Blue

Blue is rational.

Blue is reasonable.

Blue is from First Principles.

earthFromSpace

Whatever our fate, the Earth will remain

Whether it is Raleigh scattering through our precious atmosphere or the mesmerising Cherenkov glow of a nuclear fuel cell at criticality, blue is more than natural.

It is the synergy of nature and civilised humanity. It is the spark of ambition, improvement, perserverence and resilience. It is about being both environmentally, and arithmetically aware.

If green is conservative environmentalism, then blue is progressive environmentalism.

I propose blue to be the official colour of meliorism in this unprecedented human era.

Blue is the colour of calm. The calm of honest challenge towards opponents but more importantly towards ourselves. Convince us we are wrong, as only then can we become better.

As we face scientifically defined global challenges, we already have both the determination to act and the technology to succeed. If we fear anything, it is failing all those people who never even had the chance – or choice – to try.

Ecomodernists have done their homework, but don’t expect to graduate until we’re truly on the path to energy-abundant decarbonisation. The world for future humans will already be altered: the best we can do is to make it blue.

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Excellent Answers to the Wrong Problem

Let’s remember why we’re doing what we’re doing.

I’m particularly concerned about the concequences of ocean acidification. My research involved a plethora of liquid phase reactions; I’m quite familiar with equillibria. The oceans taking up carbon dioxide always brings to mind titrations.

That’s sodium hydroxide neutralising hydrochloric acid. The phenolphthalein indicator abruptly turns the whole flask pink when the end point is reached. “End point” is an unsettling term in this analogy.

McDowell posted another presentation from a pair of electrical engineers. These are the sorts of professionals who actually have to design and build the things to get electricity from whatever generates it to us and to businesses and industries.

Quote of the Year:

You could spend a lifetime coming up with excellent answers to the wrong problem.”

There are various renewable energy plans for Australia, other regions and the whole world which are periodically released to rapturous fanfare. They do not stand up to objective scrutiny very well. It is irresponsible to avoid applying a list of pertinent conditions, such as this excellent checklist, to what they should achieve and how they’ll achieve it. It is crucial to be clear on these details:

1. IS CO2 (or equivalent) EMITTED IN OPERATION?
– How much?
– Is it necessitated by intermittency?
– Real offsets (i.e. biofuel combustion, replanting, fertilisers)?
– Other, non-GHG emissions?
2. ARE ALL COSTS INTERNALISED?
– Transmission to/upgrade of grid?
– Reliance on other technology?
– Environmental costs?
3. HAS THE SPECIFIC TECHNOLOGY BEEN BUILT BEFORE?
– FOAK/NOAK?
– Scalability of preceding, related technology?
– Hoping for breakthroughs?
4. WILL THERE BE ENOUGH?
– Overbuild of intermittent sources to fill assumed storage?
– Supply for electrified cars, trains, heating?
– Confidence of industry in reliability of supply?
– Desalination?
5. TELLTALE SIGNS OF ‘ANYTHING-BUT-NUCLEAR’ PROPOSALS?
– No or brief, dismissive mention of nuclear?
– Purported issues with nuclear cited as reason for its exclusion?
– Other technologies specified as sufficient to address emissions mitigation, energy supply without nuclear?

I, and my fellow ecomodernists, cop it a bit for apparently “dumping on renewables”, but we do no such thing. Wind and solar are impressive technologies but if they can truly fulfil everything asked of them from Anything-But-Nuclear energy plans then their proponents should be gladly meeting the challenge of proving their suitability when hard analysis is demanded. And it must be demanded, because the greatest effort yet in a modern, advanced nation to decarbonise via renewable energy is, so far, a ghastly mockery of itself.

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Compare South Australia’s newly opened Four Mile uranium mine, utilising in situ leaching, for a fuel of considerably higher energy density.

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There is only a single “right problem” that should be the focus. Using more of that uranium in more modern reactors so we can burn less and less of that dirt is the most excellent answer of all.

But, Fukushima II

tweetFukushima, eh?

Chiba refinery

“Fukushima”

And how much longer should we keep using that as a “reason”?

