Saturday, 24 May 2008

Sane perspective from the media

Today, the Sydney Morning Herald contains a very sane opinion piece from Michael Duffy.

Duffy puts forward many arguments that can be found repeatedly in this blog and several others concerning nuclear power's role as a mitigating technology to address the challenges associated with carbon emission reduction in the context of increasing global energy demand.
The clash between symbolism and substance affects a lot of the environmental debate, none more so than where nuclear power is concerned. The almost blanket rejection of it by most political and environmental leaders in Australia is puzzling. I know nuclear power is risky, but those risks need to be compared with the risks posed by climate change.

And these risks are being objectively compared in numerous countries around the world. Nuclear programs have been taking off for some time now in China. However, the acceleration of the global shift toward nuclear power has been continuously increasing. Projects have been kicked of in the USA, the UK is looking at new build programs, just weeks after announcing a move to 'clean coal' the Netherlands is now also looking to nuclear, and finally just days ago, Italy announced plans to reverse a public referendum against nuclear power on following the high profile nuclear accidents at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.

Meanwhile, in Australia, we are grappling with the conundrum of life where all of Kevin Rudd's [and the Labor party's] environmental related campaign promises have been fulfilled; but still falling well short of meaningful emissions related targets. We've signed up to Kyoto, it looks as if we will achieve a 20% renewables target [although this is not certain] and a carbon trading scheme should be a reality by 2010. BUT, all these together will fall well short of the 60% [now being upped to 80%] cut in global emissions by 2050. There's also been considerable chatter of real-world challenges that could seriously dilute benefits of the aforementioned plans [protection to fossil fuel plants, whether to include petrol emissions in the scheme, etc.]. The magnitude of these challenges in a mutually inclusive, broader context is considerable.

We are making strides in the right direction. If we remain on the current course, we will still fail; albeit not so pitifully. If we are lucky we may be able to achieve 1990 emission levels once again, but any real decrease from those levels - as we are told is required - is a pipe dream - even according to government.

The sane consideration of nuclear power within Australia - as well as dramatically increasing exports of uranium; and even possible domestic enrichment, fuel fabrication and waste management industries - could have a significant impact on global goals to reduce emissions. These are all do-able projects. General Electric's development of Australia's own innovative laser enrichment technology is progressing very positively within the United States. A joint business adventure between GE and an Australian firm here, is not so far-fetched. Nuclear plant licensing times could be shortened in Australia - particularly if our licensing process is linked with other regulatory bodies in nations much further down the nuclear path [UK, USA, France, etc.]. Again, there is precedence within the recent ARPANSA approval of the OPAL restart submission. ARPANSA contracted external expertise to peer-review the technical details of the submission. The fuel and waste management industries could also be developed following objective reviews of the available technologies and risks. While Yucca Mountain looks to be dieing a slow death - other repositories are either in service, or progressing with very favourable public support. The lesson learned with Yucca Mountain being to let the science decide the location as opposed to taking a convenient location and trying to make the science fit. This challenge is described quite well by Cravens.


  1. "I know nuclear power is risky, but those risks need to be compared with the risks posed by climate change."

    Try acknowledging that the only energy industry both directly and indirectly associated with thermonuclear weapons (via infrastructure, covert research, expertise, and the fuels themselves) would thus also pose a most dire and potentially sudden climate threat - from the world's 26,000 nuclear weapons.

    Or that according to the International Energy Agency 64% of global greenhouse emissions do NOT stem from generating electricity. Nuclear is no option.

  2. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Adam.

    Trying to link nuclear energy with nuclear weapons is a bit of a stretch. Consider the converse of your argument. The enrichments used in the power industry are very low (~5%) and therefore useless for weapons. The complete dismantlement of all energy related fuel cycle, research and power facilities would not significantly impact proliferation risk.

    I do acknowledge countries in the past, today and most probably in the future use an energy program as cover for a clandestine weapons program – but this isn’t always the case. Note the recent allegations against Syria and Israel’s recent bombing of a suspected weapons production reactor. Syria has no energy program.

    North Korea has no nuclear power industry either and the sensitivities in Iran involve their pursuit of enrichment more than nuclear power. The GNEP program was created to assure fuel supplies to states like Iran who voluntarily forego domestic enrichment programs. Yet Iran continues to pursue its enrichment right to the increasing frustration of many.

