BNC 3.0

3pointzeroThe 6th January 2015. That was the last time I posted an original contribution to Brave New Climate (BNC)  — at least something that wasn’t a re-post (e.g., from The Conversation), a guest post, an Open Thread or a side note… In other words, the BNC blog has fallen fallow for well over a year. I think it’s about time for a reboot! So here’s to BNC 3.0..

The original blog started back in August 2008 (first post here). It got a real reboot in late 2009, and then a false dawn in 2014. This time, I think it’ll stick.

So what’s been going on? I moved down to the far south in 2014 to take up a research and teaching position as the Chair of Environmental Sustainability at the University of Tasmania (based in the School of Biological Sciences). At UTas I started a new research programme on the dynamics of eco-evolutionary patterns (D.E.E.P.), which has a new website at ecological-dynamics.org and a Twitter handle @ecol_evo. I work on projects spanning Wildlife, Ecosystems & Landscape Dynamics (WELD), Forests, Trees & Agroforestry (FTA), and Evolutionary Ecology (EE). There are plenty of opportunities for students!

113In May 2016 I was awarded a 5-year Australian Laureate Fellowship by the Australian Research Council, which will fund a >$4M research project looking at disaggregating the drivers of land-use change, and assessing the implications of different development pathways on biodiversity. The big vision thing is to establish a multidisciplinary Institute for Future Landscapes and Ecosystems in Tasmania. Here’s a summary of the ARC project:

The success of biodiversity conservation depends on how effectively society can ‘decouple’ environmental impacts from economic growth and rising human prosperity. This project will involve a systematic analysis of contemporary and historical data on agriculture, energy use and urbanisation, to identify the consumption and technology pathways that can most effectively mitigate the future extent and impact of land-use change. This synthesis will underpin the development of new forecasting and optimisation tools using an innovative hierarchical meta-modelling approach, and seeks to identify key intervention points where policy or technological change can most effectively mitigate negative impacts at regional and global scales. A key outcome will be the resolution of inherent trade-offs between ongoing human development and the competing need to conserve habitats, ecosystems, and species.

Obviously, these goals tie strongly to the themes of BNC, focused as it is on the intersection between technology, global change and environmental sustainability.

logoOver the last year or so I’ve been in involved with the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission in South Australia, serving on the Expert Advisory Committee. The final report was released on 6 May 2016, and I would encourage BNC readers to look through it. For this reason I have necessarily been relatively quiet, publicly, on nuclear matters over the last year.

I now plan to start posting regularly (but not to a schedule!) on BNC again. One thing I hope to do is write a collection of short posts to critique some key issues/arguments that have been propagated over the last few years; ones that really cry out for critical scrutiny. These will be written largely for my own edification, but I hope you’ll find them useful.

More soon!

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67 Comments

  1. Good to see you back, although why anyone would move to Tas (other than short term at the end of the Hobart race) is beyond me.

    Just kidding, some of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. Look forward to more posts on the Nuclear debate. We need to get the message out. I will read the commission report.

    In case you are interested here is my own take on the misplaced fears over ionizing radiation.

    https://iandubin.wordpress.com/2016/02/28/were-all-gonna-die-part-2/

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  2. A huge part of the problem is that most people simply do not understand what electric power is, or how it works. Between the inability to conceptualize scale and total ignorance of the physics of alternating current and it’s properties, the depth of the ignorance is breathtaking, and leaves a wide opening for the renewable mountebanks to imply great progress is being made with very marginal numbers.

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  3. I agree with the above two posts. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that public expectations for renewables plus general ignorance about energy are driving energy policies. The democratisation of energy technology choices is in itself an unavoidable but, let’s face it, bizarre feature of our political system. We must live with that. What’s needed for energy is more information, more explanation, more analysis, more understanding. In other words, more BNC. So, more power to Barry and BNC3.0!

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  4. Well Barry thanks for the link to the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Report. My thoughts are:
    1. As Australia is exporting substantial portions of its uranium ores we should ethically agree to recover the spent fuel and process same. Rather than abrogate Australia’s responsibility for the recovery of fissionable isotopes and highly toxic waste we should, for no other reasons such as more jobs and financial returns, accept that it is our moral duty.
    2. It is highly unlikely in my mind that renewables alone will provide anything like the standards of living most of the developed countries now enjoy. Tried and proven nuclear reactors will almost certainly be required as part of the alternate energy mix if we are serious about combating climate change. Recommendation 9 of Chapter 10 of the report is therefore most relevant.
    3. The Climate Change issue is now becoming so critical and the timespan to zero Carbon Budget so short, we have inadequate time to wait for the so called next generation of fission reactors and commercial fusion is still away in the future. Sure nuclear power has a real public image problem especially since Fukushima, but the risks involved pale into insignificance compared to the unchecked consequences of Climate Change. http://www.enegrychallenge.info

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  5. Mike Ives.

