Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Bishop and Garrett dance over nuclear

Julie Bishop has posted a blog entry supporting nuclear power and Peter Garrett [apparently, a skilled and trusted nuclear policy back-flip identifier - Link 1 Link 2 Link 3] has come out with the dreaded back-flip call again [I saw his statement on the AAP - sorry no publicly accessible link, but just give it some time]. The context of the back-flip accusation comes from Nelson's February comments rejecting nuclear power following the Labor party victory late last year vs. Bishop's blog post linked above.

So the Coalition supported nuclear, then rejected it and now may support it again? Do two back-flips make a right? The Nationals came on board some time ago with a pro-nuclear position vote in June. But there's no need to go that far afield, Australian nuclear power deployment has received encouraging support from within the Labor Party, from Paul Howes of the AWU in February 2008 [repeated more recently] and high profile Labor leaders [Carr, Hawke]. Flip through the blog to see others. I did not list all that I could have.

But at least those linked above and cited elsewhere in this blog are trying to move the discussion toward some specific technology or technologies.

I would like to think the Coalition is sincerely promoting nuclear power again, but the cynic in me sees this as a means to force Kevin Rudd and Labor's hand; to push for more detail on the costs and other impacts of a nuclear-free ETS and possibly paint a picture [whether deserved or not] that what is really going on is a Great Green stall [constructed from seemingly endless reports, studies, papers and soon to come economic models - aka paralysis by analysis] that, when combined, will do little if anything tangible to cut emissions, but keep Labor comfortably in power through the next election. [I certainly hope Rudd does not point to a stack of reports in 2010 and say, "Look what we have done." It will be too easy to point to emissions trends and ask, "But what have we accomplished?"]

That cynical argument however can not be made for the likes of Bob Hawke, Bob Carr or Paul Howes among others. I believe they and others like them represent a genuine and growing nuclear push within Australia today - and it's coming from within Labor. They are aware of the links between nuclear power, emission reduction targets and Australian economic health [industry and jobs]; and they have the courage to state their case. I expect this is giving Kevin Rudd plenty more to think about than the ongoing gymnastics within the Coalition. There are rumours that numerous Labor MPs feel like Carr and Hawke. Rudd may not be able to hold his ranks if many more speak out positively about nuclear [or conversely acknowledge the potential strife associated with a nuclear-free ETS].

Maybe we are getting close to a bi-partisan call [rogue MPs from all camps and other interested stakeholders] for a 'serious' discussion of nuclear power?

Na, now I'm dreamin'.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Bob Hawke speaks out for nuclear power

Bob Hawke - Australia's longest serving Labor PM [1983 - 1991] believes nuclear power should remain on the table for Australia.

As reported by the ABC.

"Intellectually it's impossible to avoid this position - that you should be prepared to have it open as a possibility - but it just seems to me to be intellectually unsustainable to rule it out as a possibility," he said.

Well put.

If one is genuinely concerned about modern energy strategies in the context of carbon emissions reductions, energy security as well as adaptive responses to climate change [desalination being the principal example in Australia] - nuclear power must be part of the solution. A rational, sensible consideration of the available technologies will come to no other conclusion.

Saturday, 19 July 2008

Another high profile [quiet] conversion

Al Gore continues to highlight the needs for environmental stewardship during the [seemingly never ending] US campaign 'season'. He has issued a challenge to America to transform their electricity generation system to totally emission free technologies within 10 years. No small feat.

During the video, he did not mention the 'N-word', but instead gave renewables top billing. However in subsequent interviews [this link being 1 of 971 hits], Gore went in to further detail, stating that he supports nuclear maintaining about 20% of total American electrical generation.

This would mean continuing license extensions of existing plants as well as some new plants to properly account for the projected increase in demand - coincidentally about what is in the pipeline [with respect to nuclear at least] within the USA for the coming decade.

And as Gore himself predicted, the naysayers are out en mass.

WA lunacy??

Paul Murray filed a report in The West Australian citing some differences within the labor party, differences between West Australia and South Australia and making some accusations regarding the Rudd government's real aim from the Garnaut report and recently released Green paper.