    But there are success stories. Libya for instance was brought back into international good graces from a suspected weapons program not that long ago. This was done with patient but persistent diplomacy and is cause for tempered optimism with respect to Iran, North Korea and now Syria.

    With respect to your statistics on emissions; if ‘only’ 36% of global emission are generated from the production of electricity, why not just build more coal stations to meet increasing demand? The fact is that a 1000 MWe nuclear plant – over its entire lifecycle, including all fuel exploration and production – produces a fraction of emissions compared to a 1000 MWe fossil plant. Why is it framed as ‘only 36%’ when discussing nuclear power opportunities, but then completely flopped over when requests are made for greater subsidies for renewables to displace those nasty 1000 MWe fossil plants or calls are made to kill the incandescent light bulb? Australia must face the fact that our stationary power industry is the single sector responsible for the greatest emissions (not 36%, but over 50% of all Australia emissions today). To add misery to disaster, this sector is also supposed to grow by the greatest margin between now, 2020 and to 2050. (see my post on Saturday April 12 for the detail).

    Furthermore, nuclear power has the potential to displace non-electrical emissions through the production of hydrogen, further electrification of public and private transport and innovative use of waste heat.

    Does Australia want to reduce emissions or not? Nuclear power is not ‘the’ sole answer; but without it in the equation – emission cuts of 60% of 1990 levels (let alone the more recent calls for 80% of 1990 levels) are an economy killing pipe dream.

  3. "Trying to link nuclear energy with nuclear weapons is a bit of a stretch."

    Not at all. If even just a fraction of mined uranium ends up in weapons or diverts other reserves into weapons or via reprocessing and Pu239 extraction, then the nuclear power and uranium mining industries have a massive WMD problem on their hands.

    The ABC's "AM" story on increased interest in nuclear power due to rising oil prices included an interview on the links between nuclear power and nuclear weapons.

    Furthermore, military nuclear facilities remain EXEMPT from the international safeguards system, which itself allows diversion of domestic uranium reserves & doesn't guarantee inspections anyway.

    But then, "Expansion of nuclear fuel cycle activities need not be part of a response to climate change... In our view it is unrealistic to believe that a reactor could be operating in as little as ten years. Similarly, the view that only 20 people a year would need to undergo relevant training and education is an underestimate." - the Howard government's official peer review of the Switkowski draft report, chaired by (pro-nuclear) Chief Scientist Dr Jim Peacock, 9/12/2006.

    Finally (in slight jest), it would require more money than has ever existed in the world to pay the overtime costs for even just two staff to guard/manage radioactive wastes for the periods required.

  4. "The enrichments used in the power industry are very low (~5%) and therefore useless for weapons."

    Yet the very same technology can be (and has been) used to enrich to weapons grade fissile material.

    "You can't separate the two because if you can enrich uranium up to 5 per cent or so needed for nuclear power reactors then by putting it through the system time and again, you can get it up to the 93 per cent needed for nuclear weapons and therefore it's a dual purpose technology, usable for both purposes".
    - Dr Frank Barnaby, former British Atomic Weapons Establishment physicist, describing the secretive Silex laser uranium enrichment program at Lucas Heights, Sydney.

    "Whatever reactors we put under safeguards will be decided at India's discretion. We are not firewalling between the civil and military programs in terms of manpower or personnel. That's not on."
    India had no intention to quarantine its military program from its civilian program because nuclear scientists would work across both programs. - India's chief scientific adviser, Rajagopala Chidambaram, in an interview with The Hindu newspaper.
    - The Age, 16/8/07.

    The IPCC considered a scenario involving a ten-fold increase in nuclear power over this century and calculated that it could produce 50-100 thousand tonnes of plutonium. The IPCC concluded that the security threat "would be colossal." (IPCC, 1995, "Climate Change 1995: Impacts, Adaptations and Mitigation of Climate Change: Scientific-Technical Analyses").

    Additionally, while China is set for 12% energy supply from wind, vs just 4% from nuclear:
    "As China ramps up it's power capacity it is aiming to double the proportion sourced from nuclear energy to 4% by 2010. While it had enough uranium resources to support its nuclear weapons program, Madame Fu said China would need to import uranium to meet it's power demands." ('The Australian', 2/12/05, "China warning on uranium", paragraph 10).

    Nuclear threats pose equal - though potentially far more sudden - risks to that of climate change.

