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Nuclear denied? Why the energy white paper should start a debate

Soon we’ll be mining uranium in Queensland, and selling it to India. Isn’t it about time we used it ourselves? Tony Wood from the Grattan Institute makes the case ahead of the energy white paper.

Nuclear waste

The federal government will seek to chart the country’s energy future in its white paper out today — and there are reports that nuclear power will be left out of the mix. Fairfax’s Lenore Taylor writes that the Coalition will accept the verdict that nuclear is out, leaving Australia with no political nuclear champion.

This approach, affected by Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster, is problematic when there could be an important national conversation about the need for nuclear power in Australia — if we are serious about addressing climate change.

Federal Resources Minister Martin Ferguson, who will launch the white paper in a speech in Melbourne at 1pm, has recently commented that the cost of nuclear energy might reduce in the future (Crikey’s Bernard Keane did not agree). Ferguson’s view merits attention.

The nuclear debate has two elements: the global role of nuclear energy and Australia’s position as a supplier of the raw material; and the role of nuclear power in our energy future.

Recent decisions to mine uranium in Queensland and supply uranium to India seem to have as much to do with a new state government’s commitment to resource development — and the Commonwealth’s commitment to bilateral relationships — as with the global future of nuclear energy.

Yet that future is very much in the spotlight. In a special report on nuclear power last year, The Economist argued the incident at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plant would dampen the long-term growth of nuclear energy in several countries, notably Japan and Germany. Yet it expected global growth to continue, driven largely by developments in China, Russia and South Korea. There is little to suggest the picture has changed since that report. A number of countries remain either sceptical of or fully against nuclear energy. Others see it as an integral part of their energy mix into the future.

The political issues are at least equalled by the economic challenges, particularly in Western countries. The cost of current projects is forbidding, and the financing of future nuclear power plants even more difficult. The latter issue drove Citigroup to conclude in 2009 that the economics of nuclear say “not in the West”, unless governments take control or assume responsibility, at least by giving plant developers a guaranteed purchaser for their supply.

In this environment, the UK government is going against the grain by chasing private investment for the replacement of its ageing plants, coupled with significant extra capacity by 2025.

As the costs of nuclear energy remain high, the cost of at least one of its low-emissions competitors, namely solar PV, has dropped rapidly over the last decade. Finally, the dominance of financial crises over environment crises, at least for the time being, has tempered the extent to which many countries have looked to nuclear energy as part of a solution to climate change.

Many countries are faced with a narrow set of primary energy supply choices, whether they be fossil fuels or others. Many also worry about security of supply in a volatile world. Australia, by contrast, is blessed with a multitude of choices and little concern for security of supply. We have coal and gas reserves that have allowed us to use fossil fuels at low cost for domestic energy supply, whilst exporting these and uranium to an increasingly energy-hungry world.

Yet this happy state is increasingly threatened. The Grattan Institute’s 2012 report, No easy choices: which way to Australia’s energy future, examined how Australia could substantially and relatively quickly transform the nature of its electricity supply to meet the challenge of climate change. While there is bipartisan support for the need to address climate change, our low-cost energy supply, built over many decades, has left us at the top of the league table in terms of greenhouse gas emissions per head.

Our report concluded that all seven of the major low-emission technologies that could materially contribute to the necessary transformation of Australia’s energy supply faced major challenges to produce power quickly and cheaply. Furthermore, the technology mix as projected by published economic modelling for the government seems to challenge plausibility in regard to the scale of the challenge. Specifically, the projections include a major contribution from geothermal energy, and from carbon capture and storage of emissions produced from coal and gas. Neither technology makes anything like a significant contribution today. Neither has been proven on a commercial scale in Australia.

Modelling of future energy scenarios is important, and can inform robust policy decisions. But it would be naïve at best, dangerous at worst, to base policy primarily on modelled projections. The environmental, social and economic consequences are just too important. Until Australia knows what mix of technologies will best supply sufficient low-emissions power at low cost, energy policy choices today should keep open the widest set of options.

