Tuesday, 23 December 2008

ANSTO CEO Announcement

Dr. Adrian (Adi) Paterson

ANSTO Press Release

Dr Ziggy Switkowski, Chairman of the Board, today announced the appointment of Dr Adrian (Adi) Paterson as the next ANSTO Chief Executive. He will commence at ANSTO on March 1, 2009.

Dr Paterson is currently general manager, Business Development and Operations, at the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor Company in South Africa. He has a BSc in Chemistry and a PhD in Engineering from the University of Cape Town.

Dr Paterson brings strong scientific credentials, especially in the field of materials science, wide experience in working with government and contributing to national policy development, attractive partnering and commercialisation skills, and a successful history of technical leadership and organisational change.

Dr Paterson has developed the processes underpinning the building of successful relationships between universities, national research institutes and government. He is a past Chair of the South Africa Innovation Fund and a member of the National Advisory Council on Innovation.

Since 2006, his responsibilities at the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor Company focused upon the development of a passively safe, high temperature gas reactor for process heat and international commercialisation.

From 2001 to 2006, Dr Paterson worked at the Department of Science and Technology in various science policy roles including the development of national innovation instruments and Research and Development strategy.

From 1984 to 2001, Dr Paterson worked at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (South Africa’s equivalent to CSIRO), rising through a number of assignments to the position of Executive Vice President and Chief Information Officer.

“The Board is looking to Dr Paterson to lead ANSTO to the next level in its continuous improvement journey when the benefits of nuclear science and technology are enjoying increased recognition. His technical and organisational leadership will enable ANSTO to develop stronger partnerships with industry research establishments and nuclear medicine centres capitalising on Australia’s new research reactor, excellence in accelerator-based sciences and its radiopharmaceuticals manufacturing capability.” Dr Switkowski said today.

Dr Paterson is 52 and married with two sons who are presently studying at university. He will relocate with his wife to Sydney.

Dr Switkowski also thanked ANSTO’s acting Chief Executive Dr Ron Cameron who has filled the role since May 2008. “Dr Ron Cameron has professionally managed ANSTO’s activities through a period of organisational restructure combined with budget and operational challenges. ANSTO has been well served by Dr Cameron stepping into this role.”

Senator Kim Carr, Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, has welcomed Dr Paterson's appointment.

Senator Carr said Dr Paterson's strong public science and senior management background, combined with his experience in commercialisation of scientific research, will be of tremendous value to ANSTO.

“The ANSTO CEO position is among the most important in the national science administration framework. The CEO is responsible for the overall conduct of ANSTO's activities. Dr Paterson was selected from a very strong field of candidates," Senator Carr said.

“I am very grateful for Dr Cameron's leadership of ANSTO since the departure of ANSTO's former CEO, Dr Ian Smith, and I congratulate Dr Paterson on his appointment. This is an exciting time to become involved in the management of ANSTO, Australia’s only research organisation devoted solely to nuclear science and technology," Senator Carr said.

Dr. Paterson's Bio from the South African National Advisory Council on Innovation [link to NACI]

Dr Adi Paterson is the General Manager: Business Development and Operations at the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor Company. The PBMR is the South African Generation IV high temperature gas reactor programme. Adi joined the CSIR in 1984 and undertook and led research on ceramic materials securing two US Patents. He was Division Director of the Division of Materials Science and Technology at the CSIR from 1990 – 1994. Appointed to the CSIR Executive in 1995: with roles in HR, science and technology policy, strategic funding of research and innovation, CIO, organizational development and intellectual capital. Served on the CSIR and University of Pretoria Executive 2000–2001 (joint appointment). In the domain of public policy he was a co-author of the South African Green Paper on Science and Technology prior to his secondment to the Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology as Head of the Science and Technology Branch in 2001. He co-authored National R&D Strategy and appointed COO when the Department of Science and Technology was formed in 2002. He joined PBMR in 2006. Currently he is a Member of South African Qualifications Authority, Member of the National Advisory Council on Innovation, Member of the Licensing Executives Society of South Africa, and Institute of Directors. He is a Board Member of the Sugar Milling Research Institute, a Member of the Academy of Science of South Africa and the South African Academy of Engineering. Previously he was a Member of the National Research and Technology Foresight Board, President of AS&TS (2000), Chair of the South African Excellence Foundation (1998), Chair of the Innovation Fund Trust, and the UNESCO Chief International Expert for the Science Reform in Nigeria. He was a Board Member of PBMR and the Cradle of Humankind Trust. He has a B.Sc. in Chemistry and a PhD in Engineering from the University of Cape Town.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Obama aims at the climate

During a video message to the bipartisan Governors Global Climate Summit in Los Angeles, California, Barack Obama looks to turn the US tide on emissions.

“Delay is no longer an option. Denial is no longer an acceptable response. The stakes are too high. The consequences, too serious."

“Few challenges facing America and the world are more urgent than combating climate change,” Mr. Obama said. “The science is beyond dispute and the facts are clear. Sea levels are rising. Coastlines are shrinking. We’ve seen record drought, spreading famine, and storms that are growing stronger with each passing hurricane season.”

Mr. Obama promised to set “strong annual targets that set us on a course to reduce emissions to their 1990 levels by 2020, and reduce them an additional 80 percent by 2050.”
This goes beyond even the planned EU reductions.

Mr. Obama vowed to invest $15 billion a year to support private clean-energy initiatives in solar and wind power, biofuels, clean coal technologies and nuclear power.