  5. Thanks again Adam.

    I never said the related risks are zero, or even that they are insignificant with respect to the resource commitments required to manage them. In particular your second (most recent) post makes a good argument for why enrichment technology (difficult technology to obtain) should continue to be limited to a few, select nations. I was however writing about the fuel used in nuclear power stations. Once it is produced, it’s not useable for weapons.

    What I am asking is that we consider all relevant risks in a broader context (nuclear safety, nuclear non-proliferation, carbon emissions, energy quality and reliability, increasing demand through third world development and projected population increases, increasing food and energy costs, etc.). The must all be properly managed and optimised. This is no easy task.

    My own position is that the risks and very likely consequences of high emissions from fossil fuels are an incredibly significant driver for the consideration of expanded nuclear power programs. The risks and necessary investments related to such an expansion must be weighed against the risks and costs of the pursuit of other options; one of which includes the ongoing ‘business as usual’.

    If government is serious about reducing Australian emissions, we should expect to see the implementation of a blend of several solutions including bio-fuels (hopefully not the technologies that tend to drive up food prices), wind, solar, efficiency, conservation and other innovative technologies such as geothermal energy and clean coal. But the government knows these efforts will fall short of any relevant goals, leaving us with few credible no/low carbon options while the band plays on, ‘we don’t really need to reduce Australian emissions if we can earn some golden halos by exporting emissions management technologies to big emitters’. (all the meanwhile continuously exporting mega-tonnes of coal from Newcastle)

    A growing number of nations – several of them until recently staunchly anti-nuclear – are turning to nuclear power to achieve energy security in a carbon constrained world. Why go all the way back to the 1995 IPCC report? The much more current 4th assessment report completed in 2007 takes a more favourable view of nuclear as do other agencies including the International Energy Agency. Much has changed since 1995 and other risks must be managed.

    At the moment, Australia is the highest per-person carbon emitting nation. We may be able to get ourselves off the top spot through the implementation of existing and planned programs. However, I am not hopeful much more will be achieved, especially when I read of request for exemptions from large emitters and the complete impossibility of managing any carbon trading scheme down at the individual level (e.g. bringing petrol emissions into the equation).

    Australia needs nuclear power.

  6. Thanks Michael for publishing the information I provided. However, if we consider just one aspect of the nuclear chain...

    Olympic Dam uranium/copper mine, SA, operated by BHP Billiton. It's the state's largest user of water and electricity. Currently using around 35,000,000 litres of water daily from the Great Artesian Basin - and free of charge - expansion of the mine would increase this to up to 162,000,000 litres/day, with an additional 400MW power station for desalination from Spencer Gulf.
    Just to mine and process the uranium, excluding emissions due to all transports, enrichment, wastes management (not disposal), reprocessing, construction and decommissioning of all facilities.

    Per megawatt, nuclear power stations "use and consume up to 83% more water than for other power stations" (Department of Parliamentary Services Research
    Note, 4 December 2006, no. 12, 2006–07, ISSN 1449-8456).

    Whereas a combination of energy conservation and efficiency (which, alone, would reduce Australia's
    greenhouse emissions by 15% and pay for itself in just four years - Australian Ministerial Council on Energy), combined with far safer and sustainable wind, solar PV*, solar thermal, biomass** and the vast untapped potential of wave and tidal power would more than suffice for a world facing necessary forced changes in energy consumption (the latter point being of paramount significance).

    * Australia could supply nearly 10% of its electricity demand from solar by 2020 simply by installing 3kW solar PV systems (ie, solar photo voltaic alone, excluding solar thermal or gas boosted solar) on a third of Australian households. (Business Council on Sustainable Energy).

    ** Australia already generates an equivalent amount of electricity from bio-energy to supply all homes in Tas. By 2020 bio-energy could supply a third of Australia’s electricity if it expands at the current 3% average for industrialised countries, generating an estimated 250,000 jobs.

    May I suggest more balanced, factual reporting in your next piece.

  7. Thanks for coming back and continuing the discussion.

    You did not list a reference for the Olympic Dam information so I don’t have much to review there. But I would like to know if all that water usage can be solely attributed to the production of uranium. Also, in-situ leach technology is the mining technology du jour in many countries around the world, including now Australia. I did some quick searches but was not able to find water usage information about this technology.