This brings us back to nuclear power. Perhaps the current policy environment — which makes nuclear illegal in Australia and which envisages an electricity mix composed of renewable energy and CCS — will deliver the most affordable, secure and sustainable outcome. Perhaps not.

Similarly, all renewable sources — solar, wind, geothermal and bioenergy — face significant barriers of financing and scaling-up, among others. There are no easy or obvious solutions. The decisions of the past, the constraints of the future, and our enduring hunger for energy have taken them all away.

Nuclear energy faces many hurdles. As yet there is no long-term waste storage solution. Safety and security concerns are acute since Fukushima, and the industry’s skilled workforce is ageing. Finally, the demand signals that should come from climate change policy remain weak, mainly because of popular opposition, weak political commitment or more immediate financial problems.

Yet nuclear energy can provide a major source of energy at competitive costs and with near-zero greenhouse gas emissions. Countries such as China and Korea have the capability to aggressively drive down the cost, particularly as they standardise their reactors. Countries want reliable and secure low-emissions power that is cheap over the long term. Nuclear could tick all these boxes.

Over time, a fully renewable energy future may be achievable. Yet without employing either fossil fuel power with CCS, or nuclear power, it is hard to see how we can make the transition whilst maintaining secure, reliable energy at affordable prices. We need to have an adult conversation about our future energy needs in a time of climate change. Excluding nuclear power from that conversation may be a decision we come to regret.

*Tony Wood is the program director of energy at the Grattan Institute

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  • 1
    Geoff Russell
    Posted Thursday, 8 November 2012 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    Nuclear power would be an easy sell if we had a cancer literate media … people who could compare risks. What is the risk of living in the exclusion zone of Fukushima compared to eating red and processed meat more than once per week? It’s a lay down misere, the radiation levels in the exclusion zone make it a much safer alternative. The increase in red and processed meat in Japan in the 60s saw the bowel cancer incidence go from 20,000 people per annum to over 100,000. Read it again … that’s 80,000 extra cancers every single year … with a relatively small number being due to the small population increase.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17059355

    The survivors of the Hiroshima/Nagasaki bombings didn’t experience anything like that big a change in cancer risk … even the highest irradiated group with a massive 2 Sievert dose.

    http://www.rerf.jp/radefx/late_e/cancrisk.html

    The nuclear industry has been bludgeoned into setting bizarre safety levels, levels that don’t apply elsewhere and which help to promote fear. It’s not hard to understand the history when you see the kind of absolute fiction written by Guy Rundle on Crikey about the Chernobyl accident. This kind of misleading uninformed fear mongering began 4 days after Chernobyl and has continued relentlessly ever since.

    A bipartisan acceptance of nuclear energy coupled with a serious public education campaign could reverse things, but its hard to see where this kind of pro-active leadership would come from.

    Consider last nights story on melioidosis on Catalyst. It’s pretty clear that the top end of Australia has natural bugs in the soil that make it far more dangerous than the exclusion zone around Fukushima.

    http://www.abc.net.au/catalyst/stories/3623445.htm

    Are there any calls for evacuation? Likewise diesel fumes cause cancer, but do you see blind panic in the streets when a bus or truck goes past? But our media are so gullible that they buy the panic stories of the anti-nuclear movement without any serious investigation and just regurgitate without anything like the scrutiny they’d give a claim from a politician.

  • 2
    paddy
    Posted Thursday, 8 November 2012 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    (sigh) Perhaps the endless spruikers for the wonders of nuclear power, might do us all a favour and tell us the total cost (lifetime) of producing a KWh of electricity with a Nuclear power plant.

  • 3
    michael crook
    Posted Thursday, 8 November 2012 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    Will the nuclear neanderthals ever go away? We have unlimited power from the sun and wind, other countries are using it, why not us. The answer, because sun and wind are free, and our society is predicated on some bast.rd making a dollar. Hang the environment, ignore the cancer rates among Australian urnaium mineworkers, its about money.