    I can only agree particularly with respect to climate change and the urgent need to reduce CO2 emissions.

    Forty years of real world data shows that only nuclear can replace fossil fuel electricity generation. France replaced most of its fossil fuel electricity generation with 63GW of nuclear between 1975 and 1995 and today has CO2 emissions of just 44g/kWh.

    http://www.rte-france.com/en/eco2mix/chiffres-cles-en

    Only three countries have lower electricity emissions, Norway which uses hydro and Switzerland and Sweden which both use a nuclear hydro mix.

    https://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/special-reports/sroc/Tables/t0305.pdf

    Since 2000 Germany added 85GW of renewable energy giving a total of 95GW, which in 2015 only generated 30% of their electricity. Just 11GW of nuclear produced 14%. Most was provided by fossil fuels when there was insufficient wind or sun giving CO2 emissions of 484g/kWh, 10 times higher than France.

    http://www.agora-energiewende.de/fileadmin/Projekte/2016/Jahresauswertung_2016/Agora_Jahresauswertung_2015_Slides_web_EN.pdf

    For 2015 divide 313million tonnes on p41 by 647TWh on p13 gives 484gms/kWh.

    Even if global community and political support can be gained to replace fossil fuels with nuclear for electricity generation we still need to reduce emissions for transport, industry heat and land use.

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  6. While full deployment of nuclear will not in and of itself solve the other issues, inexpensive electricity can make inroads into them, especially via BEVs and process heat. More importantly, it can also supply energy for the other 800 lbs gorilla in the room: desalination. Access to fresh water is going to be one of the major flash points for conflict sooner rather than later, and no discussion of climate or energy can ignore it.

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  7. Happy day! I was beginning to despair that Bravenewclimate was no more. I’m not a regular commentator on here (I’ve offered my thoughts only a dozen times or so over the years), but I genuinely admire the quality of the content… especially the spirited and informed debate in the comment section. Glad you’re back, Barry.

    As it turns out, I am doubly pleased to see DV82XL re-enter the fray. I’ve always enjoyed his contributions… they are consistently astute, and often with a dash of Nnadir-esque crankiness as he goes about the interminable business of educating/exposing the innumeracy/circularity of the anti-nuke and/or renewable faithful.

    Finally, speaking of Nnadir… do you suppose he’s going to finish his on-going series? I’m suffering from an acute case of “Nnadus-interruptus” here! C’mon bud, git ‘er done!

    My heartfelt thanks to all, from an old USN Reactor Operator.

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  8. First, thankyou Barry Brook for all the work that you must have
    done for the NRC. I kept thinking, they will need 5 years to get through that amount of material! You must feel like a cup of tea and a nice lie down right now.

    I sat through Mark Willacy’s ‘Into the zone’ last night. Willacy is a serial anti-nuke and he offered a cleverly constructed and emotionally charged confection on the Fukushima earthquake/tsunami and nuclear plant (but mainly the nuclear plant.)
    If there is a Walkley award for cherry picking facts and emotionally manipulating an audience he is a shoe-in this year.
    On the subject of cherries, the irony of flushes of cherry blossoms which he showed growing in the ‘nuclear wasteland near the reactor’ appeared lost on him.
    Needless to say, the Onagawa reactor, very low levels of radiation outside the environs of the plant, no deaths or injuries from radiation, or the effects on the Japanese economy or greenhouse gas levels from shutting down all reactors did not rate a mention. I can’t wait to hear the applause ring out when he wins this year’s Walkley for his ‘brilliant and unbiased account’.
    However, here’s the point. A friend who also watched the programme went into a rage when I suggested that his efforts were not an honest presentation of the situation. She said that if I could not grasp the ‘horrors of nuclear power’ from the images shown and Willacy’s sing song narrative, I must be unbalanced.
    The point is, many people who have seen that programme and have no further information to go by will be highly convinced by what they saw. It was brilliantly persuasive.
    My friend said that if his version was so wrong, where is the alternative version? She was right. There is none, and that is the problem.
    If programmes like ‘into the zone’ go unchallenged, all the Royal commissions in the world will be a waste of time and money.
    This is really a cry for anyone who has knowledge of how to get a more balanced version of events put together and on TV. I am willing to get the ball rolling by throwing a couple of thousand into a crowd funding arrangement, but I have no idea where to go from there. Does anyone? Without this kind of response, and quickly, we might as well try wee weeing into a force ten gale as try to persuade people by logic in the face of programmes that have the
    impact of the Willacy saga.

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  9. The problem with presenting nuclear energy in the media with positive spin is that it just doesn’t sell as well as doing it with fear. There are good treatments of the subject out there, but the odd screening I have gone to had few in the audience, and most were the usual suspects – very few new faces. Added to this is the fact that the story for the last fifty years HAS been the ‘horrors of nuclear power’ and those organizations that have been built on that premise are just not going to turn no matter how rational the argument for doing so might be.