If you’re a Labor member standing on the east of that line [WA/SA border], you’re in a party that not only agrees with uranium mining, but is embarked on a campaign to become a major international player and says the energy source is part of the answer to the biggest problem in our future, climate change.

If you’re on the western side, you are in a Labor Party that refuses to permit uranium mining based on the ridiculous proposition that to do so would threaten our future because we would have to repatriate the radioactive waste, something even former ALP leader Kim Beazley thought was laughable.

“I’m quite happy for people to know that while I’m the Premier there’ll be no uranium mining and if I’m no longer the Premier then there may well be,” Mr Carpenter says.

Stopping companies in WA from mining uranium has no effect on the international nuclear industry. It just means that the lucrative contracts go to other suppliers. Such as South Australia.

In fact, SA Premier Mike Rann told the National Press Club on June 11 that, as a result, his State is set “to become the new Western Australia”.

“The scale of what is happening is truly quite staggering,” Mr Rann said. “We currently have around $25 billion worth of mining and energy projects at various stages of development.

“When my Government came to office, there were just four operating mines in SA. Now we have 10, with almost 30 more in various stages of planning and development.”

What Mr Rann politely demonstrated was how complacent WA’s rolling boom has made the Carpenter Government. Mr Rann sounded like a young Charlie Court, whose work keeps Mr Carpenter in a job.

“Since 2004, SA has risen from 36th place to fourth out of 68 international jurisdictions on the ranking of global mining potential compiled by Canada’s Fraser Institute, and is now ranked ahead of WA for the first time,” Mr Rann said.

“And at the core of the State’s booming resources sector is what will become the world’s greatest mine operated by BHP Billiton at Olympic Dam in the State’s north.”

Olympic Dam will become the globe’s biggest uranium mine, providing, according to Mr Rann, 20,000 jobs. But Mr Rann also paints his attitudes to uranium in much more compelling terms than just economic wealth. When he led the charge to drop Labor’s “no new mines” policy last year, he wrote to every one of the national conference delegates challenging them to provide an answer “to the number-one environmental challenge of global warming”. “We need to face the fact that the world must reduce its reliance on fossil fuels as well as recognise the right of less-developed countries to a higher standard of living,” Mr Rann said in his letter. “We cannot do both these things by relying solely on the traditional energy sources that are contributing to global warming. If we do not export Australia’s uranium, other countries with lower environmental and safety standards and weaker safeguards, will fill the gap.”

Since then, South Australia has turned into Australia’s uranium headquarters with the State’s resources minister visiting China in April to encourage interest in its deposits.
Murray goes on to suggest that the Green paper is "politically gutless" and does more to secure the coal industry's hold on Queensland and labor's victory in 2010 than it does to reduce real Australian emissions.

I hope emissions are brought under control, but there is little if any hard technical data to suggest they will be.

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.

Monday, 14 July 2008

Support for nuclear grows

Paul Howes of the Australian Workers' Union [Australia's largest blue collar union], is still promoting nuclear as a means to achieve carbon emission reductions without the expense of significant Australian job loss and industrial exportation.

Howes is joined by Commonwealth Bank chairman John Schubert, who also chairs the Great Barrier Reef Foundation. Schubert agrees in the need for nuclear power.

Howes is to release a report from Per Capita consulting on the effects of the emissoins trading scheme [ETS] impacts in Australian industryt - in this case aluminium.

Howes rejects claims that displaced employees can be easily retrained in Green industries and technologies.

Instead, workers could be "left on the scrapheap of history" and enter the ranks of the long-term unemployed.

"These guys aren't going to be automatically re-employed as eco-tourism operators," Mr Howes said.

Also, in Canberra today, Professor and economist Jeffrey Sachs is promoting nuclear power as a means to help address global poverty in a carbon constrained world. Formerly anti-nuclear leanding, Sachs sees nuclear as safe and cost-effective.

Friday, 4 July 2008

Ross Garnaut's report

I was happy to see nuclear power discussed in the report. The section on nuclear power concludes as follows:

In Australia, as well as in most other developed and developing countries, public acceptability is an important barrier, that would need to be recognised as a constraint and a source of delays and increased costs by any government committed to implementation of a nuclear power program. The Australian Government is firmly against Australian nuclear power generation, and the Coalition parties retreated quickly from nuclear advocacy in the face of community antipathy during the 2007 federal general election. It would be imprudent, indeed romantic, to rely on a change of community attitudes as a premise of future electricity supply for the foreseeable future.