  • 4
    Geoff Russell
    Posted Thursday, 8 November 2012 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

    Nuclear is cost competitive

    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S036054421000602X

    Consider 1973 and the Arab oil embargo. By 1981, just 7 years later, France, with 50 million people was generating 100 terawatt hours of energy per year from nuclear electricity. The US was generating 300 TWh/yr from nuclear. Has anybody come even close to this speed of build using renewables? NO.

    If you think climate change is worth rebuilding our energy infrastructure quickly to avoid, then it’s clear that nuclear is the fastest as well as the cheapest and most environmentally benign. You might like to calculate the solar thermal area required to replace the Fukushima Daichii reactors … its about the size of the evacuation area. The sun and wind are not free. Climate change cannot be solved with slogans like this and arguments aren’t won by name-calling.

  • 5
    John Bennetts
    Posted Thursday, 8 November 2012 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

    @Paddy:

    Don’t take my word for it. Check it out for yourself, but please stop whingeing that nuclear power costs are somehow secret. They are no more secret than your phone number and can be looked up just as easily.

    Google “LCOE” and “Nuclear Power” or any other combination of search terms for the electricity source of interest and you will find a wealth of data, including comparison costs.

    Prepare yourself for a shock, though. Nuclear power is the cheapest option with a low carbon footprint except for existing hydro.

  • 6
    paddy
    Posted Thursday, 8 November 2012 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    JB
    I looked up “LOCE” and immediately hit the Wikipedia page. Thanks. But this para caught my eye.

    This calculation does not include wider system costs associated with each type of plant, such as long distance transmission connections to grids, balancing and reserve costs, and does not include externalities such as health damage by coal plants, nor the effect of CO2 emissions on the whole biosphere (climate change, ocean acidification and eutrophication, ocean current shifts), nor decommissioning costs of nuclear plant, is therefore not full cost accounting:

    I suspect it’s those pesky “decommissioning costs” that spell disaster for nuclear.

  • 7
    John Bennetts
    Posted Thursday, 8 November 2012 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    Keep looking.

    LCOE should, by definition, include decommissioning costs. Wiki sometimes is a good place to start, but can also be a bit one-eyed and/or poorly researched.

    Incidentally, transmission costs are not included in LCOE for a reason. Distribution and metering and many other services, including frequency control are “system” costs. The primary energy cost as assessed by LCOE relates to that which happens at the nodes where electricity is generated and injected into the system.

    PV and other renewables enthusiasts rarely, if ever, include in their public costings for such things as decommissioning and site restoration. Again, Google “abandoned wind farm” or “derilect solar” and a whole raft of photos of abandoned wind and solar projects pop out of the intertubes.

    On a domestic scale, rooftop solar installations are expected to last 15 to 20 years. The house which supports the panels will probably last 50-100 years. Where can I find the cost of removing and replacing the old solar panels and repairing the tiles and steel roof sheeting?

    Comparing apples with apples is not as simple as just asking the salesperson what the price is.

    Again, I will not direct anybody to my preferred sites, because that inevitably results in accusations that I have cherry-picked my data. Please, if you are interested, search and question until your curiosity is satisfied. Hint: Look for Australian sites in order to remove some of the variations due geography, eg arguments based on different regulatory regimes, tax systems and environmental laws.

  • 8
    wilful
    Posted Thursday, 8 November 2012 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

    Actually john bennetts, transmission costs for nuclear power would have to be far cheaper than any alternative. They can be placed exactly where current thermal coal stations are placed, if allowed, using existing infrastructure, unlike wind power which must be widely distributed and sometimes a long way away from town.

  • 9
    CHRISTOPHER DUNNE
    Posted Thursday, 8 November 2012 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

    @Geoff Russell

    When the likes of Helen Caldicott can pull numbers out of her posterior, like 900,000 deaths from Chernobyl, and the media don’t call her credibility into question, educating the public on radiation risk seems well nigh impossible. That some human populations live healthy lives in areas of naturally occurring ionising radiation that are very much higher than around Fukushima is not the kind of fact that the media will present.