“When I am president, any governor who’s willing to promote clean energy will have a partner in the White House. Any company that’s willing to invest in clean energy will have an ally in Washington. And any nation that’s willing to join the cause of combating climate change will have an ally in the United States of America.”

More analysis from the New York Times.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Nuclear Australia and the WEO-2008

The International Energy Agency has published this year's World Energy Outlook. Similar to the 2007 version [which contained a feature section on China], this year's edition includes a dedicated, in-depth analysis of climate policy strategies to achieve both 550 and 450 ppm carbon-dioxide equivalent targets [atmospheric carbon dioxide is currently 388 ppm according to NOAA]. These targets are consistent with those from the recently issued Garnaut review.

The 569 page document is detailed to say the least. The report is divided into three principal sections:
  • Global Energy Trends to 2030
  • Oil & Gas Production Prospects
  • The Role of Energy in Climate Policy
The 550 Policy Scenario equates to an increase in global temperature of approximately 3°C, the 450 Policy Scenario to a rise of around 2°C. The 550 Policy Scenario involves a plateauing of greenhouse-gas emissions by 2020 and reductions soon after. The 450 Policy Scenarios involves much more substantial reductions after 2020. Even then, emissions overshoot the trajectory needed to meet the 450 ppm CO2-eq target, requiring greater emissions reductions after 2030 [to achieve long term stability at 450 ppm]. In both scenarios, total emissions are significantly lower in 2030 in all major emitting countries. To reach either of these outcomes, hundreds of millions of households and businesses around the world would need to be encouraged to change the way they use energy. This will require innovative policies, an appropriate regulatory framework, the rapid development of a global carbon market and increased investment in energy research, development and demonstration.

The report explains that energy demand was increasing faster than emissions until the recarbonisation of the global energy supply market resumed after nuclear power fell out of favour in many countries in the 1990's.

Looking forward, the report explains how the most significant projected increases in emissions come from developing countries [China, India, etc.] as they strive to satisfy their increasing demand. To meet the goals of either scenario above, emissions from these energy expansion programmes must be pro-actively managed. In addition, the report also shows the bulk of emission cuts - form current levels - coming from OECD countries. Neither task will be easy, but all technologies have a role to play.

The 550 Scenario

The share in the world primary energy mix of low-carbon energy, such as hydropower, nuclear, biomass and renewables, increases from 19% in 2006 to 25% in 2030. Hydropower demand increases in the 550 Policy Scenario to reach 456 Mtoe [metric tonnes oil equivalent] in 2030, compared with 414 Mtoe in the Reference Scenario. Other renewables, such as wind and solar, receive a much bigger boost, rising seven-fold from just 66 Mtoe in 2006 to the same level as hydro in 2030. Modern biomass use also increases — both in power generation and in decentralised heat production for residential, commercial and industry needs — to around 1 200 Mtoe in 2030. Nuclear grows twice as fast as in the Reference Scenario to reach nearly 1 100 Mtoe in 2030.
All have a role to play. Coal miners may be pleased to see the industry continues to grow; albeit at a much slower pace than in the reference scenario. While Luke's analyses [first & second] don't give me a lot of confidence, achieving the relevant emission reduction goals relies heavily on carbon capture and sequestration [CCS]. Those who back renewables will also be busy for some time. Averaging 8.6% growth per year is ambitious, but this is without hydro and biomass which themselves must also expand considerably over the time of interest. One also notes a drop of -9% in world energy demand with respect to the reference scenario. This is due mainly to conservation and efficiency improvements.

Nuclear expansion - beyond the reference scenario - will happen mostly in the OECD. The goals are assumed to be partially achieved through license extensions of existing plants as well as the accelerated construction of new plants. The second figure below reflects a significant nuclear expansion already included in the reference scenario within other major [non-OECD] economies.

The 2006 value of just under 2,500 TWh equates to roughly 370 GWe of installed capacity operated for about 7000 hours - or roughly 80% of the year. A single 1000 MWe plant will add about 7 TWh more to the 2006 data. Therefore the equivalent of 70 new 1000 MWe nuclear power plants are assumed to come into service by 2030 in the above figure - just in the OECD. The equivalent of over 100 more plants are assumed to come on line in non-OECD countries.

The big picture from the report:
In order to reduce CO2 emissions by 7.6 Gt [7,600,000,000 tonnes], the 550 Policy Scenario requires development — on a significant scale — of less CO2-intensive technologies (Figure 18.4). In 2030, 4.8 Gt of avoided CO2 emissions — 63% of total CO2 emissions reductions compared to the Reference Scenario — stem from efficiency improvements in the end-use sector and in power generation. A further 0.6 Gt of CO2 savings come from the operation of an additional 86 GW of nuclear capacity, beyond that built in the Reference Scenario. The large-scale deployment of renewable and carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies in the power sector gives rise to 1.2 and 0.8 Gt of CO2 savings, respectively. The decarbonisation of the power sector alone involves notably the construction every year to 2030 of an additional 7 [800 MWe] coal-fired plants and 3 [500 MWe] gasfired plants with CCS, 11 new [1000 MWe] nuclear plants and almost 12 000 [3 MWe] wind turbines, while hydropower is expanded every two years by 64 GW — the equivalent of three dams of the capacity of China’s Three Gorges Dam.
The 450 Scenario

Although the reduction in global electricity demand in 2030 is only 4% compared with the 550 Policy Scenario, the fuel mix changes significantly as a result of the wider use of nuclear and renewables. The share of coal and gas as fuel for power and heat plants in the 450 Policy Scenario in 2030 declines to 47%. This contributes to the security of the electricity sector, making the sector in many countries less import-dependent.

