Saturday, 15 March 2008

Comment on an ABC report

I posted the below comment to this ABC News report about the UK's consideration of a new coal station.

Australia could work to further educate itself and embrace the nuclear fuel cycle. Exaggerated hype and outright hysteria have prevented the objective consideration of a technology that is deployable today. Western designed nuclear power plants have demonstrated themselves capable of producing massive amounts of reliable, 24-7, high quality and safe electricity at per-kilowatt lifecycle emissions capable of achieve significant reduction targets. The complete elimination of all nuclear power plants on earth would have little impact on nuclear non-proliferation. And there is no data to suggest that new nuclear power programmes in Australia would detract from ongoing global non-proliferation activities in any way. It is impossible to make a nuclear weapon from the enrichments used in commercial nuclear power.

Australia may only emit less than 2% of total global emissions, but we are still one of the top emitters. However, per person, (as Garnaut rightly portrays) Australia is at the top. This fact, combined with our generally comfortable lifestyle, make it difficult to convince other top emitters (India and China who already have per person emissions well below Australia) to forgo opportunities to improve life for their citizens for the sake of global emissions reductions others seem unwilling to make. Therefore we have a moral imperative to lead this effort beyond being significantly vulnerable to the physical phenomena predicted to result from climate change itself.

With the intelligent deployment of renewables (wind, solar, geothermal, biomass, tidal and hydro if more hydro is feasible), aggressive energy efficiency and conservation programmes, forward looking policies to optimise land use and public transport; nuclear power can work in Australia to achieve the goals that are being discussed in, for example, Garnaut's preliminary report. Without it (in fact without applying all available solutions) we don't seem to stand much of a chance. The IPCC and other scientists and organisations are consistently under predicting climate change, ice melts, impacts on food prices and general resource availability. It may be time for Australia to start thinking (and acting) outside the box.

1 comment:

  1. It's a shame that the comments on the ABC story were closed by the time I went to post the following:

    There were a couple of posts asking the rather obvious question, like the following:

    "$2.2 Billion - if spent on a renewable source (lets say photovoltaic), any rough estimate on the amount of power that could produce in comparison?"

    "How many gigawatt hours per year of solar capacity or wind farm capacity could be provided for the quoted $2.2 Billion?"

    I wanted to take the opportunity to provide an answer to that question.

    Let's assume that this proposed coal-fired power plant generates 2 GWe with a capacity factor of 90%. It costs 2.2 billion dollars - so it generates 15,779 GWh per year, or 7.17 kWh per year per dollar spent on plant.

    The newly proposed solar photovoltaic energy plant for Victoria will generate 270,000 megawatt-hours per annum (154 MW with a 20% capacity factor), and is quoted as having a cost of 420 million Australian dollars. I will assume that this is just the capital cost to construct the facility, and independent of operational costs.

    It, therefore, generates 643 Watt-hours - not kilowatt-hours - per year per dollar spent on plant.

    Therefore, for 2.2 billion dollars we could get 1413 GWh per year - less than 9% of what the coal-fired plant produces.

    But there is another way, which gives us a competitive solution without the use of dangerous, greenhouse gas emissions intensive fossil fuels.

    Let’s assume that a nuclear power plant, such as the Westinghouse AP1000 or a similar modern third generation nuclear power reactor plant, generating 1.154 GWe, from a single reactor unit, with a capacity factor of 90% - typical for the US nuclear power industry - costs 1.3 billion dollars to construct, which is a high estimate.

    If we build two such nuclear plants, we get 18,208 GWh of electricity generation per year, at a capital cost of 2.4 billion dollars. or 7 kWh per year per dollar spent on plant.

    So, the nuclear energy option costs only a tiny bit more than than the coal fired plant, with the same capacity factor and energy output, but with none of the greenhouse gas emissions and particulate matter and other pollution that is proven to kill many tens of thousands of people, at least, across the world, each year.

    (This is an “overnight cost”, ignoring interest, but the same is true for the costs we’re considering for the solar plant and coal plant.)

    Keep in mind that there really is no such thing as "clean" coal - just coal that is a little bit cleaner. Even if we are prepared to overlook the fact that carbon dioxide capture and geosequestration is a completely immature technology which has not been proven in practice on such a scale, given the vast energy requirements to capture, compress and sequester carbon dioxide from a coal-fired plant, the whole-of-life-cycle carbon dioxide emissions are reduced from around 1000 g CO2 equivalent down to about 700 g CO2e per kilowatt-hour of electricity generated - about the same as natural gas. "Clean coal" is still, very much, a dangerous and greenhouse gas emissions intensive fossil fuelled energy system.