    The post-war Linear No Threshold model has been discredited but the public believe it like it’s some type of reverse homeopathy: even the tiniest trace of radiation will KILL! Ignorance about risk is fed by the media to a gullible and ill-informed public but hey, if the science of climate change can prevail, then maybe, there’s some hope.

  • 10
    michael crook
    Posted Thursday, 8 November 2012 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

    Almost unbelievable that there are still nuclear apologists out there, with Germany giving it away, and employing 300,000 on solar installation you still haven’t got the message. I suppose it is all a bit right wing really, deny reality, and keep denying it, then the lie in the end becomes a truth.

  • 11
    Geoff Russell
    Posted Thursday, 8 November 2012 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

    Paddy, it’s not hard to find out decommissioning costs, so why bother “suspecting” when you can actually check?

    Typically $300-$400 according to the US NRC.
    http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/fact-sheets/decommissioning.html

    Any way of comparing on-demand power sources like nuclear with at-natures-whim power sources will have problems. Consider the cost of providing a house with 24x7 power using wind and solar when you have no grid to bludge on. Currently plenty of people are talking about “grid parity” when what they actually mean is “grid bludging”. If you add enough solar panels and the FIT is high enough then you are contributing nothing toward the grid, so I figure it is only fair that you be disconnected. Now try doing some costs in this scenario.

  • 12
    Geoff Russell
    Posted Thursday, 8 November 2012 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    Oops .. $300-$400 MILLION !

  • 13
    Posted Thursday, 8 November 2012 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

    Nuclear should remain an option. The primary issues are upfront capital costs and the Australian public’s distaste.

    Tony suggests “Ferguson’s view merits attention” but offers little evidence beyond China and Korea “having the capability” to drive down costs, e.g. through standardisation. Keane showed the rising costs in developed nations from increased compliance, project delays and skill shortages. The cost blow-outs in some cases have been five-fold (e.g. $5 billion to $25 billion). Australia’s lacks of existing expertise is also a factor in costs. Focussing on the LCOE (e.g. overall cost per MWh) makes sense - but let’s ensure we factor-in these new blown-out projects. The LCOE of onshore wind can be better than nuclear, but of course, the best wind resources will eventually run-out.

    Closely related to the costs are whether government assistance (if required) to nuclear would displace renewable investment.

    Finally, Australian distaste for nuclear. Probably the biggest hurdle. The need for water, the proximity to settlement and the strategy for waste will all be major factors. I would live near a nuclear plant that was shown to uphold high standards. Many would not, no matter how much convincing was done.

  • 14
    Geoff Russell
    Posted Thursday, 8 November 2012 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

    Michael Crook: How much solar power has Germany, with its population of 80 million, generated in the 12 years of its massive Feed In Tarif? About 18 terawatt hours/yr. That’s it. Tiny Belgium, with just 5 million people went from zero to 25 terawatt hours per year from nuclear electricity between 1974 and 1985. Germany is a wonderful example of exactly what is wrong with renewables: too slow, too expensive.

  • 15
    wilful
    Posted Thursday, 8 November 2012 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

    Also, michael crook, if you think that advocating nuclear power as a response to climate change is a right-wing astroturfing idea, let me tell you you are seriously barking up the wrong tree. It’s true that the GreenLeftWeekly types are the strongest opponents of nuclear power, but PLENTY of social democrat types (including all across Europe (France, Finland)) and ALP voters support nuclear power.

  • 16
    wilful
    Posted Thursday, 8 November 2012 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

    Coaltopia, regarding evidence of costs, if you want an example of a very well controlled project in terms of costs, the Advanced CANDU reactors at Quinshan (2 x 728MW) took 51 months to build at a total cost of about US$1.3bn

    http://www.nuceng.ca/canteachmirror/library/20031701.pdf

  • 17
    michael crook
    Posted Thursday, 8 November 2012 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

    The Germans seem content to give up on nuclear, the risks are just too high, their propaganda claims that on a sunny weekend a couple of months ago, they generated the same amount of power as 20 Nuclear Power stations, and that is just solar panels, before you start to factor in wind and solar thermal. have you had a look at Gemasolar in Spain, Have you had a look at the Beyond Zero Emissions plan for a string of solar thermal and wind around Australia. I mentioned before, but have a look at the cancer rates for uranium miners. This stuff is toxic. The wind and sun wont kill the planet, and best of all it is free, and can feed into the grid just like at present.

