The Nuclear Option

Whilst it is always amusing watching the Liberals fight amongst themselves (this time in regards to voting on the ETS); I have been thinking on the issue of alternative energy sources. After all, the two primary opponents of the ETS in the business community are the Energy & Mining sectors. Rio Tinto’s recent submission (alongside the government’s own Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation) calls for reconsideration of the use of nuclear power in supplying Australia’s energy needs, especially in light of the ETS legislation.

Now personally, I am against nuclear energy for reasons of “disaster avoidance”. Chernobyl is still off-limits and will be for quite sometime. I am well aware that there are much more secure options in creating nuclear reactors, but I am a risk averse person. The idea of using an energy source that is as dangerous as nuclear fission (with long lived side-effects / waste) is a scary notion. I feel the same way about creating energy from nuclear fusion, should it ever become feasible. After all, the H-bomb is much more powerful than the standard nuclear fission weaponary.

That said, I try to be practical wherever possible. I personally don’t like driving yet own a car because, in today’s age, it is pretty much necessary for my children. I don’t the clergy (or those that act in that role) of several religions, yet I can understand their role in many people’s lives and am friendly toward them so far as we don’t insult one another’s beliefs. And so on. Nuclear energy may not be my favourite method of generating energy, but I like my technology and something has to power it. Coal is something I think needs phasing out, so I need to look at the alternatives.

In looking into nuclear energy though, I am finding that it is not the panacea it is made out to be by it’s proponents. Mostly because, like oil, there is a limited supply of uranium worldwide and the International Atomic Energy Agency predicts that (with current technology) there is only enough to keep a consistent supply (for current usage rates) for the next 85 years at most. This time period would, of course, be drastically reduced if we were to increase our use of nuclear energy to the levels required to reasonably reduce our carbon emissions. They temper this with a claim that “fast reactor technology” could lengthen this period to 2500 years.

However, from my (possibly defunct) research – fast reactors are few and far between and their development has not been pushed for some time (possibly due to the currently “low” cost of uranium). In particular, research & development into a breed of reactor Tony introduced me to, the Integral Fast Reactor, has been shut-down completely by the USA. Given the patent system being the way it is, it is unlikely that anyone else but the USA could re-instate this program. It would appear the fact that this reactor can easily produce weapons grade fissile material is of higher gravitas than its environmental benefits over standard thermal reactors to the USA and, as such, it is not likely we are going to be able to use this technology.

I am interested in other people’s perspective on this. As I said, I have a personal preference against it because of the disaster possibility. I am, however, open to reasonable arguments for the use of nuclear. I, however, get the feeling that there are alot more politics on the international level preventing the adoption of nuclear energy than there are domestic issues. The issues surrounding the development (or lack thereof) of the IFR nuclear option are a case in point.

Of course, feel free to talk about anything else as well – I’m just trying to kick start conversation and think this topic would be reasonably interesting to all.

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86 Responses

  1. Ben

    I listened to a nuclear professor on the radio ‘tother night and was quite interested in what he had to say…

    Like you I have always been wary of nuclear power because of the fissionable “waste” issues, however …

    … the professor was discussing 4th Generation Reactors – the Russians are building the first one now … that should give us some idea of costs – apparently …

    … 4th Gen Reactors however burn fuel with close to 99% efficiency and can burn current “spent” fuel waste as well (current reactors only burn just over 1%! – 99% waste!) …

    … on top of this 4th Generators produce waste that has a half life of about 300 years and can be stored as a vitreous rock that eventually breaks down to the same or less than the radioactive content of uranium … present half life of waste is in the thousands of years – lots ofit and difficult to store …

    … 4thGR will also be able to burn thorium of which Australia also has an abundance – can’t remember the figures exactly but I think enough fuel for about 500,000 years of power for the planet …

    … now, I can be sarcastic, cynical and sceptical as you (and everyone else here) know(s) – but I also like to keep an open mind – for the first time ever, this guy (…no can’t remember his name) actually made some inroads into changing my mind …

    … after “dabbling” with solar power both as a production manager and as a home owner – I’m pretty sure that it is not the answer … and the European experiments with wind generated power also fall short … even if coal sequestration “worked” I still have some concerns (eg leakage) … geo thermal looks promising …

  2. Good nuanced article. Thanks.

    Further to your notes about the limited Uranium (which suggests some advantages of fast breeder reactors), it is worth noting that rare earths, essential for many energy saving devices (including solar cells, the LCDs of laptops and mobile phones) are in even shorter supply – I’ve summarized the work by Tom Graedel of the USGS here. According to this survey, there are NOT 85 years, but around 60 at current consumption, and 20 for worldwide consumption at 50% of current US per capita consumption. Even less with expanded use to replace coal.

    Thus, the nuclear option can only be seen as a stopgap measure, albeit a useful one. Large reactors that take years to come online won’t actually help.

    While the big utilities would push for large reactors, newer designs for “portable and disposable” reactors, small enough to fit in your garage and power a town of 10K people are now becoming available, removing the inefficiences of long transmission lines. The “pebble bed” reactor is also much safer… lower temperatures, lower pressure, and with the physics of the reaction itself meaning that it shuts itself down when it overheats – without the need for control rods and the like.

