Two decades and counting…

Guest Post by Geoff RussellGeoff is a mathematician and computer programmer and is a member of Animal Liberation SA. He has published a book on diet and science, CSIRO Perfidy.

While the French have been generating electricty for ~80 grams of CO2 per kWh for two decades, the Germans are still putting out ~450 grams/kwh and Australia is close to world’s  worst practice ~850 grams/kwh. The anti-nuclear movement has corrupted green thinking and cost us two decades and thousands of lives in the battle to avoid dangerous climate change … and counting.


This submission relates to clause (e), “any other relevant matters”, on the list of things to be considered by the Select Committee on the Port Augusta Power Stations. The relevant matter is climate change and the place of wind and solar energy technologies in the battle to reduce Australian and global emissions as required by physical climate change emission budget constraints.

The 2009 paper: The Copenhagen Diagnosis gives long term sustainable limits for greenhouse gas emissions and work by NASA climate scientists led by James Hansen details more immediate requirements.

Port Augusta coal-fired power station, South Australia

Climate, oil and energy

For the past 20 years, there has been a competitive cacophony about the urgency of climate change by Governments and environmentalists around the world … but very little action. The emission reductions supposedly generated by the 1997 Kyoto protocol have in fact been measurably less than the increase in imports of emission intensive products by countries in the first world from countries in the third world. Many countries have simply out-sourced their emissions. This comprehensive failure has accelerated the urgency of substantive action.

During virtually all of these two decades, the French have been generating electricity using nuclear reactors at a CO2 emission rate of about 80 grams per kilowatt hour, compared to the global  average of over 500. Australia has a worst-in-class level of about 850 grams CO2 per kilowatt hour. The French completely transformed and grew their electricity generation infrastructure over a two decade period in the 1970s and 80s. The spur was oil prices rather than climate change, but the lesson remains. A fast affordable move to low carbon electricity is possible. The French did it. The Swiss did it. The Swedes did it. It isn’t the total solution to our climate problems, but it would be a bloody good start.

In contrast, it’s been 12 years since the Germans introduced a feed in tariff to reward rich Germans for electricity generated by putting solar panels on their roofs. We copied them. During this  period the German Government has incurred a 100 billion Euro debt to be paid over the next 20 years to those same rich Germans for a miserable 19 terawatt hours per year of day-time only electricity (about 3.3 percent of its total). And after all this expense and a forest of wind farms they are still generating 450 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour as a result of one the biggest white elephant projects in the history of cool technologies being promoted well beyond their tiny niche of applicability.

To admit the French are right about anything is clearly something everybody in general, and the Germans in particular, would like to avoid, but we really need to get over this, to give them credit and move on.

The French didn’t panic when a nuclear melt-down at Three Mile Island in 1979 resulted in no deaths. After all the people who didn’t die weren’t French and the reactor wasn’t French either. The French also didn’t panic in 1986 when a steam explosion in Ukraine at Chernobyl blew the top off a reactor without a containment building and killed less people than many a drunken Australian Easter holiday road toll. Again — not French.

In the 1980s, the French added 216 terawatt-hours/yr of nuclear electricity to the 100 or so they built in the 1970s. By the time of the formation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992, their carbon dioxide cost per kilowatt hour of electricity was down to about 100 grams and hit 80 soon after. Meanwhile the Germans and most of the rest of us just continued to bugger up the climate big time.

Had we followed the French and gone nuclear in a big way, as they did in Switzerland and Sweden, the world would be very different. It is ironic that sincere concern for the planet has often gone hand in hand with innumeracy, irrationality and frequently both. The 2010 floods in Pakistan displaced 20 million people; cyclone Nargis in 2008 killed 140,000; These are the kinds of events which environmental and Green anti-nuclear activism has made more likely in the future because of ill-informed fear-mongering. Had we all gone nuclear and decarbonised our electricity, we’d still have work to do, but the urgency would be considerably reduced and some of the key technologies would be cheaper and better.

The anti-nuclear movement has cost us all a couple of decades … and counting.

Let me say one last thing about Chernobyl before moving on. The accident at Chernobyl was a horrid industrial accident which taught engineers valuable lessons and nobody builds reactors like that anymore. The radioactive plume from the accident increased natural radiation levels in large areas of what are now Russia, Ukraine and Belarus and they have been eating plenty of food with higher than normal radiation levels in those three countries for 25 years.

And the result? Three tenths of a half of a sixth of bugger all.

During this 25 years the three countries have had about 14 million cases of cancer (rough estimate based on Globocan data) with about 6,000 likely due to Iodine-131 emitted in the first days of the accident. It was a predicted problem and avoided elsewhere, but the Soviets stuffed up. Nevertheless, these extra cancers were treatable thyroid cancers with just a couple of dozen deaths.

It may seem to flippant to dismiss “just a couple of dozen deaths” and 6,000 cases of thyroid cancer. Not so. If these three countries had had Australian age standardised per-capita cancer rates during the past 25 years, they’d have had something in the order of 20 million cancers … not 6,000 but 6 million extra cancers!

Australian’s are flippant about much bigger causes of cancer and other diseases than tiny amounts of radiation. They are happy to eat BBQ’d meat, get pissed, get fat, get unfit, feed themselves and their children bacon and eggs, sausages and steak. And they still smoke cigarettes. All of these are far more potent as causes of cancer than small amounts of extra radiation in food or soil. Australians are flippant about causes of vast oceans of cancer and terrified of things that don’t even cause detectable ripples. Anti-nuclear campaigners are conveniently ignorant of comparative risks so it’s easy for them to tell cancer horror stories to the general public because the general public has no idea about comparative risks.

It is far worse than flippant to risk the destabilisation of the unusually benign climate of the past 10,000 years because of a few dozen deaths. That’s nutter stuff. When anti-nuclear elder “states person” Helen Caldicott told people at a press conference in Canada just a week after the deathless Fukushima melt-downs in 2011 that they should stop eating Turkish apricots because the whole of Turkey was contaminated by the Chernobyl plume, she showed exactly what a nutter she was and is. Turkey has half the age standardised rate of cancer of Australia. What has all that contamination done in Turkey? Nothing. Bring on those apricots!

Happily, a growing number of environmentalists have realised they have been deluded by anti-nuclear fear mongering and are now pro-nuclear. Once you start checking information issued by the likes of Caldicott, the result should be inevitable. Most of us just find it hard to believe that a person can tell so many untruths with such sincerity and even harder to admit our own gullibility. It took me months to finally “come out” as pro-nuclear after I realised what a crock of rubbish I’d believed for so long. Even more unfortunately, while some environmentalists have woken up,
it’s looking like we will have to wait for the rest to die.

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