  • 18
    CHRISTOPHER DUNNE
    Posted Thursday, 8 November 2012 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

    the risks are just too high” is the type of opinion trying to pass as science that the average reader cannot assess without some education.

    Risks compared to what? Coal mining and burning? The planet warming beyond being habitable?

    How many people die from coal mining every year? Uranium?

    Don’t know? Then don’t make silly statements about risk.

  • 19
    wilful
    Posted Thursday, 8 November 2012 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

    The BREE report should be the official source for all cost assessments for Australia: .bree.gov.au/publications/aeta.html

    (insert http and www. at the start of that address (too much auto-moderation on this site))

  • 20
    Posted Thursday, 8 November 2012 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Wilful, this is an excellent resource.

    My question is are there any communities living near existing coal-fired power stations that would be agree to a a replacement nuclear power station - providing suitable incentives were given? Have any been polled?

  • 21
    gruy fghyu
    Posted Thursday, 8 November 2012 at 8:45 pm | Permalink

    well, considering how governments allow retailers to routinely gouge customers for so called “poles and wires” costs, how much would we be fleeced if a private company set up a nuclear reactor? looking at the desal debacle in victoria, the project is likely to run severely over budget, further adding to impost costs passed on to customers. i say heck no, electricity is already expensive enough without me having to pay for a $+100 billion nuclear reactor.

  • 22
    gruy fghyu
    Posted Thursday, 8 November 2012 at 8:52 pm | Permalink

    that was meant to be +10 bilion, but seeing as no ones watching it doesn’t matter. HI MUM!

  • 23
    John Bennetts
    Posted Thursday, 8 November 2012 at 9:25 pm | Permalink

    Excess chuckles, gruy fghyu. I see you.

  • 24
    John Bennetts
    Posted Thursday, 8 November 2012 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

    @ coaltopia:

    Why change the subject to “any community wanting to…”?

    Your last was about non-existent 5-fold cost increases from $5B to $25B.

    How about completing what you started, with a link to the source for those figures?

  • 25
    John Bennetts
    Posted Thursday, 8 November 2012 at 10:02 pm | Permalink

    @ Michael Crook Thursday, 8 November 2012 at 5:06 pm:

    The Germans … give up on nuclear, the risks are just too high, their propaganda claims that on a sunny weekend a couple of months ago, they generated the same amount of power as 20 Nuclear Power stations, and that is just solar panels….”

    (1) The Germans adopted a nonsensical anti-commercial, anti-nuclear program post Fukishima for entirely political reasons. The pity is, they can’t afford it. Their power supplies are now not as reliable as previously, some of their major industries, eg steel and auto, are publicly saying that they will have to move elsewhere unless voltage and frequency dips are brought back under control, because even a second at low voltage causes huge losses of productivity. Tariffs are being juggled to attempt to load the additional costs of renewables onto German residential customers, because the commercial and industrial sectors have made clear to Merkel that they can’t remain competitive except with competitive prices for electricity.

    (2) The Germans are, in part, paying for their nice new brown coal high CO2 power plants (all 23 of them) by increased taxes on reliable nuclear.

    (3) Propagandists may well claim that at some instant the wind or solar generation was equal to a sky high number, but where do the Germans get their power from, 24/7/365? France’s nuclear support, Germany’s own nuclear generation capacity and even the Swiss, who also and for political reasons are planning to shut down their nuclear power stations.

    Have you had a look at the Beyond Zero Emissions plan for a string of solar thermal and wind around Australia.”