In the more-stringent 450 Policy Scenario, a deeper transformation of energy supply and an even wider adoption of CO2-mitigation options occurs (Figure 18.4). In order to achieve the necessary additional reduction between the 550 and 450 Policy Scenarios, further end-use efficiency improvements are assumed. Renewable energy is developed considerably further, to realise a further 25% CO2-emissions reduction compared to the 550 Policy Scenario. CCS technologies are applied more widely in power generation, but are also introduced in the industry sector. Thirteen additional nuclear power plants have to be built yearly, compared to the 550 Policy Scenario. Biofuels penetrate the transportation sector more deeply.

The data is impressively cross-cut and impossible to capture in one blog post. The economic impacts of different technologies are discussed - nuclear is the cheapest option in the EU with carbon pricing via an emissions trading scheme. It is second only to on-shore wind in the USA under the same conditions. There are detailed breakdowns of specific renewable technologies [on-shore wind, biomass, solar PV, solar thermal, off-shore wind, geothermal, tidal, etc.]...

This is an excellent reference. Anyone arguing that reasonable emissions reduction goals can be achieved without the expansion of nuclear energy production is clearly refuted by this report. Similarly, nuclear advocates who criticise other low-carbon options such as wind or solar should consider the information in this report. All technologies have a significant role to play. Champions of different technologies should welcome objective and constructive critiques. However, the more pedantic arguments, usually accompanied by not-so-hidden agendas, between those who otherwise agree on the requirement to reduce emissions, undercut the very milestones they are all working to progress.

The irresistible force vs. the immovable object

Australia's role in future energy policies and economies is complicated. The economy is closely linked to fuel exports and domestic energy supply is almost entirely carbon based. These dependencies will complicate the transition to a low carbon economy in a country significantly threatened by the impacts of climate change and ironically one the world's highest per-capita carbon emitters.

Nearly two years ago, the UMPNER report analysed the potential role for nuclear power in Australia. A growing community of concerned individuals, companies and organisations - including UMPNER chief, Dr. Ziggy Switkowski, are working to resume a discussion regarding nuclear technology's role in Australia's energy future. Meanwhile nations around the world are expanding existing nuclear programmes or initiating new ones.

The World Energy Outlook report concludes:

For all the uncertainties highlighted in this report, we can be certain that the energy world will look a lot different in 2030 than it does today. The world energy system will be transformed, but not necessarily in the way we would like to see. We can be confident of some of the trends highlighted in this report: the growing weight of China, India, the Middle East and other non-OECD regions in energy markets and in CO2 emissions; the rapidly increasing dominance of national oil companies; and the emergence of low-carbon energy technologies. And while market imbalances could temporarily cause prices to fall back, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the era of cheap oil is over. But many of the key policy drivers (not to mention other, external factors) remain in doubt. It is within the power of all governments, of producing and consuming countries alike, acting alone or together, to steer the world towards a cleaner, cleverer and more competitive energy system. Time is running out and the time to act is now.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Ziggy Switkowski's statements today

In Adelaide today at the 34th annual Essington Lewis Memorial Lecture.

"I am concerned that the exclusion of nuclear power from our national conversation and energy debate represents a triumph of political pragmatism over good policy."

"When it comes to the generation of base-load electricity - the 80 per cent of electricity that must be available round the clock to power our refrigerators, washing machines, plasma TVs, traffic lights, air conditioners, etc. - the options in front of us include the use of coal, gas, oil, hydroelectricity and nuclear energy."

"If fossil fuels are excluded because they are dirty and the risks to hydroelectricity from water scarcity are considered, then the only presently available clean option for
base-load electricity is nuclear power."

"Significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions would almost certainly prove beyond the capability of existing technologies, while renewable energy platforms will fail to deliver the cuts in the time allowed."

"Our lights will start to go out as investment in clean, base-load energy generation stalls in an uncertain regulatory environment and the nuclear alternative is not validated."

"In a carbon-constrained future, nuclear-powered economies will exploit their cost advantages for clean energy in competing with Australian products newly burdened by embedded carbon costs."

"31 countries currently used nuclear power to generate 15 per cent of the world's electricity."

"An increasing number of countries around the world are turning to nuclear power to meet growing demand for energy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and diversify their energy mix from a single platform or dominant fuel supplier."

"Why not Australia?"

News from Japan

Japan's carbon emissions are fairly high [number 4 in the world in total emissions, but number 23 in per capita emissions per the NationMaster database]. Japan is in the news because their carbon emission have increased over the last year by 2.6 percent.

Japan's emission rose due to the shutdown of Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant, which was damaged by an earthquake on July 16, 2007. The site is home to seven large nuclear power reactors [nearly 8,000 MWe capacity]. There age ranges from 12 to 23 years old. Three of the reactors were operating during the earthquake and the other four were shutdown for routine inspections. The operating reactors were safely shutdown and none of the seven units has operated since that time.

But this will not be the case for long. The IAEA is returning to reinspect the plant and operators have begun loading fuel into Unit 7. Fuel loading is expected to be complete by 16-November and related tests sometime in December.

Meanwhile in Australia the coal industry is looking for love... via a $1.5 million ad campaign and $1 million website aimed at educating the Australian public on Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technologies.