    However, I did look up the research note you were so kind to reference. Please note that in the first paragraph of the section ‘Water’s role in power production’ the following is said:

    “Electricity power stations can use large quantities of water. They can use river, lake, dam, or sea water and as such are located close to large and reliable water sources.”

    Current nuclear power station designs generate steam at lower temperature and pressure than other large [fossil] power plants. Therefore, nuclear plants generally require more water per MWe as is laid out clearly in the report. However, this water can be seawater. Locating nuclear plants on the coast for this reason is very typical in may parts of the world and is an excellent case in point for the post I made yesterday about the co-location of nuclear power plants and large scale desalination units to help Australia and other countries adapt to the water related challenges predicted to come with climate change [Jordan and Egypt being the latest examples].

    I suspect we would both agree that all lifecycle inputs and outputs [emissions, energy, materials, costs, revenue, human resources (i.e. skills), as well as water (fresh, bore and seawater)] must be considered for all mitigation and adaptation technologies, objectively and without bias. The solutions you propose in your latest post are all great ideas. My only point being that while achieving considerable gains in the battle to reduce emissions, their combined effect will fall short. Just a quick sum of the percentages in you post is nowhere near 60% [let alone 80%] of 1990 levels. In fact, if we are lucky they will get us back to total emission levels of that time since they are higher now. The most optimistic non-nuclear plans including the economically feasible implementation of existing technologies fall well short. Again, see my post of April 12 [which includes the efficiency improvements you reference.

    Finally, my apologies for coming off as unbalanced or factually misleading. Any references to specific factual errors would be appreciated. I believe Australia must implement nuclear power [with many other technologies and programmes such as conservation and efficiency improvements] to achieve internationally promoted emission reduction targets. The technology deserves a fair and objective go. I do not think this is happening at the moment. However, as the evidence regarding climate change builds, international calls for significant emissions cuts intensify and fuel prices continue to climb – I expect to see considerably more rational behaviour.

  8. Thanks for your apology as to coming off as unbalanced and factually misleading. I have pursued the issue here as the SMH would not publish my letter response.

    The Olympic Dam uranium mine water figures are from their own EIS fact sheet No. 4, page 1 (August 2006) at
    "The Olympic Dam mining and processing operations currently use up to 35 megalitres per day of water [licenced to 42 Ml/day]. This water is sourced from two well fields within the Great Artesian Basin (GAB).
    It is estimated that an additional 120 megalitres per day may be required for the expanded project."
    And, unlike you and I, this water is taken free of charge by BHP Billiton under the Roxby Indenture Act.
    In-situ acid leach mining (which pumps radioactive waste solution back into the acquifer) occurs in Australia only at Beverley mine, SA, at present. This practice remains illegal in most countries including the USA.

    You stated "I do acknowledge countries in the past, today and most probably in the future use an energy program as cover for a clandestine weapons program..."
    ... is that not more than enough?

    Not to discount at all the need to address climate change, but with nuclear threats we have one single - sane - option: prevention.

    Nuclear power has 100% more weapons proliferation and terrorism risks than solar, wind, wave power or energy conservation measures. This, alone, is reason enough to move on from an outdated, uninsurable industry. Hardly irrational.

  9. Thanks for the Olympic Dam link. I checked out the site. The mine is a multi-mineral ore body. I agree that’s a lot of water, but I was unable to determine what impact a cessation of uranium mining only would have on the water consumption. I have read elsewhere [Cravens] that the mine tailings [from multi-mineral ore bodies] are actually made safer by removing the uranium for use in the nuclear fuel cycle. This makes sense to me.

    If Olympic is shutdown altogether, I am also not sure what impact that would have on the economy. There would certainly be more than a few people put out of work, not to mention a broader economic impact.

    How do you figure In-situ leach (ISL) mining pumps radioactive waste back into the aquifer? The uranium is removed [the whole point]. Anything else [I assume you mean the radium] that is pumped back underground was already there to begin with. ISL is used for to mine minerals other than uranium. My understanding is that the technology is considered to be environmentally benign compared with other means of mining.

    If we are fact checking each other, I believe your claim about the illegality of ISL in the USA is false. Check this link for example.

    If you are a technically minded person, you may find more information on ISL at the WNA site. There is also a list of some other countries around the world using the technology.