    (4) Done that. Strange thing about BZE is that, despite many analyses that conclude that BZE is impractical, unaffordable, dreamland stuff, founded on cr_p statistics, they also steadfastly refuse to either publish their detailed calculations or respond to criticism. Anybody who trusts BZE is in the same class as those who believe in fairies at the bottom of the garden and the Easter Bunny. Unless and until BZE grow up a bit and subject themselves to scrutiny, then their dreams remain only unfounded ambit claims. They are nowhere near reliable or supportable, let alone fundable.

    In conclusion, the challenge is for those who offer intermittent and unreliable non-solutions in support of anti-nuclear swagger, to actually consider all of the risks and to start using rational analysis of these risks. What price the risk of economic collapse of the western world because of energy shortage? What price the risk of cancer from diesel exhaust or from sub-PM10 dust emissions from coal mines? Or of cancer from the many emissions from caol fired power stations? Or even of the risk of injury due to falling from a private house’s roof while inspecting PV, as happened to the bloke who was Best Man at my wedding?

    What about cradle to grave risk assessments of all of the inputs such as rare earths for solar and PV? There are many non-trivial commercial, political, environmental and resource security issues attached to rare earths, especially.

    Take the blinkers off, Michael Crook. There is much to be done to ensure a low carbon energy future for this planet. Using shonky arguments to try to knock off a strong competitor to PV, such as nuclear, is no way to find the best and fairest answer to the issues facing this globe. If you truly believe that BZE2020 is the way forward, then please tell us where we can find answers from the BZE team to their questioners.

  • 26
    michael r james
    Posted Friday, 9 November 2012 at 12:19 am | Permalink

    Sigh.
    We all understand why so many people, and especially corporates, like the concept of a few gigantic power plants to deliver a significant fraction of all grid power. But it doesn’t mean that we will do that in the future. In these increasingly tedious discussions I usually avoid the safety issue — because I believe one can decide largely on the basis of cost-to-build and time-to-build — but the safety thing can create strange unforeseen consequences. Especially after Fukushima.

    So just this week a scandal is breaking in the Korean nuclear industry (FT article below). The point is that even if the risks of these forged parts is exaggerated, it doesn’t matter. Governments, if not the industry, even in tightly controlled countries like South Korea (like Japan’s TEPCO, Korea’s KEPCO is state-run), are forced to react. We’ll see lots of arrests and resignations in Korea from the companies who have obviously been suppressing this — for two reasons, cost and credibility (the UAE contract and others they are trying to win). Incidentally the two reactors being closed down (even though most don’t think they are a risk) produce almost 3GW and the government has warned it will mean a lot of cold homes in their very icy winter.

    [South Korea to investigate nuclear plants
    By Song Jung-a and Simon Mundy in Seoul
    Last updated: November 7, 2012 12:20 pm
    .
    South Korea’s nuclear watchdog will investigate all 23 of the country’s atomic plants, amid a scandal that has forced the shutdown of two reactors and a resignation offer from the head of the state power company.
    The country’s Ministry of Knowledge Economy said on Monday that it had closed two nuclear reactors ,/b> after it emerged that the safety certificates for more than 7,600 items, procured by the plants over the past nine years, had been forged.
    South Korea’s nuclear power stations, which generate nearly a third of the country’s electricity, are run by a wholly owned subsidiary of Korea Electric Power Corp, the state-controlled utility.]

  • 27
    michael r james
    Posted Friday, 9 November 2012 at 1:22 am | Permalink

    So, JB & GR.
    The point of my previous post was pretty obvious I hope (excuse formatting glitches). It is that manufacturing standards, materials and QC specs for nuclear inputs have to be beyond insane. Because, not only must they last for almost unprecedented lifespans (rather unconvincing 60 years are now being claimed) but the consequences of failure don’t bear thinking about. Replacement or even regular testing can be difficult and increasingly expensive.

    In turn this becomes a factor in “prematurely” closing power plants because the costs, including downtime, become too much compared to replacement. Though as we are seeing at Fukushima and the US, there is immense financial pressure to keep 30 or 40 year old reactors going. Three of the old Daichi reactors were closed for maintenance at the time of the Fukushima disaster. Several of these 40 year old reactors had just received 20 year extensions to their operating licenses.