    As I discuss here, the key danger of nuclear power comes not from the technology, but a toothless regulatory regime that puts safety in the hands of private enterprise. This article uses the root cause of the Three Mile Island disaster in support of my position, as told to me by an expert witness to the Maralinga Royal Commission.

    If Australia /is/ to gain economic benefit from the use of uranium to give us breathing space to take action on climate change (e.g. time for population and consumption shrinkage, without which other actions are futile), then the AWU (not my favorite union!) proposals for downstream processing, storage, etc are essential. Otherwise we will continue to be “China’s quarry and Japan’s beach”.

    More and more, while I’m 50:50 on the nuclear issue, and certainly unconvinced about it’s long-term use, together with the problems of rare earths required for solar cells, I’m of the opinion that wind, tidal, and use of algae to trap solar energy are better long term options.

    But again, whatever we use for energy sources, without managed and rapid population shrinkage, we’ll have even more shrinkage (many scientists calling it a “cull” of between 50% and 90% by the end of the century), but it will be totally unmanaged.

  3. Kevin Andrews is leading a task force to identify isolated sites for nuclear power facilities.

    These will require massive amounts of water and the areas that would be suitable is/was owned by our native Australians.

  4. scaper…, on July 24th, 2009 at 5:57 pm

    …is/was owned by our native Australians

    Not sure what your understanding of “native” Australian is, scaper, “native” usually means born in Australia (eg I’m “native” to England – but Australian – my children are native to Australia) …

    …are you referring to indigenous Australians/Aboriginals … as opposed to native born non-aboriginal …?

  5. Great article Ben!

    From Dave Bath’s second link:

    Good if we have humane and safety-concious engineers in charge without operation of the profit motive, bad if the bean-counters and power-hungry politicians are in control.

    I cannot think of a single incorruptible entity that would meet the “good” criteria to do the job. The people in charge of the safety issues are exactly my opposition as well – no-one can be trusted with such a dangerous technology – pretty much rules it out for me.

  6. Bit like motor cars, RN?

  7. … or doctors in charge of hospitals? 😉

  8. Yep TB, just like motor cars, except with a far wider reach of devastating consequences with humans at the wheel.

  9. And Yep again to doctors in charge of hospitals TB, or any other profit-driven, power-hungry entity .

  10. As long as we get “world’s best practice”…

    😀

    N’

  11. Tony Abbott’s answer to our transport problems:

    N’

  12. RN said:
    * “no-one can be trusted with such a dangerous technology”

    RN’s use of the singular (technology) rather than the plural (technologies) is dangerous, because it gives the least ethical people in the debate an easy way to discredit objections by well-meaning folk. Objections to nuclear technologies need to be done on a case-by-case basis, risks and benefits. Just because van de Graaf generators deal with similar voltages to high tension power cables doesn’t mean the two technologies are equally dangerous.

    Yes – large nuclear plants using high pressure, high temperature, with complex cooling systems of liquid sodium, can fail and cause massive disasters. Different designs, different risks. As I pointed out elsewhere, people who are paranoid about radiation happily walk through Kakadu national park, despite bits of Kakadu being more radioactive than bits of Maralinga.

    The “catastrophic” Chernobyl-like failure that causes continent-wide problems is impossible with small “portable/disposable” reactors. Yes, many more small reactors means that the risk of an accident goes up – but these accidents have only a small impact, affecting (paranoid guesstimate) 1000 people – and those mainly by having to shift location. 10 short-term deaths – maybe, a few hundred with statistically significant increased risks of cancers. Hand out the iodine, give out the relocation dollars, set up a health monitoring program.

    There are many studies showing that risk perception by the general population is often severely flawed. Do you know what one of the most lethal objects in UK households is based on actual mortality statistics? The old-style CRT TV set. Gets toppled on top of climbing kids because the risks are ignored.

    The best example of risk misperception was a study after planes ran into the WTC. Air passengers in the US were offered two forms of insurance – one covering everything for $50, and one only covering terrorism for $60. A very significant number chose the $60 option, even though it covered less.

    I’ve worked with radioactive sources, deadly microbes (and genetic engineered some), carcinogens, nasty toxins, military-grade weapons…. but the greatest dangers I’ve posed to myself and the public involved getting behind the wheel of a car and lighting a campfire in summer.

    So – object to one or more nuclear technologies – fine. You’ll be correct for more than one or two of those technologies. But at least do it properly. Understand it’s not just the technologies, but the processes around them. AS/NZS 4360 (Risk Management Standard) provides the structure for the argument and the decision-making process.

    And the best mitigation? Keep “Monty Burns” types away from the politicians, keep untrained “Homer Simpson” types out of control rooms, and remove the profit motive.

    The worst things? Make it easy for Monty Burns to discredit you, make it easy for Monty Burns to make political donations, have weak regulations so that Homer gets into the room with the dials and buttons.