    No, I am afraid the proliferation risk of some countries [now or in the future] using power generation programmes as cover for covert military programmes is not enough to turn me from nuclear power. I believe the aim of many of these recent stories is to justify an increased budget for the IAEA safeguards programme [an investment I happen to agree with], not to discourage the spread of nuclear power.

    There are risks. The other options you mention are certainly preferable to nuclear in that regard. However, as I’ve tried to put forward, full implementation of those options – to the maximum extent economically feasible – is not enough to mitigate the causes of, and adapt to the impacts from, climate change.

    Australia needs nuclear power.

  10. A slightly different view, I think, on two issues.

    1. Every proposal for a nuclear power plant for Australia is coast-side...ergo there is basically NO usage of water at all.

    2. Most modern uranium mining techniques don't use large amounts of water. It's a question of what technology a uranium mine is willing to use...or forced to use.

    3. More and more uranium is had from 'multi-ore' mines. This was mentioned but not explored. Uranium is more often a "by product" of copper and tin mining than the reason for the mine itself.

    4. If we had a serious program of reprocessing or recycling (DUPIC) we wouldn't need to mine as much uranium.

    5. Advanced technologies point to low water usage of sea-water mining (1 ton of U308 per cubic km of ocean water) and mining coal ash and phophates.

    6. Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors. They use about 1/100th the amount of fuel (with about 1/1000 th the amount of fission product 'waste') and the fuel needs little processing and is 4 times greater than uranium. We could shut down every uranium mine in the world. Australia leads the world in thorium reserves.

    David Walters

  11. Thanks for your input David.

  12. "I have read elsewhere [Cravens] that the mine tailings [from multi-mineral ore bodies] are actually made safer by removing the uranium for use in the nuclear fuel cycle."

    This is incorrect insofar as by far the majority of the long lived radioactivity of the original ore remains in the tailings waste.

    I was taken on a tour of Olympic Dam mine when I was there in 2004. We drove around the tailings dam (its walls proposed to become 30m high). Yes, it's a copper/uranium mine.. also the largest known uranium ore body on earth. I was told they "couldn't afford" to mine the copper and put the uranium back. I asked "what was your profit last financial year?"
    Answer: "1 billion dollars".

    As far as the operators of Beverley ISL mine, Heathgate Resources, their parent company is the US General Atomics ( - a military company, makers of the MQ-9 Reaper bomber.

    Additionally, the Beverley and Honeymoon mine projects are not legally required to rehabilitate contaminated groundwater following mining.

    Heated water discharged from nuclear plants into bays from nuclear plants also remains a significant, unresolved issue.

    David, as for reprocessing, even the previous government's commissioned Switkowski report states: "Reprocessing in Australia seems unlikely to be commercially attractive, unless the value of the recovered nuclear fuel increases significantly."

    25 reactors would generate up to 45 tonnes of plutonium from 45,000 tonnes of spent fuel - enough for around 45,000 nuclear weapons, with corresponding serious security and political implications.

    Re, Thorium reactors (also a finite resource), neutron bombardment of thorium (indirectly) produces uranium-233, a fissile material that can be used in nuclear weapons. The USA has successfully tested weapons using Uranium-233 cores, and India may have investigated the military use of Thorium/Uranium-233 in addition to its civil applications.
    "Thorium (Th-232) absorbs a neutron to become Th-233 which normally decays to protactinium-233 and then U-233. The irradiated fuel can then be unloaded from the reactor, the U-233 separated and fed back into another reactor as part of a closed fuel cycle." - World Nuclear Association, 2006.
    "No thorium system would negate proliferation risks altogether."
    - Friedman, John S., 1997, "More power to thorium?", Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Vol. 53, No.5, September/October; Feiveson, 2001.

    I'll leave you with this:
    - which includes a detailed critique of the Switkowski report, and the Briefing Papers, including #16, debunking claims that renewable energy cannot supply baseload power.

    Nuclear is no safe, affordable, insurable, sustainable or fast enough energy option, nor has it ever been.

  13. Thanks for your additional clarification and for continuing the discussion.

    Can you provide more detail and maybe some references on the tailings? Typically, which isotopes are found and in what quantities? Also, how do their concentrations and the relevant toxicity levels differ from non-uranium mines using similar mining technology? My understanding is the risks to both human health and the environment are similar for uranium and non-uranium mines operating today. All other aspects being equal – uranium removal from these tailings only reduces these risks. [See the numerous, peer reviewed references cited by Cravens].