    Nuclear supporters have been banging their heads against the wall in the belief that all we had to do was trot out the facts, and show the antinuclear arguments were without foundation – that, unfortunately, is not how it works, no matter how much we would like it to be. It really isn’t about facts, it’s about creating a popular movement, because that is exactly what wind and solar have done.

    Nuclear needs a very public, open movement that attracts young people, it need some high-profile celebrity endorsements, it needs to position itself as the sexy, trendy, I’m-on-the-cutting-edge-of-history, frision that will attract enough people that they will have to be taken seriously by political parties when they are on the stump. It has to be fashionable to be pronuke, something we are most certainly not. In short we need to be a real movement in every sense of the term.

    This isn’t as difficult as it might look. One of the reasons I dropped out of the fight was watching two nuclear power stations near me close: Vermont Yankee, and Centrale nucléaire de Gentilly for no good reason. What was shocking, and really depressing was just how few idiots, (and they were indeed idiots) it took, and how little real effort they had to make to force the issue. Now I’m not stupid, and there were other factors at work that made defence of these plants difficult for their owners, but the fat remains that there was far too little support from our side of the hill, and neither of the business entities involved can be expected to work in a vacuum. In other words these facilities were lost not because the anti were so effective, as much as the pro side was hardly there at all, and those that were found themselves shouting into the wind.

    Robert Hinds, you’ve hit the nail on the head; we have to get our act together and start getting our hands dirty, our we are beating out of the gate by those that are hardly walking.

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  10. Faith in solar and wind energy drives most of the modern public aversion to nuclear. If that faith is soundly based then we have nothing to worry about. If it’s not, as I fear, then loss of the nuclear option becomes a serious problem. Pro-nuclear campaigning is not enough. There needs to be a concerted effort to provide credible, accessible, objective, analytical assessments of the real potential of renewables to provide the low-emissions energy the world needs to sustain, and, for many reach, the living standards we now enjoy.

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  11. We have tried that route. For the twenty odd years I’ve been active, I have watched knowledgeable people talk themselves hoarse giving credible, accessible, objective, analytical assessments on energy issues to little real effect. I am still stunned by headlines like those from a few weeks ago, shouting that Germany’s renewable energy output was so great they had to pay users to take electricity, reported as if this was a great victory for the sector rather than an admission of what a huge potential clustrfuck to the grid this meant. This was a near disaster, narrowly avoided, but this was not how the story was told. You cannot fight entrenched ignorance of this sort, because it would take forever to explain what was really happening, even if you could keep their attention long enough.

    We have to move the game to a different field of play, because we are getting spanked in this one.

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  12. Into The Zone was an utter disgrace on almost every front.

    Gregory Jaczko, Former Chairman, US Nuclear Regulatory Commission sounds like he’d be an authoritative figure, given his former role. No mention that he was forced on to the commission by US Democrat politicians Harry Reid and Edward Markey – both Big Oil advocates – to stymie nuclear power.

    And Naoto Kan, Japanese PM at the time of the Fukushima incident. The man who delayed the depressurization of the plant, hence causing both the complete meltdown and explosion of the No1 reactor.
    http://www.japanprobe.com/2011/04/03/prime-minister-kan-caused-nuclear-plant-explosion-visit-to-fukushima-delayed-controlled-release-of-vapor/

    But the mainstream media will continue to portray the incident as proof that nuclear energy is fundamentally unsafe, just as they did after incompetent operators at Chernobyl bypassed 3 safety systems to run an unnecessary test on an outdated design reactor. It will take the collapse of a major electrical grid (perhaps more than one) before the general public will begin the accept the major con that is wind and solar (and tidal and wave) utility power.

    Great to see you posting again, Barry and congratulations on your position and awards.

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  13. The sad part to me Tom is that the one political party that seems to take Climate Change seriously to any degree, i.e. the Greens, plus many renewable energy NGOs project the firm belief we can beat the carbon dragon solely by introducing renewables. Also replacing the current grid energy supply seems to be their mantra while the 28% or so additional emissions associated with transport seem to get short shrift, whereas most biofuels require almost as much energy to produce as they release. By the time we find out the truth about this it may well be too late to change course. Some low densely populated countries, with minimal industrial capacity, may well reach this utopian goal 24/365 even with just the variable renewable varieties. But it is hard to imagine most counties without masses of hydro and geothermal resources achieving this without a considerable decline in living standards.
    We should wish Germany success in it’s present popularity driven regime of decommissioning their nuclear units but watch this space. Maybe it would be wise to just mothball them rather than decommission.

