Importantly, That’s “Honest” Debate

The debate surrounding nuclear (to neatly encapsulate what is realistically a kaleidascope of sceince, technology, economics and opportunity) in South Australia is not going to go away. Apart from the undeniable economic development potential, expansion of uranium mining and export, as well as the eventual construction of nuclear energy capacity, there is the (till recent years) unspoken response to climate change.

2014 CHARTER FOR A MORE PROSPEROUS SOUTH AUSTRALIA

Energy: Recommendations 5.3

Discussion about the potential for a nuclear industry in South Australia has been going on for some time, but there has never been the political will to seriously consider the opportunities publically, largely due to contention about nuclear power following high profile incidents at Chernobyl and more recently Fukushima. This is despite nuclear power operating across 31 countries and providing 11% of the world’s electricity. The generation of nuclear power is also greenhouse friendly given that it does not produce any carbon dioxide, notwithstanding greenhouse gas emissions to convert uranium into nuclear fuel rods are relatively minor and still result in nuclear being second only to renewable energy in terms of environmental impact.

Institutional environmentalists have yet to abandon their motivated reasoning and reconsider what nuclear offers us today, although, anecdotally, a proportion of their supporters have done so and now support it privately. Their political leaders, in contrast, are more than willing to use it as a semiotic non-sequitur, despite previously demonstrating an obvious lack of knowledge.

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I shared his speech on social media. We probably agree on far more than not. But when he speaks on nuclear, it is utter polemic.

In the lead up to South Australia’s election Mark Parnell, another guy who I really believe is doing what he thinks is right, reacted to the mere notion of formally debating the quantifiable pros and cons of establishing nuclear in the state:

“There is adequate evidence that further involving SA in the nuclear cycle is a bad move economically, socially and environmentally… Renewable energy is the future for SA, not nuclear.”

To be blunt, there is not so much adequate evidence as there is lazy cultural aversion and a lack of public knowledge of the science and industry involved (past the morbid fascination with nuclear accidents). This is precisely what sober debate will dispell. So, allow me:

uklcoe

Just an example from the pro-arithmetic DECC.

1. A bad move, economically? The UK Department of Energy and Climate Change has forecast a rather competitive LCOE for nuclear capacity (that’s including decommissioning costs). This may or may not be applicable in any way to our own situation, but would at least seem to indicate favourable results were regulation amended such that a comprehensive, inclusive analysis of modern energy sources can be undertaken.

2. “Socially”? How to address this without really being sure what was meant: I suspect it’s pretty much padding for the sentence. If we’re worried about the “society” which will be affected, ideally we are swapping out fossil fuel baseload electricity (with its risks and benefits) for nuclear baseload electricity (with its demonised risks and dramatic benefits), but your washine machine doesn’t care what turned the turbine it gets its wattage from. Are there really any social impacts there? Maybe people will be offended by this nuclear business happening so close by? In the latest survey of 1216 South Australians, which revealed roughly half support nuclear energy, only 20% recorded strong opposition, so I’m satisfied so far that a clear majority will not be terribly socially impacted.

3. Environmentally, well, nuclear is relatively environmentally benign. At this point in proceedings, I’d suggest that mitigating CO2 emissions is the absolute priority, and the best analysis puts nuclear between concentrating solar thermal and wind energy (both intermittent generators) in this regard. The only other significant environmental impact is mining the fuel, but damned if mining isn’t involved for the materials required for renewable technologies and the vast majority of our current energy.

ranger-vs-hunter-valley-coal-mines

Courtesy of Geoff Russell.

Moreover, these technologies are largely imported, so the burden of mining, refining and manufacturing those PV panels from China and Siemens turbines is tidily externalised out of Australia. Geothermal and biomass is a whole ‘nother story.

Still prefer no mining? The IFR will, of course, consume recycled LWR fuel. There’s decades worth of that for the whole world. It, or reactor-recycling facilities very similar will be built in the near future. Why not in Australia? We’ll need the CO2-free electricity. It will be dispatchable, reliable, ground-breaking and fueled by prepackaged nuclear material which dozens of countries just want to find a solution to.

4. Renewable energy will certainly contribute to SA’s future, and be quite welcome. But the analysis demonstrates that nuclear would contribute more. And the fact is, our electricity infrastructure is part of a vast interstate grid, the NEM, and renewable energy’s share has been inexorably declining since 1960.