    Regardless of all the b.s. about LCOEs (almost certainly predicated on unprovable 60 year lifespans) the nuclear industry is under intense financial pressure for these and other reasons — none of which will just go away because nuke advocates wish it to be so, or industry report writers want to paint rosy pictures of best-case scenarios that have never, ever happened in the real world.

    Clearly this parts scandal in Korea is another manifestation of this pressure, and unfortunately in the nuclear game it could have wild results. Most people would have believed manufacturing, technical and regulatory standards/compliance are very high in countries like Japan and Korea. It may simply be that the cost pressures and political and corporate investment in this industry are so great that problems like these are almost inevitable. Now we have to hope that China runs an impeccable nuclear industry and regulatory system.

  • 28
    Geoff Russell
    Posted Friday, 9 November 2012 at 8:30 am | Permalink

    @michael: “The consequences of failure don’t bear thinking about” … they do. Just like the consequences of +6 degrees bare thinking about. Nobody died at Fukushima, except during the unnecessary evacuation. Had there been no evacuation there would still be no radiation deaths. Food grows perfectly well in radioactive soil and eating plants from such soil is less risky than eating normal red meat. We didn’t ditch the chemical industry after Bhopal and we didn’t stop shipping oil after the Exxon Valdez. Nobody wants accidents but you need to put them in perspective. About a quarter of a million Indian children die before they are 5 because their mums cook with wood or dung. Wood and cattle dung smoke is deadly … and not theoretically deadly, but the real kind of gut wrenching sick child deadly. To worry overly about radiation risks and ignore the toll of biomass cooking is bizarre. Greenpeace wants to stop the 9 GW Jaitapur reactors because they are dangerous? This is comedy sketch stuff … this is the world’s media broadcasting pictures of a few workers with burned feet after a fortnight during which time another 9600 Indian children died from woodsmoke without so much as a murmur from those with so much concern for the “disaster” at Fukushima.

  • 29
    Dogs breakfast
    Posted Friday, 9 November 2012 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    This red meat obsession of Mr Russell is probably factual and a complete furphy in relation to the debate (I eat very little red meat and was genuine vegetarian for 20+ years).

    Put simply Geoff, it isn’t about the radiation during normal operations, it’s about radiation after abnormal events, and I’m sorry to say that radiation will kill ya, given high enough doses.

    I can’t believe those stupid Japanese got eveyone out of Fukushima when radiation is so safe, but enough ridiculing your position.

    The greater debate should be had about whether nuclear actual repays the carbon deficit created by the most monumentally concrete (or is that cement?) intensive constructions since the dawn of man. The only studies I have seen is that in the best case scenario they barely cover their carbon costs even factoring in fantasy-land assumptions like 40 to 50 year operations with only scheduled downtime.

    So it doesn’t even stack up as a carbon abatement argument.

    But even getting away from that, why would we go down that path when we could choose a new path and back something that WILL actually solve carbon emission problems and possibly even set us up forever.

    Nuclear is just a no-brainer. Apparent 5 to 8 year construction periods become 25-30 years when you factor in planning, politics, site choice etc, costs of reactors currently under construction are way over, yes, 5 times or more, nobody except Mr Russell wants to live near one, regardless they cannot be placed near high population areas, the cost/benefit doesn’t stack up, the market won’t come to the party because they can’t pay over the long term.

    And I doubt the $300 - $400m de-commissioning costs. I suspect what I would call de-commissioning is a very different beast to what they have modelled.

    I’m with Messrs James and Crooks.

    If Nuclear is the answer, you have asked the wrong question.

  • 30
    Posted Friday, 9 November 2012 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    Cost blowout of the Levy County Nuclear Power Plant: ~$6 billion to ~$24 billion. So happy to call it quadrupled costs instead of five-fold.