Given the economic issues and community disquiet about establishing a domestic nuclear power capacity, Australia would be best served by continuing to export its uranium and focusing on low-emissions coal, gas and renewable options for domestic energy supply. However, it would be wise to reconsider the constraints if:

• future nuclear costs come in at the low end of the estimates provided above
• developments in technologies reduce the need for long-term storage of high level radioactive waste
• there is disappointment with technical and commercial progress with low emissions fossil fuel technologies, and
• community disquiet eases.
Many who support nuclear power already believe the third bullet's criteria are a foregone conclusion for the next several decades at least. High level nuclear waste is a political and public acceptance issue [merging it with the fourth bullet] and ongoing growth in new plant constructions and innovative designs are working to address the first.

This leaves public acceptance as the overwhelming issue within Australia. Acceptance may be swayed by dramatically increased energy costs, failures to achieve desired reductions in emissions or energy quality and reliability issues [increase in power interruptions / blackouts].

In the near-term, I hope WA and Queensland reconsider their positions on uranium mining.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

New not-so-clean-coal build for Victoria.

Just two days before the Garnaut report on climate change is handed down, the Victorian Government has given the go-ahead to a new brown-coal power station in Latrobe Valley.

Environmental campaigners said it was "complete madness" to approve the $750 million plant, but the Government said the station would use new technology that would slash greenhouse gas emissions.

The project is a joint venture between consortium HRL and Chinese power giant Harbin Power, and will receive funding of $100 million from the Federal Government and $50 million from the Victorian Government.

"The $750 million HRL plant will use technology which has been developed right here in Victoria and is part of the new generation of clean coal power stations designed to slash greenhouse gas emissions," said the Energy Minister, Peter Batchelor.

"The project uses a process called integrated drying gasification combined cycle (IDGCC) which can reduce emissions of CO2 from brown coal-fired power generation by 30 per cent and reduce water consumption by 50 per cent, compared to current best practice for brown coal power generation in the Latrobe Valley."

Robert over at Larvatus Prodeo actually reported on this at length last year, when the project was first announced, and there's a good body of details of the project and discussion to refer to there.

Typical generators burning Victorian brown coal generate about 1175 g CO2e per kWh of electricity generated.

The IDGCC plant will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 30% - so, that's about 823 g CO2e/kWh.

For a good supercritical black coal burning plant you've got about 863 gCO2e, and 751 g for natural gas, or 577 g for combined cycle natural gas - which is about the absolute lowest you'll get for a fossil fuel.

The carbon dioxide emissions are still high as all hell. It's basically the same as a black coal fired power plant - in absolutely no way is it low in greenhouse gas emissions. All that the IDGCC technology is really accomplishing is to turn a plant powered by brown coal - the most especially inefficient and carbon dioxide intensive form of coal - into the emissions equivalent of a more conventional black coal fired plant. Make no mistake - the entirety of that dangerous fossil fuel waste is being discharged straight into the environment, as per business as usual.

But there's one aspect to this which I find interesting, in particular.

This plant is slated to cost 750 million (Australian) dollars, and will have a nameplate capacity of 400 MW.
That is; $1875 per kilowatt of nameplate capacity.

The US nuclear energy industry is aiming to build new nuclear power plants for a cost of $1500 to $2000 per kW capacity.

The General Electric ABWR was the first third generation power plant approved. The first two ABWR's were commissioned in Japan in 1996 and 1997. These took just over 3 years to construct and were completed on budget. Their construction costs were around $2000 per KW.

Westinghouse claims that the AP1000 power reactor will cost $1400 per KW for the first reactor and fall to as low as $1000 per KW for subsequent reactors.

I don't know what kind of capacity factor is to be expected from an IDGCC plant - but at best, it's comparable to that of nuclear power. If the capacity factor is significantly less, then this decreases the economic competitiveness of the coal plant relative to nuclear power still further.