Borrowed from DecarboniseSA

If the Greens want to seriously be the third major in Australia, and brand themselves as the party of solid science, then at least listening to the consensus of experts regarding the safety and efficacy of modern nuclear power – just as they rightly accept the consensus of scientists with regard to the causes and probable ramifications of climate change – will achieve this. Their support for rapid carbon mitigation through modern nuclear would mean that the arbitrary regulatory blocks could be removed without further delay, and sensible, evidence-based environmental considerations could be built in to the required regulatory framework to follow. It would be met only with relief and excitement from myself, (I’d expect) all my fellow advocates and – I suspect – a majority of Australians when all the verifiable benefits are clearly laid out. We could really, finally start to get somewhere… Or we could keep slowly doing what we’re doing.

 

 

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My Letter to Radio National

Dear RN Science Show,

While the program does a great job of covering a vast range of scientifically-related subjects, I write this letter as a suggestion that you should revisit the issue of advancing domestic nuclear power as a proven, dispatchable greenhouse gas-mitigating[1] replacement for entrenched fossil fuel generation and mining, exemplified by unfortunate recent circumstances in the LaTrobe valley.

The context of this suggestion is quite broad: submissions recently closed for a federal energy white paper which has seen professional bodies like ANSTO[2] and the Energy Policy Institute of Australia[3] call for consideration of nuclear power; Business SA[4] did its best to raise nuclear sector establishment and expansion in South Australia, with its considerable uranium reserves, at the recent state election; renowned climate scientists[5] called very publicly upon groups like Greenpeace to reconsider their irrational opposition to civilian nuclear energy; and the detection of the 400 ppm atmospheric carbon dioxide milestone[6] despite environmental group-backed renewable energy dominating national attempts to provide carbon mitigation in our country (7%in 2008, down from 19% in 1960[7]) and the purported goals of Germany’s energy transition (the largest scale renewables-focused experiment so far) which in reality prioritises shutting nuclear capacity over lowering emissions and pollution.[8] The impacts of climate change are already having worrying effects on the ocean, connected with warming and acidification.[9] The IPCC warn of specific consequences for large vulnerable segments of humanity.[10]

The results of a recent survey of 1,216 random South Australians indicate considerably more support for the consideration of nuclear power than opposition.[11] What could this mean in a state with well-exploited wind energy? It is also three years since the Touhoku earthquake and tsunami led to the Fukushima Daiichi accident and subsequent radionuclide contamination and evacuation. No Japanese have been harmed by radiation despite many loud, morbid predictions, and indeed international experts expect essentially no increase in related diseases.[12]

You could do worse than to invite Mr Ben Heard on to your show. I have met Ben a few times; he has embarked upon a PhD this year looking at how we do energy in Australia. He won’t try to scare your listeners, but rather summarise the sort of knowledge he (and other nuclear advocates like him) has absorbed by listening to nuclear professionals and analysing the best available data.

Personally, following almost 10 years of personal study around the subject of energy generation, utilisation and constraint I have recently, independently concluded that inclusion of modern nuclear technology can provide the only safe, proven, rapid route to effective mitigation of greenhouse gasses while concurrently expanding our knowledge base, opportunities in science and engineering for the next generations and ensuring Australia maintains its strengths in various industries and politically in the Asia region.

Please consider my suggestion. Thank you in advance.

_________, PhD.

 

References
[1] http://pubs.giss.nasa.gov/abs/kh05000e.html
[2] http://ewp.industry.gov.au/sites/ewp.industry.gov.au/files/20140220%20Energy%20White%20Paper%20submission.pdf
[3] http://ewp.industry.gov.au/sites/ewp.industry.gov.au/files/EWPIP001-EPIA%201st%20submission%209%20Dec%202013_0.pdf
[4] http://business-sa.com/business-advocacy/keyissues/a-charter-for-a-prosperous-south-australia
[5] http://edition.cnn.com/2013/11/03/world/nuclear-energy-climate-change-scientists-letter/index.html
[6] http://climate.nasa.gov/400ppmquotes/
[7] http://environmentvictoria.org.au/sites/default/files/Australia’s%20energy%20mix%201960-2009.pdf Fig. 1
[8] http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2014/03/25/germanys_green_elephant
[9] http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-26746039
[10] http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/03/140331-ipcc-report-global-warming-climate-change-science/
[11] http://www.miningaustralia.com.au/news/south-australian-s-positive-about-nuclear-power-sa
[12] http://www.unis.unvienna.org/unis/en/pressrels/2014/unisous237.html

I received a prompt reply from Robyn Williams with a invitation to submit a piece myself to Ockham’s Razor. I shall seriously consider it.

Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt & Shameless Opportunism

You all know I normally stay positive here, right? This blog is for factually accurate modern nuclear information and analysis, and developments relating to the necessary establishment of nuclear power in Australia. Just for today, I need to pull on the steel-caps and work off some frustration, because there’s a lot of fear, uncertainty and doubt out there, and a lot of people with no scruples about exploiting it.

Ever heard of the nuclear reactor in the Phillipines? It’s an unfueled 621 MW light water reactor on the Bataan peninsula, completed in the 1980s. The Phillipines annual energy consumption was 468 TWh in 2011, so although the Bataan plant would have only contributed a bit over 5 TWh (at 80% capacity factor) to this, had it been successfully commissioned decades ago it could have meant an expansion of nuclear capacity in a country which is now instead planning more coal burning plants.

If you search it up, you may chance upon this carefully worded result:

What the article looks like:

I’m not going to link to it.

Laudable as it is to acknowledge the actual human tragedy of the Haiyan disaster in the lead sentence, this article is still a neon-lit example of pure anti-nuclear propaganda (and I choose it exactly as an example – I haven’t read the rest of the site and haven’t paid attention to who the author is). It’s hard to know where to start, but let’s go with the provided list of six specious reasons:

1. Three Mile Island was the worst reactor accident ever in the US (which currently has 104 near-perfectly functioning reactors) and it resulted in nothing more or less than the successful demonstration of 2nd generation nuclear containment in the event of a core melt down. Scary at the time, horribly expensive, but no one was even injured.

2. Earthquakes? The Touhoku earthquake didn’t cause the Fukushima accident. In fact Japan’s entire fleet of reactors rode the whole disaster out safely, a few not even scramming.

23oil-blog480

As opposed to oil refineries,

3. Pinatubo erupted in 1991, the second largest of the 20th Century. Look at a picture of the Bataan plant today. It might have been the safest place to seek shelter – it the damage had even reached that far!

bataan-nuclear-power-plant-exterior_46515_600x450

4. Apparently the “National Union of Scientists Corporation” reported 4000 defects after commissioning was suspended. Who the heck were they? Not nuclear industry professionals, that’s for sure.

5. Chernobyl had to be on this list. Anyone with the slightest interest in accurate knowledge about nuclear reactors knows the Westinghouse LWR is an entirely incomparable design.

6. A president rejects nuclear power and nuclear opponents will call him wise. Well, no shock there. Can I ask if that makes John F Kennedy a bloodthirsty moron?

crank

Here’s the article’s own representation of the typhoon next to a map showing where the nuclear plant is. Funny how they neglected to indicate it’s location – how were the sub-80 km/h winds supposed to crack open the containment building, breech the pressure vessel and snatch up still-fissioning fuel rods to be flung out and among the traumatised Phillippino population, exactly?

I’m not specifically calling for the refurbishment and commissioning of the Bataan facility, but some are. I can’t spend the time to collect all the relevant information to make an informed decision, but the point is that the anti-nuclear voices, who triumphantly point to the stained concrete structure which never got its chance as a “monument to man’s folly, to pride and refusal to admit a mistake” and other such glib, analysis-free polemic, don’t spend the time either, and instead stretch credulity with straight-faced predictions of millions of extra deaths. Still, a billion dollars for 5TWh per year of CO2-mitigating electricity is only something to sniff at if one puts idealogy ahead of reality.

In response to Haiyan the US diverted USS George Washington to the Phillippines. Part of the desperately needed aid she brought was fresh clean water – provided straight from her nuclear reactor desalination facilities which can output 1.5 million litres daily. That’s a heck-load of instant drinking water to appear in your harbour! If I had been a suddenly homeless Phillippino I reckon I would have been pretty happy to have nuclear reactors so close by that day, all things considered.