Saturday, 29 September 2007

Last week's video - Nuclear debate in early 2006

I'll store the video from last week here for history along with the original comment I made.

Note this 'discussion' [the host, Stewart Brand, is reluctant to refer to it to a debate] took place in the very beginning of 2006 - over a full year before I even started this blog. Certainly A LOT has changed since then technologically, socially and politically. [Catch Schwartz's scepticism regarding whether the Bush administration would ever acknowledge climate change and yet here we are.]

The pro-nuclear argument is presented by Peter Schwartz - an environmental scientist with a fluid mechanics background. The opposing view is presented by Schwartz’s friend/foe Ralph Cavanagh, an attorney from the National Resources Defence Council. I don't know if I would have the courage to trade points with an attorney, but good on Schwartz for having a go.

I would like to point out a few interesting aspects of the discussion. First, Schwartz's perspective - as pointed out by Stewart Brand - is more global; second, Cavanagh accuses Schwartz of 'wishing' for advanced technologies that may or may not come to fruition and raises the 'spectres' of waste, proliferation, etc. without providing any tangible [i.e. quantifiable] detail of his own points [e.g. a purely 'renewable' solution]; and third Cavanagh claims nuclear is a historically competitive loser in the open market system - while California remains in the midst of a 30 year ban on nuclear development.

Please, watch and enjoy with the 20/20 hindsight of over 20 months' history.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Rudd critic tosses out some numbers on wind

Brandenburg Windfarm, Germany

Critics of nuclear energy sometimes point to Germany's planned nuclear phase-out policy as an example of the industry's limited future. Let us put aside the very credible discussions regarding the possibility of that policy being reversed for a moment and turn the tables.

How are German renewables performing?

As reported in the Herald Sun, Terry McCrann digs into the performance record of one of the largest wind powered systems in Europe.

Germany's E.ON Netz operates the grid which has one of the biggest 'feed-in' wind power sources in Europe. Each year it produces a WindReport. The latest makes interesting, sober, reading.

Germany has 18,300MW (megawatts) of installed wind capacity -- close to half Australia's total installed electricity generation capacity, about double Victoria's.

E.ON Netz draws on 7600MW of that.

In the precise German way, it tells us that maximum feed-in was 6234MW at 9am on 15/12/05.

Sound great? Except when you read the minimum feed in, at 12.15pm on 27/05/05. Just 8MW. And no, I'm not missing a nought or two.

Some 7600MW of installed capacity delivered just 8MW. When the wind don't blow, the electricity don't flow.

On average across the year, the 7600 MW of installed wind capacity produced 1327MW. That's an operational level of 18 per cent of capacity. In rational terms, it's insanity.

Indeed as E.ON Netz notes, installed wind capacity went up 12 per cent in the year but actual wind power fed in to the grid went up just 1.5 per cent. Because of lower "wind availability".

The way you 'solve' this is that 'traditional' power stations with capacities equal to 90 per cent of the installed wind power capacity must be permanently on line to guarantee power supply.

So not only do you have to install six to seven times as much wind capacity as the output you will actually get, but you also have to build 'shadow' coal/gas/nuclear(?) as well.

That's one power station for the cost of 12 or so.

Did I say insanity? Unless you can build big enough batteries to store the power generated when the wind does blow.

Funny I should say that. E.ON has actually pioneered exactly such a battery. It's the size of four shipping containers, uses 'undisclosed' chemicals and can produce all of 1MW for four hours.
See this link for projected vs. actual performance for any day (just select via the calendar on the right side of the page). Interested that they seem to always exceed the projection, but fall WELL short of the 7,600 MWe capacity. The 18% number looks about right from my perusal.

As much as I hate to be baited into nuclear vs. renewable discussions, the data bears careful digestion. Just as I've said from the beginning, when you objectify and quantify the discussion and base it on demonstrated performance - the picture becomes MUCH more clear. I've learned something though. In my previous back-of-the-envelope calculations, I was crediting wind with a 30% capacity factor. Seeing the 18% above, I guess I should pull that number back a bit.

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Nuclear plant license submittal in the USA

The first in about 3 decades is to be submitted today, Tueday September 25 by Princeton, NJ based NRG Energy.

We Support Lee has the full details, including anticipated schedule, budget and job creation.