    https://www.ise.fraunhofer.de/en/publications/veroeffentlichungen-pdf-dateien-en/studien-und-konzeptpapiere/recent-facts-about-photovoltaics-in-germany.pdf
    Page 37 of the above advises that Germany’s maximum solar insolation does not coincide with maximum wind and in 2014 their 38 GW PV and 36 GW wind combined rarely exceeded 30 GW of power to the grid. Then there is the less than impressive capacity factors especially those of solar.

    http://www.energychallenge.info/download-pdf-file/
    Page 60 of the above we suggest pro-rata calculations to replace the likes of Yallourn W brown coal station in Victoria with a state of the art PV facility would require approximately 188 square kilometers of Victoria. Then there’s the intermittent supply issue to overcome.

    http://fti.neep.wisc.edu/pdf/fdm1261.pdf
    Then there’s the GHG and EROI issues of the various electrical energy. Figures 11 and 12 page 44 of the above gives figures of comparative life cycle GHG emissions and energy payback on a range of generating plant types. We don’t have fusion plants yet but compared to nuclear fission wind and solar do not stack up all that well and there is a strong influence of the style of energy storage chosen

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  14. GREG KAAN. Thankyou for the information on Gregory Jaczko
    and Naoto Kan. I couldn’t figure where they were coming from. I was going to start the long plow into their backgrounds and have given me something to start with.
    DV82XL. Where do we start to get our hands dirty? We could dress up as penguins and parade about with banners like our anti-nuke mates, but I don’t think this would help. A TV lecture on the principles of nuclear physics is not much help either, but I wouldn’t want to resort the bald-faced spin of the Willacy program. I saw a program on Chernobyl (Hamish Macdonald ‘The Truth is..’ channel 10) some time ago and thought it was skillfully done. He started by bringing up all the usual myths, but as he took us through the reactor (tourist attraction now) and the surroundings he posed questions that challenged the myths and would have go people scratching their heads about previously held assumptions. (A cat and two humans living in the DEATH zone!) As you say, nuclear is not flavor of the month, so he had to tread carefully, but he got his message across.
    One program is not enough. There needs to be a wave of programs sprinkled into the viewing arena over a long period of time to start to capture Jo public’s attention. The average person does not have the time or energy to read up on nuclear power, but presented cleverly enough through public media, they may get it.
    (Cleverly meaning entertaining but truthful, not as in anti-nuke drivel.)
    By the way, if anyone is interested in a bit of light entertainment, try posting a comment on the yourSAy.sa.gov.au/nuclear site. There are about a 1000 responses to date, most expressing a strong desire to assemble with dogs and lighted torches and go out after the NRC. The number of respondents is nowhere near as large as the number of responses, which means there may be a large number of repeaters. At this stage it is difficult to know whether the views expressed represent the genuine feelings of a large number of South Australians or the genuine feelings of the Friends of the Adelaide hills basket weaving society.

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  15. The yourSAy.sa.gov.au site appears to be simply somewhere for people to “have their say” while nobody is listening – a waste of time.

    Its useful purpose, if there is one, is to be somewhere for complainants and activists to let off steam. It shields the political decision-makers from all of the inconvenient truths, silliness and emotion that is contained in the 1000+ comments.

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  16. Robert Hinds, some links that may be of use if you haven’t already come across them
    Some information about Jaczko
    http://www.nationalreview.com/article/269475/fire-nrc-chairman-gregory-jaczko-robert-zubrin
    http://atomicinsights.com/jaczko-comes-out-as-avowed-antinuclear-activist/

    An analysis on Naoto Kan’s actions during the critical period of the Fukushima incident by Engineer-Poet, who frequently comments in the Open Threads – he may well have more information
    http://ergosphere.blogspot.com.au/2014/03/naoto-kan-directly-responsible-for.html

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  17. @ Greg Kaan: “Where do we start to get our hands dirty? We could dress up as penguins and parade about with banners like our anti-nuke mates, but I don’t think this would help”

    While I am mindful of the fact that BNC has an Australian perspective, and the fight in Oz is different than in places with NPPs the fact remains that the actual number of people making noise at these anti nuke protests are surprisingly small in most instances, but they get the press, and the chance to present their views unopposed and that’s the problem. By the time supporters got off their chuffs and started demonstrating at Gentilly for example, it was far too late, the incoming government had already cut a deal with the Green Party to close the station in exchange for support. Had there been enough of a pushback before this, the deal might have been seen as too risky. As it stood, this was a minority government that fell a few months later and likely wouldn’t have wanted to get mixed up picking sides in a conflict of this sort and backed off.

    The point here is that it doesn’t take much to get the attention of the media with a chance to air our side when there is a protest and we are not taking these opportunities when they are available.

