it would be difficult to argue that it has increased the safety as much as would ahve been achieved by allowing nuclear to roll out at a much loser cost. I am convinced we’d be way ahead no if that had been the approach. We’d have got over the mass nuclear phobia decades ago.

    If you want to provide a convincing case to change my mind on thjis, you’d need to do more than pull out a few unrelated facts and figures.


  287. Hi Harry2,
    ///Something unexpected happens, they do a root cause failure analysis then issue orders to take whatever action is appropriate to minimize a re-occurrence. Sometimes that means an increased inspection schedule…sometimes that means a retrofit.
    ‘Lessons Learned’ are incorporated in ‘New Design’ licensing.///
    And that’s a good thing, right?


  288. Peter Lang, France switched almost completey to nuclear in about 10 years. Are you suggesting they have poor regulations on nuclear safety? In actual fact they are really tight on it. And what about the Finns? They are rapidly transitioning to nuclear power right now (will be mostly nuclear electric before 2020). Do you think Finnish nuclear plants are underregulated? Olkiluoto’s EPR experience suggests the opposite. Yet despite all the regulatory intervention and delays, the Finns are going ahead with a few more nuclear builds, very large units, allowing them to source most of their electricity from nuclear by 2020. Olkiluoto is a popular media anti-nuke target, but the truth is that the Finns are transitioning effectively and rapidly to a nuclear powered electricity grid.


  289. Eclipse Now, on 5 March 2012 at 9:29 PM said:

    Quoting me
    ///Something unexpected happens, they do a root cause failure analysis then issue orders to take whatever action is appropriate to minimize a re-occurrence. Sometimes that means an increased inspection schedule…sometimes that means a retrofit.
    ‘Lessons Learned’ are incorporated in ‘New Design’ licensing.///

    And that’s a good thing, right?

    Absolutely. That’s how you achieve safety and reliability.


  290. So, Cyril R and Harrywr2, do I understand correctly you are believe the costs of nuclear in western democracies are OK? That is the message I take from your comments because you are defending the status quo and stridently opposed to considering what could and should be the case.

    Do you believe you can force people to accept these costs by regulation?

    In Australia the cost of nuclear would be about five times the current cost of coal generated electricity and at more than twice the cost of new coal. Most people want cheap energy. The benefits to society are enormous and cannot be dismissed. You cannot avoid the fact that democracies are not going to accept high cost nuclear and nor are the developing countries. I am of course referring to nuclear roll out at the scale needed to make a substantial difference to global emissions, not just a few plants.


  291. Peter Lang, on 6 March 2012 at 11:15 AM said:

    So, Cyril R and Harrywr2, do I understand correctly you are believe the costs of nuclear in western democracies are OK?

    The cost of new nuclear is ‘competitive’ with ‘new coal’ or ‘new gas’ generation in the South Eastern US ,most of Western Europe, China, India, Japan and South Korea.

    Obviously..those places where the cost of ‘new nuclear’ is already competitive will end up bearing the FOAK and SOAK costs.

    I emphasize the word ‘new’ as competing against a power plant that is paid for is difficult regardless of the generating technology.

    Competing against brown coal at $1/GJ or black coal at $2/GJ is also difficult. Most of US and most of rest of the world pays more then that.(Except Australia)


  292. harrywr2,

    Nuclear generation is not competitive. If it was it would be being rolled out throughout the developed and developing countries.

    It is a figment of advocates’ imagination to argue it is competitive, just as it is a figment of the wind and solar advocates’ imagination to argue that their pet technologies are competitive.


  293. Cyril R — Thank you for link. In my earlier comment I alluded to this work but had the lab wrong; it is LBNL. However, I do not subscribe to your interpretation; biology is much more complex than that.

    Some who know much more biology than I suggest caution in applying this preliminary investigation to mammels in general and humans in particular. Nonetheless, it does point in the direction of QNT being a better statistical model of low dose risk than LNT for solid cancers.

    Despite the name the BEIR panels are almost exclusively considering effects on humans; the series ought to have been named HEIR but we are stuck with the poor title.

    It is likely to take many years before regulatory and advisory groups are ready to move away from LNT to something like QNT.


  294. Peter Lang — Mostly by just following World Nuclear News it is quite clear than NPPs are currently under construction in the devloped and developing world.

    Last Friday’s TNYT had a article of Vietnam; one under construction and site work for another. The Vietnamese current plan calls for 10 NPPs.

    In India, the current plan is for about 44 NPPs; India is, of course, a coal producer.


  295. According our Federal Treasurer Australia can pride itself of introducing a carbon tax. However critics of coal exports are irrational

    I think Australia’s domestic emissions must be around the 550 Mt CO2e mark at the moment. However CO2 from 300 Mt of exported coal (assuming all thermal coal) X 2.4 would be 720 Mt and from LNG 20 X 2.8 = 56 Mt CO2, call it ~800 Mt CO2 from fossil fuel exports generally. vs a domestic 550 Mt. If as looks likely several smelters close down and the emissions move offshore then we re-import metal made from our own ores and coal that won’t appear on our greenhouse accounts.

    My question to the Honorable Treasurer is why is pointing out this hypocrisy irrational?


  296. Carbon tax will lead to trading or outsourcing to those unlikely to pay it. Awareness of peaking of resources or increased cost are the real deterrents. In case of coal, SPM or sulfur emissions could be policed. IFR or a closed nuclear by any name is the real antidote to peaking of energy.


  297. Peter Lang, you asserted on 6 March at 1:02 PM that nuclear is not competitive. Competitive with what?

    Let us suppose that nuclear is not competitive with coal. If that is the case, it is at least partly because externalities are not taken into consideration when power is generated from coal and because the cost of nuclear power has been greatly increased by bureaucratic bungling. But would you be willing to damage our environment seriously because nuclear power is more expensive than coal power?

    Compared to the alternatives to fossil fuel power, such as wind and solar, nuclear seems to be highly competitive.


  298. Peter Lang, on 6 March 2012 at 1:02 PM said:

    Nuclear generation is not competitive. If it was it would be being rolled out throughout the developed and developing countries

    Global Coal Statistics – Page 2

    Click to access coal_section_2011.pdf

    1999 Prices
    Northwest European $28/tonne.
    Central Appalachian(Eastern US) $31/tonne.
    Japanese Steam Coal Import Price(cif) $35/tonne,

    2010 Prices
    Northwest Europen Benchmark $91/tonne.
    Central Appalachian(Eastern US) $71/tonne.
    Japanese Steam Coal Import Price(cif) $105/tonne,

    Nuclear is not cost competitive against $30/tonne coal.
    For most of the world $30/tonne coal no longer exists.

    In the US(Coal Capitol of the World) coal consumption has dropped by 100 million tons in the last 5 years.

    Click to access t32p01p1.pdf

    In most of the world the discussion of the economic benefits of inexpensive electricity from inexpensive coal vs the environmental costs is over. The inexpensive coal no longer exists.


  299. Nuclear is not allowed in many countries including Australia. Kind of strange to say it isn’t competitive.

    That’s like saying, stealing from a bank is not competitive. Yes it is competitive but it is not allowed. Except that nuclear power creates wealth and a cleaner environment whereas stealing from the bank is just concentrating other peoples wealth.

    In countries where nuclear is allowed and fossil fuel and anti-development interests don’t red-tape them to death, nuclear is expanding rapidly. That’s why many of the asian countries have a rapidly growing nuclear sector. China has ambitious targets, but just when you think they’re too ambitious, they revise the targets upwards again!