Well done [again] Ruth!

Note that of the 10,000 MWe required in the US state of Texas alone over the next few decades, the capacity of these two plants will account for 27%. Plenty of work remains for efficiency programmes, renewables - or of course more nuclear.

image - Dallas Morning News

But from this 21-June-2007 report from the Dallas Morning News, there are still a fair amount of coal stations planned in Texas. I expect that will change as the pressure to reduce carbon continues to increase.

No one is saying it has to be done tomorrow...

Energy security issues aside for a moment, it has been said if nuclear power is to be a serious contributor to the mitigation of severe and abrupt climate change, some 600 or so plants would have to be constructed globally in less than 43 years? Is this possible?

Looking at history, I’d say yes – certainly.

During the mid 1980’s [between 1981 and 1988] there was a sustained global deployment of 20 plants per year. Two years saw operations commence at over 30 plants. If the construction projects get up and running by say 2015, we have 35 years remaining and could very feasibly construct and commission 700 facilities – and that’s with technology that existed in the 1980’s. 30 years of improved construction techniques and technology as well as more mature regulatory processes, would surely improve the likelihood of achieving that goal.

In the short term [1 to 5 years], the ‘low hanging fruit’ can be addressed to take a bite out of emissions. Such work as efficiency improvement initiatives, and the deployment of cost effective renewables are some examples.

In the interim [say 5 to 20 years], nuclear facility deployment can – and by the looks of it will – be carried out in current nuclear powered countries, mainly at existing nuclear sites.

But also in the near term and interim, the prerequisites for nuclear energy must be addressed in non-nuclear countries considering nuclear power. Many such prerequisites may be found in the International Atomic Energy Agency document, “Milestones in the Development of a National Infrastructure for Nuclear Power”. Most, if not all, of the recommended actions and milestones do not require significant financial resources, but do require a fair amount of time to fully achieve. Once this infrastructure is developed, the longer term [15 to 45 years] options for nuclear power will be available in relevant non-nuclear countries.

To fail to address the development of a nuclear infrastructure [which in itself is certainly no commitment to nuclear power] displays a combination of short-sightedness and unjustified overconfidence in efficiency, renewables and research that would be unethical if it were not so immoral – particularly considering Australia’s per-capita contribution to global emissions.

Listen to what Professor Tim Flannery says about nuclear (21-Aug-2006). He repeatedly denies being a ‘face for the nuclear industry’. He is however emphasizing the need to consider and adequately address the relevant issues so nuclear power can play a part in the solution if – after considerable effort and investment – we discover we can not get there without it.

It is time for a serious start.

Monday, 24 September 2007

Tim Flannery - Climate change worse than feared

2007 Australian of the Year - Professor Tim Flannery

While Garrett and Labor shamelessly arrange for large sums of money to go to Al Gore to stoke the fears of voters, Professor Flannery remains focused on the problem - and its steadily increasing magnitude.

A man of mature technical aptitude and conscience, Flannery sticks to the facts, supported by the data and draws on the relevant solutions.

See the full report filed by the AFP
Flannery said predictions in a 2001 UN report, warning the atmosphere was likely to warm by 1.4 to 5.8 degrees Celsius (2.5-10.4 Fahrenheit) from 1990 to 2100 now appeared conservative.

"In the six years since then, we've collected enough data to (check) whether those projections are valid or not," he said.

"It turns out they're not valid, but in the most horrible way -- because for the key performance indicators about climate, change is occurring far in advance of the worst-case scenario," he said.

"Carbon dioxide's increasing more rapidly, sea levels are rising more rapidly (and) the Arctic ice cap is melting away more quickly than were projected in 2001."

Flannery said nations needed to "de-carbonise" their economies by 2050, increasing reliance on geo-thermal, nuclear and renewable energy.

Saturday, 22 September 2007

Garrett backs renewable energy sources

As reported in the Sydney Morning Herald

To no surprise to me, Peter Garrett is promoting pretty much every form of renewable energy that is even remotely feasible; wind, solar, geothermal, waves and tidal. Interestingly he does not mention hydro. I have no problems with these forms of energy generation - they do indeed have their place.

Most interesting is what Mr. Garrett says about nuclear:

Mr Garrett told the Our Planet - Leaving a Legacy sustainability forum on Friday that Labor was opposed to nuclear power as a source of energy but was enthusiastic about the prospects for a range of renewable sources.