    If there is a take-home message, it’s that politicians and Monty Burns will probably put in nuclear power whether we want it or not. The only thing we can do is make them put in the appropriate controls, the appropriate reactor designs, in the interests of citizens rather than corporations. Actually, the best thing is to cut the need for power generation: a one-child-per-woman policy.

  13. […] was a nuanced post by B.Tolputt over at Blogocrats ("The Nuclear Option" 2009-07-24), and looking back at the comments I wrote, I think they are worth repeating […]

  14. Seems that nuclear technology has moved-on a bit from the days of Three Mile Island. Just as well, too.

    It could become a lesser-of-two evils situation where we can either put-up with a level of CO2 emissions and resultant global warming that will pretty-well cook the planet or else get our base-line power needs from nuclear-powered generators.

    Solar and wind are just penny-ante stuff. Nice to dream about, by they’re never going to come close to becoming competitive with coal.

    There are risks with everything I suppose, but like others here, I’m starting to think that maybe 4th gen nuclear is the better way to go, perhaps used in conjunction with hot rock geothermal (or whatever else with a carbon-neutral footprint can be found and rendered economic).

  15. TB , can you remember what program that interview was on?I did hear bits of it only as I wasn’t feeling too good, I do remember thinking I had to track it down, must have been on RN I’m sure, maybe Phillip Adams, seems to ring a bell. cheers LM

  16. LM,

    I only caught the end of the interview (confess to station surfin’ in the car) – I’m pretty sure it was on the ABC (I had a quick look before posting but couldn’t find anything) – the “professor” was certainly interesting to listen to but I think much of the “science” was just that … note the Russians are still building the “first” 4thGR plant …

  17. Evan, on July 25th, 2009 at 12:38 pm Said:

    Solar and wind are just penny-ante stuff. Nice to dream about, by they’re never going to come close to becoming competitive with coal.

    That’s a bold statement and completely bogus. In fact nuclear can’t come close to competing with coal either, which is why it is so heavily subsidised by governments.

    Sweden I think is the only country that doesn’t fully subsidise its nuclear industry and because of that has amongst the highest electricity charges in the world.

    There’s lots of myths and furphies going about on both nuclear and renewables and I just wish people were more honest on both sides of this.

  18. […] The Nuclear Option « BlogocratsAfter all, the two primary opponents of the ETS in the business community are the Energy & Mining sectors. Rio Tinto’s recent submission (alongside the government’s own Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation) calls for … […]

  19. “That’s a bold statement and completely bogus.”

    Adrian, you are making a habit of talking down to people that hold a different opinion!

    I agree with Evan, solar is useless when the sun does’t shine and wind power is useless when there is no wind, coal does not depend on these influences so where is the furphie?

  20. scaper.

    I do when there statements are so wrong as yours often are, and you just proved it again on your solar and wind statements.

  21. Adrian is not talking down to people, he is addressing the issue. Statements such as ‘are you making a habit it of..’ are courtesy of psychology 101 clear thinking and also journalism 101 re emotional manipulation of the audience.

  22. Adrian. are you tripping???

    Tell me how solar and wind can be competitive when there is no sun or wind?

    I’m starting to think you are a fool!

  23. scaper…, on July 25th, 2009 at 5:45 pm Said:
    “I agree with Evan, solar is useless when the sun does’t shine and wind power is useless when there is no wind,

    I agree also. Some wind installations are running as low as10% of their designed output.
    If all energy inputs are taken into account solar panels are lucky to break even under 10 years depending on location.
    Just for good measure, storing CO2 underground currently uses about 30% of the energy generated by the fossil fuels.

  24. scaper asks “Tell me how solar and wind can be competitive when there is no sun or wind?”

    Actually, Scaper, Johnd, it’s pretty darn simple to be able to use wind for baseload power supply when there is no wind.

    Put windmill below hydroelectric dam to pump the water back up again. The dam provides the capacitance until the power is needed.

    Drought in Australia might make this problematic, but certainly not in other parts of the world.

    And that’s not even talking about tidal/wave power. I don’t see waves and tides stopping any time soon!

  25. Wind and water shouldnt be ignored, we are in early days when i cames to these ideas as we always had oil in large amounts to rely on.

    Only narrowminded people will stop this progress

    Tidal, great example.

  26. scaper…, on July 25th, 2009 at 5:56 pm

    Give it a rest, scaper, you were the one whinging about “attacking the player” not the issue …

  27. Dave Bath, on July 25th, 2009 at 6:09 pm Said:
    “Put windmill below hydroelectric dam to pump the water back up again. The dam provides the capacitance until the power is needed.”

    Technically feasible, but the inefficiency is compounded, and if the dam has enough storage capacity what would be gained?

    Back in the 60’s Lang Hancock had a vison of creating tidal power stations in the North West.

  28. we do many things different since the 60’s
    Its nice to see Lang was thinking for the future.