    Here are some figures by Brian Wang on nuclear costs. These are quite competitive. Not dirt cheap but you only get dirt cheap by using existing coal plants that are paid for already. Those plant’s don’t last forever. Australia still needs power decades from now when all existing coal plants are closed. If Australia refuses new builds they are simply defraying the cost to future years when it will come back much bigger (because you have more old exisiting capacity to replace with new expensive capacity) and you risk old generation failing causing blackouts.


  300. I think we have the ingredients for a disaster in the making with the development of Queensland’s coal and CSG exports . A UN team points out the possible damage from 10,000 ships a year crossing the Great Barrier Reef

    On land there are the problems with fracking and long term issues such as the future gas needs of south eastern Australia and the need to replace costly oil imports. None of these issues appear to have been thought through in the rush for export dollars. However I suggest the biggest fallout could be resentment.

    A year from now we will have working class Australia struggling to pay the bills as we forcibly reduce our consumption of coal and gas. Meanwhile increased amounts of Australian coal and gas will be sold overseas without restriction. Upthread I suggest CO2 from exported coal and gas will be 40% or more higher than domestic emissions. The hypocrisy is bizarre with one government minister saying that it was needed to prevent mass starvation in developing countries. When one of those ships crunches into the Reef it will be the last straw.

    Anyway I see a way to get for sectors of the Australian economy to get the carbon tax monkey off their back ..become an honorary overseas country. For example I think the State of Victoria will struggle with their 5 GW of brown coal fired baseload with the pay packet adjustment the same as for gas and hydro dominated states. Simple; just declare Victoria a foreign country and they’re off the hook.


  301. Meanwhile, you’d prefer to sit on your hands and try to defend the status quo on the cost of nuclear rather than look openly at why it is so expensive (e.g. estimated to be four times more expensive in Australia than in Korea, and that’s not FOAK).

    You’d argue to raise the cost of coal something that is clearly not going to be accepted across most of the world, where most of the population lives and where most of the emissions will come from over the decades ahead. And nor should it be accepted!

    I find it very frustrating how blind some people are to reality. And blind to economic reality.


  302. A short review of BNC on Campus Review:

    I’ll paste it below since it requires registration to read. Overall, I thought it was a nice piece, and highlighted the importance of good moderation on a site like this:

    A brave new world of blogging

    The debate over climate change can get uncivilised fast and nowhere is this more evident than online, where the comments on a blog can go from “I disagree with this” to “You are worse than Hitler” in the blink of an eye.

    So anyone entering the online world specifically to blog on climate change would be wise to take care. University of Adelaide director of climate science Professor Barry Brook, appears to have cracked it. His blog, Brave New Climate (, focuses on climate science and low-carbon energy options and hosts sparkling debate free from abuse. It has 4,000 subscribers and has received more than 3.2 million hits since he started it in 2008 as a place to put work he had published in the media.

    “I thought it would be easy to maintain, that was my initial expectation,” he said. “Once I started it and it got a bit of pick-up I realised I was starting to attract comments and it gradually became more interactive and gave me a place to wax lyrical about ideas I had in climate change and to respond to comments or to provide criticism.”

    Now Brook has a strict comment moderation policy, requiring posters be civil, stay on topic, cite sources where possible and refrain from political arguments. Moreover, he warns on the site: “This is a website for people who are concerned about climate change, first and foremost. It is not set up to pander to any other subset, and if you don’t care about solving climate change (or at the very least if you’re not neutral on the matter), then BNC is not the website for you.”
    An assistant helps with the moderation, going through comments and taking down those which fail the test.

    “I found that you couldn’t let an unmoderated comments stream go through because there was just too much nonsense and people appreciated it if it was properly moderated and respectful,” Brook told Campus Review. The comments policy “keeps discussions on a particular topic focused… [The rules were] the results of understanding how blogs work and what you need to take control of. [BNC] has a fairly dedicated cohort of followers, people who are not afraid to invite other people to look at it because they know they’re not going to get their heads ripped off.”

    Brave New Climate also hosts guest posts from other researchers, and he has collaborated with people he has met through the comments. It’s also provided a testing ground for some ideas, which have later made it into academic articles. “To a degree, [comments on the blog are] like any comments you would have on something you’d submit to a journal,” he said. “You’d read them and try to take account of them – I’d say they’re on the same level of value collectively as the traditional academic review process.”

    But while Brook is enthusiastic about the contribution the blog has made to his working life, he is also careful to warn academics considering launching their own that it will not become a debate powerhouse over night.
    “You’ve got to be willing to spend time to build it up,” he said. “I think academics often have high hopes and get disheartened when it doesn’t take off immediately.”


  303. Harrywr2,

    This comment (now slightly reworded) was posted about 11:00 am, before my comment at 11:08 am, but it was deleted. My following comments built on this one.

    In most of the world the discussion of the economic benefits of inexpensive electricity from inexpensive coal vs the environmental costs is over. The inexpensive coal no longer exists.

    It is not generally accepted and not supported by the facts. The facts being the worldwide growth in coal generation capacity far outstrips nuclear.
    Sorry Peter – I don’t know to what you are referring. I did not delete your 11:00 am comment which is still on the blog.


  304. Peter Lang, on 7 March 2012 at 11:29 AM said:

    Harrywr2-The examples of why nuclear would be so costly in Australia and why it would have such an exorbitantly high investor risk premium just keep coming

    I have been commenting on the ‘competitiveness’ of nuclear in those localities(most of the world) that have steam coal prices substantially above current Australian domestic steam coal prices.

    My understanding is that the domestic cost of ‘steam coal'(brown or black) in Australia is between $1 and $2/gigajoule.

    ‘Most of the world’ is paying $3 to $5 /gigajoule for steam coal.

    Those localities that are currently paying $4 to $5/gigajoule for steam coal will obviously be the early adopters and bear the FOAK and initial regulatory certification costs because it makes financial sense for them to do so.

    I would note that if someone told me in the year 2000 that US Central Appalachian mine-mouth coal prices would more then double by 2010 I would have suggested they see a ‘mental health professional’.
    History has proven me wrong.

    I don’t have sufficient knowledge of Australian Coal markets to render opinion as to what ‘future prices’ will be.


  305. Harrywr2,

    I understand what you are saying. I am talking about the whole world.
    But from my perspective you are pulling out bits of what makes up the total costs and total viability of nuclear versus coal. Just talking about fuel costs is next to irrelevant, IMO.

    I am approaching it from the overall viability. Nuclear is clearly not economic anywhere except in a few places like China, India and Korea. Everywhere else it is not being built. It’s not being built faster than coal capacity in South America, Africa, and most of the developing countries. It is only built in USA, UK and Europe with enormous government support in one way or another. No investor would touch it without government guarantees.

    No matter what the reasons, it is clearly not economically viable. There are many reasons for this. What frustrates me is that advocates deny it is not economically viable and apparently do not want to open the potential can of worms to investigate why it is too expensive.


  306. Peter Lang — You seemed to have not read my earlier comment which indicated that NPPs are indeed be built in many countries around the world. Rather than repeat, I’ll just mention that both South Africa and Chile are seriously moving forward towards building fleets of NPPs (3 for Chile).

    Both countries also mine coal, a valuable export commodity.