"In particular, we're not saying we should pick winners.

He said Labor did not support nuclear energy because it was expensive and there was a significant time lag between building and generating the energy.

Significant to me is that nuclear is both the first and last energy generation source mentioned in the article. Of particular interest are the reasons Mr. Garrett gives for his/Labor's negative view of nuclear power - cost and schedule. [So glad to see we've gotten over those other unjustified hangups].

Nuclear must be [and, truth be told already is] competitive with other no/low emissions energy sources.

Just more pre-election political spin.

If you take what he is saying literally [and note that Peter Garrett holds degrees in Arts and Law]; what it translates to in hard, technical terms is large subsidies and steadily increasing fossil fueled plant deployment - with the associated emissions increases, because even the maximum feasible deployment of renewables will not enable Australia to achieve the 60% or more reductions Labor is currently dangling in front of voters AND satisfy Australia's increasing demand for energy.

Believe me... don't believe me... it's up to you. Many people will simply see what they want to see. But you can't politic, cheat, swindle or cajole the laws of physics.

Stewart Brand

Stewart Brand

Another Environmentalist and former 'anti-nuke' supporting nuclear energy.

Please enjoy this article from the Economist.

Thursday, 20 September 2007

ANSTO / OPAL - Good Neighbor

As reported in the full press release:

A recent community survey indicated increased local appreciation of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) and in particular the world's newest research reactor OPAL (Open Pool Australian Light-water).

Significantly 90% see the presence of an Australian nuclear science and technology facilityas important.

Southern Sydney residents feel the new OPAL nuclear reactor, which commenced operation almost a year ago, is safer than the old reactor. Perceptions that it is safe have risen 12% to 77% over the past three years and public feeling that is unsafe is down 13% to 19%.

Quantum Market Research, an independent research organisation, conducted the telephone survey of 550 residents of Sutherland, Bankstown and Illawarra as well as 150 from Adelaide.
This is consistent with similar polling elsewhere which show high levels of acceptance in the immediate vicinity of nuclear facilities, concluding once again that nuclear plants make good neighbors.

Sunday, 16 September 2007

My Q&A with Blake

With his permission, here are the questions and my crack at the answers. Any feedback, corrections, omissions etc. from others out there would be most welcome.

Hi Blake,

I take it from your hypothesis that you may arrive at a different conclusion from my own. However, it appears you are attempting to complete a fact-based assessment, which is fundamental [on a broader scale] to addressing the many energy related issues facing different countries today.

And to that end, my answers are below. I hope you find the information helpful. If you have any further questions please let me know. I've changed the order a bit, but they should all be there.

On 9/14/07, blake [surname & Email address removed] wrote:
Hey, sorry for the wait, have been swamped with work in other subjects falling this week. Okay, back into the swing of things.

I am going for a subjective definition of 'environmentally safe', as it will allow more room for discussion in my opinion. I am using alternate power sources as a focus question in my assignment (as you suggested) as i believe it is important to consider why Nuclear power is a more attractive option and will shape a better understanding to why nuclear power is being used and its benefits also.

Okay here it goes, feel free to elaborate or disregard any questions. Ill just be quoting you on various lines. If there’s anything you think I should know or that I’ve missed, let me know (I have found it surprisingly difficult to get a clear understanding of the current power situation in Australia as information is scattered and not readily available).

The hypothesis of my essay is:

"The implementation of Nuclear Power stations in Australia will have a negative impact on the environment due to an increase in environmental pollution"


What is wrong with the current power systems in place?

Power systems [to me] includes all systems involved in the generation and distribution of energy [including transport, electricity, home heating, etc.]. It's important to keep the definitions clear or a lot of confusion can enter into energy related discussions. Some people seem to muddy these waters intentionally [not very helpful to achieving a genuine solution in my mind]. For the remainder of this discussion - let's focus on electricity generation.

The answer to this question differs from one country to another. Some countries, Korea and Japan are two examples, have limited domestic energy resources and are therefore very dependent on imports [i.e. energy security concerns]. Others are struggling to control emissions linked to climate change. Some are wrangling with both [China, the USA and most of Europe are good examples]. Nearly all are facing these challenges within the context of significant projected demand increases over the coming decades.