  29. Did Lang Hancock ever attempt his project or did he just talk a lot aswell.

  30. Also DB putting wind turbines offshore as they do in Europe almost guarantees permanent offshore wind. Another way it is done is to have the wind farms in selected areas so when there is unsuitable wind (there is only a narrowband of wind where turbines can be used, too fast is as bad as no wind) in one area it is available in another.

    Common to most renewable is the growing technologies to store their gathered energy off-line to release it when needed. Also read the link I posted on the myth of base load and peak power. Our current base load systems waste gobs of energy because they are not on demand and must be run at near full capacity at all times, even when there is no demand for that excess power. Nuclear energy compounds this, encouraging even more wasteful energy consumption.

    There needs to be a sensible combination and technology spend on being able to turn down current base load provider when demand is low. This might be possible with new generation reactors but definitely not with coal, sequestration or not.

    Also government’s must become tougher on energy providers deliberately stifling production (breakdowns or deliberate inconvenient maintenance) so they can charge more for power. Renewables in the mix would alleviate this problem but nuclear energy only encourages it to continue.

  31. well said TB

  32. Although still a fair way off none of this addresses probably the greatest solution to the planet’s energy needs in ITER.

    ITER holds out far more promise than 4th generation nuclear reactors and the technology is viable with the first fusion reactor working in the US and another in the UK, and now this large scale (and I mean large, it’s humongous) one being built in France. It is so promising a bunch of nations are putting in billions to build it and get it running.

  33. JohnD, on windmills pumping water back upstream into a hydroelectric dam asks: “Technically feasible, but the inefficiency is compounded, and if the dam has enough storage capacity what would be gained?”

    It’s only when there is no storage capacity left (i.e. not enough, when inflows from upstream rivers match or exceed the volume passed through the turbines) that there is no benefit from using the windmills.

    And when I say windmills, I also include wind turbines powering pumps. But windmills would do.

    “Inefficiency is compounded.”….
    ???? I’m sorry…. But the efficiency of the turbine/dam combo is EXACTLY the same for a given water head of pressure regardless of whether there are windmills or not. The only problem is if you don’t have enough water spare for environmental downflows.

    For Australia – problematic. For Norway… dead easy.

    And please note, I’m not an antinuclear bigot. Certain designs of reactor may well have their place. (Transmission of hydro or tidal power to Alice Springs is pretty dumb, for example. I’d use the Hyperion reactor in that case)

  34. And (without being too proud a parent)..daughter’s work is: •Second-generation micro-algal bio-fuel systems: Development of bio-fuels systems for bio-H2, biodiesel and BTL-diesel production that are coupled to CO2 sequestration

    http://www.imb.uq.edu.au/index.html?id=11700

    This is via UQ, Ben Hankamer.

    Don’t ask me what it means as there is only one scientist in the family.

  35. Hexx, on July 25th, 2009 at 6:44 pm Said:
    “Did Lang Hancock ever attempt his project or did he just talk a lot aswell.”

    It never got off the ground, it was a job for government, not private enterprise.
    He envisaged a large dam being created by using a nuclear explosion. The concept was good, tidal ranges are very large in the NW, it just needed a dam of large enough capacity, still does.

  36. Dave Bath, on July 25th, 2009 at 7:02 pm Said:
    “Inefficiency is compounded.”….
    ???? I’m sorry…. But the efficiency of the turbine/dam combo is EXACTLY the same for a given water head of pressure regardless of whether there are windmills or not.”

    Yes, but there are inefficiencies in pumping the water back up. So the energy generated will be less than that consumed pumping the water up.
    Would it not be better when the wind blows, just to allow the wind to directly generate electricity and the hydro throttled back to conserve water.
    Isn’t that what happens now, and the windmills don’t even have to be in a valley below the dam.

  37. Adrian, the EU coastal turbines are a real pain for the locals because of the noise

  38. Johnd,
    Nuclear explosion i cant agree with but there are many ways to make a hole and since the sixties, a shovel could of done the job by now. 😉

    I say as long as we are thinking ahead

    I saw those offshore generators(wind turbines) and i thought that wasnt a bad idea at all.

  39. Also currents are never ending so placing underwater turbines in places can open more options.

  40. Hexx, there have been a lot of very big shovels working in the NW since the 60’s digging a number of big holes, but I think an even bigger hole than all of them combined would probably be needed.

  41. Apologies for being off topic..but a very nice lunch this arvo, and not only but also got all of the paperwork completed at the accountant’s. A wonderful evening to all.

  42. ohwell at least people have jobs while this is in progress by the sounds of it.

    I havnt watched building of the worlds wonders for a while but that gives you hope to that tackling big projects is do-able and what would of happened if they listened to the people who said “you cant”.

  43. Neil of Sydney, on July 25th, 2009 at 5:46 pm Said:

    Could this be it? Yes indeed.

    Thank you, I will listen now that I’m more receptive..
    From vague memory I thought that ‘more people should hear this’ the fellow sounds like he knows a little more than most, and puts it in a way so as his message is understood. I think the good folk on here should have a listen, just to get the chips balanced.(Oh, and Steve Fielding gets a brief mention at the end . ) http://www.abc.net.au/rn/scienceshow/stories/2009/2629053.htm Thank you Neil.LM.