Some exerpts from the linked report:

Back in Hugh Morgan's day, the coal industry's global warming strategy was to fund denialist groups. Not now: Mr Hillman said the industry saw climate change as real, and the association's main goal was to drive the adoption of CCS to tackle it.

The Federal Government's climate change adviser, Ross Garnaut, has criticised the industry's effort as inadequate. In his final report last month, Professor Garnaut contrasted its research and development spending with the amounts paid by farmers out of a much lower revenue base. He said coalminers should beef up their R&D levies to $250 million a year to accelerate the adoption of CCS.

The International Energy Agency warned last month that CCS now costs between $US60 ($A90) and $US75 per tonne of emissions saved, way above the price of wind power or nuclear — and unless R&D efforts were radically stepped up, it might not be commercially viable until 2030.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

The latest from Ziggy Switkowski

Dr. Ziggy Switkowski has written an article on a nuclear Australia in the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering's (ATSE) Focus Magazine.

It has also been re-posted at ScienceAlert.

It is a very objective piece that highlights both the specific advantages nuclear power technology offers Australia as well as the specific challenges faced here.

I encourage anyone interested in either nuclear power or Australia's approach to climate change mitigating technologies to read Dr. Switkowski's article.

Earlier in the month Dr. Switkowski went back-and-forth with Climate minister Penny Wong in this report.

Obviously, I believe Switkowski's arguments are valid, are put forward objectively and contain abundant facts and examples. But what impresses me most is his political courage. Australia could use a lot more of that.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Macfarlane to push for nuclear

Coalition resources minister Ian Macfarlane will push the opposition to advocate the use of nuclear power to help Australia achieve our emission reduction goals while maintaining a viable economy.

Macfarlane said the notion to proceed with an over reliance on the uncertain development of clean-coal without nuclear power was 'high risk and almost reckless'.

He also cited the significant time lag between an operable emissions trading scheme and even the optimistic projected schedule for clean-coal implementation. Deploying nuclear power facilities sooner rather than later could help reconcile the inconsistencies.

He expects to have a number of allies in the cause. Julie Bishop, should be an obvious supporter.

But to have a real chance, nuclear power must have bipartisan support. Despite considerable calls for nuclear from Australia's political left, those at the top are not bending to the pressure [at least not overtly].

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Garnaut submits final report

The final report may be found here.

I don't have much to add from previous posts on Targets and Trajectories, another here and again here.

Nuclear power is mentioned in a similar fashion as it was in the draft reports. Public opinion remains the principal hurdle and Garnaut includes it as a later, if not last, resort. I note the cost scenario in the report [Chapter 20] was only for the 550 ppm carbon-dioxide scenario and not the 450 ppm scenario. I would like to have seen the later as well.

The report includes recommendations regarding nuclear research - basically that Australia is not a global research leader in any nuclear power technology field and its resources would be better served elsewhere. Personally, I think we could develop some helpful waste mitigation, permanent isolation and storage technologies for deployment, but other countries are far in the led as the report points out.

The report goes 'all-in' for coal, gas and carbon capture; betting the proverbial farm on the development effort recently launched by Government's announcement of a $100 million carbon capture research initiative. The case made for this approach is an economic one: why wouldn't Australia pursue a solution which is also in its own best interest? The success of carbon capture development would bring with it, tremendous political and economic advantage within Australia and beyond. However, there is one warning that comes in the form of a firm recommendation:

Priority should be given to the resolution of whether a near-zero coal future is even feasible, either partially or in total. If it is not, then Australia needs to know as soon as possible, so that all who depend on the coal industry can begin the process of adjustment, and so that adequate and timely investments are made in other industries.

This gives an indication of the both the current state of carbon capture technology development as well as the liberty taken with respect to the resulting assumptions. In the end, it may not work at all. That risk may need some serious mitigating actions and attention.

If one examines the projected contributions of renewables, it appears that significant technology development assumptions have been made in this area as well. The projections are ambitious and will also require aggressive technology development and deployment.

My concern is when these assumptions come face to face with the more pragmatic world of engineering technology deployment - complete with budget constraints, schedule pressure and resource limitations - Australia will be looking at a very high emissions future.

Copy this path in a significant number of countries around the world [If Australia can bet the farm on carbon capture, why can't everyone else??]. If carbon capture fails to materialise, the world will need a fallback plan.

Coincidentally, I find I have some company. Ziggy Switkowski submitted this report, where he advocates the allocation of at least some resources to climate change adaptation.

This requires planning for extreme weather events and natural disasters, inadequate rainfall and water shortages, higher utility and food prices and insurance costs, drought-proofing, better health services for the vulnerable, and so on. And, of course, the responsible management of finite resources and fragile environments.

Solutions to these issues do not require international accords and are largely within our control and budgets. And their relevance is independent of the accuracy of climate forecasts or one's position in the climate change debate.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

OPAL's minor flaw

OPAL Reactor

A recent article quoted Greens Senator Scott Ludlum as calling for the 20 MW OPAL research reactor to be shutdown until the reflector leakage can be repaired.

Ludlum has called ANSTO's comments on the technical nature of the leak, "spin" and links today's technical concerns to potential safety concerns in the future.

The facts are that the OPAL core sits in the centre of the reflector vessel - but not within it. The fuel is not cooled by the reflector's heavy water, but instead by the significantly more massive quantity of regular [light] water sitting in the reactor pool. In the photo above the reflector is the circular tank in the centre [in a way resembling a large wheel of Swiss cheese]. The box in the centre of the reflector is the array of 16 fuel assemblies. The axial penetrations in the reflector [large and small holes that pass through the entire height in the vertical direction] support the generation of products such as neutron doped silicon or medical and industrial isotopes as well as the completion of irradiation experiments. Neutron beams [or rather their massive shutters] can be seen exiting the pool at the periphery of the reflector.