Firstly, you must understand that the population was evacuated (and has stayed that way) by government decree[1] and not due to any intrinsic danger of the levels of released radiation. The ZERO fatalities due to radiation[2]? They were predicted emphatically by physicists like Wade Allison[3] immediately after the accident. This is in stark contrast to the well-publicised apocalypse espoused by the likes of Helen Caldicott, and how anyone can take her seriously is beyond me. Furthermore, the many hundreds of deaths due directly and indirectly to evacuation, a result of radiation hysteria and absurd, arbitrary limits[4], have destroyed families and are ignored by these ideological campaigners.

Chiba refinery

“Fukushima”

Secondly, the best science currently points to anthropogenic global warming as the greatest existential threat to the secure future of most species on this planet. Japan’s extended nuclear shutdown, apart from being a fiscal catastrophe, has seen rapid, record fossil fuel use growth[5] with consequent ballooning of carbon emissions.[6] If you truly believe that the risks you perceive about commercial nuclear power supersede the urgency of decarbonising our energy, then I submit you are doubly dismissing the IPCC’s expert conclusions.[7]

North Dakota oil train

“Fukushima”

Lastly, no matter how rapidly the favourite renewable energy technologies (advocacy of which rarely acknowledges often vast proportions of biomass burning[8]) can theoretically be deployed, combining this with nuclear reactor builds of modern, average duration and costs[9] will achieve faster decarbonisation… so how much delay and otherwise unnecessary potential harm are you prepared to cost the world by refusing to reconsider nuclear energy?

Morwell coal mine disaster at night

“Fukushima”

[1] The First Five Days http://tinyurl.com/q6qsxvt
[2] http://www.unis.unvienna.org/unis/en/pressrels/2014/unisous237.html[3] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-12860842
[4] http://t.co/g57CQ2qrQV
[5] http://af.reuters.com/article/commoditiesNews/idAFL3N0O20C020140516
[6] http://canadianenergyissues.com/2013/12/19/power-fear-and-carbon-in-japan-the-iron-rule-of-power-generation-ii/
[7] http://atomicinsights.com/ipcc-working-group-iii-recommendations/
[8] http://thebreakthrough.org/index.php/programs/energy-and-climate/growth-of-biomass-far-outstrips-growth-of-solar-and-wind
[9] http://mobile.abc.net.au/news/2014-06-19/nuclear-energy-required-to-fight-climate-change/5535932 & http://www.carboncommentary.com/2014/06/04/3603


Stripped of emotion and motivated reasoning, the case for considering nuclear energy is clear. There is no shame in admitting the possibility, indeed it is noble, it is the sort of example we set for our children, and it is one of the best ways for us to learn and grow. Even if you personally remain to be convinced, consider supporting the call for amendment to ARPANS and EPBC so that a fully fledged assessment of the suitability of nuclear energy – a successor to UMPNER, if you will – can be undertaken in the long-term national interest.

Recent related press can be found here, here and here.

The images are obviously not Fukushima Daiichi, although the first two will appear in the top results when googled for as such, used in very recent articles, demonstrating a persistent carelessness by some commentators.

 

Life By Analogy

Cruise liners have operated in one form or another for well over a century, and today many countries operate such leisure ships in a growing industry. If you haven’t travelled on one, odds are you know someone who has.

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Sadly not this one.

The largest can berth up to 4000 passengers or more. Per total number of passengers, an impressively small number of fatalities have occurred in the operation of these ships over the decades. Safety is mandated by the International Maritime Organisation, a UN agency.

As we witnessed a few years ago with the Costa Concordia, things can still go awfully wrong. Conceivably, a cruise line accident in deeper water could result in a higher immediate loss of life numbering in the thousands.

But just imagine if humans could breathe water. Fantastical, for sure, but wouldn’t it mean that possibly everyone might survive? That the unlikely sinking of one of these vast vessels wouldn’t be the disaster we would otherwise expect?

Now, replace the cruise liner with a nuclear power plant, the passengers with the surrounding population, and the water with radiation. Despite the hesitancy surrounding nuclear power and the fear of radioactivity, the last few decades have provided compelling evidence that harm from limited exposure to radionuclides, just like from natural elevated radiation, is quite possibly non-existent.