Also, additional energy generation capacity is a critical prerequisite to addressing much of the world's severe poverty. If this deployment is not done in a sustainable way - the above challenges could become more difficult. Conversely, as the developed world wrangles with its own energy problems, countries in the developing world may just get ignored, leading to worsening poverty and greater conflict in the affected regions [some of which are not too far away from Australia or Australian interests]. I recommend a read of this blog. It may be a bit long - but I think the author makes some very good points that you don't hear too often from either side of the nuclear debate. To read more from the same author, follow this link.

Finally, some countries lack modern electric infrastructure [transmission lines, etc.] to adequately and reliably distribute energy as required. Even in the USA, several high profile brown-outs and black-outs over the past decade or so [2003, 1996, etc.] are indications of this challenge.

What are the current environmental dangers / benefits of current coal power plants?

The benefits are fairly easy to list [but none are environmental]; for countries with rich coal reserves it's cheap, reliable power. There is little economic justification for Australia to use anything but coal to power the country into the foreseeable future. Some type of carbon surcharge, tax or other abatement programme could change this in years to come.

Also, large coal generation stations have high and predictable reliability, giving more weight to the economic benefit [maximum, reliable output for minimum financial input]. It’s not rocket science. Hence, power hungry China’s current deployment of about two large coal stations a week. [This was a shock to me as my understanding before I did the search was that it was only one plant per week. So the rate is increasing – not good!]

The dangers of coal are numerous. There are many links, references and resources in this blog and many others highlighting the reality of climate change – and most experts and environmentalists alike are pointing at coal/fossil plant emissions as one of the principal contributors. Furthermore, the emissions from coal/fossil stations today, will be impacting the environment for millennia as the Earth works to restore balance – according to the IPCC.

Mining coal is dangerous and responsible for the death of roughly 7,000 miners a year in China alone. Coal emissions contain fine particulates and other pollutants resulting in the premature death of 15,000 people a year, just in the United States.

What are the environmental Dangers/Benefits of the introduction of Nuclear power ? which of these are specific +/-'s to Australia?

Water consumption is pretty much a break even with any other type of power plant that employs a thermal steam cycle [and most do, except, for example combustion turbines, wind turbines and photovoltaic cells]. Some hype has been made about French reactors having to reduce power in hot weather due to thermal discharge limits on their effluents. This has nothing to do with the fact that they are nuclear, but rather where they are located. Had similarly sized coal plants been in their place, the same result would have occurred. Had these nuclear plants been sited on the coast, the high temperature would not have been an issue. So if Australia decides to construct a nuclear plant near the coast – no issue.

Nuclear waste is a challenge, but more a political issue than technical. The deep repositories being developed, for example in Sweden and the USA, are – in my opinion – technically sound, but also a waste of a valuable resource, the potential energy remaining in the fuel. The recently rekindled interest in spent fuel reprocessing using the UREX process looks to recover significant energy from this ‘pre-irradiated’ or ‘used’ fuel, significantly reduce the volume of residual waste and dramatically reduce the time that waste must be stored to decay to the activity level of the uranium originally mined from the ground.

Interim storage of irradiated fuel as well as all aspects of fuel handling through the second half of the fuel cycle must be respected due to the activity of the material involved. Again, in my professional opinion, the robust engineering that has gone into developing multiple protective barriers to address public safety has worked well to minimise this risk. Have a look at the testing of a fuel shipping cask as an example.

Physical security [theft, sabotage and acts of terrorism] must also be addressed when considering nuclear power‘s environmental impact. In modern plant designs robust measures have been engineered into the design to minimise these risks. Beyond the design, plants maintain hardened perimeters and employ highly trained security teams – all further reducing the risk.