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  18. Sorry Engineer-Poet. I spent some time trying to reconcile posts by you and Leslie on Atomic Insights and some other sites and concluded you were the same person, since the wording on your ergosphere post was not explicit about referencing someone else’s material.

    My bad for the faulty conclusion. I take it you agree with Leslie’s post, though.

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  19. @DV82XL, the penguins comment was by Robert Hinds, not me. Not that I am in much disagreement, though – the anti-nuclear activists are first class in terms of taking advantage of media opportunities in contrast to those willing to have measured discussions.

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  20. Yes Greg the USSR was not over particular about nuclear safety. The Chernobyl RBMK-1000 reactor design had an inherent positive void coefficient and no containment building.

    Some responsibility for Fukushima must be pointed at TEPCO as even though their calculations of a tsunami resulting for a possible 8.2 magnitude earthquake deemed possible in the area showed it would cause a run up wave height of 15.7 m, they procrastinated on a further increase to the height and water tight protection of the all important diesel generators and back-up emergency cooling pumps back in 2008. The inundation height of the 11th March 2011 was 15.5m (see page 96 of report http://www.nap.edu/catalog/18294/lessons-learned-from-the-fukushima-nuclear-accident-for-improving-safety-of-us-nuclear-plants

    Nonetheless nuclear death rates per TWh look surprisingly low compared to most other electrical energy sources, especially in the west (see Diagram 2 on page 5 for EU and Norway statistics of
    http://www.nuceng.ca/refer/risk/15%20-%20Polenp~1.pdf

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  21. I spent some time trying to reconcile posts by you and Leslie on Atomic Insights and some other sites and concluded you were the same person

    As if!  I’m neither that dedicated nor that good.

    since the wording on your ergosphere post was not explicit about referencing someone else’s material.

    I thought it was implied (I did, after all, hyperlink the source page but I wanted it recorded somewhere that it would be at the top rather than forcing readers to dig ever-deeper into an archive page to find the specific entry).

    I take it you agree with Leslie’s post, though.

    I don’t know enough about the issue to have an informed opinion, but I find it fascinating for a number of reasons.

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  22. @Mike Ives

    I don’t think a containment dome would have done anything at Chernobyl other than provide large masses of flying rubble to physically endanger everyone in the immediate vicinity of the plant.

    The positive void coefficient with the increase in this while the control rods were reinserted after being fully removed would have made it blatantly obvious to the designers that any operators needed to be fully educated on these issues. But then the secrecy inherent in the Soviet bureaucracy almost certainly did not allow for this information transfer to take place.

    As for TEPCO, they were certainly to blame for the Fukushima plants initial problems and destruction of a core was probably inevitable. The actions attributed to Naoto Kan, however, increased the seriousness of the incident from being the pure economic loss and disposal issue that it should have been.

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  23. I don’t think a containment dome would have done anything at Chernobyl

    The explosion energy at Chernobyl is quoted at around 10 tons of TNT.  This is a lot of energy, but it was only able to lift and flip the reactor cover plate; it did not destroy the concrete of the building around and below it.  A containment dome big enough to accomodate the machinery for maintenance (lifting and moving that cover plate, etc.) would likely have weathered the explosion just fine and prevented the fire by keeping oxygen out.

    However, containments are expensive and mismanaged, corrupt countries have other priorities.

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  24. Taking to the back of an envelope again….

    Wikipedia lists the dimensions of the RMBK core section at 21.6 meters square by 25.5 high.  A containment sufficiently large to allow major reactor work inside might be a right circular cylinder 40 meters diameter by 60 high with a hemispherical top cap.  This gives a total internal volume of ~109,000 m³.  If half of the 40 GJ released went into the steam explosion, this energy amounts to 183 kj/m³.

    The energy in the pressure*volume of air at sea level is roughly 101 kj/m³.  A containment capable of withstanding a 2 bar internal overpressure would probably have held the Chernobyl explosion.  I’m far from expert on matters of reactor design, but my gut feeling is that this isn’t a very big engineering challenge.  This goes double for a steam explosion, which is going to be condensing out on every surface that’s cool enough.

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  25. I don’t think halving the energy from the explosion is a valid assumption – by definition, the energy is released in to the explosion so the back of the envelope pressure rise would be in the order of 3.5bar. I would think that this would still be within the capability of a western containment building since wikipedia gives a 410-1400kpa (4.1-14bar) pressure containment requirement.

    But the corresponding back of the envelope calculation for an explosion the size suggested by Malko (200 ton TNT equivalent so 837 GJ) would have resulted in an energy release of 7.68 MJ/m3 or about 76 bar which would have ruptured and possibly exploded any conceivable containment building,

    But as you stated in your earlier comment, the explosion was most likely of the order of 10 tons of TNT as evidenced by the survival of the lower portions of the reactor building. So yes, we are in agreement as before.

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  26. If you divide up the event into fracture and heave, some of the details begin to make more sense.