    General Atomics also produced the training, research, isotopes or TRIGA research reactor design. This is the single most replicated and utilised research reactor design in the world and has contributed significantly to the peaceful use of nuclear energy for decades. But I do not understand why this is relevant. There are many companies around the world with both defence and civilian activities.

    Heated water discharge – or thermal pollution – has nothing to do with the nuclear fuel cycle. Any technology using the thermal cycle will reject heat [converting water to steam which is passed through a turbine and then condensed as is done in conventional coal, oil, gas and even some solar thermal plants]. If we are to ban thermal cycle facilities from operation, most of the world – certainly including Australia – would turn quickly dark and very quiet.

    The plutonium generated by power reactors is inherently self protecting due to the high radiation levels from isotopic decay of fission fragments. The equipment, facilities and other resources required to recover that material for a weapons programme are prohibitively significant. Intentional diversions of such material into a weapons programme [as done by India] are not credible within Australia. Again, this is a good argument for further investments in improved international nuclear safeguards, but does not justify wiping the nuclear power fuel cycle off the planet.

    I will let my colleagues address the Thorium issue. I like thorium and support its ongoing development. However, the technology seems to be some years away. I prefer to focus on the more immediately deployable flavours of nuclear power.

    I read the energyscience site some time ago. From memory, I don’t think I had major issues with it other than being heavy on the criticism, but light on credible, deployable alternatives. [I recall they were named, but not technically support to any significant degree].

    If I may highlight some points; I notice most efforts are focused on preventing nuclear power entering Australia. However, despite repeated comments by myself, I have not seen much on what I believe to be the principal point of the discussion. If not nuclear, then what? how much, or how many? where? when? and how expensive?

    Does Australia have a moral obligation to reduce our per capita emissions to the levels of developing nations such as China and India?

    If so, when should this work be complete? (and when should we begin?)

    If not, do we then have a right to complain if other countries demand the right to equal our per capita emission levels to achieve a similar standard of living for their citizens?

    Should Australia ban new coal stations unless their carbon emissions can be sequestered from day 1 [as requested of Kevin Rudd by NASA Director James Hansen]?

    Do you believe forced energy cuts [e.g. rolling blackouts a la South Africa] are acceptable?

    What tangible, demonstrated, credible evidence is there that Australia will assure energy quantity, quality, reliability, and affordability; significantly cut emissions and sustain the economy while remaining nuclear free?

    Nuclear safety – particularly for western designed facilities – is demonstrated by nearly four decades of operational experience.

    Increasing trends around the world in nuclear plant construction, facility orders and other infrastructure related projects are an indication of the technologies improving affordability.

    Insurance issues have been addressed by many nations (dozens). This will not be a significant hurdle for Australia once the decision is taken to pursue nuclear power.

    Sustainability is addressed by closing the nuclear fuel cycle and the eventual implementation of the thorium fuel cycle.

    There are many years between now and 2050 [or even 2020]. Plenty of time to license, construct and commission nuclear power plants in Australia.

    I am very optimistic.

  14. "If not nuclear, then what? how much, or how many? where? when? and how expensive?"
    This has been previously listed here and referenced. Again I suggest you pay them fair, equal weight in your discussions.

    Tailings waste at Olympic Dam alone (increasing by 10 million tonnes a year) contains largely radium-226 (half-life 1,600 years), thorium-230 (half-life 75,000 years - BHPB's accountability for maintaining its tailings waste is only 200 yrs), radon-222 (radon gas, easily carried by wind and heavier than air, thus despite a relatively short half-life can pose exposure risks to townships) and polonium-210. Additionally, the tailing's heavy metals (manganese and molybdenum) can leach into groundwater.

    Being a global issue of course Australia has a moral obligation to reduce our per capita emissions.. by addressing primarily conservation and efficiency, decentralised domestic power potential and GHG sources from industry, agriculture, transport and deforestation (managing natural carbon 'sinks').

    Nuclear remains a moot point to 21st century energy solutions and uranium exports remian approx only 1/3 of 1% of Aust export revenue (DFAT), and again China's investment in wind power (12% of capacity) is set to dwarf that of nuclear (4%).

    Further on the nuclear power/weapons links can be found at:

    Nuclear is no safe, affordable, insurable, sustainable or fast enough energy option, nor has it ever been.

    I ask you to disclose: Do you, yourself, have shares or super in uranium?