  44. Scaper, no name calling please. Adrian is by no means a fool, and it’s poor form to call him one.

  45. Adrian is no fool.

    A black kettle event.

  46. Yep the Kettle smoked the pot

  47. Scaper, you mostly have some excellent knowledge to impart and I did follow your point of view as I do others on here, seems lately that your going out of you way to de jure your opinion, that’s a shame as I am inclined to skip past now and also the comments that react to you attitude, sort of spoils the character of the subject. (We) go back a way, keeping it tough but fair would be good, just saying.

  48. TB Queensland, on July 25th, 2009 at 7:19 pm Said:

    Adrian, the EU coastal turbines are a real pain for the locals because of the noise

    Yeah no problems with the noise of crashing waves, surf and squawking shit ducks, but the swishing of a wind turbine is unbearable. 😉

  49. Another disingenuousness that is trotted out by the pro-nuclear lobby and the fossil fuel industry in the debate of using renewables as a mainstream energy provider is they deliberately couch renewable as a static technology, and normally ignore the gradual and significant efficiency gains, in not only renewable energy production, but energy storage allowing things like solar and wind to be utilised out of optimum input. In the meantime they espouse the great gains made in non-renewable energy technologies that make them more efficient, but ignore the fact most countries are still building and using older technologies and will into the foreseeable near future.

    Renewables have steadily improved and this did not stop 10 years ago as the energy lobbyist would have everyone believe. There are now solar technologies that can still produce an output on cloudy days and wind turbine technology has also advanced at a good clip.

    Once on a flight from Heathrow to Kingsford Smith I sat next to a Swedish engineer who was heading to Victoria via Sydney, where he was going to oversee the installation of a wind farm the company he worked for produced.

    He was a fascinating man and told me the turbines being installed in Vic were second generation with a new generation with significant efficiency gains coming down the track. He stated at the current rate of improvements in both turbine efficiencies and storage, wind power would become competitive with non-renewables on cost in the not too distant future, and they would do so without subsidies. I know he is biased, not going to deny that, but I do believe his statement on continuing improvement in renewable efficiencies.

    Both sides do this, sell down the negatives of the other and sell up the positives of there’s. I just wish they would all give the advantages and disadvantages along with all the additional costs incurred throughout the entire life of producing the energy, which includes subsidies, scarce water use and environmental damage.

  50. Mobius Ecko, on July 25th, 2009 at 6:44 pm Said:
    “Our current base load systems waste gobs of energy because they are not on demand and must be run at near full capacity at all times, even when there is no demand for that excess power.”

    Adrian, base load means just that. They are not designed to respond to peak demand.
    If there are insufficient plants that can respond to peak demand, then that is firstly a long term planning problem, or a contractual problem for the authorities. On the other hand, if the unit cost of power from the base load stations is low, then overall it may still be more economical to generate excess power than have to rely on peak demand stations that are generally more expensive to run.

  51. Mobius Ecko, on July 26th, 2009 at 8:13 am

    Technology may be improving for renewable energy, but at the end of the day it still comes down to nature.The most efficient windfarms in the USA operate at about 40% of their designed output, the average is about 30%.
    I wonder if that Swedish engineer is involved with one windfarm, I think it is in Victoria, that is a bit of a white elephant, producing only about 10% of it’s intended annual capacity. That data was discovered by a group opposed to windfarm being built in their particular area, and may not be that unusual.

  52. Makes no sense John, and why is it a contractual problem for authorities. Apart from NSW energy is private so it’s a contractual problem for the clients.

    And the problem is not insufficient plants, but very high energy inefficiencies and wastage. Both Victoria and NSW are seeking to build new coal powered stations, and that’s just to cater for the waste in current usage. It is estimated that nearly an entire base load station in those states is being utilised in catering for the inefficiency and waste in those systems.

    If the authorities you mentioned did their job properly and demanded/legislated against the massive energy waste then not only would more stations not be needed, there would be significant environmental gains.

    One of the problems with nuclear energy (and remember I am for nuclear power) that is rarely mentioned is that it encourages power waste and inefficiencies in the system, especially now that plants can come online quicker than a few years ago. There are studies on this in the US where it shows that curbing of waste and inefficiency was rarely considered but the building of a new plant to cover the waste and inefficiency along with the increase in energy use was pushed forward as a priority. The new plant producing more energy into the grid taking up the slack but for a time also producing a large excess then encouraged further waste until use, inefficiency and waste used all of it’s peak capacity, thus another plant was proposed and built, and so it goes on.

    Hardly ever in that cycle is the inefficiency and waste side of the equation addressed before the proposal for new plants is put forward.