Power reactors are economic/business machines that receive compensation directly proportional to the electrons their turbines pump out onto the grid. Unlike a power reactor, a research reactor's lifeblood is neutron production. Heat in most cases is typically an unused byproduct [occasionally it is used for district heating]. The purpose of the reflector is to improve neutron economy.

As neutrons burst onto the scene from a 'split' U-235 atom [average is about 2.5 neutrons per thermal fission], they typically have too much energy to be useful. They must be 'slowed' or moderated. Think of a billiard ball flying down the table. Unless you're very brave, you would not try to catch it unless it was travelling relatively slow. It's similar with neutrons. They must be slowed so target material [U-235 atoms, silicon, neutron beam lines, etc.] can better use them. Also, if the neutrons are slowed within a minimum distance from the core there are increased odds that this neutron will travel back into the core to be used for the fission of fuel [i.e. they are reflected].

Heavy material [such as lead, steel or concrete] is used to shield radiation . But other materials such as graphite and water are much better neutron moderators. Heavy water is a better moderator than light water. With one more neutron in its neucleus the heavy water deuterium atom absorbes slightly more energy than a normal hydrogen atom per collission. [From above analogy, imagine slowing down our billiard ball with impacts from ping-pong balls or slightly heavier golf balls]. So to maximise the neutron economy in OPAL [provide the most usable neutrons per fission], heavy water is used to moderate the neutrons in the reflector. However, heavy water is very expensive.

The reflector is kept at a lower pressure than the reactor pool. Any leakage path will allow light water into the reflector. When this happens to a significant extent, some fraction of available neutrons will not be slowed enough to be used in the target material. Neutron efficiency will have decreased. As a research or isotope production machine - OPAL will become slightly less effective.

Therefore leakage into the reflector vessel has no safety consequence. There appears to be no grounds for Ludlum's "spin" accusation.

I believe OPAL staff are planning to construct a heavy water purification system to process a slip stream of the reflector circulation loop. This slip stream will then be purified to remove light water [this is possible, for example, because heavy water has a boiling point slightly above light water: 101.4 C].

The ANSTO response to Ludlum's claim may be found here.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Business group calls for nuclear

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, in a recent submission to the government's green paper on climate change.

The report in the Australian notes Australia's high per-capita emissions, our elevated reliance on coal and the role nuclear power can play to address both in the context anticipated emission reduction goals.

Many of the 350,000 businesses represented by the ACCI are small to medium sized enterprises. They will not be able to relocate off-shore, are not able to invest in low carbon technologies, can not pass on higher prices to consumers, but face the simple threat of going bust.

In the report, the opposition's position is that they would like nuclear power to be considered, but add any consideration must be bipartisan.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Call for a national energy policy

An Op-Ed in the Business Spectator makes a pitch for an Australian energy policy.

During the drive to develop, promote and implement an emissions trading scheme, government has said very little about the specific technologies to be deployed to achieve relevant goals while maintaining a viable economy. These details, as well as strategies to ensure long term energy security, would normally be found in a national energy policy; the last of which for Australia was issued in 2004.

Some of us harbour a suspicion that the Rudd government thinks its emissions trading plans – plus the enlarged renewable energy target – make up a national energy policy. If this is true, it is a serious error of judgement and one capable of causing immense trouble if the government tries to make policy on the run to deal with the inevitable ‘unintended consequences'.

It is madness to rely on the "lucky country" approach to energy policy today. Australian governments have to ensure they have an overall plan for managing energy issues in an exceptionally difficult global environment.
In addition to defining a strategic course for Australia's interim and long term energy future, a national energy policy also has tactical implications. A defined policy will free up billions of dollars in capital investment currently stranded on the sidelines due to undefinable and unpredictable economic risk. Ongoing lack of investment contributes to the more tangible follow-on risk of poor energy quality and reliability due to the failure of energy infrastructure/capacity growth to match increasing demand as well as the inadequate mitigation of supply risk through diversity of supply, diversity of supplier and diversity of supply route.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Uranium mining now likely in WA

Brendon Grylls, leader of the WA Nationals, has announced the formation of a coalition government with the Liberals, paving the way for West Australia to join the Northern Territory and South Australia in Uranium mining and export operations.

The result follows an aggressive anti-Uranium mining election campaign by outgoing WA PM Allen Carpenter.

Uranium mining in West Australia could – in the coming years – exploit up to eight major deposits according to Reuters.

Queensland is now Australia’s sole anti-Uranium mining state with significant, identified Uranium reserves according to the Australian Uranium Association.

Friday, 5 September 2008

Garnaut - Targets and Trajectories

The report may be found here.

There are two references to nuclear power, copied below.

What the rest of the world notices most about Australian emissions is that ours are the highest per capita in the OECD; that over the past several decades they have been growing faster than those in other OECD countries; and that while in 1971 the emissions intensity of Australian primary energy supply was similar to the OECD as a whole, in recent years it has been more than one-third higher (Draft Report, Chapter 8, Figure 8.6). There are good reasons why Australia became relatively more dependent on a high-emissions source of energy, coal, while the remainder of the OECD was reducing the proportionate role of coal and increasing the contributions of low-emissions energy, including nuclear. But whatever the reasons, they are not easily reconciled with the idea that Australia is leading the world in emissions reduction.