It is commonly opined that the builders of Fukushima Daichi probably thought of their reactors as unsinkable ships… Which invariably insinuates that any and all reactor safety is ultimately futile. However, just like cruise ships, there really is only so much that can go wrong, and cause loss of core cooling, the one common issue between all famous nuclear accidents. Nuclear power also has a UN agency monitoring to ensure high safety standards.


Here in Australia metropolitan intersections are largely automated by induction loops buried behind the stop bar, which detect the metal in your car. There’s a particular type of motorist who is not only unaware of this, but also makes no effort to pull up to the stop bar to wait for a green light. Maybe you have witnessed the absurd culmination of this ignorance: a driver waiting for a green arrow to turn across traffic (right, in Australia) but too far from the sensor, such that the traffic management system can’t tell the car is there at all. Other cars queue behind the first, perhaps without seeing what the problem is. Nobody can move, and the person who is responsible for it all is as oblivious to the cause of other drivers’ mounting frustration as he or she is of how modern roads work.

I submit that vocal nuclear opponents are the climate change and energy supply equivalent of this type of driver. They don’t realise that they fundamentally misapprehend supply and demand of grid electricity, the consequences of energy poverty, and the mathematical limitations of clean but diffuse sources like wind and solar, not to mention the current impracticality of battery or hydro storage at anything approaching grid-scale. We want to proceed with planning a sensible low-carbon future but we get stuck behind these opponents who don’t even know how bad they are at driving. Those of us who can see the problem – why the arrow won’t turn green – try to shout, gesture, even honk, and the rest of the drivers also waiting end up either annoyed with us or confused about what we’re trying to achieve. What we’d really like to do is talk calmly with these others and address their concerns about nuclear, but that would require getting out of the intersection and parking somewhere, which is being very effectively impeded.

A-Flowchart-to-Help-You-Determine-if-Yoursquore-Having-a-Rational-Discussion

These guidelines are open to negotiation. Calm, rational negotiation, like most other things should be.

I’m sure not qualified as a driving instructor, but, really, who wants to be that guy?

trafficlights

Let’s go, everybody!

We are justified in expecting that all aspects of cruiseship safety have vastly improved since the Titanic sunk, so why make an exception for nuclear plants, especially when experts expect no death or illness at all from the most recent accident? From what kind of motivated reasoning comes the idea that nuclear plant construction and operation alone, out of all enterprises, has no capacity or desire to improve over time?

And just where did these people who’re telling us it’s so freakin’ unacceptably dangerous learn to drive?

 

Shameless Optimism: An Article from June, 201X

This is an entirely fictional and hopelessly optimistic newpaper article from around the end of this decade, assuming certain spontaneous outbreaks of rationality and determination.

In what may be remembered as its most historic moment since Federation in 1901, the South Australian parliament yesterday voted almost unanimously to approve the final regulations pertaining to the proposed Inner Harbour IFR Project.

The recently minted Premier was actually grinning on the steps of parliament. “As you know, this modern, carbon-abating power plant was something I took to the last election as an answer to South Australia’s deteriorating, fossil-dominated electricity supply.

“My party listened to the fresh sentiment of the people, and it listened to business, and it listened to our renowned academics, and it listened to ANSTO, and it listened to the IPCC.

“We are a state of firsts, and Australia’s first 620 megawatts of nuclear waste-burning power will be built right here in Adelaide, with local contractors and local jobs.”

The resources minister was equally optimistic. “The partnerships we have with all of the new and planned reactor operators in Korea, South America, the US and China to supply high quality uranium will ensure sustainability of the industry as it steadily replaces coal mining as our dominant energy export.

“Accepting it back after use for recycling is just common sense.”

After shaking hands with both the Premier and the Opposition Leader, the director of the project coordinating body, South Australian Integral Fast Energy Sector Transition (SAIFEST), said, “Since the groundswell overturning of the federal prohibition on nuclear power, part of our tireless work has been the adaptation of the very best regulations and guidelines from the most successful foreign nuclear energy programs, always with an eye to what is most suitable for Australia’s rather unique circumstances.

“Yet even I hardly dared dream it could all happen this rapidly.”

