Thursday, 20 March 2008

Being the 'lucky country' won't save us from climate change

The Rudd Government must resist pressure to delay action on emissions.

Nice report from Kenneth Davidson in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Based on the most recent science, this [feasible time scale for clean coal] is too late. A report by the Australian Climate Group released this week, which was sponsored by the Insurance Australia Group, concluded immediate government action is needed. The situation is so grim that the Rudd Government should adopt measures to "stabilise national emissions by 2010".

The actuary of the group, Tony Coleman, is quoted as saying: "Insurers are familiar with managing risks to our community that are often quite uncertain and sometimes potentially catastrophic. Yet Australia is tolerating a level of climate change risk that would be unthinkable if the nation was held to the same standards that we apply to safeguard the survival of the insurers, banks and superannuation funds that we all depend upon in our daily lives. These levels of risk — 0.5% p.a. or less — are completely dwarfed by the risk levels to our way of life that are now reliably attributable to potentially catastrophic climate change impacts, unless we act with urgency to rapidly reduce greenhouse emissions."

Australia must face up to phasing out coal-fired generators. Geosequestration will be too late, [15 to 20 years reported] even if it can be done. Two proposed plants in North America have been scrapped before construction started, which suggests it can't.

Risk is something the nuclear industry knows a lot about. It's in the safety submissions, licensing documents, design documents, factored into transient analysis and cross-cut in more ways than I care to get into. In the late 1990's for example, the American nuclear industry and regulator implemented 'The Maintenance Rule'; a risk-informed approach to maintenance that did not treat all maintenance issues equally - but rather assessed them according to their impact on overall facility risk. This is just one example.

One other note on risk; the level of risk quoted above 0.5% per year [or 5 failures, losses, claims, etc. in every one-thousand years] would be totally unacceptable for a nuclear safety system. From my own experience, acceptable risk levels [core damage frequency] were on the order of 10^-6 per year [or one in a million years]. If 0.5% per year is "dwarfed" by climate change related risks, the math regarding nuclear - at around 0.0005% per year - is not too difficult.

As I've said before, once these issues [climate change, energy security, sustainability, etc.] get the serious attention of insurance companies and their actuaries, another advantage of nuclear energy will be put into perspective - risk awareness, assessment and management.

Look at the recent news; 'reliable baseload must be assured', 'price escalation foreseen', 'emissions must be cut', but how, how to get there? They are dancing all around it.

White elephant indeed.

"Nothing is more terrible than active ignorance."
- Goethe

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