    Estimated to cost up to $6 billion when proposed”
    http://www.tampabay.com/opinion/editorials/article1251007.ece

    Progress announced the project would cost $24 billion and come online in 2024”
    http://www.tampabay.com/news/business/energy/duke-energy-executive-levy-county-nuclear-plant-will-be-built/1250819

  • 31
    michael r james
    Posted Friday, 9 November 2012 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    Geoff Russell at 8:30 am
    “Nobody died at Fukushima, except during the unnecessary evacuation. Had there been no evacuation there would still be no radiation deaths.”

    Where did I mention deaths? The costs of the wipeout are somewhere between $50 bn and $120 bn. And incidentally the panicked management at Fukushima were paralyzed and wanted to evacuate (because they thought there were a bunch of meltdowns underway). It took an executive order from the Prime Minister of Japan, threatening in a screaming match over the phone to the CEO of TEPCO, to get them to remain and stabilize the plants.

    And all the false equivalences in the world you can dream of, will not change the reality re perception of nuclear power. (And psst, if I were you I wouldn’t mention Bhopal because one could easily get worried about India’s nuclear industry.)

    But anyway, thanks for the reply. Your silence on all the issues I brought to your notice speaks volumes.
    ……………….
    And btw, one can draw another lesson about renewable energy from the Japanese tsunami. The awesome power involved was undeniable — it killed >20,000 people. But forget occassional earthquakes, the ocean contains phenomenal energy in tides and waves every day of the year. If only Japan would turn its industrial might to that abundant and perfectly reliable energy source just off its long coastline, instead of the distraction and cost of more nuclear.

  • 32
    michael r james
    Posted Friday, 9 November 2012 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

    And about those LCOEs that GR, JB and BarryB will cite forever, here is Bernard K in his article today (Friday):

    The paper also includes a table on electricity generation costs for different technologies showing nuclear power as one of the cheapest, while acknowledging the costing does not include financing (or decommissioning) costs. The construction of nuclear power is so monumentally expensive and so prone to delays that it is one of the most expensive forms of power from a capital cost perspective. That’s why, as the paper notes elsewhere, government financial support would be needed for such an industry.

    He could have also including insurance costs. And that if a reactor does not really operate at projected capacity for those 60 years.

  • 33
    Geoff Russell
    Posted Friday, 9 November 2012 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

    Dog’s breakfast: A solar thermal power plant of an equivalent power output uses about 15 times more concrete and 75 times more steel than a nuclear plant:

    http://bravenewclimate.com/2009/10/18/tcase4/

    You clearly haven’t read even a single study on the issue if you think that the concrete needed for a nuclear power plant puts its role in reducing CO2 emissions into doubt. There’s a bunch of studies mentioned on Wikipedia, I suggest you start there … not even the most anti-nuclear of those studies supports your claim.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparisons_of_life-cycle_greenhouse-gas_emissions

    As for Fukushima. Find me a set of radiation measurements in the area that would raise cancer rates by as much as the 5-fold increase in bowel cancer when the Japanese westernised their diet with more red and processed meat (see reference earlier).

    The Japanese have demonstrated a bizarre national phobia about radiation with some cruel side effects. Children from Fukushima are being called “hibakusha”, a term of abuse coined for atomic bomb survivors … unclean, tainted.

    http://www.vancouverobserver.com/blogs/earthmatters/2012/03/20/nuclear-energy-still-looking-good-climate-change-reduction-post?page=0,0

  • 34
    mattsui
    Posted Friday, 9 November 2012 at 10:36 pm | Permalink

    Since March last year, all but 1 of Japan’s nuke gen facilities has been off-line (the one still operating happens to have been knowingly been built on a small but not insignificant geological fault line?wtf?). Despite a very hot summer, just past, and threats from government of rolling stoppages. I don’t know of anyone who has experienced interruptions in supply. Ergo, there was enough redundancy in the Japanese system to get along just fine without the nukes, if, as it turned out to be, necessary.
    Presumably this would be the case in Australia and the consumer would also pick up the bill for such. Add that to your costs.
    Japan, a place where boiling water literally pours out of the ground, never need it’s nuke power, it came with the Americans after wwII.
    The arguement for nukes in Australia was run and won in the fifties, it’s never gonna happen.

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