We're looking at the construction of a coal-fired power station that is not mitigating its carbon dioxide emissions in any meaningful way, emitting about 823 g CO2e/kWh straight into the atmosphere, along with all kinds of other dangerous coal byproducts, where the construction of a new nuclear power plant is already likely to be directly competitive, if not superior, on construction cost terms, even in the absence of any kind of emissions trading scheme, carbon dioxide 'price', carbon dioxide capture and storage or carbon dioxide sequestration.

What's up with that?

Are we serious about carbon emission reductions?

"Do as I say, not as I do," my parents used to tell me as they puffed up two-packs a day while discouraging me from smoking. Eventually, the evidence became so overwhelming, everyone quit. Today the family is 100% smoke free.

[NOTE: I drafted this post before Luke made his post above. Thanks again Luke. I'll leave the original links to Physical Insights, but the full post is also copied above.]

Hat tip to Luke a Physical Insights for his excellent post on a new brown coal power station on its way to Victoria.

The article from the ABC may be found here. Luke's got the detail in his post, but the bottom line is that despite considerable investment in renewable technologies [don't get me wrong, I support such investment] the resulting energy generation continues to fall well short of increasing demand. This shortfall - in the context of Australia's ongoing rejection of nuclear power - will result in the deployment of larger, carbon emitting, baseload stations [coal and natural gas] over time.

As one would expect, the talking heads are doing their stuff - holding a straight face while citing how this plant fits nicely into the emissions reduction strategy; etc. etc. yadda, yadda, yadda [see Luke's post linked above for the detail].

Luke includes a comparison of the projected emissions and cost per kilowatt. Nuclear power looks to be quite competitive if it were only given a chance.

More Australians are starting to speak out. Nuclear's potential role was emphasised by Prof Don Aitkin, who was vice-chancellor of Canberra University.

Wind power, solar power, tidal power, biofuels (that is to say, burning food) all work at the margins. They don't run steel mills, railways and city lights. Howes has been howled down by the union movement and the Australian Labor Party, although he is right.

Aitkin said he was not on his own, but he conceded that those in the scientific community, and political advisers and business leaders, were afraid to speak out.

In WA - where recent failures exposed an overreliance on natural gas - the Chamber of Commerce and Industry [CCIWA] chief executive James Pearson said the state needed to diversify its energy mix and look at the feasible energy options, including re-opening the debate on nuclear energy. [WA Business News - subscription required].

However, if Australia continues down its current path it is doubtful we will be able to achieve any credible emission reduction without inflicting considerable damage to Australian industry. Considering the launch of this power station in the face of Garnaut's report and the coming emissions trading scheme; I expect Australia [or at least large parts of it] will opt to forgo substantial emissions cuts [> 60% of 1990 levels] over the long term. Maybe State governments will provide subsidies to individual stations or maybe it will come from other source; but I doubt Victoria is investing in a $750 million coal station, to be operated for 40 years, without some confidence in its long-term viability.

Apologies for the drama, but this is a bad step in a horrific direction. There have been different reports in the media recently downplaying or outright criticising references to Australia's 'moral' obligation to reduce emissions. I understand why such an argument would make those who are politically aligned to the right or affiliated with different industries cringe; but if one considers the available data, the science and technologies - there is no other viable position to take over the longer-term.

I've posted about the moral and ethical angles several times [here, here and here] and still believe this position is justified. While Australia is responsible for only about 1.4% of global emissions, our per-person [or per-capita] emissions are inexcusably high and support a lifestyle far beyond that achievable by the vast majority of people around the world. Even a rank of total emssions shows we are punching well above our weight. If we fail to reduce emissions we are handing the justification for higher emissions to larger emitters and their emerging economies [China and India in particular].

India's recent announcement is exactly in line with this argument.

"Every citizen of this planet must have an equal share of the planetary atmospheric space," [Indian PM Manmohan] Singh said.

The plan commits India to gradually shifting away from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources.

But it also demands that big emitters such as Australia and the US take steps to ensure that per capita emissions move into line with the global norm.

India has very low greenhouse gas emissions per person, but its large population means its contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions is already significant and set to rise. Despite recent strong economic growth, about half the population — more than 500 million people — does not yet have access to electricity.

Mr Singh pledged that India's per capita greenhouse gas emissions would not exceed emissions of the developed countries and demanded justice in the international response to climate change.