Some environmental groups point to the entire fuel cycle including mining, conversion, enrichment, fuel fabrication, decommissioning, final fuel processing and disposal etc. as nuclear power’s Achilles heal with respect to lifecycle emissions. But this does not make sense from even – I think – a everyday bloke perspective. Consider that one 10-gram nuclear fuel pellet produces as much energy as 20 tonnes of coal or 20,000 litres of oil [even more if the nuclear fuel is reprocessed]. Yes, [assuming the power comes from coal plants] the processes to make that pellet consume energy and result in emissions. However, if say 20% of the electricity involved in those processes is nuclear generated, even those emissions begin to fall. What about the mining, processing and transport of all that coal [have you ever seen a coal train?], or similarly drilling, refining and transport of all that oil, the decommissioning and waste processing of those facilities, etc.? What are the emissions associated with those processes? Formal comparisons have been completed – repeatedly it seems – consistently arriving at the same results. [University of Sydney, Oko Inst., University of Wisconsin/NEI to quickly site just a few]. From an emissions perspective, nuclear looks very attractive and is the principal environmental benefit for the technology – at a competitive cost to other options.

The demonstrated high [and consistently improving] capacity factor of nuclear plants and high reliability also play a key role in this positive impact.

I would say that all of the above apply to any country considering or currently using nuclear power – perhaps to different degrees depending on how much of the nuclear fuel cycle is employed in their countries. Australia, for example may decide not to enrich fuel, but deploy nuclear plants and purchase fuel from other countries. I have tried to sum up Australia’s options here and again here.

Why is nuclear power needed?

Nuclear power can address – again depending on the country – energy security and environmental challenges faced by many nations around the world. Significantly lower fuel costs can reduce a country’s dependence on fuel imports in an increasingly [energy] competitive world. Also full lifecycle analyses consistently show nuclear’s advantages to address present day environmental challenges through very low emissions [none in fact through energy generation], high capacity and high reliability.

Examples of countries looking to nuclear to minimise their exposure to energy security risks associated with imports may be found in Europe – specifically Eastern Europe where over the past several winters, Russia has used their energy supply lines as a tool of economic foreign policy. I believe in each case the ‘customer’ countries had no choice but to pay what was being asked. Many of these countries are looking to nuclear to increase their options, subsequently reducing their exposure to this risk in the future.

Nuclear power is capable of significant bulk power generation with demonstrated reliability. This energy is generated with minimal emissions over the entire nuclear lifecycle as demonstrated in study after study [see above].

From Australia’s perspective, I believe nuclear power is needed to address our embarrassingly high emissions. Yes, China and the USA contribute significantly to the problem and therefore must be part of the solution, but I like to look at this from three perspectives, the country whose emission are increasing the fastest in absolute terms [China], the most emissions under the control of one government [USA – soon to be passed by China if not already] and the highest per-capita emissions [Australia]. I think that any policy that does not try to address the problem from these three perspectives is going to produce some very unbalanced outcomes. The argument that ‘Australia only produces 1.5% of global emissions and is therefore only a minor player’ is not sustainable as I say here.

There are those that claim we can get there with renewables, but the ‘full throttle’ deployment of renewables – massive subsidies or not – will not be enough to achieve what is necessary in Australia. Hydro is by far the only renewable energy source with demonstrated capacity around the globe in sufficient quantities to displace big-coal and Australia is just too flat and dry to expect that much more hydro to be added any time soon. That leaves us with solar, wind, geothermal, nuclear and a few fringe technologies like tidal. Furthermore if you look around the world, you will find individual solar thermal plants coming up, new wind farms here and there, etc. However, read for example this post about a wind project in Poland. Note in the section titled ‘The Good Energies coming’ the total price will be Euro 350 million [AU $575 million] and the combined ‘capacity’ will be 240 Megawatts. Consider though that typical wind projects achieve only about 30% of that capacity or about 80 Megawatts on average annually. Spend about four times as much money and you could end up with about 320 Megawatts from wind, or one 1000 Megawatt nuclear reactor. Using this example, it may be easier to understand the lifecycle analyses linked above. The bottom line is that nowhere – not a single country on the planet – are renewables [other than hydro] being used to displace fossil fuel electricity generation capacity to the extent required to meet emissions targets. Denmark is one example of a country that is trying, and failing despite huge subsidies to renewable technologies.

So that leaves nuclear. If Australia is serious about reducing emissions we must keep nuclear on the table. If you’re OK with a calculator, pen and pad, check this post.

How will nuclear power stations affect Australians?

Nuclear operations and stations typically bring with them highly skilled jobs [including a significant number of trade jobs during construction as well as periodic maintenance outages], boosts to the local economies through tax revenues, boosts to local business [several hundred staff have to eat lunch, buy their groceries, get their cars serviced somewhere, correct?] and help sustain local industries such as machine shops that typically support plant maintenance activities, etc.