  15. Thanks Adam. Your tenacity is impressive.

    Yes, alternate technologies are frequently ‘listed’ in a variety of media. However comprehensive studies show us that economically feasible implementation of them will not achieve the desired emission reduction. Again, see the government’s own optimistic reports from my April 12 post.

    The list if radio-isotopes in mine tailings is part of the information I asked for [thanks – could you provide a link?]. However there is no information on how these tailings compare to those of non-uranium bearing mines employing similar mining technology, or any toxicity related risks to people working at the mine or living down the road. I imagine you are also aware that fly-ash and other wastes from – for example – Australia’s many coal stations contain all the isotopes you mention, I believe in much higher concentrations [weight %]. People – and in particular Australians due to our massive reliance on coal – have been living with, and casually disposing of, these isotopes in waste for many decades. It is disappointing that they are only highlighted so negatively when linked to the nuclear fuel cycle.

    Australia’s strategy to reduce emissions must consider our isolation. We will not be able to import power from the country next door as is done in other developed countries around the world – most notably Europe. Being self reliant, we need a certain amount of energy generated with highly predictable reliability. Again, looking at the government’s own data – a non-nuclear package of solutions will do little more than keep our emissions level over the coming decades.

    We need much more.

    Don’t let yourself get caught in the ‘capacity’ trap. The capacity factors [energy generated divided by the design capacity] of windfarms typically average around 30%. Up to 40% or maybe a bit more in some very windy parts of Australia. A windfarm with 100 MWe capacity, will typically only generate on average 30–40 MWe annually due to the natural intermittency of the wind. Nuclear plants have historically operated at a much higher capacity factors. If this is considered, China’s plans look to be very balanced with equal amounts of power being generated by wind and nuclear. Nuclear, by the way, is also set to rise considerably in China – with wind and other no/low carbon technologies. This seems to be a well conceived strategy and precisely what I am advocating for Australia.

    I agree, uranium exports will not make anywhere near as much money as, say, coal. However if you consider another perspective such as energy potential and/or equivalent emissions per kilogram [or dollar’s worth] of material exported – uranium wins by a considerable margin.

    Of course ending the mining bans around Australia will improve even the financial numbers.

    As it says in my profile, I work as a nuclear engineer. I have no financial interest [shares or super] in mining, nuclear power generation or any other part of the fuel cycle. There are no financial gains for me in this and I receive nothing for my time here. I am investing my own time in this blog because, based on my technical education and supplemented by decades of experience in the nuclear industry in several countries around the world, I believe the technology is fit for this particular purpose.

    Most of all, I am trying to focus on who the ‘bad guy’ is here. Are those nasty tailings [from mines or coal stations for that matter] impacting Australian agriculture, threatening the Great Barrier Reef, or intensifying tropical cyclones? Emissions must be reduced, however over the year and a quarter since I launched this blog and/or the six+ months the new government has been in office, I have seen little tangible impact on our total emissions.

    Ergo, we need more action. We need nuclear power.

  16. It sounds rather disingenuous from an engineer to ask "What tangible, demonstrated, credible evidence is there that Australia will assure energy quantity, quality, reliability, and affordability; significantly cut emissions and sustain the economy while remaining nuclear free?"

    What tangible, demonstrated, credible evidence is there that nuclear energy will remain secure, safe, reduce emissions fast enough, cheaply enough and resolve its many proliferation and waste management issues for the periods required, after 60 years of the industry already?

    In regards to clarifying ISL uranium mining in the US...

    [b]Uranium Mine in Drinking Water Aquifer Challenged[/b]

    Federal judges in Denver say they are surprised the Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued permits to allow a company to leach uranium out of an aquifer that supplies drinking water to thousands of Navajos in New Mexico.

    The in-situ process uses chemicals to free uranium from the surrounding ore, allowing it to be pumped out of the ground with water and refined on the surface. Dozens of companies have proposed similar mines around the West.

    Citizens groups opposing the mine say the process threatens to pollute ground water. Hydro Resources, Inc. says the process is safe.

    [b]Lawyers say it is the first-ever challenge to the NRC’s approval of licenses for an in-situ uranium mining operation.[/b]

    “Appeals Court Hears Challenge to Uranium Mine,” Associated Press, May 12, 2008.

    You'll find a plethora of referenced information at Dr Gavin Mudd's site

    Australia is bathed in and surrounded by renewable, safer, faster and sustainable energy alternatives.