  307. Greenhouse gases, climate change and the transition from coal to low-carbon electricity

    Click to access 1748-9326_7_1_014019.pdf


    A transition from the global system of coal-based electricity generation to low-greenhouse-gas-emission energy technologies is required to mitigate climate change in the long term. The use of current infrastructure to build this new low-emission system necessitates additional emissions of greenhouse gases, and the coal-based infrastructure will continue to emit substantial amounts of greenhouse gases as it is phased out. Furthermore, ocean thermal inertia delays the climate benefits of emissions reductions. By constructing a quantitative model of energy system transitions that includes life-cycle emissions and the central physics of greenhouse warming, we estimate the global warming expected to occur as a result of build-outs of new energy technologies ranging from 100 GWe to 10 TWe in size and 1–100 yr in duration. We show that rapid deployment of low-emission energy systems can do little to diminish the climate impacts in the first half of this century. Conservation, wind, solar, nuclear power, and possibly carbon capture and storage appear to be able to achieve substantial climate benefits in the second half of this century; however, natural gas cannot.

    The paper is interesting, but I have two concerns after a quick read:

    1. you can’t have renewables without a lot of gas. So it is misleading to show renewables on their own. When showing renewables it should also show the emissions from the gas component needed to make the system reliable.

    2. The emissions per technology seem to be biased in favour of renewables and against nuclear. The LCA emissions from nuclear are less than or equal to wind, and much less than solar PV and solar CST.


  308. While I appreciate the power of market forces what we have in Australia is legislative banning backed by cultural resistance. I was going to say inertia, but it’s too strong for that. People are genuinely scared of a meltdown closing down their neighbourhood, forever. (Three centuries is beyond the reckoning of most people, and so *forever* works to describe how emotional people are about this subject.

    Economic forces are not even a relevant part of the debate right now in Australia. Nukes are devil-spawned radiation spewing time-bombs about to blow radiation and close down a 60 km radius circle of Australia. People can’t think past that being somewhere rural and deserted, and always assume it will be their backyard. Like Chernobyl.

    Given how extreme the cultural resistance and political inertia is over nuclear power, I would back a variety of programs that would install nukes, whether government driven or strictly market driven. (But with independent auditors and safety inspectors of course).

    For example, I would also support a Carbon Tax *if* it fed into state-of-the-art AP1000’s or equally super-safe Gen3.5 nukes.

    If we cannot convince the Australian public that Gen3.5 nukes are exponentially safer than anything that has gone before, this game is over. The ban will stay put.

    And that will have NOTHING to do with market forces.


  309. Peter Lang, on 7 March 2012 at 1:08 PM said:

    I am approaching it from the overall viability. Nuclear is clearly not economic anywhere except in a few places like China, India and Korea. Everywhere else it is not being built. It’s not being built faster than coal capacity in South America, Africa, and most of the developing countries

    A article from a Virginia newspaper(Coal country)

    Dendron’s town council again voted to approve a rezoning that will allow a large coal-fired power plant to be built in the town about 20 miles outside Williamsburg.Old Dominion Electric Cooperative has plans to build a $6 billion, 1,500-megawatt power plant

    $6 billion for the plant and coal priced at $3/GJ. Not exactly an ‘economic’ decision.

    Have it now pressure sometimes causes people to purchase things that are not in their long term economic interests.

    If I go through the latest VC Summer status report the ‘supply chain’ is still working to get ‘up to speed’.

    Click to access 2011Q4BLRAReport.pdf

    The ability to deliver on time and on budget are valid concerns at this point in time. With an ‘immature’ supply chain either one has to build a lot of fat into the budget and timeline or explain cost overruns and delays.

    In the US I keep seeing articles like this –
    MidAmerican Energy is considering a 540-megawatt nuclear plant to be built at an unspecified Iowa site.

    If I look at delivered price of coal in Iowa it works out to be about $1.50/GJ. (it will be ‘Western Coal’ which has a heat content of about 17GJ/ton)

    Click to access table34.pdf

    540 MW seems to me to be this –
    Or this

    Click to access e2011002.pdf

    It’s probably the mPower unit as that already has a FOAK customer.

    Whether it ever gets built I don’t know. Someone in Iowa is working to at least ‘have the option’. Who knows if it will even be legal to build a coal fired plant in 2020?


  310. $4/Watt for the modern coal plant, that’s pricey. But then the dollar isn’t what it used to be.

    $4/Watt is about what NuScale says they can do. A bit optimistic perhaps, since the $4/Watt coal is for a real project and NuScale hasn’t gone into specific projects yet. Still, looks competitive if you’re paying 3 cents per kWh for the coal fuel (nuclear should be around 2 cents per kWh).


  311. Test audience reactions to proposed TV ads for our clean energy future are apparently not going well

    Perhaps the public is smarter than the politicians think. The ads we saw a year or ago showed solar panels with lots of happy people wearing hard hats, even on the ground. Since then major solar projects have been cancelled and 4-5 GW of new gas fired generation is on the books. I also suspect the public is highly cynical of the double standard regarding coal exports. While Aussies have to pay higher power bills 10,000 coal ships a year will bash their way through the Great Barrier Reef to prevent ‘mass starvation’ overseas according to one senior minister.

    No doubt the new $10bn Clean Energy Finance Corporation will get a mention. That will at least mean somewhere in Sydney gets a shiny new rooftop. The government should get their story straight first then make the ads.


  312. Harrywr2 @ 8 March 2012 at 2:53 AM said

    You quoted my statement at the top of your post but then didn’t address it. The fact is, new coal capacity is far outstripping new nuclear throughout the world. That is because nuclear is far too expensive to be taken up in preference to coal throughout most of the world.

    Put simply, nuclear is too expensive. It is not economic.


  313. @Peter Lang,

    I would suggest that there are other factors at play as well as cost in the coal verses nuclear choice. I suspect (without supporting evidence) that both India and China would like more nuclear and less coal but are going as fast as they believe they reasonably can in the context of building up a nuclear industry, the supply chain, education and training of a “nuclear” workforce of scientists, engineers, technicians and qualified trades people etc, etc. In some sense, the capacity of the world wide nuclear industry to supply after a couple of decades of little new activity may well also be a factor.

    Choices are also likely to be specific to individual nations. In particular nations with limited domestic coal resources must surely be concerned about future fuel cost for new coal capacity. Not only the fuel cost but the cost of the transport infrastructure for imported coal. Nuclear may be attractive because of it’s price stability. This may have something to do with the decisions of Bangladesh and Vietnam.


  314. Quokka,

    I note your unsubstantiated personal opinion that nuclear is economic. It has about as much credibility as Mark Diesendorf or Matthew Wright saying that solar and wind are economic.

    I also notice that you avoid the key point that demonstrates, clearly, that nuclear is uneconomic. If it was economic it would have been being built instead of coal and gas throughout the developing world for the decades past.
    Please note that unsubstantiated personal opinion is allowed on an Open Thread.


  315. Peter Lang wrote:

    If it was economic it would have been being built instead of coal and gas throughout the developing world for the decades past.

    This would be true if there were no political and restricted know-how dimensions to nuclear power. Of course, that’s not the case. Nuclear is heavily politicized and know how is fiercely guarded. Iran is a case in point. Heck, they get their nuclear engineers assassinated, and their economy heavily sanctioned. Nuclear’s curse is that it originated in wartime, and the bomb was built before power reactors.

    Nuclear plants are a manufactured product, the cost of which drops if you build a lot of them (if you think the first Boeing 747 was cheap, think again). This is the French experience, and France is hardly underregulated.