    If it was just a steam excursion, why was there so much dust? Several tonnes of fuel had been turned into an aerosol, much of it liquefied droplets of uranium oxide (etc), and more tons of graphite pulverised from compressed blocks. That requires fracture, with material accelerated past the speed of sound. The interior of the fuel rods could only have been raised past melting temperature (2600°C) by the nuclear excursion that occurred when the xenon burnt out. Volatile fission products then expanded rapidly and blew the fuel rods apart.

    That does not necessarily imply that it supplied enough energy to lift the lid and levitate much of the more or less intact remains of the old reactor. However the shattering included steam pipes running through the fracture zone. The already superheated steam was immediately released. Although it would have had a much lower expansion velocity, it still had sufficient elastic energy to heave many tons of material skyward. The pulverised hot graphite then became a fireball that lifted the radioactive aerosol to the level of the cloud that subsequently took it on a grand tour of Europe.

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  27. I am just giving a heads up to anyone who missed it about the 7.30 report segment (Friday 3rd June, 5 minutes) on Tasmania’s current power crisis I wasn’t previously aware, but their dams are very low on water, so hydro is in short supply and the HVDC cable to the mainland broke in December and is not fixed yet. Temporary diesel power units are blowing smoke everywhere and power rationing is required.
    If ever there was a succinct example of the limitations of renewables this is it. Barry Brook is in Tassy and should be able to give us more details.
    Somebody call Bob Brown, he’ll be able to fix it!
    Don’t laugh SA, we rely on one link to back up the intermittents as well.

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  28. Pingback: What “On the…”? | Brave New Climate

  29. Basslink broken!

    Storms, floods, heat waves and malicious happenstance increasingly threaten to disrupt our essential supplies. The unreliability of long-distance transmission does point to a need for distributed generation. If every town of more than 100,000 people had 100 MW of generation nearby, a country could be disaster-proofed. Power lines, gas lines and coal-freight railways might get broken, but the increasingly important electricity supply survives.

    Such small generators would need to be autonomous or remotely operated, so it may have to wait until the decline of influence of those who would insist on a man carrying a red flag in front of the newfangled contraption.

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  30. Our annual electricity demand in Tasmania is around 11700 GWh and according to Pitt and Sherry’s graph in http://www.pittsh.com.au/news/electricity-demand-continues-to-rise-in-australia
    indicates between late Dec 2015 and mid January 2016 hydro alone would have been close to generating this amount if, and only if, the dam levels could be maintained at sufficient levels to support a continuation throughout a whole year.

    The sad fact is total dam capacity over 50% is something of a rarity in Tasmania. To quote a Hydro Tasmania 2009 report:
    Average inflows in the ten years to 2008 were approximately 10% below average inflows in the preceding 20 year period (1976-1996) and 16% below average inflows in the 50 year period before (1924 – 1975).

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  31. Tasmania was fine until The Carbon Tax was introduced. The dams were then run down to generate income by selling carbon free power to Victoria. After The Carbon Tax was repealed, the dams were not allowed to refill by using BassLink mainly as a source (as was done after the 2006 low) because arbitrage had become increasingly profitable due to increasing spot price volatility due to intermittent generation in SE Australia.

    Have a read of the link I posted to Euan Mearns site and also read the comments I posted at the bottom.

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  32. Where’s the disagreement? Let’s look at the last 2 graphs in your linked article by John Lawrence. From the text, I assume the periods are FY with the year being the June 30th position.

    Yes, there were net imports of Victorian electricity into Tasmania between 2007 and 2010 and dam levels rose in that period – Tasmania used BassLink primarily as a power source in that period.

    2011 and 2012 must have had solid rainfall as BassLink flow was largely neutral yet dam levels continued to rise. The net import for 2012 was almost certainly due to priming in expectation for The Carbon Tax.

    Dam levels then fell off a cliff during The Carbon Tax period as exports went through the roof. Rainfall in 2014 must have been good since the exports were massive yet the dam levels did not drop anywhere near the previous year.

    For 2015, after the repeal of The Carbon Tax, yes there was net import along with a slight increase in dam levels. But if you look at the last graph on page 4 of the of the Marsden Jacob report, you can see that Hydro Tasmania was exporting substantial amounts of electricity to Victoria between May and September 2015, even though the net position for the year was importing. Plus you can see exports even during the summers so arbitrage was definitely occuring. The whole report is worth reading.
    http://duqm0dwvyjbvv.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/MJA-Article-Tasmanian-Power-Supply-and-the-Basslink-Outage.pdf

    John Lawrence’s article even states “Just remember, a year of net imports means there were still exports to take advantage of price differences”

    And here is an article by Mike Sandiford on the effect of The Carbon Tax on Tasmania’s water storage levels. Note the rainfall graph for Strathgordon Village which is in the Gordon catchment, confirming the solid rainfall during 2014 (FY) during which dam levels fell.
    https://theconversation.com/how-much-will-tasmania-pay-for-shorting-the-carbon-price-29106

    If Tasmania had not used The Carbon Tax as an income opportunity, it definitely would not have had issues when BassLink broke down. And even if they did, had they not used their hydro to arbitrage in the period after The Carbon Tax was repealed but imported sensibly to allow their dam levels to recover, they almost certainly would not have had anywhere near as big issues as they did, either.