The regulations also pertain to the expansion of mining, the nascent nuclear fuel enrichment facility and the planned Intermediate Fuel Repository, for which suitable sites have been narrowed to two contenders.

The plant, which was controversial when first proposed, has enjoyed nearly two years of widespread support as industry workshops continue to tour the state and communicate the realities of the benefits and risks of new generation nuclear power.

“If you asked me back in 2011, I’d have laughed at you,” said one mother at her suburb’s community centre, standing in front of the now well-known glowing PRISM model.

“But the Fukushima accident still hasn’t caused the death they told us it would, just like the radiation experts said all along. And that sort of meltdown just can’t happen with this reactor, can it?”

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This popular support from an already nuclear-curious state was undoubtedly cemented when 12-year old Jayden Ashley of Parafield won the grand prize for his entry in the Main Containment Building design competition.

An executive for the international vendor commented at the time that it was so instantly iconic and intuitive, she didn’t know why they hadn’t already thought of it.

“Of course we’re extremely glad the legal framework’s now in place and that the government continues to embrace the hyper-modernisation of South Australia’s generating capacity,” the vendor’s Adelaide office said over the phone.

The construction industry consortium formed to coordinate site preparation, contracting and module assembly took the news in its stride.

“From the start we’ve proceeded on the understanding that the new regulations are there to facilitate the scheduled completion of this project,” their spokesperson said.

“It is already positively impacting the disused manufacturing capacity of this city, and will shortly begin providing jobs for thousands of people who not long ago still weren’t sure what they were going to do as the auto industry left the country.”

“These are safe, well-paying jobs that will set many of our members up for secure employment in further construction around the country,” echoed the construction union secretary this morning.

The local cement industry, already contracted to supply materials for the basemats, containment and related structures, anticipated a new, sustained era of competitiveness.

“The clean, reliable electricity will boost productivity while lowering our overall process emissions,” said a representative.

“We’ve also been in talks with the reactor fuel recycling people regarding the products they’ll separate from the partially used fuel.

“A lot of people don’t realise that we use isotopes like californium and caesium-137 to ensure the high quality of the concrete that their houses sit on.”

The president of Port Adelaide’s independent community monitoring task force for the project was confident that the regulations were adequate. “Our group was set up and funded to ensure that the plant will be serious about honesty and transparency when it comes to nuclear safety, especially close to an established suburb and a busy harbour.

“I still don’t know if what they say about low-level radiation is true or not, but even if a leak is unlikely or harmless the operator will answer to the community if it lets it happen.

“Even then, though, we know that we won’t have to run for the hills.”

He added, waving in the direction of the old MFP site, “I was definitely anti-nuclear in the 80s and 90s but new designs have addressed most of my concerns, and of course back then no one was worried about global warming.

“We’ve just had our hottest year ever! This plant will make electricity without the carbon, while putting our city at the head of the solution to 100,000 year nuclear waste.”

Adapted from historical artwork of the Clinch River Breeder Reactor

Artist’s* impression of the IFR plant, featuring the proposed containment design.

“I literally can’t wait,” said a first year nuclear physics student in the University of Adelaide Hub Central.

Nuclear energy-related courses have seen a meteoric resurgence in the last two years, with Adelaide’s first graduates expected next year.

“This is what I wanted to do since high school, since I learned that we need to act urgently on climate change.

“South Australia has great sun and wind resources but we simply can’t rely on them to ensure prosperity and actually replace the dispatchable fossil-fuelled electricity we’ve been using till now.

“These reactors can be built where the demand is, using the existing connections.

“Sorry, I just gave a presentation on this stuff. But the arithmetic doesn’t lie.

“Building IFRs and getting paid to accept the fuel for them will keep long term electricity supply reliable and cost-competitive: which provides opportunity to work locally on improving other renewable energy sources like tidal and algae biofuels.”

SAIFEST’s director said later that he had discussions scheduled with metal companies and manufacturers regarding possible new plant locations neighbouring the reactors. “High energy industries don’t want to ignore the problem of emissions any longer,” he commented.

“They will go where the cleanest, most reliable energy is.”

 


 

*I am obviously not an artist.