In addition to the local effects, operating nuclear power stations will of course help Australia meet our energy needs without adversely impacting the environment.

Nuclear plants make good neighbors. I have lived near them in the past and would gladly do so again in the future.

What are your personal views on Nuclear Power / why?

In addition to what I have said above, I don’t really think it’s a matter of ‘will’ Australia go nuclear, but when. It is noble to promote significant and broad lifestyle changes to reduce emissions and to deploy renewables where it makes sense to do so. While these efforts certainly do help – the impact falls well short of what is required to make a real difference.

My own approach is similar to what is recommended in the wedge analysis completed by Princeton University. It’s not so much a nuclear vs. renewables discussion [although such debates work well to distract the attention of environmentally minded people away form the coal industry to – I would imagine – their extreme delight], but rather what will it take to reduce global emissions in absolute terms. In other words, it’s no good to displace one 1000 MWe coal plant in the USA if China commences operations at three of them the next month.

I support the deployment of all no/low emissions technologies that have a demonstrated capacity to displace emissions linked to climate change, in a sustainable way, while improving global energy security. I do not believe we will achieve the relevant goals without considerable nuclear technology deployment in many countries around the world. Certainly the relevant risks will have to be carefully managed – but that challenge pales in comparison to the very real projected impacts from climate change – for which Australia’s portion appears to be severe.

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Another convert

Just in case you don't already read the Atomic Insights or NEI blogs (and I strongly recommend you do), Rod Adams has commented on a new book, "Power to Save the World: The Truth About Nuclear Energy" by Gwyneth Cravens.

As Rod says, Cravens was a passionate anti-nuclear activist who, unlike many anti-nukes, invested the time - a considerable amount of time it would appear - to embark on a literal journey to discover the facts amidst the rhetoric.

Just one more example of an ever increasing trend.

See a related Cravens article for the Brookings Institute Review (2002) - Terrorism and Nuclear Energy: Understanding the Risks.

Monday, 10 September 2007

Blake - where are you mate?

Several days ago, I received a request via a comment post from a student, calling himself 'Blake'.

Blake, I tried to reply using the Email address you gave me, but have not heard back. If you're still interested, please have another go. The address in the comment [which I will not post publicly to respect your privacy] may have been incorrect.
This is not the first time I have been asked for offline information. In fact the trend is increasing; and how wonderful that is to see. People - particularly the young - are taking the time to really pull the stings and objectively explore the claims of pro- and anti-nuclear advocates alike. I am confident that after such objective, fact-based reviews, the vast majority will understand that nuclear power is well justified as part of a broader strategy to address fossil emissions as well as energy security issues around the world.

Speaking of increasing interest, I have also added a new section in the right border to this page called Pro-nuclear Aus & NZ Bloggers. How about that? Not only are the facts being better received, there is an increasing number of us delivering them. Another good sign.

While all this is happening, there's little to see in the anti-nuclear blogosphere. I've read a few posts where they voice frustration about their lack of technical know-how, little surprise to this blogger. If they knew there technical stuff; they wouldn't be anti-nuclear. One referenced this post from the Nuclear Is Our Future blog, specifically. This shows that at least some are reading our posts. Since they can't make a credible, technical argument, rare is the day when you see an anti-nuclear comment on one of these sites.

Sunday, 9 September 2007

APEC - Nuclear Related Fallout

When nuclear power was promoted as an option to address the challenges associated with emissions linked to climate change; there was an almost immediate dismissal from various New Zealand politicians - including Helen Clark herself:

"not something we are going to endorse".

But now there seems to be a bit of a backlash happening over in New Zealand that I find very intriguing.

This Editorial from the NZ Herald is one example.
That nuclear power poses risks is indisputable. But those risks need to be assessed in context of the certain - not potential - environmental havoc that is being wrought by the use of fossil fuels to generate energy. In the US, more than 600 coal-fired power plants produce 36 per cent of that country's - and almost 10 per cent of the world's - emissions of carbon dioxide, the primary greenhouse gas responsible for climate change. China is building a new coal-fired power station every week.