It is often said in Australia that developing countries are strongly resistant to reductions in emissions, and that it is unrealistic to expect them to participate in global constraints on emissions. This is too simple. China’s selective withdrawal of export rebates within its value added tax, the export taxes on a range of energy-intensive products, its discouragement of expansion of energy-intensive industries and its specific regulatory constraints on investment in steel, aluminium and cement production add up to more substantial constraints on the most emissions-intensive industries than would occur in Australia in the early years of an emissions trading system. China’s active encouragement of low-emission sources of power (hydroelectric, wind, nuclear, biomass, biofuels) goes beyond current Australian efforts. These measures stand alongside a domestic policy commitment to reduce the energy intensity of economic activity by four percentage points per annum until 2020. Data released in August 2008 show the energy intensity of Chinese GDP falling by 3.7 per cent in 2007—the first sign of good intentions on energy intensity being reflected in policy outcomes.

In the two country examples above Australia's rejection of nuclear power compared to the OECD is linked to our current emissions reduction challenges. China, on the other hand, through its deployment of nuclear power - in concert with the parallel deployment of other technologies and strategies - has already achieved tangible evidence of their 'good intentions'.

There is a special section devoted to the future use of coal [heavily dependent on near zero leakage CCS technology]. The report remains technology-neutral beyond these statements, referring only to 'low-emissions technologies'.

Section 6 of the report addresses the fact that despite Australia's contribution of only 1.5% of total global emissions - 'Australia matters'. Garnaut concludes:

Australia matters. What we do matters. When we do it matters. It would be really silly to take action with costs to ourselves meant to assist the emergence of a good international agreement, but to do it too late to have a chance of avoiding high risks of dangerous climate change. What we do now, in time to influence the global mitigation regime from the end of the Kyoto period, is of high importance. What we do later runs the risk of being inconsequential in avoiding dangerous climate change.

There are already reports in the media calling the proposed trajectories inadequate. Calls for greater reductions within the context of a sustainable Australian economy will continue to increase the attractiveness of nuclear power.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Insuring a nuclear renaissance

By nature insurers take a dispassionate, objective perspective when assessing the convergence of risk and consequence. Insurance related developments can therefore serve as a broad industry touchstone – in this case the future of worldwide commercial nuclear power deployment.

Lloyd’s has included a feature in their current issue of Market Magazine. In this article they begin by acknowledging that “The global nuclear industry’s star is rising”. An example of interest being:

“China, which connected its first commercial reactor to its national grid in 1991, now has 11 working reactors and six under construction. It plans a six-fold increase in nuclear capacity by 2020 and then a further three- to four-fold increase by 2030.”
Michael Dawson, Active Underwriter of Chaucer’s Nuclear Syndicate projects most nuclear new-build will simply replace current facilities nearing the end of their design life and that nuclear’s share of energy in developed countries will remain at about 20% until around 2025. Dawson predicts total ‘nuclear business’ to subsequently increase after 2025.

Interestingly for Australia, fuel security is highlighted as a risk whose management is critical to the global expansion of nuclear power. This is consistent with international efforts and attention being given to fuel supply such as the GNEP and a special topic of the IAEA’s 50th General Conference approximately two years ago.

The article discusses specific areas of risk such as construction, flooding and a hypothetical release of radioactive material as well as more recent additions such as those related to environmental impacts and decommissioning.

Mark Tetley, Managing Director of the British nuclear pool, Nuclear Risks Insurers concludes, “I’m very positive about the UK’s nuclear new build framework, as I believe it will be the most sophisticated globally. The insurance market is already playing a central role in helping the Government develop this model.”

The magazine includes numerous inserts and factoids. A few of interest are included below.

Lloyd’s has been involved in nuclear insurance since the British nuclear pool, Nuclear Risks Insurers (NRI), was founded in 1956.

NRI’s capacity comes from eight insurance companies and 16 Lloyd’s syndicates. NRI represents the largest single block of risk transfer insurance capacity in the world, at more than £400m. It also reinsures other nuclear pools worldwide. It covers risks including property, nuclear fuel and waste plants, construction work on nuclear sites and transport liabilities.

In the UK, the industry is governed by various national laws and international conventions. These set limits of damage beyond which the state is effectively the insurer of last resort.

For details of international nuclear liability conventions from the World Nuclear Association.

Monday, 1 September 2008

Russia on receiving end of energy diplomacy

Throughout recent years, Russia has been accused of using its energy resources as an instrument of diplomacy, isolating the taps on oil pipelines going into Europe last winter and as recently as last month. The linked article also explains a certain perceived, energy dependence related EU handicap with respect to the EU's ability to conduct firm negotiations with Russian with respect to the conflict in Georgia.

But Australia has some leverage on the issue thanks to Russia's increasing interest in uranium - specifically the deal struck about 1 year ago regarding Australia's supply of uranium to Russia. Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said, "When considering ratification, the government will take into account not just the merits of the agreement but recent and ongoing events in Georgia and the state of Australia's bilateral relationship with the Russian Federation."

Smith made Australia's views clear to Russia when he summoned the Russian envoy last week to call on Moscow to pull its troops in Georgia back to the positions they held before the conflict began on August 8. He added that Russia's recognition of independence for the former Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia was unhelpful.

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Beverley uranium mine expansion approved

Heathgate Resources has been give approval to produce up to 1,500 tonnes of uranium oxide per year.

Environment minister Peter Garret issued the following statement.