  53. Adrian, when you get a few hundred of ’em, yeah … and they don’t produce much for the outlay and need constant repair … and I wouldn’t like to see our coastline visually damaged with the bloody things …

    … I still believe that solar and wind (and tidal, Aqua) have a place in power gen but a small one and solar and wind primarily for domestic use…

    … as a production manager for a solar hot water system company we did a lot of successful experiments with evacuated “heat pipes … much more effecient than flat plate technology … the concept could be used to power turbines to generate electricity, probably more efficient thean PV cells on a large scale …

    … base load is still the problem – coal is very difficult to beat for economy and effectiveness (its efficiency is the problem eg waste) …

    … read the article that, Neil, found … (if I know you, you already have!)

    Thanks Neil, missed it first time around … and that is the interview I heard … I notice I added a “0” to 50,000 years of supply … but I think I got the gist of the message …

    … after reading it again, if the engineering is sympathetic to the science, then I could see a nuclear way forward – I suspect a big IF, though …)

  54. Sorry rushed that and didn’t use commas, makes it hard to read.

  55. I have a breakfast appointment (and later a lunch! Busy, busy!) but I’ll try and get back to the thread in between …

  56. Adrian, the situation is that any power generator requires a guaranteed minimum in order to operate profitably, generally a take or pay type arrangement. The governments will naturally err on the side of caution preferring to have excess power available rather than rolling blackouts. Again given the greater cost of peak power, there may not be any financial disincentive to have base load stations provide excess power.

  57. An example of what I’m getting at:

    http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf64.html

    Though transmission efficiency is covered in that article from the World Nuclear Association, nowhere is wastage and other inefficiencies within the system tabled. It is not in their interest to do so, they want the inefficiencies and wastage to continue and expand so they can proffer more power stations.

    Also note how they go on about Australia having amongst the lowest electricity prices in the world as compared to other countries, other countries that have substantial nuclear power, so obviously current nuclear drives up power costs and that doesn’t include being heavily subsidised throughout their entire life, from construction, security and decommissioning. But yet again there is a major omission, subsidies are not mentioned anywhere, both for coal and nuclear (and renewables for that matter, but subsidies to them are peanuts compared to the non-renewable providers).

  58. TB Queensland, on July 26th, 2009 at 8:34 am Said:
    ” as a production manager for a solar hot water system company ”

    TB, a couple of years ago I considered installing a solar hot water service and did all the calculations regarding installation and running costs. It turned out that financially, break even point was at least 20 years.
    What it revealed to me is that if anyone claims to have a much shorter break even point, then they must be using excessive hot water. We were a family of four, but because we rely on rain water, we naturally use water efficiently.
    One of the problems with people being encouraged to adopt energy saving technology is that rather than addressing the underlying problem of inefficient use of resources, it may actually encourage waste.
    I’m all for the cost of electricity, fuel and water to rise as people respond better to their hip pocket nerve than any other stimulation.

    Whenever I get into a discussion with someone who tells me about how much they are doing installing new energy saving technology, all I can respond with is about what I don’t do.
    I don’t waste water, hot or cold.
    I don’t waste electricity, I don’t leave lights on unnecessarily.
    I don’t warm the house during winter to shirt sleeve comfort, but moderately and wear warm clothing instead. I don’t let the house warm up during summer, and then try to cool it, by keeping the curtains drawn and allowing any cooling breeze through.
    I haven’t replaced my family car that uses 8l/100km with careful driving with a more fuel efficient one, I just plan usage and drive carefully.
    All in all I don’t do anywhere near as much as all those people busily buying high tech energy saving equipment, who then use it as much as possible because the more they use it, the more they save.

  59. Adrian, you say my wind and solar statement was wrong but you have not proven so as yet, have you?

    The only technologies that will replace coal to provide base power 24/7 is either gas, nuclear or possibly geothermal…but to harness geo there would have to be a shift of heavy industry to inland locations (funny that) to be closer to the generators due to the transmission logistics.

    There is another option that a colleague has been working on for near a decade, it will be dependant on another project which is under consideration and I will be able to elaborate when I return from my travels south.

    I am looking at this rather than going solar but I suspect it will be a combination as I will not be connecting to the grid and will require 7.5KW for household and agricultural applications.

  60. Neil and Lang Mack,

    That interviewee, Barry Brook, has his own blog where he has written extensively on the topic of nuclear power, and, in particular, ‘4th Generation’ ‘Integral Fast Reactors’.

  61. johnd, on July 26th, 2009 at 9:19 am..sounds like my family. But then I have been trained by my mum who is a country girl from NE Victoria and hubby trained by his Italian immigrant grandpa.

    That is a point very much worth considering..that installing devices such as insulation and solar hot water heating then becomes an excuse to waste more.

  62. And another one at: http://www.theage.com.au/environment/flushing-away-our-future-13-litres-at-a-time-20090725-dww0.html

    FIRST came buckets in the shower. Then water-saving shower heads. Now, in the never-ending pursuit of efficiency, experts are recommending we eradicate one of the biggest bathroom water-guzzlers: the single-flush toilet.

    With Melbourne’s drought now 13 years old and desalination water more than two years away, John Langford, the man behind Victoria’s mandatory dual-flush push of the 1980s, has suggested Melbourne may be able to boost its water supply one single-flush dunny at a time.

    Easy..my dad used to put a house brick in the cistern..