  316. Peter Lang, on 8 March 2012 at 10:02 AM said:

    The fact is, new coal capacity is far outstripping new nuclear throughout the world. That is because nuclear is far too expensive to be taken up in preference to coal throughout most of the world.

    The ‘inflation adjusted’ price of coal experienced a 40 year decline that ended in 2002. Obviously, in 2002 if I were making a decision about building a electricity plant the fact that the price of coal had been ‘going down’ for 40 years would heavily influence my decision.

    Someone only interested in ‘saving their wallet’ would have ordered a coal fired plant in 2002.

    It’s not 2002…it’s 2012…the price of coal has been going up dramatically for 10 years. The usual excuses of there was a flood, or a mine accident or a harsh winter to explain away a one or two year price blip don’t hold anymore.

    If you want a nuclear power plant you have to put a deposit on the reactor pressure vessel 5 years in advance because the nuclear industry was ‘asleep’ for 30 years while everyone was enjoying ‘cheap energy from cheap coal’.


  317. In a couple of weeks the Bureau of Resource and Energy Economics will release a detailed report on Australia’s coal and LNG exports. Press release here. I presume BREE is an offshoot of ABARE formerly much quoted on BNC.

    This report should make it possible to confirm that CO2 from exported fuels is much higher (I reckon 40%) than domestic emissions from all source such as deforestation. So as not to get tangled up with this nasty emissions business the new term for coal and LNG is ‘resources’. It’s just that they happen to be the type that burn in air.

    You might also note that Federal Treasurer Wayne Swan is trying to bully Greenpeace for economic treason or some other heinous crime. Treason maybe but not hypocrisy. As the press release notes export energy prices went up 20% in the last year. That’s a doubling time of 4 years. Could it be that coal and gas will price themselves out of a market with or without carbon tax?


  318. Considering that nuclear prices depend mainly on the capital cost, it may be worthwhile take them as basic. Imported fuels, if any, should be taxed to bring energy prices on par. Carbon tax is too unwieldy.


  319. Nuclear giant Areva is building CSP plants, called CLFR (compact linear fresnel reflector). They’ve got one project, a solar booster on a coal plant, of particular interest to this website because it is in Australia.

    The proposed solar thermal system will produce up to 44 megawatts of additional electricity during peak solar conditions. This will equate to 44 gigawatt hours of electricity per year

    This is only 5 MW of average electric flow. Capacity factor of just 0.11. The project costs AUD 104.7 million, almost AUD $ 21/Watt. Plugging it in the NREL calculator gives about 27 cents per kWh. The coal plant still produces over 99% of the electricity (it is 750 MW peak). Yet the 1% solar addition is an excellent excuse for the utility to keep the dirt burner running. So this is pretty terrible greenwashing going on.


  320. John Newlands, on 9 March 2012 at 8:21 AM said:

    As the press release notes export energy prices went up 20% in the last year. That’s a doubling time of 4 years. Could it be that coal and gas will price themselves out of a market with or without carbon tax?

    For those countries dependent on fossil fuel imports that pretty close to reality now.

    US EIA LNG import/export cost estimates.

    generic liquefaction costs amount to around US$1.09 per million Btu..regasification will add US$0.30 per million Btu.

    Then there is the matter of the cost of the boat which adds another US$0.30 to US $2.00.

    So if we say the ‘transport tax’ for natural gas is $2.50/MMbtu.
    There is about 117 pounds of CO2 per MMBtu. So burning 18MMBtu of gas resultes in a tonne of CO2 emissions.

    18 * $2.50 = $45/tonne of CO2.


  321. Gas burned to drive LNG compressors will be 65% carbon tax exempt I believe since it is an EITEI emissions intensive trade exposed industry. Since Fukushima (one year ago) the Japanese have paid $10-$15 per GJ or mmbtu for LNG. That contrasts with piped gas prices in the range $3-$4 per GJ. If a tonne of LNG with 55 GJ heating value is priced at $825 then that would include $60 worth of liquefaction effort according to the quoted figure.

    On the Queensland coast parallel to the Great Barrier Reef three new plants will liquefy coal seam gas for export. The fully laden LNG tankers along with the coal ships will then crunch their way through the coral to supply north Asia with the fossil carbon it lacks. With the sort of money on offer I’d say the chances are slim for parts of Australia (eg Melbourne) getting cheap gas in future.

    The government wants us to believe these stupid and irrelevant side shows like the solar steam boost make a difference. Meanwhile the truly significant energy sources like gas are pricing themselves too high for local consumers. At the same time we are trashing our backyard and losing control over carbon abatement. To use a favoured expression we are not seeing the forest for the trees.


  322. As I have pointed out before, those advocating renewable sources of energy are unable to cite studies which have numerically determined that it is practical. I recently came across a quotation by Galileo which may be useful:

    “Measure what can be measured, and make measurable what cannot be measured.”

    That is exactly what they have failed to do.

    Lord Kelvin stated that knowledge that cannot be expressed in numbers is not knowledge; it may be the beginning of knowledge, but it is of a meagre and unsatisfactory sort.

    It seems to be that those advocating renewables should be continually admonished, over and over again, to provide numbers to prove that renewables are practical. That may not sway the hard core, but it could make the public and the decision-making politicians more aware if the impracticality of renewables as a major source of energy for large developed countries.


  323. Yes Frank, recently I had a discussion with a renewables enthusiast. The question was whether the UK could be powered by solar. The answer is of course no, simply by looking at when the sun is available (which is not the case 90% of the time in the UK). The renewables enthusiast then went into some kind of lawyer science act, saying this report does not claim that solar can power the UK, so it’s not a relevant question. When I launched a torpedo in that and called him back from the tree to look into the forest, he went into a vague defence of “we use a combination of wind, solar, hydro, and tidal”. Hiding behind the vague and complex so that he didn’t have to face the reality that none of these energy sources is reliable enough to power a country, even all of them together. David Mackay’s book, “sustainable energy – without the hot air” also outlined numerous capacity problems of these renewable energy sources (which are actually not renewable but nuclear energy sources, except they are unreliable unlike nuclear fission on earth). Just getting people to read that book will be a major step forward. Best to just link to the online version when in discussions with the renewables enthusiasts


  324. How to get low emissions electricity generation in Australia

    To get low emissions electricity generation in Australia, this is what I think we need to do:

    1. Fund research into how to implement low emission energy in Australia. Remove the pro-renewable bias. Establish research centres in universities and research organisations throughout Australia with the goal to define how we could remove the impediments to low emissions electricity generation.

    2. Direct the Productivity Commission to define the impediments to low cost low emissions energy for Australia. Define how they could be removed, the consequences of removing them and the priority for removing them

    3. Implement a nuclear regulatory regime for Australia. One of the most important goals of this agency is to provide Australia with low cost nuclear generated electricity. This goal must be explicitly stated in the agencies mission statement.

    Risk Maps

    I expect one of the outputs from the research into how to get low-cost, low-emissions electricity would be that we need to educate the public about the real risks and advantages of nuclear energy.

    I would like to be able to answer this question: “Do we force people to evacuate from areas where there is radioactive contamination at much lower levels of health risk that we accept for other accidents?