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  33. It would’ve been incredibly stupid to ignore the arbitrage opportunity even while they were net importing. Without the benefit of hindsight, the breakdown of BassLink seemed very unlikely, and the inability to fix it quickly seemed extremely unlikely. And even with the benefit of hindsight, was the actual outcome so bad? There was a slight curtailment of heavy industry and increased use of diesel generators, but consumers still had a reliable electricity supply.

    I think an issue of greater concern is why there’s so little wind power in Tasmania. With so much hydro capacity, the intermittency of wind shouldn’t be a problem, so what’s holding it back?

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  34. The use of wind to save reservoir inventories has been tried in Quebec, Canada and while it looks good on paper, has not created the impact promised. In short, best wind happened in periods of high water levels forcing the opening of spillways but was marginal during high Summer months when precipitation was low. While some savings were realized, it was not cost effective over all.

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  35. The supporters of solar power point to the ever decreasing costs and assert that soon it will be cheaper than other sources of power. I see it quite differently. As I see it, even if it were totally free it would not be a substitute for other sources of power the obvious reason being that it is is an INTERMITTENT source of power.

    For solar power to be a total replacement for fossil fuel power, huge amounts of energy storage would be required. Unfortunately, the technology to store such large amounts of energy does not exist. The purveyors of solar power confidently state that an adequate energy storage technology will become available. I say that the aphorism “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.” is applicable.

    The solar power people base their position on faith rather than on logic and demand that all the world’s people share that faith. Arrogant, isn’t it?

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  36. DV82XL,

    If they had gathered statistics and analyzed them, they would have found that the wind and rain patterns were such that wind power would not make economic sense. Their not discovering that until AFTER spending a huge amount of money on the project is the grossest incompetence. Unfortunately, such incompetence is common.

    I’m not a scientist. But at least I know the importance of carefully analyzing potential projects before proceeding. That is elementary.

    There probably are places in the world where such a project would make sense but that should be determined before building.

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  37. The viability of sun and wind energy to replace fossil fuels is by far the most important energy issue. But it is diabolically difficult to resolve, obviously, because until now it has not been. Sadly, resolution seems no closer. Fundamentally, we are faced with a simple dilemma. There are those who see the proposition as plausible and demand demonstrable proof of absence of viability. And there are those (like me) who see it as implausible and demand demonstrable proof of viability. I won’t try to analyse the causes of that divide but others might try. Worse, viability can be described/defined in different ways. For example, a recent rigorous study of the feasibility of a high-renewables economy rested its sceptical conclusion on the required penetration rates being greater than have been achieved historically. Sorry, that’s really not going to convince any renewables enthusiast; they will simply retort “we have to try harder”. I have tried to cover the key issues in http://bit.ly/1U580v6 but of course I am arguing from the ‘implausible’ end of the spectrum and realise that most enthusiasts will remain unconvinced. To my mind the most promising argument involves unravelling the full upfront and ongoing energy requirements of a renewable energy supply and showing (perhaps; the jury in my view is still out), that it produces less than it uses. This is the EROI line of debate, but it’s a tough road and public traction will always be difficult because of the concepts involved. Still, hard national data might do the trick, like the claims (surely contended) that Germany’s renewables push has not actually decreased emissions. I for one am not giving up just yet.

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  38. Recently I was at a planning meeting, which was open to the public, of Power New Mexico (PNM) here in the U. S. of A. It quickly became clear that all the planning that PNM was able to do was to meet the requirements of the state; there was next to no flexibility. In talking to a couple PNM executives and a couple of people not associated with PNM, it was clear that there were people at the meeting who greatly favored nuclear power but there seemed to be no path to make it possible. In theory, PNM could have built a nuclear power plant, but the risk, under the circumstances, would have been excessive.

    Politicians consider even mentioning nuclear power to be the kiss of political death, including even well-informed politicians who would personally favor nuclear power.

    It is inescapably clear that to migrate to nuclear power it will be necessary to change public attitudes. Obviously many of us are well aware of that. So, the question is how to proceed.

    In the case of PNM, they could build a web site designed to improve public acceptance of nuclear power. PNM already includes inserts in power bills; these relate to various power related subjects. Surely a well-worded insert directing customers to a PNM website would get some customers to visit the website. And, the website could encourage people to contact their legislators to encourage them to support nuclear power. If only a few PNM customers did that it could make a big difference. The same technique could be used in other states and in other countries.