  63. Actually, the best thing is to cut the need for power generation: a one-child-per-woman policy.

    No can do, Dave. We’re collectively not problem-solving fast enough for the risks. We need more people, not fewer for the foreseeable future; at least until we can virtualise thought agents via AI or better harness big-g/collective-g. I’m even prepared to see chunks of the planet burn if it means that Life can find a way to process faster.

  64. Legion, I missed that one. Even better than a one child per woman policy is a one child per man policy 😉

    And I agree re we are not problem-solving fast enough. However, we have had 30 years to get our butt-tocks (Forrest Gump saying) into gear re running out of resources/that Australia does not have the water most importantly but nor the arable land to feed an ever increasing population. Just one day we might regret putting so much of our red soil farming areas under concrete and bitumen.

  65. (

    Even better than a one child per woman policy is a one child per man policy

    Yes, I’d noticed the possible neat cooption of women’s rights to choices about reproductive and other bodily determinations, but chose to overlook any of that broader analysis. Most of those sorts of stats are pretty interesting, too, when global transects are made across territories and social and economic indicator measures. If we were really interested in reducing population, the thing that jumps out at me is that we’d be better off starting with increasing the availability of, and access to, broad education, instead of just how to follow a policy, pop a pill, play with a rubber to erase the pencil mark. All sorts of fringe benefits for the world in treating millions and billions of women as other than baby factories and a source of surplus domesticity. But that’s all OT, so I’ll pretend I didn’t type it on this thread, even if I can see fission and fusion and nuclei in it.)

  66. Legion..are you sure that you’re not Kevin Rudd, you certainly have the same turn of phrase 😉

    I do believe that population growth does sidle into the topic of alternative energies, conservation issues. Anyway, I am sure that we will be forgiven.

    One of the basics is, educate the women and provide them with health care. An obvious one is infant mortality..a woman will be under pressure to have more and more babies when only 1 out of 6 of her babies will survive past age 5. That’s a lot of years where a woman has to be pregnant.

    Therefore, save the children..reduce infant mortality, immunisation. The women then have time for education, to do things such as learn to read and write and get their drivers’ licences (important for independence..to be able to go shopping etc).

  67. Min said: “Even better than a one child per woman policy is a one child per man policy”

    Yeah, but one of them is easier to audit, demands fewer embarassing admissions, and far fewer family court actions 😉

    (And I’m very happy with my one child, one grandchild, thanks – and protective/nurturing/pedagogic urges can be satisfied by nephews and nieces, real or honorary).

    As to what else Min said…. hear hear!! Too many productive farms I knew as a kid are now suburban wastelands.

  68. And it just gets worse doesn’t Dave B, let just expand the ‘burbs even further. Yet there are very excellent towns/cities (being from Victoria originally just from my experience)..Shepparton, Bendigo which already have adequate infrastructure but need just one thing…jobs.

    (Min..formerly a councilor, Shire of Lilydale).

  69. Dave B..just easier to audit me thinks.

  70. johnd, on July 26th, 2009 at 9:19 am

    absolutely, jd, we only run two lights at one time – we have A/C but operate it maybe 6 -7 days a year in extremes (right now I’m in a jumper and my neighbours A/C’s are burring away) …

    …we built and have lived here for roughly 25 years we just replaced our solar hot water system installed from the start (and yes we amortised the cost to us – not the greenhouse cost to produce though – and we are in front!)… trick is a manual control on the electric booster and we still call out “The booster is ON – the booster is OFF” – a system we taught our (then) teenage kids (now 39 and 40!) …

    … The Minister’s parents were farmers from Friesland, north Holland, (that’s how I know that the wind generators aren’t what they are cracked up to be) and boy doesn’t it show in the way we live – lovely, home made, apple pie for dessert this arvo, after a pork roast lunch/dinner next door (daughters) – cutting avacados off a tree in the street (last week) where we live with my daughter, who now has chickens and on it goes, home made manadrin/lemon marmalade for brekky (bloody Viking ancestors!) Gawd its hard!

  71. Meanwhile, more than 50 present and past members of the American Physical Society have written an open letter urging the society’s council to revise its current statement on climate change.

  72. I wonder what the views of the other 46,000 current members are Tony? (and I also wonder about the unknown number of former members’ views).

  73. Who knows, Bacchus, but it would be nice if this led to more of them taking a public position on the topic.

  74. TB..just wondering if there is any connection to the above re wife’s very splendid cooking and the comment re paintball and 20kg overweight 😉 The above of course being completely off topic.

  75. bacchus, on July 27th, 2009 at 12:38 pm Said:
    “I wonder what the views of the other 46,000 current members are Tony?”

    History tells us that quite often the majority are wrong, and the contrarians are right, whether it is judging horse flesh, riding a boom or the bust on the stockmarket, or predicting tomorrows weather.
    Experience tells us that a small group of people can get things wrong just as easily as a big group can, the only difference is that the latter get it wrong in a really big way.