    All that is lacking is the will to invest adequately in them, second to a necessary change in the way we use energy and greater energy conservation, combined with also vital transport, industry, agriculture and deforestation GHG sources.

  17. "Nuclear safety – particularly for western designed facilities – is demonstrated by nearly four decades of operational experience."

    You may wish to see a more concise list of global nuclear incidents and accidents here:

    Even the Chernobyl report from the WHO (its relationship with the IAEA thus being compromised) ignored the 53% of radioactive fallout which fell on Europe and the UK, and ignored the [i]cumulative affects[/i] of ionizing radiation exposure and the long latent period of cancer.

  18. Thanks Adam.

    Again, my apologies, I assure you I’m not trying to put you down or be disingenuous. I was simply asking for some objective data on the subject. Plenty of people ‘say’ Australian renewables are enough, that the sunlight on our land or even the wind on our shores, if harnessed in total would power the Earth forever. However, while true in theory the financial and other resources required make such endeavours unfeasible.

    As before, I point to the government [elected on a so called renewable and anit-nuclear mandate – I am told] assessment on the topic. I am perplexed how this analysis can be ignored.

    I am happy to battle back and forth on whether uranium mining poses credible public health risk, but I note the majority of anti-nuclear campaigners are silent on the comparable risks from coal fly-ash and mining activities for material other than uranium. What concentration of isotopes, what amount of specific activity [not to mention other toxins such as mercury] is pumped into the air daily from coal stations in Australia alone? Add to this those in China and the USA. To make decisions that remain sustainable over the very long term, I feel it is important to consider all relevant, credible risks within a broad and mutually inclusive context.

    Very few activities that any human can engage in involve ‘zero’ risk. Does uranium mining pose some risk? Certainly. Does the broad and rapid expansion of nuclear power [now, to include Vietnam, Ghana, and Italy] introduce some added risk? Yes. These and other risks can and must be managed and I believe doing so is significantly more feasible than the required efforts to achieve credible emission reduction targets while ensuring high quality energy availability in Australia and elsewhere without nuclear power. I [still] see no objective data to the contrary.

    I looked at the site you linked in a previous post. While there certainly are a lot of words and generalised facts there. I could find no objective analyses or data. Peer reviewed, scrutinised and accepted analyses would be great if you could provide some.

    The pursuit of other [non-nuclear] options also involves risk: risk that targets will not be met and climate related strife will become more severe, risk that energy quality or reliability will be inadequate, risk of inadequate implementation due to prohibitively high cost, risk of continued heavy reliance on coal and the numerous health and environmental consequences that come in tow.

    Australia’s use of renewables is great. I am not a ‘go nuclear, damn renewables’ blogger. We need the aggressive deployment of an array of technologies as well as the implementation of related programmes which will further improve efficiency and conservation.

    But the lot, without nuclear is just not enough.

    As for the evidence asked for in your post, please have a look at this post. In it you will see that nuclear power is contributing to the success of all European countries who will meet their Kyoto targets. Of those who have rejected nuclear – ALL will fail to satisfy their Kyoto commitment. This includes both Denmark and Austria who have invested heavily in wind. I can’t think of data that could be any more objective than that.

    Never thought I’d see myself write something like this, but Australia must follow Vietnam’s lead and pursue a serious and aggressive nuclear power programme.

  19. With regard to nuclear safety – I must defer to former anti-nuclear campaigner Gwyneth Cravens. Her explanation and numerous scientific references paint an unparalleled picture of the safety related performance of western reactors as well as the impacts of Chernobyl and general radiation exposure. Her work is easily understood and contains considerable objective detail.

    I have seen no better.

    This record was also acknowledged by Labor MP Tom Kenyon in March 2007.

    “It's time we in the ALP gave up pretending that nuclear energy is Satan's power supply of choice, because it's not working. It's time we stopped repeating the myth that waste is an issue that can't be dealt with. Some countries such as Sweden are dealing with it. It's time we stopped saying that nuclear power is bad for the environment. It's just not true. Name one species that has been made extinct by nuclear power. You can't, can you?

    Now have a think about the environmental effects of global warming. The whole Great Barrier Reef - gone. Whole biosystems - wiped out. And with them species after species after species. Are we really going to let an ideological hangover from the Cold War stop us from fixing this thing?”