    I would like to see risk maps. I would like to see map layers for different risks to human health. You could built up layers on top of each other so they showed the total risk of living in an area. You could also add layers for a new imposed risk, such as a new hospital, freeway, pulp mill, wind farm gas power station, coal mine, CSG, CCS, or nuclear power station. Here are some examples of risks you might want to select on a map for your area

    1. traffic accidents
    2. crime
    3. industrial area
    4. paint factory
    5. oil refinery
    6. particulate pollution from coal power stations
    7. mercury, lead, arsenic, benzenes, long chain hydrocarbon compounds
    8. flood risk

    Now, consider we could see such a map for the areas around Chernobyl and Fukushima before and after the nuclear accidents.

    I would really like to see such a map. Because I do not understand whether or not the evacuations were warranted on a purely objective basis.

    That is, do IAEA regulations force people to evacuate from areas where there is radioactive contamination at much lower levels of health risk than we accept for other contaminants and other risks?


  325. PL I’d point out the Gillard government has already flatly ignored the advice of the Productivity Commission

    The PC along with Garnaut and a senior ACCC figure have pointed out that renewables subsidies on top of a carbon price represent double dipping. It seems if the mandarins give advice that doesn’t suit the political agenda it gets ignored.


  326. JN, @ 11 March 2012 at 2:25 PM

    The program I proposed – to build the capability to educate Australians (public, media and politicians) on nuclear power – is going to take time, as I laid out in the “Implementation” (points 3 and 4) and the “Schedule’ sections in the lead article for this thread:

    My comment at 11 March 2012 at 12:51 PM expands on the education part of that proposed approach to get economically viable nuclear power in Australia.

    To expand on my comment of 11 March 2012 at 12:51 PM about the ‘Risk Maps’, what I am suggesting is:

    1. Risk maps with contours of fatalites/projected fatalities per capita per year.

    2. The map would have layers that could be selected and deselected. The layers would be:
    a. by polutant (eg lead, mercury, particluates, NOx, benzenes, long chain hydrocarbons, radioactive contamination, etc)
    b. by cause (e.g. by smoking, heart attack, cancer, motor vehicle accident, falling off a roof, coal electricity generation, nuclear, etc)

    3. The user could add or subtract layers. Ideally, the user could, for example, remove 1.6 GW of electricity generation from Hazelwood brown coal power station in the Latrobe Valley and add 2 GW of nuclear on the Gippsland coast, and see how the total fatalities per capita per year would change in a given selected location, e.g. a suburb of Melbourne.

    4. There are many ways this could be expanded and improved – eg ‘what if a nuclear accident?’ What if a chemical accidnet?

    My reason for arguing for this suggestion is because we keep hearing that “100,000 people have been evaccuated from the Fukusjima area and the area will be uninhabitable for decades”. But how serious is the problem? Is the area uninhabitable because of an objective assessment of risk or is the analysis of the risk biased against radioactive contamination because of nucear phobia?


  327. There was an excellent documentary on SBS 2 tonight. It covered nuclear energy, radiation risk, LNT model. There was a lot of really good material. I’d recommend watching it if you didn’t see it.

    I’d love to see how Jim Green, Mark Diesendorf and Matthew Wright respond to it. I congratulate SBS for showing it.

    It does seem we are at a turning point. The media is starting to explain nuclear power and radiation risks objectively.

    The documentary also showed studies of animals from the Chernobyl exclusion zone and showed that despite high levels of radiation their was not detectibly damage. I say this shows why the risk maps I proposed and discussed in my last two comments on this thread would be valuable. I wonder, if we acted purely rationally, would we evacuate people from the area surrounding a Chernobyl or Fukushima type accident?


  328. PL an insight into the likely public reception of risk maps comes from the 2006 BBC documentary ‘Nuclear Nightmares’ just aired on SBS Two. It made an overwhelming case against the Linear No Threshold theory for radiation caused illness around Chernobyl. As in 4,000 expected deaths in 20 years versus 56 actual if I recall the numbers. Little did they know Fukushima was yet to happen. Now it seems all that careful analysis counts for nothing because people simply don’t want to know.

    With Victoria specifically I suspect there will be some major giveaway because of the higher bill shock from carbon taxing brown coal. Therefore I wouldn’t be surprised if there is some kind of interstate carbon parity adjustment or other jiggery pokery. Money is what people care about risk comes distant second. Gippsland could get a nuke only if it worked out cheaper than carbon taxed brown coal. When we get back into dry years the Wonthaggi desal will be an enormous burden. They should have built NP next door. I don’t think the Latrobe Valley 1 GW combined cycle plant will go ahead even if the Feds put up most of the capital. Victoria’s gas will run out while the plant is still relatively new. Still the Vics could go nuke purely on financial grounds with risk not factored.


  329. JN,

    I get the impression you a) confuse time scales and think that because the majority of the public are scared of nuclear now, that means we should not educate them and b) it is bad policy to provide factual information to the public. It is better to try to impose beliefs by providing misleading and exaggerated spin. That seems to be your argument in your reply here and in most of your arguments presented on for example the CO2 tax thread.


  330. Thanks Rapid Rabbit for that alert. I’ll probably post a response at some point – it’s already given me an idea for a new post.

    Talking of Jim Green, click here to see him get torn to shreds by the commenters today on The Punch, after his latest ‘essay’ on Fukushima. As others noted, this was perhaps the most unanimous commentary ever on that site, other than the near-universal praise for Geoff Russell’s latest sanity post from a few days earlier. Terrific work Geoff, and great work too Jim — you’re efforts are doing more to emasculate the anti-nuclear cause than any external party could ever hope to achieve!


  331. This map shows the radiation levels around Fukishima. The blue and green areas get less than 20 mSv per annum at 1 m above ground level.

    What is the risk of fatalities per annum per capita in these areas? What is the risk in the yellow and red areas?

    How do the risks from radioactive contamination compare with the risks from other contaminants and pollutants that exist in the same areas?

    Can anyone tell me?

    I know you cannot. So the scaremongering about nuclear and radiation can continue unabated for as long as this situation (no information) exists.

    I would like to see the map of radiation levels converted to a contour map of projected fatalities, per person per year, or per life time of exposure if for a person who lived and worked in the region for their whole life or 10 years or some other suitable way to compare risk from radiation with all other risks, both natural and caused by pollution.


  332. According to many scientists, the rise in global temperature must be limited to 2 degrees in this century, to avoid triggering positive feedback loops, such as a large-scale methane release from the Arctic permafrost.

    These days, however, emissions are increasing on an unprecedented scale, rather than peaking and then falling off dramatically in the next decade, as staying within the 2 degree limit would require. According to the ICCP we are heading for 6 degrees of warming if current trends continue.

    According to several papers, a warming of 4 degrees or more in this century is going to lead to a “breakdown” of human civilization. Why? You often here “the effects will be catastrophic”, but less often why. Shouldn’t at least industrialized countries be able to cope with things like shifting rainfall patterns and sea level rise? The Dutch, for example, have plenty of experience in wrestling land from the sea. Countries like Canada and Russia may profit from a sharp rise in temperatures, as crops could be grown further north.

    I’m not saying that limiting the temperature increase to 2°C may not be the most logical path to take (in terms of economic cost), I merely asking why climate scientists seem to think a warming beyond 4 to 6 degrees is “at odds with organized society”.


