Friday, 18 July 2008

The odd nation out

No, not talking about the USA's ongoing reluctance to sign Kyoto, but Australia's ongoing rejection of nuclear power.

Leslie Kemeny penned this piece for the Canberra Times. A few interesting paragraphs:

Following the G8 Summit, climate scientists and energy experts were quick to comment that Australia was ''the odd nation out''. . Fifteen of the 16 nations attending were already committed to or were planning to adopt civilian nuclear power to battle global warming. From the G8 ''host group'' Italy, which had for decades imported cheap and reliable nuclear power from France, has recently announced its own program for domestic nuclear power production. The other seven nations all had made a major investment in nuclear power over the past 40 years.

From the ''invited observer'' group, China, India, South Korea and South Africa already have major and rapidly expanding nuclear industries. And Brazil, Mexico and Indonesia have firm plans for programs of nuclear development. Australia alone, through political prejudice, lack of education and the pressure of special interest groups, is denying the nation the domestic adoption of this best-of-all technologies for the provision of energy security and low-cost emission trading.
Let me add that nuclear is not 'the' solution in any of the above countries. However it does support claims that nuclear power must be part of any credible attempt to reduce emissions to levels deemed necessary by relevant international climate bodies, such as the IPCC.


  1. "Let me add that nuclear is not 'the' solution in any of the above countries. However it does support claims that nuclear power must be part of any credible attempt to reduce emissions to levels deemed necessary by relevant international climate bodies, such as the IPCC."

    I sometimes wonder why I don't comment more often on this blog. After all, I'm not shy commenting on US blogs on this topic. I suspect it has something to do with comments such as the one I quoted above.

    Tell me... just why is it that nuclear is not 'the' solution for any of those countries? Why do you insist on pandering to the view that renewables have a future as a significant contributor to the energy mix of ANY country in the world? What could you possibly base such a position on?

  2. Thanks - all comments are welcome. I'll do my best to respond.

    I base my answer on 20 years experience in the nuclear / electric power industry - most of that at commercial nuclear power facilities overseas [USA].

    Pandering for renewables? That's the first time I've been accused of that. If you include hydro, renewables already contribute significantly to the energy supplies of many countries. Several northern European countries rely on hydro and nuclear for what is essentially zero-emissions electricity supply. But beyond hydro, there is significant geothermal in Iceland and wind in Denmark [although the later is finding wind inadequate on its own].

    I don 't see nuclear being the sole source of energy anywhere because nuclear - in it's currently deployable form - is a baseload power source. Operational complexities such as xenon transients and power ramp rates found in technical specifications and fuel limits challenge the use of nuclear power plants for anything but baseload power supply. I am not aware of any nuclear plants used as peak following facilities.

    Peak following seems to be an ideal role for renewables, particularly those that can be somewhat predictable such as hydro or maybe geothermal in the future. Expanded use of solar for domestic hot water heating also seems to be a very good idea, especially in Australia.

    Wind and the other solars [CTP and photovoltaic] will probably continue to develop and, as energy storage technologies advance, could continue to assume a growing share of energy demand.

    But the principal reason I routinely give renewables the nod is to avoid nonproductive arguments between those who favour them and those who back nuclear. Basically there is enough energy demand out there for all with little, if any, justification for such feuds. Neither renewables nor nuclear can, on their own, be deployed to an extent necessary, within the time required, to significantly cut emissions while maintaining adequate energy quality and reliability. Both are resource limited at the moment, but they are not in direct competition. For example there are back-orders for both wind turbine parts as well as reactor vessels.

    Also, as existing fossil/coal stations reach the end of their design life in coming years, the opportunities for no/low emission technologies will expand further.

    If a country is serious about reducing emissions from electricity generation - with some possible secondary effects from ongoing electrification of transport, etc. - the logical approach seems to be the parallel deployment of renewables and nuclear as well as aggressive efficiency and conservation programmes.

    Princeton University's wedge analysis adopts a similar approach.

    Australia is the obvious case study. Regardless of the papers, reports and speeches [none of which contain any significant discussion of no/low emission technologies] - real emissions will not significantly decrease without nuclear power or severe economic strife.

    A new wind farm or CTP plant are not threats to nuclear. The ongoing deployment of new fossil plants - particularly coal stations without the parallel use of carbon capture - are serious defeats. This is the cold, hard proof that more action is required and that there is scope for more nuclear power.

  3. Your response demands a response of equal or greater consideration. More consideration than I am properly able to give at the moment. There are deep issues here which should be discussed, and it may take me one or two days to outline where I'm coming from (and not get the sack for skyving off work on the net).

    Briefly though, I don't consider hydro to be one of the standard Renewables mix. I was directing my criticism more toward the wind/solar/tidal/wave/biofuel nexus. Hydro works, and will have a valuable role supplimenting baseload nuke, but throwing it in with the rest of the 'renewable' mix is somewhat problematic, seeing as it is a mature technology for which most of the potential has already been tapped, and has a major environmental impact in its own right. Yes, we could scrape a few more gigawatts, or maybe even tens of them, if we dammed every river, stream and culvert on the planet, but is this really a global solution?

    Demand for power will grow worldwide, and any source which relies on a finite low-flux nartural flow will diminish in importance proportionately.

  4. I agree, but I was considering deployed hydro [not so much new] in my reply - why I don't think nuclear is 'the' [as in sole, on its own] solution in any particular country.

    Before you invest your time and thought into your reply, please consider that [at least from my perspective] I think we essentially agree with each other.

    Energy related discussions typically take place on one or more of three fronts; technical, socio-political and economic.

    When I discuss renewables, I am dabbling only slightly into the technical. I realise most are not mature and their deployment to displace significant fossil capacity does have technical hurdles to overcome - not least of which being intermittency/storage.

    In reality my aim is more socio-political. In Australia in particular this is the most significant hurdle to nuclear power. Australia has, and looks to continue to deploy different renweables as well as programmes aimed at conservation and efficiency. I think arguing against this is somewhat futile. Broader support for nuclear power will be achieved through the realisation that all other available options will not be enough to achieve the relevant goals.

    The economics, not bad even in current market conditions as evidenced by plant constructions around the world, will improve through the proper pricing of carbon emissions.

  5. I realise this is a bit of a dead thread, but I thought I should just add that if energy storage becomes as mature as wind and solar fans hope for, the same process enables nuclear power to become a peaking source.

    I agree with ed that there's no point picking a fight over it, and there are power requirements a-plenty. But if it's slapped in my face as a strawman that I believe nuclear can do it alone, I'm willing to demonstrate that the same assumptions that go-it-alone renewables fans employ would more easily allow go-it-alone nuclear.