"I am satisfied that the tough conditions attached to this approval will ensure the highest standards of environmental management by the mine operator."
Heathgate is working to obtain approval to mine the Four Mile deposit sometime next year.

Western Australia politics and a Queensland coal union

In Western Australia, Premier Alan Carpenter has promised to initiate legislation to ban the mining of Uranium if reelected. He is reported to have claimed that "most of the world is moving away from nuclear power".

That claim is not supported by:
  1. The ongoing nuclear expansion programme within the UK,
  2. Italy's recent vote to reintroduce nuclear power following a complete rejection of the technology in the years immediately following the Chernobyl accident,
  3. Reports of statements from German Chancellor Angela Merkel signaling the potential reversal of their nuclear phase-out policy,
  4. A dozen license applications within the past year in the USA (and countless approvals and applications for licensing renewals / extensions at currently operating facilities there),
  5. Several expansion announcements over the past two years from China - signalling repeated acceleration of their nuclear power development programme,
  6. Sweden's serious considerations to reverse its phase-out policy as well as notable public support for the spent fuel repository,
  7. Argentina's resumption of a stalled nuclear construction project and their efforts to partner with Brazil to further develop nuclear power capacity,
  8. Serious interest in currently non-nuclear countries such as Vietnam, Thailand, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates to name a few,
  9. A recent tender for a new reactor in Slovakia,
  10. Increasing interest in Canada, South Korea as well as other countries.

The proposed legislation has been criticised by WA business groups as well as traditional owners.

Also in the news is a report that the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union will soon launch an ad campaign with the slogan, "Nuclear power will kill the coal industry."

This claim seems highly unlikely.

First, in this radio interview [hat tip to Luke Weston], Dr. Ziggy Switkowski clarifies that it is not reasonable to expect Australia to have its first nuclear reactor until shortly after 2020. [However, Macarthur Coal Ltd. Chief Executive Officer Nicole Hollows recently predicted 10 years.]

Also, most believe nuclear's potential role represents only a portion of Australia's total electricity generation capability and that with efficiency, conservation, wind, solar, geothermal and considerable development in carbon capture technology, our carbon emissions can be brought under control. As Ziggy Switkowski says, "This is not a zero sum gain".

Finally, the WNN article claims the union is fishing for support of a $1.5 Billion investment in clean coal currently being advocated by Labor and that raising the nuclear spectre will help keep Labor in power. This claim is supported by quotes from this article in the Business Spectator.

1 reactor in 10 to 15 years with up to another 24 in the 30 years that follow does not appear to be an industry breaking development. Particularly when one considers that most [nearly 2/3] of Australia's coal is exported. [According to Nationmaster, Australia's annual coal production is 338 million tonnes and our consumption is 131 million tonnes. Coal exports are expected to remain secure or increase into the foreseeable future.

Uranium mining in Queensland would tighten the labour market which would tend to increase wages.

With respect to the coal power generation industry, transition from a coal station to a nuclear station is not difficult for most skills. Operators, maintenance craft/trade workers and plant administrative staff perform very similar functions. ADD too this the need for licensing, documentation and security staff as well as greater technical/professional expertise to maintain critical systems to what is commonly regarded as 'nuclear grade', and it becomes apparent that a local nuclear plant provides more employment opportunities than a similarly sized fossil station.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Garrett and Wong splash water on Macfarlane's nuclear spark

It may not quite be a debate, but the two sides are talking about nuclear at the same time.

As I posted yesterday, Ian Macfarlane has joined an increasing number of Australian leaders in calling for a rational discussion of nuclear's power's role in any credible emissions reduction [and economy salvaging] energy technology deployment strategy.

A brief recap of the past six months or so
From Australia's political right, MacFarlane was quickly joined by Nelson.
"Our view is that there needs to be consideration in Australia given to the development of a nuclear power industry."
Also on the right are Julie Bishop and let's not forget the National's vote in support of nuclear technologies back in June. Rounding out Coalition support, the WA opposition urged discussion and consideration of nuclear power back in February.

Looking left, the very first outspoken pro-nuke on my radar following the election was Paul Howes in early February this year. Howes was later joined by Carr as well as Commonwealth Bank chairman John Schube [who also chairs the Great Barrier Reef Foundation]. This was followed of course by Bob Hawke last month.

In the centre we have the Australian coal industry, Marcarthur CEO] Nicole Hollows, forecasting a Nuclear Australia in 10 years. There's also a plea to consider the technology from WA's Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Meanwhile, they are circling the wagons in Canberra - all three of them. Consider what Garrett had to say:
"The last election showed that Australians are absolutely of one mind about not having 25 nuclear power plants dotted around their suburbs and in and around their cities.''
Really? I thought the last election was about the ratification of Kyoto, Australia's thirst for action over excuses and our passionate desire for decisive leadership to cut Australian emissions and cut them relatively fast. I thought is was also about WorkChoices, education and health care. Did some people vote solely on the potential of a Nuclear Australia? Possibly, but Garrett seems to be getting a bit emotive on the subject.

Elsewhere, Garrett's replaying his favourite song and dance - the back-flip accusation. Again? It seems the Labor strategy is pretty clear. Have Garrett play the attack dog with respect to nuclear, while Wong strives to focus on an undefinable strategy based principally on renewables. But, by all means keep them as separate as possible.

Sadly and predictably; Penny Wong says:
"Are they really saying that they have a plan for 25 nuclear reactors in Australia? Where are they going to put them?''