    I watched a show last night about the designing and building of the first lunar landing craft. In the beginning the experts had fixed ideas about what was required in terms of size etc. The only problem was that if their thinking had prevailed the USA would probably not put a man on the moon, at all. All the way along the path to the eventual successful construction, it was those people who went against the conventional thinking, and calculations, of the majority that enabled the project to proceed to successful completion. One of the most important was a bloke John Houbolt, who came up with a radical departure from the original concept. He was mocked and even ridiculed by nearly all his associates and it was only by luck and perseverance that his reports got to the desks of some of the decision makers, and even then they mainly read them more to find a way to discredit, or shut him up. However the idea gradually took root with a few, and the final design was basically faithful to his original proposal.
    The whole story seemed to be a series of similar events, one person challenging the conventional thinking. Another instance was the size of the windows which had a great bearing on the weight. Everybody was of the opinion that they had to be big so that the astronauts would have sufficient field of vision whilst sitting in their seats. Then one bloke suggested that they could fly standing up, which they ending up doing.
    A very interesting inside look at the project. Anyone who appreciates those who think outside the square, or those who come up with seemingly crackpot ideas, or likes challenging conventional thinking would have enjoyed watching the show.

  76. John

    I watched that show about the moon landing.

    It was very pro-Nasa. Probably funded by them (or their supporters) no doubt.

    One thing I always remember was that NASA spent millions of dollars inventing a ballpoint pen that would write in zero gravity.

    The russians gave their astronauts a pencil.

    Go figure.

  77. Reb..one thing I remember about the moon landing is that I was teaching at Burnley Primary and was in charge of the 6-7yr olds and we all crammed into the prep room to watch it on black and white television. And at the time everyone was thinking that by the year 2000 we would be having holidays to Mars. Technology went off in a different direction.

    But why? Was it all too dangerous out there in space, or was it all about money and the Japanese revolution?

    And yes Reb, I love that story too.

  78. Reb and John, I watched all the shows on the History Channel and was impressed with their ingenuity!

    If my memory serves me well the mission would have been a failure if it was not for that pen that was utilised to operate the broken switch.

    Mankind needs to think outside the box to progress and I put the problem down to education and the lack of questioning such.

  79. Reb, the show I was referring to focused more on Grumman, the contractors who built the lunar module. It was called “From the Earth to the Moon”, is that the same one?
    It was actually a portrayal of the events that took place, but acknowledged as being a faithful one, and backed up with actual footage.
    The head of the Grumman team had the foresight to have all their work filmed, perhaps to cover themselves, but also because he knew that what they were doing was something historically important.

  80. Mythbusters this week busted the conspiracy theories of the, “we never went to the Moon, because, crowd …”

    Obama is good (at oration) but no-one motivated the Western nations like Kennedy – (BUT, it was his brother, Robert, who was the real mover and shaker …)

  81. reb, on July 27th, 2009 at 6:25 pm

    Another example I know of US very expensive over compensated engineering and Russian simplicity to achieve the same aim was the SR-71 Blackbird and the Mig-25 Foxbat.

    Both aircraft travelled at over 3 times the speed of sound and this causes problems for containing liquids as the aircraft fuselage noticeably expands at very high speeds, mainly the fuel tanks begin to leak like sieves.

    The US solution was to build special exotic composite tanks that leaked like sieves on the ground but when expanded in flight they sealed themselves. Whenever you see pics of an SR-71 being fuelled you see gallons of fuel overflowing as they keep it topped it up until the last minute before it taxies for takeoff.

    The Russians used gusset welded stainless steel tanks. Heavier but they never leaked no matter what the speed.

    They found this out when Victor Belenko defected. One of the first things they checked was the fuel tanks.

  82. scaper…, on July 27th, 2009 at 6:59 pm Said:
    “Mankind needs to think outside the box to progress and I put the problem down to education and the lack of questioning such.”

    Yes, and Microsoft and the Internet (Al Gore??? 🙂 ) are largely responsible.
    With Word and Excel, everybody learns to do things the same way.
    With the internet everybody sources the same information, which then gives some validity to it because of the numbers of hits.

  83. That’s very intellectual, jd, what does it mean?

    Bloody hell, I always thought I used Word and Excel as tools but they manipulate my thoughts! Bastards!

  84. TB, when my young bloke was at primary school, one of the teachers introduced him to the concept of thinking outside the square. This struck a chord with him as he is quite a lateral thinker, especially the message that there is more than one way to do things. I think he was so enthusiastic about it because it provided some validation for him often seeming to see things from a different perspective to his friends.
    Things changed when he went to secondary school. He ended up going to the “best” college in the area, against my better judgement I might add.
    It didn’t take long for his enthusiasm for school to cool, and one day he explained why. His belief that there was more than one way to do things was being overruled by the teachers in his new school, and not only did they believe that there was only one way to do things, but they insisted that their way was the only way.
    Needless to say we parted company with that school and he is now in a school that works to allow each student to develop their individual strengths rather than trying to turn them out moulded in the image of school itself.
    Here he is appreciated, as the Principal commented, in classroom discussions he often introduces concepts that result in lively, but interesting debates.

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