It may well be that nuclear power is not viable here [New Zealand] on practical or political grounds, though the likelihood is that we will fail to meet our emissions-reduction targets without a change in energy strategy. But we do ourselves and the world no favours by refusing out of hand to endorse or explore the nuclear option. When the biosphere collapses, it won't spare this country just because we remained philosophically pure.
Here's another story in the same paper from Fran O'Sullivan. O'Sullivan points out the sad irony of New Zealand's spirited charge for climate change action and subsequent advocacy for, and endorsement of, Kyoto in the context of current day, hefty fines for failing to meet those very same Kyoto targets. And then telling the world there's no place for nuclear power in the international struggle to cut fossil fuel emissions? Anyway, a good read.

In this editorial from the Hawke's Bay Today, Louis Pierard goes so far as to advocate New Zealand's consideration of a domestic nuclear power programme / plant.

Beyond the media, the Kiwiblog is taking a similar position. I also note that many comments [I only read about the first 20 or so, I assume from other Kiwis] reflect - how do I say this - opposition to, or concern regarding, the stated or implied position of the aforementioned political leaders. [Thanks to NEI for the tip on this blogger.]

Saturday, 8 September 2007

One take on the Renaissance

Another pragmatic view from The Economist. (The cover story, no less).

Be sure to check out the linked articles within the main article above.

Thursday, 6 September 2007

Australian interest & support of advanced nuclear research

Have a look at the scope and participating countries in this year's GLOBAL conference.

My guess, as a premier uranium supplier, our participation is nothing new. With any luck, we'll be sending someone in addition to an ANSTO Inc., ASNO and / or ASIO representative. Maybe even submit a paper or poster on innovative research??

One can hope.

APEC - and so it begins

It's all happening now.

The announcements have come pretty much as anticipated.

The Age
The Sydney Morning Herald [Small business section in a tourism article? A bit buried maybe?]

Australia is moving to join both initiatives [yes, there are two things to discuss here].

First comes the Generation IV International Forum [Gen-IV]. This partnership has existed for some time now. Originating in the west, slightly behind the Russian lead INPRO initiative onging within the IAEA, Gen-IV is principally technically oriented. The work involves applied science and engineering projects to develop advanced reactor designs with vastly improved fuel cycles, lower waste generation, still further improved safety and security features, shorter build times and lower cost. The participation in Gen-IV and INPRO involves considerable overlap and the two are working well together in a fairly complimentary way. INPRO has developed assessment criteria for potential Gen-IV designs for example that could be applied to the concepts currently being further developed within Gen-IV.

I imagine ANSTO will be the principal point of contact for this work - but OPAL was not designed for some of the most exciting of this research [testing of advanced fuel designs etc.] and may require some modifications to fully support the needs of the various programmes. This is why, for example the USA has NIST, ORNL and others for the heavy duty neutron scattering / materials science as well as the ATR - which exists principally to test advanced fuel and core materials. The commencement of relevant OPAL modifications will please me immensely. How exciting will it be that the world's newest research reactor initiates such a significant modification? Evidence of rapidly changing [and expanding] nuclear interest here in Australia and abroad!

Next is the much less technically exciting GNEP, which I have recently posted about here and here. I say less technical because the advanced plants [burner reactors] will most likely come out of the Gen-IV programme. Unless GNEP grows to eventually swallow Gen-IV as it very well may do. GNEP is now at least the third iteration of 'bigger and better' nuclear initiatives involving the USA. Previously initiated and ongoing in parallel with the aforementioned Gen-IV, there are the Advanced Fuel Cycle Initiative, Nuclear Power 2010, the nuclear hydrogen initiative and probably a programme or two more.

My guess is that GNEP and Gen-IV are being bundled to focus on the research activities that come with Gen-IV and the US can put another run on the board as far as GNEP participation is concerned [i.e. about as much of a win-win that each could expect from such an announcement].

All I can add to the previous GNEP posts is that, as reported above, we are 'reserving the right to enrich' and proceeding with the process to join the partnership on the condition that Australia accept no waste from foreign states. Also, the 'meeting in Vienna' that is mentioned in some of the media reports will occur around [immediately prior to, I think] the IAEA General Conference. Within the international nuclear world, this is the time of the year for BIG announcements - so let's all brace ourselves and hope for the best.