  333. There’s video of a speech by Duncan Hawthorne that gives an operator’s perspective on regulation, including some regulations that were problematic at Fukushima (Mr. Hawthorne heads Bruce Power, which has one site with 8 CANDU reactors).
    Part 2 begins with regulation – including (about 4 1/2 minutes in) stating “this is not about pricing nuclear power out of the market.”
    There probably is little new in it for BNC regulars, but it’s a nice look from an operator (and former head of WANO), with some ideas on communicating about nuclear power.


  334. Peter Lang wrote:

    How do the risks from radioactive contamination compare with the risks from other contaminants and pollutants that exist in the same areas?

    Can anyone tell me?

    Typically the linear no threshold theory uses a cancer mortality rate of 0.05 per Sievert of group exposure. So a group of 10 people receiving 20 Sieverts will cause one extra (or excess) cancer death. 100000000 people receiving 20 Sieverts will also result in the same 1 cancer death toll. If that seems rediculous, that’s because LNT is rediculous.

    LNT says that at 20 mSv/year, the threshold for the evacuation in Japan, the excess cancer mortality is 0.1 percent. This is really nothing compared to living in a city or area with a lot of air pollution such NOx, SOx, particulate, and heavy metals (ironically almost all caused by fossil fuels). Here’s an example of that, traffic burning of fossil fuels causing 90% of the cancers in polluted areas:

    Click to access cancerriskreport.pdf

    Quite strange that people in Tokyo were worried about Fukushima radiation. They would have far lower cancer risk by moving out of Tokyo (a heavily fossil fuel polluted city) into Fukushima (a fairly rural area with much cleaner air).

    The biggest flaw with LNT today is that it uses statistics only, not biology. And it uses a misrepresentative statistics body at that. It uses statistics of people that received high and low total dose but all of them received very high dose rates. These are primarily the bomb survivors from Nagasaki and Hiroshima, and patients that have received medical imaging and radiation treatment. All of these sources are sudden flashes of radiation that overwhelm the bodies defence systems, so it is not surprising that there is a linear relationship; once you already exceed the body capacity to repair itself the damage just keeps piling up with higher doses beyond that point.

    Nuclear accidents contamination give very different dose rates, spread over years in stead of seconds. Chernobyl shows no evidence of Cs-137 cancer deaths, for example. We’ve learned from Chernobyl that short lived iodine such as I-131 is dangerous because it bioaccumulates in a small organ (concentrating the dose, overwhelming a small organ). Cesium doesn’t bioaccumulate.

    Imagine if you take one aspirin a week for two years. This isn’t bad for you and probably good for you (beneficial acid stuff). Now imagine taking all those aspirins, 104 of them, in one hour. Not good for you, not good at all.

    The dose is the same, the result couldn’t be more different.


  335. It’s a bit rich for some (but not all) NT residents to complain about the Muckaty Station low level radioactive waste dump
    when tens of thousand of tonnes of Olympic Dam yellowcake and copper-uranium concentrate travel the full length of the Territory on their way to Port Darwin

    Admittedly yellowcake only emits about 20 Bq/kg according to this
    but there’s a lot of it. Dare I suggest that objections to Muckaty are linked to who gets a cut.

    Here’s my rebuff to the NT; without Icthys gas you would be in dire trouble. However the Icthys gas wells off WA are much closer to Timor who miss out, separated by both an underwater and economic chasm.


  336. I have some questions about soil contamination. Any help would be appreciated.
    UNSCEAR Annex D on Chernobyl …

    has a map of soil contamination from 1989 data (Annex D, p.5) … a
    large area with 37-185kBq/m2 ie., 370-1850 MBq/km2 with
    the hottest region about 37,000 MBq/km2.

    Yasunari’s PNAS study …

    Found levels between 10,000 MBq/km2 and 100,000MBq/km2

    He finishes his article with figures in Bq/kg of soil that are generally under 1000 Bq/kg. I haven’t yet worked through his calculation of
    these latter figures, but I’m surprised the per km2 figures are as high or higher than the Chernobyl figures. Should I be surprised or is something not right?


  337. What’s happening at Hyperion Power Generation?

    They just changed their name to Gen4 Energy. New CEO (Robert Prince). Old CEO John Deal has decamped with the other four founders to start a new company IX Power, which looks like a power & clean water consultancy. Meanwhile Hyperion has relocated from Los Alamos to Denver.

    Deal cites disagreements with the investors and says

    he and his colleagues had a different strategic vision for the company, but he could not discuss details.

    “All of the founders left,” Deal said. “We went one way, and our investors went another.”

    Thats a few curveballs on from abandoning their original interesting uranium hydride fueled design for the current uranium nitride model. I hope it doesn’t slow down their path to market but it looks like they’re a few hands short and it must be hell in the boardroom.


  338. Greens Senator Christine Milne has welcomed China capping its coal use at 4.1 bn tonnes from 2015
    Slight problem China’s recent coal consumption was
    3.88 short tons X .91 = 3.5 Gt so they’re giving themselves a 16% increase.
    That link suggests China accounts for 26% of global manmade CO2 and rising.

    Long tons, short tons next there will be medium tons. It’s a bit like our coal industry promising Scout’s honour to implement CCS but always a year or two away. I think a better insight into China’s intentions is their threat to cancel Airbus orders if the EU airline tax goes ahead

    Note Clive Palmer’s new coal mine will be called ‘China First’ and it will pay no carbon tax unlike the rest of us. In my opinion an alliance of carbon restraining countries should impose an arbitrary carbon tariff of say 20% on goods made in China. When China gets serious about coal cutbacks, to say 1 Gtpa, then the tariff gets lifted.


  339. Geoff – one important factor seems to be that Chernobyl’s graphite fire dispersed radiation over a larger area than in Fukushima. There was no continuous hot fire at Fukushima that boiled and threw radionuclides such as cesium-134 and 137 high into the atmosphere, only an initial hydrogen explosion that seemed to have had a lower driving force to push the radionuclides (no continuous heating) into the air. Here’s a map that shows the much large affected area of Chernobyl:


  340. Geoff Russell, on 14 March 2012 at 8:28 PM said:

    I haven’t yet worked through his calculation of
    these latter figures, but I’m surprised the per km2 figures are as high or higher than the Chernobyl figures

    The Fukushima area is mountainous. You have wind-tunnels and eddy’s and all sorts of things making for very uneven distribution.

    The radiation levels at the Fukushima NPP site range from 3uSv/hr to 300 uSv/hr.


  341. The Climate Institute thinks there will be smiles all round if Australia pays Indonesia not to chop down its trees
    I suggest it is not a globally new carbon sink and it sets the scene for blackmail by Indonesia and a copout by Australia.

    If Indonesia was a grown-up country it would take responsibility for its own forests. In Kyoto protocol terms that means becoming Annex II. Suppose if Tassie seceded they could threaten to bulldoze the SW Wilderness and get a lucrative carbon credit for refraining. Apart from being misconceived the money could get out of hand. The recent report by Hunt suggests Australia could spend $757bn on foreign offsets by 2050 and Martin Nicholson estimates high figures as well.

    All for nothing since the same forest is there right now for free while the Indos are not yet demanding cash to save it. I’d have to say the Climate Institute is about as relevant to the low carbon push as Al Gore, in other words not very.


  342. Only a bureaucrat would come up with an emission trading scheme or a carbon tax to achieve lower co2 outcomes. In contrast, an engineer or scientist , or even a lowly technician like myself would just switch to nuclear . Then again, that would be rational and logical , something sadly missing in the political debate these days. I note also that during the debates in the US of A for their presidential campaign not much attention is being paid to climate change/mitigation. Having said all this . It must be said that emissions trading worked to curb nox (acid rain)


  343. On the contrary, emission trading schemes were originally devised by economists. Bureaucrats would just order the phase out of whatever energy technology they deem undesireable.