"Australia has an abundance of renewable energy sources. We have a lot of solar, we have a lot of wind, we have geothermal resources."
[Ah, beg your pardon Ms. Wong, don't forget the recent announcement of yet another coal station required to satisfy increasing demand. I should also note that per the OECD International Energy Agency, fossil fuel based electricity generation in Australia from January to May 2008 INCREASED 5% from the previous year. This happened despite a 4.8% increase in hydro based generation and a 35% increase in electricity generation from all other renewables. - Thanks to Luke for this. Here is objective data that while renewables are good, they simply do not pack the punch required to keep even with increasing demand let alone facilitate credible reductions.]

I say 'sadly' due to the unproductive [and very political] duplicity in Wong's mini-soundbites. Of the numerous reports, studies and plans issued of late by the current government, none scratch the surface with respect to quantifiable technology deployment necessary to achieve even significant [let alone adequate] emission reductions while preserving Australia's broader economic viability.

Our emissions are going up and they are stalling.

No Engineer with a functioning nuron would propose the location of a nuclear power plant within Australia's interior - there's simply no significant demand there, let alone very little water. Many of today's nuclear power plants are cooled using sea water. That leaves our [very large] coast. The plants are typically near, but obviously not 'in' large industrial or population areas. This is not a technically complicated issue.

The 'location' discussion is an irrelevant political diversion, designed only to invoke the politics of fear.

The recent news report mentions nuclear power's tendency to split both parties like a proverbial U-235 atom. It also includes a statement from Nelson that I have emphasised in this blog countless times:

Dr Nelson said a nuclear industry would get off the ground only if both the coalition and Labor backed it.

He offered to talk with the government about it.
Considering the recap above, it looks as if we are moving slowly closer to a consensus among and between the major political camps. I look forward to further discussions and hope all partys work to identify common ground. Whether it's jobs, industrial security, low cost energy, emissions mitigation, or reliability of supply; there seems to be considerable common interest with respect to nuclear power.

I remain confident our thought horoizon extends beyond the next election and hope to see some tangible action well before it.

Expanding support for a Nuclear Australia

Last week the Sydney Morning Herald reported a call for a "rational and sensible debate" on "the energy option that dares not speak its name: nuclear". This call came from Western Australia's principal business lobby group, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Not to be outdone by calls for the rational consideration of nuclear power from Australia's political left [Hawke, Howes and Carr], Ian Macfarlane joined Julie Bishop this week calling for the sane consideration of nuclear power in Australia - quoting the comments of Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change:

"I have never seen a credible scenario for reducing emissions that did not include nuclear energy."

Bloomberg is reporting that Macarthur Coal Ltd. Chief Executive Officer Nicole Hollows told the Australian Financial Review Australia would use nuclear power within the next 10 years.

Nuclear power will be 'inevitable'' in the next decade because solar and wind power wouldn't be able to replace coal-fired power, the Review said, citing Hollows. She said it was the 'elephant in the room' in the current debate on emissions trading and reducing carbon pollution, the newspaper reported.

Saturday, 16 August 2008

The United Arab Emirates: big plans

Reuters is reporting a call for bids to manage the United Arab Emirates' nuclear power programme. The world's fifth largest oil exporter is coming up short in electricity generation requiring an additional 22 gigawatts within the next 7 years. That's the equivalent of 22 large nuclear plants [less than 15 of the really big AREVA EPRs].

I am inferring [as I believe the authors intended me to] that nuclear power is being considered for some of the 22 GWe needed in the next 7 years. I would say that from their current state, even commissioning one plant in that time would be impressive project management to say the least. But one does not have to be in project work for long to learn that given enough money, just about anything is possible. [I'm not talking about payoffs and corruption here but instead: resource allocation, experience/skill acquisition and the expediting of supply.]

Rumour has it, the UAE has a bit of cash on hand. For example, they recently contributed US $10 million to the IAEA for an international nuclear fuel bank. With Iran on its doorstep, no doubt they are distancing themselves ideologically from Iran's rogue-nuclear-state image by going completely the opposite direction with respect to fuel supply.

So why blog here about the UAE? Well for starters they are behind Australia with respect to existing nuclear infrastructure. The article linked above mentions their need to develop several key prerequisites to an eventual nuclear power industry - not just an independent regulatory body, but even the "laws to govern the sector". Australia has got nuclear related legislation and a regulator already. No doubt the laws would need revising and the regulator may require additional resources - but we've also got some experience in this area. Enjoying our own resource boom, Australia has the money to make things happen if really needed.

Finally, one of the companies that may bid on the job is Australia's own WorleyParsons Ltd. Should WorleyParsons win the job, the resulting experience could serve Australia well.

One of many interesting watch-areas within the nuclear industry.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Australian Nuclear Association - Expanding to Queensland

The Australian Nuclear Association has announced the formation of Australian Nuclear Association Queensland Inc due to the initiative of a group of persons in Queensland interested in promoting the peaceful uses of nuclear science and technology in that state.

Dr Ziggy Switkowski, chairman of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) will address the official launch of ANA Queensland on August 21 in Brisbane. Dr Switkowski's topic: Is the climate right for nuclear power?

With Australians' demand for electricity, and energy in general, expected to double by 2050, Dr Switkowski says he believes the safest, cleanest and lowest cost form of electricity in a carbon-constrained world will be nuclear power.

The ANA is urging supporters of nuclear science and technology in other states to form similar branch organisations.

For further information on the activities of the group please contact the organisation via Email at info@anaq.org.au.

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.