Saturday, 1 September 2007

GNEP - Nuclear grade clubbing

According to recent news, Australia may be either entering directly into a bilateral agreement with the US (and other countries), formally enlisting in GNEP, or both.

The United States is claiming that Australia's role wold be research oriented. I have no problem with this claim. I believe all the chatter about waste is purely political - and being fanned heavily by Labor for their own gains.

Unless Canberra is full of complete idiots on both sides of the political aisle, the Coalition and Labour both clearly understand that 1) if Australia did accept high level waste from other countries, they could virtually name their price (and subsequently reprocess it and sell it on as reactor fuel - but I digress), but 2) agreeing to this without a lengthy public outreach programme including some very broad education of the general public - would be political suicide.

If you have a look around, you will discover that the US is signing bilateral nuclear agreements with just about every country with a research reactor. Others are dong it as well - including Australia. I believe, with respect to research, the US appears to be playing catch-up following several decades of little support for nuclear power technologies. Australia has a demonstrated research capability, very relevant capability in fact. Just consider how General Electric is capitalising on Australian ingenuity. Personally, one of the most disappointing lines on the page is:

GE has the exclusive rights to develop, commercialize and launch this third-generation uranium enrichment technology on a global basis.

Yet another example of others gaining from Australian innovation. Sure it's great to proudly proclaim "... that's Australian!". But to be blunt - proclamations don't pay the mortgage. It is not too difficult to imagine a day when Australian uranium is shipped to the US, enriched at a GE facility and then shipped back to Australia in the form of fresh fuel [and we don't need power reactors to savor this technological embarrassment, it's quite possible the OPAL reactor fuel could one day take this route. I am fairly certain Argentina gets its enriched fuel from the USA].

I mentioned other agreements. Canada is on the [nuclear] move. Comparisons between Australia and Canada can be quite entertaining. Similar size [33-Million to our 21-Million], loyal servants of Her Majesty, loving and hating America simultaneously, etc. Oh, and I almost forgot - a considerable quantity of the world's Uranium. One notable difference is that Canada not only embraced the nuclear fuel cycle over 5 decades ago, but Canadian engineers designed a unique breed of reactor [the CANDU] that has helped power Canada and more than a few other countries for quite some time now.

This past week the Canadian Province of Ontario announced a bold initiative [find even more here] that appears to be quite serious about mitigating Canada's contribution to climate change - which in case you are wondering is [on a per capita basis] about equal to the US and a little more than 90% of what we spew into the atmosphere here in Australia. Note the plan involves a blended array of strategies, including Nuclear, that will eliminate coal by 2014, not long after Australia plans to have developed our carbon trading strategy [just a bit embarrassing, no?].

And there's more. Canada, with not only a demonstrated research background, but a damn respectable industrial track record to boot, has also been 'invited' to join the GNEP. Here's what The Times Colonist had to say,
The initiative came to light in Canada in May 2006, when Prime Minister John Howard of Australia -- like Canada, a major world supplier of uranium -- visited Ottawa and voiced interest in the U.S. proposal, but also concerns about its possible effect on the mining and export industries.

At the time, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said: "Australia and Canada, as the two major uranium producers in the world, have considerable interest in whatever the United States and the international community have in mind in terms of future uranium development, production and marketing."

He added that he and Howard had "agreed we're going to collaborate very closely together to make sure Australian and Canadian interests are closely protected while the Americans and others discuss the future of that industry."
At least they're being pragmatic about it. No sugar-coating speeches about research. They want to ensure their interests as a supplier of Uranium are protected. And I am confident that Australia's interest in GNEP are the same - as reported in Canada, if not here in Australia. Because, let's face it, mining jobs and healthy exports do pay the mortgage.

As you can probably tell, I have a great deal of respect for the Canadian nuclear programme. They are lean and mean, excellent planners [with the versatile NRU still fully utilised at 50 years old] and even better decision makers. With about 10% of the US population they have managed to essentially equal their technical capability with respect to nuclear power and surpassed them in closely related fields. The USA, for example imports 100% of their Molybdenum-99 [used to make Technetium-99m, the most utilised diagnostic radiopharmaceutical on the planet] and a LOT of that comes from Canada. And before you click that comment link to tell us all about their Maple reactors, take a look around your own glass house.

Canadians also have an interesting approach to increasing enrolment in nuclear engineering programmes.