    IMO a market for electricity is redundant. Since there is only a limited number of ways to produce and distribute electricity, it should be relatively easy for a “council of engineers” to figure out the optimal way of producing electricity for a national grid, taking economic and environmental factors into account. No need for the sometimes shaky invisible hand of the market here (most recently speculative under-reporting of projected demand by electricity traders almost caused a blackout in Germany).


  344. Exactly, the whole point about market schemes like trading or taxing is that you avoid bureaucracies. Just put a price (demand based) or a cap (supply based) on it so that the market has the correct signal and don’t interfere with the market.

    It can work well, the devil is in the details. If not all major players are included it doesn’t work. If rights are given away freely it doesn’t work. If some players are exempt from taxes it doesn’t work. If there are no alternatives available or allowed it doesn’t work (eg making building nuclear plants illegal while fooling around with technologies that can’t go the distance, such as wind and solar). The latter is currently a major problem in many countries.

    I’m not overly fond of technological bans. But in the case of coal, a moratorium on new build combined with a guaranteed phaseout plan for existing coal plants, IMHO is a good idea. But only if new nuclear build is allowed. Otherwise it will lead to great damage and blackouts.


  345. This recent post on The Conversation seems a bit interesting.

    A copy of my comment follows.
    “It seems like quite a bad idea for these researchers to base their research conclusions (at least in part) on the claims made by non-scientifically-credible activist organisations such as Beyond Zero Emissions or Zero Carbon Britain instead of basing their research on literature reviews of credible peer-reviewed, published, scientific literature and/or conducting their own scientifically credible research and submitting it for scientifically credible peer-review and literature publication.

    If we look at Beyond Zero Emissions, for example, their claims have been extensively criticised and de-constructed by many different Australian scientists and engineers and energy experts, and found to not stand up to scientific, economic and technological scrutiny. Even Mark Diesendorf, who is of course is a proponent of wind and solar energy and is no proponent of realistic coal-replacement alternatives such as nuclear energy, has criticised the BZE report for its scientific and technical flaws.

    For example:

    Click to access zca2020_critique.pdf

    Click to access zca-critique-wind-timeline-v3.pdf

    Click to access critique-of-zca2020stage12-solar-timeline.pdf

    Click to access lang_renewable_energy_australia_cost.pdf

    The Beyond Zero Emissions report is not a peer-reviewed scientific publication.

    The fact that they prominently print the crest of the University of Melbourne on all their brochures and reports is a nice appeal-to-authority fallacy to try and give themselves additional apparent credibility – a strategy that probably works well with the intended media/public audiences.

    What Beyond Zero Emissions does is they take their supposed revolutionary new scientific research and analysis, and instead of submitting it to credible scientific peer-review and scientific publication, they avoid credible scientific peer-review and scientific publication.

    Instead, they package it up in slick brochures and slick press releases and slick websites and they go off and proceed to try to “sell” it to the media and directly to the general public.

    In this respect, Beyond Zero Emissions is hardly any different from, say, the slick, polished press releases and carefully engineered media attention that accompanied the nonsense Steorn Orbo technology a few years back, or the excited mainstream press coverage we’ve seen over the last year or so covering the Andrea Rossi supposed nickel-protium “cold fusion” garbage.

    We see exactly the same thing – going directly to the media and to the public, not to credible review and scrutiny within the academic community first – with various types of pseudoscience medicine claims for example.

    This sort of thing is a classic well-known warning marker of pseudoscience.

    If we simply head over to the above-linked recent article on The Conversation and read the whole comment thread, for example, we can very quickly see that certain prominent representatives of Beyond Zero Emissions do not respond maturely to scientifically informed, skeptical questions or challenges to their beliefs.”


  346. I’m beginning to think that perhaps rational energy decisions will not be made until the cost of electricity becomes astronomical and the lights frequently go out. Even then, those who claim that renewables will probably claim that the real problem is that the transition to renewables was sabotaged.


  347. The beauty of a CO2 cap is that coal and gas then become a 2-for-1 deal whereby the cheaper fuel cost of coal is played against the lower CO2 penalty for gas. Same goes for wind and gas. If we had a flawless CO2 cap system it would answer the question of how much wind power is ideal. That is everything would be based on the traded CO2 price and other direct costs, not subsidies or mandates. My suspicion is the ideal wind penetration is under 20% so places that are shooting higher will end up with too much wind capacity when subsidies are no longer affordable.

    Whether the CO2 price will be high or low in future seems to be path dependent; for example a rich low carbon economy may be able to afford to make jet fuel out of coal. In contrast an economy that has stuck with coal will be severely constrained since they are bumping their heads on the CO2 ceiling. That assumes the international carbon police are doing their job which is clearly not the case with China.


  348. Luke, I think your test of ‘peer review’ is misplaced in this case. This is an engineering analysis; not science. BZEs analysis would be no more appropriately peer-reviewed and put in a journal than an Access Economics report.

    That’s not to say they shouldn’t be analysed and criticized by others. Just that this is not “science”. It is engineering and analysis and opinions can differ.


  349. Mods, please delete if this has been done:

    New Matilda running an analysis of some of Barry’s work.

    It is fairly level-headed I guess, but I disagree with some of the leaps of logic. As an example, comparing number of radiation deaths between renewables and nukes is… disengenuous.

    I did find the point that one *could* create weapons grade isotopes in a reactor not designed for the purpose.

    Anyway, the debate seems to be headed on a more reasonable trajectory these day which I’m sure you all agree is welcome, and in no small part due to Barry’s persistent rationalism.
    This link has been posted previously and BNC commenters have responded at “New Matilda”, however your input is appreciated so the comment stands. Thankyou.


  350. Does anyone know anything about this?

    This company, Twin Creeks Technologies, are claiming they will be able to cut the price of solar PV cells to half of what the Chinese are currently producing them for, to 40 cents per watt, by next year.

    I’ll believe it when I see it, and obviously storage is still a major issue, but I’m intrigued by the implication that wasted silicon (in the manufacturing process) apparently doubles the cost of solar cells.



  351. I can’t see any reason to doubt their ion implantation tool works as described. Ion implantation is a ubiquitous semiconductor processing technique, though the use of hydrogen is less common and using it to slice wafers is novel. They obviously have working tools, so the question becomes one of process yield and other process related questions. But these are the type of issues expected in new tools and improved by conventional process engineering.

    The cost of silicon in computer chips is not so important because the cost is dominated by many – hundreds – of processing steps on top of the bare silicon. But solar cells are much simpler, so silicon cost will be larger. I don’t know the breakdown, but silicon cost is more important for solar cells so their cost reduction is not implausible.

    Which is all good news if you want rooftop solar, like me. It doesn’t really change the equation for grid level power though, for storage and transmission reasons.


  352. I’m beginning to think that perhaps rational energy decisions will not be made until the cost of electricity becomes astronomical and the lights frequently go out. Even then, those who claim that renewables will probably claim that the real problem is that the transition to renewables was sabotaged.

    Indeed, this is exactly what happened in the recent California electricity crisis. The underlying reason is the push for the “soft energy path” – renewables plus efficiency and “small is beautful”. It didn’t work. The result was high electricity prices and in the end a serious blackout and brownout situation. Of course, everyone blamed “big business” and “big oil” and such. Renewables reputation was unblemished. It’s media and public favoritism towards wind and solar. We are still quite early on in our love affair with wind and solar.