    PNM has scheduled other planning meetings. Unfortunately I don’t personally know anyone who supports nuclear power who would be willing to attend. The fact that the meetings occur during normal business hours makes it difficult for non-retired people to attend.

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  39. It’s much the same here in Australia, though one could suggest that the length and intensity of nuclear opposition here is greater than in most other countries – and it’s illegal. However there seem to be signs of a slow change in public opinion. And of course the viability of renewables is crucial in the debate. If the claims of RE supporters (cheap, friendly, sustainable, green, etc.) were correct then of course I would see no particular reason to pursue public acceptance of fission energy. That’s the whole point of any serious analysis of renewables.

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  40. Well yes there’s molten salt thermal banks. Gemasolar CSP in Spain has managed to operate continuously for a whole 36 hours since it was commissioned back in 2011

    There’s water dissociation to produce hydrogen which is not the easiest element to contain. Production is also energy intensive. One German energy firm E-on is pumping the hydrogen produced into the natural gas network which seems logical while Germany continues to use NG.

    There are batteries which by today’s technology require an enormous amount of energy to produce

    There is compressed air and hot sand storage which nobody seems to have adopted so far.

    And there is pumped storage if you have the water and catchment facilities on hand.

    At least one report (Net Energy Balance and Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Renewable Energy Storage Systems 2003 Energy Centre of Wisconsin 223-1) suggests PV without storage will payback twice its energy that it takes to produce whereas if equipped with storage it will extend this ratio to 6 but the life cycle GHG emissions increase somewhat.

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  41. Yes, there are storage technologies as all of us who are sufficiently erudite are well aware. However, the only currently available one that is really practical for storing large amounts of energy is pumped storage, but because it is geographically dependent, its availability is limited.

    I’m not impressed that some solar thermal systems have successfully operated continuously for 36 hours or even more. They cannot do that reliably. All it takes is slight cloudiness to shut them down. We need power at all times, i.e., 24 hours per day every day without interruptions. Except for hydro, renewable systems are not able to provide that. If it were possible, surely countries which are strongly committed to renewables would by now have accomplished it.

    It i conceivable that at some future date an advanced storage technology could make renewables reliable, but there is no guarantee. We do know that nuclear can do the job. Considering the urgency of limiting global warming as much as possible, which requires the virtual elimination of using fossil fuels, it is best to expand nuclear power as rapidly as possible rather than wait for a future technology. If, while expanding nuclear power a technology is developed which makes renewables practical and reliable, then we can implement it and stop expanding nuclear power.

    Frank R. Eggers Albuquerque, NM U.S.A.

    On Mon, Jul 4, 2016 at 12:58 AM, Brave New Climate wrote:

    > Mike Ives commented: “Well yes there’s molten salt thermal banks. > Gemasolar CSP in Spain has managed to operate continuously for a whole 36 > hours since it was commissioned back in 2011 There’s water dissociation to > produce hydrogen which is not the easiest element to contain.” >

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  42. No none of us can have the luxury of giving up Tom. The EROI path is the one that stands out as a game changer to me. That is, if I continue to believe the IPCC’s carbon emission crunch time budget and the figure of 94% of our energy derived from fossil fuels to maintain our lifestyle.

    And that carbon budget still has to be distributed globally in some equitable fashion if we are ever going to effectively deal with the problem. While many RE companies are reaping the benefits of the current public euphoria they are also raiding the carbon budget unopposed. And even at the current rate of RE introduction we only have a decade or so before it is all used up

    I presume you are aware the Argonne National Laboratory publishes various EROI and associated LCA figures.

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  43. Further to the conversation between here and there above on the immediate damage at Chernobyl, the Wikipedia page has been updated. The author affirms that the first explosion heard was a nuclear excursion shattering the channels and causing a steam explosion. A second, louder explosion was heard to a three seconds later.

    The RMBK reactors of the time were known to be void positive. Water/steam is an essential absorber but not an essential moderator in that version of the design. Once the steam escaped, the power surge accelerated, passing through 33 GW. Rapid disassembly would have followed the superheated, volatile fission products exploding the fuel.

    As far as I know, all RMBK’s have since been retrofitted to be void negative.

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  44. Roger the recently updated World Nuclear Association (http://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/nuclear-fuel-cycle/nuclear-power-reactors/appendices/rbmk-reactors.aspx) advises that:

    ‘After the accident at Chernobyl, several measures were taken to improve the safety of RBMK plants. All operating RBMK reactors in the former Soviet Union had the following changes implemented to improve operating safety:
    . Reduction of the void coefficient of reactivity.’

    Whether or not they still have a positive void coefficient I am not sure

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