"Long-term convergence of per capita emissions is … the only equitable basis for a global compact on climate change," he said.

How can Australia morally defend our lifestyle and the emissions we generate to achieve it [let alone demand developing countries such as India cut their emissions] when half a billion Indians [about 25 times our entire population] do not have access to electricity?

Kevin Rudd, Penny Wong and others in government repeatedly claim that Australia has the resources to meet emissions reduction requirements, but stop short of discussing any details beyond a simple list of popular renewables. At the same time most reject one of our greatest no/low carbon energy resources - uranium; which has proved to be part of successful energy cocktails within countries set to meet their emission reduction goals.

We are also in line to be one of the first and hardest hit by the effects of climate change. There is plenty of moral, technical and personal justification for every Australian to remain very serious about significant emission reductions.

The construction of Victoria's new coal station and other recent news from WA do not appear consistent with a serious approach to emission reductions.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

More discussion re: Australian nuclear power

This time it comes from the editorial staff of the Geelong Advertiser (sorry no web link to the story - this one is only in the print version).

[emphases added]

The pro-nuke stance of two such heavyweights [Howes and Carr] -- the AWU is the country's biggest blue-collar union -- marks a watershed in traditional Labor thinking. Exorcising the old ghosts, however, won't be an easy task. While greenhouse concerns mighty be high, angst about disposing of nuclear waste remains front and centre in the thinking of many Labor supporters.

But industry and job concerns are running high within Labor also, linked intrinsically as they are to the rising costs of greenhouse emission cuts. Who wants to lose jobs and mangle the nation's economy on an altar of self-sacrifice that achieves little, if anything, to help the planet? Especially while greenhouse villains such as China continue their economic growth and assault on our domestic manufacturing. And this, driven by the Australian mining sector China is hell-bent on buying up to cut out the middle-man and assume greater economic independence?

For all the strife brewing within the ALP over nuclear power, time may well show that Kevin Rudd is inclined toward the thinking of Carr and Howe[s]. Industry and jobs hold powerful sway over any government, as do consumer prices. Anyone who thinks the cost of turning green, without nuclear power, is going to be affordable simply hasn't even attempted to do their sums.
On the same day as the above editorial, Minister for Climate Change, Penny Wong discussed the results of a recent poll where 61% of Australians are in favour of an emissions trading scheme and 56% say they are willing to pay higher energy prices to achieve it. I was happy to read that Wong said any scheme will not be designed around polls.

Wong then refers to ongoing discussions following Garnaut's report. Assuming this report becomes the first of its kind that is not dismissed as an underestimate within 12 to 18 months of its issue date, it remains unclear when Australia can expect to see the results of some policy action [e.g. emissions begin to level off - let alone begin to decrease].

Based on Wong's prediction of ongoing 'discussions' and Rudd's statement that government is "...proceeding on this policy development process, calmly, coolly methodically, responsibly..." I would not be surprised if the implementation date for an emissions trading scheme conveniently slipped to after the next election. I hope I am very wrong and election politics take a backseat to emissions cuts. Considering the projected economic pain of the scheme's implementation, I doubt I will be.

As the GA editorial staff has outlined above, keeping nuclear power off the table will undoubtedly complicate any discussions and challenge progress on real emission cuts [as the Greens push for the techno-economically unachievable cuts of 40% of 1990 levels by 2020]. If the strategy is indeed to defer the release of the detailed emissions trading scheme let alone its implementation until after the next election - holding back discussions of nuclear would help in this regard.

Similar sentiments are laid out in a report by Janet Albrechtsen for The Australian.

Howes says that the support for an emissions trading system is not as strong as many people think. "Once you educate the public about the costs they will have to wear, voter support will drop away. We need to be realistic about the subsidies that will be required for business. Handing out wads of cash to working families is not going to alleviate the pain of a loss of jobs. If we are going to reduce emissions and have jobs in society, we need to secure baseload power, and until the technology for that is available we need a genuine bipartisan approach to developing nuclear power in Australia."
The report is centred on a comparison of the upcoming American and recent Australian elections and the complexities of implementing a genuinely effective emissions trading scheme.

Without nuclear, there is no credible, technically defendable solution for Australia.