  353. Helium is currently extracted from certain natural gas fields, those with high abundance:
    Despite the claim of high abundance, current supplies are quite limited:

    Current supplies are based on low prices, for which helium cannot be economically extracted by dedicated air seperation units.

    The notion that current supplies are limited is based on the assumption that we cannot pay several times more for our helium.

    This assumption is false.

    If child’s balloons cost 30 cents more a piece, do you honestly think people will stop buying them? It is the same for all other applications, including medical technology and Brayton cycles. The cost of helium isn’t a determining factor in the use of it in various technologies.


  354. Tom Keen, on 16 March 2012 at 9:55 PM said:

    This company, Twin Creeks Technologies, are claiming they will be able to cut the price of solar PV cells to half of what the Chinese are currently producing them for, to 40 cents per watt, by next year.

    Marketing, Distribution and Installation costs have been the bulk of the costs for a while now.


  355. In a previous California electricity supply shortage, it turns out the supply was manipulated by Enron ( Remember the good old days :) )
    @harrywe2 I have noticed the inordinate amount of advertising and promotion of solar rooftop panels in my location (SE Australia), so your point about the bulk of the cost of solar seems on the money.


  356. unclepete, on 17 March 2012 at 7:02 AM said:

    In a previous California electricity supply shortage, it turns out the supply was manipulated by Enron

    In a ‘regulated’ electricity market the incentives are for utilities to ‘overbuild’ as they are guaranteed a return on investment on ‘low utilization’ reserve resources.

    In a completely unregulated environment no one wants to pay for ‘reserve resources’ where the only profit that can be made is a few days of year when the reserves end up being required.

    If the incentive is the ‘price signal’ on the grid then it’s in the interest of the generator that is going to be ‘last on’ to hold out for the highest price signal.

    In my simple mind we need to have an additional pricing on say 5 or 10 year contracts for. I.E. The grid goes out to bid for expected maximum demand over the next 5 years and that becomes part of a ‘capacity charge’ and then ‘actual usage’ is an additional charge.

    IIRC correctly the UK is talking about such a system in order to encourage investment in ‘firm’ capacity. A straight per KWh fee favors building windmills which unfortunately may not work particularly well during ‘high load’ periods.


  357. I’ve read complaints from physics research labs about the current unavailability of helium but that might have just been for a short time as I haven’t noticed such complaints recently. Perhaps the Russianss are producing more helium from their natural gas wells.


  358. The table of readings from TEPCO has ambiguous units. If the readings in the basements are in the vicinity of 30 µSv/h, that is, microsieverts per hour, the area can be safely visited by trained workers, wearing dosimeters. If however the text references to “mSv/h” really do mean millisieverts per hour, then the place is downright dangerous. Surely they meant “micro”.

    Much as I am vigilant for the correct use of International Units, I have to admit that the use of the Greek letter mu to represent “micro” is an unnecessary complication for people not drilled in Western affectations. I urge anybody needing to write the prefix for “micro” to use the humble ASCII character “u”, which always gets rendered correctly in e-mails, blogs and documents. Heck, we shouldn’t even be inflicting such pedantry on our own students. Use “u”, not “mu”, I say!

    — Water at 150 uSv/h is nasty stuff, as those gammas have penetrated from its bulk rather than its surface, must have come out of the torus. But was the torus ruptured by the earthquake or by later overpressures?


  359. Roger Clifton, on 18 March 2012 at 4:02 PM said:

    The table of readings from TEPCO has ambiguous units. If the readings in the basements are in the vicinity of 30 µSv/h, that is, microsieverts per hour, the area can be safely visited by trained workers

    I read the Tepco numbers as millisieverts.

    The planned exposure was a total of 10mSV(millisievert) for a 20 minute job. The standard for workers is a total of 50 mSv/year.

    There wouldn’t be any need to ‘budget’ a planned exposure of 10uSv.

    Click to access handouts_120314_01-e.pdf


  360. David B. Benson writes,

    I’ve read complaints from physics research labs about the current unavailability of helium

    That was probably helium-3. It is a stable, naturally occurring isotope, but its mole fraction in natural helium is so small that the decay of tritium in things that have large, immobile inventories of it — fusion bombs, principally, I think — is the only practical source.


  361. Tom Keen,

    The fact that they’re taking boring old ion implantation and dressing it up with “high energy particle accelerator!” rhetoric to make it sound sexy and high tech doesn’t really fill me with confidence.

    Their technology sounds ostensibly plausible.

    However, just like every other whizz-bang new “technosolar” photovoltaic technology we always hear about every other week, when are we actually going to see it installed on rooftops?

    If you go around town and look at rooftop PV installations, or you perhaps consider buying one yourself, what do you see?

    Do you see cadmium telluride or gallium arsenide thin films? Do you see organic semiconductors or dye-sensitised Grätzel cells? Do you see sliver cells or ultra-thin silicon wafers made with ion beam lithography?

    No. You just see plain old wafers of polycrystalline silicon.

    Essentially every single PV panel that goes up on a rooftop anywhere in the world is just made from plain old wafers of polycrystalline silicon.

    Those whizz-bang new PV technologies that always get so much media attention just don’t make it out of the laboratory and to the commercial market and onto rooftops. Why not?

    The only reason, as far as I can tell, is that they’re simply more expensive, and ordinary polycrystalline silicon wafers – as expensive as they are – is the cheapest photovoltaic technology available.

    If there was a cheaper technology then everybody (in their government -subsidised photovoltaic household installation programs) would be using it.


    Yeah, He-3 is incredibly expensive and rare.
    Most of the world’s supply of He-3 does indeed come from the US and Russian governments, when they remove the aged tritium bottles from nuclear weapons and replenish them with fresh tritium and purify and sell the He-3 “waste”, since at the present time (with no fusion power reactors) the nuclear weapons industry is by far the world’s largest consumer of tritium and that tritium basically just sits in storage inside the weapons for years, decaying.


  362. George Monbiot’s latest is well worth the read. Briefly, no fossil fuel or no NPPs; can’t have both.

    I’d link to the article, but my mouse is partially disabled and there is no possibility of replacement before tomorrow at the earliest.


  363. I think it was John Morgan who asked the question how much PV could we use even if it was free? That is $0 per watt capital cost. A related question is getting levelised battery costs down 80% or so.

    Therefore PV enthusiasts who extol the latest materials and production processes are missing the point; capital cost and solar conversion efficiency are not the serious limitations. Time to work on lunar panels so we can harvest moonlight or maybe get energy out of clouds somehow.


  364. Both helium and helium-3 are scarce (which recommends raising the market price 10x to discourage flaring gas off wasting the helium with it); that would make recovery equipment more attractive

    Helium-3 is also suddenly scarce, partly because it’s being consumed in border security detection equipment


  365. Luke Weston,

    Some fair points, though the reason this captured my interest is that it’s not a whizz-bang new PV technology – it’s regular PV, but (apparently) with a fairly simple refinement in production technique which will (supposedly) halve the price.

    I think the major test will be just as you state – if, when production eventuates, it is as cheap as claimed, then many more people will start using it.

    This is really only an interesting side issue though. John Morgan’s point, that it really doesn’t change the equation for grid-level power, is the point we can’t lose focus of.